Ricky Gervais nails it again

Despite all the debates I’ve seen and been a part of, it still amazes me when Christians trot out the particularly bad piece of logic that says atheists hate them (or, more often, God). What doesn’t surprise me is that Ricky Gervais has said something intelligent:

Ricky Gervais

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FtB page hits down ~70% in 18 months

Freethought Blogs was once a pretty happening place. It was like Scienceblogs or Discoveryblogs but with a whole lot more atheism. In essence, it was a dose of science with a heap of New Atheism. And that made a lot of sense. As I’ve said before, New Atheism is very much a reflection of scientific thinking: Before we are to believe some claim (especially if it’s a significant claim), evidence is a must. But then the tone changed drastically at FtB. We went from people who placed atheism first when speaking about atheism – because that’s fucking logical – to people who were very much atheism-second bloggers. Science was almost entirely out the window. Philosophy? That was only ever there because of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, (of course) Dennett, and Coyne. Once we had people like PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, and Rebecca Watson decide that feminism needed to be the dominant theme in the atheist community, philosophy was deader than ever, at least in the worst circles. These people didn’t draw issue with the likes of William Lane Craig because they saw fundamental problems with his philosophical arguments; their issue was always that he wasn’t a feminist. It’s the same reason Dawkins and others have lost the support of these people. They don’t care why someone believes something – it doesn’t matter if a person isn’t a feminist because he hates women, because feminism is not a part of any religion, because he’s a utilitarian, because he’s a libertarian, because he’s an egalitarian, or for any other reason. All that matters is you aren’t a feminist, so you hate women and you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s like George W. Bush weaseled his way into the atheist movement. You aren’t a real American unless you support American foreign policy; you aren’t a real atheist ally unless you support feminism.

And now here we are with atheism+, the movement that is to atheism as “patriotism” is to American conservatives. Consistency and coherency are secondary to this movement. You must support x, y, and z “social justice” issues, but to hell with explaining why all these issues tie together. To hell with explaining why atheism, an entirely descriptive position, is fundamentally related to any of these issues. To hell with explaining the benefit in destroying the big tent of New Atheism, the tent which encompassed those who are pro-science and against religion regardless of their views on GMO’s or abortion or Iraq or gun rights. None of that matters in the splinter group – nay, the splinter effort – that is atheism+. Philosophy only isn’t dead to that movement because it was never alive to them in the first place.

So what has the result been? From a once happening place, Freethought Blogs has fallen and continues to fall. Its page hits are down about 70% in the last few months. Fewer and fewer people are interested in the split. Fewer and fewer people want to be part of a movement which so eschews philosophy. Atheism+ is little more than a political movement with a political foundation. That isn’t the basis of the surge in atheism around the globe in recent decades. Richard Dawkins didn’t become famous for his politics. No one became a New Atheist because they are for or against marriage equality. That’s just not what this is all about. Atheism plussers simply do not understand the point to all this. They don’t get it at all.

What would constitute evidence for God?

As a so-called New Atheist, one of the cornerstones of my worldview is that evidence is absolutely key in coming to any sort of important conclusion. To believe otherwise is to believe dangerously, at least when it comes to anything important. (Our belief that, for instance, a bridge isn’t going to collapse beneath us is an assumption, and so I exclude such beliefs when I use the word “important”.) That is, to believe something without evidence is to believe on faith. And, of course, that is entirely random; faith is not a method of belief by any means, but rather an arbitrary basis that can lead a person to absolutely any conclusion, including abortion clinic bombings, giving a homeless person a dollar, and committing war atrocities. In short, faith is the worst thing the world has ever seen.

So all that said, I reject faith fully. This is why I call myself an atheist: I am without any form of theism because there is no evidence in its favor. Indeed, there is no good evidence in favor of even deism. (I’m also an anti-theist, but for different reasons.) But I’ve often wondered, what sort of evidence would I accept as pointing towards a knowing, intervening creator? I recall Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers having a back and forth prior towards everyone in the New Atheist movement, including Coyne, shunning Myers for various reasons, so it was a civil exchange, but I don’t recall the details. All I remember now is that Coyne said there is possible evidence whereas Myers took the faith-based position in saying that no evidence could convince him. I won’t bother finding those posts since they aren’t especially relevant here. What is relevant is this B-level Onion article:

Researchers at Harvard University announced today that they have found what appears to be a message from God written inside the human genome.

In a little-explored section of non-coding DNA, a team of top geneticists discovered a 22-word snippet of ancient Aramaic in which God confirms his existence and his role in creating life on Earth.

The stunning finding represents nearly irrefutable evidence of God’s existence and his role in creating the process of evolution by natural selection.

The message was discovered when researchers noticed strange mathematical patterns appearing within a certain section of the genome.

“Hello my children. This is Yahweh, the one true Lord. You have found creation’s secret. Now share it peacefully with the world.

Again, this is an article in the style of TheOnion, a tongue-in-cheek piece meant to be funny. It comes from The Daily Currant, which has had some success in fooling people with its articles (not that that was their intention), but I’m not a big fan.

At any rate, this is a perfect example of what it would take to show me evidence God exists. It isn’t that if we find there are no hidden messages in our DNA we’ve falsified the God hypothesis. No, rather it’s that something like this would be strong evidence for the existence of a creator, I think. The odds that natural selection would, by chance, produce something so precise as this is very, very small.

Of course, let me take this moment to point out that natural selection is not actually a chance process. I only describe it as such in the above instance because natural selection acts to increase an organism’s ability to survive – it does not act to produce linguistic codes that translate into multiple sentences in order to form a coherent message. That is, natural selection is not a chance process, but for it to produce a lengthy message would be insanely freak chance since no part of its regular process leads to anything like messages. That old creationist chestnut about a tornado producing a 747 would actually have some applicability here.

So there we have it. There certainly is possible evidence for the existence of God, and I think this brings us to an important conclusion: God is a refutable hypothesis that can be subjected to the rigors of science just like anything else postulated to exist and/or have an affect on the Universe. The problem for theists is that they’ve never been able to present a test their particular, cultural god could pass.

PZ Myers’ “The Happy Atheist”

I was considering reading PZ Myers’ new book “The Happy Atheist” so I could do a brief review of it here. However, I have decided against it after reading the user reviews on Amazon. Here are a few random excerpts:

“The Happy Atheist” is just a collection of blog posts cleaned up and converted into a book format, arranged in an order so they make sense. Unfortunately this leads to a lack of substance on some of the chapters, as it doesn’t appear anything new was added. In some cases this is a serious problem, because a book is not a blog – and it’s not unreasonable to expect a book to cover issues in more depth than a two page blog post would. There are some chapters just screaming out to be expanded on so that more info could be presented, more sources cited, more angles covered, more caveats added, etc. Reading along you can pretty much guess where the links to other blog posts or news stories would have gone in the text – but this is a book, so I can’t click them, and all that extra info is lost.

and

Hoping this would be entertaining, as it didn’t appear more than a series of essays, I figured it wouldn’t be a scholarly book or researched tome. Instead, it was a collection of essays that I realize much have been part of his blog. The Introduction, About the Author and next couple of chapters really had me interested. By the 7th, I was pretty bored.

I found myself skipping over whole passages, as they were just repeating themselves. It was chapter after chapter of stories outlining arguments and disagreements between him and different people and organizations. It just didn’t keep my interest.

and

If you read his blog,this books adds nothing. It breaks no new ground, offers no new perspective and has no insight. It is a very insular work, reflecting the experiences and thoughts of someone trying to “jump in late” with an atheist book – but not really having any justification or reason to do so. You get the sense he is like a “little kid” on the atheist schoolyard. His heart is usually in the right place but he’s immature (which you can also see on this blog sometimes). He’s just out of place on the basketball court where the older kids like Harris, Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins play.

Dr Myers is intelligent, and some of writing here is worth being read – but there is no coherent whole or central idea. Nothing here justifies a book.

and

Almost word for word, sometimes with a different intro or ending, and perhaps a few other very small changes, here are the chapters, er blog posts, that I found online with the same titles:

4) The Great Desecration
11) The Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography
13) Happy Easter! is from an original post titled “Sunday Sacrilege: The Silliest Story Ever Told.”
17) Imagine No Heaven
18) Daughters of Eve
19) Prometheus’s Sin
20) So Alone
21) One Nation Free of Gods
22) An Embryo is Not a Person
23) The Courtier’s Reply
28) We’re Happier out of a Straightjacket Than in One
31) The Active Hand
32) The Proper Reverence Due Those Who Have Gone Before
33) Niobrara
34) We Stand Awed at the Heights Our People Have Achieved.

If someone is putting out a series of blog posts as a published book for a price, readers would want to know so they can make an informed choice before laying down the required money to read it. A publisher would most definitely want to know. They surely paid him a huge advance, probably in the tens of thousands of dollars. Did they know?

So, in short, it appears that I have basically already read the book by virtue of having read most of these blog posts. It looks like PZ was just looking to get some of his more popular or contentious ideas into the public sphere as a way to make an easy buck. I see no reason to purchase this book.

In other news, Richard Dawkins has a new book coming out in a few weeks. I will be devoting a bit of money towards that purchase.

Lawrence Krauss wrecks William Lane Craig

This video is just fantastic.

Hat tip to Mike.

This cartoon is stupid

This cartoon comes from the hurter-of-women known as PZ Myers:

Harassment

Quick back story: Someone emailed PZ and told him a big name in the atheist community sexually assaulted her. Without evidence, he named that guy. Then a bunch of other people named everyone under the Sun. Forget that these people either never went to the police or, for those that did, their reports were looked into and closed with no charges whatsoever. No, that isn’t important. What’s important is that someone has made a significant claim and that evidence is only important in philosophical and scientific claims. When it comes to Internet feminism, it’s irrelevant.

The reason the above cartoon is just so fucking stupid is that it ignores why people get these type of responses: Blogs are not the place to make criminal complaints. A person can’t expect to be taken seriously on sexual harassment when the claim is going through such a hugely wrong channel – a channel so huge that it is only reasonable to conclude that at least part of the goal is public shame of the accused, whether the claim is true or not.

I’m not particularly interested in the PZ Myers-style feminist attempt to destroy the fledgling atheist community we have, so I don’t think I’ll be addressing this issue again. I do, however, hope that the people who have made these accusations without first going through the proper channels are sued into oblivion for defamation.

The fruits of faith

As I’ve noted many times, faith is an effectively random way of believing. That is, faith is precisely belief without evidence, so it offers absolutely no logical path towards one idea or another. This is an obvious problem in the world; there are far more ways to get things wrong than to get them right, so we should expect theists and other random-belief persons to cause a lot of havoc and offense on a daily basis. The religious, dogmatic United Arab Emirates offers one of the most egregious examples as of late:

A Norwegian woman who was sentenced to prison in Dubai after reporting that she was raped has been given a pardon and will be heading home soon, she said Monday.

Speaking to reporters in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv seemed relieved and happy as she confirmed the news — if still slightly bewildered by the swift turn of events.

“They told me that I would be pardoned and that they were going to give me my passport back, so I got it immediately,” she said.

Asked what happens next, Dalelv paused a moment before replying: “I get to go home.”

She added, “We want to make it as soon as possible.”…

Dalelv, a Qatar-based interior designer, was on a work trip to Dubai when she reported to police that she had been raped by a colleague at the hotel where she was staying.

She was herself then detained and charged with having unlawful sex, making a false statement and illegal consumption of alcohol. A court last week sentenced her to 16 months in prison, prompting outrage in Norway.

Dalelv’s lawyer, Mahmoud Azab Abu Gareda, said the sheikh’s pardon is “effectively a royal decree,” which wipes the slate clean, leaving no record of her conviction.

This means the alleged perpetrator, who was charged with public intoxication and having sex outside of marriage, also walks free, he said.

Notice the stark difference in the involved nations. The United Arab Emirates is a majority Muslim nation where Islam is the official state religion. Norway, on the other hand, has a high cultural Christian population, but relatively little religious participation. According to Wiki, only 32% of Norwegians said they believe in a personal god. Moreover, an overwhelming majority, 73%, are not theists: Of the total population, 44% are effectively deists, whereas 29% are atheists.

Of course, it isn’t that atheism or deism have led the charge in Norway’s basic moral authority in this situation. They couldn’t. They’re both 100% descriptive positions. No, it’s that the people of Norway have opted for a secular guidance in their moral and ethical thinking. This is just the opposite of faith, so it isn’t surprising when we see it working so well in so many instances.