Monthly Archives: July 2008

I Wish There Was an Afterlife So Theists Would Know They’re Wrong.

shockedI was thinking about how some people are so convinced that there is a god that the are unwilling to even entertain the idea that there probably isn’t a god. For them there is no question in their mind. You are unable to reason with them; you can try to talk to them and explain clearly how all of their arguments for the existence of god are flawed, you ask them why they believe in the god that they believe in rather than any other god–if Jesus why not Zeus? They may try to tell you that their holy book says that their god is the true god and god wrote their holy book. You can then try to explain to them what a false syllogism is then listen to them respond saying strange things like “you have to invite the lord into you life” and “god has a son that died for you”–I never asked him to! Most, you will never be able to convince because religion has some advantages, among them are: it has inculcated people from a very young age it has been part of their life since they were very young for a lot of people religion is all they know; it exploits gaps in the knowledge of mankind–where a question is unknown religion has no problem ascribing it to god whereas at least reasoned people have the decency to admit when they don’t know something, also there is the great carrot and stick approach i.e. lots of theists will no entertain disbelief in god because they want to spend eternity in paradise or want to avoid the rest of time in fire being burned and tortured by demons and the one that concerns me most here the existence of god cannot be disproved because a negative cannot be proved. Prove to me that Unicorns don’t exist. 

All of these kinds of things can make it hard to argue with a believer because they become incapable of reason they will maintain, despite the all evidence to the contrary, that their god exists and nothing will change their minds. They’ll sit smugly knowing full well that you will not be able to change their mind. Then what makes it worse is that when they die that’s it, there is nothing; they’ll never know that they were wrong because their minds are turned off. So on thinking about this I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a post-death de-briefing where people would realise that they had wasted huge parts of their lives on a god that wasn’t there. There could be no more arguments they were dead and if they were promised heaven there would be none or if it was reincarnation they wouldn’t get reincarnated. This was it they last straw no way to argue-there was no god. Then once they realised there was no god waiting for them and a photo of their faces was taken to amuse us atheists as we arrived they would be sent off into nothingness.

 

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Funniest Bible Verse

The stupidest verse of the bible is a hard competition to win considering all the very capable contenders but, I think I may have a winner. In the book of numbers the author says “Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.” Numbers 12:3. Fine, this Moses chap may have been humble however, when you find out who wrote the book of numbers it makes a startling difference. The book of numbers is traditionally believed to have been written by–you guessed it the humblest man on Earth, Moses.

This really compliments the theists when the say first, that they are humble then follow it with things like; they know that god exists, they not only know that he exists but, they know who he is, what he wants and how he created the Universe. Humble? I don’t think so.

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Letter to the Editor of Irish Times re Civil Partnership Bill

This is my letter is response to a letter to the Editor of the Irish Times about the Civil Partnership Bill. First, the letter I am responding to.

Madam, – Leo O’Shaughnessy (July 4th) appears to take grave offence at the suggestion that the Government’s proposed legislation for same-sex unions could undermine marriage. He argues that the Bill is designed to ensure that “the institution of marriage remains untouched”.

By this he presumably means that the Government has not attempted to redefine marriage. This is true, but the legislation indirectly diminishes the status of marriage by conferring similar rights and benefits on registered same-sex unions. Similarly, the lesser protections proposed in the same Bill for cohabiting heterosexual and same-sex couples also undermine the unique standing marriage has, and should have, in society.

The distinction between marriage and other forms of sexual relationship is being gradually obscured. It is clear why the State has always favoured marriage: it is naturally orientated towards the procreation and raising of children. It is unclear why the State should favour any other kind of sexual relationships over and above, for example, that of a couple whose relationship is based on familial ties, such as two brothers living together.

Mr O’Shaughnessy says my statement (July 3rd) that same-sex unions experience a higher level of violence and mental and physical illness is “born of the worst kind of bigotry”; and Dr Colm Humphries (July 5th) suggests I need to consider my own biases. Yet studies such as “Violence Between Intimates”, published by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics in November 1994, indicate that violence is two to three times more common among homosexual partners than among married couples. The homosexual authors of Men Who Beat The Men Who Love Them also claimed that domestic violence affected half of all gay couples. The leading US gay magazine The Advocate reported that 75 per cent of its readers admitted engaging in violent sex, with a further 20 per cent engaging in sadistic sex. A study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence examining conflict in lesbian relationships discovered that a third of those surveyed had experienced one or more incidents of physical abuse. Many other studies confirm these findings.

Male homosexuals also have a significantly reduced life expectancy, according to research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 1997, most likely as a consequence of the health risks of their lifestyle. As regards mental illness, a review of studies entitled “Homosexuality and mental illness”, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1999 stated that “homosexual people are at a substantially higher risk for some form of emotional problems”. I fail to see how I am guilty of bigotry or bias because I refer to this evidence.

Personally, I believe the State should refrain from legislating for any kind of unions other than marriage. In my view, it is not I that should “stop caring about what goes on behind closed doors”, as Mr O’Shaughnessy recommends, but rather the Government.

– Yours, etc,MICHAEL O’DRISCOLL, Blackrock, Cork.
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/letters/2008/0711/1215677267266.html

My response:

Madam – Michael O’Driscoll’s letter (July 11th) is his attempt to justify his bigotry. Mr. O’Driscoll recognises that the Civil Partnership Bill does not in anyway treat the institution of marriage worse than Civil Partnerships or else it would be held to be unconstitutional. In fact marriage will remain as the ‘fundamental unit of our society’ (Art 41 of the Constitution) because inter alia marriage will retain the Constitutional rights afforded to it by Art 41 whereas Civil Partnerships will only have legislative rights.

Mr. O’Driscoll says that the Bill will ‘diminish the status of marriage by conferring similar rights and benefits on same-sex couples’ this is pure sophism. Why would giving people rights diminish the institution of marriage? Mr. O’Driscoll goes on to say that ‘the lesser protections for heterosexual couples…undermine the unique standing marriage has…in our society’ I suggest that Mr. O’Driscoll does not think much of the institution of marriage if he thinks that people will choose lesser protections over greater protections. I feel that people will chose based upon their own considered opinion with regard to their subjective circumstance and that we aren’t going to see the end of marriage as a result of this.  

Even if it were true that people will abandon en masse marriage for civil partnerships the Supreme Court held in Muckley v. Ireland [1985] IR 472 that treatment of any persons that constitutes an inducement not to get married is not an attack on the institution of marriage. It is therefore irrelevant if this Bill will encourage people not to get married, which of course will only apply to heterosexual couples covered by the Bill, provided that marriage remains greater or equal to Civil Partnerships.

Mr. O’Driscoll goes on to say that marriage is special because it is a orientated towards procreation. Based upon this logic Mr. O’Driscoll would deny marriage to any couples incapable of conceiving a child. In my opinion this is not the purpose of a marriage Mr. O’Driscoll disregards the plethora of reasons for marriage including love and companionship. To reduce marriage to a means of procreation is very utilitarian and demeaning to the human condition.

Cited in Mr. O’Driscoll letter are articles he suggests vindicated his position that homosexual relationships are sinister. In his letter Mr. O’Driscoll referred to the book Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them as support for this argument if Mr. O’Driscoll Googled this book he would know that one of its authors has said that the statistics are not capable of supporting an argument against gay marriage. Mr. O’Driscoll also refers to a report by the US Dept. of Justice called Violence Between Intimates I gave the report a quick read and was unable to glean the statistics that Mr. O’Driscoll cites. However, this type of argument is not sustainable because there are huge amounts of more recent data contrary to what Mr. O’Driscoll has cited. I suggest he do a Google search. Even if it were true that homosexual couples are more prone to violence what is this an argument against same-sex marriage if I were to adduce reports and overwhelming evidence that miscegenation caused violence in the home would it be time to stop interracial marriage?

How is it relevant that 75% of homosexuals ‘admitted’ to having ‘violent’ sex and 20% to having sadistic sex? People can have any type of lawful sex they like. This is indicative of nothing. In fact it is demonstrative of Mr. O’Driscoll closed-mindedness.

It is clear that Mr. O’Driscoll does not want gay relationships it is time he admitted the real reason why; he doesn’t like homosexuality.

 

Yours,

Robert Donohoe

 

UPDATE:

Someone has written an excellent post in reposnse to Mr. O’Driscoll’s letter. Read it here at: http://www.orcid.net/2008/07/11/lies_damn_lies_and_cogging_conservative_websites

Thanks, Ciarán

 

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"There Are No Gays in Iran": But, Ireland’s Sending One Back!

It was reported in the Irish press that Ireland plan to deport an Iranian national back to Iran despite his life being in danger because he is gay. It is reported that “the deputy Iranian Foreign Minister said [in the Irish Parliament] last week that they will ‘not do it from a crane on the back of a lorry anymore but they will still do it.” refering to the execution of gay people that return to Iran’.

Senator Norris, the man that took the case to the European Court of Human Rights to legalise homosexuality in Ireland, said in the Senate “What are we doing and where is the accountability? In the name of the Oireachtas [Irish Parliament], I demand that the practice of deporting a person under those conditions should be ceased immediately.”

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Waterboarding: "Believe Me, It’s Torture"

That was a video of Christopher Hitchens being tortured. Last year in an article in Slate magazine where he said in effect that waterboarding was not torture. Following on from this he was asked to undergo waterboarding to experience it and to then make a judgement about whether or not it is torture.

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning

-Hitchens
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/08/hitchens200808

Hitchens quickly changed his mind about waterboarding, no longer would it be a tool for extracting information from enemies in his arsenal he now rightly regards waterboarding as a torture contrary to the Geneva Conventions.

Torture is defined by the 1949 UN Convention against Torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…” in order to get information.

The United States uses this method of torture or, what it calls in Orwellian doublespeak terms, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques against terror suspects. The US military is forbidden from using this method following from the scandal at Abu Ghraib however, President Bush exempted the CIA from the provisions of this ban because he felt it would take away “one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror”.

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god doesn’t give us morals

ChurchMorals How do we know what is moral and what is not? It is the view of religious advocates that religion defines morality and virtue. They say that without religion society would breakdown and immorality would become systemic. But if religion contains so much stuff that we regard as immoral—how can it define our morality? The fact is that religion does not provide our morals what really happens is our internal sense of right and wrong goes though the text of the bible, koran or whatever and tells us what is good and what is bad. Churches have been editing the religion’s morals by picking and choosing what they regard as moral and disregarding the rest or explaining it away with some fancy ecclesiastic double-talk.

Think about it for a second—would you suddenly become feral if one day you were walking home from a night out and were run over by a car and suffered amnesia. Imagine waking up in hospital not knowing where you are or what has happened all your long term memory is gone—you don’t know what the bible is never mind what is in it. Would you no longer feel love for your family? Would you become cruel and violent? This reminds of what Sam Harris had to say in The End of Faith[1]he suggests that if suddenly all man’s knowledge was lost due to some event that cleared our minds of everything that we have learned— at what point would it be necessary to know that the source of morality was born of a virgin?

This all begs the question—where do our morals come from? We know the story of Huckleberry Finn[2] by Mark Twain where a young Huck is confronted with a dilemma—helping his friend Jim escape slavery is stealing—Huck knows that stealing is wrong and he could be damned to hell for it—he is so afraid of it and so indoctrinated by religion he even contemplates handing over his friend by writing a note to Miss Watson however, in the end Huck’s own moral code rules and he tears up the note and helps Jim escape. We all know that Huck did the right thing but what is it that made him do it? It surly was not religion because Huck thought he was going to hell—Huck’s sense of moral duty came from a primordial code of ethical actions built into him that was able to overrule his religious indoctrination.

It might be hard to imagine how we got this moral code. For some they see morality coming from society and being instilled into a child from birth. All children are born a blank slate to be written upon is their morals and ethics. This is the argument made by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in seminal work—Leviathan where he looks at the nature of man and he concludes that man’s natural state is of war—every man against every man—and in this state there is no justice or injustice because as he sees it there is no government to give us justice. One place he regarded as living in this state was America[3] however, things have come along since he wrote this in 1651—he regards the Native Americans as ‘brutish’ and without a system of government no sense of good or bad. Now clearly we know this not to be the case the aboriginal Americans have a sense of moral decency and are not embroiled in a war all against all.

Consider then if our biology has any place in giving us a sense of right and wrong. In Moral Minds[4] Marc Hauser gives us a look at a biological explanation of our morality. He looks at our morals as being very similar to any other organ or our body. He draws on the work of Noam Chomsky and his revolutionising theory of linguistics that showed that human beings have a built-in set of principles that are used to learn a language no matter what it is. To give an example of these rules consider the sentence “Frank is foolish” and the same sentence but with the ‘is’ shortened so “Frank’s foolish”—ok so they both make sense but what is I said “Frank is more foolish the Joe’s” now you know that there is something wrong with that sentence but nobody has ever told you that you cannot shorten the ‘is’ at the end of a sentence and yet you still know not to do it that is because you have a rule in your head that tells you that the ‘s sound is too short and it need to be followed by something.[5] This rule would be the same no matter what language you learnt. The fact that you know this rule but, you do not know how exactly how you know it is what Hauser suggests is is happening with your morality.

The same—what is termed ‘grammar’ of morality—can be found inside us. Hauser takes this argument from outside the realm of philosophical thought and does experiments using the old philosophical fact scenarios like—a train is driving along the track and it is unstoppable it can either keep going and kill five people or take a off-shoot track and kill just one—most people choose instinctively to take the off-shoot track. This is not to suggest that every society has the same morals because this is obviously not correct but, it sets up a basic rule system like killing babies is immoral and has room for variances from person-to-person—society-to-society.

How does this square up to the Darwinian survival of the fittest? How can one be the fittest and therefore spread your genes if you are helping other? Richard Dawkins—one of the world’s most outspoken atheists and leading evolutionary biologists—has written extensively on the subject of the evolution of altruism and morality. In Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene[6] the author explains the process of natural selection and puts into a context the development of altruistic behaviour and how that the genes responsible for that behaviour can be favoured by evolution and thus populate the gene pool. It may be difficult to imagine how some behaviour is beneficial to a gene’s promulgation when on the outside it seems counterintuitive to that ends.

You are made of genes—each one of these genes programmes how you are—what you look like; how tall you are; how you behave virtually every aspect of you is controlled by your genes. Genes make copies of themselves and are spread and mixed with other genes i.e. we have children. But, in this process mistakes are made—small mutations. Long ago imagine there was a single type of gene making copies of itself then one time it made a copy that let it get together with another gene that mutated and by being together they were better off—say for arguments sake the two of them together were able to take the sun’s rays and turn it into their own food like plants do during photosynthesis—this means that these two cells are not better able to make copies of themselves and their ‘children’ can do the same thing they are doing so over time they become stronger and the weaker ones die off. I do not want to give the impression that these genes are alive—they are not making the decision to do anything it is just that they happen to be the best at making sure that they are spread. Over time more complex genes start to mutate and for example form legs to move around and a mind to help think and get away from danger—they are changing and mutating all the time—but building on past successes—creating the best ‘survival machines’[7] for them to be in—if they do not make a good body to live in then they do not get passed on so are wiped out the genes that make the best body get passed on so there are more of them. Eventually these genes formed a survival machine that is us.

So you see that the gene is not trying to keep us alive per se it is just that we do the gene the most good because we are alive long enough to spread it around. So you can imagine a gene that says ‘You are to sacrifice yourself to save ten people with the same gene as me in them.’ This gene would do well because by losing you it has saved 10 other copies of itself and thus made itself fitter—that is the survival of the fittest. But how do we know if them ten people have the same gene in them? Well we don’t—we can guess—our children have half our genes in them so there is a 50%[8] chance that they have that gene in them—this is a why we are so protective of our children—our brother and sisters have the same chance ½—there is a breakdown of all these relationships and why perhaps we feel more protective of our children than our brother and sisters even though the chances are the same in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene.[9] Some of us would sacrifice ourselves to save 100 strangers is that because the chance that they have the same gene is higher than if it was just two?

Now imagine again Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature—war all against all—imagine now a gene that said ‘help people that help me’ could spread. If we lived in Hobbes’ state of nature we would be under treat all the time so if perhaps we had this gene to help each other out if they help us we would do much better than the people that did not have this gene so this gene would start to spread. Now perhaps imagine one of us in this society had a gene that mutated to say do not help other but take their help then that gene would start to flourish. But then it would just go right back to the start again however, there is a point where an optimal number of both is reached and it would begin to steady out.[10] “’The ants and termites,’ wrote Prince Kropotkin, ‘have renounced the “Hobbesian War”, and they are better for it’”[11]

Let’s take a look now at some of the principles that are genes have given us. So it is one thing to care for your kin because there is a high probability that they share the same genes as you but, the trouble comes when you look at non-family altruism. Where is the Darwinian advantage in that? Well again Prof. Dawkins’ books try to give us an understanding into this process. The first theory of altruism that Prof. Dawkins discusses is the old saying ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’—indeed a very utilitarian adage that has huge merits for a gene that is trying to get passed on. You can see how a society could grow on this concept—if I have the ability to make pots but don’t know how to cook and you need pots and can cook by working together we ensure both of our survival. This concept can be seen to work throughout nature—flowers can’t fly so the pay honey bees to spread their pollen around[12] and we have all seen on wildlife documentaries small birds that are cleaning the parasites from hippopotamuses that cannot do it themselves. In human society the division of labour[13] has allowed us as a species to flourish and has thus caused the spread of the gene that causes this through our generations. It is really quite clear how this system of helping others fits in with our theory of natural selection.

Reputation plays a part in altruism if I build up a reputation for not buying a round of drinks in a pub nobody’s going to include my when they buy a round. It is observable behaviour in the animal kingdom for reputation precede you—in the stickleback fish population there is evidence that shows that the fish will tolerate defection of fish that have stuck by them in the past over fish that have been wimps when they are going to inspect a dangerous predator—they even choose fish to join their expedition parties that have shown high standing in previous situations.[14] Human beings have a much greater ability to remember who was good to them in the past even to the most to people that you only met briefly—we can all run a list down in our heads of people that have ripped us off and we will be very wary of helping them in the future.

Now this brings us to how our genes influence our morals in a general way. Our genes are too slow to make the decisions all by themselves and there are too many situations—infinite numbers—to all be coded for in our genes. So our genes make more general rules i.e. principles. A good analogy here is communicating over great distances—it takes four minutes for messages to get from Earth to Mars travelling at the speed of light—there is no way to make that faster the speed of light is the maximum speed anything can travel—so imagine now we have sent a robot to mars that is remotely controlled from Earth—as it goes about its business of exploring the Martian landscape[15] it takes four minutes for us to get its information and four minutes for it to get our instructions which is clearly too long a time if the robot encounters cliffs for example—so what do we do? Well we build in rules into the robot e.g. if you come to cliffs avoid them. This is sort of like what are genes do for us. However, what are genes are able to do also is allow for parameter input—that is to say the general principles are set out but they allow for more data to be used in order to make the best decisions. So take for example the principle of ‘be fair to people’—this is a general principle that is set by our genes say—now the parameter can then vary from society to society depending on how it works best—there is no universal definition of fairness but it uses the details of the particular society to set its standard.[16]

For a further demonstration our inbuilt moral judgements—consider two scenarios

1) You are driving along in your new sports car and you see a little girl at the side of the road bleeding. He can take her to the hospital but it will cost you time and money to clean the bloody seat—€200.

2) You see video on TV of children in some poor country that need €50 to save 25 of their lives.[17]

Now most of you will say that in case 1 you are obliged to help the little girl and in case 2 most of you will not believe that you are obliged to send the money—although most of you will sympathise you won’t be under huge moral pressure to help. What this indicates is that our genes have not adapted with our psychology to the ever increasing distances that we can communicate in the modern world. Our genes are no used to dealing with great distances and our psychology is having trouble with it too.


[1] Harris, S., “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” (Free Press, 2006)

[2] Twain, M., “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Adamant Media Corporation, 1999)

[3] Hobbes, T., “Leviathan” MacPherson, C. B. Ed. (Penguin Classics, 1985) p 187 Part I Chap XIII

[4] Hauser, M. D., “Moral Minds” (Harper Collins, 2006)

[5] Ibid. ( pg 40

[6] Dawkins, R., “The Selfish Gene” (3rd ed Oxford University Press, 2006)

[7] Ibid. ( at chapter 3

[8] For a look at the statistical relationship of family look at Ibid. chapter 6

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. ( chapter 5

[11] Quoted in Ridley, M., “The Origins of Virtue” (Penguin, 1996)

[12] Dawkins, R., “The God Delusion” (Transworld Publishers, 2006) at p216

[13] Smith, A., “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (Regnery Gateway, 1999)

[14] Ridley, M., “The Origins of Virtue” (Penguin, 1996) at p82

[15] This analogy is loosely based on Prof. Dawkins’ analogy in his book: Dawkins, R., “The Selfish Gene” (3rd ed Oxford University Press, 2006) at p55

[16] Hauser, M. D., “Moral Minds” (Harper Collins, 2006) at p71

[17] Ibid. (

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Pascal’s Wager


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ch871223 The mathematician, Blaise Pascal, had a theory on belief in god—he supposed that one was far better to wager on god’s existence than not. His theory is not a wager as to if god exists or not but rather he had a cost benefit analysis whereby he said that if you believe in god you will get more benefit than if you don’t if god actually exists as opposed to if he doesn’t exist than you are in the same place as someone who has spent their whole life as an atheist. So in basic terms if god exists and you believe in him then you get more than you would get than if you were in any other position.

  Theist Atheist
God Exits Paradise Hell
No God Nothing Nothing

 

As you can see Pascal had worked it all out in terms of the best bet to gain the most. Most of you will of course have seen the problems with this kind of argument already. First, one cannot force oneself to believe in god—if you don’t believe in god and pretend to worship by attending services and adapting your morals to suit your religion’s and you end up at the pearly gates where you are greeted by an al-knowing god that knew that you had just been paying lip services to him all your life. You see this just won’t do—if you are unable to believe then you cannot just fain it—to borrow a phrase from a famous theist Martin Luther—‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.

Or suppose that you die and you are confronted by Zeus and he demands to know why you didn’t believe in him? Surely if he is anything like the old testament god that hates false idols you would be better not believing in any gods rather than the wrong one! Then there’s the anti-Pascal wager[1] idea that is if you could bet on god not existing and live a better life now like by not wasting time by worshiping you could bet on him not being there and get more out of the here-and-now.


[1] Dawkins, R., “The God Delusion” (Transworld Publishers, 2006) at p105

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