Thursday 25 April 2013

Lest we forget

So as it rolled around to ANZAC day today, I thought I would look into non-believing ANZAC's. There is very little hard data on this, and unfortunately I have read in a comment on a similar sounding post here that if no Denomination was supplied on their enlistment papers they were given CofE. So their is likely to be no real hard data ever.
But we can go on standard statistics. The 1936 census didn't happen and their was only a "year book" the 1941 census was called off and the next one post WWII was 1947, but it showed if you look  here; at the PDF titled 2109.0 - Volume I - Part XVI Religion, that about 0.49% of the population was no-religion in one shape or another at this time post-war.
So we can take that 575,799 served overseas in WW2 so of that at least 2800 where non-believers of some sort. This is just in one war, not to mention WW1, Vietnam, Korea and every other horrible war we have been in.

This could be an interesting research project for someone but I have done my bit.

That aforementioned post does something to me though. I disagree with it, it paints the memorial as a religious service, which it is. But it should be something more. Those words Lest we forget have always struck me. Lest we forget and make the same mistakes and let a maniac into power, or sacrifice life for some silly idea such as the domino theory.
I have always held a reverence for our diggers, our ANZACs, it used to be religious as I would pray that war would end. Now I think their sacrifice was greater than I did before, I think the idea of the ANZACs deserves more reverence.
Lest we forget.

Friday 12 April 2013

The cult of personality

The cult of personality is something I have noticed occurs all over the world, it is similar to Hero Worship, but has the added layer of being spread by propaganda and an added reverence for the individual at the centre.

First some definitions, the Cult of personality is typically defined as when someone uses methods to make an idealised hero or god-like persona ascribe to a person, this is usually done through mass media or propaganda.

Religion we know does this, people dare not question anything an Imam, Pope or archbishop says. They use their media reach and personality to get noticed and get their word out by any means necessary. Take a look at the pontifs twitter, every evangelical tv channel worldwide, including the international channels operated by the likes of the Mormons and the Seventh Day Adventists, and every Sunday morning hell that is tv evangelists.
Though some cracks are starting to form, in the Catholic Church polls have shown people disagree with what their clergy have said, but the question here would be how they were asked this very important question. For example do you support the use of contraception, the answer you may get would be fairly positive. However ask a Catholic, do you think the churches stance on contraception is correct, and you would get a similarly positive response. This is similar to the break aways in more liberal protestant denominations, removing the dietry requirements or the requirement for a literal 6000 year old creation interpretation.
This all comes down to the inability to see their hero, in this case the church as doing anything wrong.
In religion the cult of personality is rife; this is usually how a religion starts. Put yourself in the place of an uneducated peasant in the early first Millennia CE, someone tells you a story of a hero who took all your sins upon himself, committed miracles, and promised you ever lasting life. You may be convinced, and you would hold the person in those stories in the highest of regard. This behaviour over generations leads to a reverence that no being has ever earned.

For modern day examples look at the Guru's in India and you can see that they build followers via stories that are built up about them. These Guru's perpetuate and have stories made up of miracles they have performed, revelation and prophecy they have fufilled and divined.
A good documentary on how this is done is Kumare, where an American of Indian decent decides to run an experiment on some people convincing them he is a Hindu Guru.
These Guru's cash in big time and build rules up to stop them from being questioned, rules that given time would lead to the idea of infallibility or making a death sentence seem a sane punishment for simply asking a question. Does this sound like any other religion?

The very slow loading page shows how much these Gurus can amass, just in case that no longer loads.

Guru   Worth RS crore Worth RS Worth $AU
 Baba RamdevINR 40,000.00 INR 400,000,000,000.00 $7,044,840,000.00
 Mata Amritanandamayi INR 1,500.00 INR 15,000,000,000.00 $264,181,500.00
 Sri Sri Ravishankar INR 1,000.00 INR 10,000,000,000.00 $176,121,000.00
 Asaram Bapu INR 350.00 INR 3,500,000,000.00 $61,642,350.00
 Gurmeet Ram Rahim NA, but some 250 Ashrams world wide, a chain of petrol stations across India, a hospital and 705 acres of prime agricultural land are all owned by this Guru.

The lead Guru there Baba Ramdev is reportedly worth over $7 billion Australian dollars at current exchange rate of 1rs buying $AUD:0.0176121 (source

Look at the cargo cults of Polynesia, with the character who probably never existed, John Frum.
John Frum was supposedly a soldier or civilian who was an incarnation of an existing Polynesian god, who possibly during a Kava-induced vision told a prophet that he was going to return and on his return all non-natives would be exiled from Vanuatu and the natives would receive the cargo to get them to the level of wealth of westerners. John Frum is supposed to come back on February 15, he has his profits including one man who talks to Frum on a radio, a wire wrapped around an old woman who blathers uncontrollably as he talks to her and tries to discern what Frum is communicating to them. But there is a reverence for Frum, reverence in their marching and flag raising ceremonies, and in their painstakingly created uniforms and adornments. So much reverence that a man that claimed to be him was imprisoned, publicly humiliated and eventually exiled.

This reverence for a mere human being should not be done under any circumstances, sometimes it is hard with some people commanding such power and charisma that you want to give it to them. But I am sad to say I have witnessed it in non-belief. There are secular people who revere the Tony Robbins of the world, there are secular people who even show reverence for the more likely suspects of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, AC Grayling and Stephen Fry, maybe I am just being conceited but I think I have even been on the receiving end of this special treatment. Being recently given possibly better than deserved scores at a debate group. I think this reverence and special treatment shouldn't happen.
These revered shouldn't be questioned in some people's eyes, all they have are good ideas. But they don't just have good ideas, they are fallible like the rest of us, so should be questioned just as stringently if not more so.

I know this is an anecdote but it is an important one. When going to GAC (Global atheist convention) in 2012 after the first mornings introduction I starvingly raced out to get some food, wandering around looking for something that my fickle tastes would enjoy I saw Richard Dawkins. I had only seen him two days prior at the when I went to get my Magic of Reality books signed for my kids after the "Something from nothing" event at Sydney Grammar School. I was actually a little disappointed at this signing as I wanted my kids names in the books for them to have when they were older, if anything it reduces their on-sale-ability, but I digress.
At this event I had been excited to see them both, and felt I had to ask Lawrence Krauss about his pin that looked like the ever famous xkcd comic, it turned out it wasn't but he admitted to being a reader. I was a little let down with Richard Dawkins as he seemed a bit grouchy, but like anyone under the spell I equivocated and said that perhaps he was jet lagged.... although Krauss didn't appear to be.
So back to the GAC, by this stage my star-struckness had lessened somewhat having spent lunch helping AronRa fix problems with his phone. So even though I saw Richard Dawkins I decided not to intrude as he appeared to be on the same quest I was for food, but I was struck by the way I saw a person approach him at that moment. This person had hunched themselves over with hands folded into themselves, and in an almost ceremonious way approached Richard Dawkins, I thought wow, this is hero worship in the extreme, I thought to get my camera out but decided against it and I noted it in my head to write about later.
Later in GAC I remember someone commenting on how they forgot to call him Professor Dawkins, and how disappointed in themselves they were. Again odd behaviour, he is not your professor, sure he is a Professor, he is also an ape just like you so give him the same respect you give yourself.

On to another anecdote, this time from someone with more exposure to non-believer thought, Sean Faircloth and his recent jaunt in Australia.
In fact the reason I decided to hold the pub night, was in an attempt to dispel some of this Cult of personality, and hero worship that we see. I think seeing him as a human, just as prone to the effects of imbibing alcohol as the rest of us, may have gone some way towards that.
I mentioned this very talk to him and we had a good long chat on the way to the social from the far side of Hyde Park. He mentioned that on the Richard Dawkins page there have been several instances of this blind following of the exalted leader. For example if he posts an article about climate change or gun control he will get hundreds of messages of derision, some calling for his dismissal from the page as admin. The funny thing is as he puts it, Dawkins is fairly liberal and believes in climate change and gun control but these people commenting can't bring themselves to accept that they disagree with their replacement deity on anything.
Yes I said deity; I think the worship may have started to get to that level.

It is even evident in the general public, a number of times I have been asked after revealing I am an atheist "oh you must follow that Dawkins guy" or "oh you must love that biologist from England". Yes I think he has done some wonderful work in popularising science and bringing atheism to the masses, but he is not the bee's knees.

I disagree with Dawkins. 

It is a rather minor disagreement in the grand scheme of things. But it maybe that I am seen to disagree with a lot of people, even people reading this. I think evolution is important, I think our origins via Abiogenesis and evolution are of extreme importance, and I think popularising science is important. But I don't think evolution should be that big a deal. At least here in Australia very rarely do we actually meet someone silly enough to not have been taught evolution, and not to take it as the fact that it is. I think it is to some extent a dead horse, but then again biology has never held my interest for a great deal of time... unless it is reproductive biology of course.

To move on to the next of the worshipped heroes of atheism, Christopher Hitchens. A more eloquent and finer debater will never be met. The issue that arises now with Hitchens is one of his death; he is being remembered with increasingly more and more rosy glasses.
But he had his flaws, everyone even his most ardent worshippers will point to his death as his smoking and drinking, these are things I actually don't disagree with him on, it is his body he can do what he wants to it, as long as it doesn't harm another I don't care, and I support his right to do so.

I have witnessed people talking of Hitchens in hushed tones with hope to not offend anyone, I am sure he wouldn't want it this way, I am sure he would want us to fight against even irrationality in him even post-mortem.

I do disagree with Hitchens.

So there are points of disagreement with Hitchens, some I think are rather large. Nothing that would stop me reading his wonderful works. That is not how I think freethinkers should work. I once had a colleague that told me he could no longer read a particular author of physics because of the authors professed atheism. I find this absolutely stunning, it would be like me saying I can no longer enjoy the Nania chronicles as they were written by CS Lewis a Christian apologist and even written as an allegory to Jesus and God, absolute rubbish, they are fantasy just like the stories they were based on.
So back to Hitchens, most will say he was wrong to support the war in Iraq and while there was very little evidence for WMD's there the liberation of the Iraqi people seems to have been a goal and I can see support for that to some extent. So I am mixed on at least this most polemic of points.

No I disagree on Hitchens and his borderline misogyny.

No not the Hillary Clinton issue, which in context makes sense, she was kind of playing up her gender to get and maintain a spot in the race. Hitchens said she was seen crying during the primaries where she lost a state and commented, that you would never see Maggie Thatcher sinking to that emotional level.

Hitchens was a pro-lifer which I believe is removing a woman's right to choose what happens with her own body. Of course he makes the mistake that most abortions happen in the first trimester when the foetus has a chance at being a human, has little to no brain activity and very little nervous system ability. He unfortunately buys the anti-choice crowds idea that brain waves start at 8-weeks, when in fact the study that claimed this was found faulty and taken out of context and more recent studies show that bursts of Neural activity start around 12 weeks, but normal brain patterns don't start until after 22-28weeks.
There is also the issue of abortion saving an adult life at the expense of an undeveloped foetuses life, but let's leave it there as I don't want to make this a discussion about pro-choice.
I also disagree vehemently on the women can't be funny article he controversially published. Women can be funny if Julia Sweeny's excellent stand-up show "Letting go of God" or almost every "Garfunkel and Oates" song ever are anything to go by, sorry but this one is a little vulgar but I had to share. I think this is a little of his possible superiority complex leaking out, but then again he is superior to me in dictation, so what do I know.


Another person who gets revered even more possibly since his passing is Carl Sagan. A great man and incredible science communicator. He had the gift of eloquence, passion for his subjects and knowledge of science to back it up.
In fact this talk and article in part came about due to his book "A Demon haunted world" where he points out where and when he was wrong to make himself more human to those who would read his book.

Yet I disagree with Carl Sagan.

As people who know me will attest I am a massive Carl Sagan fan, I have read many of his books, sport t-shirts with quotes from him on it and love me some Carl Sagan Symphony of science or pale blue dot for when I am feeling a little down.

But yes I disagree with him on a definition. A pretty big one, he didn't say he was an atheist, he said  "An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed."
He either made this distinction as he feared coming out as an atheist, or he simply didn't research the word well enough. Atheist, from the Greek meaning godless. From his own descriptions on God he like me would be an agnostic atheist.


Another person I admire greatly is Lawrence Krauss. I have read several of his books, also have shirts with quotes from him on it, and will tell anyone who will listen of sitting down to have a drink with him and discussing physics during GAC 2012. Yes this one on one activity brings a person down to your level, but maybe it doesn't quite do it.

Yes I disagree with Lawrence Krauss.

Lawrence Krauss thinks we shouldn't send people to space to some extent, he has had this argument with the director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson thinks we should send people as it inspires people, Krauss thinks the risk is to high versus the reward and that we should just send robots to do the science for us. I think we are going to have to move elsewhere in space to give our species a redundancy and chance of surviving, as Carl Sagan said it is our duty to the universe, as we are a way for the universe to know itself.  Plus some science that we will want to do requires human ingenuity, something robots just don't have and likely won't for a long time.

One final example a person I do find inspiring, and someone who I find myself agreeing with a lot. Stephen Fry.

But I don't disagree with Stephen Fry, I just see his human failings.

No I have yet to find anything to disagree with him on, he damn well corrects himself the next week whenever he is wrong on QI, but the way he has written his biography "Moab is my washpot" he has humanised himself. He has humanised himself talking of how he cruelly as a pre-pubescent boy convince a younger boy Bunce to take the fall for him and receive the cane even when Fry himself would receive it as well. This brought him down in my eyes to the flailing mess that the rest of us are.

So my advice to solve this problem of hero worship and the cult of personality is to bring them down to your level, meet with them as I have tried to do. Dispel their power by reading of their failings, they are sure to have them and look for areas of disagreement with someone you respect, and be grateful when you find one as it is said "If you always agree with everything someone else says, then one of you is unnecessary". Don't revere a person as reverence is never warranted for a person and rarely for an object or place and most importantly remember times when you were wrong and be happy and gracious when someone points out you are wrong as I hope people will do on this talk and remember you are also a human like all the aforementioned and unmentioned great thinking heroes so you, like they make mistakes.

Slide deck and talk to come...

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Argument from morality

We have been invited to debate in the coming months, below are my arguments against the Christian standard argument from morality that I used in our mock debate.
Christians and other religious people will often argue that without religion how can you be moral? Where do you get your morality from if not from God above? I am here to argue that not only do we get our morals from elsewhere, but that being moral without God is actually a higher good.
It is said we get our morals from the bible, but this is patently not true. The bible endorses slavery, (Leviticus 25,45, Exodus 21, NT: Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2), murder ( and all of the so called seven deadly sins. Even where it makes moral judgements they are not moral. Of the Ten Commandments, only 2 are actually against the law, and these are only punishable by the civil gaol time in Australia, not the death sentence that most of the commandments call for.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is a nice thought and a damn site better than the 10 commandments, but it has a huge flaw. What if the person living by this law is a sadomasochist deriving pleasure from others pain, or even enjoying pain being inflicted on themselves? I don’t want to be cut and tortured but they wouldn’t be breaking this golden rule. The better version of this rule; do unto other as they would have you do unto them.
What about turn the other cheek, again excellent sentiment. But something that wouldn’t get you far if you practised it against an invading force.
Love your neighbour as yourself, is lovely as well. But it devalues your own worth, and doesn’t cover the aforementioned issue of an invading force made up of people you may consider your neighbours. It also doesn’t put more emphasis on kin, is it moral to save your 20 year old fit and healthy neighbour from a house fire over your helpless 6month old child or invalid parent? Regardless who would begrudge a person saving their wife or child over a stranger?
Evolutionary psychologists will say that morals developed so that we could survive as a species that lived in communities. If you criminal and everyone knows you are a criminal, then come winter when you and your children are hungry, your neighbours are less likely to give you some of their food and thus you are less likely for your possibly criminal genes to pass on. This can be seen as moral actions can be performed by animals of lesser intelligence than us. Dogs are known to defend and tolerate children's rough behaviour. Dogs have also been seen to risk their own life to rescue a dog or person they don’t even know. Piranhas one of the most vicious of fish, even during a feeding frenzy will not attack other piranhas. Ducks that sometimes eat fish have been known to feed them a share of their bread or grain. All these are animals, according to Christian religions not imbued with a soul and not capable of determining right from wrong. Yet somehow they act kindly and morally.
There are some cases were being amoral are of benefit though. Look at the Mongol hoards, or early warring tribes. If you lacked empathy the very definition of a psychopath then you would do very well in one of these cases, thus having a likelihood of passing on your genes. But society now frowns upon violence and crime, we have built up laws to defend the weak and punish the criminal. Psychopaths still exist though and have been shown to show no empathy for their actions to another human being, only seeing them as barriers to getting what they want, these place a challenge for the argument of morality coming from God as Psychopaths can be shown from birth to lack empathy and thus have no moral compass that one would imagine should be imbued by the divine. David Koresh (Waco TX), Timothy McVeigh (OK Bombing) and Marshall Applewhite (Heavens Gate) are all examples of people that have been posthumously claimed as having Psychopathy and using religion to further their goals.
Morality that has been built up over time can be seen in our current legal system here in Australia and similarly in most developed countries. Guidelines such as innocent until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial, evidence beyond reasonable doubt. All of these guidelines have been built up through trial and error, developed from earlier legal systems. These tried cases then build up our body of law, if an event occurs that is not illegal and brought to a court of law and tried and found to fail the test of law then a precedent is set and it can only be repealed through further cases to prove the act was not immoral.
There is a famous dilemma called Euthyphro’s dilemma. Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good? Either answer has issues; if God can change what is Good then all of a sudden he can deem infanticide good, as he did with Abraham before reneging and Jephthah (Judges 11:30-40) where he followed through. If God only does good because it is good, then morality and good are outside of God and there is morality above and beyond God.
Let’s take the example of two young Children. One knows his parent is watching and is gentle and kind, sharing their toys with their younger sibling, oh how sweet you say. The other child doesn’t know their parent is watching and is sweet and kind to their sibling in the same way. I put it to you that the greater good is the child who does good while no one is watching, with no possibility of reward or fear of reprisal. So it is with non-believers who don’t believe there is anyone on high watching them and keeping score as they work in their community to make the world a better place, volunteer their time and money to educate or help people with their lives.
So I say we are moral not because of religion but despite it.

This post was mirrored from