Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Return of The Resistance

After a very long hiatus from writing while finishing my studies, The Atheist Resistance is back in action!

Today saw the start of a campaign to educate believers in the ways of science, by way of inserting 'extra pages' into literature that they're likely to read. The current information set is called Laws & Theories, and gives concise definitions of both terms. This print run was funded from the proceeds of The Atheist Resistance online shop, so big thanks are due to all those who have purchased stuff; I couldn't have done it without you.

The Laws & Theories insert is particularly relevant at the current time, given the recent Religion/Evolution conference held between a consort of Vatican officials and a number of prominent members of the scientific community.

Religious text with extra page insert

I have a whole series of these planned, but in the meantime you can help by getting involved and inserting info at your local library or bookshop. The imprint is available for download here as an A4-sized PDF (464 kB) with three inserts per page.

Go to it!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Round Two: Fight!

Today held two incredibly aggravating encounters. The first was in the form of David Round's column of bigotry and nonsense, but before I get to a critique of this week's article, I'll share with you the second encounter.

I went to my local video store to check out a DVD I'd spotted previously but hadn't had the chance to rent out. The title, "Enemies of Reason", presented by Richard Dawkins, is an exposé of the sham industries of astrology, homeopathy, psychics, spiritualist churches, etc. Luckily, it was available, so I plucked it from the shelf. As I presented my choice of DVD at the counter, and before I could say anything, I was halted in my tracks as the woman who was serving blurted out in a suspiciously defensive manner: "You know, this is very one-sided - I saw it and it has been edited to suit his side of the story". I was stunned; mouth literally agape. She had preemptively answered a question that I had no intent to ask her. I was already in a thoroughly angry state after having been outraged by David Round's newspaper article just prior, and was in no mood to deal with this. Barely containing myself, I left seething. I don't care for video store employees who publically pass judgement on my choice of viewing. Edited to suit Dawkins' point of view, eh? Well, since I'm perfectly capable of independent thought, I think I'll decide for myself once I've seen the programme.

Once again, someone with a religious or spiritual belief foists their view upon an unsuspecting victim where it wasn't asked for and was totally inappropriate. Once again, I am supposed to respect this person's beliefs as if all beliefs were equally valid, when they have no intention of reciprocating the act.

Speaking of which...

"You can't live without belief"
The Press, August 20th, 2008

"Wild Thing! You make my heart sing! You make eeeeeeeeeeeverything!"
Then, having caught the young lady's attention, the singer continues—hesitantly, sensitively—"Wild thing I, - think I love you."
You certainly have her attention now.
"But I've gotta know for sure!"
Well, that is not unreasonable.
"So c'mon, hold me tight."
Like this?
"I love you."

Was it really that simple? We can hardly believe our ears as we listen to the brisk simple steps of Wild Thing's courtship. But the old lines definitely worked. I might love you—hold me tight—no, really really tight—righto, now I do love you. Right now, anyway.

It's an old story, and a very true one.

No similar knowledge of human nature, however emerges from John Lennon's innocent and beautiful song 'Imagine'. I used to think the words were grandly noble, if impossible of realisation, but now I just think they are stupid. "Imagine there's no countries", he sings, "nothing to kill or die for—and no religion too—imagine no possessions—no need for grief or hunger in a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people living for today."

There are some internal contradictions in this blissful vision of earthly paradise. It would be neither wonderful nor possible, and attempts to create it disastrous . If people live for today, without thought of rewards and punishments in a future life, they would probably be more selfish, and more attached to material possessions as the only things which gave life meaning. They would be unlikely to share.

Only belief, which Lennon has forbidden, will get people to behave well. Belief moves all our actions. Belief can promote love as well as hatred. Love does not come naturally. If there is no belief—"nothing to kill or die for"—not even our own homeland, families and way of life—not even, as Macaulay says, "the ashes of our fathers and the temples of our gods"—then life is a very sorry business.

Everything is valueless. We would go mad.

Besides, we cannot avoid belief. We are build for it, and nature abhors a vacuum. Our choice is not between belief and disbelief, but only between wise and stupid beliefs. G. K. Chesterton said that the sad thing about atheists was not that they believed nothing, but that they would believe anything.

Every now and then someone shakes his head sadly at the betrayed bright promise and disappointed hopes of the 1960's. Here was a generation privileged as no other had ever been—educated, loved, healthy, free from the fears of war, hunger and want, ready and able to solve the world's problems. What happened?

Part of the answer was their confusion of the real and the ideal—their belief that people were, if not perfect, at least perfectible. Optimism is an endearing folly. But it can be a stupidity with dire consequences. If we are all naturally good, then effort is unnecessary. Let It Be. If only a little prod could get us to do without possessions and bring universal happiness, then can a prod be wrong? 'Imagine' is Pol Pot's spiritual theme tune.

There was an irritating series of liberating, uplifting thoughts entitled Love is in the 60's. Two plump happy twee little figures, male and female, shared love and happiness each week. Their most famous announcement was that "love means never having to say you're sorry".

That is fatuous. If you love someone, you are sorry when you hurt them. We imperfect human beings hurt the ones we love most dearly all the time. If we did not bother saying sorry, that would indicate that we just don't care.

New age apostles tell us of the destructive effects of guilt, and how much better off we would be if we could shake ourselves free of guilt altogether. This too if nonsense. Guilt is simply the knowledge that we've done wrong, and that we should do better.It is inseparable from our knowledge of good and evil. It is the voice of our conscience. It can be corrosive if carried to excess, but the usual problem is too little guilt rather than too much. A world without guilt would be a world of monstrous, cruel and ruthless egotists.

Ideas can be dangerous. Most dangerous of all, though, is a belief that we are still living innocently in Eden. We desire to return to Eden, but we are not there now. We have eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We have fallen from grace; but in that fall, and our desire to return, is our humanity.

Round has the nerve to suggest that Chesterton is correct in claiming that atheists are stupid and gullible people who will "believe anything". Sure, I mean virgin conception and birth, miracles, resurrection, heaven and hell... No wait - aren't those Christian beliefs? But it's us atheists who are apparently the gullible ones. Yeah, right.

He also has the nerve to take a swipe at the "internal contradictions" of a John Lennon song. Ever read the Bible, Dave? If you were looking for internal contradictions, there's no place like home.

Round glibly wonders what happend to the spirit of the 60's. Well, Dave, it was destroyed by conservatives, capitalists, christian moralists, republicans... In short, people like you. In Round's view, it was apparently wrong of people in the 60's to actually try to build a better world, where we tolerate each other and love each other for what we are. Bizarrely, Round later laments that we have been unable to reach an earthly Eden. Having missed the swinging 60's by 20 years, I can't claim to have any first-hand knowledge, but from what I've seen and observed, the 60's were if nothing else a pretty good attempt at creating one.

Divisionism is the principal theme here. On one hand, Round rues selfishness, alienation and materialism, but on the other, he wants us all to fight for our own race, families, countries, and beliefs against the evidently evil "other".

Familiar examples of actions guided by beliefs (faith-based initiatives?) could be, say, the Crusades (spreading the 'Good News'), or the Inquisitions ("confess or die"), or the Salem witch trials ("that woman acts/looks different - she must be a witch: burn her"), or any of the other witch trials, or the near-continuous religious civil wars that divided Britain and Europe ("keep that Papist/Orange monarch off the throne!") for centuries.

The weasly, law-trained side of Round is in fine form, too. He manipulates his language to make patently unflattering implications about atheists.

Things I have consistently noted with Round, as with other bigots I have encountered, are the use of selective interpretation, negative association and connotation, redefinition of terms, changing the sense of terms, context-shifting, stereotyping, misrepresentation, fallacious arguments, deliberate confusion, ambiguity. In other words, nothing short of logical fraud.

Round believes that if we are not prepared to engage in perpetual warfare to maintain tradition and past beliefs, then "Everything is valueless" and therefore "We would go mad". In my view as an atheist, of course there is no inherent meaning in anything. Meaning is a subjective interpretation placed on an object, event or process by human observers. There may be agreement between observers, but this is irrelevant. Critically unexamined belief is simply assertion, and carries negligible value. Fundamentally there is no meaning. The difference between atheists and believers is that atheists have the fortitude of mind and the sense to accept this; believers do not, and must prop themselves up with notions of an external figure or force which acts as a parent substitute. The fear of losing this bond—its pre-provided 'meaning'—and "going mad", prevents believers from breaking free of their ridiculous superstitions, even in the face of evidence that their beliefs are not consistent with reality.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Key Appointment

I seem to recall that one of the fundamental commandments is "Thou shalt not worship false idols". So who does this guy think he is? Millions of people travel from all over the globe to listen attentively to him. He gets to ride around in a specially constructed armoured car, because his life is obviously of more value than others'. A group of bodyguards surround him and keep watch over him 24 hours a day. He was apparently appointed by the highest authority that exists. He even has his own little country. Most recently, he called for people to leave their "spiritual deserts", to abandon materialism and greed and to come join his flock.

His name is Josef Ratzinger. He is just a guy. He could be anybody: you; me; the person standing in line directly behind you. He is not special. He has been put into power by a group of his cohorts who have no real authority over anyone, but claim to be higher up in the food chain than everyone. And being worshiped by millions of people makes him a false idol.

I certainly applaud his condemnation of greed and materialism, but can't help notice that he says this while dressed in the finest hand-made fitted garments and is waited on hand-and-foot. I'd wager he doesn't want his flock to stop tithing.

I encourage christians to abandon their "mental deserts", to embrace education and rationality.

Oh, and you need not worship me. I am appointed by no one. I'm just a guy, and am no better than you.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Round One: Fight!

Words cannot express my anger with Press columnist David Round. In this week's article, as in previous articles, he continues to peddle his poison of self-righteous christian moral supremacy over rational thinkers. Round's profile on the Press website shows that he "teaches environmental law and issues in legal philosophy at the University of Canterbury" and is "also a keen tramper and amateur naturalist". Being trained in the law has obviously given him the idea that the truth is somewhat flexible, able to be bent to the will of skilled manipulators. The nature of proof and implications are attacked in his current jumble of fallacious conclusions.

"Atheism just plain destructive"
- The Press, July 8th, 2008

In the early 17th century, the learned James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, calculated that God's creation of the universe began on the evening preceeding October 23, 4004 BC. Other learned and pious men, including even Sir Isaac Newton, calculated slightly different dates. I disagree with them all. Of course, the Earth is immeasurably older, and life developed from the simplest primaeval forms as the theory of evolution describes. I am not a creationist.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but have some sympathy for creationists. For one thing, political correctness obliges us to respect every other religion's beliefs, however absurd. It would be very insensitive to cast public doubt or scorn on some of the remarkable events of Mohammed's life, for example. We are even obliged to ignore the Koran's numerous injunctions to wage war on unbelievers. A strong lobby group wants "Maori science" taught in schools. It is unfair that our own ancestral beliefs, however picturesque, are publically derided when not a word may be said against others.

Evolution and Christianity are actually perfectly compatible . The Catholic Church, for example, has long officially accepted the theory of evolution as a valid possible description of how life developed on Earth . The Church's most recent catechism readily acknowledges that "many scientific studies have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man".

The Book of Genesis does not contradict what science tells us. At the beginning of God's creation there was chaos. Stars — the sun — and planets first appeared, then the seas and dry land. Plants came, and sea-creatures; then land animals and last of all man himself. This is a scientifically accurate sequence. Genesis does not read exactly as a science textbook, but that is not the Bible's chief purpose. Genesis was written for a simple pastoral people in a pre-scientific age . Within that context its poetic account of creation is perfectly acceptable .

The second reason for my sympathy with creationists is that the theory of evolution is regularly misused as an argument for atheism.

Evolution is perfectly compatible with the existence of God . Scientists themselves cannot tell us what happened at the moment of the "Big Bang" , nor describe what, if anything preceded it. If there was nothing before that moment, then the universe somehow came into existence out of nothing in an truly marvellous manner. If something did exist before then, then we are back where we started in wondering where that earlier material came from. The origin of life out of inorganic matter are equally mysterious. It is perfectly possible, to say the least, that some incomprehensible life force, call it what we will, has accompanied, prompted and guided the development of the universe. At the very least science cannot disprove the existence of such a life force . It remains a plausible hypothesis .

Evolution tells us that all life, including even the most highly developed creatures, is descended from the primaeval protoplasm. Somehow all life's incredible richness and variety was contained in, or at least has flowed from , that tiny, sluggish ancestor. Why should this happen all by itself? May not some force have impelled it? Science can describe life, but cannot explain it. Why should these organs, these cells, these compounds and molecules behave as they do? How can a tiny seed somehow become an enormous tree? Science can tell us the chemistry, but can go no further .

Leave that point aside. At the very least, God and evolution are compatible. Evolutionists may fancy that their theory makes God unnecessary, but it still does not make him impossible. Yet evolution is constantly misrepresented as being the "dethroning of God" . Correspondents to this very paper have claimed that evolution "proves" that God does not exist; that life arose entirely by chance on this remote planet (remote from where?), and has no purpose or meaning .

Evolution proves no such thing. But when misused to deny God's existence it is inevitably discredited in the eyes of those who see God at work in the world . The atheistsic argument is also environmentally highly dangerous. If all life arose by chance and is without value or purpose, then why should we preserve it? The good christian believes that to render a species extinct is to spit in the face of the Creator; an atheist can have no such rational objection. In its denial of meaning and its crude determination to see nothing but physical material, atheism is as destructive of environmental sanctity as it is of social responsibility . Scientists once sought to understand God's mind. Now in their pride they attempt to usurp His Throne. Such unworthy human motives discredit their investigations.

After being subjected to this little orgy of hatred and bigoted nonsense, I am obliged to provide an analysis.

First, it is obvious that Round is a committed christian, even though he tries to distance himself from hardcore creationists — a sensible, or perhaps calculated, move on his part. In doing so he is flying in the face of the majority of adherents to his chosen faith, the members of which are the principal opponents of evolution. His belief in 'god' persists, notwithstanding.

The article starts off in moderation and facetiously diplomatic tones, but Round shows his true colours by the end, where he relapses into ranting and drawing unfounded conclusions about the atheist stereotype he has constructed for himself.

Although Round sets himself up in the second paragraph as magnanimously tolerant of other belief systems, his not-so tacit implication is that other systems of belief (including atheism) are wrong, and do not deserve to be tolerated. Of course, he doesn't entertain that his own beliefs could be seen to be absurd by others. In the same paragraph he claims that it is "unfair that our own ancestral beliefs (i.e. christian beliefs. -ed), however picturesque, are publically derided when not a word may be said against others". This is simply and demonstrably untrue. For example, there is plenty of open condemnation of islamic fundamentalism, as well criticism of Sharia law. Cults like scientology are also regularly criticised, or at least noted, for their secrecy, murky financial dealings and pseudo-scientific claims. In any case, the way christians are talked about doesn't even begin to compare to the vitriol with which atheists are publicly vilified and derided, as typified by Round's article. It happens that christianity is a major religion in New Zealand. Many church leaders and believers happen to be vocal and outspoken on various issues that arise in society, and use every opportunity to espouse their beliefs. It cannot be expected that they are never challenged on their assertions. As I have said in previous posts, religions, including christianity, deserve no special immunity from investigation, challenge, and criticism.

Round then states that "[e]volution and Christianity are actually perfectly compatible". I agree, to the extent that the process of evolution is unaffected by whether a christian believes it is happening or not. In this way, satanism, zen buddhism, judaism and every other -ism is compatible with evolution. Beliefs have no material effect on the validity of evolution. It is also true that the Catholic church "has long officially accepted the theory of evolution as a valid possible description of how life developed on Earth". As we all know, the Catholic Church haven't always felt this way about science and even today, in the modern age, only half-heartedly assents to tolerate science: It has no choice, now that the general public have access to education and the church must compete for minds. As the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and pretend that this justifies your continued existence while clinging to the remnants of your shattered faith".

Another commendable position Round takes is on the Bible. "Genesis was written for a simple pastoral people in a pre-scientific age" and "[w]ithin that context its poetic account of creation is perfectly acceptable", he tell us. Here is an acknowledgment that the bible - the source of christian wisdom and the justification for their beliefs - cannot be taken at face value and is subject to interpretation. Questions regarding how much of the Bible is "poetic" in nature, and the contexts in which the Bible are valid, are left as an exercise for the reader.

It is difficult to see how it can be claimed - as Round does - that evolution is misused as an argument for atheism. The fact is that it is one of the strongest arguments for it. This is because it has been shown that evolution does occur, and is an entirely mundane, natural process. One could wonder why an allegedly omnipotent supernatural creator would bother with starting such a process when presumably endowed with the ability to create life in its final, complete and fixed form.

Atheists get a brief reprieve as Round turns his attention to scientists and science, getting into the dangerous position of equating the possible with the probable; "It is perfectly possible, to say the least, that some incomprehensible life force, call it what we will, has accompanied, prompted and guided the development of the universe. At the very least science cannot disprove the existence of such a life force". This is the realm of Bertrand Russel's teapot. It must be explicitly stressed that anything which is unknown is exactly that - unknown. Just because a phenomenon can't be explained currently does not give a speculator free reign or license to apply any arbitrary explanation to it. Unknown means "unresolved" or "indeterminate", not "the work of god". (This is but one possibility, not the sole possibility, nor necessarily the most likely possibiliy.)

The next assumption made about evolution is that "science can tell us the chemistry, but can go no further". This actually contains two assumptions; that there is a "further", and that science should be able to provide some insight into whatever that may be.

Then in the penultimate paragraph, Round cannot contain himself any longer. He sulks about the "dethroning" of 'god' by "misrepresenting" evolution, as if this is an attack on himself personally. He seems indignant that others can claim "that life arose entirely by chance on this remote planet ... and has no purpose or meaning". This is at least as valid an assertion as any advanced by christians.

Finally, the last paragraph is a ragged mess. "When [evolution is] misused to deny God's existence it is inevitably discredited in the eyes of those who see God at work in the world". A more accurate statement might refer to such people as 'those who believe that they see God at work in the world'. Here again, 'god' is assumed to exist. Clutching at straws, from nowhere he pulls out the atheists-are-just-evil card: "The atheistsic argument is also environmentally highly dangerous". Pardon me? The warped reasoning behind this bizarre statement is that the (stereotypical) atheist obviously believes life is worthless and that there is no point in preserving it: "The good christian believes that to render a species extinct is to spit in the face of the Creator; an atheist can have no such rational objection". Apart from the blunt implication that 'only christians are good - therefore anyone who is not a christian is not good', this is nothing but bigotry, since atheists can posit any of the following objections to the extinction of species: Firstly, to lose something so inherently beautiful and unique is a cause for sadness; Second, diversity - wherein nature derives strength - is diminished; Third, the balance of the lost species' ecosystem is irreversibly changed, and this will have many adverse effects. No doubt there are more objections which could be raised. In the dying fits of the article: "In its denial of meaning and its crude determination to see nothing but physical material, atheism is as destructive of environmental sanctity as it is of social responsibility". Yet another thing that atheists are responsible for. Next, Round will be accusing atheists of sodomizing sheep and eating babies...
Round's last gasp of hatred is reserved for turn-coat scientists who "once sought to understand God's mind. Now in their pride they attempt to usurp His Throne. Such unworthy human motives discredit their investigations". What throne? Pride has nothing to do with science, except perhaps the satisfaction and pride in discovery and rational thought. Thankfully, Round's insensible ranting ends here.

To summarize the assumptions Round makes: God exists; we are not worthy of god and should worship him; scientists are malevolents to be viewed with disdain and suspicion; as are atheists; all atheists are also nihilists; only christians are good.

One cannot help but feel that Round has misunderstood the point of science. To restate, science is the process of unveiling reality. The reason for scientific method and process is to independently establish what is correct, and what is not, based on testing hypotheses by observing the outcomes of controlled trials.

Atheism is simply the conclusion arrived at by considering all the scientifically admissable evidence available at the current time and taking the balance of probabilities - a concept Round should be familiar with. Atheism is also the result of a revolt against tyranny of unexamined thought and dogma.

Nothing in his article supports or justifies its title.

NOTE: At the time of posting this, Round's article is unavailable at the Press website. I would expect that it will be available within the week.

Update: Original article now available here.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Double the Resistance

Another Atheist Resistance! Over at, that is...

It's great to see more and more atheists standing up for what they rightly believe in.

Watch this space for further developments.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


This morning I happened to be reading some news websites I regularly visit, where I came across three articles of interest. Together, these articles got me thinking about the nature of tolerance.

The first concerned an Israeli ultra-orthodox jewish MP making a bizarre claim that the legalisation of homosexuality in Israel causes earthquakes in the region. A laughably crazy notion at best, it shows the not-so-subtle hatred that this man has for homosexuals, stemming from his religious beliefs.

The second article I happened upon regarded an objection to the presence of banks and other companies at the University of Canterbury's Orientation week. Of course, the protest was being made by the campus Christian Union president Paul Denmead, since his group were not allowed to attend to disseminate leaflets. This is the case because there is a seperate day assigned to campus clubs and groups for this specific purpose. The Christian Union wished to attend both. Not that this limits their activities or visibility on campus: when I attended UoC, I remember on one occasion walking by the main library, where the Christian Union were massed, having placed a giant white cross on the steps. Other students have relayed to me their experiences of being surprised by the Giant White Cross at other times. I do agree with Denmead's point regarding the exploitation of students for the benefit of the University and business, but his ulterior motive is obvious. Notably, during at least one previous Orientation the CU were asked to leave after reportedly harassing students trying to complete the enrolment process.

The third article was about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's statement that "freedom of speech must respect religion", in the wake of the re-publishing of offensive cartoons in the Danish press. Again, while I agree that this act was totally unnecessary, and undeniably offensive towards the Islamic faith, it must be stated that religion deserves no special immunity from examination, analysis and criticism where due.

In my opinion, this particular act was crass and designed only to raise the ire of muslims. It had no critical value, serving only to divide the community further by reinforcing totally false stereotypes about muslims and the prophet Mohammed. Now, ridicule is a weak form of argument, if it counts at all. I readily admit to having made use of it myself in the course of debating various points. However, I try to make use it carefully, only where it is appropriate and justifiable; a valid point can be made in a witty way. The Danish cartoons, though, strike me as juvenile and dangerously misinformed.

It constantly irks me that we are encouraged to be tolerant of people's religious beliefs, yet it seems that religious folks—christians in particular—are under the impression that they have no such obligation towards the rest of us. In my experience talking with christians, muslims, hare krishnas and other individuals with a multitude of beliefs, christians would appear to be the only group who have been consistently judgemental, intolerant and disrespectful.

Tolerance is a funny thing.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Encounter With a Rational Fellow

It was with great surprise and excitement that I noticed a fellow passenger reading Christopher Hitchens' book "God is Not Great" yesterday while on the bus home. I was so heartened to be able to strike up a conversation with someone who shared the same views on religion.

He echoed my wish to see religion dismantled for the benefit of everyone, and agreed that more needed to be done at early stages of education to prevent religious indoctrination of children. He suggested restricting Sunday School attendance to children over a certain age, where they had developed better reasoning skills.

We noted the recent founding of yet another christian "traditional-family-values-oriented" political party in New Zealand, and the political influence that religious groups are trying to exert over the populace. He also shared my beliefs that there are far more people who are sick of being hammered with religious nonsense than religious adherents would have us believe; that religion deserves no special immunity from criticism; and that the internet may be where the galvanisation of atheists will lead to real action in the real world on a large scale.

I grinned, and told him I was working on the problem.