Category Archives: Religion

The Grand Delusion?

While looking over the videos for my previous posting on atheism, I saw another video that appeals to “college-educated, intelligent Christians” to use their education and intelligence to scientifically analyze their faith. There are a number of questions asked (your standard “If God loves us all, why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why are there so many starving children in the world?” as well as a clever one I hadn’t thought of before, but I’ll get back to that one later), and Christians are asked to answer the questions while thinking logically and scientifically. Most of the time, there is no good answer other than your standard “God works in mysterious ways” or “God must have a reason for all the suffering”. However, when you make the initial assumption that God is imaginary and then go through the questions again, suddenly there are answers that make sense. Bad things happen to good people by chance. Children are starving in Africa because they live in a place where it is difficult to grow food and the people and countries are too poor to be able to import enough for everyone — essentially, there is suffering and starvation because not enough is being done to prevent it. The “inescapable” conclusion is that God is imaginary. However, the video isn’t done there. It keeps going and in my opinion, goes too far.

This video attempts to demonstrate by use of logic that God does not exist. (Of course, they have done no such thing here, they’ve just shown that if you assume that God doesn’t exist, all of these particular questions have a logical answer. This isn’t proof of anything.) But the video goes one step further and asks why it is important to do this. They say that it’s important because there are millions (if not billions) of people around the world who believe in God, talk to God, and ask questions of God. If God is imaginary then these people, the vast majority of the world, are all delusional. According to some stats I’ve heard, something like 95% of the world’s population believes in God in one form or another. It’s one thing to say that you believe something different from 95% of the world, but quite another to say that anyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is delusional.

Secondly, by specifically targeting Christians with a college education, the video’s producers imply that anyone without a college degree is too stupid to understand what the video is saying. This is untrue and just a touch insulting.

Finally, the fatal flaw in this video is that it ironically uses exactly the same faulty logic that many creationists do. There are things that happen in the universe that don’t make sense given our current level of scientific knowledge. Creationists frequently point at these questions, saying that because we can’t answer these questions, the underlying scientific assumptions we’ve made must be false, and so God must have done it all. These questions are unanswered simply because we don’t know enough about the universe to answer them all. It’s even possible that human intelligence is simply not capable of understanding some of the intricacies of the universe. This doesn’t mean that what we’ve learned already is untrue. This video says exactly the same thing, but in reverse — here are some questions that we don’t know the answer to, and because the answers we currently have make no sense, the underlying premise behind them must be false. The logic is just as faulty here.

The clever and interesting question I mentioned above was “Why won’t God heal amputees?” You hear about so-called faith healers, who heal the sick with just a touch. But every now and again, you hear about someone whose cancerous tumour mysteriously disappeared, or a blind person who can suddenly see, or some other “miraculous” case of a sick person being healed through prayer. In some of these cases, the medical community is completely baffled, and so many claim this as proof of God’s existence. But there has never once been a case of an amputee miraculously regrowing limbs. Why not? We’ve already got the question of why God would heal some sick people and not others, but now it’s more specific — why will God heal cancer patients and blind people and ignore amputees? Of course, the fact that we don’t know the answer to this question means precisely nothing, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless.

The simple truth is that it is not possible to prove that God does not exist. There’s always the possibility that He’s out there somewhere, fudging test results to keep Himself hidden. Why would He do this? I dunno, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t have a good reason. It is, and will always be, a matter of faith. I have written on numerous occasions before that I am an atheist. But I don’t think that people who are not atheists are all delusional or stupid, we simply believe different things. I’m a Jays fan, but I don’t think that Yankees fans are stupid, we just believe different things — neither one of us is wrong. Well, I guess either God exists or He doesn’t, so either atheists or theists are wrong, but since we don’t (and probably can’t) know which group is wrong, it doesn’t really matter.


The atheist’s nightmare is yummy

I’ve read two interesting and somewhat related posts in the last couple of days, one on Boing Boing and the other on Slashdot. The first was about how scientists have now actually witnessed evolution in a lab. Scientists have been watching some E. coli bacteria in a lab for twenty years, through over 44,000 generations. They have noticed that around the 31,500th generation, some of the bacteria suddenly gained an ability that E. coli generally doesn’t have (something about metabolising citrate — I won’t even pretend that I understand the details). They managed to “replay” the evolution using saved samples of the bacteria, and found that something happened about 10,000 generations earlier that allowed this mutation to take place. The quote at the end: “The thing I like most is it says you can get these complex traits evolving by a combination of unlikely events. That’s just what creationists say can’t happen.

The other is a old video of some nutbag explaining to former actor and current evangelist Kirk Cameron why the banana is “the atheist’s nightmare” because “it is so perfectly suited to the human hand” and therefore must have been designed by God. This is just too funny. Here is another funny video saying that peanut butter proves that evolution is false, because:

  1. scientists say that life can sometimes be created by matter and energy,
  2. peanut butter is matter,
  3. peanut butter is exposed to energy such as light and heat, but
  4. we never find life spontaneously being created inside a jar of peanut butter.

Wow, got me convinced. If that ain’t scientific proof, I don’t know what is. Oh wait, a couple of quick questions — has anyone ever examined every jar of peanut butter ever created for any microscopic form of life that was spontaneously created? Because we know that if evolution is true, then the form of life that might be spontaneously created from matter and energy would be a single cell. Evolution does not say that you might open a jar of peanut butter to find a chihuahua or a platypus inside. Also, peanut butter has been around for about a hundred years, while the universe is billions of years old. Have we waited long enough to say that it’s definitely not going to happen? Not to mention the obvious point that even if evolution is true, the possibility of this happening inside a jar of peanut butter is so low that the fact that you haven’t seen it happen is not proof that it can’t.

Speaking as an atheist, I can honestly say I have never had a nightmare involving either bananas or peanut butter. I ate a banana just the other day and quite enjoyed it. Cut one up, pour a little milk on it and sprinkle a touch of sugar, quite a nice little snack. I had an English muffin with peanut butter tonight when I got home from baseball. And ironically combining both nightmares, I used to love peanut butter and banana sandwiches when I was a kid.

Conservapedia — Wikipedia for the hard of thinking

Well, folks, here it is — the encyclopedia you’ve been waiting for if you’re afraid of the truth and want to live in your own little everything-is-wonderful world. It’s called, “The Trustworthy Encyclopedia”. I don’t even know where to start with this one. It’s wikipedia except they abandoned the Neutral Point of View concept, and decide to write everything from a conservative Christian point of view (which is fine), but then treat that point of view as fact (which is not). Its criticisms of Wikipedia are funny — a Wikipedia article can present all kinds of facts about something like homosexuality, but because it doesn’t explicitly say “Homosexuality is immoral” or “wrong” or “an abomination”, they view this as an endorsement and therefore Wikipedia has a liberal bias. Because you are allowed to describe years and time periods using BCE/CE in place of BC/AD, Wikipedia has an anti-religious bias. Because you are allowed to use British English rather than American English on pages about British topics, Wikipedia has an anti-American bias.

The articles use all kinds of faulty logic — how can evolution be true if smart people like Archimedes, Aristotle, and Isaac Newton didn’t propose such a theory? Plus, Hitler believed in evolution. A quote even hints that Hitler’s evolutionary beliefs caused him to believe that Germans were superior to other races, and that Jews were to be segregated. Ergo, if you believe in evolution, you are evil. Also, atheism is obviously evil because Stalin, Lenin, and Karl Marx were atheists. And of course, the old standby, “If science cannot currently conclusively prove something, it must be false” (eg. evolution, the Big Bang, a genetic basis for homosexuality). Yup, definitely trustworthy.

Here are some “trustworthy” “facts” that I learned from Conservapedia:

  • The opening paragraph of the article on homosexuality says “homosexuality has a variety of negative effects on individuals and society at large
  • homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be engage in promiscuity, violent behaviour towards their partners, homicide, pedophilia, cigarette smoking, and illegal drugs
  • most hate crimes against gay people are not actually hate crimes, and hate crimes committed by gay people against heterosexuals are vastly underreported
  • abortions cause breast cancer
  • the theory of evolution is evil — “a vast majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the evolutionary position since World War II have been atheists
  • a virgin is a person of either sex who has not married

Obviously there are going to be articles that have incorrect facts on them; I’m sure you could go through Wikipedia and find plenty of incorrect information. However, the article on homosexuality has thirty-five sections, 290 references, and at least two thousand edits. It’s not like someone added some incorrect or misleading information — many people have. The virginity page doesn’t even mention sex, but to give an accurate description of what virginity is would require actually discussing sex, and we can’t have that, now can we? In order to “protect” people from a description of sex (and come on people, this can be done without an explicit description of how it is performed), they choose to publish something that is patently untrue. And I’m supposed to take this site seriously?

The Conservapedia article on Wikipedia is also particularly “trustworthy”. The following quotes all take place within the opening two paragraphs of the article:

  • Despite its official “neutrality policy”, Wikipedia has a strong liberal bias
  • It has millions of entries on topics ranging from an explanation for “duh” to singles by obscure rock bands to arcane British royalty.
  • Initially, Wikipedia was hosted on servers operated by Bomis, Inc., a company that also sold pornographic pictures.

There’s even a page on how Conservapedia differs from Wikipedia. One of the 16 listed reasons is: “We do not allow liberal censorship of conservative facts. Wikipedia editors who are far more liberal than the American public frequently censor factual information. Conservapedia does not censor any facts that comport with the basic rules.” This is laughable, since Conservapedia not only allows but encourages conservative censorship of liberal facts, though I suppose they are up-front about it. Also, they treat the Bible and biblical scholars as a source of “facts” and conveniently ignore scientists whose findings don’t agree with their agenda.

Do I want my kids perusing Wikipedia? To be honest, no. There are indeed explicit and disturbing pictures on some pages, as well as explicit descriptions of things that an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old really do not need to have described to them. However, Conservapedia, while family-friendly, presents opinions as facts, and tries to spin homophobia, general intolerance, and anything that disagrees with their beliefs (however misguided) as “faith”. Faith has as much to do with hating gay people as Islam has to do with murdering Americans. A few extremist crackpots ruin it for the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims, and similarly, the people who created this site are simply Christian extremists teaching hate and masquerading it as faith. I won’t let my kids anywhere near this site until they are old enough to be able to distinguish facts from bullshit presented as facts.

Leafs, books, quirks, and Adam’s fall

A few scattered things…

In the past couple of years, I’ve actually hoped that the Leafs wouldn’t make the playoffs, so that this would send a clear signal to the Leafs’ management that serious changes needed to be made, not just little tweaks here and there. They’ve missed the playoffs two years running now, but nothing really significant has been done, so this year, I’m hoping the Leafs miss the playoffs again so that management is replaced. Ferguson has done a lousy job of building this team, so he needs to be sent packing. I’m hoping that Tannenbaum et al have noticed the dramatic changes in the Raptors after they went out and got Bryan Colangelo (last year’s NBA Executive of the Year); maybe that will force them to rethink the Leafs’ situation. Rather than just getting some guy to run the Leafs, they need to go out and get the guy — someone with a proven track record who is not afraid to blow the team up and rebuild. I have no idea who the guy is (would Lou Lamoriello ever leave New Jersey?), but Ferguson just ain’t getting the job done.

Wil Wheaton has a new book out called “The Happiest Days of our Lives”, which is a collection of some of his best blog entries, and talking about the best blog entries on Wil’s blog is really saying something. I ordered the book a few weeks ago, and shortly after, Wil (I call him “Wil” like he’s a friend of mine) complained that the Canadian orders had to be processed by hand, and he was doing it himself (Monolith Press, who’s publishing the book, is Wil’s own publishing company). Lo and behold, my book arrived last week, and the envelope had a customs sticker on it signed by Wil himself. It’s not an autographed book, but pretty close…

When I first got my iPod, I spent a month putting all my music on it, and as an afterthought, I subscribed to a couple of podcasts. Since then, I’ve found that my main use for the iPod is listening to these podcasts on my way to and from work every day. I don’t know how I’d manage this if I didn’t have a 45-minute-each-way commute. Since you asked (lookin’ at you, CaHwyGuy), here are my podcasts:

  • Prime Time Sports, the FAN 590’s afternoon show with the legendary Bob McCown, recently voted North American sports radio’s “Air Talent of the Year”.
  • Bob McKenzie – the TSN hockey analyst’s five-minute podcast, once or twice a week.
  • Quirks and Quarks – CBC’s science show, which has been around since the mid-70’s (though not in podcast form).
  • Scientific American’s 60-Second Science – a daily 60-second science report, usually a brief summary of a recent scientific discovery.
  • This Week in Tech (TWiT) – a discussion of recent news in the world of technology.

I have also downloaded, listened to, and enjoyed a couple of audiobooks from So far, I have only listened to audiobooks from guys named Stephen: Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You)”. Just the title of that second one is enough to make me giggle, and the rest of the book is also very funny; I literally laughed out loud on numerous occasions while listening to it.

I found this on Boing Boing, and could not stop laughing. Author John Scalzi has written a review of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which is a museum that promotes “young Earth” creationism, i.e. the Bible is literally true, and the Earth was created in 6 24-hour days about 6000 years ago. The other things that these young Earth creationists also believe are mind-boggling:

  • dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans, possibly as late as when the Egyptians were building the pyramids
  • there was nothing bad in the world until Adam ate that damned apple — there was no disease, no pain, every animal was a vegetarian, snake’s venom was harmless, and there were no weeds. Yes, there’s a sign in the museum specifically talking about weeds, and how they didn’t exist before “Adam’s fall”. (They didn’t explain why a vegetarian T. Rex would have had such huge teeth and claws — maybe they quickly grew after Adam’s fall turned this gentle giant into a vicious carnivore.) Man, you make one mistake, and everyone pays for it for the rest of eternity. God may be merciful and kind, but don’t piss Him off.
  • Cain’s wife was also his sister. This must have been true, since Adam and Eve were the only other people around, so it’s not like he could have married someone from next door. However, before Adam ate the apple, incest was OK and wouldn’t cause genetic problems. Ew.

The whole creationist thing seems to come from the dizzying logic that “the Bible must be true because it’s the word of God. How do we know it’s the word of God? It says so in the Bible.” It’s best explained by this.

Just in case

This video is making the rounds on the internet. It’s called “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See”, but that’s a bit strong. It’s about global climate change (GCC) and what, if anything, we need to do about it. It’s strange in that the author doesn’t try to convince you that GCC is actually occurring, but that we need to do something about it anyway.

The logic is hardly groundbreaking — either GCC is occurring or it isn’t, and either we do something about it or we don’t. If it is occurring and we take action, we’re good, and if it is not occurring and we do nothing, we’re good. The two risks are the crux of the argument, and he describes the two extreme cases. If GCC is occurring and we don’t take action, ocean levels will rise, wiping out entire cities or possibly countries, millions of people will die and millions more will be homeless, there’s worldwide economic, political, and social chaos, and life generally will suck. If it is not occurring and we do take action, we could be spending billions of dollars solving a problem that doesn’t exist and we cause a worldwide economic depression. The latter is certainly the lesser of the two evils, so we need to take action against GCC, “just in case”. I have no real problem with that logic, and am happy to do my share to help.

Am I going to become a vegan or vegetarian because the more meat we eat, the more cows there are, and the more cows there are, the more gas they release, thereby contributing to global warming? No, because I don’t think that cow farts are really that big of a problem. I have actually seen this reasoning in defence of veganism, by the way.

Anyway, the logic he used reminded me of religion. I think a large number of people believe in God “just in case”. They figure that if God exists and I don’t believe, then I get to sleep in on Sundays, but I’m going to hell. If God does not exist, and I do believe, then I’ve wasted** my Sunday mornings and not much else. Going to hell is obviously worse, so I’ll go to church. I know that there are a much larger number of faithful church-goers who believe wholeheartedly in God, and this is not something they think about — God not existing is not an option in their mind. But I think the number of “just-in-case”ers is not insignificant.

Personally, I am as “devout” an atheist as the aforementioned “faithful” are devout Christians (or Jews or Muslims or…), so the option of “God exists but I don’t believe so I’m going to hell” doesn’t exist in my mind. In fact, I used to be a just-in-case’er myself, back before I “came out” as an atheist. It seems that some consider “atheist” one of the worst insults you could use, like “anti-American” (or its equivalent, “terrorist”) seems to be these days. Once I decided that the word “atheist” was not an insult and accurately described me, I dropped the whole “just-in-case” thing.

But the just-in-case’ers seem to be missing one crucial point. If God does exist, then he knows you’re a just-in-case’er, that you don’t really believe with all your heart, so you’re going to hell anyway. In that case, you’ve wasted your Sunday mornings and you’re going to hell. Worst of both worlds.

** – I also realize that people do more at church than simply pray. They learn valuable life lessons during sermons, meet people and make friends, perhaps get advice or counselling, etc. I talked with someone once who said that her mother was “the biggest atheist around”, but still went to church on Sundays because she simply enjoyed it. I’m sure a lot of the just-in-case’ers really enjoy their church-going time, and from that point of view it’s certainly not “wasted time”. But you know what I mean.

Blasphemy and irony

Note to those who might see “Hamilton Tiger-Cats” at the beginning and
skip the rest, that this is not a sports article…

Last Saturday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats got absolutely smoked by Saskatchewan,
51-8, one of the worst blowouts in team, if not league, history. The headline in
the Hamilton Spectator on Monday was “Oh My God!”. This morning, there was a
to the editor
(not sure if you need to be a subscriber to see that)
complaining about the use of this phrase. My first thought when I read the letter,
ironically, was “Oh, good Lord.” (I’m not kidding, those were the exact words that
came into my head. I swear to God.) Is this really worth writing to the
editor about? Do people really
have nothing more important to do than complain about stuff like this? **
It’s just a phrase. Nobody’s calling
to God, asking Him to fix up the Ti-Cats, or asking why He let such a thing
happen. It’s just a group of words that people say when something happens that
shocks them. Next, people will be protesting the old Batman TV show because Robin
keeps using the word “holy” in reference to things that are not, in fact, holy.
Get over it.

** Before you ask, yes, I do see the irony in blogging
a sentence like that…

A few years ago, someone at Sybase corporate sent a company-wide email out
about something, and prefaced the email by saying “Good Friday morning!”, since
it was sent on a Friday. Someone else replied to that email (to the whole
), complaining that to Christians, the phrase “Good Friday” refers to
a particular day, and not just any Friday, and should not be used out of context.
Good God, For crying out loud, the guy was just trying to be friendly.
Some people will complain about anything.

BTW, when I first typed in the title of this article, I was really tempted to add “live together in perfect harmony” to the end, but decided against it. Made me laugh though.

The Great Debate

Read an interesting article on the Dilbert blog today, regarding the whole Intelligent Design vs. Evolution debate. The article itself was mildly interesting, but the comments are the cool part. Everything from atheists like myself who believe in evolution to religious extremists who believe that people and dinosaurs existed at the same time, and everything in between, including God-fearing scientists who believe a bit of both.

I find these kind of debates interesting. I get a kick out of some (not all) of the creationist points of view that end up reducing to “God must exist because it says so in the Bible. The Bible must be true because it was written by God.” This is the quintessential example of circular logic. Maybe God exists and maybe not, but you can’t assume the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God. You just can’t.

I once saw a bumper sticker that I found intriguing – “Spiritual people enlighten me. Religious people frighten me.” I’m not anti-religion, despite my atheism. I have friends of many different religions, and I don’t think any of them are delusional or stupid. If you feel that religion gives your life purpose or meaning, or you just find it fun, then as Bob McCown might say, giddy-up. Go to town. Have a ball. Just don’t try to push your beliefs on me, and we’re good.

Wacko Creationists

Dr. Kent Hovind is the founder of Creation Science Evangelism, which is a ministry that teaches that the Bible is “literally true and scientifically accurate”. He believes that the world was created by God in 6 24-hour days about 6000 years ago, and that dinosaurs (which humans called “dragons”) lived at the same time as humans. He has even offered to pay anyone $250,000 for “scientific evidence” of evolution.

The offer is, of course, horseshit, as this article describes. In essence, the only way to win the money is to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that God does not exist. This is obviously impossible, and so the fact that nobody has yet won the money proves exactly nothing.

It is amazing to me that intelligent, educated people can still believe stuff like “since there is no evidence that life can be generated from non-living matter, then God must be responsible”. The fact that we have not yet discovered the answer to a particular question (indeed, our minds may not yet be advanced enough to be able to understand the answer) does not mean we should just chuck all of our scientific knowledge and go with “God did everything”.

Sherlock Holmes once said “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remained, however implausible, must be the truth”1, and this seems to be the reasoning behind intelligent design / creationism — evolution is “obviously wrong”, and therefore the only alternative is that God did it. First of all, “obviously wrong” is rather vague – there are never any scientific exlanations for why evolution is wrong, just the standard “if evolution is right, then how did X happen?”. Again, just because we don’t know the answer to every question, this doesn’t mean that the theory is wrong. Secondly, even if our current theory of evolution is wrong, why is creationism the only alternative? You cannot prove creationism true by proving evolution false. Proof by contradiction doesn’t apply here – evolution is not the “logical opposite” of evolution.

Here is another interesting article, this one by the editor-in-chief of Scientific American, listing some popular arguments against evolution, and why they are all bogus.

1 – Note that this is probably not a direct quote – I’m quoting Lt. Cmdr. Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who quotes Holmes in one episode.

State of Grace

I am an atheist. I do not believe in God, or any other type of supreme being. Gail believes, but not devoutly – she basically doesn’t like the idea of death as being the end. The way she once put it was “I have to believe that there is something else afterwards – that my grandparents aren’t just gone, that they’re out there somewhere, and I’ll see them again someday.” So I think she belives in some kind of afterlife, but not necessarily in God. Anyway, we’re not a religious family, by any stretch. We don’t go to church, or talk about God, or say grace before meals.

This past weekend, we went to visit our friends’ cottage on Lake Huron, and a few other friends came on Sunday as well. We had a big BBQ lunch, and just before the kids sat down to eat, one of the mothers started to sing grace – “Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord…”, and most of the kids sang along. Ryan and Nicholas just stared at everyone, not having any clue of what they were singing or why. Nicholas actually smiled at the end and said “Let’s sing it again!”

Once again, I’m forced to wonder how I’m going to handle the inevitable religious questions when they come up – What’s God? How did He create the Earth? Is He watching us all the time? Do I tell him “some people believe that the Earth was created by God… but I think it’s a load of crap”? At some point, he’s going to ask “Why does God allow people to die, or to be hurt?” and I won’t have an answer for him (though I suppose religious parents don’t either, other than the standard “God works in mysterious ways”).

Ryan knows a little about God, from Beavers and kids at school, but eventually he’ll want to know more. Should we send him to Sunday school? In a perfect world, I’d like him to be educated on lots of different religions (including atheism), and let him decide what he does or doesn’t believe. In the real world, that can’t happen. Most religious people are religious because they were brought up religious – they are taught about God and Jesus and the Bible from a very early age, and it never occurs to them to question the teachings. This leads to the faith that is necessary for any religion. You can’t just read the Bible, the Qur’an, and whatever other books there are with a totally open mind, and make an informed and unbiased choice as to which one you’re going to believe – that just ain’t the way it works.

I’m not sure I want someone telling my kids all the standard Bible stories about God and Jesus and whoever else as if they are cold hard facts, but anyone who knows these stories and can give them any kind of religious education is going to believe that they are cold hard facts.

I went to Sunday school for a while as a child, and my parents remember asking me if I liked it. I said that yes, it was fun and all, but they talk about God an awful lot. It’s possible that I missed the point entirely.