Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ali A. Rizvi: The Atheist Muslim

As I started to tackle my collection of books I purchased (and had signed!) at Imagine No Religion 7 in Toronto a couple weeks ago, I thought, "wow, this is a book I need to talk about".  The book is "The Atheist Muslim - A Journey from Religion to Reason" by Ali Rizvi.  It is a book that I will write about and, if you know me personally, be talking about.  I've only started it - nearing the 1/4 way mark - but I'm mentioning it now as my wife alerted me to a recent Facebook posting from The Thinking Atheist.

Here's the video The Thinking Atheist posted:

From what I've read, I must say that this will be placed as one of the best written and most important books of our time.

This isn't a book you should read, it is one you must read.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Inflammatory? If the truth causes such distress, that's not my problem

"Approach is your problem, you don't know the proper method to approach a subject" - that's a phrase I'm often told and, to some extent, they're probably right.  I don't agree, however, that there is any subject that a person should be able to bring up that nobody else is allowed to comment on.

This is a topic I've blogged about - my particular comment/argument being "If you bring god to the table, he's up for discussion" in reference to someone wishing to pray at the table before dinner.  If you find my desire to disagree with your beliefs to be inflammatory, that's your problem.  However, I wish it were truly that simple.

There is reason, at times, to consider approach.  Sometimes the ultimate goal needs to be determined and the value of questioning beliefs has to be weighed against other items that might be of greater value (ie. being invited back to a dinner party, continuing a long-standing relationship, etc.). 

You can't use logic to combat emotions.  Logic and reason, by their very application, are subject to revision as facts are discovered and knowledge advances while emotions leave people grasping firmly to feelings and opinions not derived by reason alone.  Often, too, emotions and feelings become attached to positions that were (at least partially) reasoned into.  A person's desire for something to be true is often the motivator for holding on to a belief.

Let me give a few examples of times when I've been told that my approach is wrong (some I can agree with, in hindsight, while others I firmly disagree with):

  • My wife and I were walking in a beach front community in California when we came across a couple of men holding buckets soliciting donations and dressed like police officers.  They were not police officers but the uniforms suggested military or police affiliation.  The two men were collecting money to end poverty and the uniforms stated that fact.  The uniforms also showed a religious affiliation.  As we approached the street corner that they were standing on, I said to the two gentleman that if they want to end poverty, a good start would be to sell their churches and use the money to teach about or supply birth control or put the money towards actual mental health services.


  • While hanging out with friends in an informal environment, one of my friends said "thank god" in reference to a story about a friend nearly getting killed in a car accident to which I replied "No.  Thank the paramedics, thank technology, thank the doctors, thank the scientists who have made cars safer."
  • A co-worker brought up that they were going to see a laser clinic to help them stop smoking.  Upon hearing that, I informed him that he could find a better way to waste his money by saying "Does it not bother you that studies have shown that laser therapy is no better than placebo or is this a case of you not having a match or the facility to burn your money yourself?"

I recently encountered a situation when, in response to me dismissing a claim that high doses of vitamin C prevent (or shorten) the common cold, an acquaintance got upset with me.  I said "are you upset that you were lied to and wasted your money on something or are you upset that I told you the truth?  It seems that you're upset with me when I'm the one who has helped you the most."

My approach wasn't ideal, I'm sure, and they labeled me a "know-it-all" to which I replied, "I don't know it all, but you brought up something that I've done much research into."  I became so interested in the claims about vitamin C because, before my dive into skepticism, I believed it and took high doses of vitamin C for the exact same reason.  The turning point, to skepticism and away from woo-woo, was when an acquaintance dismissed my activity with a simple "you might want to read consumer reports, they just showed that it is a scam".

Surely we all agree that there can be better ways to say things but it is hard to argue that simply ignoring it will result in a change in behaviour or belief.  With that said, some people do respond to abrupt or, seemingly, inflammatory/insensitive comments with actually considering their position or belief - I definitely did.

My examples above have been in situations where the number of people around was rather limited but, where there is a bigger group of people, it is also good to consider the audience as it isn't always who you are talking to but who else might be listening.  When you encounter, for example, a street preacher that has an audience, what you say is also being heard by them.  You might make a point or spark an idea in someone in the crowd but have no impact on the street preacher him or herself.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Just What Sarnia Needed

It's often that I am driving through Sarnia and thinking to myself that our city lacks places that will lie to customers and take their hard-earned money.  Ha - who am I kidding?  Our city is full of churches!

Not only is it full of churches, we've abundant "woo-woo" places that peddle snake-oil treatments, false hope and dangerous ideas.  Fortunately for those suffering from the benefits of modernity - waste management, clean water, health care, vaccinations, sanitation - and that forget everything that science and evidence have brought us because they're not reminded of the "good old days" when people died of preventable diseases or, the even luckier, didn't even make it through childbirth.  These same people who, today, suffer from TWS (thick wallet syndrome) have a great new place to go to have their money exchanged for deceit.

Sarnia's recently opened "Mystic Mind" store in downtown Sarnia is willing to take your money if you'll only believe the bullshit they're selling.  Reflexology is prominently advertised on their facebook site - so if you like getting your foot rubbed while someone claims they're doing magic medicine but achieving no objective health improvements, they've got you covered.

In addition, they advertise Reiki - I've summarized Reiki previously (It's bullshit.)

And finally, a blog favourite, psychic readings.  Robbie Thomas (of http://robbiethomas.sarnia.com fame) and Darin James have done "readings" at the Mystic Mind - Darin's even their "resident" or "house" psychic.  I'm sure, at $80 an hour, the owners of Mystic Mind are simply hopng that some trusting people will kick them some coin to have Darin lie to them and replace their real memories with fake ones or will have Darin give them false hope/direction when it comes to important life decisions.  Psychic readings are not for entertainment only - that is their quack warning simply to get them out of legal responsibility for their lies - people who attend psychics are often not there for "fun".  Who honestly believes that someone "communicating" with your dead relative should be doing so (pretend it is even possible) for a laugh?

If you haven't seen Penn & Teller's Bullshit! television series, it is a must see!  In the very first episode they cover "Talking to the dead" and after showing some clips of people getting "readings" or having a "medium" "communicate" to deceased relatives, Penn says:
Before we bust up this party- and god dammit we're gonna bust it up- we have to make it very clear where our hearts are. We have nothing but empathy for the people who are experiencing the loss and grief of the death of a loved one. That guy who lost his mom rips my heart out. I'm a momma's boy whose mom died a couple of years ago, and I'll never get over it, and my dad died at around the same time, and I was very close to both of them. I loved them so much there isn't a moment that goes by that I don't miss them. Houdini didn't really go nuts busting these mediums until he lost his mom. Once you've felt that pure grief, seeing it exploited can take away your sense of humor. Once a loved one has died, all we have is our memories of them. There is nothing more precious to me than my memories of my mom and dad. We don't give a rat's ass about the money these bastards are taking from the grief stricken; what we do care about deeply is the desecration of memories. These "performance artists" are, in a very real sense, mother-fuckers. That poor guy's grieving memories of his mother are now all fucked up by somebody else's images. All he will ever have left of his mom are memories, and this pig has pissed on those for a buck and a little un-earned fame. I'm sure these lame fucks tell themselves that they're easing the grief, but skits for money can not replace loving memories. How low do you have to be to exploit someone's true grief to sell some bullshit book?  (Wikiquote)
Let us not forget that psychics, by lying to their customers, are doing real harm.  This isn't a fair exchange - people are trusting in abilities that don't exist.  "Psychics" are taking advantage of people - telling them things that may be hurtful or they could be selling false hope.

We need to protect vulnerable people - not abuse them.  Selling lies is abuse no matter how you look at it.  Let's stop calling people gullible, let's call out the people who are taking advantage of their trust.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Harry DeBoer - Again

Recently, as Harry DeBoer has a one-track mind, we were reminded by him of how backwards and nonsensical his religious views are.  Harry regularly writes into the Sarnia Observer to talk about abortion - even when he pretends that he wants to talk about something else, he almost always reminds of his antiquated and anti-woman beliefs.

To be consistent, Harry wrote a letter to the editor on October 20, 2016:

It’s ironic that Canada, once known for its democracy and Judeo-Christian ethos, has now become one of the most liberal anti-God nations on Earth. 
Canada has redefined marriage from its biblical status, and now allows same-sex unions.
As far as the culture of death is concerned, Canada is one of only three countries that permits partial abortion. All other countries have restraint in this regard. To share the partial abortion status with two of the biggest violators of human rights (China and North Korea) is nothing to be proud of.
Now our government and courts have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. According to the Prevention Coalition of Canada, doctors of conscience who object to euthanasia will be coerced to pay a penalty of sorts should they refuse to refer patients who seek death to doctors who will carry out that instruction. 
Even in most supposedly liberal jurisdictions such as Holland or the state of Oregon, where euthanasia was legalized long before Canada made that decision, anti-euthanasia physicians are not forced to make these referrals. 
The root cause of all that ails most western nations, and not just Canada, is a refusal to obey the laws of God as they pertain to public life and governance. 
For Canadians, it’s the disregard of the preamble to our Constitution, of not recognizing “the Supremacy of God and the rule of law”. 
Not many Canadians think about the preamble, and you can be sure Canada’s mainline political parties avoid it. Even the Supreme Court of Canada calls “the Supremacy of God” a meaningless phrase, or a dead letter. 
It’s time to have a national and public discourse on the Constitution’s preamble. 
Harry DeBoer
Wyoming  

Since I've addressed many of Harry's points before, I didn't even feel like responding but, when stupid presents itself...

Like Harry’s bronze-aged myth, his letter has done little to change with the times.  That he states outdated information and misrepresents what is actually allowed should be what we recognize as “true Christian morality and values”.    

To borrow a phrase from Harry, it’s ironic that Canada, known for its relatively high level of education, still has any portion of the population that still believes in a god of any sort.  In our country, if you believe in a god, with almost no exception, you do so because your parents also believed in god – not only ‘a god’, but the very god that you, too, believe in.  Of the thousands of possible gods you could believe in (Harry and I disbelieve in almost the same number of gods – I believe in just one fewer), it’s not through revelation, evidence or proof that you’ve come to choose the particular god. 

To address Harry’s points, Canada has redefined legal marriage from being oppressive and exclusionary to one that is more inclusive.   Ironic, too, that religions claim morality and tolerance but display that in the most oppressive, immoral and intolerant ways possible (well, okay, give credit to Christians for cutting back on committing genocides and stoning people to death).

It is interesting that, given the number of lives that are lost as a result of religious interpretations, that Harry’s supposed concern is about preserving life.  As far as the culture of death is concerned, the story that Harry DeBoer wants you to believe is, like the book he believes in, almost complete fiction.  

Furthermore, the book that Harry so loves resulted in the oppression, murder and subjugation of millions of people.  Harry and others will argue "that was a different time" but we can't simply pick and choose what we apply that to when it comes to "the literal word of god" or "the inspired word of god".  The justifications for oppression were when we were ignorant, when people didn't know better and when men had the opportunity (clearly took advantage of it too!) to control.  Now that we know better, now that we can demand more and now that the world is seeing religion for the horrible ideas it brings to the table, we're saying "that was a different time" when we revered the "word of god" and, frankly, if you can't look back on history and say "we should be ashamed of ourselves", you are deserving of additional scorn and ridicule.

To argue, as if it is a bad thing, that Canada stands alone in progressive and moral policy, is another trait of many religious people.  The argument is circular and silly.  That other countries will come to accepting good science, good medicine and, simply put, good public policy is only a matter of time – and then what do you argue? 

I understand that the facts can be inconvenient to Harry's story but the United States, federally, has come to accept that the right to abortion should be permitted and preserved as well as the right for consenting adults to make their own choices on whether or not and to whom they wish to get married.  (Keep in mind that Harry has chosen an extremely limited interpretation of abortion laws to make it so we fit only with China, United States and North Korea - and he leaves out the US.  Other versions of the story that Harry is copying will include Vietnam.  Harry is also being disingenuous - he doesn't want Canada to "get in line" with most other democracies - because even if Canada made the single limit that Harry speaks about, abortion would still be legal - and it would have almost no impact on the number of abortions that are provided in Canada.)

Now to Harry:

Here’s an idea, Harry – value women as your equals, permit them the same opportunities presented to men and allow them to control their own reproductive cycle (don’t shame them and, for your non-existent god’s sake, don’t make it a financial burden for them to do so). 

And, one final great idea, Mr. DeBoer, consider the facts.   Accept what is true and not simply what you want to be true.  Give women access to birth control and other needs related to reproductive health, permit them to make their own decisions, give them opportunities in life and what is the result?  Fewer abortions.  Imagine if that was truly what you were trying to achieve.


Bullying is what you’re doing and it is not acceptable under any other pretense.  You should be ashamed of your backwards view on morality and the harm that your lies and bullying are doing to society.   

Thursday, August 11, 2016

False Equivalence? Either way, almost unbelievable

As I've mentioned before, a number of us attended the Ark Encounter grand opening for a protest. There were a number of reasons for the protest - to let visitors know that it is anti-science and not for kids, to inform the general public that their tax dollars went to support it and that the story is not a "feel good" story but one of genocide and incest.


At the protest, we encountered a few "counter protesters", primarily felon Kent Hovind's son, Eric, and his "friends" at Creation Today.  (The relationship matters - Kent Hovind recently spent 10 years in jail for tax evasion - his son simply took over and kept up the anti-science agenda.)

Eric Hovind, it turns out, is dishonest, obnoxious and rude - what a perfect example of a "true" Christian.  The method of debate by Eric (his friends didn't do much - obviously far less willing to appear to be complete dicks and not prepared to debate/discuss with people who actually know that Eric and his crew are full of shit) is to never allow an argument to be followed.  Eric would constantly change the subject, ask another unrelated question or, even, imply that you beat your wife (seriously!) to completely throw you off.

Enough about that - the point of this entry is to share the brochure that he handed out to a number of us protesters.  To say I was surprised when I read it would be a complete understatement.

It was a tri-fold brochure so I'm breaking it up by page for now (the full image is below as well).

The first page is silly enough - the bigger comments are, supposedly, points that the thinkers among us are making.  The smaller print is something, I suspect, that we claim but often forget when we're (not even) making the points in larger print.

First of all, none of us claimed that Noah was stupid.  It'd take a pretty smart person to, at 500+ years old, build an ark (that would look nothing like the ark they built in Kentucky) given that even with cranes, cement and other modern building materials, Ken Ham and his crew of many dozens couldn't build one. Noah probably never existed but, even if he did, we know the global flood never happened.

The corresponding small print suggests that those who accept evolution believe our brains came about by accident. (Wow - I think Eric is a liar and actually knows that evolution has never ever been honestly taught like that.)

Eric's god does command execution and has killed a lot of people.  In this story (yes, it's a story), however, we're not suggesting that god commanded genocide, she committed it.  It was supposedly god who brought about the rain and flooded the earth (for how long? You pick - 40 days, 150 days, 253 days?).  His small print is another misrepresentation of evolution - "survival of the fittest" means not what he suggests it does.

The "Your god commands incest!" is another one we don't claim - it is just, logically, what is required to repopulate the earth.  We don't think she commanded incest, we just think that she was okay with some pretty kinky stuff.  (The other biblical incest stories are a Lot better when they leave less to the imagination - no pun intended.)  Eric then tries to use a different definition of "related" (as you'll see inside) as he refers to our common ancestry with other primates.

The final bubble is one that I can't ever seem to wrap my head around - the concept that we can't know what is right or wrong unless we believe in the Christian god or accept the bible.  There are innumerable other cultures in the world that have never seen/heard of the bible and, yet, they've come to similar understandings of mutual respect and co-operation.  That Christians can have morality and know right from wrong is proof that it doesn't require the bible - the stories in the bible demonstrate no where near the level of morality of society today.

On to page 2.  Eric simply explains why he's given us this brochure.


Page 3
On this page, Eric basically makes our point for us.  His god commits genocide.  The funny part is that Eric equates us making signs and protesting with his god killing all but 8 people on earth.  He then follows up with, and you don't think my god is loving?  Just wait, he/she's got more love coming our way - this time it's "everyone dies by fire" instead of simply drowning.  

Page 4
This page calls for another face-palm.  Let's break it down: Evolution involves incest so nah nah. Tu quoque much, Eric?  What a childish argument especially given that evolution's definition of "related" is not the definition that we use when we speak of incest.  I have a feeling that Eric might have an interest in fucking a few other species and he's hoping for us to give him the "okay".

Eric returns to the "right and wrong" argument - maybe he is sold on this being a great argument but it's paper thin and rather dumb.

Oh, then it gets even better.  "God saved people through something made of wood, and began a new family" -- this reminds me of the opening sequence in Team America World Police.  (If you haven't seen it, you reary reary need to.)  When Team America (god, in Eric's story) shows up to deal with the terrorists (evil people - and by evil, we mean people who didn't worship god enough because that's all god gives a shit about) and save Paris (humanity, in Eric's story), Team America (all loving god, remember?) nearly destroys the whole city of Paris and, at the end, almost completely oblivious to their near complete destruction of the city (humanity, remember?), congratulates itself for saving almost none of it.

For point #3, Eric wanted to address an old version of the graphic created for the "Genocide and Incest Park" that referenced "2000 years".  The graphic has since been changed (something Eric must be okay with given his blind acceptance of a book that's been changed/re-written/plagiarized for hundreds of years) and the 2000 year reference is gone.  However, give Eric credit for not taking away the opportunity for us to further laugh at him.  He states, "Actually the Story of Noah was written in the Torah, in the book of Genesis, by the hand of Moses, about 3500 years ago."  ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No honest bible scholar would even pretend that Moses existed, let alone claim that he wrote any of the bible.

The final point on this page is an outright fabrication. We know that civilizations existed 12,000 years ago and human writing has been discovered that is more than 5000 years old.  Eric either is completely willfully ignorant or is a flat-out liar.  My money is on the latter.

Page 5

Page 6

Full Page Versions:


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fewer gods, more morals

You want to get your child to do some yard work for an elderly neighbour.  There are a number of approaches you could take and I think we’ll all agree which reflects better on the child and which reflects better on you.

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the offer that you’ll pay your child $20 to do it.

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the warning that if they don’t, you’ll spank them (or ground them, if you wish).

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the suggestion “because that would be a nice thing to do”.

In which of these scenarios do we think we’ve built the most character and instilled the best values in the child?  As a loving parent, which of those approaches would you rather be successful with your child?

Yet, when people of faith often engage in “debates” with atheists, they’ll often suggest that atheists have no moral basis or are immoral or even ask questions like “then why don’t you just rape and steal” (yes, literally that phrase or one close to it).

That atheists clearly do great things and because atheists believe in no sky-daddy punishment or reward, the only other possibility is that atheists do good for the sake of doing good.  Atheists, it must be argued, are the moral ones and, as we continue to demonstrate the case, we must retake the claim to the moral high ground.


(And because people will want to say “What about Stalin or Pol Pot?”, let me quickly address it – being an atheist and doing something because of atheism is not the same thing.  Being a Christian and doing things because you believe the Christian faith demands it of you are also different.  It is important to remember that atheism has no doctrine and is not a belief in something – it is exactly the opposite of belief.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ark you kidding me?

On July 7, 2016 something almost completely unbelievable happened.  The douchebags behind the anti-science factory, known for its dinosaur statue having a saddle on it, otherwise called the "Creation Museum" opened their latest absurdity - a claimed re-creation of the Noah's Ark story.  They call it "The Ark Encounter", the Tri-State Freethinkers call it, more appropriately, "The Genocide and Incest Park".

Until days before the opening of the Ark Encounter, I lived my life wrongly assuming that I didn't regularly spend time with people who actually believed that a 500 year old man spent 120 years building a massive "boat" that would fit 2 or 7 of every animal on earth.  As the opening day of the Genocide and Incest Park neared, promotional videos were shared on my wife's Facebook timeline.  Little did we know that the person sharing it, someone my wife considers to be a friend, actually believed in a literal interpretation of the story and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  Little did he know that I (along with my wife and a number of others from Sarnia) was actually going to Williamstown, Kentucky to protest the opening of the re-creation of, arguably, one of the most unbelievable stories in the bible.

On opening day, I was part of a group of a hundred or so people who participated in an organized protest of the "park" for a number of reasons.  I honestly believed I'd be attending a protest that would simply be making points about the unbelievable story and that we'd be explaining the myth to people who simply hadn't thought about it.  Despite me knowing people who, at the surface, believe that the biblical story of a "perfect" god creating an imperfect world and, because of her mistake, decided the best way to make things right was to kill everyone but 8 people - Noah, his unnamed wife, Noah's three children (Shem, Ham, Japheth) and their unnamed wives.

When I further think about the story, however, I want to believe that none of my friends actually believe the story.  I was pretty certain that the people we would encounter in Kentucky (the counter protesters and those trying to show us where we were mistaken) would make points and arguments about the story that involved retrofitting the story, trying to explain away inconsistencies or offering ideas that they claim come from other sources that I wasn't familiar with.

What I was pretty certain about turned out to be something I was certainly wrong about.  The creators of the Ark Encounter and their "crack" team of counter protesters (more on them and how they acted in another blog) actually believe the unbelievable.  Not only did they believe it, they were willing to put it on paper and hand it out to us to try to get us to accept "the truth".  In my next blog entry, I'll show pictures of the brochure I was given and give a few thoughts on it.  To my friends who have seen it, they questioned whether it was a Poe and suggested that it may have been made to make fun of the park and not as a serious argument for the truth of it.

I suspect I struggled with anyone "really" believing the story because, as I see it, the Noah story requires a person to accept (in no particular order):
  • A 500+ year old man and his three sons could build a massive raft ("arks" are nothing like what is drawn in kids’ books or what was built by Ken Ham's group)
  • That there could be enough water to flood the entire world and that it could nearly entirely disappear with no evidence it was ever here
  • That two (or seven) of every species of animal on the planet could get to the middle-east -- and in less than 7 days!
  • That dinosaurs and humans lived on earth at the same time
  • That the earth is less than 10,000 years old
  • That 8 - 4 (all related) men and 4 women - people could reproduce (incestuously) fast enough to ultimately create 7 billion people in less than 6000 years
  • That a boat not big enough to even fit two of every beetle and two of every rodent could fit 2 (or 7) of EVERY species on earth
  • That the boat could also fit enough food for all these animals (forgetting that some of these animals rely on the other animals for their diet, that there was no refrigeration back then and no room to store fresh water!)
  • That 8 people could take care of millions of animals (never mind their waste, their requirements for fresh water and the inability of many of the animals to regulate their own body temperature)
  • That a "perfect" god would create an imperfect world and would punish almost everything that they created because the objects of their creation simply didn't worship them
  • Genocide is moral and acceptable in certain instances
  • That upon the waters residing, the pairs of animals (warning: more incest) could each find their way back (and leave no evidence of having been anywhere but where they are found today) to far-off lands and reproduce at such rates to create the populations of today

 And I'm sure, as some have, that people would be able to, through mental gymnastics I'm clearly not capable of, rationalize certain aspects of the story to themselves, I can hardly believe that anyone does believe all this but Ken Ham got over a hundred million (yes, $100,000,000) dollars invested to build a fantastical re-creation of a literally unbelievable plagiarized myth found in the bible.  People, not only as a story, literally believe this batshit crazy idea and are bringing their kids to this monstrous absurdity to indoctrinate their children into accepting the ridiculous.  Science education at its worst - congratulations Kentucky on being the poster-state of absolute stupid.