f Humanisticus

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

No More Posts!!

Well this will be my last blog post..................well here anyways. I am happy to announce that I have joined Skeptic Ink. If you haven't heard of this site I highly recommend you have a look. A group of very talented people from around the globe who all have their own unique talents and perspectives. There are scientists, authors, philosophers, attorneys, historians, and the list goes on and it is still growing. It is quite exciting to be joining such a group of diverse and talented people. 

So if you like what you have been reading here please follow me over to Skeptic Ink (but don't abandon me for those other writers, despite their obvious superior talent). 

So simply click here to have a look at my new site.

Thanks for all my readers' support and and comments and I hope you will follow me over, see you all there.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Why The Defence of Rebecca Watson's EP Talk Have Been Off The Mark

I would first like to say that I have been criticised for my tone being a bit ranty, preachy, and slightly aggressive. It is not something I intend, so trust me when I say that the below article is meant in the nicest and honest way possible. It is meant to be presented in good faith and I hope it is taken in good faith.

I'm sure we are well aware by now of Rebecca Watson's evolutionary psychology (EP) talk at Skepticon 5 and its subsequent aftermath. Ed Clint of Skepticink wrote a rather scathing critique of her talk and even went as far as accusing her of science denialism (not something I would agree with). Others, of course, have come to her defence, namely Stephanie Zvan and PZ Myers; however, they seemed to have missed the point altogether. I just don't think PZ and Zvan have fully understood what many people are annoyed with. Yes Clint, as someone involved in EP, is annoyed with his field being misrepresented. However, what about us lay-sceptics who have no science background, why do they think we are complaining about Rebecca's talk? We have no stake in EP or bias for or against it. Now I can't speak for anybody else so I will have to speak from a more personal note form now on. 

I watched Rebecca's talk and quite enjoyed it, the only criticism I had about it was that it was not clear whether she was critiquing pop-EP solely or EP as a whole. The argument seemed to be framed around pop-EP but Rebecca delved into EP intermittently enough to cause confusion. By the end of it I did get the impression she was trashing EP overall and not just pop-EP, and it seems I am not the only one. However, it was only later after reading a few reactionary posts (not just Clint's), did I learn about the amount misrepresentative and misleading information that was contained in the talk. I will not list them here, please see Clint's highly detailed posts which is linked above. Now these misrepresentations may not all be true, however, the few I did look up seemed to be. For instance, two stood out the most for me. The first being the assertion made by Rebecca that EP scientists claim that the human brain stopped evolving after the Pleistocene, which according to the links provided by Clint, is untrue. The second is more a misleading implication than anything else. Rebecca discusses V.S. Ramachandran, a man who wrote a satirical EP paper on "Why Men Prefer Blondes" and got it published. Rebecca does not furnish us with any information about the journal/magazine it was published in. Obviously the logical leap would be to assume it was published in a peer-reviewed EP journal, especially given Rebecca's shocked tone and the resulting laughter, as passing-off a satirical paper as a genuine study would be quite funny. However, this was not the case, Ramachandran's paper was published in Medical Hypotheses, a journal that publishes radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas. Not so funny now is it, yet the audience laughed so they clearly understood Rebecca as I did. Now I am not saying Rebecca did this intentionally, but she either withheld it or was unaware of this information, neither should be condoned at a sceptic conference. So as a lay person with no scientific background I expect that speakers at conferences are well versed in the topics they will be presenting. Obviously I was not in the attendance myself but people spend good money to travel to these conferences and Rebecca's trips are financed; so the minimum expectation is that the speakers are somewhat knowledgeable about what they are discussing and they do not misinform the audience.

Now this finally brings me to PZ, and to a lesser extent Zvan. They have begun to write rebuttals to Clint's and other people's criticisms, but they are way of the mark of what is required of a rebuttal. Zvan simply stated that Rebecca wasn't discussing EP as a whole and was merely talking about pop-EP. To be blunt, this excuse is nonsense, Rebecca delved into EP in general way too often for that excuse to fly. In fact it is when she is discussing EP as whole when she declares that EP scientists claim the human brain has not evolved since the Pleistocene. So for Zvan to claim Rebecca was only talking about pop-EP is simply disingenuous, especially given the 20+ other points Clint mentions. PZ has also stepped in, at first attacking Clint with an ad hominem and claiming Clint has "cloaked his bias in the pretence of objectivity". Again this a nonsense excuse. It may be completely true, Clint may despise Rebecca, I don't care, why? Because Clint presented facts, and demonstrably showed where Rebecca had misrepresented the field of EP, so his biases become irrelevant as we were able to view the video and read the articles independently, Clint merely pointed us in the right direction so his bias becomes null and void. And I find it ironic that PZ accuses a man of being biased by writing a biased piece himself, except PZ's contained nothing substantial, just the bias. PZ then went and wrote another piece, this time arguing that qualifications are not needed for somebody to be capable of being involved in a given topic, as Rebecca was accused of not being qualified to talk about EP as she was just a "marketing major". PZ gives several examples of people who work rather successfully in their fields without official credentials: Bill Nye, David Attenborough, Adam Savage and Bill Bryson. I am in total agreement with PZ here, official qualifications are not required for somebody to engage in a topic. But do you know what is required for somebody to engage in a topic, adequate knowledge. The people PZ has given as examples have shown they are well versed in their fields despite their lack of qualifications; Rebecca has shown that she is not well versed as regards to EP. That is what matters, I personally don't care what qualifications a person has as long as they demonstrate proficiency in their subject matter; Rebecca did not.

PZ's next move (according to his blog) is to begin to criticise EP. I am assuming this is in defence of Rebecca, he does not say so, but the timing is coincidental and he does highlight his intention in his αEP: Shut Up and Sing post which defends Rebecca quite a bit. So for now I will assume these critiques of EP are related to Rebecca's talk, and (assuming he ever actually reads this) he can correct me if I am wrong. Well PZ can rip EP apart for all I care, he can show it to be the worst psuedoscience since phrenology, it would not change a thing. The dispute is not whether EP is a credible science or not, the dispute is about a sceptic being invited to a talk and feeding misinformation to a crowd, it is irrelevant if her conclusions are correct. Let me postulate an alternative scenario. We all know creationism is bollox and evolution is a scientific fact. However, if I was invited to discuss these topics I would be wholly ill-equipped. I would stand on stage and give a pretty bad talk, my conclusions may be 100% accurate but my argument would be garbage. Should I not be criticised for such, of course, same goes for Rebecca Watson here, except here the conclusion is far from certain so it is even more contentious.

So I reiterate, as a sceptic with no scientific background, my issue is the practice of a speaker attending sceptic conferences  and presenting on a topic she has inadequate knowledge in. Now it may be the case that Rebecca does indeed have adequate knowledge, and in fact did not mislead the audience or misrepresent facts. However, no compelling counter argument has been presented. Zvan's "that's not what she was talking about" post is simply nonsense and blatantly inaccurate. And PZ has only presented us with an ad hominem and another post which states the obvious but misses the point. The only response which I feel that would be adequate would be a substantive post which directly tackles the points Clint has brought up and demonstrates that what he has said is untrue, or better yet, providing sufficient evidence that the details of Rebecca's talk were in fact accurate and she does possess sufficient expertise in EP. Otherwise, Rebecca should own up to her mistakes and amend her talk. Only one of those three options would suffice to put this issue at rest, (unless of course I'm missing something obvious which could well be the case).

Being a sceptic does not just mean being sceptical of others, but being sceptical of ourselves. Listening and receiving the criticism of others is the best way to grow and learn. As far as I am concerned, the ability to admit you are wrong is one of the most important aspects of scepticism. However, it is something I feel is lacking in the sceptic community far too often.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bristol University's Christian Union Bans Women Speakers, and The Role of Religious Moderates

Women who are members of Bristol University's Christian Union (BUCU) have been banned from speaking and teaching at meetings and events unless they are accompanied by their husband. The Huffington Post reports that BUCU decided that women would be allow to teach; however, after their international secretary resigned in protest the society changed their policy to only permitting women to speak in the presence of their husbands. It is an absolute disgrace that societies are allowed to formulate such policies in this modern day. And the idea that a women's teachings somehow has credence simply by having her husband present is beyond ridiculous, or is he there to make sure the poor dear doesn't put her foot in it? Who knows, I find it impossible to figure out what thoughts float around inside the heads of those who are simply sexist and backwards.

It just goes to show how religion is still given a certain amount of privilege. If any other university society installed such policies they would have been thoroughly ripped a new one at this stage, and rightly so. But, as the society is religious there has been a certain amount of tip-toeing. And, of course, nobody is stating the obvious: not only are those in charge of the BUCU sexist, but the religion as a whole is inherently sexist. There is no "that is in the old testament" get out clause on this one. Sexism features quite strongly in the new testament too. Especially 1 Timothy 2:12 which is quite relevant here, "I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet". So as you can see the society is simply following the teachings of the bible. So shouldn't the society be allowed to practice their religion how they like? No, simply no, religious rights come second to civil rights; if we allow Christians to discriminate against women because it allows them to do so in their holy book then Muslims should be allowed to have multiple wives, and beat them if they wish. Once you allow religious freedoms to trump civil rights you allow a dangerous precedent, I have already written about these dangers here.

Another curious aspect of this situation are the comments made by Rebecca Reid, a member of the feminist society, "I'm a Catholic and I think that's obscene". I fail to understand how a woman can profess to be a feminist and a Catholic at the same time. Catholicism and the bible are notoriously sexist, yet this women believes in equal rights for women while at the same time aligning herself to a faith which restricts women's rights. I have absolutely no respect for people who take such stances. It is dishonest, disingenuous and lacks personal integrity. It is, however, a position many people hold. In fact, a report found that 14% of Irish Catholics don't believe in the divinity of Jesus. If you find that shocking just wait, 7% of Irish Catholics don't even believe in God! This sort of hypocrisy needs to cease, people must start being honest with themselves and stop assigning themselves to religious groups they completely disagree with. That does not mean they are atheistic or non-religious, it just means they stop supporting organisations which promote sexism and homophobia. If those who disagreed with the tenets of their respective churches decided to leave their church, then I guarantee that  their church would change its stance and adhere to modern morality. Religious organisations have done this consistently throughout history, when there is enough social pressure the church changes its stance to the modern consensus. So the moderates who disagree with the position of their church yet align themselves to it  unwittingly support their churches homophobia and sexism and elongate the period before their church eventually alters its policy. The churches will do a u-turn on their policies just as they have always done, always decades/centuries behind the rest of society; however, it is all down to the moderates and their personal honesty; the sooner they stop supporting churches and organisations they disagree with the sooner those churches will progress to modern morality, and instances such as the one described above in the BUCU will decrease and eventually cease.

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Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Christmas Tree: Strictly Forbidden in The Bible

The winter solstice was celebrated in Europe by many pagan cultures. As these cultures were agrarian, farming was extremely vital to their livelihood and subsistence. Hence why the winter solstice became an important aspect of their calender year. In Roman religion Saturn was the agricultural deity, so a festival, the Saturnalia, was held during the period December 17th-23rd. However, Saturn could not do his job with the help of the Sun, so the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Day of the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun was celebrated immediately after the Saturnalia on the December 25th. This was celebrated as the days were now getting noticeably longer again after the winter solstice. 

During the rise of Christianity, one of the many obstacles the Church faced was the established traditions which were ingrained into Roman society. To combat this, the Church appropriated many of the festivals and their traditions and instituted their own festival. So the Church established the 25th as Jesus' birthday* and this made it easier for people to convert to Christianity as they could still engage in the same traditions as they had done previously. However the bible strictly forbids this kind of appropriation.

Jeremiah 10: 1-5 (NIV)

"Do not learn the ways of the nations** or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. they adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”

So not only is concept of appropriation of previously established rituals forbidden, but the bible specifically  uses the Christmas tree as an example. As an evergreen tree, it was originally used by the pagans as a symbol of eternal life, and survival through harsh winters. They brought in indoors and decorated it.  

So every Christian around the world, not only celebrates Jesus' birthday at the wrong time of year but also, as a supposed tribute to their God, goes against his wishes and erects a tree and decorates it.

*Jesus is a quasi-sun god, for instance the halo can be found on Helios and Apollo, not to mention that halo comes from the Greek Halos meaning "disk of light around the sun or moon".

** I do not speak Hebrew but the Septuagint and Vulgate both use words which roughly translate as race or nation of people. Probably best translated as Gentiles, so it is clear that it is referring to all who are not Jewish. KJV translates it as heathens. 

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Another Blog I Write For

Just to let any of my regular readers know (assuming I even have any), I occasionally write for another blog called Hubris, it is a collection of authors writing about many different facets of society and life. If you enjoy reading the contents of this blog you'll surely enjoy Hubris too. I have written two articles so far: One on the Egypt's future, democracy or theocracy, and the other on the dangers of blasphemy laws. Both can be read by clicking the links above, you can also view the main page of the Hubris blog by clicking here. Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

How About We Force the Religious to Follow Their Own Rules

I had an interesting thought yesterday. If religious people continue to force the non-religious to obey their doctrines, then in-turn can we non-religious ensure that the religious are obeying their own rules. Effectively, if the religious insist on banning same-sex marriage, deny women abortions, refuse access to contraceptives, insist on creationism being taught, subjugate women, install blasphemy laws etc., then they should be forced to obey their own laws. This would mean that we can actively prevent any religious person from having premarital sex, so next time your religious friend is about to get lucky, slap them in cunt/cock with the bible/Qu'ran and say 'no, if I have to listen to creationist bollocks in a science class because of your religious nonsense then you can't have premarital sex.'

If you have a female subordinate who is up for promotion, then replace that glass ceiling with a bible, and if she raises any form of protest then politely remind her of 1 Timothy 2 12 and duct tape a bible to her face, unless of course she is a Muslim, then you could probably just beat the crap out of her, but be sure you don't hit her in the face. If you are unsure of how to beat your Muslim woman, here is a video tutorial in which seasoned Muslims discuss their well practiced techniques.

The next time a Christian woman is prosecuting a man from raping her, ask her two simple questions, why is sending her future husband to jail? And, if incarcerated, how does she expect him to save up the 50 shekels of silver for the reparations to her family? If she is unaware of the contents of Deuteronomy 22: 28-29 then politely inform her as she may need to prepare for her pending nuptials. 

If you'd like to enslave your Christian friend I have some bad news, you can only enslave him for six years, however, there is a clever little loophole. If you give him a wife during his servitude and they have children, then come the year of his emancipation he will be released but his wife and children are still your property. Therefore if the man would like to stay with his wife and child, he has to take an oath of permanent servitude and he is yours for life. God bless those traditional Christian family values.

Next time you see your Religious friend working on the Sabbath, kill them. For god rested on the seventh day and you shall too, lest you show god for the lazy sod that he is. An omnipotent being needs to rest after 6 days of work? Anyway, due to a combination of god's laziness and his jealousy it is forbidden to work on the sabbath. Because how bad will it look if god needs to rest after a 6 day week but his inferior creations can go on for 7, looks bad right. So god decreed to Moses to kill anyone working on the Sabbath lest god's laziness become too blatant. So lazy in fact he won't do it himself, you must do it. So enjoy killing your Christian friend next time you see them trying to earn wages on the Sabbath. And don't listen to that auld 'I need to work to feed my family and pay bills' excuse, gut the fucker, god said.

Now obviously (at least I hope it is obvious) this post is satirical, but the core message remains the same. It baffles me how many religious people are completely ignorant of the contents of their holy books. It is always said that the surest way to become an atheist is to read the bible/Qu'ran, but most are completely unwilling to do so and are happy to nod along to whatever sanitised version is spewed from the pulpit. So there is a need for people to inform them of the darker side of these texts.You will generally be hit with a reply highlighting the decent morals in scripture, but lets face it, looking for morality in religious texts is like sifting through your excrement for sweetcorn, there will be a piece or two but the rest of it is just shit.

By forcibly reminding religious people of the hideous contents of their respective holy books then maybe they will quickly release that they are not good sources for morality and law. Then maybe they would stop trying to force them upon everyone, especially if they are not willing to obey their own rules themselves.

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Monday, 1 October 2012

Earliest Known Pictorial Blasphemy of Jesus

So apparently today, September 30th, is blasphemy day, so I present you with the earliest known depiction of the blasphemy of Jesus.

Known as the Alexamenos graffito, it was discovered in 1857 in a house on the Palatine Hill, Rome. There is no clear date but it is roughly from 1st - 3rd century CE. It depicts Jesus on a cross with a worshiper, Alexamenos, at his feet. As you can see, Jesus has the head of a donkey (I think the worshiper should bear the donkey's head, or at least a donkey's ass, but I digress). The scraggly writing reads  Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον,  which roughly translates as Alexamenos worships god. Although it can be interpreted in several ways, it is clear that the "graffiti artist"  is mocking Alexamenos and his worship of Jesus. So people 17 centuries ago found worshiping somebody on a torture device ludicrous too.

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