A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Cult of the Celestial Unicorn Herd

One objection to comparing the evidence for unicorns to the evidence for gods is that they're not the same thing. Unicorns didn't create the universe, God did. But how do you justify this claim? There's just as much evidence to support the creation of the universe by a herd of unicorns as there is creation by a god.

Thus I introduce the Cult of the Celestial Unicorn Herd. Rather than there being a single, omnipotent unicorn running everything, the universe is instead segregated into specific tasks. There's a herd of unicorns dedicated to maintaining gravity, and another to maintain magnetism. There are herds to oversee inertia and chemical bonds, biology and everything else we see in the universe, as well as more that we haven't discovered. What we misinterpret as natural processes are actually supernatural forces governing everything.

There is, of course, a special herd of unicorns dedicated to guiding intelligent life throughout the universe. There are intelligent species everywhere and these unicorns look out for them. These unicorns have a plan for universal harmony, but of course they struggle in how to implement them because intelligent life often works at cross purposes to that plan. Sometimes it's easy to help, like finding your lost keys. Other times it's a lot harder, like when biology results in cancer or there's not enough food to go around.

As a whole the Celestial Unicorn Herd is omnipotent. Individually they're powerful but very limited. You never know when you've seen a Celestial Unicorn, often mistaken for angels, demons or other mythological creatures. It's impossible to say where they come from, but it's been suggested that they may be serving the will of a higher power of unfathomable noodly intent.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Justifying Belief Versus Non-belief

Something I've been thinking about lately are the justifications believers have for belief. Right off the bat, belief is usually treated as the default assumption. We should believe in their god because we can't prove them wrong. There are unbelievably intricate apologetics, hermeneutics, elaborate philosophical logic chains that try to hide the fallacies and false premises and of course the indefatigable fallback of "faith." We're unreasonable in our skepticism because we're not experts in their specific religious beliefs, their specific interpretations or their specific arguments. We should just leave them alone and let them believe, nevermind that they do little to stop people trying to force their beliefs on us. Nevermind that most believers aren't expert in apologetics, hermeneutics or philosophy either.

Curiously, they don't demand proof of non-existence for anything they don't believe in. Fairies don't need proof of non-existence, nor do vampires or werewolves. That's different, we're told. Fairies didn't create the universe or die for our sins. But how do they know?

There's an endless list of things we don't believe in that don't require challenge because people aren't promoting their belief in them. They're not plastering their belief on billboards and cars and they're not voting based on how they think the unicorn living in their shoes want them to vote. We don't bother debunking such things because there's no need.

I'm often asked what I believe about the beginning of the universe or how life began. My answer is I don't know and that's okay. Not knowing gives us room to find out. We know the universe began because it's here. We know that life began because we're here and it's all around us. What we believe about those things is irrelevant to the fact that they're here. All that remains us for us to figure out the details. But it's hard to do that when our search for answers is hindered by declarations of faith that have no justification and don't fit the available evidence.

The burden rests on non-believers to challenge these justifications. It shouldn't be; we shouldn't carry the burden of proof or have to justify our non-belief. But since we're still in the minority we don't have much choice so all we can do is keep at it and keep refining our arguments. We can't have too many tools available to accomplish this task.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

When the Left gets it wrong

For years I've been hearing scorn from conservatives about the liberal fetish for multiculturalism and how the Left goes out of its way to make excuses for Islamic extremism. I've always been puzzled by this criticism because I haven't heard anyone make such excuses. Even on the Left we don't see the point in making excuses for misogyny and violence. Finally someone linked me to an article explaining where the criticism comes from. Apparently, it mostly originates from the far left outside the US. It helps to remember that "far left" inside the US is mostly limited to the not-quite socialist Green party and environmentalists. We don't have the liberal extremists that Europe does.

Nevertheless, I suspended my knee-jerk reaction to deny and disavow and read through the accusations. Some of them deserve criticism. Some of them don't. Most of them invite response. So I have two thoughts here.

First, dehumanizing the opposition doesn't solve anything. Meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and declaring "We are all Hezbollah" struck me as a declaration that Iranians are also people and that we need to remember that even as we disagree with them and oppose their actions. Their demand for the genocide of all Jews and the forcible conversion of the entire planet to Islam is inhuman, but it doesn't disqualify them as members of humanity. Remember that respect for people does not necessarily require respect for what they believe.

Second, the Left can get it wrong, too. When we fail to oppose oppression and bigotry on the grounds of multiculturalism and other high-minded ideals we ignore the point of tolerance. It is possible to be too tolerant when we permit intolerance to go unopposed. Absolute tolerance is ultimately self-defeating when we give license to authoritarians to quell dissent and silence opposition.

I am solidly on the Left. I abandoned my right-wing political opinions in the same process that led me to abandon my religious beliefs. I believe in equality for all regardless of nationality, heritage, orientation or creed. I believe that human dignity requires basic needs to be met such as food, shelter, education and medicine without consideration for the ability to pay for them. I believe in freedom of expression for all views, including ones that I disagree with. But I don't believe that freedom extends to the right to oppress others or protect the right to impose institutional discrimination. If your beliefs demand that people of a certain skin color, sexual orientation or gender be treated as anything but equals, I stand in opposition. You have the right to believe what you wish, but you have no right to impose your beliefs on those who don't share them.

The Left has made some grievous mistakes and it's up to us to own up to them and make corrections. So here I am. I wasn't part of that alliance and I don't agree with what they've done. But that doesn't abrogate my responsibility to speak up against what they've supported. Muslims deserve the same right to pursue their culture and beliefs that everyone else enjoys. But the line must be drawn when their culture and beliefs create unwelcome impositions on others.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Do not allow me to give a eulogy at your funeral

Seriously. Don't do it. The following is an example of something that I felt compelled to write when someone asked for help writing a eulogy for his friend.
Bob was a genuine nature-lover. I mean that literally. He loved nature. Once when we were out hiking by a pond I watched him catch a frog and force it to fellate him. I asked him what the hell he was doing, and he told me that God wanted him to have dominion over nature so that's what he was doing. Then he yelled at the frog, "What's my name? Say my name, bitch!"

That was Bob. Always going that extra mile.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Myth of Christian Persecution in the US

A very nice Christian kindergarten teacher made a post about Christian priorities that I would find almost heartwarming if not for this poison pill right at the beginning:
Don’t get me wrong, it saddens me that a teacher can actually get fired if he or she offends someone by praying aloud or teaching scripture in a public school. It sickens me that some school systems (not mine) have taken the phrase “under God” out of their daily Pledge of Allegiance. It frustrates and sometimes angers me that other religions seem to be tolerated so quickly, yet Christianity simply will not be tolerated in some public school systems. It makes me want to cry out “What are we doing?”
This was my response to her. I hope she allows my comment to pass moderation, but I'm posting it for posterity.

I apologize for being the voice of dissent here, but I have to ask: do you truly believe that that there's some kind of War on Christianity ala Fox News? Do you really think your beliefs are under attack, that secularists are seeking to make it illegal to worship in a church or in the privacy of your own home? You claim that other religions are tolerated while your beliefs are being suppressed, but what schools are seeking to replace Christian prayer with Muslim or Hindu ones? Where are we trying to take down Bible verses in favor of those from the Koran or the Eddas?

I applaud your desire to live by your beliefs and show your conviction by walking the walk as well as talking the talk. This more than anything else is what secularists strive to achieve: where people feel free to live according to the dictates of their conscience without imposing them on others. Otherwise where does it end? It's frequently claimed that the United States is a Christian nation by virtue of the majority, but Christianity isn't a monolithic belief system. There are over forty-two thousand different sects of Christianity, many of whom directly contradict each other. Some deny the divinity of Jesus while others not only uphold the doctrine of the Trinity but the unassailable truth of predestination. Which of these doctrines should become the law of the land? Yours? Theirs? Who decides? Whomever happens to be in the majority at the moment?

The point of enforcing secular values in our schools and governments is not to suppress your beliefs. The point is to make sure that your majority beliefs do not suppress all others. You are always and have always been free to worship as you feel is right, but you were never supposed to have the freedom to make sure that others worship as you require.

Leading by example is fantastic. I utterly support this. Claiming persecution because we want to respect the right of others to follow different examples is something else entirely.