Atheism and I

Atheism, to me, represents no group. It is not an organization. It does not have a set of beliefs you must follow and it is not a religion (nor does it act like one). The Oxford dictionary defines it as, “A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Atheism is merely a consequence of lacking belief. Having recognized what this word means it becomes a pointless semantic exercise to continue its use to describe the entirety of an individual’s belief system.

We have a word in English that already covers all disbelief in the supernatural – of all variations and quackery – and that word is: Skeptic. There is a very important connotation that is implied with this. Often some atheists will proclaim that there is absolutely no God. Okay, well, that’s a little total for me. A touch too sure of itself for my liking and I suspect the very reason why a lot of unbelievers distance themselves and refuse to recognize themselves as atheists.

On the other hand, the skeptic’s position is as followed: I cannot say that there is no God for sure, but I will say that there is inefficient evidence to convince me of his/her existence. This position leaves open the possibility of being proven otherwise. It becomes dogmatic if it is insisted that one cannot be proven wrong. If you wanted to refute the theory of gravity, all that would be required is the formulation of an experiment in which an object did not fall towards Earth; it fell away instead. This makes the theory falsifiable. It shows that while we are very certain of the mechanics of gravity, we must also be open to the possibility that it could be wrong, this is how intellectual progress is made.

To show what this would look like if someone was to argue that the theory of gravity was total and completely unfalsifiable we can imagine someone successfully pulling off our gravity experiment (revolutionising physics in the process). The ball was dropped and the earth repelled it – imagine that – then all our brightest physicists and mathematicians just ignored our experiment and said, “oh yeah, gravity can do that too.” Imagine if Einstein did this? If he had read over Newton’s work and thought, “eh, close enough”, We’d be living in a totally different world. This is why the skeptic’s position has always – always – been the most progressive position to take. Because a belief can never be total, the skeptic recognizes the temporary nature of beliefs and ideas, and is always willing to change position where substantial and credible evidence is found.

We can never be 100% sure of anything, but that’s not to say that we cannot be sure of anything. We work with probabilities, we shave our disputes with Occam’s Razor, we use past observations to make predictions about the future. We all do this. Some of us consciously practice it; others do it subconsciously.

The conscious bunch of skeptics will be on guard at most times.

I was implored to view a documentary regarding the state of Bee’s in America and their supposed destruction at the hands of agriculture companies. There is no doubt that the death of any species is tragic and should be stopped if humans are the cause or hindered if nature decides to take back one of her species. But it was alleged in this reactionary film that if the bees were to die, the U.S food supply would go with it. You’d be glad to know I took some time to look into this claim for myself before sharing the alarming news. It turned out the bees that do most of the pollinating in America are actually European bees. Yes, that means they’ve only been on the American subcontinent for roughly 300 years. The Native American Bee is less prolific in its pollinating skill and is far more finical in its choice of flower. So prior to European settlement in the Americas all the plants were pollinated just fine. This is evidenced in the diaries of some early settlers who’d never seen such lush forests or estuaries given the trait of having more fish than water.

That took me a whole 10 minutes to learn. Yeah, so what. Who cares? Right? Good on you, Bryce. Well, I care and a lot of other people care. I use the same reasoning I use in regards to education when thinking about the propagation of disinformation on social media, it goes like this: I don’t mind paying taxes that go directly towards education, I welcome the notion that one day Australia’s contribution towards research and innovation will rise to 3% of the total GDP. Why is education so important to you? You may be inclined to ask. It’s simple. I do not wish to live in a society full of idiots (myself included). That’s not to say I believe in some intellectual utopia in which everyone is fluent in mathematics or understands the difference between loose or lose (however hard that distinction seems to be). But I think a tertiary understanding of science and philosophy can only be a positive thing for any culture. Would anyone disagree?

I use this same thought process when it comes to social media. I don’t see it as wasteful to invest 10 minutes of my day to check a claim that could be viewed by others as arbitrary or perhaps my actions cynical. This is a positive investment. I am now the better for knowing that bees are dying and that it is not the doomsday scenario I would be lead to believe. This is what it truly means to think for yourself. I’m still working on it because thinking for yourself is hard. I take comfort at times in perusing through older writings of my own – having kept a record of my thoughts and ideas – I can see how I have developed in some areas and still lack in others.

Many of us (I’d argue almost all of us) have an intuitive skeptic tool-kit, which until recognized, goes mostly unnoticed and unused. Now I’m sure all of us had some monstrous apparition we feared as children. Mine was the bogeyman and I was convinced he lived under my bed. I distinctly remember pulling the arm of my mother to buy me a bunk bed so I could utilize the protection afforded by height – such was my fear. One evening I decided I would confront this bogeyman and query his incursion (assuming he spoke English). To my disbelief the underside of my bed was suspiciously void of any such apparition. I checked each and every night from that night forward. I was subconsciously becoming a skeptic, at least in this small field of fantasy anyway. My prior observations conducted each night soon assisted in my own predictions: it wasn’t there last month, it wasn’t there last week, it wasn’t there last night – therefore it won’t be there tonight. Without even realizing, I had conducted my first ever (albeit basic) science experiment.

Being a skeptic is simple when done automatically but a little harder when you do it on purpose. Look for yourself. Invest your time in learning or reading. If you hear or see something that you find interesting, write it down, check it for yourself later. Far more happiness will come to you this way and of this I am convinced. I’ve been asked by some readers who send me messages asking: where do I start? Or, what should I read? Well apart from the fact I’m woefully under-qualified as a teacher, my advice would be simple: start with yourself. Challenge your own world view and your own positions and biases first. It will be uncomfortable, especially finding out the post you shared years earlier was actually a complete load of shit. And that overly important social movement you’d defend to the death at social outings was actually based on nothing but pure fantasy and fabrication (Zeitgeist; Thrive; Loose Change – I’m looking at you).

Being fooled is one thing; refusing to admit one was fooled is a bestowal of dignity to the dogs.

Being an atheist is not a total identity. It’s merely a side effect of asking honest questions. When exercising the mind with the tools of skepticism one must remember – above all other things – the person who should garner the most of your suspicion haunts you at every waking minute, yourself. Neitzche was perhaps right in saying that we could all do with a little more self-mistrust.

The Pots & Pans of Paris

I do not think any mammal has the capability of foresight.

I woke up on Saturday the 14th and I do hope there would be cause for concern if this was not the case. My morning routine: I look at the kettle, I contemplate the taste of coffee, and then I pour myself a glass of water – every day. I sit on my stained lounge, I swipe away on my tablet, and I check my trusted news sources.

I do not think any mammal has the capability of foresight.

My eyes ran over the headlines and it was horrific. No death count had been released yet but I already started trying to put myself into the shoes of the victims as they sat at cafes, watched a German-France friendly, or rocked out to Eagles of Death Metal. I contrasted this and tried to put myself into the mind of the offenders. What would possess me to inflict such pain? To what end would I defend my ideas? Would I kill for my beliefs?

In my short time here (on Earth), I’ve witnessed enough of these atrocities to roughly predict the following conversation both online and in our media. I was 11 years old when New York, and indeed the entire world (80 nations were represented in those towers that day), was brought to its knees. I was little older for the Danish cartoon debacle and I’d finally come of age, and political awareness, just in time for the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

I knew the commentary before it begun. In fact, I’m so sick of the rhetoric I tend to wait a day or two before watching or reading the latest over-hyped opinion on the matter. The xenophobes were out in force, possibly converting a few along the way, proclaiming that we stop letting refugees into our country. The self-proclaimed progressives took their normal place on stage, playing saviour to the minorities and defending those unjustly vilified.

Do you know what happened next? Both parties over-compensated, and they continue to do so. Obviously not everyone holds these two contrasting opinions but unfortunately they are the loudest. As one side yells the other yells a little louder, and this process repeats. This has compounded for four days now and it has reached a piercing crescendo of pots and pans. Here I am, day four, sifting through the junk, trying to find a reasonable voice that can put their emotions to one side for 5 minutes and provide some logical commentary.

I thought about attempting a detailed analysis of particular commentators, maybe throw in a few quotes and references demonstrating why I think they are possibly misguided. My crosshair would have found Andrew Bolt, you can always rely on some quality shit from that guy. I would then explain why Waleed’s little speech was both at the same time, inspiring and apologetic, and I would of pointed out that no one bothered to fact check Waleed’s claims. And for a little fun I could have defamed the fucking morons who insist – while the blood was still being scrubbed from the Bataclan floor – that this was a false flag orchestrated by the government or the illuminati or big pharma or whatever fictitious organisation they are at war with this week.

As you can tell, I decided against it. The pots and pans are too loud. This is the outcome of public debate on social media. It’s terrible. If I’ve learned one thing from engaging in this way, it’s that next to nobody reads at length, very few of us use the comprehension skills we learned in school, and an even smaller percentage of us understand the difference between Ideas and people.

Ready for it? I think the teachings of Islam, as read from the Koran, are stupid. I think the teachings of Christianity, as read from the Bible, are stupid. You know what else? I think most Muslims are pretty cool people, I think most Christians are pretty cool people – I have good friends in both parties, ordinary every day people who just so happen to believe in God. But I think the doctrines these beliefs are formed around are quite obviously violent, homophobic and subjugating to half of the human race – women. Read what I wrote carefully.

Funnily enough, the very next day I was to attend a peace and understanding lecture. Eddie Jaku, a holocaust survivor who saw the inside of Auschwitz, told us of his amazing story of escape. It was engrossing, I couldn’t take my eyes off this animated 94 year old, and when he finished, the applause took over the room for a good minute or two. It was a great honour to see this man with my own eyes, it reminded me how close I really am to the holocaust. I mean, this guy is still kicking and I’m 25. This was not some far off historical event, this literally happened yesterday in the scheme of history.

Eddie had enough one liners to fill a 15 minute stand up gig, he was a funny guy for someone who’d seen the worse humanity had to offer. One thing in particular really stood out for me, in reference to the cruelty and barbarity of the Nazis, Eddie said, “Listen to what people say – because eventually they do what they say.”

Listen to what people say – because eventually they do what they say. Like I said, I don’t think anyone can predict the future, but I think this is a good start.

Were these attacks partly inspired by ancient barbaric texts that were conceived in the illiterate parts of the Arabian Peninsula? Well, I won’t say no and I wouldn’t give an unequivocal yes either. But what I can say is that by completely shutting down this conversation it will not facilitate peace any faster than the thousand pounders that have been spectacularly fucking up civilians in Syria for the past couple of months.

Let’s not blame every Muslim on earth for what happened in Paris. Let’s not blindly defend Islamic doctrine either. Why not, instead, have a reasonable conversation about the issues. Let’s discuss what our government can do to help those fleeing these sectarian conflicts. If Sam Harris (Labelled a militant Atheist) and Maajid Nawaz (A liberal Muslim) can come together and write an engaging book on these contemporary issues. Why can’t we be adults and admit no amount of hugging will delay the next perversion? If Harris and Nawaz can converse sensibly, why can’t we too? Maybe the pots and pans are just too loud.

The Left is its Own Worst Enemy

Chatting with a friend of mine about an encounter I had had with the token campus Marxists, he gently reminded me that all ideologies exist on a scale. In reference to the left – Liberalism – we can imagine social democracy at one end; with communism at the other. As the conversation continued it became quite obvious we were both unwilling to align our ideals with the current Brand of popular Liberalism (I knowingly capitalize Brand).

See, we both share a concern for the, frankly, frightening inaction regarding climate change. We often rant back and forth about the grotesque conduct administered upon the vulnerable in Australia’s offshore detention centres. We stand with our gay brothers and sisters in their fight to have their love recognized. We are liberals, well, despite the obvious metaphysical difficulties of viewing myself through anything but a mirror, I think it’s safe to assume I look like a typical leftie.

But like Ted Haggard at a gay bar, I tend to feel uncomfortably comfortable hanging out at this party. I can’t help but feel the urge to distance myself as soon as the intoxicating effects of blind liberalism start to arouse my brow – let alone my suspicion.

Just this week alone I’ve observed quite a lot of celebration roaring from the left in support of Russia’s involvement in Syria. Where were the roars from the left when America stepped in to help the Syrian population being kicked off the planet by its own government? Let us ignore the fact that Syria is one of Russia’s last allies in the Middle-east. Perhaps my leftist comrades have forgotten that Putin came to power through extortion and blood. While we’re at it, why don’t we just ignore the Russian arms export industry that closely rivals that of the United States? Why not? We’ve come this far.

We may as well ignore the fact that Russia has targeted Syrian rebel groups – to hell with meddling with the internal affairs of other nations, right? Apparently liberals have forgotten that they had, just last week, used this very complaint against the United States. Say what you will, but the last I checked the left stood for citizens that fought back against oppressive regimes – they didn’t support the side actively converting them to clumps of burnt flesh. Maybe that scale my friend and I were discussing has careened so far to the left that no one had the time to take their brains with them.

While we’re in the region we may as well discuss ISIS. Another proverbial thorn protruding from the side of liberalism. Why is it every single time an act of violence is explicitly committed in the name of Allah, self-proclaimed liberals come crawling from their basements to spout, “This has nothing to do with Islam.”

This is getting old, obviously not all Muslims are indoctrinated maniacal murders, and its insulting being reminded of this. But every time I hear the phrase, “this has nothing to do with Islam,” my eyes roll back into my head as I attempt to count the brain cells that have just been deleted from existence. This doesn’t promote conversation, like a bird to a window, it stops all discussion in its tracks, and it’s ugly. If anything it’s just a weird noise to be made while the conversation hurdles itself into a pane of refined sand.

Liberals who blindly and apologetically stand up for religion are doing more harm than good. When Salman Rushdie published his best-seller, The Satanic Verses, it brewed such rage in the Muslim world that a Fatwa was issued by the Supreme leader of Iran demanding his life. For what? For writing a fictional book! And who should come crawling out of the dingy and dark basement, none other than my comrades on the left, to antagonize Rushdie and claiming that he had overstepped the mark.

I guess, like they do now; so they did then, they chose to ignore the authors from the Middle-east who praised Rushdie for his bravery and thanked him for championing their struggle for freedom of expression in the Muslim world. Once again the left had mostly ignored the very people they claim to speak for while vilifying Salman Rushdie. This occurred 27 years ago, but if the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are anything to go by, the reaction from the left remains the same.

Liberalism is broken. Its lost its way. It has become the very thing it detests. It’s unmovable. Disagree with it even slightly and you are racist, show a little gratitude for the current state of affairs and you’re nothing but a shill for capitalism. By far my favourite, attempt to intelligently criticize the doctrine of Islam and you are an Islamophobe. You’re a war-mongering globalist Jew who has been corrupted by the system, as I’ve been aptly described for suggesting we should intervene and send all jihadists to paradise, a destination they seem so excited to reach.

Andrew Cummins summed up the invention of that detestable word, Islamophobe, in 12 perfectly assembled linguistic units, “A word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

One of these cowards has become some-what of a poster boy for the far left lately. You may have heard of him, Reza Aslan. He is a self-professed moderate Muslim liberal. He holds tight to this belief from his safe abode well inside the secular borders of the United States. What’s less known about Reza is that he was born in Iran, raised a Muslim; converted to Christianity at 15 – to only realize that he was believing the wrong myth, again – so he quickly swore his allegiance back to Allah, and his prophet Muhammad, before setting off to Harvard. I’d like to see this anti-metamorphosis take place in a Muslim majority country.

This hop-scotch of religions might seem totally trivial if it weren’t for the fact that Reza consistently and knowingly lies about the doctrine of Islam. Don’t take my word for it – Reza has studied religion and religious history, he has a doctorate of sociology. You don’t just find these things under the doormat, you can bet he studied long and hard for it.

So when Reza mentions during an interview with Young Turks, Cent Uygur, that Islam is no more right or wrong than any other set of ideas, we can either insult his intelligence or assume he is lying. I think he is lying. He makes these types of statements knowing quite well, having studied as an adherent to the religion, and as an academic of religion, that it is intrinsically false in regards to Islam.

9:5 Slay the idolaters wherever you find them.
9:7-9 Don’t make treaties with non-Muslims. They are all evildoers and should not be trusted.
9:11 Treat converts to Islam well, but kill those who refuse to convert
9:29 Fight against Christians and Jews “until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.”
9:33 The “Religion of Truth” (Islam) must prevail, by force if necessary, over all other religions.

Does this sound like the teachings of a doctrine that believes it is no less right or wrong than any other belief system? Well, Reza Aslan would have you think otherwise, but I prefer the dignity of making up my own mind. I refuse to be lead blindly down this careening scale of non-thinking. All the while most on the left stand centre ring, side by side with Reza, raising his cellophane gloves to the sky. Reza has been called out countless times by critics, a lot of them liberal, but yet the left persists.

The same Marxists group that agitated this uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, the very people who stand about each day handing out fliers and championing the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, are the very pacifists who refuse to lift a finger to help these people in their own countries. It was only the other night I got to hear from the very mouth of Dr. Phil Orchard, Research Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, that UN doctrine might not be the best solution for handling these problems, but it’s the best solution currently available.

Marxists don’t support these charters, their responsibility to protect vulnerable groups only extends its withering hand once they reach the shores of this country, or at least so it seems. A UN charter designed to prevent, or stop, the very tragedies that cause mass migrations and displacement just isn’t good enough for the idealistic world view of our socialist comrades. There you have it, another party I’d feel uncomfortable attending, let alone dragging my feet home, drunk and sorry, with a polaroid full of hypocritical faces stuffed into my pocket.

There is an inability among the left to recognize nuance. Not all the time, and not everyone is complicit, but it’s there. By campaigning against foreign intervention we leave our comrades in far off lands with nothing. Not even the chance to live out a liberal life within their own borders.

Separating well balanced, reasoned, and progressive political doctrine and the flat out idealistic fantasy of some leftists is a tedious puddle of mud to swim through. This is why I think so many are so quick to latch on to nothing but the most extreme ideals of the left. I don’t like war, I don’t think any sane person does. None of my friends like war – even the ones who’ve spent months in the barren desert planes framed by the sudden protrusion of the Afghan landscape. But it’s too easy to protest its outright existence from the comfortable surroundings of our modern secular societies, in front of our flat screens, where the most conflict we’ll probably have to deal with today is deciding which Netflix series to watch. What’s not easy is detesting war while understanding that in some places on this pale blue dot (to borrow a phrase from Sagan), war is the very means in which people fight for their right to have liberal beliefs. Does it make it right? I don’t know. But as long as there are pockets of enlightenment screaming out for our help, I’ll continue my disagreement with those who refuse to listen.

B.W Harper

Why you’re wrong about murdering drug smugglers.

There has been a lot of speculation in the media of late regarding the fate of the two convicted bali nine drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. I’ve been severely disconcerted by the opinions of my fellow Australians regarding the use of capital punishment. I’ve read comments from users exclaiming; “they did the crime, they knew the punishment, I have no sympathy”. These statements seem to lack a particular understanding of ethics and morality. And they also fall under a category of severe dislike for the illegal drug trade. Need I remind these people that Heroin use in Australia is used (within the last 12 months) by the minuscule number of 0.1% of the population. Of that 0.1% we can speculate even a smaller minority is addicted. According to the Australian bureau of statistics, in 2014 there was 1338 deaths recorded attributed to overdose. I’ll let you ponder how many of those deaths were from heroin. I’ll give you a hint, not a lot.

So the argument from many of these pro-death sentence bigots is that these men deserve to die because the drugs they were smuggling would of killed many more. This is laughable. This is the argument of the intellectual destitute. To argue that they knew the consequences of being caught still does not make the sentencing to death any less vile. Especially when Indonesia has hypocritically pleaded to have it’s nationals in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia taken off death-row. And spent millions of dollars on lawyers and blood money in doing so – let’s not forget we give them approximately 500 million dollars a year in foreign aid.

The echoes of previous state sanctioned murders seem to stray from the thoughts of those so willing to throw on their gloves and enter the social media bouts on the matter. Ricky Ray Rector was put on death-row for the murder of a police officer. During Ricky’s arrest he shot himself in the head, effectively giving himself a lobotomy. Bill Clinton, state governor at the time, made a point to return to the state of Arkansas to oversee the execution. The execution of a mentally retarded man who did not even realise that there would be no reason to save his dessert for later. Which indeed he did during his last meal, without even comprehending his impending death. Those arguing that the death penalty should be used because it’s a prescribed punishment would, and indeed through the careen of their own arguments, agree that Ricky Ray still deserved death despite being mentally retarded.

This is the logic being employed by those that argue from that position. It’s dangerous territory and it’s not a side of history I’d personally like to be on. One of the most recent, and publicised, state sanctioned murders was that of Saddam Hussain. Saddam was captured and found guilty of Crimes against humanity which included, but not limited to; the systematic annihilation of the Kurdish peoples, the annexing of Kuwait, the murder and genocide of his own peoples, seeking chemicals for weapons (which he had previously used on the Kurds) and the exploration of a nuclear program, had it been complete would of caused devastation well beyond repair in the region. The use of capital punishment in the case of Saddam is completely justified, and the world is a better place for it.

I only hope to paint a picture of the differing degrees of capital punishment and what crimes are called upon for it’s use. Murders, rapists, paedophiles – whilst these crimes are disgusting in nature it is objectively impossible to determine the upbringing and environmental factors of the individual who has committed the crime. So I personally do not believe state sanctioned murder should be used in these cases – nor do I believe the tax payer should fork out for their accommodation and services [This is a whole different debate].

So as for the fate of our two convicted drug smugglers, who have already served a 10 year prison sentence? Who knows. Right now their fate lies in the hands of political power grabs and leaders defending the impending executions under the thinly veiled guise of making an example. These men do not deserve death and those who will argue the contrary I pity your bigoted stance. They committed a none-violent crime and have been left in limbo for the past 10 years. If you care, if you are able to conjure any level of sympathy, to imagine the anxiety and mental strain from an ordeal like this you will soon realise that these men have suffered enough for their crimes. And as far as Indonesia goes – I hope we cut all foreign aid to the hypocritical bastards. How dare they spend money we’ve essentially provided to release prisoners on death-row all the while refusing our requests for mercy. Are we all to quick to forget that the Bali bombers walk free? 88 Australians lost their lives that day, cut short by radicalised religious fanatics, yet they walk free. This isn’t justice, nor is murdering two drug smugglers.

Bryce W. Harper