February62014

The New Atheists Attack

Richard Dawkins managed to outrage the Muslim world, and pretty much everyone else, many atheists included, with his ignorant, bigoted and intolerant message about Muslims on Twitter last year. It’s curious that such atheists, self-professed exponents of rational thinking, cannot see that their behaviour smacks of everything for which they criticise the object of their scorn: sadly, because of a few bad eggs, this has primarily become Islam. After many years of making arguments that, while polemical, made a lot of sense, Christopher Hitchens fell into the same trap during the nineties.

It is important to stress the fact that these thinkers who openly come out criticising Islam, do not criticise terrorists, not even Islamic fundamentalists; they trace the evil back to its supposed origin: the Islamic faith as a whole. They must see that this is grossly unfair. They must see that the West has always needed an enemy in order to justify their imperial actions and through convenience more than anything else, what with the Soviet Union’s demise at the end of the 1980s, and the vast resources that reside in that region of the world, Islam was chosen. Surely they aren’t so stupid to think that the only reason we have a terrorist threat is because Islam is an unreasonable religion and they despise our freedom.

Yes, the Muslim extremists who have committed atrocities have justified their actions using the Qur’an, but it no more makes Islam an inherently violent faith than the IRA’s previous actions make Christianity one. Any sensible Christian has cherry-picked the nuggets of wisdom from the Good Book and rejected the outdated, horribly violent parts; any sensible Muslim has done the same. My point is we should blame the action and the actor, not the religion. It is telling that the Western world is not prepared to do the same with Israel and its actions. The minute somebody blames Israel’s murderous and oppressive behaviour on Zionism, cries of anti-Semitism immediately follow to douse the flames. Yet the charge is the same: Israel wants to preserve a set of beliefs and promises, justified from a holy book, that results in the systematic oppression of a whole people. We sit back and condemn Israel’s “heavy-handedness”, at best. Why? Because Israel is the West’s friend.

Now, I am an atheist myself. I believe religion has caused much evil in the world and that it has hindered progress. But it’s not all bad: it does provide a robust (when rational people cherry-pick the good parts) moral framework that for many people works well. Nonetheless, I look forward to a day when we all come to the realisation that there is no way Christianity (or any of the organised religions) can be based on truth and when we all come to reject them. However, I also believe that it’s a natural, slow process that must necessarily run its course and that we shouldn’t try to force it, at least in any direct way.

Social Darwinism came out of Darwin’s original theory. It was an arrogant attempt to interfere with what was a natural process, and it led to many apparently reasonable intellectuals espousing eugenics and ultimately resulted in Nazism; I believe that to do the same with atheism, to impose atheistic views whilst simultaneously antagonising good people of faith is tantamount to spreading hate, and could potentially encourage violence: exactly the issue atheists have with Muslims. You only have to spend a bit of time on Reddit to see crazy videos of Arab people doing crazy things, along with hundreds of comments with brutal verbal attacks on the Islamic faith. This is not helpful. It will eventually achieve the opposite of what these angry atheists believe they are fighting for.

You only have to look at the gradual secularisation of many countries to see that that’s the way we are heading. There’s no need to rush it. People are reasonable if given the facts and the freedom to think for themselves. Instead of blaming Islam as an inherently evil religion, let’s condemn the states that encourage an oppressive attitude towards women, let’s condemn the states that are interfering in other parts of the world thus causing a hatred in their people that manifests itself in the desperate willingness to inflict damage and death on innocent people. These should be the target of our wrath, not the Muslim, or any other, faith in itself: this only serves implicitly to attack and offend the vast majority of peaceful, reasonable Muslims whose faith provides hope, legitimate guidance and a sense of identity.

October272013
October202013
September272013
September162013

The Odds of Human Life

Procreation is not our raison d’etre. That humans have procreated since the dawn of humanity is not indicative of why we are here: it is simply an observation of what has happened. We are not obliged to play an active role in the process; there is no active participation at all in fact. This was the mistake that the social Darwinists made, believing that we should accelerate evolution in the right direction using eugenics and other sinister techniques: it is a mistake that can cause us to believe that we should consciously strive to pass on our genes. This is patently not the case. We have no need to concern ourselves with such things. We are innately endowed with certain drives that mean we have an instinctive tendency to seek a partner and reproduce with them. That is sufficient. We of course also have the capacity to self-reflect and this means that we can ignore these drives; we also have other, conflicting, drives: culture being one of them. A bigger proof of the fallacy that we should strive to procreate is the existence of homosexuality. Such people obviously aren’t here to procreate. This is perhaps why homosexuals have been persecuted so much over the centuries. But if we discard the idea that we are here to procreate, as I believe we should, we should also discard the idea that homosexuals are an aberration of nature and therefore worthy of our oppression.

Never let us forget our insignificance. Let not our conscious awareness cause us to believe that we have any kind of duty to reproduce, or even that we have any merit to exist. Do you think your deciding not to have children is going to make the slightest dent in the side of humans’ continued existence? Instead, we ought to let the vast and complex ecosystem of the world work by itself. If the innumerable factors that contribute to an individual case of human reproduction align themselves, a being will be born, and this is a marvel. But let’s be clear: the commonly stated acknowledgement of our beating all the odds to exist is also a fallacy. Here’s a quotation from a website after a simple Google search for ‘odds of human life’:

‘So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001’.

This sounds incredible, there’s no doubt about it. However, let’s look a little closer. Let’s use the analogy of a lottery ticket. If you bought a lottery ticket and the numbers came up, granted, it would be something of note. However, we are not talking about this set of circumstances. Nobody was riding on your coming into existence: you were a simple inevitability: perhaps not you specifically, but somebody had to be the culmination of all those complex factors and it was you. If it hadn’t been, it would have been someone else. Somebody has to win the lottery. One of the numbers from all those possible combinations has to come up. It only becomes amazing when you try to guess that combination beforehand and you succeed. Nobody has predicted your existence, so why is it so amazing? If I did a lottery draw but nobody had bought a ticket, we wouldn’t be amazed by the result. Nobody would say ‘Wow, that’s incredible. It could have been any combination of numbers but it turned out to be 20, 38, 40, 1, 7, 17’. Similarly, I am unconvinced by the idea that I am a miracle just because I happened to be born instead of all the other possibilities that there were. 

This, I believe, is the mistake that some atheists still make, despite having made the quite sensible leap from God to godlessness. Science, paradoxically, has at once decentred humans from our once universal pedestal and given us an arrogance towards our achievements that has made us feel that we are special in some way.

The bottom line, which we must never forget, is that we are nothing. All human endeavour, while remarkable to us for the time we remain on the planet, on a cosmological level is transient debris. This needn’t be depressing; it is simply a fact.

April252013
10PM

Abecedario

I was devastatingly outsmarted by one of my students at the beginning of the week. I discovered that, as well as the English cognate alfabeto, Spanish also has abecedario to refer to its writing system. This seemed to me, although admittedly a rather hasty judgement, ridiculously simplistic. ‘Abecedario!’ I scoffed to my top set IGCSE group. ‘That’s like when you’re in primary school and you learn your “ABC.”’ It was quickly pointed out by one particular smartarse in the class that, of course, the alternative, supposedly superior word, alfabeto, comes from the initial letters of the Greek alphabet. I abruptly came down from my high horse, cursorily acknowledged that he was too smart for me and moved on swiftly.

To be honest, I did not mind being outsmarted. It almost felt good. I think it’s good to have yourself brought down a peg or two once in a while. Your students need to know that you’re fallible.

I had honestly never even thought about alphabet and its etymology, despite its being so obvious once pointed out. I find that there are many phrases and words that I take for granted, never having analysed them, when suddenly a new significance will emerge and it will be as a revelation.

This naturally started to happen much more once I started to learn Spanish. Just the other day it happened with immediate. Of course it most commonly means right now; without delay, but its true etymology is more without an intermediary agent, i.e. with no middle man. I nearly cried out when that realisation occured to me.

November132012
November102012

lorcaowen:

¡Los quebraderos de cabeza que da la polisemia!

(Source: rita-montesinos)

November92012
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