Seriously MOE? Abstinence?

At the time of writing, the following two news articles reported the Ministry of Education's drafting of a revised Sexuality Education Programme (SEP):

From Yahoo! News (SG)
A new focus on sexual abstinence

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has drafted a revised Sexuality Education Programme (SEP) to boost emphasis on abstinence over contraception, reported The New Paper (TNP).

The new programme, Breaking Down Bridges (BDB), will be taught to Secondary 3, first-year junior college and centralised institute students, said the paper.

TNP also reported that the old programme faced some criticism from some Catholics due to the emphasis on using contraception, and the lack of awareness given to abstaining from sex. While it understands from MOE that the new programme will be ready in 2012, no details have yet been confirmed.

An MOE spokesperson told TNP that the revamp is part of its "periodic review" of the SEP curriculum to "ensure that it is updated and relevant" to students.

Parents of students in Catholic schools in Singapore welcomed the change to the programme.

Yahoo! Singapore spoke to Marilyn Koh, 47, a Catholic whose son attends a Catholic school, "I'm really looking forward to MOE changing their focus on the SEP. I was not very comfortable with the previous curriculum as it was not catered to Catholic teachings."

Francis Chan, who also has a son in a Catholic school, agreed with the change, "It's a lot more appropriate for Catholic schools to be teaching the children to abstain from sex, instead of promoting contraception. I'm perfectly fine with the current programme running in a secular school, but Catholic schools should be imparting Catholic values, right?"


Online article by The New Paper
Sex-ed revision sparks questions

CONTRACEPTION may have to give some way to abstinence in a revised version of a Sexuality Education Programme (SEP) here.

The New Paper understands that a draft of this revised SEP for all schools here has already been drawn up – and that the 30 or more Catholic Schools here should find fewer issues with it.

Some communities find sections of the current programme overly promote the use of contraception, and lack emphasis on abstinence.

They are especially offended by a video showing how a condom should be used.

Others, however, are concerned about what the refreshed programme will entail.

The articles are not clear about what is meant by "boost emphasis on abstinence over contraception" and "contraception may have to give some way to abstinence". Is MOE adding some emphasis to sexual abstinence, reallocating emphasis to abstinence away from contraception or actually going for the "abstinence only" nonsense?

Secondly, why is Catholicism explicitly brought up in the articles? Again, is MOE placing additional weight on the "moral teachings" of Catholics over the well being of ALL students? No religion should hold sway over the secular (sexual or otherwise) education of students through their own religious teaching. There should be no sectarian bias in any of MOE's education programmes

Another point: Shouldn't sexual education be primarily decided by the Health Promotion Board instead? I'd think that sex ed. should be taught based on the science and data instead of religious "morals".

So, MOE, whatcha doing actually?

Farewell, Hitchens

Farewell, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Here's a video (by TheThinkingAtheist) in memory of Hitchens.

Creationism Attack on Singapore

It has just come to my attention that Singapore is actually one of the 7 countries targeted by Creation Ministries International's "Question Evolution" campaign.

So if any Singaporeans has visited my blog, please be aware of this piece of religious nonsense attempting to spread itself further within our communities.

For more information and resources on the alleged Evolution-Creationism controversy, do visit the following sites:

This US non-profit organization has been defending the scientific theory of evolution for more than 2 decades. Check the site out for information pertaining to anti-Evolution movements by creationists in the US.

The TalkOrigins archive is home to the Index of Creationist Claims where practically all creationists claims has been answered/refuted. This is a quick resource for people looking for answers from mainstream science about creationists' "questions".

Creationism's pseudoscientific disguise, Intelligent Design, has been demolished in a federal court. The event was made into a NOVA documentary. This is worth a watch!

15+1 Youtubers, Christians and non-believers, has put together a 4 part video series to answer/rebut the 15 questions from the Question Evolution Campaign.

For those who enjoy being immersed in a stream of information, check out AronRa's Foundational Falsehood of Creationism series on Youtube.

Godless Bitches!

Just realized that I linked the Godless Bitches Podcast without making a post about them. So here it is.

The Godless Bitches Podcast is a podcast by the women of the ACA (Atheist Community of Austin) which also sponsors the Atheist Experience and the Non-prophets radio podcasts. The Godless Bitches podcast tackles feminist issues from a secular perspective and is regularly contributed by Beth Pressword, Jen Peeples, Tracie Harris and Lynnea Glasser.

I find myself enjoying the podcast a lot. The recent Episode 1.11 (embedded below) was hilarious (Tracie Harris rocked the show).

So check it out!

Religious harm (in the news)

I haven't writing any articles lately. Frankly, it's because there's not that much to write about when all of religion can be defeated with "Where is your fucking evidence?" (PS: "You must have FAITH!" is not a valid response.)

One other thing that is frequently propped up to save their religion is how much good it does. And if they want to play the weighing game, let's look at all the unnecessary harm attributable or contributed by religious idiocy. We don't have to look far at all. Just look at this past week-or-so's news -- we'll start with today.

Dec 2, 2011 -- Afghan rape victim freed from jail, to marry attacker

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the release of a woman who was jailed for adultery after being raped -- but she now faces having to marry her attacker, officials said.

The move came after some 5,000 people signed a petition for the release of the woman, named Gulnaz, who has served two years in prison after a relative raped her at her home. She has been raising the child she had by her attacker in a prison cell in Kabul.

......But the officials also said that Gulnaz should marry the man who attacked her, due to fears she could be in danger if released because of the stigma surrounding her attack in Afghanistan.

She consented to the union, Faizi said.

"She agreed to the marriage but only if his (the attacker's) sister marries Gulnaz's brother," the spokesman added, explaining that this was a way to try and ensure Gulnaz was not attacked by the man in future.

Raped. Imprisoned for "adultery". Bore a child from the rape. Released to marry your rapist. Had to have the caveat that your rapist's sister be married to your brother to protect yourself from probable attacks in the future.

That is one very very sad state of affairs ENTIRELY brought about by Shariah law and a society soaked in Islam.

Nov 28, 2011 -- Egypt police: Killing sparks sectarian clash

Police say that a Muslim has been killed by a Christian in southern Egypt, sparking a sectarian clash, and the military has intervened to stop the violence.

......The director of security for the province of Sohag, Gen. Abdel al-Aziz al-Nahas, said the village of al-Ghureizat was under a police and army cordon Monday night following the death of a Muslim earlier in a fight with his neighbor. The conflict was about the building of a wall.

A sectarian clash over a murder over a conflict about building a wall. The divisive nature of religion really shines through this one.

Nov 27, 2011 -- 4 dead, churches burned in north Nigeria attack

Witnesses and authorities say at least four people died in an apparent attack on a northeast Nigeria city that saw churches and businesses burned to the ground.

......Witnesses say attackers blew up a local police station and attacked a bank, as well as set fire to businesses and at least eight churches.

More tribalistic behavior attributable to religious division.

Nov 26, 2011 -- Pope says all society, not just church, must be held to same standards against sex abuse

Pope Benedict XVI said all society must be held to the same standards against sexual child abuse and defended the Catholic church’s response in handling the series of child abuse scandals that have marred their institution starting in the 1980s.

Benedict made the statement on Saturday at the Vatican in remarks to visiting US bishops, insisting the “scourge” of pedophilia is a problem for every institution, the Associated Press reported.

Dear Pope, the rest of society has been held to higher standards compared to your church. We don't hide our pedophiles and send them off to other locations to rape more kids -- you DO. Now fuck off the moral high ground you stole.

Nov 25, 2011 -- Churches told dying patients they were cured

At least six people have died in Britain after being told that they had been healed of HIV, and could stop taking their medication.

There is evidence that evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow are claiming to cure HIV through God.

We sent three undercover reporters into the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) , which is based in Southwark, south London.

All of them told the pastors that they were HIV positive. All were told that they could be healed.

Christians performing subtle genocide against HIV patients amongst their own. That's some crazy shit there. What can I say? Faith is glorified ignorance and ignorance can kill.

Nov 24, 2011 -- Christian-Muslim clashes Nigeria kill at least 12

Clashes between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in central Nigeria have killed at least 12 people and left "enormous" destruction, including houses burned, officials said on Thursday.

......A resident who did not want to be named said churches and an Islamic school were also burned.

......The clashes appeared to result from reprisals carried out over killings that had occurred several days ago.

......The area has been caught in a deadly cycle of attacks and reprisals that have regularly flared up for years.

Beroms and other mainly Christian ethnic groups are viewed as the indigenes in the area, while Hausa-Fulani Muslims are seen as the more recent "settlers" despite the fact that many have been there for decades.

Policies that favour indigenous groups when it comes to such issues as patronage and jobs have created animosity.

In turn, Beroms fear that Hausas -- a much larger ethnic group throughout Nigeria as a whole -- will eventually be allowed to dominate an area they see as their own.

Many say the crisis has been fueled by politicians in a local struggle for political and economic gain, but religious sentiments are increasingly being stirred as well.

Years of violence over arbitrarily defined division along religious lines. Again, tribal behavior facilitated by religious division.

Religion -- Creating unnecessary problems since conception.

The Pale Blue Dot - A Tribute to Carl Sagan

Here's tribute video by TheThinkingAtheist to Carl Sagan.

Perspective. Awe. And wonder.

Examining the Existence of a Historical Jesus

Here is a presentation by David Fitzgerald at Skepticon 3 titled "Examining the Existence of a Historical Jesus".

In this presentation, information about the historicity of Jesus is drawn from books on the subject and presented. It touches on the lack of contemporaneous extra-biblical evidence, the contradictions within the gospels themselves, the fact that none of the gospels were eye-witnesses, the difference between Paul's Jesus & the Jesus of the gospels and other interesting tidbits.

Why Science is Better Than Religion and Always Has Been

Also from Skepticon 1 is this presentation by Richard Carrier entitled: "Why Science is Better Than Religion and Always Has Been"

I like it.

PZ Myers - Science Ed: Science vs Religion

Yea, this is old stuff. This is PZ Myers at Skepticon 1 back in 2008. It's kinda sad considering that it still applies after more than 2 years.


PZ Myers at World Atheist Convention

An entertaining rant/speech by PZ Myers at the World Atheist Convention Ireland 2011.

Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:


Quran's factual origins

Just as I have come to know that the Bible is a translation of several books written by different authors, decades after the events which they purport to describe by non-eyewitnesses whose stories were transmitted by hearsay in the intervening decades, I am interested to know what real history has to say about the formation of the "holy" book known as the Qu'ran.

L'Orientalist now has 2 videos with information pertaining to the topic and here they're.

The Inimitable Qu'ran

Did the Umayyads change the Qu'ran?

The creator of the videos provides citation of the literature he uses on his blog linked in the information below the video itself on Youtube.

Of objectivity and oughtness

QualiaSoup has uploaded the third video of his series on morality: Of objectivity and oughtness.

What's so Queer About Gay Marriage?

In this presentation, SisyphusRedeemed, a philosopher on Youtube outlines four arguments against gay marriage, and argue why they don't work.

Those are the secular arguments. Religious arguments can go play with the other childish arguments while actual moral and legal arguments are discussed.

And yes, I think Singapore is being, how do you put this..., backwards for still having 377A.

** On a side note, this happens to be my 200th entry.

Moral Absolutes and Morality

DiscoveringReligion has two videos up discussing further the religious idea of moral absolutes from their god.

It echoes and expands the same idea I briefly mentioned in the last part of this blog entry: Morality: Subjective, Objective.

L'Orientalist on Islam

A channel, L'Orientalist, with well referenced, clear content about Islam from a skeptic's perspective has come to my attention. I'd thought I'd post one of his videos here.

What do you think?

For liberal/moderate muslims, if you take issue with this video, may I ask, is it that the facts presented were incorrect or from the standpoint of your personal theological interpretation (in spite of the book's contents)? For the record, I only care about the former; the latter, not so much.

Atheism versus God: How did the universe begin?

You sir are dead wrong about almost everything in the article.

I am referring to this article: Atheism versus God: How did the universe begin? written by Vasko Kohlmayer in the Washington Times Communities. See the article if you wish to read the parts I truncated to maintain length.

There are those who claim that to believe in God is not only unscientific, but also absurd.

This is certainly not the case. To the contrary, it is the denial of God's existence that contradicts both science and common sense.

I'll grant you that common sense might indicate a god. But mind you, our intuitions about the actual mechanisms of the natural world has failed us many times. In fact, many scientific truths are counter-intuitive.

So, what about science? No. As far as scientific evidence is concerned, there is not a SINGLE verifiable piece of evidence indicating the existence of a deity.

The prevailing scientific consensus today is that the universe began with the Big Bang.

[Truncated -- some background on Big Bang theory]
The Big Bang theory describes the initial event as a great explosion which brought forth all the energy and matter in the universe. On this theory, the Big Bang was the beginning of all things. Prior to it, there was nothing: There were no particles, there was no matter. There was not even space or time.

Just a note: The Big Bang theory does NOT claim that there was nothing in the beginning. Please see this previous post: Something from Nothing?

Unlike some creationist retards who make the retarded claim that atheists believe "something came from nothing", that is not the author's beef. So let's move on.

Most of those who don't believe in God say that the Big Bang was a chance event. In other words, the great explosion that brought the universe into being was a cosmic fluke.

But this is an unsupportable position to take, because things just don't happen like that. Explosions – big or small – do not come about without someone or something causing them.

Here's his main beef: atheists believe that the universe/Big Bang is uncaused.

And he goes on to illustrate it,

To illustrate, consider this.

[Truncated -- the analogy]

And yet many atheists make precisely this kind of claim. They say that the greatest of all explosions just happened. On this view, the universe just popped into existence spontaneously.

But does this make sense?

Firstly, explosions, as described, have known causes and we understand the mechanisms -- unlike the Big Bang.

But more importantly, no atheist claim that the Big Bang is therefore necessarily uncaused. In fact, the atheists that I've heard of thinks that the Big Bang has a cause --- they simply don't think invoking a deity explains anything.

Common sense and experience tell us that the world does not work like this.

[Truncated -- lots of drama about a claim atheists do not make]

The problem is, however, that in all of its history science has never observed or documented a single uncaused event.

The atheistic position concerning the beginning of the universe thus goes not only against common sense and our everyday experience, but also against the axioms and observations of science.

In light of this, it is the atheist's position that has an air of absurdness about it.

Yes, the caricature of our position is very absurd. That, I don't disagree.

The huge irony here is that a majority of theists would claim that their god is an uncaused cause. So the absurdity that the author claims atheists believe sits squarely in his own court. All the drama about the absurdity of believing that something is uncaused applies to their god.

Yet, without a hint of irony, he goes on to say

It is only reasonable and logical to assume that the universe – just like everything else – had to have a cause. Judging by the staggering vastness, complexity and beauty of the universe, the cause that brought it forth must have been immensely powerful, superbly wise and exquisitely imaginative.

Such characteristics are normally associated with an entity we term God.

This reeks of stupid: "It's SO PRETTY! ...therefore, goddidit!"

To believe in God – the transcendent cause of the universe – is thus neither illogical nor absurd. Not to believe in him is both.

Unbelief will remain to be logically and scientifically untenable until it can be demonstrated that it is possible for an uncaused event to occur.

On the contrary, unbelief is the ONLY scientifically tenable position until evidence demonstrates the existence of a deity.

To believe that the existence of a god is justified by science is both illogical and absurd.

Tree of Wonder

I never quite understood the notion that beauty of nature is diminished when science explains the mechanisms of nature. I understand how people find the scientific method itself boring because they're not inclined to enjoy performing experiments and making observations. But that is a very different thing from saying science makes nature less beautiful by explaining it.

I don't get that. At all.

Just look at a tree. A tall, large tree with a crown of forest green leaves -- a majesty sight especially if contrasted by a lack of trees in the surrounding or smaller trees in the vicinity. The branching patterns in the crown and of the veins in leaves is itself beautiful sometimes very intricate looking. The powerful roots, a part of which spreads visibly above ground -- in urban areas, demonstrate its strength by breaking concrete as its grows larger and thicker. Depending on the time of the year, there may be flowers or fruits -- each adding colour to the crown.

That is beautiful. Visually. A majestic natural object to behold.

Science makes it even more beautiful -- not in your eyes but in your head.

When I look at a tree and contemplate its beauty, its beauty is not skin deep. Visuals is only part of the story. In the back of my head, the science of biology is summoned.

This large majestic tree is a multicellular organism -- a successful coalition of cells. Millions, billions of cells. Each cell as intricate and complex as the other. Each one following instructions laid out in its DNA -- having switched on or off different genes to perform its task in the coalition.

In the leaves, the chloroplasts are photosynthesizing -- the process that gave Earth its oxygenated atmosphere. And these chloroplast, like mitochondria, has its own genome, separate from the plant's own nuclear DNA, having descended from free-living ancestors of cyanobacteria.

This tree is one of the descendants of the primeval cell that started it all. A chain of unbroken parent-child kinship marching back more than 3 billion years. It stands tall on one of the tips of the tree of life where you stand on another. Yes, you're a cousin, a distant cousin of the tree you're looking at. Every single living thing is a cousin of differing degrees.

There is much more to think of but I hope this little description gives those people an inkling of how science beautifies.

There is much beauty, awe and wonder with science than without.

Mr. Deity and the Naughty Bits

Another hilarious episode of Mr Deity.

More videos on their channel if you're interested.

Catholic Church trafficking babies in Spain

The headline says it all and it reads: 300,000 babies stolen from their parents - and sold for adoption: Haunting BBC documentary exposes 50-year scandal of baby trafficking by the Catholic church in Spain

I don't have a lot to comment on this. On some level, it's almost expected.

Spreading AIDS in Africa. Child rape and cover-up. And now, there's baby trafficking on the list of shit that the Catholic Church peddle. Granted it's just the Catholic Church in Spain and not the Pope's Vatican, the atrocity is still substantially religiously motivated and facilitated.

This is yet another example of how organized religion can conduct immoral actions with efficiency through its organized structure and be cloaked by inculcating a false veil of moral superiority.

Tracie Harris awesomeness

One of those informative episodes of the Atheist Experience with co-host Tracie Harris.

"Well, it's not all bad!"

 "Why do you atheists always talk about bad things that come from religion? Why don't you ever talk about the good works like feeding the poor and building hospitals, etc?"
"Well, religion is not all bad! Look at all the good things that come from religion like charity and love and etc..."

This one type of defense of religion that I find not only weak but, frankly misses the point.

Firstly, it is basically arguing for the usefulness of religion not for its truth which seems odd when we're arguing about whether a god really exist. But we'll leave that aside since this post is coming from another angle.

"Religion does good too!" sounds almost reasonable, ie not reasonable.

You mean aside from stifling science and education, obstructing justice, denying LGBT rights and perpetuating a general contempt of humanity among other historical atrocities, religions also does charity and some good works? Wow, who knew? /sarcasm.

Put it this way: Say there's a rich guy who love his wife and kids. He is rich and successful businessman who provides welfare for his workers and donates to large sums of money to charity monthly. Every fortnight, he kills a family and rape the kids. But look at all the good things he does!

No. He's a psychopath and needs to be locked up. Same with religion.

What makes the defense even more worthless is the fact that ALL the good works religion does can be and (hopefully) will be done, if not superseded, by secular means. That means we can have all the good without the bad -- religion can and should go.

Atheism is not the system

Atheism is frequently thought to be a belief system or a religion by religious people. Sometimes, atheists ourselves use the word in such a way that it would be misunderstood as such.

There is a thought process, but it's not atheism, it's skepticism coupled with the scientific method. Atheism, a singular position on a single claim, cannot be a system -- it is a conclusion.

There is no doctrine of Atheism that call upon all atheists to reject/deny god(s). There is a preponderance of the evidence of available that led to the conclusion that is atheism. There is no pope of Atheism who dictates that science is the truth. There is a recognition that the Scientific Method is the single most reliable method to get humanity as close to the truth as possible.

So perhaps, skepticism might be a more accurate label for the "belief system" than atheism?

Discarding theology

Why do atheists typically ignore "sophisticated" modern theology? Simple. The answer is embodied by the Courtier's Reply made by PZ Myers in response to critics of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk. Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Simply put, theology is not based on reality.

The Scientific Method is applicable to ANY area of knowledge of reality. What we typically call Science is the different branches of physics, chemistry and biology. But the method is also applied to other areas of knowledge including history and linguistics.

In fact, you use a less rigorous form of the method in your life. When your computer power off suddenly, you hypothesize that there is a blackout or that some hardware in the computer fried. You notice that other electrical appliances in your home is still powered thus ruling out the hypothesis of a blackout and you go on checking other things, so on and so forth.

Theology is basically the study of god. But the thing is, theology does not provide evidence of god's existence. It sometimes tries to prove god through pure logic (ie, armchair philosophy) if not ignoring the issue completely and jumps straight into sophistry about god presuming its existence.

I'm sorry. How is that not nonsense?

Theology is like Germ theory where viruses and bacteria don't exist. Theology is like Paleontology where bones never fossilize. Theology is like Chemistry in a universe where only hydrogen exist forever unchanged.

Dismissing claims for which there is no evidence for is not a "science". It's basic skepticism.

The same point is previously discussed in: Justifications and Beliefs

Do realize that atheists (at least those who have been called "New Atheists") are skeptics first, atheist in conclusion. We are not hostile to religion because of some Atheist doctrine. We are atheists because we were first skeptical of religious claims.

The Non-Explanation

Here's a new video by DarkMatter2525:

Conditioned to believe that basically everything is in accordance to God's plans, religious people rationalize any and every outcome in a strange twisted way. Since God is defined to be always right, no matter the situation, God is "good" irrespective of the situation, be it an accident or a natural disaster.

It's fucking nuts.

Jesus Camp, Singapore

By the way.

HOLY FUCK! The conservative Christian pastor, Becky Fischer, well-known for running Jesus Camp, was in Singapore.

For those who haven't heard of Jesus Camp, you can see it on Youtube.

Part 1:
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The crazies are coming!

Steve Jobs needn't have died young

It has come to my attention that the recent death of Steve Jobs was very probably premature and I'm not speaking from an emotional point of view. He may have survived his cancer had he gotten treatment right away but... he did not.

Here is a link to an article written on the subject by the Daily Beast: Job's Unorthodox Treatment. And here is a ScienceBlogs entry about the same topic: Steve Jobs, neuroendocrine tumors and alternative treatment.

Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure that he would have survived had he undertook immediate medical treatment but 9 months is very significant if his cancer was indeed aggressive. Aggressive or not, it seems clear that he would probably live much longer if those 9 months haven't been wasted on "alternative medicine".

I feel dirty for using the word "medicine" in the phrase "alternative medicine". "Alternative medicine" is not medicine -- if it worked, it wouldn't be an "alternative" at all.

I didn't write this entry to dump on Steve Jobs for making that bad decision but to bring to light what an unnecessary tragedy this is. It's a pretty good bet that he could have stuck around longer if he had known better.

The blame is on society and educators. We failed. We failed to equip laypeople with the knowledge and skills to fend off unevidenced beliefs. And in this case, unevidenced beliefs has cut a brilliant man's life short. There are many more people out there who are now on the same path because they too have succumbed to pseudoscience and magical thinking.

But you can help. Educating yourself on such areas of knowledge would be most helpful -- admittedly however, most people either do not have the time or is not bothered by such.

Well, it's time to be bothered. The next time someone talks about astrology as if it was true, give it to them, wake them up. Someone wants to waste money on homeopathy? Give him some education. Whatever the pseudoscience or superstition, be bothered, be very bothered and let them know that it is wrong.

Some tragedies need not happen. Don't let it slide.

Good is Secular Humanist

This is about a particular type of claim made against Secular Humanism (hereafter referred to as Humanism) and it takes on several forms.

One common claim launched against Secular Humanism (usually as a defense of religion) is that Humanism "is Christianity without God" or "adopted Christian values". This claim accuses Humanism of having values and morals only because it adopted them from Christianity and that it has no grounds for its moral framework.

Another claim attacks Humanism on similar grounds, asking rhetorically, in effect: "Why Humanists say that their way is the rational/moral/correct way?" to accuse Humanists of acting just like dogmatic/fundamentalist religious people.

Going along similar lines, if Humanism is another religion, it extends to the idea that Humanists are breaching the wall between church and state when the government acts in agreement with Humanist values.

Religion or not?
Let's deal with the latter two claims first. Is Humanism a religion?

Yes and No. It depends what you are talking about.

Legally, Humanism should recognized as a religion as a practical category that it fits into. Humanism is a philosophy that are not a religion but play a similar role in a person's life. With regards to the law and rights, there isn't much of a difference between a life philosophy that includes a god (a religion) and one that doesn't have gods. Non-believers should not be denied the same rights religious people have.

Generally speaking however, there's a huge difference between a philosophy, like Humanism, and a religion. Religions have a supernatural or dogmatic aspect -- this makes it fundamentally different from Humanism. In religions, god(s) are supernatural entities and in each religion there are certain beliefs that must be held (dogmatism). Humanism have neither -- in fact, Humanism rejects both on the grounds of skepticism.

So, legally, yes, Humanism is a religion. But aside from that, no, Humanism is not a religion unless you wish to destroy the distinction between philosophies and religion by rendering the word "religion" meaningless.

Getting it backwards
Humanism is not a religion without morals (and thus having to import "Christian values") -- it has morals without religion.

Humanism is a philosophy that stems from rational thought, empirical understanding and driven by human empathy. It values skepticism and the scientific method as tools for improving our understanding of the world. Morals is born of the marriage of reason and empathy.

For some religious people, it may be difficult to understand how morals can be of reason and empathy. Especially those who, unfortunately, believes that morals must be handed down by their god.

But think about it a little more deeply.

Do you do charity,
-- because your contributions can help alleviate another person's suffering,
-- because it feels good to help people,
-- because you need the extra cash/time less than less fortunate people, or
-- because god instructed/liked it?

Do you not commit murder,
-- because you are robbing someone of their right to life
-- because you simply do not have such a desire
-- because you are potentially harming the people who love that person
-- because god said so?

In both cases, only the last option is the truly religious -- the only one that can be regarded as having "Christian" (or whatever religion) value. The first 3 can easily be reached via reason and empathy. They are of human value.

No god required
People operate using reason and evidence to deal with everyday issues. When you get the change from the cashier, you count if you want to know if you were given the right change, you don't pray to find out whether it's really 35 cents. When your television is not working right, you check the manual or the internet to see what could be wrong, you don't go to your holy book for advice.

But somehow, some religious people think that: when they want to know how the world came to be, they read their creation myth instead of gathering evidence from the world to ascertain what they can know about the subject. When they want to know what are morals, they adhere to "wisdom" from an old book written by ignorant men who thought they knew god instead of evaluating the moral issue rationally.

Humanism did not adopt any religious value. On the contrary, religions co-opt human values.

Notice that I said human values as opposed to humanist values. Because it is simply an unfortunate situation that we have to identify ourselves as humanists. Humanists are what humans should be unless they are corrupted by religious dogma and fantastical thinking.

Some religious people like to characterize Humanism as their religion without their god like a beautiful flowering plant without its flower. But the truth is their religion is humanism corrupted by god(s) and other magical thinking -- akin to a beautiful garden which became overrun by the supernatural, dogmatic weeds.

Put another way: "Good religion" is "bad religion" stripped of obvious immoral nonsense. Secular Humanism is just "good religion" stripped of ALL nonsense.

There is no gods

TheraminTrees has uploaded the third and final video of his video response titled "there is no gods". The series is a brilliant piece of work, explaining many reasons why an atheist would reject theistic claims.

This is the third video:

The first and second videos are here:

Slavery in the Bible

For ease of referencing, here are the Bible verses relevant to its support of slavery.

The Old Testament
The Old Testament explicitly condones slavery -- providing instructions for acquisition, treatment and punishment of Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves.

Exodus has Yahweh speaking to Moses directly, stating "Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them" in Exodus 21:1 before a string of instructions including those pertaining to slavery.

Exodus 21:2-11
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

That's a divine legal loophole for permanent slavery of your fellow Hebrew -- Marry your slave to another slave, blackmail him into permanent slavery if he wishes to stay with his spouse and children.

Exodus 21:20-21
If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

Causing your slave to die after 1-2 days is criminal. But after 2-3 days is just dandy because he's just property anways.

Exodus 21:26-27
If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Beat your slave but don't cause permanent harm or you lose him/her.

Leviticus 19:20-22
Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. He shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him.

If you fuck your slave, she has to be punished if she is betrothed to another man. You? Just go sacrifice a ram and you're scot-free.

Leviticus 25:44-46
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another. 

Hebrews for permanent slavery? No. Everyone else is game.

The New Testament
The New Testament is less explicit about slavery laws than the Old Testament. It recognizes that slavery exists but does not criticize it. Instead, it frequently compares slaves and masters to the relationship between believers and God, implying that it was acceptable.

Ephesians 6:5-9
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Open, tolerant and respectful

I am guessing that most Singaporeans should have noticed that when it comes to racial or religious harmony, our government always reiterates the same points with the same rhetoric all the time. Don't get me wrong; I do agree that we should maintain racial/religious harmony -- that's not the issue here.

What gets on my nerves is how vague they are every single time that I've seen it. It's always the same vague language, imploring that we should be open, tolerant and respectful of other beliefs. Okay, good. What does that mean?

What is being open?

To be open is to be ready to entertain new ideas. And here in Singapore, I never really thought that this was an issue at all (so far).

What about being tolerant?

To be tolerant something is to permit and endure its existence. Again, I, for one, have no issue with this. I am not, and I hope nobody else is, going to prohibit religion or irreligion in general.

Then what about being respectful?

To show deference to a right. Sure, people have the right to have or not have religious beliefs -- that's fine.

What then is the issue here?

Wait, there's another commonly used meaning for respect I'm forgetting -- to hold in esteem or honor. That? HELL, NO.

Now, think of the common thread that holds this 3 terms together. For non-believers on the internet, I'm pretty sure you might have guessed it -- Criticism of religious doctrines and practices.

In the eyes of (some of) the religious and squishy liberals, simply criticizing religious doctrines and practices is equated to being close-minded, intolerant and disrespectful. Guess what? They're wrong. One can be open, tolerant and respectful of religious beliefs without silencing all opposing ideas (ie, criticism).

I will entertain your beliefs, respect your right to hold them, tolerate your practices AND tell you what I find disagreeable. But the last part is what seems to get their goat. And that appears to me, what they wish to achieve with the usual rhetoric.

When tensions between religions (and the irreligious) mount around the globe, the rhetoric is used to quell any tension that might be building here in Singapore. In this case, it might have been the tension between the freethought community and the religious in the USA and Europe.

It becomes ironic when you consider what happens when religious conflicts do escalate. It ends with one religious faction making a hell of a fuss by rioting. So essentially, I cannot criticize you because you might lose your sanity and kill people -- and this is supposed to be acceptable?

For example, if a riot broke out because a group of people were unhappy with the government's decision, those people are insurgents. But if a riot broke up because a group of people were unhappy because they were presented facts about their religion, those people are good citizens who should be protected from information? Bite me.

I genuinely hope the that is not the position the government is holding and is possibly using that same old rhetoric about religious harmony for more benign reasons.

To summarize, my position is that, I will defend your right to believe in nonsense so long as you do not deny my right to call it nonsense.

Adaptive Immune System

I haven't posted anything for quite awhile so I thought I'd recommend a video.

Here's a video from the FreeOK Convention - there are 5 segments on TheThinkingAtheist channel if you're interested. This one is a presentation on vaccination and your adaptive immune system by Abbie Smith.

Happy Birthday Singapore!

Today marks the 46th year of our island nation's independence.

In keeping with tradition, this year we have "In a Heartbeat" for our National Day Parade theme song.

I realized I did not have a post up for last year's National Day (probably because I'm busy being involved). So here's last year's song as well.

Sometimes I ask myself, why do I like NDP songs (here's an almost complete playlist of them, excluding 2010 and 2011) so much.

I think I know why now: I always picture the whole world singing the song, not for just Singapore, but for the whole world -- a world united...

Not-so-good books

QualiaSoup has made another beautiful video on the subject of morality. This time addressing the claim of morality from scripture (and in this video, specifically the Bible).

Answers to three questions for humanists

On the online Straits Times Forum, two letters were posted in response to the news article on (Secular) Humanist Society. The following is a response to one of them, titled: "Three questions for humanists" The online story can be found here.

Three questions for humanists

MR PAUL Tobin rightly observes that one does not need to believe in God in order to be good ("'I've no God - and am proud of it'"; last Saturday).

We know this from our interactions with friends and relatives, and from news of prominent people in public life. And we need only look at history, past and contemporary, to observe how much harm religion can do.

Nevertheless, I do have a few issues with humanists.

And I'll try to address them.

First, Ms Catherine Lim says she prefers to have faith rather than a faith. But the two are not mutually exclusive. "A faith" refers to an organised religion. One can believe in God (or gods) without belonging to an organised religion. Until not so long ago, the secretary of the British Humanist Association was an Anglican priest.......

Yes, it is correct to point out that (blind) faith is not exclusively in the domain of organized religion. One can have faith in the existence of god(s) without subscribing to any particular religion.

But I believe that wasn't her point -- she was merely stating she has a preference for having trust in the potential of humanity to guide the world than any particular religion which would claim to be able to do so. She was probably being inaccurate with her language when making that point -- I will concede that.

......In the West, Christian humanism has been around for many years. So, more precisely, humanism as described in the article refers to secular humanism. Even so, it is difficult not to ascribe the values of humanism to its religious roots.

Many of the values of Western humanism can trace their roots to Christianity.......

Honestly, I don't care if humanism's roots can be traced back to Christianity. I am not clear what relevance that would have.

I doubt that the proposition is meaningful. The most important aspect of Secular Humanism is its rejection of dogmas and propositions without evidence. In this respect, it stands completely at odds with organized religion where the very existence of a god is asserted without evidence.

In view of this, the values that Secular Humanists stand for are not grounded in the existence of any god but in human empathy, reason and evidence. So, in a sense, to say that Humanism has its roots in Christianity is to have it ass-backwards. Christianity has values which roots are in humanity -- Humanism merely holds onto those values and hack away the supernatural weeds that have grown around them (strangling them).

......Secular humanists may say these values would have been dominant anyway, since they have proven to be the most adaptive for human survival and religion has only been the vehicle through which such values have been transmitted. This may be true, but in itself is not an argument against the existence of God.

No one is arguing that Secular humanism itself constitutes evidence against god. That would be ludicrous. Strawman?

Another member says he will let science rather than religion lead his thinking. This is fine so long as we do not go into the science versus religion debate. This is a false dichotomy. As astrophysicist Paul Davies reminds us, science describes the "how" while religion answers the "why".

Well, Paul Davies is wrong . Well, on the face of it, he may appear to be correct.

Religious people have no problem rationalizing scientific data and theories into their respective belief systems. Religious doctrines and scriptures have been interpreted to death by their adherents to conform (or at least, not contradict) other beliefs (scientific or otherwise) that they have.

However, that is also where science definitely clashes with faith and religion. Science requires that conclusions be drawn from observations and biases should be eradicated to avoid distorting data. Faith contravenes that important principle by requiring that a priori religious beliefs be brought to bear on the evidence and, in some cases, reject the evidence if it contradicts those religious beliefs. In this sense, science and faith are fundamentally at odds -- the same reason why fundamentalists versions of religions go after science with such fervor.

The history of science is peopled by God-believing scientists. Indeed, the first person to postulate the Big Bang was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre. Another Catholic priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, took the evolutionary theory on a radical path. Not so many years ago, Pope John Paul II pronounced the theory of evolution to be more than a theory. And we know that the person who headed the genome project, Dr Francis Collins, is a staunch Christian.

These people also did not believe that science contradicted their religion and that their religion offers an interpretation of scientific data that they are comfortable with. The "false dichotomy" still stands.

How do secular humanists respond to the following questions:

- Why is there something rather than nothing?

Don't know. (More honest than religions, eh?)

I actually think it's a trivial question  even though it sounds like a deep philosophical question at face value. If there must be something to cause anything to happen, then the very existence of anything indicates that there was never nothing to begin with. That is, the question makes no sense. This is not a formal philosophical argument, just my opinion if you want it.

For the people who ask that question thinking that it somehow justifies belief in god, you're arguing for the god of the gaps. The honest answer is still "I don't know" not "therefore, god must exist!"

- If matter is all there is, how can specks of dust (matter) combine to produce a human being with consciousness (non-matter)? Astronomer Carl Sagan's standard response ("billions of years") is unhelpful.

But Carl Sagan's response is probably accurate. Nature is not required to provide feel-good answers.

Secondly, the mind is an emergent phenomenon. It IS matter.

For example, wetness is an emergent property when water molecules get together in a sufficient quantity. Water molecules themselves are not wet. So, is wetness non-matter?

- If matter is all there is and thoughts are a product of a chemical reaction in the brain in response to stimuli, then there is no free will, including the freedom of thought. Every thought we have is an inevitable response in accordance with set natural laws. In other words, we cannot help thinking what we think. In that case, how can we believe anything, since the thinking is "done" for us? How then can we trust what we believe, including the belief in no God?

I'll just point out that you are assuming we hold to the determinist position on free will.

We believe propositions on the basis of reason and evidence. Are you proposing that reason and evidence is somehow not real if we are following natural laws?

Here's a thought. What are "You" if not your thoughts, feelings and experience?

Noah's Ark: Reality Check

The following video, by NonStampCollector, is a response to people who believe that the Noah's Ark story actually happened.

I've no god - and am proud of it

 The following is an article by the Straits Times via Jakarta Globe:

Singapore. A growing number of people in Singapore who do not believe in a God have banded together, determined to be unapologetic about being non-religious.

Registered as the Humanist Society (Singapore) last October, their ranks have since expanded from 10 to 100 registered, fee-paying members.

Their backgrounds are as diverse as their reasons for not professing a faith, but they are united by their belief that morality comes from humanity itself.

Calling themselves 'secular humanists', they are also united in their rejection of a theistic or supernatural explanation of reality, and their embracing of scientific inquiry.

Today is a red-letter day: The society presents its inaugural Humanist of the Year award to author Catherine Lim.

Another recent milestone was the society's application to join the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a European body of humanist societies around the world.

The humanists here include artists, government officials, students and entrepreneurs. The youngest member is 19 and the oldest, 65.

Most describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, though some eschew labels. Others are adamantly definitive. Take Nanyang Technological University student Eugene Tay, 24, who declares: 'I'm an atheist-agnostic secular humanist.'

Statistically, the proportion of people here with no religion has climbed steadily in the last 30 years - from 13 per cent in 1980 to 17 per cent last year.

Since non-believers have no church, temple or mosque to go to, they have carved out their space online.

The founding members of the Humanist Society came together in 2008, through, a social networking website.

The online group they formed has more than 500 members.

Since it was set up, the society has cast itself as the voice for the non-religious here. Its president Paul Tobin, 46, wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page last December, in response to a report that suggested that non-religious young people were prone to violence and cynicism. In his letter, he rejected the claim and concluded: 'One does not need to have a religion to lead a good, happy and meaningful life.'

He told The Straits Times: 'That was a watershed moment. After that letter, our numbers shot up. I feel now that we have a say in what goes on in Singapore.'

Land surveyor Loh Kwek Leong, 58, who learnt of the society through this newspaper last year, said he grew up in a typical Chinese household - one that was 'a bit Taoist, a bit Buddhist, a lot superstitious'.

As an adult, he found putting his faith in science better. He said: 'The questions I had about the world, about life and death - I found my answers in science, not religion.'

The group pulls together because of a shared sense of being alone in a society where four in five people profess to believe in a Supreme Being.

Communications manager Winston Chong, 36, who said he has philosophical debates with his parents, who are religious, said: 'It's about time we had a group for ourselves. I've been waiting for this, to find like-minded people.'

As a recipient of the society's award, Dr Lim joins a list of internationally honoured humanists, including astronomer Carl Sagan and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Asked for her take on religion, she replied via e-mail: 'I suppose if I had a religion, it would be the 'religion of humanity', based on confidence in the indomitability of the human spirit. I would rather have faith, than a faith.'

If I want to be pedantic, I'll take issue with capitalizing the word "god". Excuse me, are you trying to be a bigoted monotheist, dismissing all the other gods other people believe in -- hmmm?

I also take issue with the phrase "putting his faith in science" because it reeks of religious language that confuse the issue of faith, trust and confidence.

But all in all, nice -- a positive article about secular humanism and non-belief is always good to have.

Question Evolution: Answers

Via TheLivingDinosaur, it came to my attention of Creation Ministries International's campaign, Question Evolution. As a response, 15+1 Youtubers came together to produce videos to answer the ludicrous questions in the campaign's pamphlet.

Here are the 4 videos collated:

Links to the creationist's site and pamphlet can be found on the Youtube page of the first part of the video. Links to the individual contributors can be found on the Youtube page of the video part they appear in.

Treatise on Morality

Here's video by TheoreticalBullshit on the subject of morality.

It addresses why I say, Christianity has obedience not morality -- This applies to any denomination or religion where morality is defined by their deity.

Morality: Subjective, Objective

Very often, the debate over morality is bogged down by the issue over the subjectivity or objectivity of morality. Usually, the theists are the ones advocating that morality is objective (and has been made known to them by their gods) while some atheists would deny that.

So, note the (relevant) definitions for objective and subjective.

objective — adj
1.    existing independently of perception or an individual's
       conceptions: are there objective moral values?
2.    undistorted by emotion or personal bias
3.    of or relating to actual and external phenomena as
       opposed to thoughts, feelings, etc
4.    of, or relating to a goal or aim

subjective — adj
1.    belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of
       the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being
2.    of, relating to, or emanating from a person's emotions,
       prejudices, etc: subjective views
3.    relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing
4.    existing only as perceived and not as a thing in itself

Note the different ways the words subjective and objective can be used. The two different ways is with respect to in/dependence of mind(s) and distortion or lack of it by prejudices/biases/emotions.

Now this means that referring to morality with those terms, objective and subjective, without adequate clarity will indicate 4 different positions. If you said morality is objective, you might mean that morality exist independent of minds or that morality is not biased by subjects. If you said morality is subjective, you might mean that morality is dependent on minds or that morality is based on subjective biases.

The Usual Confusion
As such, without providing proper context, telling me that you believe morality to be objective or subjective is potentially misleading. You MUST indicate what definition of objective and subjective you are using.

Objective (1) -- independent of minds
Objective (2) -- unbiased by subjects

Subjective (1) -- dependent on minds
Subjective (2) -- based on subjective biases

With that clarified, I want to state that atheists (not all, but there is a significant proportion at least) are proposing that morality is subjective (1) but its morals can be derived objectively (2). This would be what Sam Harris is proposing that science can study morality, concerning the well-being of conscious beings which is subjective (1), objectively (2).

Morality and Morals
The purpose of morality, simply put, is to guide human behavior and (social) interactions. I will state that I reject ALL claims of objective (1) morality. Any moral system that ignores the state of the conscious beings involved -- which is what it must entail in order to be objective (1) -- is not a moral system at all.

The purpose of morality is subjective (1) in the sense that morality only matters if there are subjects. It is not subjective (2) as long as we properly define what morality is and thus be able to objectively (2) investigate what is moral and immoral.

I agree with Sam Harris' view of morality where the purpose of morality is to guide human behavior and social interactions in the direction of well-being. Note the well-being is somewhat vague, like the concept of health, which I think is actually a strong point.

Take a look at the branches of normative ethics, at this Wikipedia page, particularly Consequentialist theories, and notice that they emphasize on one particular value to judge whether an action is or is not moral. The idea of well-being cuts through all that nonsense and represents all the values that we hold.

Theistic, Objective Morality
The main issue with theistic, objective morality is that there is no such thing -- it's almost a contradiction in terms.

If morality is based on their god, then it would be subjective (1) -- dependent on god's mind -- not objective (1) which they claim. The Euthyphro dilemma applies either way. Also, this makes morality arbitrary and quite meaningless -- it's obedience not morals.

If morality is not based on their god but simply because god has access to morality via its omniscience, then morality is not dependent on god. It would be possible for us to investigate morality objectively (2) whether or not it is objective (1) or subjective (1). But it also means that the theistic aspect is irrelevant.

Additionally, even if we ignore the previous two points and simply agree, for the sake of argument, that morality is somehow objective (1), it doesn't solve anything. Theistic morality is practically subjective (2) -- interpreting means that there are so many versions of so many religions, each offering a different (slightly or not) moral code. The theistic case for objective (1) morality and morals is just nonsense to begin with and still nonsense at the end.

What's more egregious in the case of Christianity and Islam (correct me if there are sects who disagree) is that morals DON'T matter because belief in god is the sole (or at least, critical) criteria to enter heaven. All the talk about homosexuals, abortion, rape and murder is irrelevant because if you don't believe, living a moral life will do dick for you, you will still fry in hell anyways.

In this respect, traditional chinese religious beliefs trump Christianity and Islam because its hell punishes people for immoralities as opposed to disbelief.

Justification and Beliefs

Before I continue with the entry proper, I should mention I only wrote this entry because I felt like responding to this post I read on that blog. However, while I have some interest and ideas about philosophy, I am not a philosopher. This is not an excuse that I be excused from criticism -- I am merely stating that I do not know how to argue formally in philosophy.

So the following is simply my thoughts about the topic, not a proper defense of the evidentialist position -- I leave that to people who actually know their stuff better.

From my viewpoint, the ideas goes something like this:

How do you know?
Knowledge is acquired ultimately through experience. Whenever we say we know something, we mean that we saw, heard, felt, etc (ie, sensed/experienced) that something. Even if the knowledge was acquired from someone else (ie, learnt), that someone experience it first or the chain terminates with someone experiencing it directly.

I say I know the apple is red because I can see that the apple is red. Even if I have never seen apples in my life, but I may still say I know the apple is red because someone who saw the apple told me that it is red.

Note that I am not talking about justified propositions yet. I am merely showing that all knowledge claims is founded through experience. Whenever we answer the question "How do you know that?", we answer with some kind of experience, direct or indirect.

Experience and Evidence
If you experienced something, that something should exist in objective reality in order for you to have experienced it.

This is true regardless of whether your subjective experience was deceptive or not. If you heard a sound, something must have made the sound (vibrations in the air). If the sound was an auditory hallucination, it is still real but not as vibrations in the air but a neurological malfunction.

So, in principle, if a thing exist, and you experienced it in some way, that experience is some kind of evidence.

Forms of Evidence
Evidence comes in many forms and their reliability differ from one form to another. The simplest form of evidence is the entity itself -- and possibly the most powerful evidence for the existence of the apple is to show the apple itself.

We can have a slightly more indirect approach. Let's say we have the apple's peeled skin. We can say we know there was an apple via reasoning that the apple skin must have came from a whole apple originally -- that is unless we know of some method of producing apple skins without apples.

Even more indirectly, we could have no actual physical parts of the apple but, say, photographic evidence of the apple -- providing that there is no forgery. This is indirect observation of the apple.

We could rely on memory and testimony. Someone could have seen the apple sitting in the refrigerator and told you you about it. But just like the other forms of evidence, there are caveats. For the case of memory and perception, we know that human beings are known to misperceive, misremember and miscommunicate. So we adjust the value of such evidence accordingly.

Justified True Beliefs -- Knowledge
If something is real and experienced in some way, then some kind of evidence would be available. If we have sufficient evidence to be certain (high enough, not absolutely), then we can say we know that something is real.

Arguing that evidence is not available for whatever reason is tantamount to saying we don't know that that something is real. Because if we cannot produce evidence, we cannot meaningfully say we know it is real since we can't verify it.

Believing something for which there is insufficient evidence is not prohibited by this position -- it addresses knowledge not mere beliefs. One can believe something to be true without knowing if it is indeed true. With regards to god beliefs, this position is held by agnostic theists -- they believe in god but cannot know for certain it exist.

So jumping straight to the example in the post I was referring to,

While evidentialism certainly does apply to many things, such as deductive beliefs like 10x20=200, which is derived from from more basic beliefs like 1x2=2 and 10x10=100, there are many beliefs which we hold dear to and think are obviously true that we can't show any evidence for.

Take for instance the belief from memory that I had coffee at a nearby Starbucks restaurant this morning. You might go, "Aha! Why can't you just go to the cafe I went to this morning and ask the staff if I indeed had coffee then?"

It's not as simple as you think. Suppose that I did go to the cafe, but none of the staff seems to remember I was there this morning -- which is quite plausible. Suppose also that none of my friends or family members knew -- they were all sound asleep, and I did not check into Foursquare. My iPhone battery had died.

Easy, check your wallet, you may say. But the frustrating thing is, I cannot remember how much was in my wallet before, so there is no other reliable evidence that I did go to Starbucks.

But isn't it absurd for us to question our memories this way? After all, I am frequently right about my memories. But by saying that your particular memory is accurate because, generally, your memories tend to be true, that is a circular argument. Even if we collect a sample size of 1,000 memories (where no external corroborating evidence is available) and claim that 90 percent of them are true, it does nothing for us.

This example demonstrates a major dispute with evidentialism.

Firstly, about memory.
Memory is admissible as evidence. It is just very poor evidence in the hierarchy in light of the other things we know about memory.

It is fine and practical to use just memory to justify beliefs in general but beliefs are only as certain as they can be justified. So beliefs justified purely through memory is weaker than beliefs justified by other forms of evidence. You could claim that it is knowledge but it would be very poorly justified knowledge, ranking so low that it would be close to beliefs, unjustified knowledge.

So if I believe I went to Starbucks purely because I had the memory of that being the case, for practical purposes, good enough. But it still doesn't qualify as knowledge. For that I may need, say a video of me being at Starbucks and perhaps some corroborated eyewitness testimony.

Secondly, isn't it absurd?
Actually, yes, if that it what we're proposing. But it's not. That is why we make a distinction between mundane claims and extraordinary (or simply important) claims.

In a court of law, given the same scenario, you are thought not to have been at Starbucks regardless whether it is true that you went to Starbucks or not, simply because the court only has your word (ie, your memory) and nothing else.

Similarly, the event could be true and you believe it is true, but it will not qualify as knowledge unless you can provide higher standards of evidence. It works somewhat like the burden of proof -- you can believe all you want, but once you try to elevate it to a knowledge claim, you must be able to demonstrate it.

So indeed, it would be absurd to require an investigative report for every piece of memory you have. But for practical purposes, we only do that for important and/or extraordinary claims. However, it does not change the fact that we wish to know something, there should be evidence for it. So if my trip to Starbucks is to be an important point to establish, I must be able to demonstrate it.

Which is why it is seemingly absurd for scientists and atheists alike to demand evidence for God when they themselves hold beliefs they have no proof for.

Why should the methodological rigour of scientific experimentation be applied to the question of God? And assuming that it ought to, then shouldn't evidentialism apply to everything else as well -- an absurd notion nonetheless?

It is absurd in the sense that it seems like hypocrisy and not because evidentialism is false. And this is the important point.

As mentioned before, we don't ask for and probably don't require sufficient evidence for mundane beliefs for practical reasons. But it is, in principle, possible to provide evidence for mundane beliefs -- say videoing every aspect of your life if you so wish to verify.

So the question is not "Why should the methodological rigour of scientific experimentation be applied to the question of God?" since "And assuming that it ought to, then shouldn't evidentialism apply to everything else as well". Because evidentialism does apply to everything else.

The real question is: Is the belief in the existence of god a mundane one? The answer is no as long as you attempt to elevate it to a knowledge claim (which is almost always the case).

So if god is real, actually existent, where is the evidence to justify him when we should be able to find them in principle?

Morality: Good without gods

QualiaSoup has once again made a beautiful video on the topic of morality. I must say that it is quite a wonderful piece of work.

And yes, I am in full agreement with him.

New video by TheraminTrees

Here's a new video by TheraminTrees, the second part of his 3 part series responding to some questions:

Human God

Just discovered a noteworthy channel, TrustingDoubt, thanks to a shout out by TheLivingDinosaur.

Here's her first video, God's Emotions, of what is to be a 9 part series exploring the psychological aspect of religion:

Visit her channel to view the second part of the video series.

Truth and evidence

This is a response to this post by a Christian blogger in Singapore:

The word ‘truth’ in its essence, is already an absolute. But because we live in a post-modern world, we are obliged to asseverate the words ‘absolute truth’; not to prove that we are desperate in being over-emphatic, but to prove that today’s world has murdered truth in its essence.

What is truth? I define truth as follows, “Truth is an objective reality that is transcendent over man’s subjectivity and bias.”

No major disagreement here. Simply defined, truth is the state of objective reality.

So let's get to the meat of the post.

What about the myriads of conflicting ‘truths’ out in the world today? It seems that truth has been reduced to mere subjective perceptions. The problem, however, lies not in truth, but in what our standard of truth is. Our standard of truth forms our perception of reality;

I think I understand what you are trying to say here.

Truth has not been reduced to mere subjective perceptions. Rather, what people believe to be the truth is necessarily informed by their perception. What a person perceive to be true is dependent on their criterion of truth. In religion, different religions effectively indoctrinate their adherents with their criterion of truth -- faith, revelation and scripture are often amongst them.

to an Evolutionist science is the standard of the truth of man’s existence, however to a Christian, the Bible is the standard of truth in which God is the truth of man’s existence. Two perceptions, but there can only be one reality. Therefore to know if our perception of reality is true, we have to examine if our standard is the actual, objective, transcendental and indisputable truth.

Once again, there seems to be a grave misunderstanding. To "an evolutionist" (this label is frankly as stupid as "a newtonian" or "a germist"), science itself is NOT the standard of truth. 

The term "evolutionist" here seems to be referring to people who accept the scientific method and its findings. These people, scientists, lay people and everyone in between, accept that evidence is an important, if not the most critical, criterion of truth. Science is a method that fulfills that criterion. As such, it would seem that an "evolutionist" is using science as a standard -- but no, we're just going where the evidence leads.

Now on to the idea of using the Bible as the standard of truth. To me, or any evidence-based truth seekers, that's a huge unjustified leap. To even begin using the Bible as a standard, any sane person must first justify with evidence why that should be the case. Without evidence, any book would be as reasonable as any other to use -- ie, not reasonable at all.

And the historical and archeological evidence indicate that the bible is: a translation of several books written by different authors, who are believed to be divinely inspired, decades after the events which they purport to describe by non-eyewitnesses whose stories were transmitted by hearsay in the intervening decades. Some books were anonymous and had their authors ascribed to them by the Church based on belief/conviction, and there are variants of these books from different time periods displaying textual changes both due to error and deliberate action indicating forgery. These books also contain both internal contradictions and contradictions with known historical and scientific facts.

I'll chuck the whole compilation instead of using it as a standard for anything at all.

It's not science versus the bible. It's just evidence -- the most critical tool of verification. What better way to find truth than with pieces of reality itself, evidence.

Consider this example. On one side, there are people who deny immortality and claim that when we die we just cease to exist. At the other camp, people are declaring that we will spend eternity in hell unless we believe in Christ Jesus.

Again, we, scientifically minded people, are not necessarily asserting a case like religions do. We are merely concluding based on the evidence we have.

Every piece of evidence we have gathered about the mind and the brain indicate that the mind cannot exist without a living brain.

By the way, we don't deny immortality -- we just don't believe in your kind of supernatural immortality. Biological immortality may be a possibility within the decades to come.

Two perceptions, but there can only be one reality. Therefore I urge you, to thoroughly examine your standard of truth because if not, you might one day find yourself in deep trouble for being so obstinate.

I've done that.

And excuse me, is that an allusion to hell?