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“Well, you can’t prove that god doesn’t exist”.

Uh, yes I can.

I’m sure many of you have heard this “argument” before. Here’s a three-pronged destruction of this attempt to dodge the question that no theist can answer (“What proof do you have?”). The last nail in the coffin is saved for last – I’m sure many of you have heard the first two points but not many will have heard the last.

1. Why are you asking me to disprove your theory? That’s a burden of proof fallacy. You came up with the idea, you prove it. You don’t see me running around screaming at people “Prove I can’t fly!”. When a scientist comes up with a new theory, it’s backed by years of research, correlation with existing years of research, multiple experimentation and is then peer reviewed. When a theist has some theory his only proof is “well, you can’t prove it’s wrong”.

Well guess what? That’s literally irrational behaviour. For a refresher, see my post about Rationalism but the short of it is that rational behaviour is based on mathematical likelihood. It’s highly likely that jumping into lava will kill you, therefore it is irrational to believe otherwise. In terms of the burden of proof, the burden lies with whoever is making the extraordinary claim. As Carl Sagan once said:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

What does this mean? Imagine I claim there is a tree in my backyard. Would a rational person contest my claim (at his own expense)? No, because even if I’m lying it’s highly likely that there is a tree in my backyard and there is little reason why I would lie about it – therefore not much proof is needed for me to assert my claim. Now, what if I claimed that I had a cat riding a unicorn shooting rainbow lasers in my backyard? Would you require proof before believing that? Apparently theists wouldn’t.

2. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because something hasn’t been proven to not exist, doesn’t therefore mean that it does. That’s a logical fallacy called false dichotomy. It’s also stupid – because you can think up myriad things that can’t be proven not to exist. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a crowd favourite. Russel’s Teapot is another – you can’t prove that there isn’t a teapot orbiting Jupiter but there’s no rational cause for you to believe that in the first place.

Sometimes this is used to defend religion – just because there is no evidence of god doesn’t mean that god doesn’t exist. Well, science doesn’t work in absolutes but there is literally no rational reason for you to believe in god. However, I can indeed prove that god (or at least the definition of god as is understood by the major religions today) does not exist, which makes it doubly irrational to believe.

3. There can never be any proof of god. Why? Let’s take a look at the foundation of proof. As with the Rationalism movement, mathematics is a fundamental concept for proof. 1+1=2 regardless of what you apply it to, what you believe in and what you experience with your senses. Therefore, it follows that maths is the absolute proof – if it can exist, it can be described mathematically in some way or form. Mind you, not everything that is mathematically reconcilable exists (or at least not all of them have been proven). Maths is just the large boundary separating the possible from the impossible – just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s real; but if it’s impossible then it’s definitely not real.

The problem? You cannot mathematically describe god because that would be akin to removing his omnipotence. If the singularity is a point of infinite mass and infinite gravity, how do you describe a god that created this infinity? 2 x infinity? Infinity squared? It’s still infinity. Are you thus claiming that god is equal in power to a singularity? God, by definition, breaks all universal laws and defies all mathematics. It is therefore impossible to provide any proof of god – and by extension god cannot rationally exist. It is an empty concept that has lingered since ancient times for small minds to placate themselves in the absence of knowledge.

Many theists acknowledge this problem and have said that it is impossible to find any evidence of god in the universe because the act of finding such evidence would mean that god is bound by some sort of parameters allowing us to find his hand in things – hence removing his omnipotence. Fair enough, at least these people acknowledge that there can never be any evidence. The question then remains, if you’ve accepted that there is absolutely no evidence in existence to support your faith, why do you still blindly follow?

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I’m sure many of you have heard this commonly used argument. Indeed, I see it mentioned at least a few times in any sort of forum for religious debate. Essentially, it goes:

“[Insert famous name] was religious”.

It literally is just a name drop. This “argument” implies that because somebody famous (usually for something intellectual) was religious, there is more (intellectual) reason to be religious. A common example of this is “Einstein/Galileo/Darwin was religious”, thereby insinuating that if a scientific visionary was religious, it is automatically more scientific or intellectual to be religious. It always amuses me when theists try to use science or logic against scientific or atheistic claims – because it doesn’t work. This is called an appeal to authority logical fallacy. So much for using logic.

As usual, I’d like to point out I have nothing against theists. I tend to write a lot of counter arguments to theism but that’s simply because there’s so much material. In general, I just like correcting people and spreading knowledge (hence this blog). Whether or not that person is religious has nothing to do with it – I commonly correct atheists about their scientific claims too.

Anyway, the moment you identify an argument as a logical fallacy it pretty much renders the entire argument void already. But where’s the fun in that? In classic Sceptical Prophet style, let’s take it one further. Let’s flip that argument back on itself.

Whenever I encounter this argument, my first step is to identify it as a logical fallacy. I throw that in their face right off the bat simply by stating: that’s a logical fallacy called appeal to authority; your argument is already worthless. Next I lay on the hurt. This is where I flip the argument back, and though it is partially a technique to win arguments (one of many I covered in an in-depth analysis to winning arguments) it is also logically sound. Think about it yourself.

First: Ideologies do not instantly go from one extreme to another. Nobody spends two thousand years believing a Wolf God swallows the sun and yells at it to bring the sun back (Viking explanation of solar eclipse) and then suddenly wakes up the next day and says, “Hey, you know what? I don’t think it’s a Wolf God; it’s probably just because the Earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits the Earth so eventually the moon will orbit to a point where it lies between the Earth and the Sun, thereby blocking out the sun for a while.” Ideas, concepts and theories change over time as new information is discovered (at least they should in an ideal world; certainly, some institutions are slower to change). To claim otherwise is to declare intellectual bankruptcy; you’d be giving up the pursuit of knowledge by saying what we “knew” thousands of years ago is as accurate as we’ll ever get.

Second: It was the social paradigm to be religious back in these peoples’ times. Social paradigms are strong things. A cannibal society would have no ethical concern with eating human flesh but in our modern society, it is against the paradigm to do so. Therefore it is not strange for somebody who grows up in our modern society to have an aversion to eating humans. That’s just what society is like and how people are raised. “XYZ was religious” doesn’t mean diddlysquat if everybody was religious (especially if there were adverse consequences to not being religious – such as banishment, social exclusion and punishment).

Third: These “people of authority” you are name dropping were not your orthodox religious followers. They did not believe in the “standard” belief system of their time. If they did, they would never have questioned things. Why would Darwin suggest evolution over creationism if he was strictly religious? The very fact that he challenged the beliefs of this time meant that he was a pioneer in critical thinking. It’s meaningless to say he was religious because he challenged the correctness of those beliefs.

Conclusion: Some theists might like to use appeal to authority fallacies to try and suggest the intellectual superiority of theism or downplay a scientific argument. What they don’t realise is that these very people whose names they are using were essentially the forefathers of atheism. Yes, the creators of atheism were religious. It sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Remember, ideologies don’t change instantly. For them to make a transition, people are required to challenge existing beliefs and nudge it in a new direction. These people had the courage, free spirit and critical thinking to say “Hold on, this thing here is wrong”, and the culmination of that approach to life resulted in what atheism is today – a rejection of beliefs without substantial evidence. Even though they were religious, by challenging the standards of belief in their own times, these people nudged us in the direction of atheism.

Don’t go around accusing people of being idiots (let me do that), but just remember two things: if anyone uses this argument, you can use this information as a counter-argument, and there is literally no argument a theist can put forth that there is no good answer to. Have faith (get it?): science, reason and logic will trump tradition. It is no longer the social paradigm to be born and raised religious – now we have a choice. Change might have taken far too long but eventually, more humans will realise that we cannot possibly know less about our world and universe today than we did thousands of years ago. To claim that old traditions trump new information is an admission of intellectual relinquishment – it would be akin to saying that we are incapable of learning anything new and thus there is no purpose in education or knowledge.

One of the things you’ll often hear when asking people why they are religious is that it is comforting. The idea of life after death, an eternity with your loved ones and belonging to something greater than yourself can be immensely reassuring to many people. By comparison, the scientific view may seem cruel; the universe doesn’t care about your existence and once you die, you simply cease to exist.

It’s been said many times that what’s comforting is completely irrelevant to the pursuit of truth. I completely agree. I posit that anyone who needs such comfort so desperately as to turn a blind eye to the truth is a sad and sorry person indeed. Anybody who uses this reason as a justification for their religious beliefs is, perhaps, so damaged or so afraid of responsibility that it may not be healthy to wean them off religion by encouraging the pursuit of truth.

So I offer an alternative view. I have never questioned the value of my existence because of this simple fact.

Something is only precious because it is rare.

Think about that for a moment. The rarer something is, the more precious it becomes. What’s the rarest thing of all? Life. You will only ever have one life and it is an opportunity for you. If you were born to die, the only thing that defines you is what you do while you are alive.

What theists consider to be comforting – the promise of eternal life – I think is just cheapening the value of life. It is no longer rare because it is no longer fleeting. It is not precious.

If you have an infinite amount of time to do something, there is no urgency to make every moment count. There’s no strong need to love, learn, spend time with your family or even live.

As for belonging to something greater than yourself, what bigger thing is there than the universe? The atoms in your left hand could have come from a different star than the atoms of your right hand, billions of years ago somewhere in the universe. Some people feel insignificant when they think about how vast the universe is, but just imagine – your entire existence was created by things infinitesimally greater than yourself.

So what’s more comforting? That’s up to you to decide. But for me, life has never been more fleeting, and thus precious, more tiny, and thus grand, than when I discovered science and truth.

It’s the festive season and in good humour I’m here to rain on everyone’s parade. Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. People think it’s a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ despite so much evidence to the contrary. This is just another example of the transmission of knowledge being impeded in society.

The bible is very unclear of the date of Jesus’s birth (it’s a shame religious people don’t know more about their own scripture). The New Testament says nothing at all about the date of his birth and the earliest gospel (St. Mark’s, written around 65CE, where CE was previously known as AD) begins with the baptism of adult Jesus. Many scholars have tried to pinpoint the date of Jesus’s birth through cross-referencing dates mentioned in the bible (which makes many assumptions, the worst being that the bible is consistent, which it most definitely is not). Many have even used astrology and the dates of notable events, which are somewhat less erroneous. Regardless, one thing that scholars can agree upon is that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December. He wasn’t even born in winter, nor 1 BC/1 CE.

So where does Christmas come from? Some of you might have watched The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon points out that Christmas was actually the pagan festival of Saturnalia. Well, the Roman pagans introduced Saturnalia as a week long period of lawlessness where nobody could be punished. Things got pretty crazy; it was pretty much a full blown hedonistic celebration, complete with ritual murder, torture and rape. In the 4th century, Christianity imported this holiday in the hopes of converting pagans. They succeeded in converting a large number of pagans by promising that they could continue to celebrate Saturnalia as Christmas.

Unfortunately, Saturnalia had nothing to do with Jesus so Christian leaders proclaimed it to be a celebration of the birth of Christ. Yes, they made it up to spread their religion.

Saturnalia itself was pretty crazy. It was like ironic torture. You can find more about it if you’re interesting, I’m just here to say it was nuts.

Christmas as a placebo to spread happiness is fine. I have nothing against that. But let’s not mistake the reason why we’re doing it. It has nothing to do with Jesus. In fact, it started for pretty ignoble reasons. Then again, how much has changed? It’s still a pretty hedonistic holiday.

Another religious post? I’m on the verge of being an atheist bully here aren’t I? Well, suffice to say I just like poking holes in incorrect logic and it has nothing to do with my own beliefs (which are not really atheist anyway).

So I’m sure many of you have heard of the “absolute morality” argument posed by theists. In fact, it’s almost inevitably brought up by any professional debate (many of which you can watch on Youtube – it’s fun listening to how people construct logical arguments). The crux of the argument is that without (a) god(s), we cannot have absolute morality. The arguments leads on to say atheists have no absolute morals because they cannot know that their morals are “absolute” without god telling them that it is. Therefore, the existence of absolute morality (such as an aversion to murder) is proof of god’s existence.

Again, I don’t wish to insult any of my theistic friends, but this argument is absolute codswallop. Unfortunately, I always get the feeling that other debaters fail to properly dismantle this “argument” (maybe because Youtube comments usually lack intelligent input). So I’m going to lay it out, step by step.  Again, this is mainly directed towards Christianity – as it is the largest religion and thus the one I pay attention to most.

Let’s approach this as if a theist has proposed absolute morality as evidence of god. I will proceed to do something I love – flipping an argument back on somebody with logical principles. Let’s begin:

Without (a) god(s) there can be no absolute morality.

1. Then are you accusing all atheists of being immoral?

Yes – Then you are “playing god” by judging someone, which is god’s job. “James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbour?“. If you attempt to argue against the negative implications of playing god (which most Christian ethicists are in agreement on as a sinful thing), then you must re-examine a whole range of other issues such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as accepting the fact that you are in direct defiance of the bible (including the verse I included above, as well as others).

Further, you are not only at odds with your own holy scripture and beliefs, you would be objectively immoral for being arrogant enough to claim superiority over another human being based on their beliefs. You cannot say “yes, all atheists are immoral” because that’s tantamount to saying “I, playing the role of god, judge all atheists to be inferior people”.

No – This is your only acceptable answer due to your own theistic beliefs.

ButAtheists are only moral because god gave them morality, regardless of whether or not they believe in god. That’s one possible argument, but here’s why it’s wrong. First, if atheists are moral then atheism is not a sin, which means the rejection of god’s existence is not wrong, which suggests that it is correct or that god doesn’t give a damn. Both are quite likely, but that would raise questions about the validity of religious organisations and holy scriptures, which implicitly and explicitly say otherwise.

Further, all of that is moot anyway because this argument is circular reasoning (a logical fallacy in case you guys forgot). The purpose of bringing up absolute morality is to prove the existence of god. God has not yet been proven so you cannot say that god gave atheists morals yet. You can only accept that atheists either have or do not have morals. If, at the end of this debate, you prove the existence of absolute morality, then you can say you have proven god’s existence (based on this argument – which is not comprehensive), and then after that you can say that god gave atheists morals, which returns you to the first problem I proposed in this paragraph.

But Atheists have no basis for objective morality. They cannot know that a moral is objective without the existence of god. This is the most common route taken. If you watch atheist-religious debates, you’ll often hear the argument follow down this path. If you’ve paid attention to the previous steps, you’ll realise that the reason why (or part of the reason) this argument always turns to this option is because the above options are not viable. No theist can answer any of the above alternatives without breaching their own belief system, as well as that of society and of logic.

Here’s where the fun begins. If atheists are moral but they reject the existence of god, that means that they do not get their morality from god/religion. Again, you cannot argue that they already have morality from god because that takes you back up to circular reasoning. This is tantamount to saying that atheists are intrinsically moral. That means that atheists act morally for the sake of being moral, and not for anything else. However, theists believe that their morality is given to them by god, therefore it is in fact morality given by authority (which, by the way, is not objective). By now, some of you may already see what I’m getting at – but let’s not spoil the surprise.

One of Sam Harris’s examples come to mind, though he used this example to prove a different point. Imagine a classroom scenario. If the teacher tells a child to hit the child next to him, the teacher – as the authority figure – is giving the child an authoritarian imperative. This act would not be immoral in a classroom scenario (yes, the teacher would get in trouble, blah blah – think of a closed system or this example will just get bigger and bigger, but still end in the same result). As the act is not immoral and has come from an authority (if it helps, think of the teacher as a pseudo-god), the theistic child will go ahead and beat up his classmate. The atheist, however, would not. Why? Because the atheist’s morality is not dependant on authoritarian edict. It is intrinsic, as I have said.

Morality can only be morality if it is done for the goodness of its own sake, not because it was given by an authority figure. Therefore, atheists are more moral than theists. The fact that – as the theist puts it – “atheists have no basis for objective morality” is in fact evidence of the atheist’s superior morality. If you want to argue otherwise, you go back to point number one, which will lead you back down to here.

*     *     *

That argument is what I think of as a “logical trap”, in which you force your “opponent” down a path that results in a conclusion suiting your own argument. There are, however, much shorter ways of debunking the whole “where did morality come from” thing.

If you remember Occam’s Razor and Rationalism, you’ll know that god – as the highest possible level of complexity and inexplicableness – is always the last option. Logically, if you have any other explanation, it will be more likely than the existence of god which cannot be explained at all. Fortunately, science not only has explanations, it has very likely ones.

The first I’ll point out is from Richard Dawkins. Morality is evolutionary. That is a fact. It is the reason why moral paradigms have changed over time – even amongst religious peoples. We no longer oppress women as much, nor do we put down the disabled or mentally retarded. Torture and execution are no longer as commonplace, nor is homosexuality as strongly opposed. But most of all, think of this: if murder was not immoral, do you think we, as a species, would have ever come to inhabit large cities? No, that would be stupid. If morality was not part of the evolutionary process, our species would not exist in its current state. Natural selection weeds out the unproductive traits. Even past religions that included human sacrifice were weeded out due to the evolutionary stupidity of such actions – their followers could not propagate because their populations were limited by human sacrifice, and eventually they died out.

The second is one that appeals more to reason than any specific science. Do you really think that if tomorrow we proved that the bible was fraudulent, theists around the world would start killing everyone they see? And if any theists are reading this – do you think that if your own beliefs were disproven, you would revert into an out-of-control sinner? If you do, I feel sorry for you. Your identity and morality should not be that fragile.

As usual, I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone religious. The goal was really just to demonstrate logic at work.

This is not so much a logical principle as a demonstration of why something is illogical. Some of you may have heard of Pascal’s Wager (or Gambit). Again, I try to keep religious views out of this blog so keep in mind this isn’t proof of why god doesn’t exist – it’s just proof of why Pascal’s Wager is logically flawed.

So, basically Pascal’s Wager is a thought experiment that paved the way for decision theory (based on probability). The premise is that god may or may not exist and the conclusion is that based on a risk-return probability, you are better off believing that god does exist. The thought experiment roughly follows this process:

  1. “God is, or He is not”
  2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
  3. According to reason, you can defend either of the propositions.
  4. You must wager. (It’s not optional.)
  5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
  6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

Ok, so why is this wrong? First, it is based on a false dichotomy fallacy. Which god? People often forget, due to the self-absorbed nature of humanity, that there is more to the world than just what they believe in. Let’s not forget that there are any number of gods that are believed in equally strongly by their respective theists.

Second, if we factor in the existence of multiple gods, we must also factor in the potential punishment of following the wrong god. The first commandment makes it pretty clear that at least some gods don’t like it when you choose the wrong one. Additionally, the game is no longer a wager between two options. You have multiple options, with each option – except atheism – promising reward and punishment.

By now, we’ve pretty much destroyed step one of Pascal’s Wager. If you’re keeping up, you’ll release we’ve destroyed step two as well (it is no longer a 50/50 chance – heads or tails is no longer valid). But wait, there’s more! It was never an even chance to begin with. Recall two other logical principles I’ve mentioned, Occam’s Razor and Rationalism. A deity is the ultimate extreme of unlikeliness based on Occam’s Razor (because a god is inexplicable and has no beginning), and based on this, we can use rationalism to conclude that it is not reasonable to consider god as a “truth”. Remembering that rationalism deals with a priori knowledge and probability of likelihood, this is not to say that a god doesn’t exist, it’s just saying that the chances of a god existing are lower. That leaves us with atheism having a statistical edge (no solid numbers, it could be a lot or a little based on your personal beliefs, but atheism definitely has an advantage in terms of statistical accuracy, whether large or little). So not only is it not “heads or tails” any more, it’s far from it.

Now, considering that you are wagering for reward, we must ask ourselves, will this behaviour be met with reward? That is to say, if you choose to follow a religion in the hopes of winning some divine lottery, even if that religion was correct, will that god reward you considering your motive? Probably not. Again, statistical speculation based on scripture; it is often said that man cannot ever understand the mind of god, so there is a chance that god will reward you for betting on him, but given that such an action would conflict with the concepts of morality and ethics taught by religion, it would be a pretty self destructive process.

We’re at the end now – and given the logical reasons put forth above, we have reshaped the playing field of this game:

  1. A god or many gods or no gods may exist.
  2. A game is being played … where there are at least 20 options (based on a list of the major religious groups in this world), and the atheism option has at least a slightly better probability of being correct (exact amount debatable).
  3. According to reason, you can defend any of the at least 20 propositions.
  4. You must wager. (It’s not optional).
  5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering in a certain god or lack of god. In wagering for the existence of one of at least 20 gods, you may gain some reward from one god (in the unlikely event that god rewards you for your motive being to bet on him) if you are correct, and will receive punishment from at least 20 gods if you are incorrect. Further, you have a lower chance of being correct than if you pick the atheism proposition.
  6. Wager then based on your risk aversion (financial principle that basically means how much risk you are willing to take on an investment). However, risk aversion assumes rational investors that tradeoff risk for return. A rational investor will not pick a higher risk option (punishment from 20 gods with a lower chance of being correct is pretty risky) if the return does not offset taking on such risk (reward from 1 god; it depends what you think the reward will be then, and whether or not you will even receive this reward). Hence, betting on anything besides atheism (the safe bet), would be considered irrational both from a financial perspective, a statistician’s perspective and a logician’s perspective.

Again, it really depends. If somehow, you think it’s better to bet for one of the religions, it’s really up to you. The thought experiment is just pointing out that you’re better off betting on atheism (given the parameters of Pascal’s Wager). Again, I’m not trying to force any beliefs on anyone, nor am I even an atheist. I simply wanted to break down Pascal’s Wager so the topic of atheism was inevitable. Keep in mind, there are more parameters than just the ones put forth by Pascal’s Wager, so even by disproving it, you can still believe in god. However, this lack of encompassing parameters is the very same reason why Pascal’s Wager fails.

Apparently, an “Atheist’s Wager” also exists. I only bothered to take a quick look at it and it is more of an alternative to Pascal’s Wager with a broader scope concluding that choosing atheism is better than choosing a religion. I just want to differentiate the two topics – this post is pulling apart Pascal’s Wager and using it to demonstrate that Pascal is in fact wrong. The Atheist’s Wager is a thought experiment that follows a similar process to Pascal’s Wager. The difference here is that I am starting from Pascal’s Wager to tear it down, whereas the Atheist’s Wager seems to be a more accurate alternative (it can be a standalone).

I’m adding a new category devoted specifically to logic because it’s something too many people lack these days. Logical thinking is something that will help you in all aspects of life and is a prerequisite to be taken seriously on any academic matters. Now I’ve mentioned logical fallacies before but those are things to avoid doing. This one is the opposite – a logical surety if you will.

Lex parsimoniae, otherwise known as Occam’s/Okham’s Razor is a logical principle coined by English logician (what a cool job), theologian and Franciscan friar Father William d’Ockham. It is often mistakenly interpreted as “the simplest explanation is the best explanation”, but in reality it asserts that competing hypotheses should be settled by selecting the one that makes the fewest assumptions, then adding complexity to that hypotheses in a way that I consider analogous to “building a tower from the ground up”. Obviously, this is axiomatic – it should make sense now that I’ve explained it to you. If you’re going to construct a logical argument, it makes more sense if your starting point is a fact – otherwise you’re basing your entire argument on assumptions that may not be true.

Incidentally, I was reminded of this logical principle when one of my Science and Religion lectures mentioned Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy on god to be incorrect because he addressed the issue of god from “humankind upwards instead of from god downwards”. Obviously, I completely disagreed with that point, mainly due to Occam’s razor. It does not make sense to address the issue of god from god downwards, because that makes the assumption of god a prerequisite for the existence of god, which is logically flawed.

As always, I try to keep this blog religion free so remember, I’m not trying to say god doesn’t exist here. I’m merely pointing out that in this specific example, it’s logically flawed to say you should start building your tower from the top down.

Inspired by this recent example of stupidity at its finest, I’ve decided to make a new section – the Hall of Fame. There’ll be two parts to this – the good and the stupid, the latter to which Todd Akin belongs.

Many have probably heard this already (it’s all over America), but this hilarious republican proclaimed in an interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M09iWwKiDsA) when asked about his view on abortion that female victims of “legitimate rape” would not suffer pregnancy because their body “has ways to shut that whole thing down”. Congratulations on being the first member of the Hall of Stupid, Todd Akin! In light of this context, I would suggest that his brain was aborted, but I doubt anything I can say will come close to the raw amusement I feel about his idiocy. Not that I won’t try to describe it.

So apparently a lot of people are offended by this comment. I, on the other hand, find it hilarious. Not because I’m insensitive – no, if anything I’m being more sensitive than you all. Does a parent express offence and hatred to a child who has made a silly comment? Does a professor expel a student in contempt because the student is not capable of the same higher order thinking as the professor? No, when somebody with an obviously impaired intelligence says something silly, you just don’t take it seriously. I mean, what would you expect from a right wing politician and a religious nut? That’s a recipe for disaster. I’m sorry religion, but you have some really stupid people speaking for you.

But you know what? This one takes the cake:

To appease my conscience a little, I’m going to put some information in here so it doesn’t just end up being a post where I pay out an idiot (making me a bully – though, come on … what did he expect after saying something like that). This is taken from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (figures are of Americans).

Pregnancies Resulting from Rape

In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped. According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time unprotected sexual intercourse is 5%. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, RAINN estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.

This calculation does not account for the following factors which could lower the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Rape, as defined by the NCVS, is forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by offender(s). This category includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Certain types of rape under this definition cannot cause pregnancy.
  • Some victims of rape may be utilizing birth control methods, such as the pill, which will prevent pregnancy.
  • Some rapists may wear condoms in an effort to avoid DNA detection.
  • Vicims of rape may not be able to become pregnant for medical or age-related reasons.
This calculation does not account for the following factors which could raise the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Medical estimates of a 5% pregnancy rate are for one-time, unprotected sexual intercourse. Some victimizations may include multiple incidents of intercourse.
  • Because of methodology, NCVS does not measure the victimization of Americans age 12 or younger. Rapes of these young people could results in pregnancies not accounted for in RAINN’s estimates.

In fact, rape could arguably have a higher chance of pregnancy (http://news.kuwaittimes.net/2012/08/21/rape-trauma-as-barrier-to-pregnancy-has-no-basis-raped-victims-may-be-more-likely-to-get-pregnant-experts/):

In a 2003 study in the journal Human Nature, researchers found that 6.4 percent of rapes in the hundreds of women they surveyed caused pregnancy; that compares to a rate roughly half that with consensual intercourse. In Mexico, rape crisis centers have reported that some 15 percent of rapes cause pregnancy. The rate may be high because rape victims are less likely to be using contraception at the time of the crime than are women in a relationship, who can also choose to forego sex during fertile periods in their reproductive cycle if they do not want to conceive.- Reuters

So there, we’ve learned two things. First, there are humongous idiots walking this Earth and second, rape can cause pregnancy. Oh wait, I guess those are both just common sense – common sense being something that eludes Todd Akin. That’ll be my last jab at him. Well, if nothing else, I thank Todd Akin for inspiring a section dedicated to fools like himself.

Addendum: Friend linked me this picture, which is also pretty funny.

“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’. It is information, words, instruction.”

– Richard Dawkins, 1986.

Many of you have heard the term “meme” due to the recent popularity of internet memes. However, the word “meme” has existed long before the advent of funny pictures with poorly written English emblazoned on it. Interestingly, it was Richard Dawkins who invented the word in 1976 from Greek influences. He shortened it to “meme” because he wanted the word to be a monosyllable that sounded similar to “gene”. On a related note, that means it’s pronounced “meem” similar to “gene”, not as some people say “me-me” or the French word “meme” meaning same (I can’t do accents on my keyboard, but there’s one over the first “e”).

So what is a meme? This quote from the Smithsonian is pretty good to help build an initial understanding:

Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve.

Essentially, a meme is an idea or concept that is spread from generation to generation through means that are non-genetic (transmitted via writing, visual representation, speech, gestures or any other imitable phenomena). The importance of the word meme resembling the word gene is that memes are theorised to evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to biological evolution – basically, a meme is like a gene for information. Here’s one more good quote:

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects

– Malcolm Gladwell

Memes are powerful language tools because they can convey a vast array of inherent information with very few words (or actions/images depending on the meme). Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication. Internet memes are the most commonly known these days, and just think of the amount of information we can get out of a few words or an image.

This badly drawn picture by itself is enough to evoke a wide range of information. It means someone who is always unsuccessful at finding companionship and is used by the victim to demonstrate his/her emotions regarding their situation. There’s a huge list of internet memes; I’m not going to go through every one of them. Internet memes are plentiful though, which dilutes their potency a bit. Here’s a stronger example: Olympics. With that one word alone, I can make you think of competitions, athletes, races, medals and an overarching theme of unity and celebration.

However, remember Gladwell’s definition. Memes mutate over time and can end up misrepresenting something, or becoming impervious to change. Folk etymology is an example of this (I’ve gone into this in my etymology posts), where people start believing that a certain idiom originated one way when in actual fact it was another (such as the “cold shoulder”). Other good examples can be found in urban myths, which persist even when scientifically proven wrong. My girlfriend’s anatomy lecturer told her that your heart stops beating when you sneeze. This has been proven false already, what’s an anatomy lecturer doing not knowing this?

Now that we understand that memes are ideas and information transmitted over time, we have to accept that memes are prone to mutation and cannot be considered fully reliable. Here’s the interesting thing though – religion is also a meme. We can see evidence of religion changing or “mutating” over time as the Church changes its public stance on certain issues (heliocentric solar system, evolution, etc.).

It’s interesting that memes are often subject to “survival of the fittest”. It is for that reason why we don’t practice human sacrifice, because that is a weak idea from an evolutionary point of view (it doesn’t promote growth). There’s a whole scientific side to memes that I didn’t get into (I was focusing more on its power as a language tool). For those of you interested in finding out more, this is a good article:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/What-Defines-a-Meme.html

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