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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Critical Mass #3


CRITICAL MASS

Newsletter of the Sydney Atheists


#3 November 08

Hello everybody and welcome again to the newsletter of the Sydney Atheists. It’s been another busy month for us! We have been expanding our public image this month through various events, while also maintaining a bust social event schedule. It truly is great that everybody seems to get more involved the more active the group becomes. It’s like fuelling the fire and watching it glow white hot.

Firstly, Sydney Atheists has successfully received incorporated status, formalising the organisation and allowing us to deliver a more professional front to our activities, events and products. A big thanks is in order for Anthony and everyone else who has worked hard to make this happen.

The biggest event this month (and arguably in the history of the Sydney Atheists) was our involvement in the Newtown Festival. We shared a stall with the Secular Party where we handed out pamphlets, signed up new members, sold bumper stickers and t-shirts, had a lot of really interesting conversations with passers by and even sang a few tunes to the crowd. There was an estimated crowd of 80 000 people, only a few of whom took umbrage at our message of positive atheism. Read more about it at Critical Mass.

Our 100th meetup was a booming success, with a terrific talk about Fake religions by Ian Woolf. He covered Pastafarianism, The Church of the Subgenious, and the Universal Life Church (of which Ian has been canonised as a saint!) among a smattering of others. It was a great night, well attended and a lot of fun. Check out the photos on the Sydney Atheists Flikr stream.

A small group of our members attended a bible study of Riverstone Baptist Church, which was a civil night of discussions about the similarities and differences between the Baptists and the Atheists. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited back and a few of the Baptists said that they would come along to one of our meetings some time. Read more about it in Tiffany’s report below.

In what has become a worldwide phenomenon, atheist advertising is coming to Sydney! We have been working on an advertising campaign and are now ready to release it to the public. We will be running with the slogan ‘No God? No Worries!” and have a variety of different approaches through which we will be presenting the message. We are currently looking for donations and sponsors, so please donate to make this happen, spreading reason and positive secular values throughout Sydney. You can donate through Electronic funds transfer to the Sydney Atheists account:

BSB: 112-879

Account No: 410136189

Or contact us via eMail at: sydneyatheists@gmail.com

Finally, we will be running our second blood drive on Saturday, 10th of January at the Elizabeth St Donor centre. Last time we had 8 donors, which was excellent! This time, lets see if we can get even more people to donate to such an important cause. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still donate for the cause, just say that you are donating under the Sydney Atheists’ club red group and fill out the form when you donate. Please consider giving blood. It is a great way to make a positive contribution to those who need it and an embodiment of our ‘good without god’ message. We will create events on Facebook and Meetup for those who are coming. For more information contact Alan at criticalmass@live.com.au


Articles by members:

Here's a hand-picked selection of articles from members of the Sydney Atheists. To submit an article for inclusion in either this newsletter, or the Critical Mass blog, email criticalmass@live.com.au. We would like to use this newsletter to share what members have been up to, so get writing!

A Friendly Encounter with Riverstone Baptist

By Tiffany Day

On Tuesday November 18th, the Sydney Atheists were kindly invited to attend a bible study held by the Riverstone Baptist Church, at the home of Pastor Marcus and his wife Reem. The purpose of the evening was not for us to attempt to de-convert the Baptists, but rather to gain an insight into their worldview and into their thinking; ultimately attempting to establish some common ground between our two very different groups.

After first arriving at their home, we enjoyed some nibblies and refreshments which allowed for some informal introductions and chatter between both parties. We then proceeded to the living area where we sat around each other in a circle, and discussed a select part of the Bible. This particular study mainly dealt with the definition and meaning of sin, how to approach it and how to deal with it in your daily life. Needless to say, this sprung vigorous amounts of friendly questions from us atheists, which were answered quite interestingly, and gave us a clear insight into their day-to-day thought process about God.

Some important subjects were discussed, with morality being the key issue. The Baptists explained to us the importance to them of their relationship with God, and of living the way that they think they know God wants them to. On the other hand, we expressed our passion for being good, ethical and moral without a need for any particular belief system in a supernatural being. The general vibe in the room was a positive one, with all opinions from either side expressed in a friendly manner. The conversation proved to be so interesting that time escaped us, and two hours seemed to have flown by in 2 minutes! Having to stop our discussion short due to time, the study was ended with a prayer (of which we only observed). We then hung around for some more informal discussion before making our friendly goodbyes.

All in all, the evening was considered to be a great success by all in attendance. Later reports from the Baptists told of how they had stayed back after we had left, and discussed how friendly we were and how interesting they had found the evening to be. For many of them, they had never met a group of atheists before, nor been able to hear about how we approach the world and live without a belief in God, of which most of them have never known life without. The final outcome was a welcoming invitation for the Sydney Atheists to come back any time we wish, as well as many of their members being eager to attend one of our own future events in return.

Well done Sydney Atheists! We really showed this group of Baptists a positive side to atheism, and exposed ourselves as open-minded, friendly and approachable people.

What's The Harm?

Rach

Too often I listen to and read apologists that use the phrase "But what's the harm? These are private beliefs, and who are we to challenge what people believe?" Well, all too often, irrational beliefs that are acted on cause a great deal of harm. Just look at the fantastic website What's The Harm. "3,284 people killed, 306,068 injured and over $2,815,114,000 in economic damages ..." and that's just the beginning.

The three terrorists known as the Bali bombers are due to be executed by firing squad sometime within the next day or so. In 2002, they targeted nightclubs packed with western tourists, killing 202 people, 88 of which were Australians. They have never expressed one ounce of remorse, with Amrozi often seen with a huge grin on his face, which gained him the name "the smiling assassin."

They view themselves as martyrs for their religion. Their brother believes that when they are executed, they will be placed in paradise because they stood up for their religion. Their mother is pleased that they will be put to death, again because they will be martyrs for their religion and will be sent to paradise. There are no doubt countless others that believe the same thing.

In the interview below with CNN, the interviewer tries to insist that the bomber is "twisting the Muslim religion completely", however the bomber is able to point out an exact passage in his holy book that justifies killing for his religion.

The interviewer asks "What gives you the right to take the lives of other people?"
The bomber answers "The verse... blood by blood, soul by soul."

That is the harm.



This also raises another point which I often struggle with understanding. These people not only believe that they are right, they "KNOW" that they are right and are willing to give up the one life that they are certain to have. If you don't hold the belief that they do, then you are either going to hell, or not going to heaven, or whatever particular teaching that religion has. Then there are people from other religions that make similar claims about their own belief systems, and they believe and "know" JUST as much as the other group. It goes on and on, with countless religions making these claims. Some one MUST be wrong. They cannot all be right. Yet each group is just as convinced as the other, and in some cases willing to die for the cause.

As an atheist, I reject all claims of any type of god/s until I have good reason and am justified to believe. Hence there is no dogma, no beliefs to follow, nothing to worship, nothing to want to die or kill for, and in fact makes me love and enjoy every day I have in this life, doing as much good as I possibly can.

It seems to me that atheism makes far more sense.

Book Review:

Your Inner Fish, A journey into the 3.5 billion year history of the human body. by Neil Shubin.

Neil Shubin is an expeditionary palaeontologist who, due to a staffing shortage at his university, found himself teaching introductory anatomy to first year medical students in the cadaver dissection room. What does human anatomy have to do with palaeontology? Well that's what he thought too, and the answer is surprising. It turns out the easiest way to explain the paths of nerves in the human head is to show students how things work in sharks, before things were twisted, shifted, and co opted in the evolutionary path to humans. Limbs owe their design to fish, the human brain is simply extensions on the reptile brain. Shubin's experience as a palaeontologist proves invaluable to the upcoming medical students. This book emerged out of his experiences in the classroom.

Every chapter of Your Inner Fish explains the origin of an aspect of human anatomy using evolutionary genetics, paleontology, embryonic development, and the great tree of life. From teeth to breasts, knees to facial nerves, eyes and hearing, even why we get dizzy when drunk. All is lucidly explained in an accessible and engaging style showcasing the personal stories of the scientists making the discoveries.

The first chapter is Shubin's own exciting, deeply personal story detailing a ten year search for a transitional fossil lying between fish and amphibians. This search culminated in the discovery of Tiktaalik, arguably the most spectacular transitional fossil ever discovered.

Tikaalik's discovery is a resounding confirmation of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, ten years in the making...
1, Shubin predicted that a transitional form had to exist in an extremely precise time period,
2, He studied university geology maps together with oil company aerial surveys to determine the best locations where rocks of that exact age were being exposed by erosion in a manner that wouldn't destroy any fossils that may be present.
3, He led three palaeontology expeditions to the remote frozen islands in Canada's far north to dig up rocks.
4, and he found exactly what was predicted, in exactly the right place, in exactly the right time strata.

Evolutionary Theory predicted an incredibly rare fossil with a stunningly exacting set of features, in an area less than one billionth the possible surface area of the earth. And it was exactly where it was supposed to be!!! I've never seen the "power of prayer" prove useful enough to predict so much as a coin toss beyond you would expect by random chance, and I've never understood the wilful ignorance that pervades the religious mindset. How can they possibly ignore a fish with elbows such that prayer seems useful and Darwin wrong?

Your Inner Fish is a great read, you will be fascinated by the personal stories contained within its pages. Infectiously carried along as the science is done and discoveries are made. Highly recommended.

More information on Tiktaalik, and transitional fossils in general can be found at these sites
http://www.transitional-fossil.com/ gives the only possible response to creationists
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_fossil gives basic info and further links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiktaalik gives more information specifically on Tiktaalik
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_transitional_fossils manifestly disproves the common creationist claim that there are no transitional fossils.

Review by Nathan Dunn



Further reading:

There's a lot going on out there, and this section will collect the best and most relevant content from the web and funnel it down for you. In the meantime, here's a collection of interesting stuff to keep you busy. Content suggestions can be emailed to criticalmass@live.com.au

The Australian Government wants to censor the internet, which will disable access to many interesting sites and slow down speeds dramatically. Read the stories here, here, here, here, here, and here. There will be a protest in Sydney on the 13th of December. Come along and stand up for freedom of information.

The financial crisis has been called an ‘act of God’ by Labor MP, James Bidgood.

Dorothy Rowe, a psychologist, talks about how churches are keeping her in business.

And there have also been baby beatings, crucifixions, and exorcisms here there and everywhere! It’s a mad, mad world indeed.

Other stuff
A selection of links that members might find interesting. Each month there will be a different selection of sites.

Religion News Blog- Keep up with the latest religion news headlines from across the globe. This blog brings together stories from all over so you don’t have to search through all those news blogs to catch up with the wacky world of the religiously afflicted.

This month I have collected so many links to share that to list them all with descriptions would make this newsletter ridiculously long, so instead I’ll put together a ‘Lucky Link Dip’. Click around and see what you get, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there! Each “I” links to a different article, site, video blog etc. Have fun!

I I I I I I I I I I I

I I I I I I I I I I I

I I I I I I I I I I I

I I I I I I I I I I I

I I I I I I I I I I

I I I I I I I I I

To find out more about the Sydney Atheists, check out our sites below


Sydney Atheists Website

Sydney Atheists Meetup Group

Sydney Atheist Photo Stream

Sydney Atheists Facebook Group

Critical Mass Blog

Please forward this newsletter to all of your atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, freethinking, critical thinking, rationalist, open-minded or generally interesting friends and help to spread rational thinking.

12 comments:

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Sharon

    http://www.autoloans101.info

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice idea with the Newsletter and congrats on acheiving inc. status.

    I am currently working on trying to get anatheist radio show off the ground.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I couldn't agree more about Islamic Terrorism. It's absolutely horrible, and the moderate Muslim leaders fail to speak out strongly enough against it, which is half the problem.

    However, I strongly object when people use Islamic Terrorism to make statements like 'See, wouldn't the world be a better place without religion'? My answer is no, the world would be a better place without Islamic terrorism, or any terrorism for that matter.

    But when was the last time you heard of a Christian terrorist group massacring the innocent? It doesn't happen. Christians may share their faith with you, and also attempt to influence public affairs by their Christian values (which is fair enough in a freedom loving democracy like ours btw), but you won't find them trying to blow you up.

    So overall, I object when statements like that are made, because there's the subtle implication that all religions are equally valid or equally dangerous in the world. That's a claim I reject, because I think the empirical evidence clearly shows that all religions are NOT equally dangerous in this world.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh, Trav, I've missed you.

    Christian terrorist group massacring the innocent? It doesn't happen.

    Yes, damn those agnostic bastards blowing up us atheists in Northern Ireland for most of my life...

    ReplyDelete
  5. But when was the last time you heard of a Christian terrorist group massacring the innocent? It doesn't happen. Christians may share their faith with you, and also attempt to influence public affairs by their Christian values (which is fair enough in a freedom loving democracy like ours btw), but you won't find them trying to blow you up.

    Trav, I can't believe you just wrote the above!!!
    What holy grotto have you been living in?? Please give us your reasons for this blatantly false statement!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. For future reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_terrorism

    What you also have to understand is that Islamic terrorists believe they will go to paradise for martydom. And they believe it on the basis of faith, scripture, authority... you see? It's the same reasons Christians believe in their afterlife, salvation, peculiar habits.

    Of course, I know most Christians aren't fire-bombing abortion clinics. But by allowing faith to be considered virtuous, instead of condemning the irrational woowoo it in fact is, moderate Christians offer cover and respectability to those who perpetrate horrid acts.

    Extreme Islamists kill infidels. Extreme Christianists stop gay people marrying, stop rape victims having abortions and terrify kids with threats of hell. The cause is identical.

    It's faith.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dave, in the interests of fairness and honest intellectual inquiry, I skimmed over the wiki article.

    And...all I can say is, thankyou. If thats all the evidence you have of Christian Terrorism then I can breath deeply, add a sigh of relief and rest my case because you've just proven my point: All religions are NOT equally dangerous.

    Compare what you see on that wiki page to the TWELVE AND A HALF THOUSAND terrorist attacks in the name of Islam in the LAST SEVEN YEARS.....

    And compare it to the thousands of Christian aid agencies, churches and community welfare groups and all the amazing work they do around the world, and you'll quickly realise that the good outweighs the bad.

    I know we discussed this before on here. i claimed that the vast majority of Aid organisations were either specifically Christian or were started by Christians (and now are non partisan, in the interests of political correctness, and inclusivity). You bravely took on my claim by listing a few "Non Christian" organisations. I looked into the websites of all of them and found that some of the ones you listed were in fact started by Christians.

    Re; Faith. I agree, complete and blind faith is probably a bad thing in a lot of cases. But there's a thing called a "Properly basic belief". I suggest you watch the youtube debate between Craig and Slezak in Sydney in 2002- Craig's 5th argument for God includes a brief summary of what this means. Basically If God is real to you, and you have a reason to believe, in the absence of reasons not to, it's perfectly valid for you to believe.

    Not that Christians need blind faith either. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is very, very strong. If you disagree, I'd love to discuss it with you were.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  8. 2 post script notes:

    Re: Started by not just Christians acting individually, but one of the aid groups you listed was started by a "Church group" in the 1950's. IIRC it was Oxfam.

    And regarding my claim on Islamic terrorism, it came from an article I read by Bill Muehlenberg, he was quoting the terrorism tracking website "The Religion of Peace". It basically tracks all acts of islamic terrorism reported around the world.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Trav said: "I suggest you watch the youtube debate between Craig and Slezak in Sydney in 2002- Craig's 5th argument for God includes a brief summary of what this means. Basically If God is real to you, and you have a reason to believe, in the absence of reasons not to, it's perfectly valid for you to believe."

    Really Trav? William Lane Craig?? Not only are his arguments unoriginal and old, they have been debunked so many times that it's a little embarrassing that you refer to him. The reason you give above as a justified reason to believe is a logical fallacy. What does "if god is real to you" ACTUALLY mean?? Does it mean "if you find the idea comfortable"? No it is NOT valid to believe in something just because you can't disprove it. So you MUST believe in fairies, because no one can disprove them to you.

    William Lane Craig also says "atheists can't disprove god". Again, it isn't up to us to disprove the idea. It is up to those making the claim to provide evidence to support that claim. He also extensively uses the argument from ignorance: "I can't possibly understand how the universe began, therefore a god MUST have created it".

    Trav, I strongly suggest you stop only referring to Christian apologists. Check out the podcast "Apologia". It is a round table discussion between theists and atheists. Even the theists reject many of William Lane Craigs arguments. You can find it on iTunes.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Two things:

    I notice you didn't respond to any of my points, really.

    And secondly, where have William Lane Craig's arguments been debunked?

    I'm neither a huge apologetics expert nor a huge Craig fan. I regularly read the Q & A on his site and I've seen him present some arguments in one book. I find them very persuasive. I did also watch the debate between him and Slezak (A philosophy professor at Uni NSW) and Craig absolutely embarrassed the poor guy. I'm not sure if this is because Christian arguments are much more persuasive than atheist arguments or whether it's because Slezak was just out of his league.

    Craig put up 5 arguments for God- First Cause, Fine Tuning, Moral, Resurrection and experience. He had a great cumulative case.

    Regarding specifics, they had a bit of too and fro on the first cause, but Craig's metaphysics are fine in my opinion, and he presented his argument more persuasively than the rebuttle.

    Regarding fine tuning Craig made a great case, Slezak rebutted it, Craig corrected Slezak's poor rebuttals and then Slezak refused to broach the subject again.

    Regarding morals, It was a bit of a tie- Slezak basically pointed out that there's no way to independently verify the existence of objective morals. Craig didnt deny this but pointed out, quite correctly, that to the best of our knowledge, the only way to ascertain is using intuition, and that intuition does present a solid case for onjective morals. So to the best of our subjective ability, we can ascertain the existence of objective morals.

    regarding the resurrection, Slezak put up the ridiculous swoon theory, which Craig rightly ridiculed, then Slezak exposed himself with the admission that basically, he couldn't defend a naturalistic explanation for the resurrection but that his philosophical presupposition of naturalism demanded he keep to that position, despite the fact that he didnt have any evidence for his position. So a priori, he rejects the conclusion, in spite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

    And regarding personal experience, it's difficult to judge who "wins" but it's not a real argument for God anyway in the same sense that the others are, it's more of a rounding off of Craig cumulative case. I think Craig himself acknowledges that. Slezak didnt really provide any solid reason why one would deny their own experience though.

    ReplyDelete
  11. apologia podcast-

    I googled it, it was all blogs etc...does the podcast have a website itself?

    Who are the atheists and theists who've been on it, or you've heard?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Trav, Apologia is a really well argued podcast from both sides
    http://www.drzach.net/apologia.htm

    ReplyDelete

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