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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Richard Dawkins interviews Prof. Michael Baum



This is the full, uncut interview with Professor Michael Baum which was filmed for Channel 4's "The Enemies of Reason." Michael Baum is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at University College London. The discussion covers alternative and complimentary medicines, and how they interact with scientific medicine. This video is provided free online by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and http://richarddawkins.net . If you enjoy the video and would like to support the work of the RDF, please purchase the program on DVD (which includes 8 other uncut interviews) at: http://richarddawkins.net/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=72

Friday, December 19, 2008

Richard Dwakins Channel

Check out the Richard Dawkins Channel on T5M.com there are a collection of interviews explaining his stance on a number of topics, like the word 'Atheist', setting up the RDF, religious morality and having Jesus over for dinner (seriously!)

Check out all the videos here

Don't click here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Critical Mass Podcast #2

We have just released the Critical Mass Podcast #2

Alan Conradi, Rachel Macalpine, Dave the Happy Singer and Ian Woolf talk about religion and psychopathology.

Atheist news about Newtown festival, Parody religions, Atheist advertising, and blessed oil.

Download Critical Mass Podcast #2

Or you can lisen to it straight from the blog:


Subscribe via iTunes by searching for 'Sydney Atheists'

or through the RSS feed

You can also keep up to date through the Sydney Atheists site's podcast page.

Happy listening.

Brain Storm: smartest mouse ever!

We have been pretty proud of our training of Zach, our Jack Russell. He can fetch, kiss, sit, drop, roll over and shake hands... and he's only 16weeks old!

But then along comes the most amazing mouse EVER and completely deflates us.

Enjoy Brain Storm, the smartest mouse in the universe!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Bethlehem Experience

Bethlehem has come to Penrith, let the lord be praised!


Tonight, Rach and I decided to have a bit of a laugh and check out the Penrith Christain Life Centre's interactive display 'The Bethlehem Experience'. Basically, it's a reconstruction of the town of Bethlehem, full of actors playing everything from beggars, and shopkeepers to angels and centurions.

We arrived and got our tickets, which were free, but necessary to keep our place in line. After getting the rundown from the ticketperson, we thought we'd check out the festivities. There was a christain youth band playing, so we thought we'd sit down and soak up the luls. They were playing a song about a sky prince that went:
Let's party with Jesus,
Jump high and touch the sky
Let's party with him,
Tell the world that he's alive!
My suggestion was to change the last word from 'alive' to 'a lie', which wouldn't even change the ingenious rhythmical structure one little bit, and would make the song much more pragmatically consistent.

After playing some games with the kiddies and getting them to dress up like a nativity scene, the band played a 'humorous' (evil) version of 'The 12 Days of Christmyth', in which 'my mother made me eat' cows tongues, chicken feet, sheeps brains, goats eyes amongst other delicious treats for the kiddies. The most disturbing thing about this was the overhead photos that were displayed, especially the slimy, bleeding sheeps brain (yum yum!),


which were meant for CHILDREN to view! If they were trying to scare the demons out of them, I think they might have just succeeded!

Soon after we had regained consciousness, our group was called out and we headed off to line up for our turn in the Bethlehem Experience.

When we entered, we had to take part in the census, which involved standing and listening to some banter between out guide and a census taker, before entering the gates of Bethlehem. We were stopped by a guard, who made snide remarks about the people in the group (obviously to reinforce the idea that the pagan romans were mean and nasty people). We were then stopped by the tax collector, who collected donations (from most people) before we could be let into the town square.

Once we entered the square, we were impressed with the amount of effort that had been put into it, there were little market stalls hawking their wares, children playing in the street and cityfolk milling around. The actors were all dressed in robes and were doing a pretty good job of impersonating ordinary folk from the past. We were led from stall to stall, and at each, our guide engaged in some friendly banter with the shopkeep

"How's your salty fish today?"
"Not bad, by the way, a baby's been born in a muck trough!"
"Oh that is interesting... goodbye"

At each stop it told you a little more about the virgin birth myth and we learned some interesting historical facts about the days of yore, like the bakers were supplied by bakers delight and the salty fish merchant was the originator of the slogan 'the fresh food people'.


We went through a house, meeting a family and then on to some more shops and a synagogue. I must admit that I was a bit distracted during the sermon, as there was a child in a cage at the next exhibit and I was trying to snap some decent pics while there was no crowd around and I could get a clear shot.

As we moved on, we were informed that we would not be able to find any lodgings as the last possible bed had been taken by a pregnant tart and her suspicious boyfriend. Apparanly the town was busy, as it was christmas, and as we all know, it's terribly difficult to find accommodation during the holiday season.

We moved along and saw some enthusiastic kids hamming it up as much as they could (seriously, those kids were really enthusiastic. It's a shame thet their talents are being focussed into something like this, really) before goinig to see the three wise men, who thought that a lightbulb had led them to the birth of the saviour.

Next was the manger and the nativity scene, which was pretty much as you would expect it. Hay all over the floor and some people who had come to visit and worship the newborn and his family, who were sat in a postcard pose.


We then went to a miracle scene, where we were told of how Jesus had healed a woman's back problem (the woman was bouncing about like a crazy person and even more enthusiastic than the kids mentioned earlier!) and a man who Jesus rubbed mud in his eyes, then he could see.

The next scene was perhaps the most shocking part of the 'Experience' as we walked through a corridor, made up to look like a jail cell, with the Passion of the Christ (an MA15+ film no less) playing at one end. How they thought it was ok to take children through with a snuff film playing in the darkness is beyond me. They are penticostals, they are nutjobs, don't take your kids!

Then was the crucufix scene, peppered with more blood and low, spooky lighting, followed by the empty tomb, with the shroud inside. A couple of weeping ladies came up to the tomb and were bawling their eyes out (ok I know what you're thinking "Isn't this meant to be the christmyth story... just the baby jesus bit? Aren't we jumping seasons now to easter? Doesn't that just seem to be an excuse to use the feel bad for Jesus argument? Isn't it just blatant prothletising, exaggerated by being so out of context? Did that even happen in Bethlehem?" but stop. Remember that we didn't come here o think, we came to get some religion in us!). An angel came by and told them not to worry, he wasn't dead or vanished, he'd just nicked off to the pub for a quick one and he'd be back soon enough (I may have misheard, it was pretty noisy).

The next scene was of some angels looking very holy, which would have been entirely dull if not for the fact that one of the children in the group began to cry and hide his head in his jumper like a turtle. Obviously it was getting to him. Again, don't take young children to this, it could be pretty unsettling.

Just to cap it off was the mother of all scary scenes. We were handed on to an evangelist, who did the "pray with me and if you haven't found Jesus, or it's been a long time since you had Jesus in your life please come and talk to one of our friendly ministers and get guilted into signing up to our church". Like I said, it was pretty scary, but we were tough and made it past without being drowned in the blood of christ and found orselves in the gift shop, where the good folks from the Koorong bookshop and Bikers for Jesus were there to see us on out way. We picked up a handfull of pamphlets including "How to know god", "The Good news story" and "what on earth am I here for?". We got some pictures with the bikie christains and said thanks to some of the staff for such a fun evening, then left, having been thoroughly entertained.


It was much more fun than a move, and the price was definately right!

It's just a shame they are selling this stuff to children.


See the full photoset here

Happy Kazakhstan Independance Day!

Today is the Kazakhstan day of independence, the celebration of the nation's independence from their former Soviet rule.

I liiiike!

It is also the Philippine celebration of the Rooster's Mass (Misa de Gallo)! And a big bagawwk to you all!

As if today wasn't big enough already, we are also celebrating the births of such luminaries as composer Beethoven,


writer Arthur C Clarke,


writer Phillip K Dick


and comedian Bill Hicks.





To bookend the enormity of the day, let all vegetarians and ethical persons raise a glass to celebrate the death of the chicken equivalent of Hitler, Colonel Sanders.



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Internet Censorship Rally


For those out of the loop, the Australian government wants to put a 'Clean Feed' filter on our internet access. This is being promoted under the tenuous banner of stopping child pornography, but will slow connections dramatically and block access to many other relatively unobjectionable sites.

Yesterday (13/12/08) there was an Anti Internet Censorship rally in Sydney with Sydney Atheist and resident of the internet 'Dave the Happy Singer ' as the MC, which you can read more about here.



Most people seem to be scared that it will end up like this, but knowing the resourcefulness of the basement dwelling internet population, it's more likely to turn out like this.


Read more about it
New hurdle for net censorship- SMH
On the ISP filtering and censorship front Sean the Blogonaut

Aussie prudes
- Pharyngula
Stilgherrian interview- Here's Why
Australia’s war on the internet- It's Alive
Internet filtering opposition gathering speed- Evolving Thoughts
Clean feed or Church feed?- Ian Woolf
Internet censorship - the Great Wall of Australia- Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Australia's compulsory internet filtering 'costly, ineffective'- News.com.au

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Atheist Christmas Letter from Don Baker

An Atheist Christmas Letter

Don Baker
Posted: December 16, 2006
From the Atheist Community of Austin

As I write this, I'm thinking about what I'll put in my holiday letter this year. It has been a few years since I sent a letter, or even holiday cards. As a relatively new atheist, I've become rather frustrated at so much of the holiday nonsense and by the time this part of the year rolls around, I've just overdosed on it. While some of the holiday cheer is good, there is so much spin and packaging of ancient myths that it's hard for a rationalist like me not to feel under siege.

My first instinct is to fight back a bit and play iconoclast. The truth is important, after all. Yet, I feel some guilt trampling on people's often well meant holiday spirit in the only communication that most of my distant friends will receive from me all year. So I've figured out a compromise. I'm writing this little essay saying some of the things I wanted to say about the holidays from an atheist perspective. I've made it open to all, so perhaps more people will know the atheist perspective on Christmas. My private holiday correspondence will point to this essay with an appropriate disclaimer.

The Reason for the Season?

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the reason for the season. To properly answer the question, you have to go back a few tens of thousands of years to a time when human cultures were making the transition from being nomadic to adopting an agricultural economy. Humans at the time lacked a proper understanding of the solar system and the motions of the bodies within it. As a result, humans deified the sun and the moon as they were so obviously important to their success. The moon is important to nomadic tribes as the full moon provides light that aids in night time hunts. Worshiping the moon was seen as a way to improve the hunt and ultimately, the survival of the tribe.

With a shift to agriculture, the sun is clearly more dominant because the sun makes the crops grow. Winter must have been an especially scary time as the waning daylight meant that man had to survive for a while living on what was stored and what could be scavenged. To ease this angst, early astronomers tracked the movement of the sun and watched for the time when the days stopped shortening and began lengthening again. This yearly astronomical event is known as the winter solstice. It was difficult for early man to measure exactly, but they knew to watch for it. And they knew what it meant--the eventual return of longer days when their lives would not be so difficult. Not surprisingly, religions centered on the sun have rituals near the time of the solstice and most have resurrection myths connected to the coming renewal of spring. These simple religions were an attempt to make meaning of a cosmic and important phenomenon of the cycles of the seasons.

So, while axial tilt of the earth is the true reason for the season, we can also feel a connection with our more primal human reaction to the season, which is a sense of hope and renewal for the coming year. We can do this honestly, understanding the movement of the planets and their emotional effect on us. These are the real reasons for celebrations this time of year. These are the things that I personally try to connect to this time of year. I feel it is part of my connection to my humanity and to the planet I call home.

Atheists don't generally celebrate holidays in the original sense of the word: holy days. Gatherings of atheists this time of year generally give more than a nod to the winter solstice, but there are no rituals. On the surface, this might seem to be a shallow and nerdy response to what others may feel is the real significance of the Christmas season. In truth, it's the other way around. The meaning of the season existed aeons before any of today's religions took root. For a better understanding of these topics, I refer the reader to the works of Joseph Campbell who wrote extensively about the mythological themes that cross religions and their origins in our collective humanity.

Birth of Jesus

Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture and Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Christianity's central figure on December 25th. There is so much mythology surrounding the nativity that it would take at least a book to fully unravel. A good compact source of information is The Christmas Story: an Overview of Christian Belief. Many of these myths are uncritically repeated this time of year. I'll hit on a few of the facts that everyone should know--especially people who call themselves followers of Christ.

The only first person "eye witness" account of Christ anywhere in existence is the Apostle Paul's encounter with Christ as a spirit-being out the desert. All other accounts of Jesus/Christ are just lore from oral tradition. We know today that a large number of people have visual and auditory hallucinations, so there is no strong reason to believe Paul encountered anything supernatural.

Paul was quite convinced that Christ never existed in the flesh. He considered humans to be essentially dirty and as such the human form was completely unsuitable for a god man. The first few centuries of Christianity saw a great debate about whether Christ ever existed in human form. Eventually, the side that argued for human form won out. They needed a human form to bolster the idea that Jesus suffered on the cross for our collective original sin, linking Christ to some of the main and accepted themes of Judaism. Paul knew nothing of these ideas, as they were invented later; nor did he know of most of the key events in Jesus "life" on earth for the same reason. Paul was quite sure that the crucifixion occurred in a spiritual plane, disconnected from events on Earth. Since Christians don't believe Paul's conception of Christ, they obviously think he was a liar. If he was a liar, then why should they believe anything at all about Christ, since there are no other primary sources of information?

Indeed, much of the lore surrounding Jesus was pulled in from various places. The notion of Jesus being a human from Galilee (and simultaneously Bethlehem) was probably based on a composite of a number of real people and imagined deities. Lore surrounding a divine Christ was borrowed from Mithraism, Attisism, and a host of other religions that were mixing together in the great melting pot of the Roman Empire when the legend appeared. The Jesus mythology and the Christ mythology were also eventually merged, having been previously separate. A person has to search very hard for any facet of Jesus/Christ lore that was not borrowed from earlier mythologies. These facts, combined with the 30 or so missing years of Jesus documented life would make any thinking person doubt that any part of the story is factual.

Early Christianity had a big problem on its hands. Paul had preached about the return of Christ and was quite clear that it was to be during the lifetime of his disciples. See The Lowdown on God's Showdown. He even urged the faithful to stop having children as it would just complicate their lives during the transition that was about to occur! As far as we know, Christ never came back, making Paul a bona fide liar and Jesus a false messiah. Paul even said at one point that lying was a good thing if it aggrandized God (Romans 3:7)... or was that condemning lying? It's not so clear, but Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, expanded on the first interpretation. The problem of Christ's non-return is still a festering sore on Christianity. It has not been resolved, but the faithful don't care about the fatal flaws of their religion; they have faith. I call it gullibility.

To distract the faithful from the festering problem of a non-returning Christ, a miraculous birth story was invented long after his "death". The story has been embellished heavily over the years to become what we now call the nativity story. Even the original story has its problems however. Some of the confabulators worked very hard to tie Jesus' blood line back to King David, with whom the God character had made a covenant in earlier scriptures that his descendents would rule forever. Unfortunately, even the Bible tells us that David's line had stopped ruling a long time before Jesus was even thought about. God was therefore a proven liar (or a myth) and they realized it. To try to bandage this fatal wound, the story tellers worked very hard to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, which they thought they could spin as fulfilling the prophecy in the Old Testament. One problem with this is that the "prophecy" was about an earlier king (Immanuel), so the prophecy was unrelated to Jesus. (No magic here. The prediction was conveniently coined after the event occurred and attributed to an earlier time. It's like "predicting" today that World War II will occur, and then claiming the prediction took place in the earlier 1814.) Another problem is that Jesus had to have a human biological father for this prophecy to be about him. (According to the Bible, females contribute nothing.) That is the only way he could have David's blood. To drive this point home, there is a lineage from David to Jesus in the Bible. To drive the point home even more, there also is a second, conflicting lineage from David to Jesus in the Bible. If one is good, two different ones must be better! Both of these are in complete contradiction with the idea that Jesus is born of a virgin, the foundational miracle of Christianity. That myth has its roots in a Biblical transcription error where "young woman" was mistranslated to "virgin". There are probably a hundred more problems with the nativity story. I hope these facts give the reader an idea of how silly the whole thing is.

As part of the birth story, they chose late December as the date of Jesus birth so that the Catholic Church could begin co-opting the Roman Saturnalia Festival, from which we get our traditions of holiday merriment, having a big meal, and gift giving. Easter was likewise co-opted from pagan spring fertility festivals from which we get bunnies and eggs, both fertility symbols. The whole nativity story was fabricated to hoodwink more people into a growing religion. To their credit, the invention of Mary was a stroke of genius that "worked miracles" for marketing Christianity.

In case anyone is wondering why atheists have a condescending attitude toward Christians it is because very often atheists know more about Christianity than the believers. We are consistently amazed that anyone believes these ridiculous religious claims. People believe, unfortunately, because they are ignorant. Anyone relying on a church for their source of information about Christianity will be systematically misinformed. People who know the truth aren't generally converts. It is the faithful that pay the incomes of the ministers. So, they perpetuate myths among the gullible in order to eat and have power over them. They tell people that faith (gullibility) is a virtue so as to flatter the believers and perpetuate their positions.

Atheists get criticized for being humbugs about Christmas. According to some sources, we're even fighting some sort of war over it. Many of us do consider ourselves at war with ignorance and the thuggery that often goes along with it. Myths are not harmless and gullibility is not a virtue. Nothing good has ever come of them. Bergen Evans hit it on the head when he wrote in A Tale of a Tub, "For in the last analysis all tyranny rests on fraud, on getting someone to accept false assumptions, and any man who for one moment abandons or suspends the questioning spirit has for that moment betrayed humanity." Now let's look at the effects of myths and gullibility.

Peace and Good Will

One of the nicest wishes that I get in Christmas and holiday cards is the wish of peace on Earth and good will toward men. Good stuff. Very often, however, that message has been associated with some Christian image, such as the three Magi (who never existed) making their trek to see the child savoir. The implication is that somehow those sentiments have something to do with Christianity. Again, the more a person knows about Christianity, the more he might think the association is a lame attempt to improve Christianity's image--to put lipstick on the pig.

As for peace, the most horrible wars and atrocities have had religion at their core. A person who believes he is acting based on the righteousness of God will eagerly suspend human compassion. Gott mit uns. Non-believers are rationalized to be not worthy of compassion because God hates them, they lack souls, or they're supposedly working for some equally ridiculous competing supernatural concern. Religion is largely impervious to reason and it generally takes a long time for sanity to prevail.

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are called the Abrahamic religions. They all worship one and the same tribal god of Abraham. Yahweh, God, Jehovah, and Allah are all names for the same god. You might think all of these religions are on the same side, but you'd be wrong. The various sects of these religions have been killing each-other since their beginning. Even today, most of the tension in the Middle East has at its roots the ancient religious conflicts between sects under the same god. This god's believers have aptly demonstrated that He is incompatible with peace. Likewise, I cannot square the idea of Jesus being called "the prince of peace" when so many millions of people have been killed in his name. This appellation shows an amazing amount of ignorance combined with a lack of sympathy for the victims.

As for "good will toward men," I have my doubts as well. Much of the killing in the name of God has been in concert with some equally horrible persecution. Christianity has been behind witch burnings, the Inquisition, pogroms, and many other ills. The Abrahamic religions have always subjugated women. Gays are demonized to raise money by religious demagogues. The Bible has been used to justify slavery. It does so unabashedly. There is no mention of pedophilia in the Bible, but incest with your daughter seems to be allowed. The Catholic Church has effectively run a pedophile ring for decades while none of the organizers have been brought to trial.

What good has come from our religious war with the "axis of evil"? Has our messiah president done a single good thing while he has been in power? Thanks to the "values voters," we are now known worldwide as a country that supports torture. Christians (Catholics especially) seem to think that torture is a good thing. After all, God does it, so it must be good. I've even had a well meaning Christian "friend" come to my home and threaten me with torture so that I would do the "right thing" in his eyes and believe in his nonsensical religion. Part of me wonders whether such people are just sadists looking for a way of justifying their twisted mindset. They have no evidence for their God and, at the same time, they think it's the epitome of good to torture a person for all eternity for the finite "crime" of not believing.

Many religious people have a charitable nature and do good works, but is it really charity when you expect a payout? For Christians, charity will help ensure one's reward of perpetual orgasm. Do the math. When you factor in the infinite benefit that religious people gain from "charity" work, you have to wonder why they don't give away all their belongings and wander the streets as Jesus said was the path to salvation. Christians' actions belie their claims of belief.

When the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean in December of 2004, most American's prayed. For believers, God either sought to kill those 500,000 people or He didn't care enough about them to prevent the earthquake that led to the event. Either way, directly helping these people is in direct conflict with God's obvious wishes and may jeopardize one's ticket to Heaven. So many believers chose to pray instead of providing real help. This is just another way that belief sabotages philanthropy. Of course, many religious groups were on the march after the event. Most were motivated to gain converts. Those lost interest when they couldn't proselytize to the victims. Again, who is benefiting? Where is the good will?

Science and technology have done far more philanthropy than all religions combined. In contrast, religions generally sabotage science. Religions are famous for destroying libraries, burning books, and murdering the authors that they wanted to suppress. Nearly all of our medical knowledge was gained over the objection of religion. Religions are still at it today actively sabotaging stem cell research and the teaching of evolution, the foundation of biology. While Norman Borlaug was using his knowledge of biology and evolution to create cereal grains that are credited with feeding billions of people, Mother Teresa was collecting millions of dollars for her missionary work that sadistically perpetuated the suffering of those under her care. She is quoted as saying, "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." Much of the money she collected from this travesty of compassion went to the Catholic Church, who repaid her with a fast track to sainthood by way of a bogus "miracle." Most of her work was geared at increasing the poverty in India through promotion of higher birth rates.

Peace and goodwill derive from compassion and respect for one's fellow man, taking responsibility for one's actions, and the knowledge to make good decisions. These are the virtues that most atheists embrace under the name of Humanism or Secular Humanism. Ignorance and power trades with gods are incompatible with peace and good will. Religions are not above marketing themselves as good things, though and hiding the facts to the contrary. Caveat emptor.

Commercialism

I do agree with many of the religious people that the holidays have become far too commercialized. I have little new to say here except that capitalism is America's true religion and the holidays are something of a religious holiday for it, as well, with Santa as its shill. The primary capitalist myth seems to be that buying things is the path to happiness. It's just another holiday myth that needs to be debunked.
Santa Claus

Speaking of Santa, it's clear that he's is just a training mechanism for children to become Christians. Both are based on the idea that you should be good to others in order to receive a reward from some omniscient supernatural being. It's all about hedonism gleaned from Big Brother. When children lose their innocence about Santa Claus, they are then indoctrinated into the "real" belief which is a good bit darker than the training wheels mythology. If you're not good, you don't get coal in your stocking--you get cinders as your feet. I guess it is fear that keeps people awake in church.

What's Left?

When you remove all of the fluff and crap from the holidays, you're not left with very much. Hope and renewal remain. A person can still feel love for his fellow man, despite mankind's limitations. One can embrace some of the fun and joyous traditions. The holiday nights are a nice change from the dreariness of winter. And the tradition of writing holiday letters isn't a bad one either. It's easy to get separated from those who have impacted you and your life. It's good to reconnect with them.

Happy solstice!
(In 2008 solstice will be the 21st of December -Alan)
Peace and good will toward man through reason!
And if you believe, believe responsibly.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Richard Dawkins interviews Derren Brown

This is the full uncut interview filmed for the Channel 4 TV program "The Enemies of Reason." This video is provided free online by http://RichardDawkins.net . If you enjoy the video and would like to support our work, please purchase 'The Enemies of Reason: The Uncut Interviews' on DVD here

James Randi on the Dave Patterson Show

James Randi is amazing! Find out more here

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Richard Dawkins Interviews Father George Coyne

This is the full uncut interview with Father George Coyne which was omitted from Richard Dawkins' television program "The Genius of Charles Darwin" for Channel 4 in the UK.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation will be releasing many more uncut interviews from "The Genius of Charles Darwin" on DVD soon through http://RichardDawkins.net/Store

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.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sydney Atheists Advertising Campaign

The Sydney Atheists are mounting our own Atheist Advertising Campaign!

There has been a lot of talk about such campaigns lately, from the FFRF billboards,



London Busses


and many others...


that we thought it was time to get Sydney on the Map!

We will be running a campaign with the Slogan "No God? No Worries!", an Australian touch (for those overseas readers, 'no worries' is an Australian colloquialism that basically means 'that's not a problem') to the general positive atheism being promoted through the campaigns worldwide.

We are looking forward to raising the public awareness of atheism and are looking at getting started as soon as we have raised enough money to get it off the ground.

Please consider donating to this cause.

You can donate through an electronic funds transfer to the Sydney Atheists Account

BSB: 112-879 Account Number: 410136189,

or contact us via email at sydneyatheists@gmail.com or criticalmass@live.com.au

Make your voice heard! Give now!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Richard Dawkins and Aubrey Mannning

Richard Dawkins has just released a conversation with Aubrey Manning from his 'Voices of Reason' DVD.

the blurb says "Richard Dawkins sits down with Aubrey Manning to discuss Ethology, their time at Oxford, the state of life on Earth, and more."

Enjoy!


http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C741FD8E0D93F48C

Atheist Quotes

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