28 January 2007

Why did you end up agnostic? (Part 2)

This is Part 2.

Part 1 is here.

We were discussing in the previous part about how, thanks to no pressure at all from anyone, I grew up an apatheist.

I did point out in that part that atheists and theists have a problem with apatheism in that they don’t understand it.

If you're an atheist or a theist who doesn't get it, I can probably tell you about apatheism by asking the following question:

When cutting a 100mm slab to put in an air-con drain pipe, and assuming that the cut required is 50mm deep by 50mm wide, is there a school of thought as to whether this is allowable based on current building regulations?

Some would suggest that if it’s roof slab, you need to be aware of the rate of decay of the reinforcing bars, regardless of re-concreting over and waterproofing.

Others would add to this any time that the slab covers a void of some sort, including basements, crawlspaces, passageways etc.

In my honest opinion, this is all very important stuff and all, and it probably affects every apartment block ever built, but do I really care?

Getting it wrong can affect tens or hundreds of lives. But do I really care?

I mean, really. Should I care?

This is how religion appears to the apatheist. Irrelevant. Boring. Full of rules that make no sense at all to the uninitiated. Or, more accurately, indoctrinated.

Ask yourself this: Football. Music. Chicks. Religion. Is it really any wonder that the last one just couldn’t find space in my short attention span?

Oh, I forgot to try to cram schoolwork in there, too.

I think that it was third year uni when I began to start thinking a little more deeply about religion than what I had in the past.

It all happened one lunchtime in Union House. I was manning the ticket table for a play that was being staged at the residential college where I lived at the time. I had, at various times that day, been approached by various members of all three major Christian campus groups and asked about my thoughts about the meaning of life, whether I believed that Jesus had died for my sins and whether I would like to come along to a prayer meeting or three.

The major campus Christian groups had tables set up somewhat permanently in Union House, and would be hassling everyone who passed by to come along on a daily basis. I thought that by virtue of manning another table, I’d be immune, but I still got hassled.

In fairness, I also got hassled by a rather attractive brunette in a top showing her bellybutton with a tray of brightly coloured drinks that I was assured would make me smarter.

Even though I was in third year at university, the pseudoscience of Smart Drinks™ would probably have been completely plausible to me, had I heard a word that she was saying. As it was, I suspect that I was concentrating on flirting way too hard to actually take in anything that she was saying and can only dimly recall the words “amino acids”. I had about three different coloured thimble-sized samplers that day, and I can tell you right now, felt no different at all.

Anyway, being hassled by the campus Christians was a daily occurrence. Being hassled by scantily-clad marketers on campus was slightly more unusual – the Womens’ Collective normally would frighten this sort of marketing initiative off into another state.

But the “wimmin” didn’t appear to be around today, so our young Smart Drink™ sample dispenser could go berzerk. I’m sure that it wasn’t lost on her that every bloke who went up to her to sample her wares was flirting with her big time, if not hitting on her outright, but I’m digressing here. The sight of those flawless, tanned, athletic legs disappearing into a ridiculously short pleated mini-skirt was, I’m sure, not noticed by anyone there that day.

I had just breathed a sigh of relief as a third, over-ardent young Christian tacitly admitted defeat in getting me to attend one of their prayer meetings. He’d scarcely handed me one of his group’s flyers and gone on his way when another young gentleman came up to me.

Swearing under my breath, I greeted our new addition, whom I’ll call “The Dude,” with bemused insincerity. Our conversation went a little like this:

Dude: I see the campus Christians won’t leave you alone either.

Me: *winces and waits for inevitable approach line*

Dude: My name’s The Dude, and I was wondering what your thoughts on religion are?

Me: Dude, I don’t have any thoughts on religion.

Dude: That’s great, cause you know, our group is always looking for fresh ideas and thoughts especially with regards to the relentless bombardment of everyone with other students forcing their religion down others' throats.

Me: Um, when I said, ‘I don’t have any thoughts on religion,’ what I meant to say was, ‘I have no interest in religion.’

Dude: And that’s fine. Our members have no interest in religion, either. In fact, one of our topics this week will be taking action to stop the insane amount of proselytising that all the campus Christians have been doing lately…

Me: What did you say your group was called?

Dude: We’re the University Atheist Society.

Me: Dude, has anyone noticed that you’re proselytising?

Dude: No I’m not… That’s like saying atheism is a religion and it’s not… And there has to be a belief system for proselytising… [Insert atheist cliché here]… [And here]… Blah blah-dy blah.

Me: Right. When you stop rambling, please try to understand this. I have no interest in religion. This directly implies that I have no interest in joining the uni’s atheist society.

Dude: But atheism isn’t a religion.

Me: I never said it was. But it's irrelevant anyway - having no interest in religion almost completely infers no interest in atheism.

Dude: No it doesn’t…

Me: Don’t argue, Dude. And, let me finish – I don’t really care who comes up to sell their wares to me, be they Christians, atheists or nubiles with Smart Drinks

Narrator: At this point we both looked over at the sensuous figure in the pleated mini-skirt and crop top as she had a laugh with another bloke who must have been on his fifth or sixth Smart Drink sample.

Me again: …all I ask is that they don’t get hypocritical or sanctimonious. Do you understand?

Dude: Yes. I’m sorry I disturbed you.

And then he slunk off. I felt a bit bad, actually, like I’d been too hard on him, but it was nearly the end of my shift on the table, and quite frankly I was a bit rattled. I may also have been hung-over, although I don’t recall this specifically.

I also may have been a bit dishonest with him – I rather liked our young Smart Drink dispenser looking for conversation and picking me out of everyone there. That is, I probably would have tolerated a bit of hypocrisy or sanctimoniousness from her.

This event was a bit of an epiphany for me, as I now went out of my way to learn a bit more about religion, atheism and the like. This took about two or three years.

Apathy does take a long time to shift.

Atheism, I saw in the dictionary, was one who believed that God doesn’t exist. Tossed that one around in my head for a bit. Decided it was too “final” for me.

I came back to agnosticism, which was a word that I recalled learning at school. I remember having someone tell me that an agnostic was one who doubted.

I looked it up and noticed that this particular definition was right up my alley – agnostics expect that evidence will never be found concerning the existence or otherwise of God.

I had been listening to the long running Skeptics show on 3RRR (don’t think it’s on anymore which is a real shame because it was an excellent show put together by the Australian Skeptics that introduced me to the work of James Randi) and I noticed that you could turn this definition on its head and view it another way – that is, an agnostic will not accept a position concerning the existence or otherwise of God without evidence.

This fitted me like a glove at the time, and I don’t believe that I’ve changed all that much since then.

I have however, noticed that theists and atheists really, really don’t understand agnostics. Probably more so than how they don’t understand apatheists.

And I’ll discuss this some more in part 3.

The Sylvia "Carnie" Browne Carnival

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

Sylvia Browne is the most evil purveyor of woo ever.

She's also close to being the most evil person on the planet, full stop.

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of interest over at The Two Percent Company in a particular post they did on Sylvia Browne in August of last year. Suddenly their readership skyrocketed and comments on this particular thread went through the roof.

Apparently, this was down to a link that AOL put through to them, it would appear, randomly. Has Browne been in the news recently?

They're still having problems keeping on top of the sheer volume of comments that are being posted - but fortunately, they're getting assistance from Tom Foss, Rockstar Ryan and Bronze Dog.

It's worth having a read through the comments - the sheer inanity of some of the commenters has to be re-read to fully appreciate, but let's never get complacent about this: there are a lot of gullible and credulous people out there. And there are a lot of unscrupulous people like Browne who stand to profit out of these poor suckers.

So after this, I go over to Ted's Stuff - which, by the way, has been re-named Plonka's Blog - to see that he has posted a very insightful post of his own on this very matter.

He asks the question

"So, you tell me, genuine psychic or complete fraud?"

And of course, I will always answer that I will prefer to describe Browne as a complete DISGRACE!!!

Skeptico has a go at Randi's current SWIFT commentary (to follow) where Randi appears to drop the ball after Browne makes a comment about "a James Randi negating every aspect of their work".

Worth reading the comments for this one.

Next stop is Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog, which is currently documenting an online petition that has been started to get Sylvia Browne to stop cowardly weasling out of the Randi challenge.

Lordy! She must be rich enough by now to admit to the world that she simply can't do it.

Lastly, in James Randi's latest SWIFT commentary from the JREF, he devotes this special edition to a transcript of a session involving Browne and one of her clients. This is very revealing and I cannot believe that people fall for the stage-act that is this woman.

Folks, if I wasn't convinced before (which I was, but hey!) I certainly am now. Browne is the both the most evil purveyor of woo ever and a complete DISGRACE!!!

She should be in gaol. Immediately.

Is there any that I've missed that are current? I'm thinking of making this post ACTIVE for a short period to ensure that I pick all these up.

Never a shortage of embarrassing stories where Browne is concerned.

25 January 2007

Adam and Eve

I've been meaning to put something up here for sometime on this one.

Over at Action Skeptics, a great blog that I really must read more, Akusai has put up a brilliant and brutal assessment of who was culpable for Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

In a nutshell, these are the conclusions that he reaches:

  1. God creates a tree containing fruit that allows the eaters to know right from wrong and bans Adam and Eve from eating it. If they don't know what's right or wrong, then, well they're going to eat it, aren't they? It's as simple as that. The fact that God told them not to do it becomes immaterial.

  2. If God is omniscient, then it's His fault that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, because He knew that they'd disobey Him. This also makes their mental state immaterial.

  3. If God is omnipotent but not omniscient, then point 1 applies. The fact that God created Adam and Eve without the ability to determine right from wrong further incriminates God. God could be reasonably expected to know that eventually, Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit. (It is assumed in points one, two and three that God is not stupid.)

  4. Lastly, if God is an idiot, then he's culpable through negligence. He's negligent for setting "up a dangerous situation".

I'm still pondering the last point - negligence necessarily implies a duty of care, and I'm not sure what the duty of care is, and to whom it is owed, but it's a very minor point.

Anyway, it's a very humorous story told with much merriment.

Check it out here.

And after you do that, Beep Beep It's Me! has been at it again.

She pretty much comes to the same conclusions regarding the whole matter, and comes up with another one:

If God is omnipresent, and He wanted them to not eat the forbidden fruit, He could have stopped them easily at any time. Plus He would have seen them do it. So why did He go through the charade of coming down to the garden to investigate?

Beep's assessment is here.

It looks pretty bad for God. He's pretty much fully responsible for this whole debacle, no matter what way you look at it.

His goose, as they say, is cooked.

17 January 2007

Happy birthday blog

Well, I noticed it. Happy birthday to Dikkii's Diatribe. Yesterday, it was 1 year since I started Dikkii's Diatribe up again.

I probably should tell you the story of Dikkii's Diatribe.

In mid 1997, I purchased my first computer.

The first thing I did as soon as I had my new computer was to go and get hooked up to the internet. And in September of that year, I uploaded the first of what became Dikkii's Diatribe.

In those days, I began creating Dikkii's Diatribe using, initially, an application called Hotdog Express. I then found that my version of Microsoft Word that I was using (from Office 97, I think) was easier and faster to use for creating web pages, so I switched to that and re-uploaded Dikkii's Diatribe using that.

It's a real shame that none of the Hotdog Express files survived - they all looked wonderfully amateurish.

I've since re-uploaded my old diatribes here in Dikkii's Diatribe Archives, but looking at my first one again, it's interesting to note that even though nearly 10 years have passed since my first post, I have not changed my mind about public arts funding.

In January 2006, I was so pissed off about the raw deal that the Australian government gives to gay Australians with regards to marriage that I began Dikkii's Diatribe anew, this time with help from Blogger.

Why did I use Blogger®? Because when I did a sandbox test, everything seemed so easy. And I think that New Blogger™ is even easier.

(I so wish that Google is reading this - they might pay me for the gratuitous plugging)

Yeah, there are limitations to what you can do with Blogger - have a look at what Orac did to his before moving on to the utter professionalism of Scienceblogs - but it does me.

Initially, I toyed with the idea of using a new name. "The Average Bloke" was one, "Mr Mediocre's Magical Mayhem" was another. I ended up settling on Dikkii's Diatribe because, well, it has Zing! it has Zazz! and it has P'tooie! Plus, I blog about a lot of stuff that really grates my wick, because that's what I enjoy doing most.


Even though I haven't changed my mind on most of what I blogged about back then, lots of other stuff has changed.

People can post comments on my blog without first emailing them to me for me to cut and paste onto the blog posts.

Google pays me to have ads up for them, and a search field. Not terribly much, mind you, but I can dig it.

RSS feeds alert regular readers through their feed-readers when I've updated the blog. Or better, via email.

Services such as Technorati and Feedburner tell me when someone has linked to my blog, or how many people are reading my feeds.

I still have green as my main colour. It's pretty much Dikkii's Diatribe's only link with it's past.

Anyway, happy birthday blog.

Edit: 19/03/2007 - I have no idea why I didn't use the Wayback Machine to retrieve the old version of this.

Here it is in all it's glory.


04 January 2007

50th Skeptics' Circle - in memory of Carl Sagan

Yay! Skeptics' Circle number 50!!

And this one is dedicated to the memory of Carl Sagan, the closest person to a "patron saint" of skepticism. Except for maybe Harry Houdini.

Humbug! Online has done a fantastic job with this one.

Sagan died ten years ago, but his memory lives on through his excellent work.

(And I must make a mental note here to remember to buy Cosmos on DVD.)

Anyway, it's taken me a little while but I've finally read it and there is, as always, tonnes of reading for everyone.

The one that caught my attention this time round was Orac's excellent post on the infiltration of religion into medicine.

This scared the poo out of me. Orac has blogged in the past about the infiltration of alternative medicine into medicine and this is really the next logical (sadly) step.

I sometimes think that organised religion steals all its ideas from the alternative medicine industry, and it appears that medicine is copping it from all sides here.

Anyway, read those. They're great.

The rest are here.