Hitchens vs God (god loses by the way)

31 05 2011

A man by the name of Christopher Hitchens – perhaps you’ve heard of him – will be debating at UW this Saturday*

*He’ll actually be appearing via video conferencing due to health reasons.  Tickets are sold out but a couple of us are planning on note taking so we’ll be sure to share what we hear at the talk.  I haven’t heard word about whether or not it’s being recorded.


Entertaining Atheists

30 05 2011

There are no good atheists in entertainment media.  What do I mean by that?  All movie and television characters who are either implied to be atheists or are explicitly atheist are portrayed in an unfavourable light.  Whenever discussions of religion come up, the religious character asks “questions that have been refuted a thousand times” of the “atheist”.

The other day I was watching King Arthur (2004) and there were a few points on the religious question that irked me.  Now granted, I enjoyed the portrayal of the Catholic Church as a power-mongering institution, aiming to assert its authority over all things in the name of “God”.  In other words, exactly what the Catholic Church is.

King Arthur’s god, on the other hand, is a nice loving god who believes in your freedom and will help you kill a few Saxons along the way to that path.  This god may be more appealing than the Catholic god, but it doesn’t legitimize its existence and isn’t this something we hear all too often?  “Well those religious fundamentalists don’t represent my god, my god is a loving god.”  Your point?  Unless you actually show me evidence for this god, I still have no reason to believe.  It also comes off as an attempt to dodge the issue of whether or not your religion is actually open for abuse.

Another scene from the film brought up a question in which any atheist should respond with, “You did not just ask that?  Are you serious?  Leave now.”  In a conversation between Lancelot and Guinevere, Lancelot discusses his doubts over the existence of a god.  He also mentions having no family.  To which Guinevere asks, “You don’t believe in family or religion, do you believe in anything?”  Cue Lancelot’s “wtf face” followed by telling Guinevere she can leave the camp and go fight the Saxons by herself and meet a horrible end.  Wait.  That’s my wishful thinking, not the actual plot.  The, “do you believe in anything” question is one of the many annoying misconceptions about atheists and to see it be perpetuated in popular media is annoying and not helpful.  I’m not going to refute here as I hope that the readers of this blog already know what is wrong with it.

Finally, we get to our explicitly atheist character, House.  House, the lovable, asshole doctor who would’ve been fired from any credible hospital years ago.   The show doesn’t dance around his atheism but it’s always portrayed in that, “I’m going to tell you that praying on your deathbed is stupid” dick-kind of way.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a character that calls out the religious when their silly beliefs are on hand, but is it too much to ask for an atheist that is kind, loving, charitable?

The problem here is, demographics.  You have to make movies and tv shows for your audience and in a region of the world where the majority are religious, a show in which a lead character is both explicitly atheist and good won’t fly.  I can imagine a strong backlash against a hero character who succeeds without appeals to god.  It becomes a vicious circle.  People develop a stereotype about atheists.  They expect to see it reinforced in their entertainment.  The entertainment industry complies and thus the viewer’s stereotype grows.  Now I know, there are much more important issues for us to be dealing with, but this is just one of those little pet peeves I had to vent on.  Furthermore, it would be unwise of us to deny the impact that entertainment has on thinking and perceptions of groups in popular culture.  Aside from getting a wealthy, atheist director to make a good atheist character – to say nothing of the willingness to likely lose a lot of money and face a backlash from religious groups -, all we can do is get out there everyday and show why these stereotypes are nonsense.

Why Atheist Groups Are Important. Plus: An Invitation

27 05 2011

If you actively follow the news in the atheist community, then you’ve undoubtedly heard about the story of Damon Fowler  .  No, this isn’t going to be another rant about the appalling regressiveness of the small-town, American South where the pious have no hesitation to flout the Constitution and ostracize a young man for standing up for the law.  No, that rant will be reserved for when I have a steady supply of scotch sitting next to me, but alas, the supply has currently run dry.

Instead, I’m going share my thoughts on the positive aspects that have emerged out of this story and how it demonstrates the need for atheist groups such as this one.

Now the first thing that may come to your mind is, “why are you, a Canadian, talking about an American story?”  Sure, the Canadian atheist community isn’t normally subjected to the absurdity our American counterparts are.  As far as I can tell – and please share any stories to the contrary if you have them – we don’t have communities that shun children over these issues.  Of course, Canada doesn’t have the Church and State separation issues that America does, at least not on such a large scale. (Catholic schools aside.)  So Canadian atheists may not face the challenges faced by people like Fowler, but atheist groups are still needed.  Why?  One word: Community.

Community.  It was demonstrated when the news about Fowler’s story spread across the internet.  Thousands have been raised for a college fund, he has received a scholarship, and I’ve even read adoption offers on Facebook.  It demonstrates that we are not selfish individuals, only looking out for our self-interest. (I find that stereotype to be amusing as most atheists I know tend to reject that neoclassical economics view of the world.)

Sure, atheist groups do play a role in providing a counter to the many religious groups we see on campus.  AAFW members have frequently attended events held by the religious groups and have actively debated with them.  In doing so, we are trying to prevent those groups from having full control of the stage, so to speak.  But, community, for me, remains reason number 1 for the existence of groups such as ours.

As the atheist club on campus we are saying to our fellow atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers, “We are here.  Come join us.  You’ll be welcome with open arms”.  Here is a place where you can come to express your views on religion and other related topics without worry that it could lead to rejection.  You may, as I did, find some of your best friends are waiting in this group.  So to those atheists in the Waterloo region who have yet to come out to one of our meetings I say, “Come on out”.

The Null Hypothesis

26 05 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

Facebook Religious Views

One of the most accurate ways to describe my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) is by way of a concept known as the “null hypothesis”. Like most atheists, I do not claim that I know God does not exist. I merely claim that there is not enough evidence to justify belief in God. And the best way to illustrate this claim is through the null hypothesis. This is a statistical concept that is used for hypothesis testing in science. Because statistics is not a strong point for many people, I will try to explain it using a minimum of stats jargon; however, some will be required, and I will try to explain what each term means the best that I can. I really feel that this is an important concept to understand when one is trying to assess evidence claims (which happens to us all the time). So hang on for the ride! Read the rest of this entry »