Wednesday, 2 March 2016

#NotWithTheMob 2

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

I know. It's been ages since I posted here. This would've been a video but my phone's acting up and I want to make note of this while it's still fresh in my mind.

I recently watched DarkMatter2525's new video. I saw gothatfunk's video about the primaries. I saw the last 2 episodes of David Eagleman's series on the brain, the 5th episode being the relevant one. I saw slightly older videos of a dispute between the Young Turks and Sam Harris, the latter advocating a nuclear first strike on Iran. And we've got Brexit going on here, in which immigrants are part of the discussion. How are all of these related? I like to speculate about the future, but not normally the immediate future. There is a possible immediate future I find quite chilling:

To illustrate this example, let's imagine a DEFCON-like system for attitudes to out-groups. SUBHUMAN 5 is neutral. SUBHUMAN 4 is gossip: mocking sentiments expressed towards outgroups, but the sentiments are not generally sinister (think Emos back in the mid-late 00s). SUBHUMAN 3 is significant here. I would say that Muslims have been at SUBHUMAN 3 since 9/11. Based on DarkMatter's video, and in combination with the ramping up of the language and hostility of the attitudes I've seen towards the feminist/SJW community recently, I am also classifying them SUBHUMAN 3: the relatively common view that the community is somehow a threat or a danger. Let me be clear about this: whether you feel it's justified or not is irrelevant. You will see how this is a problem as we look at the next 2 levels.

SUBHUMAN 2 is when a dehumanizing process has begun: the Muslim community is dangerously close to SUBHUMAN 2, and if Trump gets elected, there is a real possibility of what Sam Harris is advocating at some point down the line. SUBHUMAN 2 can be declared safely when legislation has been passed against the out-group. For example, ID cards. SUBHUMAN 1, by the way, is when a significant portion of the population can have a psychopathic lack of empathy towards the out-group to the point where attacks and genocide are possible, a reality described and documented by David Eagleman in his documentary.

Don't get me wrong. This probably won't happen. We live in more peaceful times than ever (if you don't believe me, just compare now to this point in the century 100 years ago). We are more connected and tolerant of all sorts of different out-groups than we've ever been. However, having a community the core principles of which is to reduce discrimination (but may not go about it in the best way) this demonized at a time when Muslims are demonized as well and ISIS attacks are fresh in people's minds with more anticipated and warned of by the group? This is a perfect storm.

I foresee a possible future where Donald Trump becomes president at a time of great suspicion of Muslims, increasing suspicion of SJWs and liberals by extension, possibly aided by an ISIS attack on home soil (if this happens, things will be bleak), and it not only turns out that "he says what he thinks", but he does what he says. Is it scaremongering? By default I guess. That doesn't make it impossible. The benefit of the human brain is that we can imagine scenarios in order to stop them before they become reality. We can break any one of these links in the chain to prevent this from happening, and many have argued against Donald Trump better than I could, but my specialty is skepticism. Skepticism to me is assessing claims for their merit. This necessarily involves cultivating an understanding of opposing ideologies and empathizing with their perspectives. None of this is compatible with mob justice. The irony of a mob arising against a community which has a reputation, deserved or not, for mob justice should sting. If you're part of that mob, shame on you. This is an extremely important time to be...



Monday, 4 January 2016

Why The Wage Gap Argument Persists

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

Quickie here as it's a response to a tweet. I hope my shorthand here is understandable:

"no-one has refuted the pay gap" (pic of bemused looking manga girl)

My response
It hasn't. Studies showing there are POSSIBLY other factors do not constitute a refutation.

Response (combined from 2 tweets)
taking in all factors beside gender it minimizes to 6 or 2 cents. and even then there is no evidence its caused by gendered discrimination on the wages. god in the gaps is your answer

Rather than attempt to condense my response into a tweet or a few tweets, I'll do it here.

First, a clarification of my tweet. I've looked at the studies that have been done that are normally cited to try to discredit the wage gap. When I said that the studies POSSIBLY show that the gap can be explained by other factors, what I'm referring to here is the fact that just because a study, or studies, have been done purporting to show that the wage gap can be explained by other factors, doesn't mean you've debunked the wage gap argument. In order to debunk the argument, you have to show that the gap CANNOT be explained by gender discrimination. None of the studies I've seen at least ever try to claim this, in fact, when it comes to studies in general, I tend to find repeated disclaimers about not over-interpreting the results.

Now you may argue that this is not possible to do, and you'd be right. This is precisely why the argument persists. My own position is that I think the studies have a lot of merit in explaining MOST of the wage gap AT PRESENT, but, having made my point that the wage gap argument CANNOT ever be fully debunked, I believe we should always keep an eye on it, keep doing studies to assess why there is an absolute wage gap, what explanatory factors are involved, and that as little of it as possible is caused by discrimination, implicit or otherwise. This leads me to my next point: the statement that there is no evidence it's caused by discrimination is flat-out false. It takes nothing more than looking at the Wikipedia page to find links to studies that have demonstrated this. Even if I grant that, however, the POTENTIAL always exists. We do not live in a police state. Businesses, no matter where you live, have some degree of freedom to hire and fire, and no regulatory process will ever screen out discrimination entirely. A counter-balance is always necessary to make sure that discrimination doesn't run rampant, and, in following on from my earlier point, I think a reason why the argument is still made is precisely to provide this counter-balance.

Finally, "god in the gaps" is not relevant here. "God in the gaps" refers to science eliminating the number of possible contexts under which a god can exist and religious people squeezing it into the remaining ones. The existence of a supernatural god is practically unprovable by definition. On the other hand, we know that gender discrimination happens. We know that it has happened in the past. We know that we have subconscious and conscious attitudes that may lead us to believe that women are not just physically weaker than men, but possibly psychologically too. In order for feminists to have a valid point, they need only demonstrate that there is doubt that the wage gap is FULLY explained by non-discriminatory causes, and, as I've said, this doubt always exists.

To summarize, the issue of whether the wage gap "exists" isn't one that interests me. It fundamentally misses the point. The point is that discrimination can and does happen. We need to keep doing these studies and we need to realize whether you're feminist, anti-feminist or indifferent, that the wage gap isn't a weapon to use against the other side, but a tool to help vanquish the discrimination that we all agree shouldn't happen.


On New Year's Resolutions

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Also, happy new year.

I'm uploading a video while typing this and the two things are related. The video was surprisingly hard to make. Back when I was still living with my parents (from 2 years ago onward), I got overheard making videos twice. They didn't know what I was doing, and still don't, but it permanently affected how I made videos from that point on. I've given many excuses about why I don't make videos, and many of them are true, but fear in general plays a large part. Moreover, this fear is only tiny portion of a much larger reservoir of fear that affects my life.

I've met 2 people from YouTube. I was unusually talkative around them, but mostly I don't talk much at all. I've found that the "rules" set by my fear work like this: I can respond to questions people ask. I can respond in conversations as long as I'm loosely within the same topic. In the 10 years that have passed since I discovered this fear (I'll explain about that later), I have improved by being able to say hi to people, parrot back questions about how they're doing by asking how they're doing, and I would say I'm almost normal online with people I know well. There is still, however, much work to be done.

As for making videos, the neighbours I have in the flat closest to me are very loud. I can hear them talking all the time. This makes me self-conscious about the fact that they can probably hear me, calling to mind the situation I mentioned earlier about my parents. I had to face that fear to make the video. In addition, it is a video which I can practically guarantee will receive backlash as it is, at least in part, defending a feminist view. While I have always encouraged constructive criticism, and always will, less constructive criticism has affected my attitude to making videos in the past, most notably and recently, concerning the hypotheticals I posited about rewiring the brain. There were 2 videos: one about the use of the technology on prisoners, the other about improving yourself. This was met by particularly strong criticism: they claimed I didn't understand the neuroscience (although no further explanation was given), they opposed the technology on ethical grounds, and they pointed to suffering as something that is to be admired for its ability to build character, whereas the technology could bypass this process.

Clearly, this fear is toxic to my attempts to make videos, something that I continue to maintain that I want to do. This is why my one resolution for this year is to dismantle all of these fears, and to give myself the psychological tools to prevent it from returning. A lot of resolutions fail either because the original goal was too lofty, progress wasn't happening quick enough regardless, the routine of doing this new thing you don't really want to do (you only want the end benefits) becomes impossible to commit to, or you just like pizza and burgers too much. This isn't a resolution in the traditional sense. I want to overcome this fear but, more importantly, I NEED to. Each day that passes is another day that I've wasted due to this, and, now that we are arguably in the "late 2010s", I am inarguably in my late 20s. The idea of becoming 30 and to still be afflicted by this is unacceptable. That is why the fear must not survive another year. I wouldn't simply "quite like" to lose this fear the way people would "quite like" to lose a few pounds. I MUST DO IT. I will not accept failure. I'm posting this here to hold my future self accountable. From personal experience, there is no question I will feel like I want to give up. It is then that I read to myself the following passage:

"You are 26. Possibly even 27. With each passing day, another possibility is out of reach because you didn't commit now. Your fear is irrational. You know better than that fear. I am you on a better day telling you here and now that you are not done. You will not do this to us. You will continue. This is not just self-help advice you came up with on the spot, this is what you need to drill into your head right now to regain your belief that you can do this. Your 30-something self, your 40-something self, and everything after that depends on you taking this fear to the ground now. Don't let these future selves look back at you with regret and shame. Make the difference now."

Since my return I promised to hack that return so that I would stay back. There have been lapses but I have still made videos and posted here. I must continue to do that, and this post is the end result of some of that self-hacking. I will continue in 2016. The Orygyn at the end of the year has always been different to the Orygyn at the beginning, and that will be more true of this year than any of the previous 8. I am, as of this moment, singularly focused on that being the case.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

All Power To Otherkin

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Quick but mandatory disclaimer, I am not an otherkin myself. I just don't judge people for decisions they make about their lives that don't affect mine. If you don't already, you should try it some time. It's great! :)

TheAmazingAtheist recently made a video about otherkin. Basically these are people who either partially or entirely identify as other animals. There are of course nuances to this: some people do it out of a supernaturally-based belief in reincarnation, others simply recognize something within themselves that they only see in other animals. To me, this is quite intuitive. We're all animals, our brains are broadly similar, and we all have the same evolutionary purposes: survive and reproduce. It's easy to see how people can make the connection between the emotions and traits they see in themselves and those in other animals. As an atheist, I can't get behind the "reincarnation" aspect for those otherkin for whom this applies, but the rest isn't that hard to grasp.

TJ's video is very patronizing towards otherkin. Of course, this isn't that unexpected: a new or unfamiliar idea will go through stages whereby it is first ridiculed, then gains some acceptance, to which there is a backlash, then finally wider acceptance. Or it'll never get past the first stage. I think otherkin will become an accepted idea, but it'll take a while. Let me explain.

As a kid, I watched a lot of cartoons. One that I saw a lot of was Batman of the Future (Batman Beyond in America), a Batman series set in the future where Bruce Wayne has retired and he is mentoring a kid called Terry to take over from him. There is one episode where the kids at Terry's school (Terry being the new Batman) get genetic treatments to give themselves the physiological traits of other animals: fur, fangs, tails, wings etc. This is presented in the show as a school fad, and leads to problems for Batman, but the idea may not be far off becoming reality. We're already splicing genes. Who's to say we couldn't one day do this for real? Another interesting perspective on this is offered by the Orion's Arm project and their concepts of rianths, provolves and splices. In their fictional vision of the future, the modification of genomes is so easy, so uncontroversial and so widespread, that a panoply of different combinations of different animals and different levels of sentience and intelligence, ranging from a baseline animal of a particular type to hyperintelligence (orders of magnitude beyond human) exist without significant conflict or unease. Otherkin are the first step along this path. Supporting them is, in my mind, extremely socially progressive. It is to support an idea decades or even centuries ahead of its time. Far more importantly, however, defending the impetus of otherkin to be themselves is just a decent thing to do.

As I eluded to in my first paragraph, their views on themselves don't affect your life in any way. Nothing about their identities precludes them from being caring friends, hard workers, creative thinkers, motivated go-getters, and otherwise all-round decent people any more than does their skin colour, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is something that, with the right attitude, simply becomes nothing more than another eccentricity, just like your tendency to rant about drug policy while drunk, or my tendency to respond to everything anyone says to me with "yeh" and nothing more.

The only counter-argument to this worth even mentioning is that "if I choose to be friends or associate with this person who identifies as otherkin, people won't just shun THEM, they'll shun me as well", to which I say simply this: FIND BETTER PEOPLE. They're shunning of you is even less credible than their shunning of otherkin. This of course ignores the fact that there are an endless number of situations in which there is simply no obligation or need to even MENTION the fact that you have a friend or acquaintance like this.

There is a loftier message here: too often we get on with other people based on condemnation of others. I do not judge people for quirks or eccentricities they may possess that have no effect on my life, but still I have a bad habit of being suggestible in conversation, and I can end up building on another's bad-mouthing just so that we have SOMETHING to talk about. This speaks to my flaws as a conversationalist and a sheep in certain contexts, under certain pressures, and is something I'm constantly working on. I understand this allure, but we can still hold ourselves to an ideal where the judging of these people, either through our thoughts, words or actions is not something we should condone. We should get on with each other based on our interests, our philosophies, our feelings and our ideas, not on our qualms with others. This is the thought with which I'll leave you today.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Islam and Terrorism

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I'm posting this as a reaction to a video by ghostofdayinperson. I say reaction because I've wanted to say something about this for a while, but how to approach it eluded me. The things she mentions in her video work well enough for this purpose. The topic in question is Islam, and the extent of its role in terrorist attacks around the world since 9/11.

I'm deliberately not calling this a "response" as this is quite an angry video. Vloggers tend to make a range of different types of videos, and occasionally something riles them up. Many people then pick on that video when there are more substantial and calmer ones out there. This is not one of those videos, so I want it to be clear that this isn't a critique of her position or the video. I don't know her position in detail. All I'm giving here is mine, using her comments as a framework.


Critics of this re-occurring claim by Muslims point to the terrorist attacks and the violent past of its adherents. One of the arguments you would've heard in our community back in the day, and gotten sick of, was that there are numerous contradictions in the Bible, giving rise to all the various interpretations and sects. The Qur'an shares much of the Bible's material and so is no different. In fact, the books don't even have to be contradictory. Human beings are complex: they can be peaceful one moment and violent the next, and these human qualities are captured in the stories. Most Muslims here in the West do not support the attacks and there are numerous examples of people speaking out about it: we are always challenged to give examples in situations like this, but since all you need to do to get page after page of examples is type "muslim reaction to paris attacks" into Google, I think we can skip that here. I will single out this TIME article if you're a special kind of lazy. Two interpretations, one religion. It's the interpretation put forward by groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh that is the main concern.

Now, as an atheist, I know where ghost is coming from. Several people, myself included, argued vehemently against religion in general back in the day, and I stand by the vast majority of my views. When you put your faith in a religion, much of your worldview will derive from it, and since religion requires faith, having a worldview based on a premise that admits to requiring blind faith is something I find highly suspect. The deity is the most worrying part, as it gives people the imagined "moral authority" to carry out attacks like the ones we've been discussing. This is true of any belief involving imagined authority figures. In other words, Islam isn't "special". It also neither is nor isn't a religion of peace. This is a category error. As a religion in practice depends on the actions of it's followers, it is the followers who make it either a religion of peace, or the "death cult" ghost describes it as. When we weigh in on either side of this debate, we elevate one interpretation over another in our minds. This is the wrong approach. Instead, the first part of our strategy should be to support the adherents of the interpretation we prefer to represent Islam.

Some might ask "why would we support Muslims at all, we don't agree with their worldview?" Well, it's not going away anytime soon. However, we absolutely should make positive arguments about how rejecting religion and embracing things like the scientific method and open-mindedness as a means to derive your worldview allows you to begin from a premise free of assumptions counter to our everyday reality, on which you can construct a worldview designed to strengthen itself against rationality. We highlight the immense satisfaction that new experiences, the application of reason, and gaining an understanding of the, at times, extremely counter-intuitive reality of the physical world can give us. We also accept that any decline in religion will still take time and we have to address the issues of the present. The weeding out of the "evil" interpretations of Islam is something that has to come from within the religion, by the adherents. Any group more highly values the opinions of its own members than "outsiders". We must recognize that moderates are already going out of their way to condemn the terrorists because, apart from them committing acts universally recognized as abominable, the media attention this generates causes them to be feared, hated, and sometimes attacked themselves. We MUST sympathize with them on this point, further encourage them to speak out against the terrorists, but most importantly, we need to strengthen, not further erode, our relations with them. In my experience on YouTube, I think I can confidently say that the best way to destroy erroneous assumptions about a group or person, and to have them take your views seriously, is to become friends with them. I should also mention, I'm not thinking of this as a tactical ploy, it's a genuine attempt to get to know people so that hostilities die and a meaningful exchange of ideas becomes possible. You probably won't get them to renounce religion, but it's hard to hate an ideology your friend is a part of.


Plenty I've said above should make that untrue for me. There are almost definitely people out there who have very little understanding of the issues, and are defending Islam and Muslims out of knee-jerk sympathy, but I am going to make my position crystal clear: I will defend ANY Muslim who doesn't support the views of groups like ISIS on this issue. There will be things we disagree on enormously, but a Muslim who just wants to live their life in peace and not be associated with any of this shit deserves the basic level of respect that they can have that peace and lack of association. We too easily lose sight of the fact that innocent people get caught in our vitriol.


Among ISIS as well, yes, I at least am blaming the West too, because WE VERY CLEARLY PLAYED OUR PART IN THIS.

Imagine this as a game of chess. If you think only about your next move, your understanding of the situation will be this.



This ignores ISIS' strategy entirely. They want a global caliphate, and they are counting on us attacking them so that they can use the collateral damage to garner sympathy for their cause which they can use to recruit more members. ISIS' "chessgame" looks something like this:






We can see 2 things very clearly: first, ISIS are thinking several steps ahead, and second, we can see just how vital it is that we don't play into their hands by stirring up rhetoric about the evils of Islam, as we are just handing them more potential recruits and subjecting our countries to yet more terrorism. So yes, we the West are at fault. I'll say it again: WE ARE AT FUCKING FAULT! If atheists are really so much more rational, we need to accept this basic fact as not doing so means being embarrassingly outwitted by the very people we claim to be more rational than.

The "chessgame" above serves to demonstrate why I feel my approach is effective: this is about the supremacy of ideas. We need to be living, breathing paragons of the virtues of the West, demonstrating that we do not accept killing, we argue civilly, and we are open-minded and friendly, willing to accept anyone as our friend, and defeat our enemies on mental rather than physical battlefields.


Islam is not the problem. As I've said, that doesn't even make sense. The Qur'an, and the "divine authority" its adherents claim to get from it, are tools used by some to enforce select morals from the book on others. It is essential we understand these nuances and use it to target our criticisms, or we alienate all Muslims who don't want anything to do with these people, cause them to hate us, and wonder why we haven't eradicated religion yet.

It's not weak to be smart. Calling Islam in general the problem is just dumb and can ONLY result in us being ineffective and therefore weak. We are not denying the problem, we have a more nuanced understanding of it. We see the people behind the labels and the moves ahead of our own moves. We see a solution, while others are sleepwalking with silver platters to ISIS. I, through what I'm doing on this blog and on my YouTube channel, am seeking to be part of the solution. You don't need to be that, you can be indifferent if you like. Don't, though, be part of the problem.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Atheist Response to CARM's "Questions For Atheists"

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

When I started making videos and writing blog posts, they mostly centered around my views as an atheist. As shocking as this revelation is, it's been a while. Since TJ made a video addressing questions posed to atheists by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, I thought I'd do them as well to see where I stand now. Here's the article for the full list.

1. How would you define atheism?

First, I like the way this question is phrased. Not "what is the definition of atheism", but rather, how would I define it. I've written and talked endlessly about how people hold up definitions on pedestals and how this generates drama. WE define words. They're not just ethereally defined and we have to use them that way. What we're really arguing about is how the word SHOULD be defined, and I'm guessing people work in the concept of "the definition" to try and grant their definition more authority.

But anyway...

Atheism, to me, is the philosophical stance of not believing in any gods, or flat out rejecting their existence. There are qualifiers, some which act as independent stances as well, such as "agnostic" (not knowing whether gods exist), "gnostic" (knowing they do or knowing they don't, or claiming to at least), and "ignostic" (rejecting that the term "god" can even be defined adequately enough to even have a discussion about belief in or knowledge of them). I would describe myself as an ignostic, agnostic atheist: I don't believe in any gods, however I can't say for a fact they don't exist, but the definitions given for current gods are too disputed and vague to make an accurate assessment in the first place. Many people will use 1 of those words to describe themselves and reject the others. I accept all 3.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don't believe in (lack belief in God)?

By comparison, I find this question far less well phrased. I don't believe there is no god as I'm not a "gnostic atheist" (see above). My actions would have to derive from the non-belief, insofar as they actually can.

A lot of people at this point would make some statements like "atheism is a belief in the same way as not collecting stamps is a hobby", and while I agree, atheism shares one characteristic with beliefs: it informs the way you live your life far more profoundly than a non-hobby by virtue of religion's influence in society. Many atheists actively seek to minimize this influence and, when I started on YouTube, I leaned towards this point of view too. While I still think religion causes a lot of problems, taking the idea too much to heart has issues too. One of the main reasons the atheist community died was the massive rift that opened up after discussions about Islam became the dominant topic on YouTube. Because of the actions of some fundamentalists, and because things like 9/11, 7/7 and the Madrid bombings were still too fresh in people's minds, people went to town on Islam, and didn't shy away from painting all Muslims as terrorists or sympathizers. I couldn't go along with this, and neither could many others. My view is that while religion may cause more harm on balance than good, religion is still practiced by human beings with thoughts and feelings, and so  the best way to interact with them is on this level. Have conversations with them, get to know them, be honest about what you believe, and pay attention to what they believe too. In the end, we judge people on their character, not their ideas. Of course their ideas will influence their character, but character is responsible for actions, and they always carry more weight.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who "lacks belief" in God to work against God's existence by attempting to show God doesn't exist?

I have a few qualms with this question. First, I'm not trying to show that God doesn't exist. A complete lack of evidence points in the direction of that conclusion just fine. Secondly, I can't make any sense of the question. What does it mean to "work against God's existence"? The author is Christian so they obviously believe in God, but the question seems to presuppose God exists from the get go. Nevertheless I still can't fathom, even given the premise that the question presupposes God exists, how it could be viewed as inconsistent from ANY perspective to try to demonstrate he doesn't. It goes back to the question of whether you KNOW there is or isn't a god. In my case, I don't know, so it's perfectly consistent for me to test hypotheses until I arrive at some conclusion, if I ever do.

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

I'm going to give an answer that will seem at face value very interesting to the religious: 0%. I am not sure at all. I am also 0% sure God exists. I'm 0% sure Allah exists. I'm 0% sure Zeus, Apollo, Thor and King Kai exist. Going further, the question is unanswerable through empirical means. In the face of this total uncertainty, what do you do? Well, I disagree with Blaise Pascal: if you assume the Christian God exists just to maximize your chances of getting into heaven, what if there is a god, who's just as selective about the eligibility of his/her followers for admittance into heaven based on their belief in him/her? How could you ever possibly know who's right? Since most people inherit their religious beliefs from their family/friends/wider culture, are some people doomed to some version of hell through nothing other than accident of birth? No, I believe in living your life according to rules that are based on things which are DEFINITELY grounded in reality: empathy and logic.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

I fail to see any significant difference between this question and the last.

6. How would you define what truth is?

Here we go! As I said before, we define words. As such, truth is a word we've used to describe a concept we don't fully understand, so it follows that the term isn't well defined (you could say I'm "ignostic" about truth :D). However, I'm not going to dodge the question:

A statement can be logically true: 1+1=2. However, even this could be subverted. "2" is a symbol used to describe a concept: there is two of something. What if that symbol was changed to mean "three of something"? The statement is only true because the underlying semantic content is a tautology. That is to say if you have one of something, then another of that same thing, you have one of something and another of it.

The use of the word "truth" by human beings must also be taken in the context of their limitations. By the standards of a lie detector, you would be telling the truth if you were simply able to convince the lie detector that you BELIEVED what you were saying to be true. In addition, if you're telling the truth about something you saw happen, that depends on your vision, your memory, and, to really melt the brains, whether reality is as we perceive it.

This is why I can be precisely 0% sure of my atheism and the existence of any deity. We don't, and can't, know what truth actually is.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Finally, my maths degree comes in handy. Atheism is the "null hypothesis" on the question of the existence of gods. To prove another hypothesis, you would need to prove, as a minimum, the existence of the deity in question. Atheism is what we inevitably fall back on when that task fails.

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

I will use CARM's definitions here:


A materialist atheist is someone who assumes that the physical universe and its properties are all that exist and that nothing exists outside of the material world, and this necessarily means that a transcendent God cannot exist.


Physicalism is the proposition that all that exists does so within the limitations of the physical universe and that there are no other kinds of things other than the physical and things derived from the physical realm whether they be forms of energy, motion, or thought.

Yes and yes, but with an important point. This view derives from science which is constantly evolving. What constitutes the physical world changes as science discovers something new. If we were able to show that a god exists, then the god, and everything they were capable of, would be a "material" or "physical" entity from that point on.

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

I think here a lot of atheists would end up conflating "belief" and "worldview" as there is vocal opposition to calling it a "belief". However, I have no problem calling it a worldview in that it makes a statement about the state of affairs in the universe: namely that I don't believe in any gods.

10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

I'd like to think I'm among the "not antagonistic" atheists. I won't shove my beliefs down other people's throat. If someone asks me what my position is I'll tell them, and I'm happy to talk in detail about these beliefs, but I'm not going to just go off on one whenever I feel like it.

As to why others are, I've been doing this long enough that I don't need to speculate. There are atheists living all over the world who have been marginalized by their more religious family members, friends, teachers, governments etc. Some are shunned, some are fired, and some are even executed. The antagonism is a reaction to, or even a defense mechanism against, this persecution. Even on the less horrific side of this scale, an atheist still has no chance of becoming US President, are still on similar footing to rapists in terms of how well they are trusted, and, as an unfortunate consequence of our activities on the internet, we have recently become stereotyped as intolerant and loud-mouthed.

My response to this is that people on both sides should make an effort to get to know PEOPLE on the rival side. As I said in my answer to question 2, character is what matters.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?

I'm not sure if I ever was. I was very loosely raised Christian in the sense that I was taught about heaven and hell, baptized, and that was about it. It wasn't an important part of my immediate family at any point. There were several events that led me away from Christianity.

The first time I ever properly understood death was when seeing it happen on an episode of Casualty when I was 6. I was with my Gran and I was so upset that I begged for my Mum to come back. I think I had the picture in my head before that it was a bit more like a video game: the moment of death would happen and you'd just sprout wings and fly up to heaven :)

The second was in high school when I was 14. I'd already gone over questions like this in my head but it crystallized when a substitute teacher took one of our assemblies and said "God has a plan for you" then shortly after, "God loves you". For me, the 2 concepts didn't fit. God's plan had to include people who never live to adulthood, people with debilitating diseases, and people born into extreme poverty. If he loved us, why would he EVER do that to anyone? It all unraveled from there: his "omni" character traits can't co-exist, the Jesus story doesn't make any sense at all, and there's no evidence for god. I'll come to that last one later as there's a question on it.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

It's difficult. My instinct is "yes", but religion does provide some benefits for some people, and there's plenty of evidence of people not being very pleasant without it.

Religious texts tend to be contradictory. The result of this is that schools of thought develop as to which interpretations are true, and which passages are more important. Most schools of thought, especially nowadays, emphasize the positive parts ("love thy neighbour", for example). We do, however. also have the Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS.

For me, I think the major benefit of a religion-free world is the necessity of grounding your positions in terms of what can be proven to be real. If someone's arguing against genetic modification, we know it's not because they think we'd be "playing god".

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

It certainly has a dark past: the Crusades, witch hunts, the Nazis (sorry, "Gott Mit Uns" is pretty conclusive) and the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church. My answer, I guess, follows the same path as the last question.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

If we're being technical, no. It's not in the DSM V. It wouldn't be anyway: it's a symptom at best. It might qualify as a delusion (you can thank Dawkins for that), but I don't agree with this either. A delusion is perceiving something we KNOW doesn't exist. As I've said above, God is unknowable, so he doesn't qualify.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?

I guess the idea here is that the scientific method is used to verify his existence. Here's the problem: once probed far enough, most believers assert that god is in some way supernatural. Take a trait like omnipotence: how would you verify this? You could ask him to demonstrate his power, but how could we ever perceive, let alone verify, infinite power? That's assuming he'd agree to be our lab rat at all. That's the conundrum with God, in order to prove his existence, you would have to rule out ALL natural explanations for whatever "evidence" is presented. This alone is impossible, but verifying something infinite takes it to a whole other realm of unfathomably hopeless.

God's existence is asserted in a gap that is impossible to fill: the state of defining an entity whose traits are impossible to prove or disprove.

16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

10 steps ahead of you :) My philosophy, and the philosophy of most atheists I know, depends on being able to verify the material existence of something. Positing God isn't an achievement here, as he's every bit as impossible to prove as he is to disprove.

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

We evolved on Earth over billions of years. Processes don't have plans. We have to decide what we do with the time we have.

18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

Let me pose a thought experiment to any religious people watching. Assume that there is no possibility whatsoever of getting into heaven when you die, you will instead be going to hell. There is nothing you could do or say to God to get him to change his mind. How would you live your life? What would you do? I'm not conflating non-existence of the mind with hell here, it's just so that you can more easily put yourself in our shoes. Because we don't believe in a god, our values and desires, which arise through the natural upbringing and environment of our daily lives, guide us towards what we want to do with our lives.

19. Where does morality come from?

It's a by-product of the human mind's ability to make value judgments. If someone hits us, we feel a sensation that we ascribe negative value to. Likewise, if we get a gift, we feel a positive sensation. The final piece of the puzzle is the observation that other people react in similar ways when they experience these actions. This is the blueprint for building morality. However, the nuances are very much up for debate. This will already be a very long post so I won't go into the nuances here, but I am quite drawn to the utilitarian views of ethics: namely that an action can be judged as good or bad in accordance with the pleasure (an umbrella term for all positive emotions) and pain (likewise for negative emotions) these actions bring.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

This is another question heavily involving semantics. To me, a moral absolute is a statement about the morality of an action that can be objectively true or false. For example, if the phrase "killing people is wrong" is an absolute, this would be a true or false statement. As I've already said, I believe these are simply value judgments. I would go even further; even for theists, there are no moral absolutes, as god's morality is still just his opinion. There is nothing about any of his traits that can transform a judgment into a fact.

21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

Even though my previous answer makes answering this question redundant, there is still more I could say. While I judge actions by the amount of pleasure or pain they cause, it's important to note that every action causes a different amount of pleasure and pain, and so there are actions which, while they are not absolutes, are ALMOST universally seen as good or bad. Helping the poor may be an example of a significant good, while genocide may be an example of a significant ill.

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

If we're talking about an ethereal concept, no. If we're talking about an adjective to describe a person, that's a matter of simply choosing, or not choosing, to use the word. Personally, I do, as it's a simple and widely understood way to describe someone who is doing bad things for no redeemable reason. What I mean by this is that when a lot of people do bad things, they feel like they can justify it. For example, robberies might take place because the perpetrator is very poor or hungry. Rape might take place out of a misunderstanding of what constitutes rape. Even offense is simply caused by the fact that it's far too difficult and exhausting to please everyone, so we just have to be ourselves, follow basic "don't be a dick" rules, but otherwise simply risk that something we do or say will be offensive to someone. Someone who I would call "evil", on the other hand, is perfectly embodied by Heath Ledger's Joker: someone who commits crimes because it's fun for him, and he likes destruction and pain. Of course, this is an extreme (and fictitious) example, but you get the idea I'm sure.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that He is bad?

I've explained my standard so I'll just get into my opinion of God. This is a being that supposedly created us, and then couldn't understand that we would act freely. He seeks to impose rules on people that he knows will not follow those rules, he has killed people for it, he killed HIS OWN SON on behalf of OTHER PEOPLE doing it, this killing is one of the things he forbids, making him a massive hypocrite, and simply the fact that he created our ability to suffer AT ALL. This means he has knowingly created people who will mostly suffer in their lifetime, and the justification for all of this is "he has a plan". Yes, I think he's bad.

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

If you're referring specifically to the Christian god, nothing. He is ill-defined, his traits cannot co-exist, and the possible traits are such that there is no way of proving his existence, as there is no way to rule out all possible natural explanations for his existence.

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God's existence?

I've addressed this. I find it interesting that the traits that God is meant to possess: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipresence make it impossible for God's existence to be proven. It does however make perfect sense if you see it as a way for opportunists to make him immune to disproving.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

None of that will do any good if the god in question is supernatural, as these methods rely on naturalism.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

In terms of how they will turn out in practice, not a clue. I think that an atheist society has the POTENTIAL to be safer though. First, all decisions will be based on things that can be proven (see the 3-person babies example above). Second, religion offers rules to follow. These rules are often far too simplistic, never change, and, most importantly, are aided by the moral weight of an all-powerful authority figure, so transgressing against these rules if you feel they don't make sense, is more difficult. It is especially a problem if we have no reason to believe this figure is all-powerful. An atheist society is free to explore exceptions to rules, and to change with the time. Finally, what few benefits might appear in a religious society (a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and the inspiration religion can impart) can be emulated by an atheist society if a concerted effort is put toward it.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).

The best answer I can give to this question is I don't know. Gun to the head, I lean towards no, so I'm quite comfortable saying that I don't believe in free will. The reason for these answers is that we don't yet know enough about how the human brain works to describe consciousness in the necessary detail to answer the question, but quantum physics is insufficiently well understood, so in a similar way that God is immune to being disproved by placing him outside nature, free will is impossible to disprove as things stand even within a naturalistic framework, as that framework is incomplete. I lean towards no because, without going to quantum scales, things have causes and effects. It's very possible that we could just be an extremely complex algorithm, following instructions in accordance with the state of our neurons and the stimuli we receive through our senses.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

I see you've post-empted the answer to my last question :D

I don't believe in free will as I said. I don't see any reason why an algorithm can't create a sense of self, give that self self-awareness, and give it the illusion of choice. AI researches haven't been able to create anything like that yet, but I think it's only a matter of time.

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become "deity" and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

You just made the sci-fi geek inside me very happy :)

So first off, I don't think this can happen by evolution alone. We are restricted by the possibilities of combining adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine (the 4 DNA bases). As our ability to manipulate ever smaller matter increases with our technological capabilities, and as our understanding of science grows, a human race resembling the 5-dimensional beings in Interstellar could be possible. There is a futurist, by the name of Ray Kurzweil, who believes that we could be capable of this before the end of this century. By the way, this guy works for Google, who take his predictions very seriously. 

Regardless of how long it will take, short of an apocalyptic event (I'm not talking about the Rapture here necessarily; a standard meteor, climate change or superbug will do just fine), we will reach a point where we're using technology based on science we can't even imagine today. However, this will still be within the physical universe as, by definition, everything that we can describe around us constitutes the physical universe. As for temporal, we currently understand time to be an inherent quality of the universe, although Einstein showed us that it is malleable if you're a fan of enormous speed. Maybe there's more to it and if there is, we'll understand it in time.

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren't you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

It really depends what you call a god. If we discovered in the distant future that the laws of logic weren't absolute, only then would it be possible for the Christian god to exist. Short of that, THAT god isn't possible. However, if a god is simply a being of vastly superior ability and intellect, and again, if we aren't wiped out before then, we are practically destined to become that. Technology will keep marching forward, and humans will keep wanting to better ourselves. When we no longer have to restrict ourselves to the capabilities of our brains, then things get really interesting!


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

5madheathens and The New Breakfast Club

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Before you do anything else, I would really appreciate it if you check out this YouTube channel. No, I'm not in any way involved with it. It's just a new channel that I've come to subscribe to. It's a collab channel in which 7 YouTubers upload videos talking about something. Most are remnants of, or channels springing from the ashes of, what used to be the YouTube atheist community, if you believe there ever was such a thing. This is the 2nd incarnation of a collab channel of this name, the 1st one being shut down due to drama that occurred on the channel. I don't know what happened, as I was never subscribed to that version of it. Paul (YouTube user "gothatfunk"), a member of the first incarnation, created the 2nd around the same idea but emphasized his unwillingness to let the new version succumb to drama. This is what I want to focus on in this post. I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who was in a collab channel.

Back in "ought-nine", I was in a collab channel called 5madheathens. This was a similar idea, except sticking to weekdays and focusing on mainly philosophical topics. Now, before I go any further, the channel did not succumb to drama. No-one, to my knowledge at least, fell out over anything to do with the channel. None of the others have uploaded videos recently, but, in my last interactions with everyone involved, we were all on good terms. I did learn lessons though, which I hope can benefit the new Breakfast Club, and anyone else who is likely to participate in a collab channel in the future.

5madheathens had a number of lineup changes during its existence. I came in on episode 32. The way our channel worked was that we would take it in turns to pose a question to the rest of the members, and we would then answer it on our set day. After it got back to the person posing the question, he or she would then give their own take on the subject and, usually, say something about the others' responses. When I joined the channel, the subject was "What Do You Fear". Now, due to the format of the channel, confronting each others viewpoints was pretty much essential. People would commonly express their own opinions by comparing them with others, focusing on how theirs differed from the others. This is where my greatest lesson will come from.

The standard of discussion was very high. The majority of times someone mentioned others, it was to praise the things they'd said. With the exception of the person who referred me (and I'm not watching all 100+ videos to see if there was a time) I'm struggling to think of a single instance in which my views were praised. They were mostly criticized. I must emphasize here that I don't feel like I was singled out, and I don't have any resentment towards any of the members for any reason. My intelligence, however great or small it is, is something that matters to me greatly. I think I was just the idiot of the group.

I had a look at some of my videos on the channel and the ones I saw were cringe-worthy. I was just shy of 20. I was still relatively new to YouTube, and I was very much in my "badly rip-off the dynamic and manic style of the most famous YouTubers" phase. It did quite well in terms of viewership but, as pop stars repeatedly teach us by example, highest numbers don't mean best. A lot of the discussions involved debating the meaning of certain words like "love", "lie", "life" etc. and I've never been that great at, or even interested in, semantic discussions. In fact, my question "how reliable is language" can be interpreted as a veiled challenge to this. Still, I didn't do that much better on the other questions either.

Because of all this, and I don't think I've mentioned this to anyone before, the later episodes of the channel were almost like torture. Because my intelligence mattered so much to me, as it still does, I became consumed with constructing responses that were more insightful. Mostly, however, this just led me to making really stupid comments: one of the worst was when we were talking about how often we lie. At the time, I was at university, I had very few friends there, and I wasn't that talkative in general, so even with my family, I didn't say very much. What I did was to be absurdly literal and take comments like "there's nothing on" (my brother was asking what was on TV) as examples, and, of course, I was called out. I got more and more disenchanted with the channel, but I don't think I ever said anything. The channel fizzled out before I did say anything, as most people were not in a position to commit to weekly videos.

So what's the lesson? On a collab channel based on sharing ideas, criteria that both 5madheathens and The Breakfast Club meet, there will be disagreements. All of the Breakfast Club members understand this premise. They will also have insecurities that could lead to them being too competitive about the level of insight of their views, too emotionally invested in a particular view that can be challenged, or they may even have triggers. The Breakfast Club, by its very nature, consists of diverse members (other than their loose affiliation with the atheist community), and so maximizes the extent to which these insecurities can generate drama. Depending on the personalities of the participants, they could get expressed very vocally, or in a more passive-aggressive way (you could argue my 5madheathens video "how reliable is language" is an example of this), or through silent seething until it all comes out at once.

I am excited about the future of the Breakfast Club and I want it to succeed. I hope nothing I've said here gives anyone the opposite impression. I'm writing this post to make the point that it may not be the ideas themselves that generate drama and so it's not enough to just agree to be civil. That's a good step of course. What's better still is to take The Oracle's advice: know thyself. Know what pisses you off. Know what you deeply care about. Know what traits you value and despise in yourself and others. And when it comes to your ideas, know your shit (my mistake with 5madheathens was a grammatical misunderstanding of this maxim: "know you're shit"), but not to the point that it becomes a competition.

Remember, none of you have simple minds.