You’re not thinking like a true atheist!

createRay Comfort, aka Bananaman, has posted this to his Facebook page twice in fairly quick succession recently, while promoting his fuck-awful “documentary”, Evolution vs God. And no, it really wasn’t any funnier the second time. I’ve seen funnier Dan Lietha cartoons, although that’s only because Lietha’s crippling blindness to the irony of what he writes is inherently hilarious.

I know it’s a cartoon and all, but even then a joke needs a logical structure to it. Observational comedy requires (clue’s in the title here) an observation. Unless you’re one of those ghastly right-wing types who just make stuff up to play to their audience’s prejudices, then really it helps if the observations are somewhat factual. A joke should embed itself partially in reality, otherwise what else are you left with? It sounds pedantic, but seriously, when was the last time you ever laughed at something where that wasn’t based in fact?

Anyway, let’s look at the logical structure since we know that Comfort is trying to make a point, rather than make people laugh here. The text becomes fair game for dissection in this respect.

I’ve been thinking about how no one can create anything from nothing….

Okay, this is mostly true. We can see from experience and observation that things aren’t “created from nothing”. If you want to make a sandwich, you get ingredients and assemble them into a sandwich; it was created, but only in the sense that it was assembled from parts and that a sandwich now exists where there were only the component parts of a sandwich before. You weren’t “created” when you were born, you were assembled. You mind wasn’t “created” at any point, it was assembled as an emergent phenomenon caused by the organisation of neurons in your brain. I’m so sorry if that denigrates your existence by removing the magic from it, but reality sends its regards and says it doesn’t really give a fuck.

So, what?

Doesn’t that prove everything must have had a creator?

Wait? What? Okay, okay, we could salvage this car crash if the Walter White lookalike in the other panel says something sufficiently witty, but Jesse Pinkman here is playing the protagonist for the creationist, so we must assume they’re supposed to be presented as “right”. In this case, how? Where is the logical connection?

I’m still struggling to find it. I’m trying really hard. I just cannot figure it out. We start with the observation that we only observe ex materia and no ex nihilo creation events, and make a pretty good inference that this means ex nihilo creation is, in fact, impossible. Although that’s just an inference, there are also good logical reasons why it’s impossible, or at least that if it is possible it would break the concept of causality. But how do we go from there to proving that everything had a creator? The first premise says nothing about the nature of the creator, nor anything about creation requiring a “creator”. “Creator” as in an independently acting agent, as we can make a good case for an unconscious physical cause but not for a conscious creator. After all, a car engine “creates” carbon dioxide and water vapour (from hydrocarbons) but we would be hard-pushed to give it the personal agency implied by calling it a “creator”.*

I’m still looking at those two panels. And I’m thinking, and I just can’t see it.

Anyway, I did say the “joke” could be salvaged if the Walter White lookalike could say something sufficiently witty in the last panel. Alas, I lack the wit and charm required, so offer this pitiful re-write that should appeal:

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*”Aha!” perks up that one annoying guy in the front row. “But the engine is operated by a human, therefore the human is the creator!” Perhaps, but the human is driving because of their desire to go from A to B. The “creator” is, in fact, the abstract entity of the daily commute.

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The [Whatever] on this thread is disgusting

I spotted a thread on Facebook that involved someone expressing concern over the amount of racism going on. Someone else had this interesting little piece in response to them:

racismIn short, “criticising religion is not racism, because religion is not a tribe.”

This is not as smart an argument as you might think. And if at this point you find yourself running to a dictionary to prove otherwise, then you definitely have some learning to do.

Let’s start at the beginning.

If you over-generalise and make derogatory statements about a large group of people based on superficial qualities, then you’re guilty of… what? Racism? Xenophobia? Bigotry? In actual fact it doesn’t matter, because the facts remain; you’re making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities.

Trouble is, “making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities” is a bit of a mouthful.  Like calling myFunction() in some code, or some other suitable metaphor, you just need something there to tidy things up a little. Something to simplify and make your life easier when transferring thoughts from your brain to another. Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Well, actually, it does matter what you call it. It can matter quite a bit, because people make bad assumptions based on what you’ve called it. Ask anyone who has banged their head on a wall trying to convince some twerp that third-wave, sex-positive feminism isn’t Andrea Dworkin.

People are idiots for doing this sort of thing, but hey, we have a framework of human stupidity to work with, we may as well take action against it.

So, what do we call it when someone is making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities? There’s “discrimination”, but that has a lot of inferences about selecting people for job interviews based on skin colour, so isn’t the best choice. Bigotry is better, of course. It’s certainly one of those arbitrary combinations of vowels and consonants you can sink your teeth into with bile as you accuse someone of it. Though we’re really after a proper “ism” here. Racism and sexism come to mind, and homophobia and xenophobia describe the same thing but curiously use a different suffix. In those cases, they’re all notably broken down by the type of victim, not by the act itself.  So what if the victim falls outside of that range, such as a religion? This is interesting because we don’t necessarily have a single word for it in English; “religionism”? Maybe. Maybe not. Then we’re back to just “bigotry”.

Interestingly, this naming convention also helps us define hate crimes (this will be a bit of an aside, but the point will become clear in a moment). Now, we do already have religious discrimination under “hate crime”, but again, what about when the victim falls outside that pre-approved set of Real Victims? For instance, there was a recent change in UK law that lead to the inclusion of “subcultures” under the umbrella of hate crime. For context, this was sparked by the murder of Sophie Lancaster, who was brutally attacked and killed simply for being a goth.

This change met with some strong resistance. But why? After all, Sophie Lancaster was attacked, beaten and ultimately killed for her superficial outward appearance that her attackers didn’t like, and purposefully went out of their way to target. If we described it as such without any further particulars, one would assume we were talking about a racially-motivated attack. Yet, up until that point, it wouldn’t have even been considered as a hate crime on par with a racially-motivated attack. The reason why was partially because we simply didn’t have a name for “gothism” to bring it tightly under the umbrella of “hate crime”.  Without the name, we don’t really have a group to put under that list of pre-approved suitable victims. That’s not to say the concept can’t exist without the label, but it is far more difficult to rally a cause around nothing.

And so, people immediately assume it “didn’t count”. Despite what actually happened, what was actually done, and every attribute of the attack itself, it was simply a case of “yes it counts” or “no it doesn’t” based on such prior biases. And so, people didn’t think it was right to include attacks on subcultures under the umbrella of a hate crime; they thought it would water down the “real” definition.

(Anyhow, that’s the aside over.)

The point being that there’s a similar situation with anti-religious bigotry; the all Muslims are terrorist variety, rather than the “religion is a vector for harmful divisive effects on society” variety, of course. We don’t really have a single term for it. In many cases, we lump hatred of Muslims under “racism”, if only because of the backlash against “islamophobia” and the fact that the word “Muslim” in most contexts aims to conjure up a non-western and non-white ethnic group far more than, say, “Scientologist” does. But that still implies that it’s skin colour rather than religion we’re looking at. It’s making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities… but dash it all, it’s the wrong superficial quality!

So, if the original argument said “the racism on this thread is disgusting”, then you might be tricked into thinking the little screen capture above is a nice solid refutation of it. But it would still be a trick; a mere illusion. If it said “the [making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities] is disgusting”, does it still work? Does it actually refute anything? Does it demonstrate that [whatever] wasn’t happening? Or does it just attempt to redefine the terms so that it looks as if it isn’t?

Meaning is use, and sub-optimal selection of terminology doesn’t imply any incorrectness in the thought process. This is why we use logic; as logic is actually independent of definition. Logic lets us look at the thought process to see if it’s sound, without being prejudiced by our assumptions and inferences about what words “should” mean. It’s a great tool, but we need to be aware of it to use it.

And yes, I read the thread in question. The [making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities] was, indeed, disgusting.