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Category: UWA (page 1 of 4)

Free de-baptisms

It was Orientation Day at UWA. Clubs (like the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society) set up booths and attract members. So do churches.

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It’s not my idea. I think I saw it here first.

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Where did I say that? Oh, yes: here. Why are atheists so rude?

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Click for larger images. Or put your favourites in comments.

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“Is Life Meaningless?” What’s behind the question?

I was in a debate with Ben Rae of the UWA Christian Union this week, and the topic was “Is Life Meaningless?”

I’ll have a bit to say about this, and I think there may even be video (though I hope not — I have a condition that makes me curl into a ball of pain when seeing myself on film). But I wanted to post an idea that occurred to me as I was passing the staircase.

The way the event went down, there was a lot of Ben saying that life was meaningless without Jesus, and a lot of me saying that, no, life had meaning, atheists have the ability to create meaning in life, and that even Christians have to construct it.

But why would a Christian want to assert that life is meaningless without a god? In a word: marketing. You have to sell the problem before you can sell the solution, and what we saw was Ben selling a lot of problem. There’s really nothing that a religion can offer someone who’s happy and well-adjusted. They do awfully well with miserable people, though.

It would make sense, then, for religions to try to increase human misery in an effort to sell their system, which in fact, they do. It could be considered their chief enterprise.

Global Atheist Con, Day 1: Student Workshop

Even though you know you’re going to be meeting up with the likes of Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Daniel Dennett, and Laurence Krauss, it is still a bit of a shock when they all show up in a room at the same time.

Last weekend I was at the second Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. It’s a great chance to hear some excellent speakers, meet up with other atheists, and participate in a growing community of smart people.

Not much was happening on Friday, so as a faculty helper for the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society, I tagged along to the Student Leadership Conference. There were talks on organising and running a student freethinking group, and even how to do good stuff with religious clubs (which is something I’d like to do more of).

Which is how I found myself having cocktails with the aforementioned gentlemen. Richard Dawkins appeared in a puff of logic just to my left, and I roped him into a chat with a group of Perth atheists. You might think Dawkins would be rather brittle in conversation, but he was lovely and engaging, and quite happy to chat. I told him that I’d just finished reading his book “The Magic of Reality” aloud to Youngest Son, and he seemed pleased about that.

The substance of the talks:

  • Lyz Lidell of the Secular Student Alliance explained the importance of delegating in a student group: You can’t do everything yourself, and you won’t be around forever. That means you need to break the group’s tasks in manageable units, find volunteers, take the time to train them to do what needs to be done, and show your appreciation to your wonderful volunteers.
  • Debbie Goddard gave a brief history of the Center for Inquiry on Campus.
  • Chris Stedman gave suggestions on how and why to work with religious groups.

Why should we work as part of an interfaith effort? According to Stedman, it’s because we as atheists get a bad rap, and we get marginalised. By working together with religious groups, we can challenge misconceptions about atheism and accomplish some good.

He also gave some suggestions as to how to work with interfaith groups: work together on shared causes and values, and have mutual respect within a “mutually inspiring” relationship. This last one is a problem for me. I don’t feel ‘inspired’ by other people’s faith; I actually feel repulsed, or like I’m working with a hazardous substance. But that’s okay — I can work with people I disagree with, and I often do. I just think it should be clear from the outset that any ‘interfaith’ service project is a joint effort, operating from shared values — not religious, not atheistic, just human.

All up, a good start to the conference.

Atheism and ethics — again.

This always seems to come up in discussions with Christians: What motivation do you have to be ethical if you’re an atheist? They never seem to realise that having a god telling you what to do doesn’t make you moral, especially not with that terrible Bible. 
I got a nuanced response from this Christian — then his brain stopped. What a shame.

Slaves should be obedient to their masters
Rape a girl, pay her father, and she’s your wife
God used to like killing gay people

(Conversation reported verbatim until the last panel, but yeah, that’s how it went.)

More fun with Christians

The further adventures of me, talking to members of Christian clubs on campus.

This happened pretty much verbatim, until the part where I talk to them together. From there I made it up.

Why are atheists so rude?

It was Orientation Day on campus. People can sign up for clubs (including the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society), and there are always tons of church groups doing their schtick. So I like to see what’s out there.

Here’s a conversation I had. It went pretty much just like this.

The Debunking Handbook

It doesn’t always work to debunk a myth just by presenting facts. Sometimes your careful presentation could actually entrench the wrong information. If your presentation is overly long or complicated, people may only remember the simple myth. And when you’re talking to people who are committed to the myth, your explanation may drive them further into it.

Wait — I’m doing this all wrong. I’m starting with the myth. Let me try again.

Step 1: Present the core fact.
John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky (of UWA) have released The Debunking Handbook. All science communicators need to read it, if they want to avoid reinforcing the very myths they want to debunk.

Step 2: Give the reader an explicit warning to cue them that misinformation is coming.
One incorrect perception people sometimes have is that people change their views when facts are laid before them. This is a myth.

Step 3: Now that you’ve ripped the misinformation out of the reader’s head, fill the gap with simple, correct information.
Cook and Lewandowsky suggest a few simple ways to communicate scientific ideas clearly, and avoid psychological “backfire effects”.

That’s better. Boy, this science communication can be tricky.

h/t Lara from the “exmormon-atheists” group

Atheist Bake Sale 2

If you like these cartoons, I have others.

Atheist Bake Sale 1

The UWA Atheist & Skeptic Society had a bake sale today. The cost of the baked goods: your soul.
We wanted to spark some discussion about souls; what it means to people, why we think we have one, and why people are so attached to the dubious notion that there’s a little ghost inside us making all our decisions. What I wasn’t prepared for was the reactions. Even though we were clearly ‘taking the piss’, many people showed a strange reticence. It looks like ‘selling your soul’ is a cultural taboo.
But we did give out lots of cookies.

Follow on to Atheist Bake Sale 2.

Atheist Bake Sale

The UWA Atheist & Skeptic Society is having a Bake Sale on the UWA Oak Lawn this Wednesday (21 Sep 2011) at 1 pm. There’s an unusual twist: Rather than accept money for the baked goods, the club simply requests… your soul.

It’s an interesting experiment in superstition metaphysics. I don’t know if people will gratefully accept a cookie, get angry, or shy away. I told a Christian guy about it, and he said, no, he wouldn’t be interested in a cookie. But why not? Does he really think he has a soul, and if so, what is it? Can it be traded in a Faustian bargain? Does it hit uncomfortably close to C.S. Lewis’s witch, who offers you Turkish Delight but instead only gives you pages and pages of turgid allegory? (Or something. I always was a little fuzzy on Lewis.)

Here’s a blurb I’m working on, to hand out at the event.

Do people have souls?

If by ‘soul’ you mean, a part of you that survives your death, then no, there’s no evidence to suggest that anyone has a soul. But that’s okay. You have a brain, and it does all the things that people commonly attribute to souls.

What happens after we die?

Religions of the world have made up a lot of contradicting stories to answer this question, and some people are happy to believe (and pay) whoever tells them the biggest story. But religions offer no evidence for their claims about any sort of afterlife.

The most likely scenario is that your brain (which is the organ responsible for perception) dies, and your perception stops.

Well, that’s depressing!

It doesn’t have to be. Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Having a limited existence means you have to do all the good you can while you’re here. You need to make the most of this life, the only one we’re sure of having. You don’t get a second chance to learn, to love, to create, to make things better on this planet. So do it now.

If you’re on campus, come on down and say hi. If nothing else, we have cookies. And there’s even a guarantee: If you’re not 100% satisfied, you can have your soul back.

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