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This post was originally released in the tert, and has been republished here for your befuddlement/enjoyment

Arguing over religion is lots of fun, you get to fight over hugely important metaphysical issues, get into a shouting match while still sounding intellectual, can impress people with your knowledge of 2000 year old books and occasionally even learn things (well, it is theoretically possible).

What is less fun is when the argument gets bogged down in painfully stupid disagreements and misunderstandings. The example I will cover in this article is that of labels. Too many times has an atheist made fun of an agnostic for lacking courage, driving them to proclaim the atheist is just as dogmatic as a fundamentalist christian. If just a few conversations can be elevated beyond that I’ll be happy. So please read on for a brief explanation of the basics of what atheism and agnosticism entail. As a quick disclaimer please remember these definitions are not universal, and even some self described atheists/agnostics might understand them differently.

Atheism

Question: What is the biggest problem for an atheist?

Answer: No one to talk to while you have an orgasm

The most broadly accepted definition of atheism breaks it into two categories

Weak/negative atheism: Not actively believing in any specific god, note that this is not about certainty but about the absence of a belief in god

Strong/positive atheism: Not believing in any specific deity/god and actively believing that god under some definitions does not exist. This is a less neutral position and is more about disbelief, though it is not about certainty and will not cover any definition of god. Don’t quite get the difference? Allow me to thrust an analogy sexily towards you.

Suppose I have a box in my hands and ask you whether you believe that it contains a red ball. You are unable to see inside it, check its weight or in any way test whether it does in fact have a red ball in it. The idea of a red ball inside it is not implausible, It could very well be true but you do not have any evidence either from observation and are unable to infer it based on whether you think I would put one there. Similarly before I opened my mouths the idea that a red ball would be in the box had never occurred to you. Here you are a weak atheist with respect to the red ball.

However if I asked the same question and you were able to take the box from my hands, weigh it, shake it around to listen or open it up and every time find that there is not red ball the situation changes. The red ball I describe might also be larger than the box, making it logically impossible that it could be contained within it. Now you have evidence to suggest that the box does not contain a red ball, making you a strong atheist with respect to it. You could be wrong, you might be hallucinating, or a secret compartment with the ball might exist. Still while you are not certain you are still able to make the positive statement that the box does not contain a ball.

That’s all, try to avoid the myths that all atheists are certain about their beliefs, that they “believe in nothing”, have dogma, hate religion and the religious, are just another religion, are immoral and my personal favourite “really believe in god, but say otherwise so that they can live in sin”. Atheists do tend to have other beliefs about the world, but the term atheist doesn’t have anything to do with them. Humanist, naturalist, skeptic, moral relativist, free thinker are a few positions that many atheists identify with and give more information about the belief system a person holds.

Agnosticism

I don’t know and you don’t either!

-militant agnostic bumper sticker

A little more complicated than atheism, the term covers a few areas and does overlap atheism under some meanings. Today agnostics take that label on defining it in a number of ways.

1) Strong Agnosticism: No evidence could possibly exist for or against god (and sometimes other concepts)

This is the strongest form of agnosticism, its claim is that we can never answer the question of gods existence and we will never have access to that information

2) Weak Agnosticism: No evidence currently exists, or not enough exists to reasonably claim god does or does not exist (and sometimes other concepts)

A weaker version, it does not deny that we could ever have knowledge of god, but claims that currently we don’t have any evidence for or against god at the moment

4) Agnostic atheism: Not actively believing in god but not knowing whether god exists

Very similar to weak atheism, all agnostic positions will technically include this or agnostic theism

5) Agnostic theism: Actively believing in a god but not knowing whether that god exists or not

Weaker version of theism, not all agnostics lack a belief in god or some “higher power”, as they usually describe it.

7) Ignosticism: Believing that no accepted coherent definition of the god is available, so at the moment it is pointless to argue over god’s existence

8 ) Apathetic agnosticism: Believing that even if god exists it would be so far removed from us that its relevance would not extend beyond philosophy classes

The assumption that “agnostics don’t know what they believe” comes up quite often, for some minority of self described agnostics it is true as people take up the label after disassociating with their former religion. For most agnostics it’s not the case, they have spent some time forming a belief on god that fits one of the mentioned forms of agnosticism. “Fence sitting” is another criticism often thrown at agnostics, a term meaning an unwillingness to commit to either sides position. First of all “fence sitting” is derogatory and is as much an insult as a way of describing people, a term a friend of mine preferred was “conscientious objectors. If atheism and theism are unjustified positions then not committing is the only option that makes any sense at all. The only time one can be reasonably criticised for fence sitting is to take a non committed position not because it follows your beliefs, but that it is more convenient to do so. This form of agnostic fence sitting is the one criticised by Dawkins in the book god delusion, and in many other places. Agnostics confident in their own positions are unlikely to see this criticism is justified, claiming that the same could be said about any position- not just agnosticism. A Christian who no longer believes in the bible or a personal god might still identify as christian because of the comfort of its ritual, an believer in god might also describe themself as atheist simply out of hatred of religion.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have either learned something new, or at least have been inspired to respond to the next person who tells you atheists believe in nothing by rolling your eyes to the point of blindness.

This post was originally released in the tert, and has been republished here for your befuddlement/enjoyment

I find it deeply troubling writing an article about the recent mind bogglingly profitable/expensive/talked about film Avatar, which I won’t introduce given that you have already heard about it (unless you are from the distant future where my every written word is analysed to death due to my incredible fame. If so just “Space-Google” the word avatar). Even more concerning is that not only am I talking about the film, but I am defending it. I’m not defending the visuals, there is a clear consensus that it is a stunningly beautiful film. It is so imaginative and perfect looking that it not only makes us forget about uncomfortable 3D spectacles, make us depressed and suicidal about our own bleak world infested with injustices like holocausts and facebook redesigns. The forum of the films website is filled with sad stories of coping with post avatar depression, and news.com reports a fan claiming that “I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora.”

It’s all a bit silly and simple on consideration, a perfect world where a technology free tribe is also lucky to be free of disease, infighting, bigotry, unhappiness, starvation, and even death except when brought to them by those mean spirited humans. The film itself is not even about the tribe, but instead a white character acting as an avatar for the white audience (see what they did there?). He enjoys the experience of being a white person reborn into a tribe, becoming its greatest warrior and leader in the space of a few months then leading them against white people.

Instead of leaving avatar to mock our war and poor quality processed cheese filled world, religious groups have been offended, all christen expect for a few hindus upset at the films portrayal of the avatar concept which is part of their faith. Despite my search I was not able to find scathing reviews from other groups, but of those concerned none were very relevant to your average Australian christian. The Vatican struck with two holy thumbs down, critical of the film for its pantheistic message replacing religion with the worship of nature.  The center for public christianity implied the films god was an impersonal life force, thus inferior to jesus who provides a more close meaningful relationship. David Outten was more outspoken telling us “You can hug all the trees you want and nothing will do more to help the planet earth than a revival. What God wants for mankind is absolutely glorious. “

It’s this that drove me to the defence of avatar, because like everything else in avatar the religion is perfect. It may have been inspired by the lame real world neo pagan ideas of pantheism, but by simplifying the story James Cameron made a religion that far outstrips anything in our bleak world. Take the afterlife for example, in reality all evidence suggests death involves smelling bad and rotting in the grave as we cease to exist. Religion and mysticism make death a little more palatable by offering infinite numbers of possible afterlives, all having little more than intuition and incompatible claims of divine inspiration to back them up. All afterlives are placed conveniently after we have no way of knowing if it’s right or wrong. The closest to contact we get to the dead are mediums like john Edwards telling us our grandma or possibly some older woman with an e in her name loves us and wants us to be happy. For the avatars tribe the Na’vi they can take a stroll through the forest, say hello to the their physical deity Eywa, plug right into her and say hi to a long dead uncle now part of Eywa and clearly enjoying an eternity of bliss. A connection to your ancestors actually exists, there is indisputable evidence for a clearly understood afterlife free of nothingness or hell. How about miracles? In the real world we get stories from friends about how someone in church had cancer, and after several months of praying (oh and medical treatment) dramatically recovered, even though the doctor told them they would be dead in three months(which is TOTALLY how doctors behave). God is also looking out for you in war, when you win and don’t lose of course (also god is looking out for your enemy so maybe the absence of lightning and pillars of fire are a good thing). Or you can get grilled cheese sandwiches that look kind of like marilyn monroe Mary. In avatar when god is on your side in battle everyone is going to know about it, no faith required the moment it sends an awesome dinosaur army to defeat your enemies. The big thing for me is that the god Eywa is real, yes I know most people believe god is real but I mean real in the sense that we determine everything else is real – no special privilege for god. Eywa physically exists in the world, intervenes and has measurable effects, and when science takes a look at the world they don’t see our reality where investigation reveals a planet and universe devoid of a creator or deity. Scientists are the people in the film that preach the god of Pandora, not pagan rubbish but something real, provable and unambiguous.

Plus if my predictions are correct, Sigourney Weaver will pull a Jesus and become the new face of Eywa in the sequel. Try to top that one Christianity 😛

This post was originally released in the tert, and has been republished here for your befuddlement/enjoyment

The human brain is a wonderful thing, capable of synthesizing experience into a vastly complex web of ideas, so creative that it has inspired Jane Austen classics, zombie movies and even beautiful unities of the two. It’s not always at its best though, which is made painfully obvious whenever you talk to someone who thinks bush orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, asks our star sign or thinks that choosing a philosophy degree was a good idea. Just think for a moment about all those weird things some people believe.

To be fair, you believe a fair few ridiculous things yourself but just don’t know what and how utterly laughably ridiculous they are yet. While it can be easy to pick apart and perceive strange and silly ideas in others, we are shockingly bad at perceiving our own false beliefs. It is surprising how confident we are in the validity of our ideas despite the lack of knowledge supporting them. These ideas are created not by carefully considering evidence but instead by haphazardly piecing together related pieces of information through our lives on a subject. Take the death penalty for example; chances are you never read literature on the topic, research about its impacts or arguments by those who disagree with you. Or what about the risk of cell phone radiation, can you even remember where you heard information about that?

The sad reality is that we are awful at coming to informed opinions, even worse is that once opinions form they can be incredibly resistant to change. A study by Monica Prasad is a particularly vivid example of this. The study looked at took  a popular and  unambiguously false belief – that saddam Hussein was involved with osama in the 9/11 bombings and saw how participants reacted to disconfirming evidence. 49 republican voters who believed in the link were exposed in interviews to two news articles, one that detailed how the 9/11 report commission found no evidence linking saddam to osama and the other which directly quotes then president Bush denying any link. Of the participants 84*% resisted the new information using a number of strategies. The more politically savvy 10% counter argued claiming despite the lack of evidence the link did exist, such as saying that any evidence would have been concealed. This largest group at 34% employed attitude bolstering, they would ignore the question, not outright claiming that the link did actually exist but by switching the topic to other good reasons the Iraq war was justified. 6% refused to deal with the contradictory information at all, simply stating things like “I don’t know” and not discussing the issue with the interviewer. A group of 10% responded by disputing a rational approach to the question, clinging to their beliefs but not providing justification for doing so. They would ground their beliefs in subjectivism, for example claiming “we still can have our opinions”.

The last group of 14% who resisted belief change was described by researchers as the “inferred justification” group.  This approach involves a backwards chain of reasoning justifying a favoured opinion, instead of looking for evidence to draw a conclusion those in the group simply assumed certain evidence was true to support their belief. An example was a participant who claimed that “there must be a reason why we are still over there or we wouldn’t be over there still”, as if the situation proves that there must be justification for the invasion.

Of the 8(16%) participants who did change their opinion 7 of them surprisingly denied ever having believed the link existed, and maintained this even when interviewers showed them earlier questionnaires they had filled out claiming otherwise. Most stated that they had made a mistake when filling out the questionnaire, though thinking that current beliefs were always held is common. Only one participant changed his belief based on the new information, claiming that bush should have made the real reasons for going to war clear from the beginning.

The message to take is that very often our strongest held opinions could be based on the flimsiest of information, and that had we heard the other side of the debate first our attitudes could be very different. You might be inclined to hand wave the results away as a one off study or only valid for hardcore republicans. If so perhaps you should research the issue with a skeptical eye, which is incidentally the entire point of this article.

We cannot ever be completely unbiased in forming our opinions, or only form opinions remaining detached and looking at the evidence. We can do our best to be rational about the opinions we hold though, by taking a sceptical approach whenever we can. By being critical of our own beliefs and actively searching for evidence courter arguments and evidence we can ensure our beliefs are closer to reality, and better supported by evidence. There are times when you might end up confirming your own beliefs with further research, this is still just as important as until you actively look for counter evidence the truth of a belief can’t be honestly established. Always consider that you may be wrong, and do your best to prove this no matter how emotionally being wrong may be.

Article written by Charo Serventy, President of the Wollongong University Secular Society (WUSS)- Find us on facebook

Monica Prasad “There Must Be a Reason”: Osama, Saddam, and Inferred Justification Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 79, No. 2, May 2009, 142–162

*all % rounded down to the nearest one percent

This post was originally released in the tert, and has been republished here for your befuddlement/enjoyment

Avast there matey. It be coming closer to thar holiday season again, a time when captains give out what they ave plundered to thar crew. Some be thinking it is a bit crazy to cut down trees, put them in your house and decorate them with silver and gold. It is even says in one religious gospels “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10:2-4)

Many be forgetting an even bigger holiday, international talk like a pirate day, celebrated every 19th o’ September. This year, many did celebrate but there were those who forgot. Some even be forgetting that pirates are his favoured people and thar be others who even say that ninjas be better then pirates.

Many so called philosophers have tried to argue out that ninjas are more powerful then pirates. There are many flaws with this however. A Pirate be having wenches. Nay any ninjas have this. Second, pirates ave Rum, unless it is all gone that is. Third, and most important of all, pirates are the Flying Spaghetti Monsters (FSM) most favoured people. Not too be confused with most flavoured as only our noodly lord can take that title.

Yea may be wondering, where is the proof of FSMism and the fact that pirates are his chosen people. Well, thar be a inverse correlation between the number of pirates and the global average temperature. This can be seen in the graph below.

Yarr, this science be something that we will be teaching across the world. Those of other beliefs like Kirk Cameron, be releasing their own version of origin of species. This copy includes the full version of Darwin’s book with an extra 50 pages to explain the hoaxes of evolution. Pirates, as pastafarians, we applaud his effort to educate people of other points of view. We hope to do a similar thing and release our own Yarrrr-igin of species. We believe all views must be presented, and ours is just as scientific as any others.

Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron also be showing us the atheist nightmare. They must ave been drinking too little rum as they got this a bit wrong. The true atheist nightmare is the orange. Yarr, this be known since back in our seafaring days when thar be many pirates suffering from scurvy. Unlike the banana, which humans grew from an in-edible fruit to what we see today, the orange was made by the FSM. You see, our noodly lord saw the pirates were getting scurvy so he made the orange to provide them with vitamin C. Just like the banana the orange can just as easily be held and has a non slip surface. We know it is from the Flying Spaghetti Monster since it is round and resembles meatballs, something that goes well with spaghetti.

Yarr, a disturbing trend be the increasing number of atheists. Even our own university has just had a club, Wollongong University Secular Society (WUSS) form. It is hard to belief they could be so blind. Their own acronym is evidence of FSM as the ‘S” was created in his image. Thar is also a simple proof of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, once presented by Nick Moran.

1. You don’t need a reason to enjoy spaghetti.
2. Everything (else) has a cause.
3. Nothing can cause itself.
4. Everything is caused by another thing.
5. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
6. There must be a first cause.
7. The first cause had no cause.
8. Spaghetti is the only thing that can have no cause, thus must be the first cause.

Q.E.D. bitches.

By Eden Harris

This post was originally released in the tert, and has been republished here for your befuddlement/enjoyment

Heard of us? No, well that’s ok you will soon enough. We are a new society that is here to make up for a few things we think are missing from campus at the moment. It’s strange that for an institution dedicated to learning more about the world and free exchange of ideas there isn’t any club with that focus.

If you’re interested in science or philosophy but not studying either, the only real chance you have to learn more is to find that information yourself. When you occasionally get into conversations with likeminded people it can be a great experience, but those times are often few and far between.

That is where we come in, we want to create a group where students can meet others who want to spending time discussing issues and ideas they are interested in. We also want the passionate thinkers among the university to get involved with us to organise events on campus that give others a chance to learn more, whether it be about science, politics, religion, philosophy or anything provided the ideas are discussed from a perspective of reason and evidence and honest.

Those are the two things that make up our approach to the topics that we discuss. We believe the ideas we bring to our discussion should be examined thoughtfully and freely, so that we form opinions of them based on the evidence and arguments that support them.

That’s also why we have the word secular in our name, most of the society is not religious but we are open to those from any religious background and encourage believers to join too. While we support the religious groups on campus that aim to promote the beliefs of their faith we take a different approach. We think that religion like any other idea should be examined by careful reasoning, with the evidence for and against considered as honestly as we can. This is no easy task and sadly many do not spend the intellectual effort engaging in it (that goes for some unbelievers too).

If you are able to be intellectually honest and believe things for the right reasons then that is something to be proud of. Most of us have taken that approach and dismissed the idea of god but that doesn’t mean everyone does. If you take this approach and still believe though then that’s something to be happy about, most of us would agree after all that it is better to be a believer who has taken the time to come to an informed decision rather than a non believer who has dismissed all religions carelessly.

Our club is the first one of its type on campus, dedicated to rational and evidence based inquiry into religion, philosophy, science and any idea that students like yourself want to talk about. If that appeals to you then get involved with our club, or just come along to our events as we hold them.

If your part of a club on campus, contact us and we will try to organise an event focused around what your club is about, be it religion, politics, culture, or anything



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  • Zlatan (lay - tan): Hi, My name is Zlatan (lay - tan) Just want to meet up with some like minded folks in the Gong. So can you please let me know when/where you

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