Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I haven’t been writing. This has partly been due to the demands of an unusually pointless personal life, which I shall not go into, but mostly because what I really want to say is so big that I have trouble figuring out where to start or how to say it. What I want to write about is madness. It is a madness that has infected human thought for as long as we have had a record of history and no matter how much one knows or how many references one can produce it always appears that any comment on this madness has failed to scratch the surface.

We can try to compartmentalise the madness into simpler to manage chunks. We can assign names to these variations of the same insanity, such as Christianity or Islam or astrology. But these are just expressions, symptoms of an identical cause. And once you define the cause and begin to look at all the symptoms it encompasses then you are really in trouble. Then you realise just how lost we all really are.

It is simple to criticise faith, a mere symptom. You will of course meet resistance from the faithful, but as the Borg would retort “resistance is futile” because the faithful haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to logic and fact. But what unites faith with all other baseless beliefs also ties together much of what we have learned to consider the core of the finest qualities and values within ourselves. So to strike at the core is to strike at something irrationally protected within us all.

Non-critical thinking is the core. It is the foundation of faith and superstition, but it is also the foundation of pretty much everything we hold dear. To every parent their child is uniquely special. To every lover their partner is a god or goddess, at least during the early smouldering heat as the bond is formed. None of these valued illusions have anything at all to do with fact. It is as if we have a need to make extraordinary assumptions and then, despite all the evidence, try as hard as we can to believe for as long as we can that these assumptions are actually true.

But they’re not.

However we have made them essential to a “normal” life. We have made extraordinary assumptions the only credible measurement of our entirely unexceptional lives. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

I have two children. Both are extremely capable academically and of course I love them without limit. I’m always happy to say how special and nice and beautiful they are. And to me, they really are. Furthermore, my son is considered gifted. He was invited to join a national academy for gifted kids and they were pleased to tell him that he was in the top 1% of the population. Isn’t this just everything that a parent wants to hear? Too right! The same looks set to happen for his younger sister. So my kids are special, right.

Well, I in no way want to detract from their achievements but this 1% interests me. There are a lot of people on the planet after all, so before I raise my children to an extraordinary height in my own understanding shouldn’t I understand the numbers involved? If you are in the top 1% of any attribute or skill, let’s choose running speed for an example there are still more than 60 million other people on this planet that can run just as fast as you. If you’re in the top 1% when it comes to IQ then there are another 60 million people with equivalent intelligence to your own. And 60 million is not a small number. How special can something with 60 million equals be? But perhaps my point is not clear.

What I’m getting at here is that we lack a sense of proportion. We make extraordinary that which does not warrant such attention if we concentrate merely on the facts. It is one thing to hoot and feel proud when you consider your child with the fantastic attainment of being in the top 1% and it is an entirely different understanding, but infinitely more precise and accurate, to consider your child has 60 million equals and it is precisely this sort of fact dodging, or fact spinning, that is the core of all our ills - the need to make extraordinary that which is actually quite ordinary; the need to make one in a million out of what is actually just one in one hundred. And we do it constantly.

We meet a girl and she becomes the most perfect, amazing creature that has ever lived and we call this love and we say it is truth. It is not. She is actually, by every conceivable way of measuring, almost certainly in almost every single way almost entirely average. In some specific qualities, which usually we cannot define, she is uniquely special but very much in the same way, even if these indefinable attributes exist, she is like the fast runner or the smart kid – she has more contemporaries than you could even count. Yet, she is an angel! Rubbish.

And if you don’t think of her that way, if you don’t accept the delusion, then you shouldn’t expect to spend much time with the object of your irrational affections. After all, when she asks you how she looks or what you think of her she isn’t going to respond well to the truth that you consider her to be one in one hundred – and that is only if she really is in some way better than the rest.

But people will say, but you can’t measure these qualities so I ask why? Since these qualities are something you can perceive they must therefore be observable and if they are observable then there are ways to measure, even if precision is lacking. Of course, we rarely claim unique qualities but we all blanket our loved ones in the protective shrouds of generally accepted qualities such as caring, loving, good, kind, warm, fun, exciting, blah, blah, and blah. And each of us, when we fall in love, distinguishes the one we love from the masses with exactly the same qualities as everybody else. So very, very special indeed.

I have no problem with this – love whomever you wish for whatever excuses seem to resonate for however long you can maintain your belief against the onslaught of stinking toilets, bad morning breath, farting in bed, flu, differing tastes, idiot friends and social commitments and a family that leaves you in fear of what he or she will turn into in the coming years. But it’s about time we stopped equating this faith to truth. And the same is true throughout our lives. Religion put up or shut up. Face the numbers and the facts and when you lose, which you will, then it’s time to shut the fuck up and stop calling it truth. It is a baseless delusion. Astrology, you lost. You’re absolutely incompatible with the laws of Physics so it’s time to shut the fuck up and accept defeat. Love! Well, it is our own refusal to accept reality and our focus on the extraordinary illusions that we insist upon as fact that detracts from the value of that we try to elevate. It is only critical thought that enables us to respect things for what they are and by doing so unveil the true complexity and beauty of our lives, our connections and our existence within the universe.

I can live with fools, having been one myself, who choose through ignorance of fact to make extraordinary claims and believe vague and yet exceptional “truths” about another individual, whether lover or child or any other. I don’t like it and I think ultimately it is something that we as a species will wise up to and grow out of, but aside from the body count of murdered wives and girlfriends who failed to meet up to the angel expectation, for the most part it doesn’t really affect anybody but the deluded. But mass delusion and the organised denial of fact can no longer be allowed to reign over the human kingdom unchecked. The stakes continue to be too high. Superstition must go. Religion must go. Faith must go – but in disposing of these idiocies be warned and prepared that the critical thinking skill you will improve will also threaten other irrational assumptions and behaviours that you currently hold dear. Critical thought will transform our lives.

Theists and fairy tale believers, it is time to put up or shut up. It is time to make your case and when you lose it is time to pack up your idiot books and join the real world. It’s time to stop polluting civilization with half baked, internally contradictory and predominately unjust and vicious fantasy. It’s time to face the facts.

I hereby challenge any and every theist to make their case in a fight to the death. You prove your god and I’ll accept it. I prove that your god theory is as infinitely unlikely as any other randomly generated and totally baseless theory and you accept it - you leave your faith or you adopt an infinite number of other stupid theories as truth also. There is no excuse for you to hide anymore. It’s time for humanity to leave superstition behind and learn to think.

The gauntlet is down.

For as long as you are able to have influence over my life through political process or popular media frenzy I will no longer accept you being lost in the madness you call truth. If it is truth it can take the challenge, if it is not then you have no right to continue to live as though it is. We are all interdependent on each other and just as the laws make clear some of our responsibilities of action to each other I now make clear a responsibility of thought. To live together, as we must, we must also accept the responsibility to think.

Update 2006-08-30 21:45

My recent post about the execution of a 16 year old girl in Iran has started some discussion over at Phatmass. The discussion can be found here.

A discussion was suggested and I am enthusiastic to partake, but since the discussions theme is more about questioning the validity of faith than the execution of the girl I thought it would be more suited to this post. I do not know if anyone will take me up on the discussion but I hope that they do. I have invited the discussion here instead of at Phatmass to avoid what I consider to be over sensitivity when it comes to site content.

I wish to understand the Christian response to the parallels that can be drawn between their own faith and that of Muslims. A parallel I have drawn at Phatmass is that faith was the excuse for executing the girl and that faith is also the excuse for condeming condom use in Africa which contributes to the deaths of millions each year. How can the obviously awful costs of one faith be justified without also justifying the horrors of another? The answer needs to be a bit stronger than "my faith is better than yours". We're going to need some real answers to differentiate the two.

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