Valentines Day – It’s what you make it

My daughter, 8, asked me tonight if I was giving her something for Valentine’s Day. I explained, as I tend to do, that Valentine’s Day was not about that kind of love.

She argued against that, as she tends to do (Daddy’s girl), that if it was about love then she loved me more than anyone else loves someone so why shouldn’t it be celebrated?

She was right. So here’s my Valentine’s Poem to my children.

Valentine’s Poem

Valentine’s is a day of love all around the world,

When people show their love to that special boy or girl.

But why is this special day so typically reserved

For the objects of affection and not for love deserved?

 

For the mothers and the fathers there is a special day,

Easter and Christmas are for the children in a way,

But where is the celebration of love for your friends

And those on whom you can always depend?

 

Although love is shown at many times throughout the year,

Sometimes a special day can help to make it clear

That we appreciate and care for those whom we hold dear,

So there’s something I should say while Valentine’s is here.

 

To my Bella and my Dylan, I’ll always love you so

And Valentine’s or any time never be afraid to show

That there’s many in your life to whom you’d like to say

“I love you and have a happy Valentine’s Day!”

My religion… Football!

Eventually I’m going to be asked the question regarding my own behaviour and its rationality. So I thought I’d confess this one early. My behaviour is not always rational. I know, it’s a shock, but it’s true. Now, without going down the path of love and all of its fruits and foibles, there is one behaviour in which I am almost rabidly irrational. I am a huge West Coast Eagles fan.

Before any Fremantle fans jump on that, I’m not implying that following the West Coast Eagles is irrational, I’m saying outright that following a sporting team is irrational. And not only that, but in a very similar way to religion.

I couldn’t tell you when I became an Eagles supporter. The club was established when I was about 6, so I can’t say I’ve always been an Eagles supporter. However, I can’t really say I chose to be either. The club was the first Western Australian club in the Australian Football League and, having been born and raised in Perth, it happened somewhat organically. You could argue I’ve always had the choice to change, but changing football teams can make one the subject of much social stigma. So really, the football team one follows is far more a geographical, cultural and social result than a personal choice. Does that sound familiar?

I also, rather strangely, brag about and defend my team. When they are winning I’m all over it, letting everyone know how brilliant my team that I contribute to and benefit from in no way is. Read it again and you’ll get it. And when they are losing I’m making excuses like there’s no tomorrow. They, umm, have a lot of injuries and, umm, they came off a shorter break. Yes, that will do. What do I get out of this? Well, I’m not sure. I get bragging rights but that seems to be a circular argument. However, I must say I enjoy it. The elation, the rivalry, the tense finishes. Winning or losing, I enjoy watching my team more than I enjoy watching other teams. I couldn’t tell you why, but I do.

I also know that all rival supporters feel pretty much exactly the same way. Yet, when they brag about their team, I shoot them down. It’s all part of the rivalry, but it really makes no sense. Most of them fell into the support of their teams the same way I did and the winner of our match doesn’t actually have a tangible effect of either of us. Don’t even get me started on people who don’t follow Australian Rules football.

So it would be fair to ask, if, like religion, your sporting affiliation is a result of geographical, cultural and social coincidence and has no logical argument over any other choice, then why do you argue so hard against religion? Well, the answer is I’ve never interfered in anyone else’s personal freedom for my team. I’ve never petitioned governments to make decisions based on my sport. I’ve never killed or supported killing in the name of the West Coast Eagles. All because I understand the irrationality of my support. I simply do it for enjoyment.

I believe if every religious person would admit the irrationality of their belief, admit that it is simply a result of the human brain’s teleological and authoritarian aspects that provides pleasure in belief from some sort of cosmic karma or eternal afterlife, then the belief would do no harm.

So to the religious people I argue with, my goal is not to make you an atheist, my goal is to make you rational.

Refutations of arguments against same sex marriage

A rather topical debate in Australia, as with many other countries around the world, right now is that of same sex marriage and I must admit I’m getting sick of it. Not for the reasons one might expect, such as the hatred and bigotry but mostly because it often displays just how awful some people are at making a reasonable sounding argument and how stubborn some people are to any argument by virtue of the fact that I keep seeing the same arguments against same sex marriage re-emerging. That is the same completely refuted and often outright dishonest and untrue statements popping up over and over again.

To combat this, I would like to suggest a standard list of refutations to these tired old arguments. Not necessarily the most technically correct or educational refutations, but ones that will generally end an argument, or at least provide some entertainment for the spectators. And so I present, Troy’s Refutations to Pathetic Arguments – Episode 1: Same Sex Marriage.

Marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman.

I’ll start with the most frustrating first. This one was a favourite of our former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and every time he said it I wanted to renounce my citizenship and crawl into a hole. Now, you may wish to go down the long path of who defines it, then argue about the most correct dictionary for the next few minutes before starting on the biblical definitions and the origins of marriage. We’ve all been there, right? And it’s not pretty.

So instead try this, “Ummm, yes, it is, and that’s what we’re asking you to change.” Acting confused when you say it adds to the effect. Because really, all they are doing is pointing out the current state of the legislation. Marriage, being a social concept, will change definitions with society’s desire and stating the current status back to me doesn’t really help explain anything, does it? I mean if I ask you a question and you repeat the question back to me as a statement you’d sound like a pretentious prick, so why would this be any different?

It’s not natural!

Exclamation mark added to recreate how it’s usually said. Most of the time when this one comes up you’ll hear things like “Neither are antibiotics, but you wouldn’t refuse them if you were dying” or “Actually, hundreds of animal species have been observed conducting in homosexual behaviour… only one so far has been found to exhibit homophobia though…”. Those are both very fun answers.

However, here’s one that’s even more fun, “Neither is marriage.” Well, it’s true, isn’t it? When was the last time you saw two dogs or two cats or two ducks walk down the aisle? And if we can make a quite unnatural thing like marriage I’m pretty sure we can decide who gets to make use of it.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. (Or – It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!)

As usual, in Australia at least, a subset of Christians think they own everything from marriage to reproduction. Note I didn’t say a “small” subset. I’m not sure how large the group is but big enough to get Steven “Look at this chart!” and “F-I-S-K-A-L” Fielding voted in is not small. They’ll let you know that they get to say what is and isn’t marriage because they invented it. You could point out that they didn’t, sure. Even point out that it doesn’t matter if they did because it’s become a social and legal term more than a religious one.

Or, you could agree. Christians invented marriage so Biblical marriage is perfect, right? So I can have, how many wives again? It’s not Adam and Steve, it’s Lamech and Adah and Lillah!

We already have equality, anyone is free to marry a person of the opposite sex!

Yes, yes people actually say this. Normally it leads to a long argument over the semantics of the word “equality”, which should obviously mean everyone has the same rights not that everyone has to do the same thing, but apparently means “everyone is free to think exactly like me”.

But obviously that will get you nowhere, especially if hampered by Twitter’s 140 character limit. So just let them know that this means they must logically agree that homosexuals are also free to supervise their kids at scouts. Now, I know they should be, but the reaction from the type of people you’re typically arguing with will be priceless.

If you allow gay marriage, what’s next? (Or ducks, sex with ducks…)

This one can get messy as the conservatives attempt to align homosexuality with everything from bestiality and incest to paedophilia and rape. So often I’ve been dragged into discussing why one sexual preference between consenting adults cannot be fairly compared to one with an obvious or not so obvious victim. This usually allows the fundamentalist to control the conversation by continually insisting that you clarify your stance on every preference and fetish before they find something they believe can be pinned on you, thus declaring you not worthy of debate.

One way to avoid this would be to simply ask why. I mean, why can we currently draw the line at consenting heterosexual couples but cannot draw that same line at consenting homosexual couples? But next time, remember this: in the Bible the world was populated not once, but twice, from incest. (Adam and Eve, Noah and family). Apparently the omnipotent being who could have done this in any way, thought incest was best. Now who are you to argue with God?

But gay sex is… icky!

I’m sorry, but I love this one. Because it allows me to use my favourite retort. “So is shellfish, I demand we ban it!” This works great because a) I really do hate shellfish and b) so does the Bible apparently! (Lev 11:9-12 for those interested). Invariably this then leads to a discussion concerning why homosexuality is apparently wrong… which is actually probably what you were looking for in the first place.

I hope that helps at least some people. If not, I hope you had a laugh. Please feel free to use any of the above of link back to the blog. Also, if you have nay gems of your own, let me know in the comments below.

Absence of Evidence

Recently a vocal atheist on my Twitter feed received the following comment after asking evidence for someone’s beliefs: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I’ve seen some rather standoffish and convoluted replies to this argument in the past. So I’d like to, once and for all, lay this argument to rest if I may. When someone states that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence use this simple, concise reply:

Yes it is.

I apologise if that seems facetious but in this case the matter really is that simple and, worse than that, everyone already knows this. In fact, they practise it every day. Why? Well because we all have things we don’t believe in. No matter what we do believe, no one believes in everything, whether it is religions, conspiracy theories, alternative medicines or mythical creatures. So if you find something someone does not believe in and ask them why, when you get past the initial, and often ironic, answers of how ridiculous that belief is, you’ll eventually get this response: “Why should I believe in that?” Which is exactly what people should be asking.

You see, the absence of something doesn’t leave any evidence. There is no trace of the unicorn that does not exist. There is no statistically significant result of a homeopathic remedy. There is no credible witness to government UFO cover ups. There is no evidence which cannot be better explained by other means for any god or gods. And this is the evidence that these things don’t exist. What other evidence could there be? It should be noted that this is a different concept to the absence of proof, which is certainly not proof of absence.

Logically, if you don’t think that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, you’d have to believe in everything. Every god with equal conviction, from Zeus to Yahweh. As such every time you choose not to believe in something outlandish, simply because no evidence has been provided, you take absence of evidence as evidence of absence. Also, the more outlandish the claim, the higher the standard of evidence you would demand. This is once again, a natural reaction, so if I were to suggest the chocolate cake I was eating was delicious, you would probably consider having had other delicious chocolate cakes before and my opinion as sufficient evidence. However, if I were to suggest that I had a seemingly arbitrary set of rules which, if obeyed would significantly impact on your life but might allow you to live forever in a place no one has ever seen but I assure you it’s fabulous, you would be right to take me to task on the evidence I hold.

And I will most certainly hold anyone to the same standard, no matter which religion they suggest is the true one. While the aphorism may seem witty and true on the surface, a quick scratch at the surface of the “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” claim shows it to be little more than fun with words.