Abortion on Demand

Life is precious.

This is an important phrase. Anti-abortion campaigners use this phrase to try and force us to see a foetus not only as an example of “life” but also as something “precious”. I’m not going to rebut these implications, many others have done so and probably in much better fashion than I could. I find, however, that this phrase is one of the most compelling arguments in favour of abortion. Life is indeed precious. Precious things require a lot of dedication, a lot of resources, a lot of time and often a lot of love to protect them and nurture them. Love, time, dedication and resources are not simply things that can be plucked from the air on a whim, however. These things come from other people, and at a higher level of abstraction, they come from society. Life is precious, yes, but life is also a burden, one most often borne by other people.

So why, then, do we insist upon forcing more and more burdens upon not only other people, whose lives we should have very little say over, but society as a whole? This oh so wonderful country we live in likes to utter the phrase “Abortion on Demand” with such bile and vitriol that one would be forgiven for assuming this act they were speaking of was akin to raping a child while forcing it to watch it’s parents bleed and die. I’m not being reactionary or sensationalistic, one need only listen to the many debates that have been had over the years in the Irish media to hear the implied horror and disgust infused into the phrase.

It’s interesting to deconstruct the thinking behind these utterances. The common criticism of widespread provision of abortion as a family planning option is that if there were Abortion on Demand, Irish women would be having abortions every other week and it would promote promiscuous and unhealthy behaviour. The reality, however, is that Irish education standards where sex and sexuality is concerned are shockingly lacking and it all boils down to the pervasive attitude in Irish society that sex is dirty and wrong and anything to do with sex that is not a beautiful bouncing baby (or a half dozen) is immoral. The reality is that an estimated 10 Irish women (and their partners, in some circumstances) every day travel to England for the express purpose of having an abortion. I was on a plane to Manchester with some of these women in 2011. They were quiet, they looked anxious and they seemed deeply saddened by their situation. The reality is some of those potential babies were deeply wanted.

The reality is pregnancy and delivery and nursing and diaper changing and teething and potty training and childcare and medical bills and all the hundreds of other complications that bringing a child into the world thrusts upon a parent, these are not things that everyone can survive and more importantly these are not things that everyone wants to go through. The reality is many women end up unwillingly sacrificing their dreams, their careers, their education, their financial stability and their happiness in order to go through a pregnancy they do not want or cannot handle. Because other people give them no other choice. Because any other choice would make them cast out and ostracized. Because they can’t afford to travel outside the country. Because society tells them what they want is not the important. Because society tells women “once you get pregnant, there is no way out.”

The reality is Abortion on Demand does not end lives, it saves lives. It saves the lives of women from situations they do not want or cannot cope with. The reality is if Abortion on Demand is what the women of Ireland deserve after so many decades of religious and patriarchal domination at the hands of men who think they can tell women what to do with their own bodies. The reality is, Abortion on Demand is the future of Ireland.

Peace,
dj357

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In Focus: The Bible

A lot of the time Christians will point to the Bible and say, “look, Jesus said if we believe in Him, and accept the rest of the stuff regarding how we live our lives etc… we’ll be rewarded with eternal life at His side.”

If I took you aside and said, “Look, I have this magic door, okay? Now, imagine the most utopian situation you can. Naked, buxom women everywhere, money, fame, whatever you like. Right, now if you just believe in me, when you walk through that door, it will all be waiting for you there.”  You get that look on your face like it’s all far too good to be true, but your reticence is tempered by your imagination and desire. You hum and haw and you spend a few minutes trying to peek behind, around and even through the magic door but all to no avail and so then you cunningly ask me what the catch is. To which I smilingly respond, “Well, if you don’t believe in me and you walk through that door, you’ll find eternal pain, torment, damnation and suffering with no hope of any form of reprieve. Ever.”

This is Christianity’s offer. Would you seriously consider it? Seriously…? Or would you realise that it is not quite the “offer you can’t refuse” it appears to be and simply tell me to go fuck myself?

Peace,
dj357

Objectivity means caring about Truth

This, however, has clearly flown right over the head of Fr. Vincent Twomey, a retired Professor of Moral Theology. He prepared a series of course work for Hibernia College, a teacher training college in Dublin, and his course notes in the religious education module dealing with non-religion made claims such as “What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism…” and “Atheism has had, historically speaking, a negative effect on society.”

Listening to this clip of Mr. Twomey speaking with Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, one may notice that Mr. Twomey makes a large effort to try and claim that both his course work and Catholicism in general are, indeed, objective. As the title of this blog post says, however, being objective means caring about truth and claiming that “atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism…” means throwing truth out the window, thereby discounting any form of objectivity.

As mentioned by Michael in the audio clip Nazism, Fascism and Marxism are all unique ideologies entirely distinct from both atheism (itself not an ideology) and humanism. Furthermore, humanism is an ideology that is exquisitely focused upon preventing large-scale suffering, which is completely at odds with the results of Nazism and Fascism. I won’t delve into the issue of atheism in Nazi and Fascist parties and states as Michael covered enough relevant examples in the audio clip and in many of his recent debates, but I will reiterate that neither Stalin nor Hitler committed their crimes against humanity on the back of a lack of belief in God/god(s)(aka atheism).

To be objective one must favour truth and fact above all else, and Mr. Twomey’s thinking is cleared clouded by his Catholic education. It would be hard, I’d imagine, to be a Catholic Priest and a Professor of Moral Theology and be wholly objective and critical when discussing religion.

Peace,
dj357

World Atheist Convention: Day 2 (Super, Super Late Edition)

As I haven’t been blogging for months, I completely missed the fact that I never actually posted this piece. While it’s remarkably out of date (back in June for cripes’ sake!) it’s still got enough content in it that I can’t leave it sitting in my drafts. Enjoy!

[08/06/2011]
Unfortunately due to a lack of internet access and other things during the weekend I wasn’t able to keep hugely up to date with blog posts on the conference and I also missed the early sessions on Sunday morning, which is a shame as I missed the awesome Maryam Namazie who I hear was on form as ever, but I’m here to add my voice to the many others reporting from the event.
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Beliefs vs. Fact

This has long been a debate of various sorts and forms in the non-believing community but I think I’ve finally figured out how I want to phrase my argument in relation to it.

We have these things called beliefs, that quite often are not based on evidence, yet are still robust, rational and logical. For example “I believe that peanut butter and jam make a good sandwich filling” is a rational belief as I’m basing it upon my own experience and the experience of others. The problem with beliefs though is that they can quite often be wrong and can also disagree with both established consensus and even reality itself. For example “I believe that I can see Angels who guide me through life and watch over me.” On the one hand, a lot of people don’t share this belief, and on the other there’s no actual evidence for it outside of one person’s subjective experience.

We also have things called facts. These puppies are a hell of a lot more useful. For example “so long as the Earth maintains it orbit around the sun, the sun will always rise the next day” this is an established fact. We can link the rising of the sun to the structure of our solar system and based upon that establish logically and rationally that the above example is indeed a fact. The important thing to note here is the details may differ or change with new scientific understandings or discoveries, for example it could potentially happen that the times we now attribute to sunrise and sunset across the globe could migrate slowly forcing us to alter our current timezone system (it’s not likely, but certainly not impossible) but still the rising of the sun would remain a fact. So too can we say that while the individual mechanics underlying the Theory of Evolution* may change, or more rather our understanding of those underlying mechanics, the theory as a whole is an undeniable fact.

That word “undeniable” is a key one though. With beliefs one simply believes or disbelieves. With facts, however one can accept it or deny it. While accepting it requires no active belief (we don’t believe in gravity, we accept it as a fact of nature) denying facts requires some active belief. To deny a fact such as gravity, one needs to actively believe either that people are wrong and it is not a fact or believe that universe does not in fact function the way the so-called fact would imply.

This important distinction between disbelief and denial is rather profound and it’s effect can be seen in modern parlance. People who doubt that Hitler and his Nazi government put millions of Jews to death during WWII are not called Holocaust-disbelievers. The Holocaust is not a belief to be debated upon such as Deism or Theism etc… it is an established fact of history. To doubt the Holocaust happened is to deny a fact of the world. As I mentioned above, some details may change over time, we may yet uncover secret documents that detail that someone other than we thought was actually signing the orders in Auschwitz for the murders (unlikely) but the overall fact will remain a fact.

With all this in mind I think it’s time we stop asking/responding to questions in the form of “Do you believe in [insert established scientific fact here]” and start demanding that the question become “Do you accept [insert established scientific fact here]”

I do not believe in a God or gods. I do not “deny” God or gods as they are not Fact. I do not “believe” in Evolution, I accept Evolution. These are important phrases and important kinds of phraseology that I think would serve not only the non-believing community well, but mankind in general also.

* – It’s NOT just a theory. It’s a Theory.

Intangible Evidence for Ghosts Pt. I

As the title suggests, if there does happen to be any robust evidence for the existence of ghosts or spirits or any other popular manifestations of the supernatural world, it’s intangible. We can’t see it and we certainly can’t find it. I was recently watching a Discovery series called Ghost Lab as part of my search for engaging entertainment and I was drawn in by their claims of “scientific” studies and a search for “evidence of the afterlife.” For the sake of transparency I must admit that I only watched the first episode in the first series and I have not watched any of the other episodes, including the latest series. That being said I found their so-called “scientific” methods highly flawed and their whole approach smacks of a distinct lack of impartiality.

These guys, the Klinge brothers, are coming into this whole situation with the assumption that there is such a thing as the afterlife and spirits and they contaminate all of the conclusions they draw with this bias. They are like the theist who is sure that God exists and that the Bible is true and takes any evidence she comes across and twists and manipulates it until it confirms her belief. This kind of thing is, for the uninformed, called “confirmation bias” and it simply means that you ignore anything that could disagree with your theory and you only look at that which seems to confirm it. It’s a common theme in pseudo-science and bad theology (now there’s a redundant phrase if ever I’ve heard one) and it is not a part of the scientific method.

The first episode is helpful, however, as it illuminates both the motivation behind the investigations and the methods used by the team which is, after all, the meat of the discussion: how do you (or can you even) prove that ghosts and/or spirits exist? Near the beginning of the episode one of the brothers retells the story that got him interested in the world of the paranormal. We are shown a piece of old footage, which one can only assume is the one in question, as he tells us about filming a visit to Gettysburg with his family when he was young and he was amazed to see a lone, small group of people dressed up in Civil War get-up strolling through a field whereby he asked his parents to pull over so he could get out and get closer to film them. He then tells us that he turned off the camera, made his way out of the car and got as close to the field as he could yet when he looked to find the group they had simply disappeared. He says, rather authoritatively, that there were not close enough to the forest line to have made it there by that time and, seemingly most importantly for him, there were no other groups or onlookers nearby which, he assumes, would indicate a re-enactment of some sort. Now, if the footage we saw is the footage shot then I have to question his claim that they could not have made it to the tree line in that time. The landscape seems to be very rolling and hilly and the group seen on screen with a giant waving flag does not appear to be too far away from the tree line in the shot that we see. I have to question both why he turned off the camera in the first place, and how long it took him between that point and getting to seeing that they had disappeared. If I was him in that situation, even at that age (I think he mentioned being around 9 or so at that point) I would hesitate to jump to a supernatural explanation for their disappearance.

This presupposition of supernatural events seems to have followed this man and his brother well into their adult lives and into their supposed scientific investigation of supernatural claims as we’ll see in the following examples I’d like to mention from that show. They investigate two specific locations that are supposedly haunted. One is a municipal auditorium which has connections to rock-a-billy and Elvis himself while the other is a plantation house which is connected with civil war era military men and abuse of slaves.

The Shreveport Municipal Auditorium is their first stop. They detail some of the stories from people who have experienced strange goings-on and they go over some of the potential explanations for the phenomena from the point of view of the paranormal world and then they proceed to investigate. I’m fairly impressed with most of their methods as they lay down a lot of monitoring equipment over a large area to try and capture as much information as possible using devices to detect changes in temperature, shifts in electromagnetic fields and sound recorders to pick up any so-called Electronic Voice Phenomena. These EVP are my first issue, although I must preface this with the fact that throughout their investigations, they focus most of their efforts upon the places that have been reported as being linked to paranormal events, which is not truly scientific. It would be far more scientific to simply gather all the available data they could over an extended period of time and then collate the it to examine it for any noticeable phenomena. Furthermore their equipment is never shown to be insusceptible to outside interference from other electronics or other forms of electromagnetic interference especially given that they conduct the Shreveport investigations in a large old building that contains large amounts of electrical wiring and equipment, which is apparently left connected and untouched during their, primarily, night-time investigations.

Anyway, back to EVP. This is the first issue I have with their methods as they focus their efforts on detecting EVP in one of the supposed paranormal event sites and they contaminate their results so thoroughly that it is quite simply required that we ignore any of the results they find. It is important to understand that the devices they use are handheld recorders with low-quality microphones and the hardware itself modulates the input volume based on the level of the input it receives so the quieter the surroundings become the higher the gain on the recordings, which further increases distortion of any captured input until the device regulates the level to a more manageable volume. Furthermore, since it’s a low quality microphone being used, as anyone who has recorded any kind of audio or video on a mobile phone knows, distortion is guaranteed when things get any way loud. So, they conduct their EVP test, which consists of asking an empty room a series of questions and waiting for a response, supposedly from an other-worldly entity. I highly recommend Derren Brown’s tv show Derren Brown Investigates The Ghost Hunter for a look at how sketchy these EVP, and, more importantly, their highly subjective and downright ludicrous interpretations, can be. Before the test was conducted, they were advised that one of the supernatural events in the building involved someone hearing someone, who apparently wasn’t there, saying “they saw the light”. Once the complete the testing and return to their operations truck to review the audio file they come across what sounds like some distant voice saying, you guessed it, “they saw the light”, now to my ears, and to anyone who has listened to the quality of the recording and the amount of noise and distortion going on, what they hear as a distant voice saying this phrase they had pre-attuned to, I hear it as simply the rustling and movement of lots of people and equipment in a big, echoing space, which is exactly what their testing environment was like. They then did something which initially I thought would redeem them from their mistakes in that they went back to the site where the so-called EVP was detected and they had one of their team utter the supposed phrase in a hushed manner and then brought back the recording to their truck to analyse and compare both audio samples of the supposed phrase. I initially applauded this as it showed true scientific methodology, if only for a brief moment: This is our hypothesis, let’s go conduct an experiment and see if our hypothesis conflicts with the real world or not. They failed spectacularly in that all they did was look at the general wave forms of both audio files and compare their general shape. The supposed EVP was lower in volume than their voice sample but its general shape seemed to correspond to the sample of the team member uttering the phrase. And that was it, they concluded that their EVP was indeed evidence of some sort of other-worldly presence uttering a phrase. That’s it. No further in-depth analysis, no confirmation that the waveform and frequencies actually conform to human speech and no accounting for the fact that most people have radically different voice patterns.

It’s extremely common where EVP are concerned to have someone in a room with a handheld recorder either in hand or resting somewhere asking questions of the empty room and on the recording you hear, when the questioner falls silent, the background noise increases in volume audibly and becomes extremely dominant as the gain on the recording device rises to detect any and all bits of input. Anyone familiar with any kind of audio knows that the higher the gain goes the more distorted and noisy the signal becomes to the point where the signal to noise ratio is just untenable and nothing meaningful can be taken from the signal. What paranormal researchers then do is listen to these sections of pure noises and try to discern human voices or sounds from them. In case of so-called ‘demonologists’ they don’t even limit themselves to discernibly human voices but anything that sound remotely like any kind of words or phrases. Quite often the questions will come in the form of Yes/No questions, seemingly in order to make the communication as easily as possible for these spirits. Given that these spirits are said to be able to inhabit people and control them, suck the temperature from a room in order to manifest physically and have also been charged with physically interacting with objects and/or people and flinging them across the room, or making them levitate, it seems highly suspect to assume that these entities could not string convincing sentences of audible and comprehensible words together. No, instead we are left with clips and phrases as vague and subjectively interpreted as is possible to imagine. If one were to attempt to prove the existence of other-worldly entities through EVP it would require far more sensitive equipment and far more well controlled circumstances where someone simply shifting their stance would not lead to the recording equipment picking up the rustling of their trousers and mangling it through high-gain distortion into something vague and noisy that an entirely impressionable and biased individual could then subjectively interpret as a muffled “Yes” in response to a vague question that he has intentionally formed in the hopes of receiving a Yes or No response (where no response at all would then further be interpreted as a lack of willingness to respond to the question at hand).

So, we’ve shown that not only is the entire concept of EVP and the common approach to it completely flawed and biased, but we’ve also shown specifically that the methods implemented by the team to both capture the necessary data and then interpret it were flawed, biased and, crucially, wholly unscientific. Should we give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were merely overcome by their enthusiasm? No, not in the slightest. They then go on to experience a series of so-called paranormal events, none of which are captured on camera, and none of which are repeatable or objectively confirmed. All confirmation of the events came from subjective viewers in a highly biased and impressionable state. One of the specific examples was of a door that is purported to open and close itself, which apparently happened during their night of testing but did they decide to set up some cameras on the door in question and observe it? No. They seemed distinctly determined to do everything they could to make every opportunity for highly subjective and non repeatable events to occur.

They then went on to what I find is one of the more ridiculous techniques I’ve come across in paranormal investigations and it seems wholly informed by the presupposition that spirits of dead humans exist and inhabit certain locations for interminable amounts of time. They call the technique “Era Cues” whereby based upon the dominant ghost story in the location (in Shreveport the dominant story was that the rockabilly culture and maybe even Elvis himself was inhabiting the building, seemingly reminiscing and unable to let go of a “golden era” of music and culture) they then do everything they can to introduce cues to that specific era in time, hence “Era Cues”, it’s a somewhat elegant idea and even more so when you buy into their presuppositions but it is once again entirely devoid of any substantial evidence whatsoever. First of all it presupposes the existences of human spirits. Then it further presupposes, solely on the back of the first flawed premise, that these spirits will hang around long after their death. We then build the house of cards one layer higher on the back of our flawed foundations to presuppose that somehow these spirits, who apparently “act out” at random, will be induced to “act out” more than usual by stimulus that is apparently linked to their supposed era.

In order to effect this higher incidence of “acting out” the team ask a rockabilly style band to come set up on stage and play some “era” music. The issue I pointed out earlier of loud people in a loud room trying to be quiet to hear quiet other-worldly noises is amplified (pun intended) by the team insisting that when the song finishes that everyone in the giant auditorium be quiet so that the team members, spread throughout the building can listen for any strange goings on. What do we find? Two jumpy and impressionable female team members (casting no stereotypes here, merely accurate descriptions of specific individuals) say that they heard a door close somewhere behind them that they swear, and video footage apparently confirms, was open earlier. Really? That’s it? That’s all we get from rockabilly spirits energised by music from their era? A closing door? Yes, apparently that’s the extent of the powers of human spirits, they make people’s rustling pants sound like voices and they encourage doors to close (off-camera). [Please bear in mind that my “rustling pants” hypothesis has far more evidence behind it than their weighty presuppositions, however, I still acknowledge the fact that it could also have been a shirt or some equipment etc…]

End of Part One. Part Two will deal with their visit to a plantation house with a ghost story apparently dating back to the American Civil War.

There Be Dragons Here…

At least that is what should be inscribed at the entrance to the supposed Ark Encounter theme park which apparently will include Dragons and Unicorns.

The biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. … The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.). … To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.

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