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Weekend reflections

March 12th, 2010

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

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  1. March 12th, 2010 at 23:17 | #1

    If only I had waited a few hours… I just posted the following on the Monday Message Board:-

    Apropos of nothing in particular, has anyone yet heard what the Henry Tax Review might contain, now that rumour suggests it might be released soon after all?

  2. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 10:19 | #2

    I’m guessing it doesn’t contain any aggregate tax cuts. Just some fiddling around the edges.

  3. Donald Oats
    March 13th, 2010 at 11:22 | #3

    I’m in Melbourne at the moment and went to the opening night of “the Rise of Atheism”, 2010 Global Atheist Convention. My understanding is that 2500 people are registered and in attendance, and my observations of the size of the opening night crowd give me no reason to doubt the quoted number. I’ve already talked with quite a few people, plucked at random by the God of Random Locations of the Remaining Canapes and Drinkies, and it is just fantastic to meet people from all over the place – Perth, Qld, Adelaide, several little towns, including me as rep for Murray Bridge SA 🙂 and France, the USA, Germany, and several other European places. It’s wonderful to see that male westerners of Anglo/Celtic background are not the only people in the crowd; a good mix of age, gender, and ethnicity seem to be present, not withstanding I’ve yet to catch up with anyone from an African country yet – I don’t doubt that there are a few of them here!

    The first three speakers for the night were interesting, to say the least. Now, this is an Atheism Event, so it is to be expected that some converts from strong religious backgrounds to an atheistic background might carry some residual issues that are due to their past religious “life”. In other words, these speakers have a religious past that is a part of them, and maybe they didn’t entirely benefit from the rewards of awaiting salvation, and they had no qualms letting the audience know that! LOL….LOL…LOL pretty much sums up the nature of the talks.

    For me personally, I thought the highlight of the three speakers last night was Catherine Deveny, who was in good form as a comedian. One serial pest who kept standing up or shouting unintelligible rubbish (too many happy drinks, maybe) copped the best heckler retort I’ve heard for awhile: “You are not Effin’ funny…So shut the Fck up and sit down!”, IIRC, and this was to some applause. It worked too! As a Catholic-who-saw-the-light at 38 years of age, Catherine has plenty of experiences to work into her speeches on the topic of atheism from an ex-Catholic woman’s experience. I’ll be making sure I catch her the next time she is in Adelaide (near my town) doing comedy; I had no idea how good she was live, given I’ve only read a couple of her newspaper pieces and that’s pretty much it, oh and I saw here on Q&A for about two minutes.

    The coming highlight for me are the two afternoon speakers, namely A.C. Grayling and P.Z. Meyers, of the pharyngula fame. A great contrast is my expectation between Grayling and Meyers, in terms of “tact” but I have little doubt that the essential message will be the same. P.Z. Meyers, of course, has firsthand experience of the march of God into every science subject via the transmission viruses of Creationism, Intelligent Design, and now the as yet un-named ID/antiscience blend, which I will simple name as Bollocksing Science Everywhere, or BSE as an acronym. But wait! Isn’t BSE Mad Cow Disease? Well this is just a happy coincidence as it means that whenever you hear Mad Cow Disease hopefully you’ll think “Mad Cow Disease? Oh, that is BSE, but oh, that is actually Bollocksing Science Everywhere, that new viral infection being injected into science curricula everywhere, by stealth.” Or something like that. You see, the current climate science backlash and stigmatizing of scientists and science in general provides the perfect environment for moving the ID wedge strategy forwards into the remaining Naturalistic Sciences.

    Tragedy disguised as Farce, that is my view of this new dimension in the excoriation of science. What next, History? Oh wait, didn’t Keith Windschuttle start that early here in Australia?

  4. Donald Oats
    March 13th, 2010 at 11:42 | #4

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    I was going to say something about this on the previous hot-button thread but the cutoff on comments thwarted that.

    While I disagree with many of your opinions and ideas, usually when we arm wrestle it is all quite civil. And do like seeing another angle on particular topics. I’m hoping that in this great blog site we can all concentrate more on the intellectual qualities and reasoning that people present in support, or in critique of others’ ideas, and upon the thread-topic at hand.
    I like the occasional humorous digs that we get here, and even the odd bit of parody of other regulars on this site. I’m hopeful that we can all draw the line on hammering each other with multiple posts focussing upon the individual’s flaws rather than on the individual’s flaws in their posited theory.

    Of course, it goes without saying that I’ve transgressed on this a few times myself…



  5. Donald Oats
    March 13th, 2010 at 11:45 | #5

    @Donald Oats
    Oh, and when I say “we”, I mean everone TerjeP, this is not meant as a subtle dig at you. It’s just my thoughts after seeing a lot of the previous thread looking like ping-pong interspersed with blow-in blowhards using geurilla trolling tactics.

  6. may
    March 13th, 2010 at 11:59 | #6

    Donald Oats :@Donald Oats Oh, and when I say “we”, I mean everone TerjeP, this is not meant as a subtle dig at you. It’s just my thoughts after seeing a lot of the previous thread looking like ping-pong interspersed with blow-in blowhards using geurilla trolling tactics.

    regarding the guerilla trolling.

    for me the outlines of the technique are emerging from the cybermist.

    won’t go into analysis cos the criterion are personal


    the overarching feeling is of a gang airless dust clones trying to spread their boundaries.

  7. Alice
    March 13th, 2010 at 12:16 | #7

    @Donald Oats
    Terje…Im disgusted at your antics with the pasted link. A deluge of ignorant blowhards here was right so dont feign ignorance (and regret pasting JQs link – it was calculated on your part). Then there was your previous efforts to disseminate cut up emails from the climategate hack here. Im not having a subtle dig. You are a pain.

  8. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 12:59 | #8

    Alice – yet it was calculated to draw attention to JQs article. That is usually why you past a link to something. However as I said in the other thread I do with hindsight think an email to Steve would have been a more appropriate means of drawing attention to the article. For what it is worth I though the article that John Quiggin wrote was hatchet job designed to impute guilt without any real evidence or basis. I was disgusted by it and I remain disgusted.

  9. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 13:03 | #9

    Oh, and when I say “we”, I mean everone TerjeP, this is not meant as a subtle dig at you.

    Sorry but this has me confused. I assume it is in reference to your comment immediately above it but I can’t find the word “we” anywhere. I’m not actually clear what you are telling me.

  10. jquiggin
    March 13th, 2010 at 13:40 | #10

    Enough meta-discussion thanks, everyone. The trolls have returned whence they came, and normal discussion can return. To PML, I think the contents of the Henry Tax Review have been fairly comprehensively leaked/foreshadowed. A couple of points of interest

    * An attempt to raise more revenue from resource rent tax and reduce the tax rate on internationally mobile capital
    * Congestion pricing for roads.

  11. Donald Oats
    March 13th, 2010 at 13:40 | #11

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    I was in a hurry: it is the “we” in this statement:

    I’m hoping that in this great blog site we can all concentrate more on the intellectual qualities and reasoning that people present in support, or in critique of others’ ideas, and upon the thread-topic at hand.

    [My bold font to highlight.]
    Gotta run.

  12. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 13:50 | #12

    Whilst it might have some initial appeal in some quarters once the debate gets serious I think a congestion tax would be political poison. In any case it isn’t something the federal government should be involved in. Let the Queenslanders try it out and if it goes well for them then the rest of us might take another look.

  13. Jill Rush
    March 13th, 2010 at 15:07 | #13

    There was an attempt this week by Louis Nowra to dissect the impact of Germaine Greer and it seems that he thinks she hasn’t had any lasting impact and that his wife says he is a lovely man. However this is interesting in itself and seems to reflect on the impact that Greer has had on the western world view of the place of women in the world. Forty years ago there would have been no defence of a husband by a wife as she would have been invisible to all.

    Whilst the impact of Germaine Greer may not have been that which she predicted all those years ago her impact has been huge. Forty years ago Lara Bingle would have been so upset at unauthorised photos that she would have hidden for weeks not had an agent out spruiking for her. This may not be a positive change.

    Howver Nowra was right in one way – forty years ago there were men who were happy to concentrate on her physical attributes alone, such as she was very loud in the Refectory and drew attention to herself. Nowra seems to hold the same opinion now except that because she is like a granny seems to think she deserves no attention at all. There was an anti Greer camp forty years ago and there is still a rump of people who are happy to bag her (or to call her an old bag) and yet she is still endlessly fascinating and still has unusual and challenging perspectives.

    Whilst women may not have adopted her every rallying call they have taken up roles that even Nowra has noticed as he talked of women in the boardroom as if this had nothing to do with Greer. There are for instance two female premiers, one who has won office in her own right and SA may elect a female premier from opposition soon. The head of the ACTU is a woman and we have a female Governor General and have had a number of Governors. People like Heather Ridout are taken very seriously. Whilst there may still be a long way to go none of this would have been possible forty years ago and Greer can take a lot of credit.

    Nowra may just be a grumpy bloke but his assessment of the impact of someone like Greer is highly flawed – the fact that the Female Eunuch is still causing ripples is evidence of that. A great many authors would be very grateful if their works were still read and having an impact on people after this length of time.

  14. Fran Barlow
    March 13th, 2010 at 15:15 | #14

    Personally, as I’ve noted before, I am broadly in favour of usage charges for roads based on volume of traffic at usage moment, vehicle tare, emissions, driver competence and compliance, availability of mass transit along the total route etc …

    I’d like an in-vehicle system, with biometric DriverID to run it.

    With a system like that in place, CTP, stamp dut(ies) registration, fuel excise and other government charges could be dropped. A separate set of excises could apply to fuel for vehicles not used on publicly maintained roads.

  15. Chris Warren
    March 13th, 2010 at 17:52 | #15

    If Henry Review proposes cutting taxes on international capital, those interested in democracy should propose the opposite.

    Capital, able to flow according to its own dictates means it can go “on strike” against one investment environment. This threatens to create a totalitarian capitalist regime – right across the globe.

    If capital gets 10% return in China, why should we expect to retain capital in Australia if the return is 7%?

    Does this mean that only investments returning 10% in Australia will attract fair shares of mobile capital?

  16. Jill Rush
    March 13th, 2010 at 18:02 | #16

    Donald Oats – is this what’s required to stop the god botherers from taking over? Is it that all of the non believers join together and form the atheists’ church so that tax free status can be obtained and atheists will be as important to the political parties as other organised religions?

    I watched Steve Fielding with horror the other night where he squirmed when asked about his actual religious beliefs. Creationism is right up there. I watched another Family First politician at a live meeting squirm when asked about her religion – “Christian” although of a pious and narrow kind. It is hard to believe that the Labor and Liberal Parties failed to support an enquiry into Scientology this week when Nick Xenophon put it forward.

  17. Alice
    March 13th, 2010 at 18:33 | #17

    @Jill Rush
    Jill – its only because both parties are paranoid about losing any of the god botherer votes – like the wretched Brethren and JH. Hard to believe we live in the 2010 and we still have politicians running scared of scientologists (and lets face it – how many scientologists are there in Australia? Couldnt be enough to make a dent in the political landscape.

    Or do they think the Church of Latter day saints might take offence at a perceived religious intervention – and well come to think of it – it might upset the religious followings of the catholics – stop right there.

    I think the response from mainstream politicians is normal.

    I dont think they got excited about the Bagwan Shri RashNeesh (orange people) and Sung Myung Moon of the Moonies when they were at their peak. What about David Berg and the Children of God? Or the

    George Harrison and John Lennon were spreading the gospel according to Hindusim, Ravi Shankar and the Mahareeshi Mahesh Yogi and politicians let Jim Jone’s (disciples of christ) Jonestown happen where 912 people died.
    Im not quite sure why Waco held US forces attention like it did…. except they seemed to have a cache of guns in the compound – but thats Texas for you.

    Most of the time politicians arent interested in mad religious sects.

  18. Donald Oats
    March 13th, 2010 at 20:18 | #18

    @Jill Rush

    Jill, unfortunately if atheists and the irreligious banded together to form “The Church of Atheism” [small print: “If you won’t join a church then we’ll have you!”], then that use of the “Church” word would cement in the minds of the godful that atheists think of themselves as being part of a religion. Atheists who open there mouths among the godful are often told that atheism is just another religion, or words to that effect. A shame really, as obtaining tax-free status is easy in Oz if a) “Church” is in the name, b) “Religion” is written somewhere, c) “White Anglo Saxon Blokes run it” is written somewhere – or at least is tacit.

    Then us outcasts could set up a charity, using the tax-free status of irReligious organisation, and do good works without prosetylizing. Amen!

    On a more serious note I get the vibe from atheists I’ve met that while their views vary a bit, certainly a number of them are annoyed enough to take action about the intrusion of religious beliefs into the sciences. Science is science. Science is about trying to put aside our biases and concentrating upon the facts and the evidence in an organised and logical way. Partly because of nature and largely because of the fact of being human, every last drop of knowledge gained through science has been hard fought and won. The history of science predates the tax-free religiously labelled groups who want to replace hard work with fantastical stories that provide no extra insight into how the natural world works, or even what the natural world encompasses. Indeed, scientific ideas and the scientific approach predate even Christianity.

    It is good news – at least to me – that everyday people are already active in challenging the various creation myths that would paint over astronomy and cosmology, paleontology, biology and botany, and of course Ian Plimer’s favourite subject of geology. I’m waiting to see whether they’ll bother reshaping mathematics – it would sure make proofs easy – and by what means. Or maybe the serious decline in mathematics majors makes it irrelevant anyway.

  19. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 22:24 | #19

    its only because both parties are paranoid about losing any of the god botherer votes

    Right after Steve Fielding refused to deny that he is a young earth creationist on Q&A he then indicated that the first time he met Kevin Rudd the later pulled out a pocket bible and started bothering. I think both sides of politics are not merely pandering to the god botherers they are themselves stacked with them. They are both actually pandering to secularists by being insular about their own religious righteousness.

  20. Freelander
    March 13th, 2010 at 22:53 | #20

    I think the reason Labor and the Coalition let scientology avoid critical examination is that they, the so-called mainstream religions, worry where will it stop. Remember in the good old days, before Henry the Eighth nationalised the religion, the church owned half the property in the Britain. Religion still gets a great deal from government, and still avoids appropriate scrutiny. They have much to lose, but if we are not vigilant they will regain all they have lost since the Dark Ages.

  21. Alice
    March 14th, 2010 at 07:25 | #21

    I think we are overlooking something here….to do with tax deductions for religious groups and charities. Now you cant tell me all those websites that sell self help books and are run by the wives of people like de Crespigny (that seemed to flourish under JH’s changes on tax deductions for charitable organisations)

    ….May not be just hiding some serious income earned elsewhere but laundering it for income tax purposes at the same time??.
    Pollies can sense the “danger” in messing with religion. There may be a lot more money and power in those donation plates than they thought…


  22. Michael
    March 14th, 2010 at 08:21 | #22

    It’s only anecdotal but I have seen some pretty dodgy organisations doing “charity” as part of a religious organisation. It’s high time this stuff received scrutiny. They are the “ends justify the means” Christians, so the laws don’t apply to them.

  23. Freelander
    March 14th, 2010 at 09:21 | #23

    God helps those who help themselves. Whenever I am around Christians I am careful to ensure my wallet doesn’t mysteriously depart, because God works in mysterious ways, and Christians have always been good at helping themselves.

    When you think about it, Scientology is no sillier than, virgin birth, a God putting himself on a cross, torturing himself and so on, or some village idiot small time fraudster translating some magical metalware and having a bunch of nitwits move to Utah, engage in polygamy until the US Federal government says its not on, when God coincidentally decides its no longer on as well. Well. Great how God often manages to move with the times (though with a lag). Hell, some even say God is contemplating equal rights for women!

    No wonder the ‘mainstream’ is worried. If scientology goes, loses its tax breaks, and their stuff is no less silly, they could be next. Maybe religion ought to be taxed heavily, like other dubious forms of entertainment, gambling being a good example. I doubt that is in the Henry review.

  24. Donald Oats
    March 14th, 2010 at 09:49 | #24

    My principal concern with religion and politics is that I wish to participate in secular democracy and for that to be an enduring form of democracy. By secular democracy I mean one in which governments are not proxies for any particular religious group, and that they do not discriminate between individuals of one religion and anybody else, including, but not limited to, atheists and agnostics.
    This does not ban any one person who belongs to a religious organisation from holding office. It does ban the creation of religious parties posing as political parties.

    Yes TerjeP, I can hear you now, saying “Anyone should be allowed to create any political party that they want, so long as they obey the Australian Electoral Commission rules.” 🙂

    The scenario that has occurred elsewhere, most recently and notably in Turkey, is the election of a political party that is actually the political arm of a specific religion (or version of that religion, eg more extreme or radical interpretations), the purpose of which is to establish religious ideals and religious doctrinal laws as the laws of the nation. Once such a party is in power, the potential and actual threat to others is in the imposition of religious doctrine.

  25. Fran Barlow
    March 14th, 2010 at 10:01 | #25

    @Donald Oats

    It does ban the creation of religious parties posing as political parties.

    I don’t see how in practice you can ban religious parties masquerading as political parties without having something like a contemporary inquisition. If you don’t want religious policies, then it is incumbent upon you to oppose parties that support them, regardless of their ostensible rubrics. The problem in Turkey is not the rules but the fact that large numbers of people are sympathetic to theocracy. That’s what has to be discredited. Trying to invent ad hoc fixes is not a good idea.

    As I’ve said a number of times though, I’d prefer a structure that made it in practice impossible for any party, religious or not, to directly select candidates or given them the kind of support that the candidate would deem binding. Sortition with deliberative voting would be a good start especially if the role of the resultant body was to deliver plans developed and agreed through a form of interactive and inclusive direct democracy.

  26. gerard
    March 14th, 2010 at 10:31 | #26

    Scientology is slightly different from mainstream churches in that it forbids its members to undertake any professional treatment or medication for mental illness. This is dangerous. But on top of that, it is different because it charges tens of thousands of dollars for progression through various stages of bogus “enlightenment” (culminating eventually in the aliens-and-volcanos Xenu story). It is a pure scam that preys on the emotionally vulnerable for their money.

    The prize for life-threatening stupidity probably goes to the Jehova’s Witnesses who threaten any doctor who wants to give a patient a blood-transfusion with lawsuits. There should be some sort of law that prevents religious idiots from killing people (such as their own children) by denying them necessary medical procedures.

    Meanwhile the world’s largest organized child-abuse ring (a.k.a. the Catholic Church) has finally had its infallible boss implicated: Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry (Times Online, March 13). I was going to post this on the other thread but did not want to continue that derail.

  27. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 14th, 2010 at 11:06 | #27

    Donald – why do you insist on putting words in my mouth?

    I think immigrants should be prevented from becoming citizens (and hence voters) for several decades after becoming residents. Partly this is motivated by a desire to exclude recently arrived people who are without a secular tradition or culture from voting. Political rights are quite separate from civil rights and I’m happy enough with some restrictions on the former. I’d happily have it that only net contributors to the public purse should get to vote.

  28. Freelander
    March 14th, 2010 at 13:35 | #28


    If it was any other organisation, than a religion, given their activities they would be treated as a criminal conspiracy and the hierarchy would not get away with their implausible denials. The tricks they have and continue to use to protect their loot from their victims is an on going disgrace. To defend themselves from the latest (in Germany) they are pointing out that they are not the only organisation that has had pedophiliacs, and they feel they are being unfairly singled out. Great defence. And when the current infallible one dies, he is on the fast track to sainthood.

  29. Freelander
    March 14th, 2010 at 13:45 | #29


    Great link. I particularly liked this comment there.

    ” Richard Prior wrote:
    Using the volume of Google search results as a guide:-

    Protestant Church Abuse = 198,000 search results

    Muslim Abuse = 9,120,000 search results

    Catholic Church Abuse = 17,100,000 search results

    This may prove absolutely nothing – on the other hand, it may provide cause for concern “

  30. gerard
    March 14th, 2010 at 13:47 | #30


    Apart from your anti-science delusions, I never took you for double-barrelled reactionary.

    It used to be the case that only wealthy property holders got the vote, back in the aristocratic, eighteenth century paradise of “small government” to which this brand of “Libertarian” wishes to return.

    But apart from excluding poor people from voting, we’ll exclude anyone who hasn’t been a resident for several decades?? Firstly, what about non-immigrants who haven’t been alive for “several decades”. But I suppose young people haven’t had the opportunity to be “net contributors” yet.

    Secondly, the desire to exclude people without a secular culture from voting is a pretty piss-poor excuse for denying voting rights to any immigrant who hasn’t lived in the country for several decades. Are you to assume that everybody from outside Australia is more religious than people inside Australia? Does this apply to Europeans and New Zealanders, or just towel-heads? Does it apply to the Chinese, who are just about the least religious nation in the world?

    How about just restrict it so that only “Libertarians” with a net-worth of several million get to vote? After all, what right does a non-Libertarian have to a say in making laws that might potentially affect your property?

    Terje’s is actually here representing an Australian political party (albeit a joke-party), the LDP. Although it’s rather stupid to be responding to his comment, I just want to use it as an example of the fact that many self-proclaimed “Libertarians” are actually vehement enemies of democracy. This is why we have to distinguish between genuine libertarians, and rightwing Ayn-Rand style Propertarians, whose idea of “liberty” is a Pinochet-style, pro-rich dictatorship, but with legalized drugs, guns and prostitution

    (and incest, at least according to one of the LDP’s candidates).

  31. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 14th, 2010 at 17:26 | #31

    Gerard – in terms of excluding recent immigrants (permanent residents) from voting we already do it for a four year period. Switzerland does it for ten years. I don’t think there is any sacred number but given my parents were residents here for over fourty years before taking up citizenship I don’t see much downside in a longer delay than we currently have. This isn’t reactionary it’s just a response to consideration on how a relatively liberal secular nation can preserve those value.

    In terms of restricting the vote to those that contribute to the public purse I would want a house of legislative review that was representative of the entire mass of citizens. It is only really the allocation of government spending where I would want a qualified representation.

    At the moment Tasmanians get a much bigger say in federal government than the rest of us and we still survive. I don’t think that calling for a slightly more liberal leaning orientation within the system means I am against democracy. However if your definition of democracy is simply majority rules on every issue then that isn’t a system I support. I want constitutional constraints. I don’t support unlimited government and when pressed I doubt that you do either.

  32. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 14th, 2010 at 17:31 | #32

    p.s. I’m not here as an LDP representative. I agree with the party on loads of things but I ceased being on the party executive in 2008 and I haven’t been a candidate since 2007. When I comment the views expressed are my own. Having said that the LDP does advocate longer delays for citizenship in it’s immigration policy. This is however in the context of a more open and transparent immigration regime.

  33. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 14th, 2010 at 17:33 | #33

    Donald – I can now see the comment with the relevant “we”. Either it was missing before or I missed it. I appreciate your considered thoughts.

  34. sdfc
    March 14th, 2010 at 17:43 | #34


    Google search +men +abuse = 156,000,000 results.

    May prove absolutely nothing and like the google searches above does prove nothing.

  35. sdfc
    March 14th, 2010 at 19:51 | #35

    Make that no one.

  36. jquiggin
    March 14th, 2010 at 19:56 | #36

    Enough back and forth, please. Discuss something of substance or wait until a new topic comes up.

  37. gerard
    March 14th, 2010 at 20:26 | #37

    Terje, democracy is not simply majority rule, but it does imply that the vote of a poor person should be worth the same as the vote of a rich person. The idea that the allocation of government spending should be constitutionally determined by the rich is simply the attitude of a anti-democratic aristocrat out of the eighteenth century. Fortunately, your type lost, and you can’t turn back the clock.

  38. Donald Oats
    March 14th, 2010 at 20:49 | #38

    I went to the last day of the “Rising Atheism” 2010 convention today, specifically to see both Dan Barker, who became an atheist after spending a number of years roaming America as an Evangelical preacher; and, Richard Dawkins, who gave a speech on the evolution of gratitude, and why we should have gratitude for evolution. Both speakers were very interesting.
    Dan Barker explained how he first became an Evangelical preacher at the ripe old age of 15! Turns out he was pretty good at it and managed to knock the rough, youthful edges off his sermons, so that over time he commanded a large audience. After several years of this, he was sent “cross country” for four years, preaching at many different churches, and in the meanwhile becoming exposed to a less literalist interpretation of the texts from the preachers that he met. According to Dan, he found it difficult to reconcile the fact that on the one hand a preacher (and his flock) mightn’t believe that Adam and Eve were real people but just a means of communicating a moral lesson by means of story; and, on the other hand, these people were clearly moral people. The result was that little by little Dan appreciated more and more of the Bible as part historical, part fable (with a moral). In the end he realised that if the major characters in the Bible were probably mythical, then why not the same with the one at the top?

    Richard Dawkins’s speech was even more interesting to me, but not for the reasons I’d have expected. Before I walked into the lecture room to see Dan, I saw the ABC journalist and cameraman outside. Because I was a little late for Dan’s speech, I had to stand right up at the back of the lecture theatre.
    After Dan came Richard Dawkins. After Richard had been talking for several minutes, the cameraman came into the lecture theatre, set up the camera at the very back of the theatre close to me, and filmed a short tract – maybe 5 minutes. And then they left. I don’t know if the journalist was even present, or whether she interviewed Richard afterward or before his speech.
    Later this evening, on the ABC 7 O’clock News, they had a short segment on the Atheism Convention. Sure enough, instead of some straight reporting of what Richard was speaking about – evolution of gratitude and other emotions – we got Maurice Newman balance! Show the lecture hall looking pretty well packed with Dawkins down the front, speaking away; cut to Church of England priest to provide the usual negativity about atheism, then back to Dawkins being interviewed for a short response. Bit of blather from journo and that’s that.

    The journalist and cameraman are presumably doing what they are expected to do, according to the ABC’s rules, so I’m not having a go at them. For me though, it was an insight into how a new piece gets constructed. Perhaps I’m mistaken thinking this but I reckon if the same Atheism convention had occurred in the 1970s, the journalists would actually have stayed for Dawkins’s entire speech, and made notes from it, ultimately producing a news story that gives both background on the convention and some explanation of the Dawkins speech. For today’s journalists it seems that what Dawkins was speaking about, and the content of his speech, were entirely incidental. The footage of the lecture theatre was probably the most important thing for the journalists to capture (in so far as the eventual news story went).


    PS: Someone else seemed to be recording Dawkins’s speech and hopefully it will hit the blogosphere.

  39. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 15th, 2010 at 03:24 | #39

    Gerard – you don’t need to be particularily rich to be a net taxpayer. However you needn’t worry because I’m well aware that such a reform wouldn’t get legs. It isn’t something you will see me campaigning for in earnest.

    A much more practical way to control tax excesses, and democratic in a majoritarian sense, is to introduce a Colorado style TABOR clause in the constitution. What that means in practice is that the government can not increase any tax, introduce any new tax, or collect total tax revenue above a given cap without the peoples support in a direct vote. This is highly democratic giving the people the whip hand over government. And in practice it has limited the spending initatives of the Colorado government because in most years the people have opposed extra taxation.

  40. gerard
    March 15th, 2010 at 07:53 | #40

    Colorado suspended TABOR in 2005 due to the harm it was doing to the State.

  41. gerard
    March 15th, 2010 at 08:07 | #41

    I notice that a snarky comment of mine regarding the Catholic Church was removed.

    to respond to sdrc’s point more properly, the evidence that this Church is an organization that systematically protects and enables pedophiles comes not from google, but from the mountains of victims’ testimony and reels of lawsuits that are threatening to bankrupt dioceses in country after country. USA, Germany, Ireland, Australia, it doesn’t seem to matter where it is, the Catholic Church has exhibited the same pattern of an organized racket for child abusers wherever it is, and we now know that the Pope himself, at least on one occasion, was in on this. Hopefully this type of publicity will hasten the decline Church for good in the West, although unfortunately they seem to be doing quite well in the 3rd world where they continue to promote overpopulation, AIDS and the subjugation of women.

    This is not to say that no forces for good exist within the Catholic Church, but its leadership has never had any hesitation in snuffing these forces out.

  42. Alice
    March 15th, 2010 at 08:12 | #42

    Good one (you link) Gerard but you wont persuade Terje that you cant keep reducing taxes to nothing. Here is Terje still whining for tax cuts by pushing for a TABOR style tax…that the people of Colorado democratically got rid of. I not surprised. Terje just isnt interested in a democratic outcome.

  43. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2010 at 09:02 | #43

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    The Colorado initiative ended up debilitating the state, until it was rescinded.

  44. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 15th, 2010 at 09:08 | #44

    The people of Colorado did not get rid of TABOR. They suspended it for 5 years. It comes back into force this year and the people retain the whip hand. If the government wants to lift the cap to a higher level TABOR does not prevent this. All it requires is the support of the people. It is a very democractic initative.

  45. gerard
    March 15th, 2010 at 09:52 | #45

    it is certainly more democratic than denying voting rights to the poor.

    however, why should tax be separated from other legislative matters? if every tax change has to be put to popular vote, why not everything else – such as the cutbacks that inevitably ensue? why not have these elections take place at election time, not separately, with a full, intelligent, reasoned debate about public finances? perhaps if taxes were put into their proper context in such a way, the public deliberation would be more informed, and not vulnerable to the emotion-based, dishonest campaigning coming from the pathologically greedy plutocrats (who are the only class-conscious force in America) with their practically unlimited resources and organization – not to mention total lack of scruples – when it comes to these specialized elections.

    We’ve seen it time and time again, most recently when Obama’s tax policies – which represented a tax cut for the bottom 95% of people – was sold to many poor people as a tax increase, simply due to the utter mendacity of the no-lie-is-too-big American Right. And lots of people believed it, because democracy in America comes without any pretense that people should have information that isn’t the complete opposite of the truth.

    However despite this assymetry (and the naivety of all those deluded poor people who identify with the rich because they somehow think that one day they themselves will somehow get to the top of the pyramid), we recently saw Oregon vote to raise taxes on the wealthy, and hopefully California’s present malaise will serve as a warning to other states.

  46. Freelander
    March 15th, 2010 at 10:02 | #46

    Very disappointing that the media appears to have substantially ignored the Atheist Conference and the many notables who visited. The Aus had something today but I had a quick look on the ABC site and couldn’t find anything.

    Re: restrictions on the ability to tax. California seems to be having trouble due to problems raising revenue and Greece’s problems seem to be due to their serial inability to collect the taxes they’ve enacted. Italy seems to have a similar problem. Modern societies would descend into anarchy were it not for for their ability to tax.

    Rather than a whip hand the people of Colorado are wielding a rod for their backs.

  47. smiths
    March 15th, 2010 at 10:47 | #47

    the catholic church needs to get rid of celibacy and allow women priests,
    this move would propel the church forward into a future, on its current trajectory it will break apart from the inside,
    this would not affect the beliefs of millions of good-hearted catholics who believe that genuine faith, love and good works can heal the human problems,
    dawkins is irrelevant in all of this, the church should realise that its focus should be inwards,
    and atheists should realise they ultimately mean nothing to people of faith,
    if the kind of robotic atheism dawkins preached had been the heart of the power structure for two millenia then it would have all the blood, corruption and intrigue on its hands that the catholic church has,
    its a worthless charge to accuse the church of atrocities from a thousand years ago,
    atheism is also incoherent,
    wiki gives atheism this intro

    Atheism is commonly defined as the position that there are no deities.It can also mean the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. A broader definition is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.

    theres a lot of room for difference in there,
    if atheism was crowned as supreme belief system tomorrow they would be killing each other over the the latitude offered in that definition within a hundred years,
    ‘there is no gods’ is profoundly different to ‘i dont believe in god’

    dont support divisive worldviews, whether they have deities or vacuums at the centre

  48. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:03 | #48

    Gerard – as I understand TABOR in Colorado there is nothing limiting when the government can ask the people for an increase in the cap. If they wish to time it with elections they can. If they want to do it just after an election in the case of a change in government they can. I don’t believe there is any technical limit on how often or when they can put the question to the people.

    I don’t know much of the detail regarding the Obama tax cuts so I can’t really comment on the difficulties he might have had in selling them. With regards to TABOR however there is nothing within the concept that prevents any revenue growth that would otherwise flow to across the board pro-rata tax cuts from being avoided by the legislature deciding to give focused tax cuts for those on low income.

    In terms of direct democracy on every spending initative I doubt this is practical but I wouldn’t mind so much as long as it is done within the confines of fiscal realism.

  49. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:08 | #49

    p.s. Just to be clear. TABOR does not cap what tax the government may collect from any given individual. It merely caps the average it may collect. It could within those confines shift towards placing the entire tax burden on the upper income levels if it wishes so long as the average does not exceed the cap.

  50. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:10 | #50

    p.p.s. Those paying no tax are not excluded from the average so the top income earners can be taxed well above the averages cap.

  51. smiths
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:28 | #51

    your unsubstantiated allegation of systematic criminal misconduct on the part of the accounting firms is not only unproven but just illustrates how desperate you are on this. – Andrew Reynolds

    a matter of days after this comment we have

    Ultimately the biggest loser from the whole Repo 105 scandal may not be the perpetrators … but the alleged “fact-checkers” – auditors Ernst & Young.
    Just like Enron’s Star Wars-based off balance sheet accounting gimmicks brought down Arthur Anderson, so “Repo 105” may likely be responsible for the downfall of E&Y. – zerohedge

    which bit of Ernst & Youngs systemic criminal misconduct at Lehman would you like to refute Andrew?

    further to my other point that the global financial crisis was a sham and should rightly be called the greatest public wealth theft in history, i note the new forbes rich list has a higher entry bar than ever,
    only billionaires are eligible now, wealth is literally pouring upwards and anyone who thinks carlos slim got to the top selling phones is misfiring in their cranium

  52. Freelander
    March 15th, 2010 at 18:17 | #52


    Atheism isn’t a world view. It isn’t a belief system at all. It is simply an absence of belief in any God. Similarly, Asantaism, that is, absence of belief in Santa Claus is not a belief system and entails nothing in particular. People who haven’t even heard of Santa don’t believe in Santa. Atheists can be bad or mad or sad for many reasons but none of them are due to atheism.

    The rule on celibacy is certainly not healthy but celibacy is not the central problem or the reason for the problems in the catholic church. To suggest that paedophilia is due to the church’s current rule on celibacy for the priesthood is silly. The problems existed in those people long before they became priests. That is not to say that upbringing in the faith is necessarily unrelated to some of those problems. Or that the priesthood doesn’t offer certain types of people with certain types of problems certain attractions and protections. For some it has historically provided a happy hunting ground. The church should get rid of celibacy but not simply as a cure for paedophilia. Celibacy was only introduced to protect church assets from dissipation anyway. Not exactly a core scriptural reason. Actually, they should give all church assets away. Then there would be no need to protect them.

  53. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 14:44 | #53

    i have to disagree with you on that, spiritual belief systems are as old as humans,
    it is not correct to say that non-belief in deities is the same as non-belief in one particular character fixed in a certain place and time like santa,
    its the kind of sweeping generalisation atheists often make without really considering the logic,
    as i said in my post,
    there are a range of atheisms,
    some believe that they can categorically deny the existence of deities which of course requires the same kind of unobtainable proof which eludes religious believers, they say they dont need a proof of a negative assertion but i disagree with that,
    if you say that god does not exist i say how do you know?
    most light atheists are really agnostics, they dont really believe in god, they suspect that all evidence suggests the absence of a deity but admit that ultimately there is simply not enough evidence to prove it one way or the other
    honestly though, i dont really care,
    i think the arguement about where did we come from and why are we here proves to be one of the greatest distractions from the real questions,
    who and what do you love, and what are you doing to nourish those people and things you love

  54. March 16th, 2010 at 15:13 | #54

    One accounting firm being wrong (or even committing fraud) on one job no more indicates systemic fraud than one bank manager stealing from a bank indicates systemic theft amongst bank managers or theft by an aid worker indicates that the whole global system of aid distribution is corrupt. A single employee that commits theft does not mean that you need to sack your entire workforce.
    It may or may not be the case, but that is not evidence for it. Your accusation is still unsubstantiated.
    The big four firms each sign off on several thousand jobs every single day of the working week. To prove any fraud to be systematic you would need to show that there is systematic fraud on a reasonable percentage of those jobs. With the evidence you have so far I believe that a court would, on a charge of systematic fraud, still pronounce a resounding “Not Guilty”.

  55. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 15:31 | #55


    My non-belief is quite general, just like everyone’s non-belief. There are an infinity of things I don’t believe in. Most of them I don’t even know that I don’t believe in them, but if you asked me about them one by one I could confirm my disbelief. Santa Claus, the various versions of the Abrahamic God, the various other gods, Gods I haven’t even heard of. If a God gave some evidence of existence then I might change my mind but I put the likelihood of that as being much smaller than Santa Claus doing the same. Or to put it another way, I give it probability zero of happening. Not impossible but exceedingly unlikely.

  56. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 15:38 | #56
  57. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 15:40 | #57

    i’ll give you evidence of god, infinite space and time

  58. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 15:45 | #58


    How do you know that space or time are infinite? Why not what I don’t believe in, or what I don’t know? Those are infinite.

  59. March 16th, 2010 at 15:49 | #59

    Freelander – an event with a probability of zero is impossible. If you want “exceedingly unlikely” you need to head for a number than is greater than zero but (probably) less than 0.1 or 0.05.
    Let’s just chalk that one up to another error, shall we? Probably a bigger error than a spelling mistake.
    That was an interesting link – and Francine seems to know a fair bit about what she is saying. Her discussions of several cases (seems to be between 1 and 2 a month) being brought against audit firms does not (IMHO) indicate that there is a major problem in an industry that signs off on thousands of audits a day.

  60. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 15:50 | #60

    yeah, those as well,
    actually i think that time is a byproduct of space so i probably shouldnt include that one,
    really though, anything you want can be evidence if you so believe, the ridiculous improbability of life, love, beauty, imperfection, random acts of shocking cruelty

  61. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:15 | #61

    @Andrew Reynolds
    i think you set the bar higher than i do Andrew,
    i am talking though about the big four auditors and the biggest world banks,
    not the guys that audit my little companies accounts once a year

  62. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:15 | #62

    @Andrew Reynolds

    Praisie Andrew. I said probability zero. If I had taken your claims about yourself seriously I would have thought that you would know that that does not necessarily mean that an event is impossible. But I am not surprised that you don’t know this. I suppose you don’t know too much maths or statistics or probability theory. Still haven’t asked about what your ‘south park’ avatar reveals.

    smiths. In this universe, the existence of some life is not improbable at all. This universe has the necessary properties. Not surprising really, if it didn’t we wouldn’t be here.

  63. March 16th, 2010 at 16:24 | #63

    An event with a probability of zero has no chance of occurring – it is that simple and is absolutely basic statistics. To quote the Wikipedia “A probability is a real number between zero (the event cannot happen in any trial)…”.
    Yet another basic error. The trick when you make these is not to bluster on as if you know what you are talking about, but to correct yourself. You should try that.
    If you want to restrict it to just the the big four firms and multi-million dollar accounts there would be hundreds or thousands of these signed off each year. For there to be questions raised over just 1 or 2 a month (and not even findings made or suits finalised, just questions) then that is not evidence of systematic fraud. If anything, this seems to be evidence of exactly the opposite.

  64. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:28 | #64

    look i dont want to get into a silly conversation about how we come to be here,
    yes, the building blocks are there, and we are here to ponder them, fine,
    but you know, the planet sits in a narrow range, it was bombarded a lot more before by meteors, the sun itself seems to sit in a sweet spot,
    theres lots of variables,
    i am just saying that if you believed in god you could take these things as evidence quite reasonably,
    especially since there is no satisfying theory of how complex life actually arose,
    i am sure i read the other day it might have begun on those vents in the deep sea … speculation though

  65. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:51 | #65

    @Andrew Reynolds

    Get an education. I said probability zero. An event with probability zero is not necessarily impossible. An impossible event has probability zero, but an event with probability zero is not necessarily impossible. It could happen but (maybe) not overnight. Consult a mathematician. (Actually, JQ is a mathematician and so is Ernestine.) Otherwise, get over it.

  66. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:56 | #66


    The satisfying theory is evolution. And where the self aware are in existence, with or without a god, either the means for them coming into existence there, or the means of them getting there from elsewhere is automatically entailed. Not only is that true with probability one, but because it exhausts the possibilities, it is also a certainty.

  67. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:09 | #67

    evolution from what, water bears ?

  68. Donald Oats
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:14 | #68

    I’m the full-on atheist in the sense that I have a lack of belief in any god(s), or other supernatural stuff.
    Obviously no one can prove the non-existence of god(s), since they are so good at hiding. However, one doesn’t need watertight logic and a mathematical proof that god(s) don’t exist in order to be satisfied, for the following reason:
    smiths, Do you believe that your physical body will only live for a finite number of years, and almost certainly fewer than 200 years (to pick a number at of the hat)? And that once dead, your physical body will start to decompose?
    If so, you are making the same logic error that you are claiming that (some) atheists make. You cannot prove that you will die, except of course by killing yourself – which wouldn’t prove it to you anyway, since you’d be in no position to know the answer by then. Yet I’d wager that you think it is a dead certainty (pun intended) that you’ll die, even though you cannot prove it. Afterall, people are dying all the time, so there is plenty of evidence that people die. And as far as oldest living person goes, no one so far has made 150 year of age.

    On the assumption that you agree with me that it’s highly, highly unlikely that you’ll live forever, or even for another 200 years, perhaps now you can appreciate that my position is I’m as certain that there is no god or gods as I am that I will die one day. I don’t need mathematical certainty, just the fact that the evidence of existence of god(s) is itself restricted to heresay and the claims of a few individuals long ago, whereas the evidence that people die is extremely convincing. If other people require even more certainty than what I’ve presented, then fine, they may choose a different course to me. I won’t be mad at them for doing so. Unlike what the Age and the Australian may have led people to believe.

  69. Freelander
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:16 | #69


    From Adam and Eve of course, six thousand or ten thousand, or whatever years ago. Eve evolved out of a purloined rib.

  70. smiths
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:27 | #70

    if you are saying that given the available information, the odds are that gods dont exist is almost a water-tight cert then i’d say thats fair, but we are acknowleding its a wager, rather than a fact right?
    have you vere known or met anyone who you trusted with their sanity who has seen a ghost?

    and freelander, you are not jokingly suggesting that i might believe that are you?

  71. gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 18:40 | #71

    i am just saying that if you believed in god you could take these things as evidence quite reasonably,
    especially since there is no satisfying theory of how complex life actually arose

    Not really, because if you posit “God” as an explanation for how complex life arose, you then have to explain how God arose, and you’re back at square one – or actually even further back, since God is presumably more complex than the complex life it created…

  72. SJ
    March 16th, 2010 at 18:55 | #72

    An event with a probability of zero has no chance of occurring – it is that simple and is absolutely basic statistics.

    No, Andrew, it’s more complicated than that. Before you discover the first black swan, the a priori probability that the next swan that you see will be black is zero.

  73. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:02 | #73

    I see the religious zealots are still at it.

    Yes he does think you believe that Smiths, Freelander can only handle cartoon concepts. Saying evolution as it is currently understood is a certainty suggests he doesn’t even understand it.

    Gerard, no one has to explain how god or whatever you want to call it arose, that is just silly.

  74. Donald Oats
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:03 | #74

    I’m saying that in the world of mathematics it may be possible to prove some things, which makes them “theorems”, but in the world we inhabit we don’t have the luxury of 100% certainty. Absolutely everything physical must be observed by some means in order to reason about it; without observation we are guessing. However, in the case of the physical world we have observed a regularity in the behaviour of mass, matter and energy, and we can derive mathematical equations that describe the observed behaviour. It is the existence of a) the means of observation; and b) the ability to derive equations adequate to the task, that allows scientists to make (accurate) predictions of the Earth, moon, Sun system, taking into account the effects of the other planets, for example.
    In the case of god(s), we have the problem that the vast majority of people never observe them, a miniscule number of people claime to have observed god(s), and the god(s) (assuming that they exist, for sake of the argument) fail to leave any decent physical evidence of their presence. If they do leave evidence, it must be indistinguishable from natural happenings, otherwise the failure to obey natural laws (eg gravitational attraction, the example I used earlier on in this comment) would stick out like a sore thumb and be observable by many people, perhaps even measurable. In that case, we would have sufficient evidence to establish that either we are missing some scientific laws relevant to the human time and space scales, or something that behaves as we imagine a god or gods to behave has left us a calling card, so to speak. Evidence of that nature would open up the idea of god or gods as being plausible, maybe even true.

    So, I just live my life as though there are no gods. I make no claim to know answers to the big questions, like how did the Universe come into being assuming an origin? In fact, I’m not even sure that questions like that can even in principle be answered, at least not with the tools we currently have at hand. Of course, that (thankfully) doesn’t stop some people from trying.

  75. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:29 | #75

    I have not targeted my point about religious zealotry at you Donald but rather those who think it necessary to label all Christians as pedophiles simply because it is a convenient way for them to explain away the vast amount of social assistance the various churches provide to the community. I said earlier (but it was deleted) an atheists or anyone’s personal views as to the nature of existence are none of my business.

  76. gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:51 | #76

    Gerard, no one has to explain how god or whatever you want to call it arose, that is just silly.

    if you are using god to explain how life arose, then you have to explain how god arose. if this is a “silly” question, then it is also a silly question to ask how life arose.

  77. Alice
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:55 | #77

    I hate to say this …but there is no god. We …every atom and every part pf every atom…has been here on earth since the big bang and there is nowhere to go except right here unless you believe your atoms have some memory in which case you may have some of your atoms re-incranated into another life force (which you will undoubtedly have no memory of either).


  78. gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 19:55 | #78

    …those who think it necessary to label all Christians as pedophiles

    nobody on this blog did that, and probably nobody anywhere else did either

  79. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 20:34 | #79

    Hate to break it to you Gerard but existence didn’t start with biological life.

    Commenters on this blog did associate Christians with child abuse. When I pointed out to Freelander that the church provides goods and services to the most needy in the community the discussion degenerated into accusations of child abuse as some sort of ulterior motive for good works in the community. Most of those comments have now been deleted. You can see the remnants of that discussion on the Deltoid v Thunderer thread.

  80. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 20:38 | #80

    gerard :Scientology is slightly different from mainstream churches in that it forbids its members to undertake any professional treatment or medication for mental illness. This is dangerous. But on top of that, it is different because it charges tens of thousands of dollars for progression through various stages of bogus “enlightenment” (culminating eventually in the aliens-and-volcanos Xenu story). It is a pure scam that preys on the emotionally vulnerable for their money.
    The prize for life-threatening stupidity probably goes to the Jehova’s Witnesses who threaten any doctor who wants to give a patient a blood-transfusion with lawsuits. There should be some sort of law that prevents religious idiots from killing people (such as their own children) by denying them necessary medical procedures.
    Meanwhile the world’s largest organized child-abuse ring (a.k.a. the Catholic Church) has finally had its infallible boss implicated: Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry (Times Online, March 13). I was going to post this on the other thread but did not want to continue that derail.

    Gerard since you chose to post the above comment in the middle of that discussion it appears your objection to my statement of accusations of child abuse being levelled at all Christians is a little disingenuous.

  81. gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 21:21 | #81

    Thank you for reposting my post, I know it’s so good that it deserves repetition, but can you pinpoint where I (or anybody else) has levelled accusations of child abuse at “all Christians”? No you can’t, because nobody ever did that, here or anywhere else.

    Undeniably, the Catholic Church hierarchy has such a well-established history, in country after country, decade after decade, of enabling and protecting pedophiles, that it really isn’t hyperbole to say that no other institution can compete with it on this count.

    But unless you are a complete idiot, you must be well aware that this is entirely different from saying that “all Catholic priests are pedophiles”, let alone saying that “all Christians are pedophiles”!! Making a leap like that is more than a little disingenuous, it wins the prize for Strawman of the Millennium, congratulations.

    As for the other matter we’re talking about – existence – well the same argument applies to the origin of the universe as to the origin of life. If you’re going to say that “God” explains the origin of the universe, then what explains the origin of God? If you then say that the origin of God doesn’t require an explanation, then why does the origin of the universe require an explanation? The silliness works both ways I’m afraid.

    Logically, God is totally redundant as an explanation for the creation of anything. If we don’t need to explain the origin of God, then we don’t need to explain the origin of the universe. But if we do need to explain the origin of the universe, then logically we also need to explain the origin of God!

  82. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 21:56 | #82

    I can tell your uncomfortable with being called out participating in such a discussion. Claiming you have no knowledge of the exchange and then claiming there is no proof of the discussion, knowing full well the comments were deleted, does you no credit.

    You can carry on all you like about the catholic church. I’m not a catholic or any other denomination.

    Explaining the origin of God? You obviously like circular arguments. What explains the origin of the big bang? Or the singularity that some think preceded it (for want of a better word)?

    You should try and not get so hung up on other people’s beliefs.

  83. sdfc
    March 16th, 2010 at 21:56 | #83

    Yes I know it should be you’re.

  84. March 16th, 2010 at 22:02 | #84

    You are embarrassing yourself again. An event that has a zero probability is impossible. That is how it is defined. As you did with your embarrassment over the simile question, I recommend that you now ignore this crass error and move on. The more you harp on the less credible you become – if, indeed, you have any credibility left.

  85. Gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 22:12 | #85

    There was never any comment that said all Christians are pedophiles, deleted or otherwise. Maybe you hallucinated it.

    We can continue the other discussion when you learn what a “circular argument” actually is, or even what an “argument” is, since you don’t seem to know

  86. Gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 22:16 | #86

    Andrew you’re wrong. In continuous state space there is a difference between zero probability and impossible. I know it’s counter-intuitive, that’s why my probability professor emphasized the point

  87. Nick R
    March 16th, 2010 at 22:57 | #87

    Many religious people use an infinite regression to justify belief in God. These arguments are usually made by repeating the phrases ‘…well what happened before that?’ or ‘why?’ enough times such that eventually the birth of the universe must be explained. At this point people invoke God to terminate the regress.

    As Dawkins explains there are several flaws with this thinking. Firstly the concepts of time and causality do not have simple definitions in a cosmological sense the way they do on earth, and thus applying them in an infinite regress is invalid. Secondly if a religious person was to argue that the regress was valid they would need to explain what happened before God and how God came into existence. Claiming that ‘God has always been here’ or ‘God needed no creation’ is unscientific, though it does imply that the regress argument is invalid.

  88. gerard
    March 16th, 2010 at 23:22 | #88

    @Nick R
    thanks, you said it better than me.

    to sdrc I was just making the point that if you’re going to use God as an explanation for the Big Bang, then it is not any more silly or less silly to ask “What caused God”? than it is to ask “What caused the Big Bang?”

    That’s just straight-forward logic, although I know that religion and logic have a tendency to be incompatible.

    Unlike sdrc I was raised pretty staunchly Catholic. I didn’t really question that God created the universe, but I remember one time when I was about six I had a brainwave and asked “Did God have any choice about creating the universe? After all, if he didn’t create it, he’d be God of nothing.” Although I was told that it was a stupid question, I had realized that even if God had created the universe, he mustn’t have had much say in the matter.

    I have to say though, nothing cures one of religion quite as thoroughly as a good old-fashioned Catholic school.

  89. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 00:03 | #89

    Gerard :
    Andrew you’re wrong. … there is a difference between zero probability and impossible. I know it’s counter-intuitive, that’s why my probability professor emphasized the point

    Gerard, you’re not resort to the use of facts and knowledge gained from an education? Andrew will accuse you of hitting below the belt. I should have thought that Google would have allowed Andrew to have found that out all by himself. Interesting that the finance expert didn’t know that. Mustn’t be a ‘quant’ then?

  90. March 17th, 2010 at 00:28 | #90

    I have never come across an event that had a zero possibility, yet was not impossible and I have dealt for a long time in probabilities. To me, that would be really counter intuitive. Can you give an example?

  91. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 00:38 | #91

    @Andrew Reynolds

    Probability zero, you nong.

  92. March 17th, 2010 at 01:15 | #92

    So far the only “nong” here would be someone who insists that it is OK to truncate a sentence and then claim that the truncation is a fair basis to evaluate the original sentence.
    In any case you “nong” Gerard has clearly said “zero probability”, not “probability zero”. Again, if there is a difference I would be interested, as I said.
    Good to see you continuing to stick by the abuse policy as well.

  93. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 01:54 | #93

    Praisie Andrew. I stick to the policy with greater fidelity than you do. If you want to portray yourself as clever, you will have to lift your game. If you don’t know much about maths, or stats or probability or history what exactly do you know? Are you indeed an adult as you seem to claim? And you claim to work in finance and at a university? Clearly you are not an economist, and you do not have much quant training.
    Also, why do you expect everyone here to supply you with a free education? Especially when you’re such a cheeky chap. You’re a libertarian. Why don’t you go out and purchase one? “curing chemotherapy” doesn’t make sense. It contains a lexical selection error. As for you correcting everyone for imaginary mistakes, maybe you should also purchase some treatment for that and your other problems while you are at it. Maybe you’ll get a volume discount.
    Gerard did not say ‘zero possibility’, in case you didn’t notice.
    If you are interested, you have already been given a suggestion on how you might go about doing your own research – start with Google. (Remember everything you find on the web is not necessarily correct.) However, Google probably isn’t enough. Learning without guidance is not so easy for some. You still haven’t inquired about what your ‘south park’ avatar reveals. I might tell you that one for free.

  94. March 17th, 2010 at 02:26 | #94

    Perhaps you can address your seeming fascination with my gravatar elsewhere. As for the rest, I am not sure of what, if any, point you are trying to make. That comment seems to be all over the place. I might also be interested in why you are continuing to repeat smiths’ picking up of my mis-spelling of the word précis, but I think that is only likely to start yet another incoherent spray.
    As I advised you a while back – get a life. An education in forming an argument would be another worthwhile step.

  95. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 02:36 | #95

    Praisie Andrew. Your banalothon continues. Now you are once again claiming to be an expert on argumentation, and I suppose logic. Yet all the evidence is to the contrary.

  96. March 17th, 2010 at 05:13 | #96

    I do not need to be an expert to see that you seem to have a problem with the concept of a paragraph. Oh – and Gerard did say “zero probability”. Right there, in the bit you blockquoted.

  97. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 05:21 | #97

    Andrew Reynolds :
    I have never come across an event that had a zero possibility, …

    Praisie, in what way is ‘zero possibility’ synonymous with “zero probability”? Nong.

  98. Freelander
    March 17th, 2010 at 05:24 | #98

    Sorry Andrew, my natural empathy can only stand so much of your public humiliation. Goodbye.

  99. gerard
    March 17th, 2010 at 08:38 | #99

    Ok Andrew, I’ll attempt an example, although maybe not the best one, and maybe it will seem silly, but…

    what’s the probability that the temperature at a given moment will be 20 degrees celsius?

    Zero. Why? Because temperature is a continuous variable. When we say “20 degrees”, we are not only excluding 19.9 degrees and 20.1 degrees, we are also excluding 19.9999999999999999 degrees and 20.0000000000000000000001 degrees, and so on, to an infinite number of decimal places. As the number of decimal places that you are excluding goes to infinity (which is the definition of a continuous variable), the probability of it being exactly 20 goes to zero. In fact, the probability of it being any exact point on the continuum is zero. But that’s different from saying it’s “impossible” that the temperature is 20. The temperature has to be some exact value after all – even if the probability of it being any particular exact value is zero.

    That’s why on continuous distributions you always measure the probability over an interval, and not at a single point.

    PS I’m not an expert so if anybody who actually is an expert wants to correct me, feel free.

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