Just survived an interesting discussion with mum and nan at the dining table. I don't try to flaunt my atheism amongst them but today they challenged me.

Was discussing first of all this news about Dark Matter. (Very Cool !)
Dark Matter Discovery1

Dark Matter Discovery2

- maybe possibly the first experimental proof Dark matter exists and isn't just a neat theory on a few pieces of paper.

Got onto talking about collisions and the Newton/Leibniz quarrel over velocity calculations (one of my personal favourite history of science examples because the result - squaring the number - leads directly into Einsteins calculation with the speed of light being squared.)

Newton didn't obey the conservation of energy principle in his calculations of collisions. In such circumstances were he got a negative results from collisions and dissipation of energy he thought it could be rationalised as God reaching down and replacing the missing energy. Leibniz was having none of that so squared all their numbers involved, to negate the negatives.

That in turn led to me talking about the destruction of Soddom and Gomorrah - it was on my mind becuase there was a TV documentary about it yesterday on the History Channel. The documentary put forward the claim about an asteroid track apparently recorded in cuneiform on a Babylonian clay tablet - when the astromap was plotted - gave a date of 3012BCE, and the track coming out of the constellation gave an imapct site of Poland.

The connection to Soddom? The ejected melt plume (as seen in the Shumacher Levy 9 comet that hit Jupiter) rockets up and then rains down, superheating the ground temperature.

This it was suggested was the explanation for the destruction of the middle east cities on the plain around Galilee, - Lot's wife fate was explained as the exposure to superheated gas and the sudden carbonisation of her flesh in the conflagration.

So with that I wrapped up. Mum said - that sounds fascinating then threw in a parting shot "of course that's how God did it." - which seems an odd way to go about enacting vengeance on a city of sin: plucking a large rock from an elongated orbit around Venus and hurling it into Poland.

This is a standard mumism. No matter what the physical explanation - and her professed acceptence of it - there always in the background a theistic intervention of god to explain it.

I just let that one go, I hadn't meant to talk about Soddom, but it was just on TV and all this space talk and of things colliding somehow I ended up talking about it.

So then Nan (87) came out of left field. I maybe had rolled my eyes at little at Newton's mad scheme, but hadn't actually said anything about God per se. We'd, I should first explain, been watching David Attenborough's "Life" series on dvd over Christmas - so Nan leapt off from that decided that I should be told that I should have to believe because there must be god behind it all controlling nature. (or as she put it it: I should being in something because there has to be someone controlling something to make something happen). For this she talked about Seahorse males looking after their babies, I helpfully offered up the antarctic penguins who look after their young, while the partner goes off in search of food. She liked that and then asked me "How do they know how to that?" I said I didn't really know off the top of my head but it was probably a combination of hardwiring, and instinct and evolution. Now mum and nan don't deny evolution, they just see it differently, as Nan retorted: "There has to be some kind something telling them that. "

I demurred initially saying I wasn't going to bring this up but since they asked I gave in an gave back as good as I got so then proceeded to talk about parasatoid wasps. and how they reproduce, and the implications for religious belief summed up in Darwin's famous quote:

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent god would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."

I pointed out the incongruany of saying on the one hand god must be kind and loving because of sea-horses, penguins, clown fish and sea anemone etc and then after stressing the suffering the caterpillar endures, as the larvae eat all the non vital organs preserving the nervous system, heart lungs and brain until last before ripping out through the skin, that this god must also be merciless and cruel.

I offered an olive branch, by saying well at least I suggest this is not a good argument on which to base a god in which you believe, because you can't have it both ways.

I also mentioned the parasitic wasps that injects it's venom directly into the brain of it's victims (cockroaches) - as seen here:

The Parasatoid Wasp and The Cockroach 1

Starting at 3.50 in this video and continuing in this video:

The Parasatoid Wasp and The Cockroach 2

and the Komodo Dragons which in the Life episode we watched last night mercilessly hunted down a buffalo.

An awful silence followed - I mean we talk about Sodom and Gomorra being laid to waste - I'd done the same thing to the mood.

Nan rounded things up by saying that (The Komodo Dragons) was horrible, but then we eat animals too, to which I agreed, and didn't have the heart to point out She'd rather undermined her starting position that nice animals do nice things because god (who is nice) makes them.

I apologised because I hadn't set out to utterly destroy their intellectual position, and offered as penitance to do the dishes and make the tea. I wasn't even going to raise it, I'd started off only wanting to mention this business about Dark Matter as an interesting Talking Point.

But they should really have known better than to try and pick a rhetorical fight with me.

And I should really learn when to shut up.

Oh well.

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Comment by Richard Healy on December 27, 2009 at 6:08pm
"I didn’t bother pointing out to her that my thought is it cheapens the sentiment if the only reason for it is obedience, because God makes her love me. But maybe I should have made that point."

Well quite so, I never understand the positing in a higher authority or working for an afterlife mentality, because you're right "cheapening" is exactly what it is. And I know what you mean about the reigning back of what you might have gone onto say. There is a hesitancy when it comes to fully engage and repudiate what close family with religious leanings say, when given a different context, I'd not hesitate to go on the attack.

This is a quote from an article by Johann Hari which I'll parapharse which I think gets over the dilemma we face, in that I think with family we are cognisant of the "psychological pain" of confrontation, and want naturally to spare them that, which is why we recoil even though inwardly we think they are dead wrong.

"All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. [...] When [the religious] demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade. [...] But when the religious are challenged, there is no evidence for them to consult. By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. [...] It is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason."

No young ones milling around, not any more, we are all old ones now.

The Rolling Sheffield landscape was from the library and the view in this instance was the south-side of the campus, with the tram line snaking it's way over the hill (Sheffield has lots of hills, hence 'rolling') I'm not aware of the existence of a Cadbury's factory in Sheffield but I've been wrong before.

As an aside, I found out just the other week that Cadbury's comes in a purple packet (it was referred on the news) I'm colourblind and purple is one of my problem colours, I've spent the entirety of my youth and at least a decade of my adulthood, thinking the wrapping was a rather fetching shade of blue!
Comment by Jo Jerome on December 27, 2009 at 3:19pm
The Christian position (well, actually the position of lots of people) is: When it's my turn to defend God, I get to talk. When it's your turn, why can't we just agree to disagree?

It is truly difficult to reason with such unreason, especially when coming from loved ones with whom you want to maintain a civil relationship.
Comment by Jason Spicer on December 27, 2009 at 2:31pm
I'd have a lot less cognitive dissonance if Abrahamic religionists would just be up-front about worshipping a god who is intentionally vicious, sadistic, and genocidal. "Oh, sure, He's a wicked psychopath, but he's our wicked psychopath! Who wouldn't want a total badass of a god?"
Comment by Richard Healy on December 27, 2009 at 2:14pm
"They didn't really have an intellectual position, so you can't be said to have destroyed it. Their position is an emotional one."

Touche and I accept the correction. I suppose I meant it as a kindness, when Nan was advancing the idea about nice fluffy animals, it may not be "intellectual" not even per se "an argument" but I treat it as such in forming my reply.

I do love my family very much, but my standard claim to have yet to encounter a single piece of evidence, a convincing argument or a good reason to believe in one yet alone any gods, goes unchallenged by this.

I had some Muslim subscribing kids I'm at college with the other day pull a similar trick - pointing out the window to the rolling landscape of Sheffield.

"How did all this get here then?" they asked triumphantly.

10 minutes of me explain photos of extra-solar planets and accretion discs forming in nebula, and the principle - it is happens in places A, B and C, its a fair bet that it happened in place D (here) too and they looked defeated.

I really hit my stride when one of them produced his killer argument that we a need god (in this case Allah) to help us get through tough times and then went on to say bad things happen because god wants to test us and help us improve morally.

I pointed out to them a belief about something X that makes us feel better about Y is no guarantee that X is real or that the belief is even justified. Then just to be clear, made certain that he meant what he said that God makes bad things happen so then said: why on earth would I worship a god who does bad things to me on purpose? That's just cruel.

"Oh...yeah..." he said and left tail between his legs.

2-0 to the atheist.
Comment by Richard Healy on December 27, 2009 at 12:38pm
Which part? ;)
Comment by Jared Lardo on December 27, 2009 at 12:33pm



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