Where’s Muhammad?

Today’s Non Sequitur is banned because Muhammad doesn’t appear:

On a side note: I’ve been busy with thesis work and a little sick, hopefully I’ll get back to regular posting by tomorrow or Tuesday.

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International Blasphemy Rights Day

Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day:

International Blasphemy Rights Day takes place every September 30th, to commemorate the publishing of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. The purpose of this event is to set a particular day as a day to support free speech, support the right to criticize and satirize religion, and to oppose any resolutions or laws, binding or otherwise, that discourage or inhibit free speech of any kind. The focus on ‘blasphemy’ is simply because it is such a salient issue, and one for which a lot of consciousness-raising is necessary.

The goal is not out to promote hate or violence. While many perceive blasphemy as insulting and offensive, it isn’t about getting enjoyment out of ridiculing and insulting others. The day was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs. Criticism and dissent towards opposing views is the only way in which any nation with any modicum of freedom can exist.

In the past few years, blasphemy laws have been making a comeback:

There are many reasons why this should never happen. Just a few are:

  • it limits freedom of speech and expression
  • these laws are repeatedly used against minorities and the accuser’s enemies to punish them, (just read the “selected cases” section in the above links or this story which sounds very similar to the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism)
  • good ideas don’t need protection, people do.

The only “reasons” I’ve ever heard for blasphemy laws being enacted are:

  • my religious book says it’s wrong
  • it hurts my feels/religious (in)sensibilities

These two reasons the same as the only reason you have such sensibilities is the religious book which tells you to be offended. So when someone tells me to ignore blasphemy day, they’re ignoring the fact there are hundreds of people in jail for slighting an infinite god who gets very emotional when a finite being drinks beer or worships another (apparently non-existent) god or puts a billboard saying atheists exist or draws stick figures labeling them Mohammed.

So without further ado, I give you my great blaspheme: Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, Athena, Odin, and Buddha in no particular order.
🙂 🙂 🙂
🙂 🙂 🙂

(I can’t draw.)

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Not surprising

Agnostics and atheists know more about religion than believers at least in America. This isn’t shocking mainly simply because most agnostics and atheists I know left religion because they knew what the religion was teaching whereas religious people stop learning after their parents stop teaching them. This is not always true but neither are statistics.

My favourite comment so far is from Charles Lewis:

The Roman Catholic Church’s most fundamental teaching is that the bread and wine used during communion are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. This belief is what separates Catholics from Protestants and is a core sacrament of the Catholic Church. Yet, 45% of Catholics believe the bread and wine are mere symbols. That lack of knowledge is akin to owning a car and not knowing what the steering wheel is for. Father Len Altilia, a Jesuit priest in Toronto, said the real presence of Jesus is the “source and summit” of Church teaching and what brings Catholics close to God. But Father Tom Rosica, also of Toronto, was not surprised: “It is an indication of terrible education and confusion among our people.”

Not knowing what the steering wheel does might result in some people dying while not knowing that the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation will just cause to piss your pants laughing.

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Where is this fantasy world and why can’t I find it on Google Maps

Christina Alarcon is living on in a dream world:

As health care providers, pharmacists are at the frontlines of medication provision. Should euthanasia be legalized, we would be likely participants. This is significant, as another [Canadian Healthcare Network] poll on conscience showed that 58% of pharmacists would be willing to sell products or provide services that conflict with their own moral beliefs. Thus, only 42% might resist providing deadly concoctions to their patients.

In Belgium, pharmacies have been selling euthanasia kits since 2005. As medication experts, should pharmacists not be standing firm in killing the pain without killing the patient? Dr. Pippa Hawley, pain management specialist at the B.C. Cancer Agency, believes this to be the case.

Not only is she convinced that in the vast majority of cases pain can be managed, she also knows from experience that we have all the technological armament at our disposal to provide relief without resorting to killing our patients. You may have heard her knowledgeable and inspiring comments on Rex Murphy’s Cross Country Checkup last October.

First off, the plural of opinion or anecdote is not fact. Secondly, since when does 42% classify as “only” in any kind of argument? Finally and most importantly, the vast majority of pain is not what we are talking about. We are not talking about pain that can be dealt with Tylenol or Morphine. We are talking about pain that will last until someone dies or has to be put in a coma. We are talking about terminal illnesses like ALS, MS where suicide is a major cause of death.

So, Alarcon and, more specifically, Dr. Pippa Hawley believe they are killing their patients, which is a complete load. These diseases are killing their patients. As far as the “it happens anyway”, I don’t know anyone who makes these claims, nor does she provide any. Not to mention the fields of medical research in these areas are continuing.

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The Power of Vaccines, Individual Liberty and Children’s Rights

Vaccines are quite possibly the most effective tools developed by modern science. They have eradicated small pox from the planet. Polio was nearly eradicated and is one of many examples of religion and pseudoscience interfering with actual progress especially when it comes to vaccines.

Child with Small Pox (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Child with Small Pox (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

There is a recent movement (due largely in part to Jenny MacCarthy and Andrew Wakefield) to not give children vaccines for diseases that no longer present, or at least visible, in society. One thing we must remember is that diseases mutate can grow stronger, which is why you should always finish off your prescriptions as indicated to continue killing off the strongest of the viruses and diseases.

Individual liberty seems to be the one of the main arguments against compulsory vaccination programs. The argument goes

The government cannot force me to take any medication no matter how effective it is for me or others.

Here’s where this argument fails: As soon as your decisions begin to affect other people, it is no longer just about you and can no longer be classified liberty. If this kind of argument is allowed, there are no crimes, no civilization, just anarchy.

Another argument which runs along the above is that it violates children’s rights in the same way circumcision does. Let’s first dispel this argument. My previous post talks about the importance generalizing arguments and seeing how far certain arguments can be pushed. The difference between mandatory vaccination and circumcision is that circumcision is a final process in which you take something away which can never be given back. Whereas, vaccinations aid your immune and do not take anything away (except possibly a serious ailment).

And for those who think you can stop taking vaccinations and the disease won’t come back whooping cough is on the rise in Saskatchewan, Australia, and there’s an epidemic in California. Not to mention the recent outbreaks of measles.

(H/T to Jen McCreight.)

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Generalizing Arguments and Taking Offence

A common concept in mathematics is generalizing definitions, theorems, and pretty much everything. There are several examples of this: for example, the Chinese Remainder Theorem is a statement about when you can simultaneously solve a system of congruences, but it has many generalizations to algebra. Another example, is the Riemann Hypothesis which has many generalizations to not only other areas of mathematics but also physics and statistics.

Generalizing arguments is not limited to mathematics; It is usually referred to as making an analogy. The real question that arise when making analogies (in mathematics and elsewhere) is “what are the underlying reasons which make the argument valid?”

There a couple of reasons why this has been on my mind lately: (a) I’m currently writing a thesis in mathematics where a generalize some results; (b) Over at Atheist Revolution, vjack has a valid argument that shows why I hate analogies in the real world:

We often talk as if another person has the power to offend us.

That [thing that you did or said] is offensive!


Your use of profanity offends me. Please stop it.

But the reality is that the other person’s speech or behavior is only half the story, maybe even less. The person taking offense is at least an equally important part of this tale. The lesson our easily offended people have for us is that we all differ in our thresholds for taking offense. The person taking offense is at least as important as the one accused of doing the offending, perhaps more so.

If this argument is taken to the extreme, it starts to become blame the victim. Just replace “being offended” with “being raped” or “being assaulted” or “being swindled out of your money.”

So now the task becomes determining what the major differences between the above examples and being offended are. This will help us illuminate how far the analogy can go. The major difference is that being offended is completely subjective while being raped or assaulted is objective. Taking offense is entirely based on opinion. Let’s look at swastikas as an example. At a children’s museum in California, they are causing a controversy mainly because people are unaware of its historical use throughout the world. In fact, there’s even a town in Ontario called Swastika. (Aside: How awesome are the people of Swastika?:

During World War II the provincial government sought to change the town’s name to Winston in honour of Winston Churchill, but the town refused, insisting that the town had held the name long before the Nazis co-opted the swastika symbol (卐). Residents of Swastika used to tell the story of how the Ontario Department of Highways would erect new signs on the roads at the edge of the town. At night the residents would tear these signs down and put up their own signs proclaiming the town to be “Swastika”.[citation needed]

Christopher Macaulay, a direct descendant of Thomas Babington Macaulay, was instrumental in fighting to keep the name of the town unchanged despite the association with National Socialism.
Swastika has periodically been subject to derision for retaining the name. Local residents, however, have continued to resist a change.)

Teaching children about a symbol that has been used throughout most of the world and still in use by three major religions will not make them hate Jews or become Nazis. And if you don’t teach them about it, they will likely learn it online, and we know how objective and factual the internet is.

So vjack’s argument works so long as we stay in the subjective realm. There may be a way to make this argument more general but I will leave that for another post.

Posted in freedom of expression, freedom of speech, math | 1 Comment

Charlatans at work again

In Christchurch, homeopaths are preying on distraught people:

Homeopathic medicines may greatly help children, animals and adults feeling frightened and unable to sleep from the Christchurch earthquake” says co-presidents Jem Maber and Susanna Shelton from the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths.

Homeopathy is an effective and safe form of medicine that can be used for all ages and can assist people who are traumatised return to a more normal mental, emotional and physical state. Not being able to go to sleep, waking in the night feeling frightened or having frightening dreams is often a consequence of a traumatic experience and homeopaths are trained to recognise these patterns and can recommend homeopathic medicines that often quickly reduce the symptoms.

As I explained earlier, homeopathy is just really expensive water. I agree that the people of Christchurch need help, but by no means is homeopathy is medicinal as claimed. The symptoms described above subside with time and support from the nearby communities and the aid organizations whether you take water pills or not. These homeopaths are just trying to make a quick buck. Some disagree, but are missing the point:

In the case of the people of Christchurch, if even one person finds some positives in using homeopathy to help them recover from what has clearly been a traumatic event, then it’s difficult to see the harm.

The harm is in the fact that this will cost Christchurch money they will soon need. The earthquake has cost at least $2 billion in damages and many were without power and water:

The latest Christchurch City Council update reads:

  • 15 to 30% of city still without drinking water
  • Main areas of difficulties are Eastern suburbs and Halswell
  • Two pumping stations in Avonside Drive have been severely damaged
  • 6 other pump station have been damaged
  • 500+ buildings have been damaged with over 90 in inner city.
  • However this includes fallen chimneys.
  • Council is now shutting down broken water mains so pressure in the rest of the system can increase
  • The water supply is back on in Diamond Harbour
  • There may be whole streets without water for several days.

(The main council office also drolly notes on its site that “We’ve moved!”)

So homeopaths, please stop peddling this crap and get a real job.

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When burning your own property makes a criminal

Six men in Britain have been arrested for “inciting racial hatred”. I’m interested in this case for a couple of reasons. The obvious ones being it’s about religion and freedom of speech, but the more important reason is free speech laws in Canada are limited.

MediaWatchWatch is completely accurate on this issue:

As the video clearly demonstrates, these men are idiots. They are EDL supporters, and racists to boot. But what they did is not – cannot be – illegal.

They were arrested on suspicion of “inciting racial hatred”. Not only is Islam – represented here by its holy book – not a race, but the only hatred that such an act is likely to incite would be directed at themselves, and would come from a particular kind of Muslim.

The racial and religious hatred law, for all its faults, was not designed to prevent you from committing acts which make other people hate you. Otherwise every homosexual, fornicator, and abortionist would be under arrest for inciting the hatred of some religious loon.

They’re more than just idiots; They’re cowards, but the last time I checked cowardice and idiocy are not crimes. If they are, we should all be imprisoned, especially the politicians who enact such a stupid law.

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Gender Bias in Math

I’ve marked too many math courses to believe men are inherently better at math than women. Dr. Jennifer Ashton explains:

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained,”There appears to be a difference in the size of the brain when you compare men versus women, we’re talking about the anatomy here. Obviously, male brains tends to be larger, because men tend to be, but within the brain certain structures and parts of the anatomy, some are bigger in women, some are bigger in men. So, for example, in male brains, men have six and a half times more gray matter than women do. Gray matter is partly responsible for information processing, so may explain in general men tend to be better in math.”

I’ve never been given a good reason, biological or otherwise, why men would be inherently better at math. The only reasons that work are old-fashioned sexism. Elementary and high school teachers didn’t believe that girls could do math, or physics, or chemistry, and I could go on. Women have been pigeonholed into other areas like become elementary school teachers, english teachers, psychologists, and so on. It is only a matter of time before women equal if not outnumber men in these areas. Women already outnumber men in university enrollment and earning degrees:

Significant progress has also been achieved in reducing the gender gap in educational qualifications. Younger women today are far more likely to have completed a tertiary qualification than women 30 years ago: in 19 of the 30 OECD countries, more than twice as many women aged 25 to 34 have completed tertiary education than women aged 55 to 64 do. In 21 of 27 OECD countries with comparable data, the number of women graduating from university-level programmes is equal to or exceeds that of men (Table A4.2). Last but not least, 15-year-old girls tend to show much higher expectations for their careers than boys of the same age (Table A9.1).

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Atheism is not about hope

Alan Caruba gives us some canards about atheism:

Atheism offers no real hope, no real reason for living, but Hitchens is clearly doing whatever he can to live, to defeat the cancer. A friend of his proposed a day of prayer for him, but Hitchens said he would not attend, deeming such prayers “a nice gesture.”

Atheism is not about hope. It is about determining the truth whether it is hopeful or depressing or neither. Hitchens’s statement is rooted in the truth. There are a few studies on effectiveness of prayer. Very few of them say that it significantly alters health in the positive. There at least one studies which suggest that informing patients that you’re praying for them will worsen her or his health. (See this study).

Where I seek hope is not in some deity who never answers any requests or even questions, but in my family and friends as well as fellow humans.

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