On Thursday night I attended a debate held at James Cook University between the Anglican bishop of North Queensland, Bill Ray, and fellow Townsville Humanists member and founder Jonathan Meddings. The motion was “Is religion a force for good in the world?”
My memory is not vivid enough to recall a lot of what the bishop said, but there was one thing that particularly annoyed me because he seemed to keep stressing it, as if he thought it was an airtight argument.
To paraphrase, it was something like this:
“An important thing I learned in philosophy is that where you end up depends on where you start from. We can both use logic to come to our conclusions, but as it happens we’re starting from different places. I choose to start out at <insert something about god, or the bible, or Jesus or some such>”
He said it as if to imply that both of our premises were equally valid, that where you start out from is just a matter of what you choose to believe, and we just happen to believe different things.
Well no, sorry, but that’s not how it works. Premises matter. Obviously you can’t just adopt any old premise, whack some logic after it and think you’ll end up with truth at the end.
So what we need is a method of sorting truths; of verifying premises. And I know just the thing, it’s called science. It works. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
And there is absolutely no science to support the premise that an invisible sky man invented dust, then invented a man from the dust, then invented a women from the rib of the man he made from dust, then invented a talking snake that he knew would trick the dust-rib-people into having knowledge (people are easy to trick before they have knowledge) which is for some reason bad, then condemning not only those people but all their children for the crime of their parents, but then to save them from the punishment that he himself would give them, sends down his son, which is actually himself, to be sacrificed, even though he resurrects him (himself) a few days later, and that this same invisible sky man is the author of morality.
Take Occam’s razor to the above belief and you’ll end up with nothing left. However, humanism, the belief that there is no supernatural author of morality and that we have to determine morals for ourselves using reason, is not even scratched by it.
Anyway, the debate went well and it was enjoyable to watch. I forget exactly what the percentages were of the audience opinion before and after, but it shifted in the direction of Jonathan by the end, so he did an excellent job. I loved the way he paid homage to Christopher Hitchens throughout the debate, beginning with “Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I hope I may say, comrades and friends ” and sipping a glass of Johnnie Walker, classic.
If anyone else who was at the debate would like to tell me how completely wrong I am about everything let me know in the comments.
We’ve had a win for the separation of church and state: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-20/high-court-upholds-chaplaincy-challenge/4081456
It makes no sense at all to have religious counselors in a public school. How can a chaplain of one religion effectively counsel children who may be of completely different faiths or beliefs? How is a chaplain of the homophobic brand of Christianity (or Islam for that matter) going to help out a teenager struggling with the troubles of homosexuality? How are they going to help a troubled atheist child without being tempted to tell them that they have to find god and pray and that’ll fix everything?
There should only be trained, professional, secular counselors in public schools.
It’s not a comprehensive victory though. As I understand it, the ruling was that the program could not be federally funded, not that the program couldn’t continue. So it might continue, if the individual states choose to fund it themselves, or if they find some other loophole for the funding.
The Australian Senate has finally passed legislation to create an R18+ category for video games.
Finally, adults will be able to play games for adults, and children will not be playing adult games that have been squeezed down into the MA15 category. Won’t take effect until January 1st though.
I am an adult, and no other adult is qualified to tell me what I can and can’t read, see and hear. Cue obligatory Hitchens clip:
It was revealed not too long ago that Gloria Jeans contributed $30,000 to the Australian Christian Lobby, and us atheists have been all up-in-arms about it. A boycott is called for. I can’t encompass the topic any better than this blog post by ‘Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear‘, so I’d recommend going and reading that.
Gloria Jeans has responded, with this statement:
“This was a once off donation during the time of the election… in support of the prime ministerial debate only. What’s more, it is important to reiterate that we are not religiously affiliated or affiliated to any other beliefs or preferences, including Hillsong.”
Turns out this is bullshit too. In another of Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear’s posts she reveals that two major recipients of the Gloria Jeans “With Heart” charitable foundation are christian evangelical organizations; ‘Compassion’ Australia and Opportunity International.
Not only that, but Gloria Jeans was displayed as a partner on Hillsong’s website. That is, before it was mysteriously taken down. But luckily Dave the Happy Singer was able to screenshot it first:
Dave The Happy Singer also went on to discover that Gloria Jean’s holding company is called JIREH International Pty Ltd.
“And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.” – Genesis 22:14
What’s that about not being religious Gloria Jeans?
Also, JIREH International donated $10,000 to the Family First party in 2005.
Which, as Dave says, “… is a pretty big sum to give to an anti-SSM party while claiming to have no opinion on the issue, eh?”
Worse than supporting bigot organizations is supporting them and then lying about it. For shame, Gloria Jeans.
So I saw Prometheus.
Was it entertaining? Yes, I’ll grant that. I wasn’t bored at any point (although that could be attributed to the fact that ripping apart a bad movie can be fun), but cmon, the movie does not make any fucking sense.
Let me pre-emptively address your likely argument if you disagree with me. It usually goes something like this: “Oh why do you have to analyze every single little thing? It’s a movie, of course it’s not real! Why can’t you just enjoy it!?”
Because I shouldn’t have to turn off significant parts of my brain to enjoy something. I want to enjoy it with all of my brain turned on! A movie is art, and part of the art of storytelling is telling it in a plausible fashion. There are stories you would not accept either, just that this one might somehow slide past your nonsense filter. Sorry, but it doesn’t make it through mine.
And I can ‘just enjoy it’ if it isn’t a serious movie. For example, jokingly, after seeing Men In Black 3, I tweeted that when Will Smith ‘time jumped’ off a building in New York and temporarily passed through different eras in time, he could not have seen a T-Rex, since T-Rex never roamed the Eastern part of America, because in the Cretaceous period the American continent was in two halves, and T-Rex only lived on the western half, Laramidia. But MIB 3 gets a full pardon because it is not trying to be a serious movie, it’s a whacky kind of half-comedy sci-fi.
But Prometheus is nowhere near even a half-comedy. The movie begs to be seen as a thought provoking, tense, serious movie. So I’m sorry, but the movie really ought to make sense. Even if you have to stretch it a bit. But stretch all you like, you’re not getting any coherence from this one.
The premise of the movie seems to be that mankind was engineered on earth by a race of humanoid aliens. Indeed, they are referred to as ‘the engineers’. The first scene shows one of these humanoids drinking a substance which seems to very quickly dissolve its body. It collapses into a waterfall and the body is disintegrated down into molecules resembling DNA.
Is this supposed to be the seeding of life on Earth? Life on Earth is thought to have begun 3.5 to 4 billion years ago. So they seeded life, then went away and slept few billion years, then came back 35,000 years ago to make sure some people made some particular cave paintings? Then went back to a completely barren planet and went to sleep? That’s a hard pill to swallow, even if we ignore the fact that a humanoid creature could not be so humanoid after all it was just walking around in pre-biotic Earths atmosphere like it was perfectly habitable.
And why the hell would an advanced, intelligent being have to commit suicide in such a painful manner to distribute self replicating molecules into a water stream? Was there really no other way?
Let’s say they didn’t sleep for that few billion years, but they hung around in orbit, or at least visited often, maybe somehow guiding evolution a little. That is, after all, the only plausible way you could guarantee a human-like lifeform would evolve if you were starting from scratch. But this is BILLIONS of years we’re talking about here. They themselves would have evolved over that time. The humanoid alien from the beginning would be different from the humanoid at the end.
For some reason the whole movie seems to have some sort of religious undertone. Closeups of the crucifix necklace the main character wears ensures the audience knows she’s christian. It seems to me the movie portrays faith as being a virtue. Ironically though, many popular ideas of christianity are inconsistent within the happenings of the movie (well, they’re inconsistent by themselves, but I guess they’re extra-inconsistent in the context of the movie). If you were engineered by aliens then you are just as soul-less as the android. You were not created by a god. Or is it that the aliens just seeded evolution? Then evolution is true after all, so why believe the silly garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and the talking snake story. And if you don’t believe that, where does original sin come from? If there is no original sin, why does god have to sacrifice his son, which is actually himself, to free man of original sin, even though it’s not really a sacrifice since he just resurrects him a few days later?
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked, back to it. Ok, so we’re two minutes into the film and it’s already raised insurmountable problems. Oh well, let’s just pretend we were late to the movie, and didn’t catch that bit, shall we?
Soon enough we cut to the spaceship Prometheus. The android is doing his thing, passing time by learning ancient languages and eavesdropping on peoples dreams while presumably taking care of the ship. They arrive at the destination, everyone wakes up, and Charlize Theron asks the android how long she’s been in suspended animation. The android replies “2 years, 4 months, 18 days, 36 hours, 15 minutes.” …….36 hours? So… 19 days then? WTF?
And this isn’t the only blatant script error. As Neil deGrasse Tyson points out, Charlize Theron refers to a voyage of 35 light years as “half a billion miles” from Earth. That’s only just enough to get you past Jupiter.
“Oh cmon, these are trivial little mistakes, why can’t you just stop nitpicking and enjoy it”
Yes, exactly. They’re trivial. It would have been a very simple matter to get these things right. There was surely a near limitless horde of nerds just like me that would have been more than happy to look over things and make sure everything is alright. I’d take the job. Indeed, Neil deGrasse Tyson himself has offered to fill this role to any movie makers.
So the fact that they didn’t care to get these very, very basic things right is an insult to us. Multiply the number of people who read the script by how many times they read it… not just the actors but everyone in post production.. and not one of them was concerned with accuracy, or if they were, their concerns were dismissed? Hugely disappointing.
Then there’s the crew. Now, you’d think when you’re selecting a crew for a mission of such grand scale, you’d only hire the best of the best of the best. But not only is the entire crew unremarkable, but they seem to have no idea what they’re doing there until the mission briefing they get after they’ve arrived. If you were going on a mission involving going into suspended animation for 2 years and traveling 35 light years away, wouldn’t you be at least a little curious about what exactly the fuck you’re doing? Not only does the crew not seem to know what they’re doing, but they can barely even bring themselves to be interested. And they don’t meet each other until after they wake up… they never had a chance to meet beforehand?
And the biologist at one point says something like “Sure, if you want to throw a few hundred years of Darwinism out the window” It does not escape me that ‘Darwinism’ is used in place of ‘Evolution’. Darwinism is the term creationists use, and have given it negative connotations.
Ok, this is taking too long, it’s bullet-point time.
- What motive would the android have for infecting crew?
- Why does everyone seem entirely unconcerned that Elizabeth has obviously just undergone an emergency surgery?
- How does the alien foetus gain so much mass in the matter of 1 day? At the very least Elizabeth would have been ravenously hungry the whole time.
- Why doesn’t she have a baby bump?
- How does the alien multiply its mass by a thousand times by the end of the movie if it’s trapped in a room?
- Why on earth… or even, not on earth… would Charlize Theron run directly away from something rolling towards her, instead of sideways? Elizabeth has time to trip over, have a quick nap, and then roll out of the way. Charlize, sprinting the whole time, doesn’t make it. Did no one during production put their hand up and say “Hang on a minute now… that’s retarded” ? Cmon.
- Why would the ‘engineer’ or ‘humanoid’ or whatever be absolutely hell bent on killing everything in sight as soon as he’s awoken? I’m cranky before I’ve had my coffee too but get a grip on yourself. And if it was so important to him why didn’t he set an alarm and wake up and get it done earlier?
- The android eavesdrops on Elizabeth’s dreams. But who dreams about actual events replaying themselves like a movie?
- The old guy seems to want immortality. Obviously they have advanced brain technology, what with creating human-like androids and the ability to see peoples dreams and all. Why couldn’t he just have his consciousness transferred into a younger body, or simulated in a computer like I’m going to be?
- It’s not such a good method of cyrogen if the persons brain is still active.
- They don’t know what the atmosphere is like until they start descending into it. Spectrographic analysis could have been done from very, very far away, but whatever.
- They get to the alien ship in a big 8 wheel drive bus thing, and some others on 4-wheelers. Geologist and Biologist get scared and want to go home. Later, the others come back out and see that the big 8 wheel drive thing is gone… the two scared guys must have taken it. But it turns out they didn’t make it out of the caves after all… so where the fuck did the big 8 wheeler go?
- Why would the timid biologist who just tried to get out of the place all of a sudden try to pet the first living, snake-like, threatening looking thing he sees?
- They take the head of one of the ‘engineers’ back to base, and perform an autopsy. Someone says “hang on I think I can trick its nervous system into thinking its still alive”… they zap it or something and the face puts on a look of agony and then explodes into goo…. WTF?
If I watched the movie again it would only be to see how many more things I could find wrong with it. These are just the main questions I have after one viewing, I’m sure there’s plenty of things I missed. Let me know in the comments.
Sam Harris’s talk from the Global Atheist Convention is up. He talks about experiences that can be achieved by anyone with practice but remain mostly in the domain of the religious – and that doesn’t have to be so. He got 4000 atheists to close their eyes and talked them through what’s called mindfulness meditation. It was a pleasant experience, I haven’t tried it again yet, but maybe now that I have the audio of Sam to talk me through it again I might.
So anyway you might want to watch/listen to this somewhere you can close your eyes without being disturbed for a little while.
Here‘s a link for audio only.
WARNING: May induce Buddhism
If you’re like me and inclined to listen to the audio only, here’s a link for just the mp3