Ten Very Dull Questions For Every #Atheist

So, Today Christian (which, going by its front page, appears to be more a clickbait news aggregator with a vague Christian flavour than any grand repository of modern Christian thought) posted one of those “10 Questions For Every Atheist” lists, which are always fun for atheists to respond to (H/T to Heina, who did so yesterday).

The subtitle of their post struck me though, with its odd capitalisations, bad syntax, its hint toward conclusions that actually aren’t discussed or even mentioned in the “article” (seriously, a list of numbered questions was the entire article) and the unsubtle implication that atheists are lying bastards:

“Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”

See what I mean? Clearly this list is intended only to be read by Christians, who will glance at it and then click to the next story, feeling nice and holy and smug about those poor damned dishonest atheists and their inability to make words. Not only that, but it appears comments are closed on the article, reinforcing the impression that it’s not actually there so atheists can answer it for the benefit of Christian readers, but is really just a little faith-booster for the kind of people who scroll through affirmatory clickbait-for-Jesus while waiting for their toast to pop.

Nevertheless and despite the website’s obviously non-existent commitment to dialogue with atheists, I’m going to jot down my own True, Honest and REAL answers to these entry-level questions in three thousand words or less.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

I realised that most of the religious claims I’d heard (not just the Christian ones – don’t make the mistake of assuming that atheists are only atheists with respect to your religion) were not supported by any sort of evidence beyond anecdote, tradition and hearsay, and that still more were flatly contradicted by the actual evidence provided by history and science. I further reasoned that, due to their contradictory claims, not all of the world’s religions could be right – not only that, but I realised that there was no reliable way to discern which, if any, were right or which even had Buckley’s of being right.

Anway, if you’re interested, here’s my religious history.

My parents didn’t raise me Christian, but there was no shortage of religion during my childhood. There were compulsory Religious Instruction lessons at our state primary school (this is Australia, where the Constitutional proscription on not establishing a state religion is broadly interpreted) and we went to Sunday School as well, which essentially meant feelgood Jesus-songs and the occasional story of Old Testament wizardry and massacre while the grandies were getting their weekly fix of rural, Anglican, cake-stall Christianity. At around 7 I asked my first religious question: “If I was born in India, would I still be a Christian?” I reasoned “probably not” and wondered not only if Hindus would go to hell despite whatever goodness they engaged in, but if my Catholic friends would go there too. I didn’t even know what I was, but I knew that I wasn’t Catholic, and it troubled me to think my mates and I wouldn’t see each other in Heaven.

At high school, about twice a year, the local evangelists would hold a Religious Education seminar in the library which was again mandatory (that or my parents didn’t exempt me, which is the same thing). Of course, it wasn’t “education” about religion, it was a chance for the local faith-sellers to try and make converts out of other people’s children, because what’s the point of being an evangelist if you don’t act like you know better than other people and take advantage of having unfettered access to their kids? Even though I was still nominally Christian before the age of 15 (and carried a pocket New Testament everywhere), the discussion groups we’d split into with the local doe-eyed & domesticated happy-clappers made me suspicious of organised religion’s claims to great wisdom, as my friends and I made sport of posing questions the clappers had to fumble about to answer. Nothing too sophisticated, though, but quite often a question like “Is Ghandi in Hell?” was enough to make a green Cool Youth Pastor Dude catch his breath before searching his internal copy of Platitudes and Rationalisations For All Occasions, 1992 Edition.

At 15 I abandoned organised religion altogether, reasoning that if there was a god who cared what I did, and if that god was reasonable, he’d only care if I was a decent person and wouldn’t really care what else I did regarding rituals and magic words and certain food and what I did with my willy. I found it difficult to trust in an all-powerful god that only made contact via third and fourth parties, and my increasing distrust of authority was only exacerbated by the detailed & restrictive proscriptions of behaviour unique to most religions.

My late teens contained some flirting with New-Age spiritualism, but, if I’m honest, that was chiefly because I wanted to flirt with New-Age spiritualist girls, who not only had teenage bodies but also weed.

In my late twenties I realised I’d been essentially living as an atheist for the last decade, holding no supernatural beliefs (certainly none that I acted upon) and barely sparing a thought for any afterlives or karma or anything else people used to promise me.


2.       What happens when we die?

The quick & easy answer is that the bacteria that live on us and inside us immediately start eating us because our bodies’ natural defences against being eaten have ceased – but I know that’s not spiritually satisfying.

Here’s the real answer: nobody knows, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus and anyone else who nonetheless claims to know (and whose ideas almost always wildly contradict each other). However, the very strong evidence is that “we” stop existing, because our brains, of which our minds are an emergent property, cease functioning. If any credible evidence for human consciousness existing non-corporeally after death exists, it should be presented. Pending that presentation, it’s only reasonable to conclude that life ends – permanently – with death.


3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

What if you’re wrong and Hell is the place Allah sends infidels? What if Heaven is the place where Hindus watch Christians burn? What if Heaven is only for people who’ve reasoned that ALL religions are wrong, and God permitted the flourishing of faith as a test of mankind’s intellect?

See? I can ask silly, fearmongering questions with scare-caps TOO!

But seriously, I don’t withhold belief just because I want to. I withhold belief because my belief in things is predicated on there being evidence for their existence. I can’t fake belief in something just to get a reward, especially if there’s a god who can know my deepest thoughts and would rumble me in an instant. I’d also like to think that such a god would prefer the company of an honest atheist – or any honest person – instead of a self-interested “Christian” who’s sucking up for a carrot or to avoid a stick.

But yes, what if I’m wrong? Then your god is happy to send people to Hell to be tormented forever for making an honest and completely understandable mistake, which makes your god an irredeemably evil monster, eclipsing your very own Devil, who was made by your god and allowed to take possession of Hell for, well, I suppose, Good Reasons.

But what if I’m right? You’re wasting a goodly bunch of time jumping at shadows when you could just try to be good to others.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

I don’t “get it” from anywhere. It was instilled into me in my youth, via the examples of my parents, friends, family, community, broader society and culture, my natural sense of empathy and my ability to think about the consequences of my actions. Same as most Christians, I’d expect – just without the extra baggage of believing it was carved in stone and given to me in the form of a list of orders.

Where do groups of ants, bacteria, fish, wolves, apes and even plants “get the idea” to work together for their mutual benefit and defence instead of just devouring each other? Could it be that a free-for-all, selfish, destructive existence is detrimental to individuals as well as communities? Could it be that we’re not the first species to work that very simple thing out?

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

There are probably no gods of the sort you’d prefer, so go ahead and do whatever horrid thing you want and see what happens. Bystanders, police, courts, the odd masked vigilante – they’ll all have something to say about it.

By the way, if you are the kind of Christian who only refrains from murder and rape because you think a powerful entity is hovering over you with a stick, I dread the day you realise your god’s not there. I’d prefer the company of a person who refrains from harming others out of a sense of fairness and empathy, as opposed to someone who so refrains because they think they’ll get smacked down otherwise.

And yes, good deeds frequently go unrewarded, just as bad deeds frequently go unpunished. Life is very often unfair – just ask all those hapless people the Church burned and tortured and invaded and massacred during its thousand-year reign in Europe. And look at all those Crusader Popes and knights and nobles who did the massacring, only to die rich and at peace, their victims having no recompense.

If you only – or even mostly – do good things in expectation of reward, you’re a cynical, self-serving opportunist. If you only refrain from bad deeds because you fear punishment, then you’re a craven, self-serving opportunist.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

How does life have any meaning with a god bestowing it upon you? Meaning is inherently subjective and having it imposed on you by another person removes all agency and choice and freedom from you to decide what parts of your life mean anything at all.

My life means something to me because it is mine and mine alone. As such, further meaning can be found by doing things I like and which enrich that life: friends, family, work, leisure, charity, occasionally lazing around doing nothing at all. If someone wanted or attempted to impose some kind of arbitrary meaning onto my life without consulting me, and just said “This is what your life means!” I would laugh in their face. The whole notion of meaning being a quality or condition that one entity can project onto another is ridiculous.

Meaning imposed from without is without meaning.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

I don’t know. It might have always been here in some form. Smart people are working on it, and they’re not looking in old books of spells.

And no – “I don’t know” doesn’t mean that the answer is your god, or anyone else’s. It means “we must keep looking”.

What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

What about all the people who have rid their bodies of Thetans?
What about all the people who have seen Mohammed?
What about all the people who think that they themselves are Jesus?
What about all the people who write “Jedi” as their religion on census forms?

Do you find it at all curious that ALL stories of profound religious experiences (and near-death experiences) are told through the lens of the witness’s personal religious and cultural background? Why don’t Buddhists ever have blinding visions of Jesus? Why don’t Neo-Pagans or Jews? Why don’t dying Muslims have visions of Catholic Heaven?


9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

These days, they’re more or less irrelevant to me and to the broader atheist community that I interact with. Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was an interesting read the first time through, and made me realise I’d essentially been an atheist for at least the preceding decade if not longer, but he didn’t “convert” me. I’ve essentially given up on the guy over the last few years because, perhaps through upper-class Oxbridgean cultural myopia, he can’t see why people react so ungraciously to his frequent condescending, sexist comments.

Harris, who has written some vital critiques of religion, is also pro-torture, an advocate for racial profiling and seems manifestly incapable of admitting when he’s been outgunned intellectually. Curiously, he’s also on record as a sexist, thinking certain intellectual pursuits are above the cerebral pay grade of women.

Hitchens, who wrote many a fine word about atheism and religion and many other things, was a fierce debater and rhetorician, but who was nonetheless was taken in by the Bush/Blair rationale for invading Iraq; he was also, sadly, an inveterate sexist.

I notice Daniel Dennett isn’t on that list – did you forget that there were four “Horsemen”? Perhaps you did, but I suspect you left him out because he’s the least confrontational, the least publicly embarrassing to atheists right now and because his critiques of religion were perhaps more devastating than those of his colleagues, though expressed more intellectually and far less polemically, making them easier for Sunday Christians to ignore – that or you didn’t even know he existed, which makes you a poor researcher, or just lazy.

I also notice the glaring omission of anyone who’s written anything about atheism more or less since The God Delusion, as well as the absence of any atheist who isn’t a white male intellectual. Curiouser and curiouser…


10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there is a god, why is every religion in every society so wildly different that people have historically (and in some places, still do) murder others wholesale because of differing religious beliefs? And why do these religions tend to stay confined to the region in which they were conceived? Do you think it’s possible that every religion ever conceived is as much a product of the culture that conceived it as are that culture’s music & folk tales? It’s no coincidence that Rome, with its love of feasting and festivals, had a god in its pantheon whose chief concern was feasting and festivals; similarly, it’s no coincidence that the Vikings, concerned as they often were with war and glorious deaths, worshipped gods who were themselves legendary warriors.

As for the global popularity of Christianity, do you really think it would’ve spread beyond the Middle East and Mediterranean purely on its merits if Rome didn’t adopt it as its official faith, and imposing it on the imperium? Do you think it would’ve later crossed the borders of Roman-then-Christian Europe to dominate the Americas, Australia and parts of Africa & Asia if not for centuries’ worth of imperialists from Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, France, Britain et al sailing around the world, claiming inhabited nations as their own and imposing their Christian beliefs along with their diseases and engaging in coercion, forced conversion and outright genocide on non-compliant populations?

Christianity might well lay claim to the world’s most popular religion, but it’s impossible to avoid that it became that way through Christian European invasion, occupation and colonisation of whatever nations were undefended enough to allow it, and through imposition, rather than through some global evangelistic effort. It’s also worth noting the other side of that coin: the places where Christianity isn’t dominant are mostly those places which already had their own strong religious or spiritual traditions in place and/or which were able to resist Christian attempts to convert the populace. For example: you don’t see a lot of Christians in India, despite its long history under British rule, while you do see loads of Christians in the former British colonies of America and Australia. The former country had its large size, large population, strong traditions and many centuries of history and technological and scientific achievement to aid in its resistance of wholesale conversion; the latter two countries, though large, were sparsely populated by semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers when they experienced invasion at the hands of a culture which was so technologically advanced that they were thought of as gods – and later, more appropriately, devils.


So, there you have it. Ten answers with far too much detail than any Christian who’d ask such vapid questions in the first place would ever bother to read anyway, in response to a frankly pointless and ‘baity ChristFeed article that doesn’t allow comments, and past which most regulars at that site would click as soon as they’d finished.

Who said secular media had a lock on vapid content-free non-stories designed to generate ad revenue? Well, they were wrong.






Abetz & Bernardi don’t get a cookie, tantrum ensues #auspol

So, a review into the much-maligned Safe Schools programme has just returned the verdict of “No, actually, don’t scrap it just because a few wailing homophobes think it’ll bring – or, worse, delay – the End Times” [my interpretation – H].

Of course people like those walking political caricatures, Cory “anti-bullying programmes actually bully the straight kids” Bernardi & Eric “homophobes will get all depressed if the gayers can marry!” Abetz, would say it’s a stitch-up. Like any decent, homo-hating, far-right authoritarian Christian conservatives, they’d already decided what was “true” ahead of time (or, likely had it decided for them and suppositoried into their brains) and are now calling divine wrath upon any dare contradict their revelations. 

Too bad for them that Australia is, for the moment at least, a) still a country where facts & evidence are valued by some people and b) still a secular democracy where theocrats don’t get to have their obsessive hangups about other people’s genitals enshrined into public policy.
It’s one thing to complain about marriage equality and how that would lead, somehow, to bestiality or me marrying my bicycle or some other bizarre non-sequitur; it’s quite another to openly target vulnerable children at a time when they need the support of those around them – including their government. 
The disconnect between the values of charity and tolerance, sold to us constantly as uniquely Christian, and the wrathful, paranoid hatred displayed by those who proudly identify as devout servants of Christ, isn’t surprising when you realise that these men-in-a-personal-relationship-with-Jesus are taking their social cues on LGBT people from the previous instalment of the Jehovah franchise. After all, while Jesus says to turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour and to eschew public expressions of piety in favour of private worship, the God of the prequel commanded the death sentence for homosexuals, as well as for people who worked on weekends and for kids who backchatted their parents. And, as there’s no Official Bible Walkthrough available to help believers decide whether to emulate a hippie surfer-dude Jesus or a heavenly Megatron, Abetz and Bernardi and their scared, weird, little-minded sociopathic ilk can play Christianity like a role-playing game, choosing their actions according to the character sheet they were given in their youth by their particular brand of regressive, misanthropic cultism.

Regardless of their motivations, it should shame representatives – employees – of the public like Abetz and Bernardi that they’re going out of their way, in full view of us all, to hew and cry and rend their garments and do their level best to demonise and remove a school programme that may well save lives. All they can see when they look through their God-goggles at a gay kid is the phantasm of sin, instead of the very real & very vulnerable people that their lies and hysteria have harmed, do harm and will continue to harm. But shame, sadly, is in short supply in modern Australian conservative politics. After all, to experience shame at your treatment of another, you first have to acknowledge the harm you caused them; you also require empathy to recognise that you would also be harmed by that treatment. However, part of empathy is the realisation that the person you harmed is your equal, and today’s brand of moralising Thatcherite wowserism is class, race and faith-based. If you’re not one of Them, you’re one of the Other, and regardless of who the Other happens to be at a particular moment (asylum seekers, students, the poor, the sick, the unemployed, artists, scientists, environmentalists, teachers), it’s always Open Season.

Cory Bernardi, seen here practicing his “totally not gay” face

@corybernardi et al: the Christaliban and its hold on the PM #auspol

The same values that inspire Cory Bernardi (one-time author, quixotic ideologue bent on holding back a tide of windmills, occasional politician) to stand in front of other adults and issue incoherent untruths like “cultural Marxist relativism” in relation to a program to increase awareness of and tolerance toward lgbt kids are the same values that inspire others to literally beat those kids half to death in the street. Indeed, the very warped, ancient visions of lgbt kids that he draws on to publicly, vehemently and sub-literately oppose organisations like Safe Schools Coalition South Australia are the very visions that led to the inception of Safe Schools to begin with. He might not personally want to go gay-bashing on a warm summer’s eve and – if I’m being charitable – he probably doesn’t want anybody to be bashed for any reason, but he shares with those who do an unshakeable revelation that lgbt people are broken, damaged, steeped in sin and in general not as worthy – not as human – as people like him.

That he’s unaware that he shares core values with thugs who assault and degrade others – and that behaviour and attitudes like his own necessitated the program he’s now attempting to shut down via a typically unbalanced LNP charade, called an “inquiry” – should be unsurprising. Bernardi is a committed Christaliban fundamentalist, and one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism is a complete lack of self-awareness and the inability to ever admit fault or error, even when presented with gigantic mountains of evidence to that effect, or to make adjustments in opinions when presented with unassailable facts that contradict them. Like any creationist, climate change denier or moon-hoax campaigner, he’s decided what the Truth is and will defend it, come what may and in whatever form.

Sadly, he’s not alone. Eric Abetz (aka He Who All Sketch Comedies Base Their Droning, Oblivious, Generic, Good Ol’ Days Politicians On) is just one of a cabal of right-fundamentalists with a serious rage-on for Teh Gays, and who have the ear – or perhaps just the short & curlies – of the Prime Minister. In the days of the Abbott regime, we knew to expect their kind of regressive, unthinking bigtory, Abbot himself being their self-declared captain. But with the rise of urbane, shiny-suited Mr Turnbull, a lot of people, while not expecting Mr Fraser, certainly (and not unreasonably) expected someone a little more culturally literate and not quite so, well, down the Abbott-hole. Again, sadly, even the purposely modest expectations of those of us happy to see Anyone-But-Tony in the Lodge were dashed, time and again, when Mal sided with the very same regressives, wowsers and assorted embarrassing arseclowns who’d characterised and defined the baffling, backwards bluster of days previous.

It makes you wonder: were we just wrong to expect any better? Were we sold a pup? Was Mal always going to backslide after the honeymoon, putting his proverbial boots back on the coffee table? Or is he actually possessed of decent, modern mores but either too focused on self-preservation to act upon them, perhaps being deep in the pocket of the happy-clapping homo-hating hall-monitors? Does he perhaps owe the likes of Bernardi and Abetz some love for their assistance in ridding him of a certain troublesome almost-priest? His public tolerance for the utterly unprofessional and embarrassing public vocal expungings of people like Corgi – up to and including this “inquiry” into Safe Schools (with no parallel inquiry into the unconstitutional and utterly inappropriate $200m School Chaplain program – an ideological wedge designed for indoctrination if ever there was) would appear to suggest a quid pro quo, but it’s difficult to tell.

So, yup, my 8-ball is on the fritz. Maybe Mal is as much a ‘phobe as the useless sacks of carbon that dot his benches (though he just doesn’t seem – frankly – fucking stupid enough to think that way). Maybe this all caught Mal by surprise and now he’s facing a political minefield with a political blindfold on. Maybe pollies like Corgi and Abetz are just the point of the spear, the shaft (heh!) being shady, moneyed interests with culture war (aka other people’s genital-related fun) on their minds. Maybe Mal is simply all a-dither and is contemplating his own doom, like – holy shit – *every single Prime Minister since the 2007 election* and is wholly focused on not being like them.

Maybe I’m being too charitable to him because I like the guy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that *sheesh*

@pzmyers, scientist, swings at @DeepakChopra, non-scientist. Home runs ensue.

Deepak “not actually a scientist, really, anymore, anyway, in any way that actually matters” Chopra has felt the burn of being accused of ignoramity by Valerie Strauss and has been unable to resist the temptation to confirm to all & sundry that the allegation was indeed valid and richly deserved. In a recent post, actual evolutionary biologist PZ Myers highlights the myriad ways in which Chopra reveals his trademark oblivious, foot-shooting smugnorance. Now, I’ll leave the erstwhile reader to enjoy that post on their own, but a particular phrase of Chopra’s – ironically, part of a screed designed specifically to convince people how un-ignorant he is about evolution –  jumped at me and demanded my attention:

“…as a species we have leapt ahead far faster than random mutations can account for.”

I love – just love – how this new-age anthroponarcissist flatly asserts that we’ve evolved too fast, as if we’ve broken some law of thermodynamics (another branch of science I’ll lay fat stacks that Chopra hasn’t Clue One about). First: no, we haven’t (and citations, please, regarding how fast we should be evolving and how you went about determining that value). Second: it’s akin to asserting that human culture has leaped ahead far faster than Bronze Age technology can account for. Third: it sounds uncomfortably like nu-Creationist Stephen Meyer murdering both information theory and palaeontology in order to attribute the diversification of ancient life known as the Cambrian explosion to divine tinkering (“it’s too fast, therefore Genesis!”). Pro-tip, Deepak: when responding to accusations that you deny or simply don’t understand evolution, the first thing you might want to do is avoid sounding like a bloody creationist.

And of course, the assertion is simply bollocks. To use a non-biological analogy: once a particular kind of technological leap is made, technologies based on that leap will advance at a rate far faster than technology had – and could have – advanced previously. It happened with metals – to the point that two major human epochs are named after them – and take the original fuel, transport, mining and manufacturing game-changer: steam power. Once steam (and the associated metallurgical technology) was shown in the mid-17th century to be able to drive pistons and pulleys, with immensely broad applications, it was perhaps a generation or two before it had created an entirely new and entirely global coal-based economy which changed the world forever (and continues to do so – in ways we’re fast beginning to realise aren’t all that great). Ditto the internal combustion engine, powered flight and electronics: somebody watching the Wrights at Kittyhawk in 1911 could well have been watching Armstrong at Tranquility Base on their TV in 1969 – and in between have witnessed the birth of commercial air travel, air combat, the rise and fall of the zeppelin, nuclear weapons, the jet engine, the very first satellites, then people, in space and the breaking of the sound barrier. And I’m sure many of us who do a lot of reading on glowing screens are quite familiar with how much more complex, powerful, adaptable and indispensable the humble PC and its associates and offshoots have become, well within living memory.

Just as with artificial technology, in evolution all it takes is a particular leap at the right time and of the right sort to catalyse all sorts of new leaps in the original direction and associated leaps in any other direction that’s both possible and not a detriment to a population. Progress begets progress, whether pursued actively by humans or left to its own devices in a completely unguided and natural arena. Fortuitous evolutionary leaps don’t breach any supposed biological “laws” any more than do exponential technological advances; proto-humanity’s skip during the divergence from the human/chimp common ancestor gave us a little cerebral edge which, through countless generations of selection, mutation and other evolutionary mechanisms, turned out to be a boon in so many ways it’s scarcely quantifiable. Yet despite the hard-won knowledge of our genetic lottery-win and the subsequent consolidation and expansion of our riches, Chopra apparently wants to give the credit to some ill-defined phantom, presumably of his own devising, because science hasn’t yet demonstrated, to his unreasonable standard, that minds are processes undertaken by brains (it scarcely needs to be said that Chopra himself has done exactly diddly-bugger-all to demonstrate the validity of any of his notions, besides two-fisted verbal wankery and petulant broadsides at actual scientists). You have to wonder, given his “too fast” hypothesis, if Chopra has any particular beefs with the aforementioned Cambrian explosion – after all, it was an unprecedented event of speciation and diversification, about which creationists (and Intelligent Design creationists) have been voicing similar (and similarly ridiculous) “too fast!” objections for many years. Or perhaps Chopra would simply not care too much about some odd-looking shelly critters crawling and swimming about the ocean primeval a half-billion years ago – I didn’t call him an “anthroponarcissist” for nothing, after all, and there’s no real fodder for his fantabulations in fossils. You also have to wonder if, after Chopra’s “too fast” comment, the creationists might try and claim his words as credible – although, if they have any idea the low esteem Chopra in which is held by most scientists, they might not want to touch him with a barge pole. Then again, being creationists, they’re not above grasping desperately at straws when it comes to claiming the words of perceived scientific authorities as supportive of their particular brand of pseudoscience.

Regardless of whether creationists glom onto his verbal missteps as manna from Heaven, Chopra’s objections and attempted defences are easily revealed as facile, ignorant and childish; if he had a shred of integrity he’d be ashamed by his behaviour and would cease pontificating on subjects on which he has no expertise. But having no idea and no shame has never stopped his thoughtless yawping before; we should have no doubt that this self-styled maverick and ever-preening diva will take any further criticism as proof that he’s onto something. He might well, yet again, compare himself to Galileo and, yet again, neglect to realise that Galileo was right and could damn well prove it.

My final wonderment about this self-aggrandising charlatan is this, possums: will he ever return those spectacles to Dame Edna?

#GMO fear-mongering: let’s all try to not to do it, okes? Via the #senapath @ksenapathy

Oh yay! Time to wade into the GMO debate! Via FB.

Originally posted to Kavin Senapathy’s page was this:

Senapath: Just wondering, who’s reason, who’s evidence, and who’s scientific method you would be referring to. I seem to remember if you followed the corporate reason, evidence, and scientific methods of the time, these products would be safe and effective…….DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, and recombinant bovine somatotropin, to name a few. Today, if I purchase most any food item, the law requires that all ingredients be labeled, sensible right! Just label GMO’s, end of story……It seems to me, you and the corporations have decided to take us out of the equation, and by proxy, make decisions individuals should be able to make on their own. How would labeling GMO ingredients affect you in any negative way, clearly you would prefer to eat these products, so with labeling you could feel secure in knowing what you are getting. And for me, I would be able to avoid what I do not want……A winner for us both…….

Of course, I felt compelled to respond:

Dear Ross

Labelling “GM ingredients” would (and I would say already does) confuse people unnecessarily. How would you write in your ingredients list that the wheat flour used in your hot dog rolls had had inserted or activated, at point XYZ in its genome, gene/gene complex ABC? People barely know what half the things on ingredients lists are already – and as fearmongers like Food Babe have demonstrated, people are already easily scared of many of them for no good reason beyond their syllable count or their presence in other materials (which is often misunderstood or misrepresented). Even if you didn’t describe the GM process used in the product in question, just putting a “GMO inside” sticker on it would be just as confusing (and fear-inducing). Either way, people would be confused and scared for no reason, and no better informed.

The point is that genetic modification is nothing to be feared. People get all paranoid about “animal genes in corn” and talk about GMOs like campfire horror stories, but first: that’s an unfounded exaggeration and second: every mouthful you eat is already a mix of countless millions of genes and DNA fragments from the living or formerly-living things you’re consuming. Recombinant DNA techniques, aka “splicing” (to name just one), are a re-ordering of the DNA molecule which leaves the chemical structure of the molecule unchanged. RDNA and DNA are chemically identical and are processed by the body in the same way.

But if you’re truly worried about animal genes in your vegetables, maybe you should step away from that ham sandwich or that bolognese sauce. Facetiousness aside, if you’re vego/vegan or simply object to the presence of animal genes in vegetable matter, please consider the facts that 1) a pig gene does not equal pork and 2) animals and non-animals already share a great many genes due to the common ancestry of all living organisms (as I write this, you and I are 50% banana). RDNA techniques are often little more than “swtiching on” an extant gene or gene complex within a food organism, or simply substituting the identical gene or gene complex from another organism to achieve a desired result. Either way, its impact on you, once consumed, is nil.

Please note that no DNA in any food you consume is incorporated into your own genome in any way. Processing foods denatures DNA, as does any cooking process, and the digestive process is entirely about breaking food down at the molecular level into proteins, fats, sugars and other nutrients. Even when you eat raw, living food straight off the vine, your digestive process quickly dismantles any DNA once the cells of the fruit/vegetable are breached. Some DNA fragments may remain in your system, but this is true of all you consume, and none of the DNA leftovers have any effect. They’re waste and are treated as such.

Finally, conflating GMOs with DDT and Agent Orange is grossly inappropriate. It mightn’t have been the intention, but far too many people are all too happy to do so overtly. There’s already far too much hyperbole and fearmongering regarding GM food and I think it’s encumbent on all of us who are prepared to discuss the subject honestly not to contribute to it.

IPA: “be like Gough.” Me: don’t make me lough. #auspol

It’s been reported that among the items on the IPA’s “to-do” list, handed to Head Boy Abbott on his first day at Big School, was an exhortation to emulate the bold, uncompromising vision of Gough Whitlam, the PM who did more in his single term to create the nation we know today than any other, before or since, and who more or less weaponised  bloody-minded determination. 

I would humbly suggest that the fundamental differences between the two are too stark to be reconciled and that the IPA must surely have been huffing nitrous to think Tony could walk that particular walk, or even do a passable impression of the talk. 

Gough had a vision, based in humanism and social justice, which he followed through and largely realised, conservative obstructionism be damned. He had a litany of simple but radical ideas; their single unifying concept was to improve the lives of all Australians. He pursued it with an enviable vigour that sustained him through his cooked-up dismissal and well into his later years.

Abbott, however, had a shopping list from self-interested arch-capitalist science-denialists, little more than half of which he’s filled. Many of his wins have been to simply de-fund or destroy social or scientific programs or initiatives that conflict with his masters’ dogmatic ideologies (many victims of the LNP razor gang had their roots in the Whitlam era); all he’s actually built off his own bat is a less fair, more frightened society while destroying what little trust we had left in our representatives after Labor’s obsessive factionalists handed him the election.

No, Abbott’s no Whitlam-style radical pursuing a bold reform agenda, caution being thrown to the wind. He’s a toadying throwback – an errand boy for anyone with a large enough bank account to get a seat at the table. His vision – or what passes for it – is prescribed to him by others; it is to enable greater profiteering, less accountability and greater access to to government for the billionaires who already dictate conservative policy. 

Abbott’s legacy will not be one of a bold vision for the future, but of a shortsighted smash & grab: a ram-raid where Abbott broke down the door and his overseers filled their pockets and strolled away. 

#LoveWins – Australian Christian Lobby needs to DEAL

Dear Australian Christian Lobby
Regarding your recent Facebook posts of the usual “defence of marriage” kind:
Equality for our friends in America is its own reward – as justice always is – and bodes very well for the future of LGBT people in Australia. After all, we’re not going to have a front bench packed with conservative religious scolds and finger-waggers forever, and equality might even be achieved during their administration, despite their best efforts (which won’t stop them claiming credit for it down the track). 
In the meantime, watching assorted religious authoritarians, fundamentalists and button-down sexual throwbacks freak out and implode is icing on the rainbow cake. Keep swimming against the tide, keep prophesying doom and gloom, keep ignoring the happiness and joy and tangible benefits brought to countries that have removed obstacles to equality – and we’ll keep laughing at your impotent rage. 
However, despite my (and many others’) schadenfreude at watching homophobes the world over gnash their teeth and rend their garments, I hold a small hope that many of you will realise that equality is actually no threat to you, your faith, your marriages, your children, your society or your country, in any way, shape or form, and that you will embrace it as the net gain for human happiness that it is. And I hope for your sake that that realisation will come before history demonstrates with great clarity just how far on the wrong side of history you’ve strayed. 
To those of you intractable in your hatred or fear of those unlike yourselves, those who will never relinquish their claim to privileged and superior status based on your sexuality, as unchosen as that of LGBT people, those who cling to ancient spells to protect you from demons of your own invention: you can go to hell. Or, more accurately, you can stay in the hell of your own foolish fears and shameful hatred.