Community Profile: halii

halii_cropHow did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I found these forums through a friend. Like any community, the best parts about my favorite freethought communities (for me) are having experts on hand to answer questions for you, hearing different perspectives on ideas and of course, the humor and being brought down to earth when you start taking yourself too seriously. I also love the lack of censorship and the limited moderation that exists in at least some of the communities.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Rants ‘n’ Raves, and I will be either trolling or talking about the American election/American politics in general.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Mason – and hopefully he’d bring his parrot with him. Mason’s humor would keep me entertained for quite some time. Also Mason is young and his flesh is best for eating (if we had to)

Damian – because as an IP lawyer he could help me patent my coconut radio or whatever else I invented while marooned on the tropical island. Also, if the time came he would be there to help me kill Mason.

Lola – one of the truest, nicest people I’ve met through this community, Lola really knows her way around the wilderness. She’d be great company and very helpful.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

I’d say Kurt Vonnegut.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

When I was little I learned the story of Abraham from a children’s bible, and it really scared me. I hate that story half because it seems to be in a lot of children’s bibles and it isn’t really a story for children. Are there any children sitting around scared worried that every trip with their mom or dad to the store could end in them being burned on a mountain somewhere?

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

I’m most annoyed when people argue that the United States is a Christian nation or founded on Christian ideals when trying to argue for why religion should be allowed in schools, or basically any argument where they can claim the bible dictates our government act a certain way.

First, it’s an incorrect argument which is justified by bringing up the same random string of facts about the very few founding fathers who were actually christian and practicing, and interpreting the First Amendment completely incorrectly. It still masquerades like it’s a legit argument somehow.

But what makes it the worst argument ever, is even if it was correct, it’s fucked up to say that you want to live in a nation that gives preferential treatment to anyone due to their religion.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Neither.

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

Legal stuff, mostly, and I’m on the board of directors for a nonprofit organization that helps those who have Lupus in this area.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

I have many favorites, but one of the least well-received would be A Separate Peace – which displays the impact of WW2 on younger civilian Americans quite well.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Goodbye Horses, by Q Lazarus

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

I’d like to have some influence in healthcare or sex education reformation in this country. And not to piss off feminists, but I’d like to have some kids too. 🙂

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Potato vodka. I used to be able to drink a lot, but now it seems about 3 shots worth is enough. Probably 6 to drive me under the table though. 🙂

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

I nominate Mason. 🙂

Community Profile: Nialler

Nialler and Aoife

Nialler and Aoife

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I deliberately sought them out. I’d been hearing about the stuff that was being discussed by creationists and sundry evangelists over them and I thought that in exactly the same manner as the porn industry they would be to the frorefront of exploiting the newest technologies. I therefore felt moved to address that and through it found IIDB and its formerly excellent Evolution forum.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

You’ll find me splitting my time between RantsnRaves and TalkRational, while I also browse at rationalresponders. I’m still searching and arguing down fundamentalists and atheism has its own share of that breed.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Mrs Nialler has to have a say in this along with my child; so I’ll answer that I’d share the island with them both, with the possibility that there would be a third at some stage. I’ll create sockpuppet accounts to make sure that they qualify as members of online communities if needed!

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Godel. Any man who can prove that there are gaps even in the most rigorously constructed logical systems has my vote.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

“And He saw that it was good”. As Gervais said, being your own critic is hardly a good idea.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

Obviously, the “atheists have no moral framework” thing, but for novelty’s sake I’ll add the “But how could the whole universe have been created unless there was someone to create it?” canard.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

I need neither. I’m disinterested in spaghetti and unsure that Unicorn meat is any more savoury. I’m quite happy to eat wild boar with a good sauce and with a better wine than went into the sauce.

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

Well, I work on and off as a contracting sysprog working on mainframe systems for banks. It’s incredibly interesting and vital stuff for all.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

I’ve really no idea. I’m teased by my wife that the best book I’ve read is always the last book I’ve ever read. In that case, the best is a biography of Gladstone and Disraeli that I’m reading right now. If it came to the crunch, though, it would be either of Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” or Rex Warner’s “Man and the Gods” – a beautiful translation of Ovid.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

I seriously do not sing or dance on my own. Being a father of a baby, though, I’m forced to sing and dance sometimes and I’ll swing her around to the themes of her favourite programmes. That’s as far as it goes, though. I’m quite self-conscious that way.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

It sounds bad to say this, but I’ve achieved a lot of what I wanted to achieve. I don’t have any major ambitions for the future, although I guess that flying an F-15 would be nice.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Guinness. Good Guinness. Lots of it. In Ireland. Sitting at a bar with a newspaper. It would be difficult to drink me under the table. That’s not possible with me and Guinness. I do love wine as well, and I have a good supplier in my father-in-law.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

halii.

Community Profile: Jet Black

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Essentially by accident. Most of my friends throughout life have been atheists, agnostics or apatheists (there could be a God but they don’t care) and so I have been pretty much surrounded by freethought. My real love in life though is science and this is the main path which led to these online communities: finding people who were ludicrously anti science and arguing with them. Initially I’d spend my time on Christian forums, but after a while the atmosphere became stifling, and so IIDB was mentioned to me. The community, particularly in E/C was great, with lots of very intelligent people around and so I stayed.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Well these days you’ll find me in TalkRational, usually in the Evolution forum talking about science and stuff. I do have a few other places I haunt though to get away from things.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Well RBH would be handy to have around. as well as being a scientist, he seems to have done everything imaginable, and I’d expect that he has some pretty mean survival skills to boot. Oolon Colluphid; brew some alcohol, give it to him and tell him that a boar over there was saying that the Earth was made in 6 days. He’s be after it like a flash and it would be dead within seconds. Hmm… someone else…. am I allowed to take someone thick to burn on cold nights?

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Ooh tricky one. I like people like Sagan, Attenborough and Asimov. While they’re freethinkers, they don’t really rub it in.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

I don’t actually know any really. I follow the philosophy of Sherlock Holmes on this one; the knowledge is essentially useless to me and so I endeavour to forget it as quickly as possible.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

The idea that without some external moral agent we would essentially be savages. Humans are essentially a pack animal, and so work on those principles of having to function within groups, and so individual action that comes at too high a cost will commonly be punished by the group as a whole. Its irritating, and comes from a real misunderstanding of the idea of “survival of the fittest”.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

FSM all the way.

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

A lot. I’m a physicist by profession, but I also do Kung Fu and go out a lot.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

It would be a kick up between Player of Games and Use of Weapons, both by Iain M Banks. For now I will settle with Player of Games. I really like the perspective of the book and the subtlety that the games are being played on so many different levels.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Even when nobody is around I won’t sing, I’m that bad….. Dancing though, I do a mean air guitar when I’ve had enough to drink, only to appropriate Queen tunes though.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Live it to the fullest. If there’s just one thing then why not just do it?… I want to do a lot of things.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Oh I do like a good ale. Spitfire or Black Sheep maybe. I like to try different beers, particularly from smaller breweries, rather than the big commercial ones. I don’t drink a lot though, two or three at the most.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Nialler.

Community Profile: Oolon Colluphid

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Well, it was more of a drift than a discovery… I’ve been involved since sometime in 2000. I think you can blame Richard Dawkins for my online presence. Quite by chance, I got into an email discussion with my first ever pet creationist. I did alright at first, but despite a heap of pop science books, I felt a little out of my depth. So, with no internet to turn to in those days, I wrote to Dawkins, sending copies of the correspondence, a sort of ‘Help! I’m not sure what I’m doing!’ plea. And within a week I got an amazingly supportive and helpful reply, including: “People like [name] sound like they know what they are talking about, but they don’t. You do.”

My wife is heartily sick of me telling her “Richard Dawkins says I know what I’m talking about.”

Anyway, the good Professor also pointed me towards Talk Origins… and Internet Infidels. At about that time, we also went proper-internet. So, I found IIDB, used my replies to my pet creotard as the basis of some early posts (my Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes started as an email), and the rest, as they say, is history. And what a community IIDB was! So many great, intelligent and well-read people! Single Dad, Doubting Didymus, Pantera, Queen of Swords…

The thing with these communities is that you get to interact with people who, you know, use their brains. Who may well talk about the latest episode of bleedin’ Coronation Street like the bozos here at work, but who can also dismantle theist arguments with their eyes closed, and know the difference between Emmerdale and Eusthenopteron. In a word [sic], it’s mentally exhilarating and fun.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Talk Rational, which knocks all previous fora I’ve been involved in into a cocked hat, at least, latterly. And I’ll be talking about… evolution, probably, or something on the news, or playing some sort of word game. Which, incidentally, with mainlines being wild, requires the inevitable mandragoran skiffle: Parsons Green. Two blue tokens, and putting Octavia in knip.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Three? Not fair. It’s made even trickier by having met quite a few for real, so it’s tempting to pick from Jet Black, Febble, Per Ahlberg, Martin B, Don Alhambra, Nialler, Missus Gumby, David B, DMB, Amen Moses, Luis Garcia…

Okay, people I’ve not met: Boro Nut for the laughs; RBH for chat and general goodwill, and Matty for beer-sodden evenings. Apologies to the several dozen others.

Actually, as it’s ‘spend your life’, it should be Matty (knows about fishing, which would be useful), and any two females of breeding age. It’s a Darwinian imperative. No point trying to rise above your genes’ tyranny when there’s a population of four.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawkins and, um, Richard Dawkins. I read Selfish Gene in about ’85, back when it was his only book, Blind Watchmaker as soon as it hit paperback. His objects of focus over time have mirrored my own, from evolution, then pseudoscience and the wonder of science, and latterly that ultimate steaming pile of nonsense, god.

Also, James Randi for Flim-Flam! and philosopher Jamie Whyte, for his marvellous (and hilarious) introduction to logical fallacies, Bad Thoughts, which made me realise that philosophy isn’t all navel-gazing.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

William Cowper’s The Christian. Mephitic bollocks: “The noblest creature seen below, / Ordain’d to fill a throne above; / God gives him all He can bestow, / His kingdom of eternal love!”

Oh, I see. Well, all the stuff that ought to be least favourite, because it’s so hideous, I really like, as it’s so useful. But, probably the positively barmy (especially because of what it comes after) very last verse of the bible: Revelation 22:21, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” What a load of old toss.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

The argument from design. Because it is so superficially plausible, but actually, so monumentally ignorant (not to mention self-defeating). Though a close-run thing between that and the old ‘you can’t be good without god’, spy-in-the-sky morality malarkey.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Is that a Pascal’s Wager question? Quetzalcoatl. Though, on balance, probably the FSM. In a toss-up between the ineffable and the edible, I choose the one with the nicer sauce. That’s where the Christians went wrong, you know. Wafer, when you could have bolognese?

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

For fun, there’s books: I collect Jamesian ghost stories, and pop science, and whatever comes to hand… music: classical, especially early piano recordings (there was a god, and his name was Simon Barere), ‘classic rock’, folk, general pop-ish radio fodder, but above all, Richard Thompson (pbuh)… TV, of course, with House, Shark and Doctor Who being the three things at the moment that just have to be recorded… DVD: many a good horror. And I’m well into another Open University science short course, this time astronomy.

For money: anything. But in practice, it’s sitting in an office, moving electronic and real pieces of paper around.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

*sigh* Another impossible question. Just one, when I’ve got about 4,000 at home at last count? (I’ve even read some of them…) Nope, I refuse to play. You may have gathered I don’t ‘do’ imposed rules!

For fiction, it’d be a three-way tie between Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (so funny, so clever), Pullman’s His Dark Materials (just wow), and a Terry Pratchett, perhaps Wyrd Sisters (for the Macbeth take-offs). Or Nineteen Eighty-Four (needs no introduction). Or Love in the Time of Cholera (one long shaggy dog story). Or The Wasp Factory (gigglesome, plus one of the best horror sequences I’ve read. Teaspoon). Or Michel Faber’s fascinating Under the Skin (dark satire, completely gripping, and would turn a lesser man than I to vegetarianism). Or…

For non-fiction: apart from Dawkins and co, probably Nathaniel Philbrick’s utterly brilliant In the Heart of the Sea. Not my usual fare, but an amazing read. It’s about the wrecking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by a disgruntled (or possibly randy) sperm whale, the historical basis for Moby Dick. But that is the central action set-piece around which Philbrick weaves the history of whaling, the economics of nineteenth-century Nantucket and of spermaceti, the biology of whales, life on the ocean waves, the effects of starvation and dehydration on the human body, cannibalism, maritime navigation… all wrapped up in elegant, completely gripping prose. Read it.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Given my singing and dancing, all of them. Though I do have a tendency to go all air-guitar, and intricately whistle the guitar solos, for many a Dire Straits song. The live version of Sultans of Swing especially.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Enjoy it, moment to moment. I’m mainly succeeding. And I’d like to see the aurora (and try to catch a glimpse of Cittàgazze).

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Hydrogen cyanide, and about 300 mg per cubic metre. *Ahem*… any decent, not too hoppy real ale; white wine, and about two bottles; or simply Bacardi and coke. Stone’s ginger wine and any old Scotch at Christmas.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Hmmm. Per Ahlberg, I think.

Community Profile: David B

davidbHey David, thanks for being this month’s victim! So, on with the questions… How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Shortly after I got a new computer with a modem, more years ago now than I care to remember, I web searched for atheism, and stumbled upon a discussion board called ‘The Godless Zone’ (Don’t be shy)’ and dived in. Sadly, the hosting company went belly up, and a succession of moves led to it losing a lot of membership.

Following that I came across IIDB, where I stayed until events there led me to leave. Then I looked around for somewhere I could really feel at home for some time, was led to Talk Rational.

There are a couple of things that I particularly like about message boards, one being the opportunity to learn from people better informed than myself, the other being able to interact with people of similar interests. They are somewhat lacking in small town life. While on-line communities, and also my reading of boards dedicated to ex-mormons, ex-JWs etc have not changed my atheism, they have made me a better informed atheist, and also a rather more militant one, having seen so much evidence of the harm religions can do.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

http://www.talkrational.org/index.php.

I talk about a wide variety of things, but if I have a particular bee in my bonnet it is superstition, in which I include religion, quack medicine, clairvoyance, mystical apprehension of the universe through meditation etc. This particularly because many years ago I was convinced that Transcendental Meditation was the answer to life’s problems. A long story, but wrong!

I find the science (including evolution of course) fascinating, but I learn more than I contribute to these fora.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

I’ll be strikingly unoriginal, and pick Christina – we have a lot of culture in common, back from the 60s. Dylan and Dead for instance.

Nialler, to have someone to endlessly contemplate World cricket teams to play Mars, an all time England team to lose to an all time Australian team, and other variations on that theme.

There’s so much choice, but for the third I think I’ll go for someone I don’t know as well as the other two. Rathpig. On a desert island his farming skills would come in useful, he’s a sharp guy with a broad general knowledge, and an admirable grasp of invective.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Dennett, for one. In my youth I fell for the trap of failing to see how atheism did not lead inexorably to nihilism. Which was one of the reasons for my exploration of meditation. Reading ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’ led me to see a reality in concepts like morals, beauty, truth by viewing them as emergent processes rather than things.

Robert Carroll of http://skepdic.com/ fame. A guy who really does his homework, and reading his site has led me to understand better a lot of the traps that I fell into when I was a meditation proselytiser.

And again Hofstadter, whose somewhat speculative writings on the nature of mind I find difficult but very rewarding. Reading, and sometimes re-reading him, leads me to feel that I fail to quite grasp life, the universe and everything in a more sophisticated, better informed, way.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

There’s so many! But Matthew 10.37 ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ is in my opinion a good example of classic cultism.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

‘You can’t prove that there isn’t a god’ used as a justification to believe that there is one. So many people seems to find that Russell’s Teapot, or for that matter the IPU are not demolitions of that argument, and I find that frustrating.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

FSM, obviously! Beer fountains!

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

I read pop science books, and watch a load of science documentaries on tv. I live in a beautiful area, and enjoy walking and being out in the wonders of nature, and I also enjoy the atavistic pleasure of foraging for wild food.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

Again so many! On the pop science front, then ‘GEB’ by Hofstadter springs to mind, but outside that genre I will soon reread (yet again) ‘Bevis, the story of a boy’ which is an idealised account of the boyhood of a minor victorian writer called Richard Jefferies. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Jefferies

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Oh Gawd! ‘Dare’ by Gorillaz I suppose, though I am generally too embarrassed to dance even alone.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

There is a phenomenon that occurs under certain storm and tide conditions in my local harbour called ‘the run’, in which there is a resonance to the waves leading to the harbour filling and emptying in a matter of minutes. To the extent that I have seen the motion of the water pull a boat under by its aft mooring ropes. I have a couple of examples down on dvd already, but nothing big. I want to capture one bigger than I have yet seen on dvd.

Coming across a grove where there is a glut of prime quality chanterelles would be good, too.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Red wine, these days. Much more than a bottle is enough to give me a hangover.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Oolon.