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Loan-A-Thon Dates:
January 1+2 (New Years)
April 1+2 (April Fools)
July 1+2 (near Muhammad Yunus' birthday and many national sovereignty celebrations)
October 31+November 1 (Halloween)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Religion unnecessary for Altruism

Joe from our team posted this link today on our message board:

This is a great article which confirms what I have been proclaiming and suspecting for a long time. Religion is not necessary for and does not boost altruism. The simple reason being that altruism is an evolved human characteristic and it evolved in us before we had language and therefore before we had religion.

Religious people like Atheists/Agnostics are equally capable of being altruistic the differences appear in the expression of altruism. Many religious people by tithing at church feel that they are being good to other people and therefore diminish the amount they cooperate in the community-at-large because they feel they are doing more than their part at church. However, there is an ulterior motive when they give money at church and that is to boost their reputation amongst their fellow church-goers.
Humans are evolved to be acutely sensitive to our reputations as do-gooders in our social groups because this promotes strong cooperative bonds that help the species. This psychological mechanism was originally unrelated to religion, the authors write in the Oct. 3 issue of the journal Science.
Unfortunately tithing is arguably the worst form of charity because it contributes to the teaching of false beliefs, mental suffering (hell, torture, sin, etc.) and only a fraction of the money is put to real charitable causes (4% of the money tithed to the Church of England goes to charity).

We know this does not apply to all religious people because we see them at doing real good for others. I would argue one main difference between the expression of altruism by religious folks and atheists is the size of the "in-group". For religious people the in-group is as large as their religion; for Christians about 1.9 billion; for Muslims about 1.1 billion. For atheist the in-group is the whole worlds population 6+ billion because we know people need help regardless of their religion.

When debating with religious people I often hear them proclaim that without religion society would fall apart there would be chaos, anarchy and people would commit violent and violent sexual acts with no hesitation. It's worrisome that some people have the impression that those things would happen. I kindly point out that we have laws which punish people for crimes and that is the main reason people refrain from criminality if they are so inclined (or in a desperate situation).
In fact, the courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities can serve the same purpose nowadays, encouraging prosocial behavior among large groups of strangers.
I also point out that human nature is not all bad; every person is both good and bad because of our evolutionary heritage (attack the enemy but protect the family) and we can to some extent choose how to behave. People have good in them and they want others to see the good in them so if they are in a position in society where their needs are met then there is no reason for their bad nature to surface and want to act out negatively towards others.

Indeed, this is one of the main arguments for improving the living situation in the Palestinian territories. In Palestine, the territorial situation is uncertain and the in/out group definitions are clearly defined and we see Muslim suicide bombings (which is altruism towards Muslims but a horrible crime against humanity). In Iran, where suicide bombing occurred during the Iran-Iraq war, we no longer see suicide bombings because the in-group (Iranians) are no longer being threatened by the out-group (Iraqis) and the standard of living is high considering Iran is not in the World Trade Organization. If Palestine had a clear territorial definition and an improved economy we may see more of the good nature of Palestinians; and even business cooperation with Israel. However, I'm not trying to claim an easy solution to a difficult problem.

The beauty of Atheistic Altruism is the following:
  1. We know there is no higher power governing our behavior or decisions.
  2. We know that all people are related through a common ancestor and in an evolutionary sense we are all related; and we all suffer.
  3. We know people need help and we are faced with three decisions:
    1. Do nothing.
    2. Do harm.
    3. Do good and help.
I am proud of how many of us choose to "do good and help".

By Peter

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Afghanistan: Blasphemer sentence reduced

A student and part-time journalist in Afghanistan was recently sentenced to death but upon appeal the sentence has been reduced to 20 years in prison.

I agree with the many negatives pointed out in the article about the situation but I wanted to highlight one positive that was not really stressed. He won't be killed! Under the Taliban they would not have even given him the charade of a kangaroo court. There were people 'protesting' in support of his death penalty which I'm sure in an unstable place like Afghanistan puts pressure on the judges to go along with public opinion. Thankfully the judges were more tempered than the average Afghan's thirst for Islamic "justice".

The judges may have reduced his sentence as a baby step away from radical Islam. If in five or ten years there is a rule of law in Afghanistan which allows for a more moderate interpretation of Islam there could be a possibility of his release. While it might not be the intention of the judges, by leaving him alive this gives his family, friends and supporters a cause to organize around. Not only can people fight for the struggle of women's rights but their struggle is personified in the attempt to release this young man from prison.

We have seen these struggles between radicals and moderates in Iran and Turkey and the progress that has been made there, especially in Turkey gives us hope that Afghanistan can be reformed.

Like I mentioned in my post on Reforming Islam any changes towards a more Humanist society in these Muslim nations is going to have to start with a reinterpreting of Islam. There have been many recent Islamic scholars who reinterpret the Quran to say that X,Y or Z scientific discovery was first mentioned in the Quran. While this is convenient revisionary history it's an example of reinterpreting the Quran without being blasphemous.

If you put Mohammad and the Quran in context, Mohammad was a champion for women's rights in his time and if God/Allah told Mohammad to improve the rights and condition of women in the 7th century then why would it be blasphemous for God/Allah to be on the side of an interpretation of the Quran that furthers women's rights in this time?

By Peter

Sunday, October 19, 2008

48 hours Halloween Loan-A-Thon

If you haven't heard already our team of Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious is holding a 48 hour Loan-A-Thon in celebration of Halloween (the holiday that most frightens fundies). Our goal is to boost our loan total and promote the team. So bring a friend.

Everyone has different means and available funds to loan through Kiva so what we are asking is to try and make 1 more loan than you normally would have. If everyone of our members just makes 1 loan during the Loan-A-Thon that will boost us into first place and put us a lot closer to our year end goal of $150,000.

The Loan-A-Thon is over a two day period October 31 and November 1 2008. Originally, teammate
Chelsea, had planned a 24-hour Loan-A-Thon just on Halloween but some of our more knowledgeable team members pointed out that usually there is a huge crop of new loans the first of the month so we have extended the Loan-A-Thon to November 1.

I pledge to loan $100 which is probably double what I would have normally loaned in October.

I'm still waiting to hear a response to my Open Letter to PZ Myers (the infamous Atheist); if you are in ear-shot of him let him know there is a $25 gift certificate waiting for him at Kiva.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reforming Islam

Many of us engaged in the culture "wars" (or the struggle to modify the meme-pool) are focused on the arguments of Christians and weeding out the religious influence in our western liberal democracies. However, those of us who are secularists with a Muslim background or with friends or family with a Muslim background the "war" is at a very different stage.

In many Muslim countries if you convert away from Islam, either to Christianity or to Atheism, you have signed your suicide note and will be killed (this happens in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and probably several other Muslim countries). This is simply an unacceptable situation that Enlightened people around the globe should work to resolve.

In Iran if you are a non-believer you have no rights; no human rights at all according to their civil code. Don't fall for the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, it's a propaganda move and amounts to nothing more than Sharia Law written in a format digestible to the Western reader and does not apply to non-believers.

So where does that leave us and where do we go from here?

We attack Sharia Law by using the Quran and providing intellectual material for moderate Muslims who believe in God (whatever that means) and who have the credibility to argue against Sharia with the Quran.

Surah 3 verse 7 from Skeptics Annotated Quran:
He it is Who hath revealed u nto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations - they are the substance of the Book - and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.
Same verse from
He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.
This verse of the Quran is our intellectual jackpot. It basically states that parts of the Quran are literal and parts are figurative and it's up to the wise men to figure out which verses are figurative and what they mean. Under the limitation that no one but God can be perfectly certain of the figurative meaning but people are free to search for their best interpretation (which amounts to consensus view).

Along these lines I'll be reviewing the Quran and making future posts on how best to water-down Islam for the 21st century. If we do not prepare for an intellectual offensive from Islam we will be defenseless when Muslim's try to bring Sharia Law to the west, which they have already tried to do in Canada. Canada is specifically being targeted by the forces that are working for an Islamic World because Canada has unique protections for religion that are not available in the USA and parts of Europe.

By Peter

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Election: A high note for Secularists

Stephen Harper (whom I strongly support) won his second minority government last night during the Canadian elections. I'm very proud that the Canadian elections have not sunken to the lows of the USA elections where pandering the the religious folks is a daily chore. There was almost no mention of religion in this election.

Probably a lesson well learned by all the parties after watching John Tory's (from the Progressive Conservative Party) failed attempt to be leader of Ontario by proposing to bring religious schools into the publicly funded fold (like the constitutionally protected Catholic schools... if you did not know Canada is not a Secular nation). The public of Ontario firmly rejected John Tory and stood up for the Enlightenment Principle of free, public and secular education for all.

We barely had any mention of abortion this election which is great. It seems like the Canadian public (and the Liberal scaremongers) have decided to bury the issue 3 feet deep. Hopefully one day it will be buried 6 feet deep and never will return.

It wasn't too long ago when Stockwell Day was the leader of the right-wing in Canada and the media hounded him for believing in creationism (I guess it's hard to blame them for that).

I've noticed that Stephen Harper has even toned down his "God Bless Canada"; refraining to only use it at large speeches (so not to be ranting that phrase everyday). He even sort of pauses at the end of his speeches; lets the music kick in then mumbles "Godblesscanada".

By Peter

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

John McCain believes in a flat Earth

I watched the second presidential debate, the town hall format, and was shocked when I heard John McCain say "We have gone to all 4 corners of the earth" (Youtube 2:28). Clearly this means he believes in a flat earth since only a flat earth could have 4 corners! Any other rational person would have said "We have been around the globe". During presidential debates the candidates choose their words very carefully. McCain may be sending a signal that if he is elected he will continue the mission of the evangelical protestant church that devised the God-based illogical war on Iraq and a stem cell policy from pre-Germ Theory thinking.

I used to be under the impression that John McCain was a religious moderate but after picking Sarah Palin for VP (whom a moderate would never be comfortable with) and claiming we have been to each of the four corners of the earth (I wonder where he thinks the corners are?); now it is clear that he is a Christian fundamentalist. Thousands of years ago before people had circumnavigated the earth (or had globes in classrooms or had pictures of the earth from space) it was understandable to believe the earth was flat. Even Euclid thought the earth was flat and he was one of the smartest people ever to have lived.

Nowadays, you would only find people who believe in a flat earth because they are Bible literalists because that is the only source of teachings which still preaches the flat earth theory. See Isaiah 11:12 and Matthew 4:8.

What are McCain's positions on the age of the earth and the "end times"?

I think a person who believes he is capable of serving as president from age 72 to age 80 and appoints a successor who believes the "end times" will be within her lifetime is not putting country first, he's putting God first!

On top of all that I mentioned above McCain has been bragging during this race that being a POW is a major qualification for being president while it clearly is not. McCain's judgment is severely flawed!

By Peter

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yeeaahh... we reached our goal of $50,000!!

I'm so proud of everyone. We have reached our 2008 year-end goal of $50,000!! But WAY early... we did so much better than I original predicted and I'm very proud of everyone for being a member of the team and helping to show that "reality-based" thinkers have compassion and are excited to shape the world to be a better place.

So what now? Let's keep up the pace and maybe try and turn it up a notch. We raised about $1,250 per day since the team started. At that pace we should be able to raise a total of $150,000 by year end. So to me that next goal just makes sense. What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.

Along with our goal to raise $150,000 in loans through our team by the year end of 2008, I thought of another side goal we can pursue.

We slipped in the rankings from #2 to #3. We are still doing well at trying to catch Kiva Friends but we need to turn things up a notch to catch Kiva Christians (in total money loaned). Kiva Christians had a lot of help from one of their members which may be a church. I for one am happy that a church has focused their funds towards Kiva. I wish all churches would do that. Some teams may get a short term boost from one big member but we still have a lead in the number of team members and we can use that to our advantage. Kiva Christians has a loans per member ratio of 5 and ours is 1.8.

I think we can increase our loans per members and I think our target for the year end of 2008 should be 3 loans per team member. Of course, it's voluntary and we welcome and are happy to have members who can only make 1 loan but some of us are addicts and we'll make more than 10. But setting a loans per members goal can be a great way to rally for more loans and to have fun. It may also encourage some of our team members who have joined multiple teams to rally their loans to our team until we reach this loans per member goal. Thoughts?

Oh and hopefully Obama wins the election but I'm happy to have them stay a spot behind us in the rankings ;)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gift Certificate to PZ Myers

Today about 500 loans were added to and for the first time since team lending began in August the Kiva Christians team has surpassed us Atheists in the rankings. Now is the time to call out to our community and invite our prominent members to help us in the great cause to end poverty and engage in some friendly competition. In this spirit I have sent a $25 gift certificate to PZ Myers along with the open letter that I have reproduced below.

Open Letter to PZ Myers:

Dear PZ Myers,

I invite you to join our team of compassionate Atheists at In order to get the fun started I have sent you a $25 gift certificate which you can use to loan, interest free, to your first entrepreneur. Be careful though, it's addicting!

We are currently in a time of financial crisis where people are panicking that they may not have access to the credit and banking services they have come to rely on. In the spirit of consciousness raising I would like to point out that billions of people live everyday in the horror that they cannot access a bank or get a bank loan. Imagine how life in North America would grind to a halt and we would all become equally poor if we were locked out of the banking system. Those without access to banking have next to no opportunities.

To solve this problem Professor Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh started Grameen Bank decades ago to provide low interest loans to poor people without collateral. In 2006 Prof. Yunus was given the Nobel Peace Prize and his work and philosophy has spread like wildfire all over the world. One of his great discoveries is that the poor amazingly have a 98% repayment rate!

Fast forward to today. is a online service that links lenders with borrowers, through local micro lending institutions. In late August, Kiva launched team lending and I immediately setup a team for Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious and a corresponding blog to support the team. Back when we had a handful of members I set our first goal to raise $50,000 in loans. We are currently past $40,000 and have over 800 members. Once we smash our first goal... we'll set a new one. I invite you and your minions (of which I am one) to help us raise more money.

One of the most fulfilling experiences of starting this team has been that I've discovered that there are tons of Atheists on Kiva and we are dispelling the myth that Atheists are not compassionate. Until today we were ranked #2 but we've just lost our second place spot to Kiva Christians. I thought you might be able to help :)

The great part about Kiva is that when an entrepreneur pays back the loan you can use the funds to loan to another entrepreneur... so the fun never ends (or you can cashout the loan but that's less fun).

One last thing, there has been debate on the team message board (you have to join the team to see the messages) over whether Atheists should direct their lending based on whether a local micro finance institution has a particular religious affiliation or stance. Inline with our nature as freethinkers there has not been a resolution to that question. In the mean time some team members have created a GDoc which lists a few MFIs (Micro Finance Institution) that have no religious stance.

Kind Regards,
Peter from Atheist Monkey