Sunday, November 6, 2011

Same-sex marriage, particularly in Australia

A friend recently asked me to take a look at this FAQ and basically rebut it. I agreed, and I'm doing so, but my discovery of some fairly thorough rebuttals already written has freed me from any need to respond to every paragraph. Here's the (comparatively) short version - I'll link two more-thorough treatments (by other people) at the bottom.

1. What is marriage, in human history?
Throughout history, marriage has traditionally been an institution in which one man owned one or more women. Equality for wives is a modern concept - it is obscene to speak of marriage as being "important for the protection of the pregnant woman", given that (for instance) rape within marriage only began to be outlawed in Australia in 1981. Anyone who wants to talk about the "traditional meaning of marriage" should first learn what that traditional meaning is, and then (hopefully) shut up and give thanks that the institution has changed over time. This applies also to the later bit about how marriage "helps protect women from exploitation". Note also that no-fault divorce is a very recent concept, at least in Australia.

It's also worth noting that the bit about "the passionately patient love and labour of both their mother and their father" is sharply at odds with large parts of history in which children were raised largely by servants and rarely saw their parents. Technically this is mentioned in regard to "infants" - humans are only "infants" for a few years, however, and beyond infancy there are plenty of historical examples of children routinely taken away from their families to be raised communally by some social institution (often the army).

2. But isn’t marriage about ‘love and commitment’, not about gender?
-The "continuation of human life" is hardly an issue here - we are at risk from overpopulation, not underpopulation.
-"Natural sexual attraction between man and woman" implies that same-sex sexual attraction is unnatural. On the contrary, homosexual behaviour has been observed in (at last count) approximately 1500 species.
-Marriage is an exclusive commitment. This is somehow overlooked in the FAQ.
-Note the manipulative language used - Andrew Sullivan is a "prominent homosexual advocate", whereas David Blankenhorn is a "marriage expert".
-It is true that same-sex couples "cannot naturally give rise to children". For heterosexual couples, the state does not care whether children are the result of sexual intercourse, IVF or adoption. If the state cares about these things for homosexual couples, then that is simple discrimination.

3. Aren’t we discriminating against homosexual people?
Yes. "Separate but equal" is not equal. This is not new.

the ‘right to marriage’ infringes on the still greater right of the child to have both a mother and father
There is no such right of the child. If there were, adoption by single parents would not be legal. It is legal, and the groups fighting against same-sex marriage don't seem to have a problem with it.

Only the natural union of a man and a woman can create children
This is factually incorrect, and incidentally overlooks adoption.

This attention is to encourage parents to remain together and with their children, to avoid the breakdown of a family unit and its resulting disadvantage to children
If the state is so opposed to "the breakdown of a family unit", why did Australia introduce no-fault divorce in 1975?

4. Does a child need both a mum & a dad?
...a government should never be complicit in having children planned to be deliberately placed in a home without their mother or father– by the legalisation of same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and same-sex surrogacy
Somehow there doesn't seem to be any objection to adoption by a single parent.

The argument resting on the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child is false, because such an interpretation would outlaw adoption entirely.

5. How common is homosexuality?
The research cited is cherrypicked, and the data presented from it is also cherrypicked. Even the publicly-available abstract of this carefully-chosen paper notes that "some same-sex attraction or experience was reported by 8.6% of men and 15.1% of women", which is significantly higher than the quoted figures of 1.6% and 0.8% for those identifying as homosexual. The "long-discredited survey of criminals by Kinsey" (note once more the loaded terminology) was indeed criticised upon release, but has since been verified by, among other things, removing the data from current or former prison inmates (who had constituted 25% of the original sample) and male prostitutes (5%). Furthermore, Kinsey's 10% figure refers to the "completely homosexual" category in a 7-category scale (as opposed to the popular 3-category scale of heterosexual/bisexual/homosexual).

The above demonstrates wilful deception by the authors of this FAQ, but is otherwise irrelevant. Even small minorities have rights, and fewer homosexual people means less potential damage to society if they are allowed to marry. The important point is civil rights, though - I would call this tyranny of the majority, except that the majority of Australians actually supports same-sex marriage.

6. People are born gay, right?
Uncertain, unlikely to have a simple answer, and in any case irrelevant. A man does not choose to fall in love with another man, any more than I (a straight man) choose to fall in love with a woman. Sexual orientation is a complex phenomenon which we don't well understand, and it can change over time, but it is not a choice.

7. But don't we need to reduce gay-bullying?
Indeed. Whilever authorities discriminate against gay people, how can children be expected not to do so? Recent educational initiatives are helpful in educating children, but more so in forcing school administrations to treat homosexual students fairly.

homosexualising the sexual instruction of our children at school
Homosexuality is not a communicable disease. God forbid that our children should learn tolerance and respect for others.

8. How else will “gay marriage” harm society?
It is true that extra rights recognised for a certain group means that I am no longer allowed to violate those rights. I have no problem with this, personally. the example about "hate speech" is a blatant straw man; many groups have "special" rights, and yet it is still legal to speak about them "in a negative light".

Where same-sex marriage has been legalised, there have been all sorts of unwanted repercussion on the rest of society.
The repercussions mentioned all seem to be in America, a Christian-dominated country with some very wealthy religious organisations fighting against gay rights - I do not accept those stories at face value, particularly since they sound very much like just another aspect of the religious war against sex education in the USA. Elsewhere (eg. in Canada and the Netherlands), same-sex marriage appears not to have made much difference to society.

9. Should a child ideally have both a mum and a dad?
One Adelaide paediatrician opposes same-sex couples as parents, and incidentally conflates "gay and lesbian parenting" with "when families fracture". As above, this concern for broken homes and lack of a father/mother seem odd when adoption by single parents is accepted.

The quote from the American College of Pediatricians struck me as strange - "an association of hundreds of paediatricians in the US"? The American College of Pediatricians is a socially conservative breakaway group, formed in 2002 in protest against the major body's support for adoption by gay couples. It has an estimated 60-200 members. The major professional body in the USA is the American Academy of Pediatrics; formed in 1935, it  has approximately 60,000 members (that is, 500-1000x the membership of the breakaway group). The major body supports parenting by same-sex couples.

However, nobody needs to resort to “the best available science” to defend the obvious insight that a little child needs both a mother and a father. The judgment of anyone who cannot see this as a self-evident fact of life, as the most primal and necessary condition of a child’s wellbeing, is suspect.
This final statement betrays (once more) a stunning ignorance of history. Historically children have routinely been raised with little to no contact with their fathers, and even without much contact with their mothers. Witness wet-nurses, nurses, governesses and the like.

It's amazing how many "self-evident facts of life" have turned out to be cloaks for bigotry of one kind or another, notably racism and sexism. It is my opinion that this is no exception.


The above is not intended as a complete or well-referenced argument. I think it suffices anyway, but better arguments have been made by others. Here are two which I find particularly good.

Australian Marriage Equality - Answering the Critics

Bidstrup on marriage

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On predicting the end of the world

OK, so who do we know who has predicted the end of the world? Here's some notable names (in my opinion), and the dates they predicted. All information sourced from Wikipedia.

+Pope Sylvester II:  1000 AD, Jan 1. Convenient disproof of papal infallibility. Similarly Pope Innocent III (1284 AD),
+Sandro Botticelli: 1504 AD. Superb painter.
+Martin Luther: 1600 AD. Single most important figure in the Reformation.
+Christopher Columbus: 1658.
+Charles Wesley: 1794. Wrote many well-known hymns.
+John Wesley: 1836. Founder of the Methodist church, along with his brother Charles (see above).
+Joseph Smith: 1890 or 1891. Founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church).
+Pat Robertson:
----1982: October, November.
----2007: April 29
+Louis Farrakhan: 1991. Leader of the Nation of Islam.
+Harold Camping:
----1994: September 6, September 29, October 2
----1995: March 31
----2011: May 21, October 21
+Nostradamus: 1999, July
+Isaac Newton: 2000. Sir Isaac got rather strange later in life, and wrote a lot of really weird stuff about mysticism and the like.
+Jerry Falwell: 2000, Jan 1.

These men were not necessarily stupid, or evil, or anything else I might want to call them. They were, however, wrong.

This doesn't necessarily mean they were wrong about anything else in particular that they said - Newton did get the laws of motion approximately correct, for instance, and Martin Luther had some rather worthwhile theological ideas (despite his virulent anti-Semitism). However, I contend that the above predictions rob these men of any claim to authority - I accept on other grounds that Newton's laws of motion are approximately correct, for instance, but I would not accept anything as true merely because it was said by Newton. Precisely the same applies to every other person on the list, which incidentally casts further doubt on quite a number of religions.

The Wikipedia article also lists predictions made by groups of people. I ignored most, but there are two that I would like to talk about - the two which, in my opinion, actually make sense.

The first prediction was made by the Apostles and the early Christians, who believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. They believed this because Jesus himself said so, clearly and repeatedly:
"I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." - Jesus, quoted in Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1

"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." - Jesus, quoted in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32
(translations according to New International Version)

To me, this is about as clear as it gets - two direct statements from Jesus himself in plain language, each recorded in at least two different Gospels. If this is not reliable, nothing in the Bible is reliable. Given their trust in Jesus, this particular end-of-the-world prediction was perfectly straightforward and reasonable. It was also wrong, of course, which to me seems like rather an awkward plot hole in Christian theology. I don't recall being overly bothered by it myself during my time as a Christian, though, so I don't really expect this to change anyone's mind.

The other prediction I'd like to point out is the one attributed to "various scientists" and dated approximately 5 billion AD. I mention this because it's based on humanity's current best understanding of how the universe works, and is therefore fairly likely to be correct. Personally I think we'll either die out or spread out long before then, so it's a bit of an academic point.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Response to Alister McGrath's "There is nothing blind about faith"

In the past few months in particular, I've seen a string of articles written by religious apologists seeking to discredit so-called "New Atheism" and "New Atheists". I'm getting more than a little tired of the baseless attacks and painfully-fallacious reasoning, so I'm going to shred the latest instalment. Note that I'm not attacking belief or believers here - I support absolutely the right of anyone to believe anything (or nothing), and I'm not going to argue against that. In this essay I am merely responding to an unfair and deeply flawed attack on nonbelievers. Intelligent response is actively welcomed, especially if you disagree with me and can coherently explain how and why you disagree.

The article in question is There is nothing blind about faith by Alister McGrath (who has written a series of similar articles prior to this one). I shall quote as necessary, and respond fairly thoroughly.

The great Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero had plenty of advice for those who wanted to win arguments. Cicero was far too skilled in matters of rhetoric to limit himself to evidence-based argument. Nothing convinces like conviction, he remarked. An orator's passionate conviction in his beliefs was essential to winning others to the cause.
Yes, passionate conviction does tend to sway people. This is due to a weakness in human psychology, and has no bearing on the actual truth (or otherwise) of a position. To take an extreme example: Hitler was a highly skilled rhetoretician who certainly followed Cicero's advice, but I contend that his rhetorical skill did not in any way constitute rational evidence supporting his positions. Oh, and just so we're clear: I am not saying that Christians (or any theists) are "as bad as Hitler" or any such nonsense - I am merely pointing out that rhetorical skill has no correlation with factual accuracy.

Furthermore, [Hitchens'] assertions seem accepted as oracles of truth by his devotees. Perhaps this helps us understand how the New Atheist notion of faith has achieved such prominence, despite its obvious inaccuracy.
1. Oracles were people who spoke prophecy, generally under the influence of psychoactive drugs of some sort. It makes no sense to refer to statements as oracles of any kind. I would normally avoid pointing out a language error in this sort of context, but I feel this one demonstrates that McGrath is using concepts which he does not grasp. This contributes to my overall charge of proof by verbosity, which seems to be the primary tool of apologists like McGrath.
2. The "obvious inaccuracy" is a bit surprising, given that the definition which McGrath takes from Dawkins is a loose paraphrasing of a Bible verse. Let's compare the two:
-'faith is "blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence."' - Alister McGrath, quoting Richard Dawkins
-'faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see' - Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The only possible objection is to "in the teeth of evidence". Offhand I can't produce a Bible verse specifically supporting this, but history is full of Christians clinging to false positions on the basis of faith even in the teeth of evidence. This is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon, and it's not even exclusively a theist flaw (eg. there are instances of respected scientists vigorously and even unscrupulously defending out-of-date theories in the teeth of new evidence), but it is certainly a very common feature of theism throughout history.

no Christian theologian I know would accept this notion of faith. It is Dawkins's own invention, designed with his own polemical agendas in mind.
That would be the "notion" that is explicitly supported on most points by the Bible, and supported on the remaining point by the weight of history and current events. I wonder about the Christian theologians that Prof. McGrath knows.

the simple reality of life is that all of us, irrespective of our views about God, base our lives on beliefs - on things that we cannot prove to be true, but believe to be trustworthy and reliable.
I'm disappointed that McGrath doesn't give any examples here, because I am genuinely unsure of what he means. My best guess is that this is an indirect form of the logical fallacy known as equivocation - using a single term for two different meanings and implicitly conflating the two. He equivocates belief as "holding to be true" with belief as "unshakeable conviction", and also equivocates prove as "establish sufficiently high likelihood for practical use" (or even "establish beyond reasonable doubt") with prove as "demonstrate beyond any possible doubt".
We rational atheists do arguably base our lives on beliefs, but these beliefs (in the "hold to be true" sense) are supported sufficiently by rational evidence. I believe that I will die if I jump off a tall building, for instance - technically I can't prove it absolutely, but I believe it strongly enough that I don't jump off tall buildings. I used to believe that glass was technically a liquid, because that was the most plausible position based on the information I had. I no longer hold that belief, since I now have more and better information. That's the key difference between the two meanings of "belief" here - one is always open to revision or abandonment based on new information, whereas the other is clung to all the more tightly "in the teeth" of new information.

The New Atheism seems to have some kind of aversion to using the word "faith," believing it denotes some kind of intellectual perversity reserved for deluded religious fools. Faith, we are told, is invariably blind faith.
I try to avoid using the word "faith" in contexts like this, because it is so readily (often wilfully) misinterpreted. The word has multiple meanings, and a statement I make intending the word in one meaning may be used against me unfairly by assuming another meaning. Precisely this has been done to people such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, for instance, by those Christians who take instances of the word "God" in the writings of those non-Christian men and assume that it refers to Yahweh.

I have no doubt that some religious people do have blind faith ... followers are being encouraged simply to echo the views and actions of their gurus.
Indeed, some atheists do have blind faith in what the "superstars" of atheism say. Atheists are not all purely rational and highly intelligent, any more than theists are all totally irrational and profoundly stupid. It is also true to some extent that the cult of personality is in play, but I fail to see why McGrath should be concerned; such a phenomenon does not bear on the validity of atheism, but only (potentially) weakens its self-promotion. I see this point as another version of the "strident" argument (bizarrely often leveled against Dawkins), which itself is merely a reworking of the "uppity" argument used successively against women and black people. Members of a disadvantaged group lobbying for better treatment should always be suspicious of advice coming from those who are perpetuating the disadvantage, particularly if (as in this case) the advice boils down to "shut up". Shall we argue that there was no cult of personality around Paul Robeson or Martin Luther King Jr, for instance? Note that I am not saying atheists are being persecuted anywhere near as badly as black people and women once were; my comparison is one of concept, not of degree.

For example, the secularist group, "Freethinkers" - which is "guided by reason and logic" - has on sale a T-shirt printed with advice on how to tackle life's great ethical questions. Just ask: "What would Dawkins do?" Neat, eh?
McGrath is apparently unable to understand a simple joke at the expense of the ubiquitous "What Would Jesus Do?" merchandise. Awkward.

The simple truth is that belief is just a normal human way of making sense of a complex world. It is not blind - it just tries to make the best sense of things on the basis of the limited evidence available.
Again, this is equivocation. In the statements "I believe that Jesus of Nazareth literally rose from the dead" and "I believe driving a car will improve my life overall", for example, the word "believe" is not consistent - it refers to two different concepts, and these should not be confused. I support absolutely the right of any person to believe anything they choose, but I will say this unambiguously: on the basis of the information available to any educated person today, the core dogma of Christianity is not rationally defensible. I do not raise this as an argument against belief (since most believers I've known have held up that irrational faith as a virtue), but rather as an argument against McGrath's fuzzy thinking.

For example, consider the current debate within cosmology ... nobody thinks they are deluded, mentally ill, or immoral for believing such things.
Equivocation yet again. They (and I) hold as true the multiverse theory, but they (and I) will cheerfully change our minds if further evidence renders that theory implausible.

It is immoral to rape people. Democracy is better than fascism. World poverty is morally unacceptable. I can't prove any of these beliefs to be true, and neither can anyone else.
His examples are uncontroversial, but his argument is false. I can indeed "prove" these beliefs to be true, albeit not to the absolute standard which McGrath seems fixed upon. The argument is as follows:
1. I propose this as an axiom: "suffering is bad". All religions and all modern societies seem to agree on this basic idea, though the details of interpretation and application vary wildly. I'm using "axiom" here in the formal sense, as something which for the purposes of the argument cannot be justified by other means and must simply be accepted by all parties. Anyone who wants to attack this axiom, feel free.
2. Raping someone causes suffering. Therefore, rape is wrong. Any argument against this would need to provide compelling reasons why banning rape would cause greater suffering.
3. Democracy is believed to cause less suffering than fascism. Therefore, contingent upon that belief, democracy is better than fascism.
4. "World poverty is morally unacceptable"? To whom? The widespread poverty in places like large parts of Africa exists largely because of the actions of some (generally very rich) people in the First World, and these people could at least significantly ameliorate the problem if they so chose; clearly it is not unacceptable to them. I would certainly agree that world poverty is bad, however, because it causes great suffering.

Should anyone wish to question the legitimacy of axiomatic reasoning itself, I invite a careful consideration of modern mathematics (which ultimately rests on 5 unprovable axioms).

Hitchens's anti-theism rests on certain moral values (such as "religion is evil" or "God is not good") which he is unable to demonstrate by reason.
1. These "values" are the conclusions, rather than the premises, of Hitchens' arguments. His morality does not rest on them; rather, they rest on his meticulous arguments (which ultimately rest on the axiom I proposed above). It is simply false to say that Hitchens is "unable to demonstrate [them] by reason" - he has done so at great length and with greater care.

When he is called upon to prove them - as he regularly is in debates - he seems unable to do so.
I call foul, Prof. McGrath. That is, I contend that your statement is factually incorrect (whether wilfully or not).

Christianity holds that faith is basically warranted belief. Faith goes beyond what is logically demonstrable, yet is nevertheless capable of rational motivation and foundation.
1. "Warranted belief" implies "rationally warranted", which is simply not applicable to the core Christian dogma (to take but one example). Failing that, it means nothing.
2. Faith is indeed "capable of" rational foundation - I myself based my own Christian faith on the (very limited and skewed) historical information known to me at that time. Any faith which is based on a rational foundation, however, must by definition be falsifiable unless it is based only on abstract logic - any rational foundation can in theory be destroyed by new information, and of course any faith based on that foundation would thereby be toppled. Thus my own faith was destroyed when I became aware of broader and more reliable information and demolished my faith's "rational foundation" therewith.

It is a relational idea, pointing to the capacity of God to captivate our imaginations, and to accompany us on the journey of life.
I fear Prof. McGrath misunderstands the basic atheist position. The core of our argument isn't "God is undesirable"; rather, it is "God is implausible". Santa Claus also has the capacity to captivate imaginations, for instance, but we don't consider that a good argument for his existence. And what exactly does it mean to say that any god "[accompanies] us on the  journey of life"? Anyone who sees or hears any god directly is liable to be committed to a psychiatric facility, and yet theists persist in talking about a personal relationship with their particular never-seen and never-heard deity as a close personal friend.

(EDIT: Fixed a typo, and simplified my axiom. )

Friday, April 2, 2010

to "Ridiculous Atheists (Picking on Dogma)" by Professoranton

This isn't likely to be a coherent essay. It is merely a response to a number of points raised by Professoranton in his video Ridiculous Atheists (Picking on Dogma). I offer this because it seems he does genuinely want intelligent discussion of his ideas.

1. Why do atheists keep on attacking ridiculous creationist arguments?
Creationists continue to attack certain things which we consider important, notably education. They continue to invent new versions of their arguments, so atheists continue to debunk them. For what it's worth, I personally have deliberately stopped engaging with creationists.

2. "Do people really think they've satisfied thinkers' real concerns when they've dispelled things that are basically ridiculous?"
"Ridiculous" is a subjective term - to me, for instance, religion itself is inherently ridiculous. There is plenty of serious non-theistic philosophy being constructed, anyway - look up Dan Dennett, for a start.

3. Why do atheists use straw-man arguments in relation to creationism?
The creationist arguments to which atheists respond are all flourishing in the wild - honestly, we couldn't make up anything as bizarre as what creationists genuinely use.

4. "What ought we mean by 'God'? What ought we mean by 'the divine', by 'the ground of being'?"
Here's a problem - different people mean very different things by 'God'. There is no consensus, and there is no reason why there should be a consensus. Therefore, the initial question is meaningless.

5. It seems 'odd' to Professoranton that 'people of the scientific ilk' put science on the same plane as religion as an explanatory mechanism of grand questions
Religion has no utility whatsoever as an explanatory mechanism for anything at all, except perhaps as fossilised philosophy. Science can in principle discover anything and everything about the physical universe and everything in it, and we have philosophy as a structure for apriori reasoning about anything to which science does not yet seem to apply. Scientifically-minded people therefore tend to place science above religion as an explanatory mechanism for grand questions.
6. "Was there an actual emergence of life out of the inorganic?"
Yes. Here on Earth it happened a few billion years ago, about a billion years after the planet formed. The question is a scientific one - it can be answered by science, and it has been answered by science. We even have some pretty good ideas about how it happened.

7. Is it a mystery that we have the vocabulary to talk about stuff that doesn't make much sense, like "forever" or "everything that ever was"?
No, not really. It's very easy to construct arbitrarily absurd concepts by playing with existing language, even though language evolved for describing reality. Language is infinitely recombinable - there are fairly obvious reasons for this, and it incidentally allows limitless absurdity.

8. "that this is" as an "inescapable" argument for "God-talk"
Granted, the existence of the universe and everything in it is a valid reason to consider why it exists. Many people equate this to a requirement for some sort of god, which in turn means that "God-talk" is inevitable from these people. This does not mean, however, that there must be a 'god' in any meaningful sense. Really, "that this is" as an argument for God is just another form of the argument from personal incredulity (the single favourite argument of creationists).

9. "There is a grand cosmic connection between everything, between all of it."
Technically this is true - all matter originated in the Big Bang. However, there's no particular reason why this should mean anything in particular now.

10. An organism somehow creates disorder ... disorder around itself to maintain an order within itself ... living systems cut against the entropy of physical closed systems."
An organism is not a physical closed system - there is energy input and output. In fact, there is a huge, unceasing torrent of energy entering the biosphere - sunlight. Therefore, this entire point is nonsense.

11. "The word 'tree' doesn't rot, ... you can't tear down the meaning of the word 'tree' - the meaning of the word 'tree' isn't located somehow in the material substance ... that gives humans a taste for the eternal"
a) The word 'tree' is a label for a concept, which in turn happens to refer to a class of physical object. Only a physical object can literally rot.
b) Actually, the meaning of a word can be lost - we happen to still know what 'lunting' (current in 1824) meant, but how many similar words have simply been forgotten? There are millions of coneys in the world, but few people today know the word and still fewer know its original pronunciation.
c) The meaning of a word can change - in fact, it is very rare for a word's meaning not to change in the course of a few centuries. The most obvious examples of meaning shift occur when a word diverges - "glamour" and "grammar", for instance, diverged a few hundred years ago. Likewise "sodden" (thoroughly wet) is the modern form of the word "sodyn" (boiled). The idea of a word being eternal is absurd.
d) The meaning of the word 'tree' is located in the brains of all the people who understand the word, and everywhere that an explanation is recorded in any form. This is independent of actual trees.

12. "Atheism is a religion ... all beings who speak, somehow are religious beings - there's no way out of being a religious being."
Nonsense. I declare that there is no god - therefore I am an atheist. I also declare that there is no Tooth Fairy, but somehow that declaration isn't regarded as a religion. To reify a privative is to commit a basic logical fallacy - atheism is a religion in exactly the same way that phlogiston is a chemical element (ie. not at all).

13. "Non-being exists only in language ... language is the infection of non-being into the world"
Nonsense. Plenty of things don't exist, just like plenty of things exist. It's just a bit hard to point at something that doesn't exist.

14. "you don't need a creator, you don't need big daddy in the sky. You do need, though, to see beyond your eyes and to hear the word of being always held within the love of a vast unknown other"
Er... why is that, exactly? On what grounds am I supposed to imagine a "vast unknown other" which somehow loves me? That makes no sense at all.

15. "Could life have NOT emerged"
Of course. We don't know how likely abiogenesis was, but there's no reason to regard it as somehow inevitable in finite time.

16. "Could the universe have not become conscious of itself?"
Sure - it hasn't. The universe is not a conscious entity. We're conscious, but we're not the universe. We're not even aware of the entire universe.

17. "Is the mystery 'that we are and will remain' Sacred?"
'Sacred' is what I refer to as a transitive adjective - it has meaning only when it has an object. Specifically, to whom is something sacred? That supposed mystery is not 'sacred' to me, though it may be to Professoranton.

18. "Do we need science, and not experience, to reveal whether it is or is NOT Sacred?"
That's a personal decision for each person to make, and that decision has no importance outside that person's head.

19. "Life itself is a sacred gift ... given by an unknown other (not a god, not a being)"
"Sacred" we've dealt with. I personally do regard life as a sacred thing, but I don't expect anyone to care. The "unknown other" here is an absurd concept. How can something which is 'not a being' give a gift, let alone grant life? Meaningless mysticism.

20. "People need to accept death as a part of the price paid for life, and hardship, and difficulty."
Very philosophical, but not universal. I expect to die, but death is being pushed back by modern medicine. The idea of inevitable death already looks different with a life expectancy of 80 than it did a few generations ago when life expectancies were closer to 40, and it's hard to imagine how people might think about life and death when life expectancy reaches (for instance) 150.