#Atheism – Why I Loathe Islam

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
– Inigo Montoya

Time was, I would have told you that while Islam was a horrible, nasty, squalid little religion it wasn’t really that much of a threat to modern Enlightenment values or the west, but that Christianity was. In the triage of religions we needed to marginalise it seemed to me that Christianity had far more sway over public life than Islam did, what with Church schools, Creationist nonsense, evangelical scam artists and so on.

I’m not as sure as I once was.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks I posted a bunch of the cartoons that were made in response with the tagline ‘Fuck Islam’. Impolitic, perhaps, but truthful.

The resistance to that simple, pained and understandable statement was incredible and not from the kinds of people you might expect to be against murderous religious nutcases enforcing censorship from the barrel of a gun, but from my fellow left-liberal types. All manner of apologia for the actions of the terrorists and ways to excuse Islam from the equation were presented, even a great deal of victim blaming as we’ve also seen in the mainstream media. The idea that somehow this reaction should be expected and normalised because they were being provocative.

Disgusting.

There’s a kind of paralysis that falls over my fellow lefties when you can be accused of a thought crime. Whether it’s ‘islamophobia’ (which is a dog whistle for ‘racist’) or accusations of ‘misogyny’ when you’re fighting against censorship and for ethical journalism in games media. There mere accusation is enough to taint any further discussion and it doesn’t seem to matter how wrong or ridiculous the accusation is, it has power.

Let’s get a couple of things out the way first:

  1. Islam is not a race. There are Muslims of pretty much any race you care to mention. This should be obvious enough that it doesn’t constantly need restating, yet here we are.
  2. Phobia’s are irrational. Islamophobia would be an irrational fear of Islam. Given the context of Shariah law, the links with terrorism and other barbarisms it could be argued that ‘phobia’ is an inappropriate suffix. Fear of Islam, given the content of the Koran and the state of Islamic nations would appear to be a perfectly rational response. Islamomisia, irrational hatred of Islam, would seem to be equally inapplicable in most circumstances. It’s going to be impossible to avoid Godwinning in this article, so let’s get it out of the way. You wouldn’t accuse a Jew in 1940s Poland of being ‘Naziphobic’, because their fear and hatred would be entirely justified because of the beliefs and actions of Nazis. So it goes.
  3. Islam isn’t like other religions. While there are commonalities, mostly between the Abrahamic faiths, Islam isn’t a personal religion that confines itself to faith, belief and personal conduct. It is a complete system for theocratic autocracy with a great deal to say about personal, professional, governmental and judicial conduct. It is as much, then, a political ideology as a faith and one that draws its authority from ‘god’. The ultimate autocratic dictatorship. It’s not some wishy-washy, half-hearted spirituality like the Church of England, it has very defined and delineated ideas – many of which are anti-human.
  4. Islam ≠ Muslim. There are many lovely Muslims but the fact of the matter is that you can only be a lovely person by being a bad Muslim. If you’re OK with people making fun of your prophet and your god you’re a god, chilled, laid back person, but you’re a bad Muslim because the Koran and Hadith and the example of Muhammed himself (Al-Nadr bin al-Harith, Uqba bin Abu Muayt, Asma bint Marwan to name but three)  tell you that you should kill people who do that. There are many great people who are Muslims, but they are great by virtue of being bad Muslims.
  5. Hating with Good Reason is not Bigotry. Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as ‘a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.’ The key here is ‘unfairly’, which shifts the question to asking whether it is fair to hate Islam or not. I would argue that it is.

I have read the Koran and many of the Hadith (all of the Sahih). I have engaged in very long arguments with Muslim apologists and creationists and have even had brushes with Islamic spokespeople like Anjem Choudary and Mo Ansar. I have devoted considerable time to trying to understand the faith and its adherents and have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is a primitive, violent and dangerous faith with no good prospects for reform.

But why?

  1. Extremism is Mainstream. When you say ‘religious extremism’ you might be thinking of something like the Westboro Baptist church. A couple of dozen loony-tunes existing at some far-flung edge of the religious spectrum. While Islam has those too, even mainstream, ‘moderate’ Islam is pretty damn extreme. Wanting to live according the Shariah, a set of hideously barbaric rules come up with in the 7th century here, today, in the modern era is mainstream for Muslims, but extreme to everyone else. 20-40% of UK Muslims polled want Sharia law brought in, and that poll is from 7 years ago, according to most analysts things have gotten worse. Another poll showed unanimous loathing for homosexuality amongst British Muslims, with a margin of error of 4%.
  2. The Koran is Unquestioned. A huge part of the problem we face with any religion that is based on a supposedly divinely inspired book is that it is simultaneously the ‘perfect word of god to be followed to the letter’ and riddled with contradictions and vague statements that can be interpreted as one sees fit. The Koran is no different on this score but, unlike Christianity, does not have a kinder/gentler second book that justifies ignoring most of the first for its followers.  When the book outright advocates death, torture, mutilation, wife-beating and all the other horrors we’re now all to familiar with its hard for anyone claiming the title Muslim to speak against it – or they’re an apostate and subject to imprisonment, shunning and/or death. This is only made worse by the Hadith which, generally speaking, prioritise and give license to the more violent and horrible passages.
  3. Muslims Weasel. Getting a straightforward condemnation of the actions of ‘extremists’ is very hard, excepting some of the more politically minded or already outcast Muslims (such as the Muslim Council of Britain or Majeed Nawaz). Why? Because the ‘extremists’ are drawing from the holy Koran, which is the infallible word of god, so to condemn or question the ‘extremists’ is to question god or the prophet. Things which aren’t allowed. It’s like getting blood from a stone to get a clean, clear, outright condemnation of terrorism, violence, intimidation, poor treatment of women or even, most telling of all, child rape. Why the last? Because of Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha. Admitting that it’s wrong to have sex with children would be condemning the prophet, so you can’t do it.
  4. Islam Appears to be Unique. Islam’s ability to create suicide bombers, to excuse and encourage the worst aspects of human behaviour wherever it is followed, to unleash real horrors upon innocent civilians and the militarise believers appears to be unique in its scope. Terrorists exist across all ideologies and faiths – yes, even Buddhism – but Islam is the grand-daddy of them all possibly because of the cult-like nature of it, its internal enforcement and the lack of access to alternative points of view in Islamic communities. Yes, the actions of The West and Economics play a role, but to ignore the role of religion is ignorant.
  5. Islam Makes People Stupid. Not the Muslims, but my fellow lefties. Islam terrifies many of them in its implications, but so does the idea of being ‘racist’, of not being completely accepting and open to other points of view – even if those points of view are wrong, stupid, violent and dangerous. Never mind that you would not the same reaction when criticising any other ideology. If one were to say one hated Stalinism, for example, because of its cult of personality, the gulags, the purges of the intellectuals, its insane ideas about agricultural policy and the genocide of the kulaks, you would not be accused of being racist and your points would be taken seriously. Say something similar about Islam however and people will lose their minds.
  6. Islam is Hugely Arrogant. According to Islam we’re all born Muslims. This is why they use the term ‘revert’ for converts to Islam, instead of converts. This would just be annoying were it not for the fact that apostates (those who leave the religion) are subject to death under the Koran. Handy, but hardly fair or respectful.
  7. It’s Just Horrible. Sexist, racism, advocating for slavery, rape and murder, mutilation and so many other horrors. Its beliefs helped end the Islamic Golden Age as they became more rigorously enforced, it’s viciously anti-semitic, anti-scientific, dogmatic, autocratic and domineering. It has no true ‘moderate’ centre as we would understand it. I don’t see how any moral being can excuse it.

Nothing is simple, there’s always other factors, but so long as we keep ignoring Islam’s dogma, hate fuelled passages and its affect on the world we’re not going to be able to find or work towards solutions that might help. Ideally the human species needs to divest itself of religion (and faith) altogether, but that’s an unrealistic goal. Islam, at the very least, needs a reformation or a new sect. One that is explicitly peaceful and distances itself from its own violent past, one where membership is not automatic and enforced under pain of death.

Charlie Hebdo’s approach, that so offended Muslims, was to treat Islam the same way it treated every other religion. With scorn and childish schoolboy insult. ‘You’re not special’ was the message and it’s one that needs to be seen more. Instead, increasingly, we get cowardice in the face of Islamist threats and news organisations bowing to their demands, even while those who share their professions lay dead in morgues for standing up for universal principles that make life better for everyone.

I don’t hate Islam through ignorance, racism, bigotry or prejudice. I hate Islam having studied it, having seen what it does and what it believes and having seen how its unreasonable threats and terrorist actions make coward and hypocrites of those who should be standing against it.

And now I’m going to try ignoring it, like Gamergate, because people can’t stop and think whether I have a point long enough to overcome their panic.

2015 can’t get any worse at least, right?

Fusion Theism’s New Fallacies

Discussions about religion often end up in the realm of identifying logical fallacies. Typically, as an atheist, one sees the Argument from Personal Incredulity, Argument from Ignorance and Circular Reasoning. Fusion Theism in his post HERE and on Twitter, tried to identify or create new fallacies applicable to atheist thinking and as one of the few polite and reasonable debaters to be found, he’s worth answering.

The Double-Standard Fallacy:” Accepting one form of evidence for your own claims, while simultaneously rejecting this form of evidence for your opponent’s argument.

I confess I don’t know what he’s referring to here as I haven’t seen this occur. It’s possible he’s referring to the way in which we take scientific knowledge as truth, even though it’s relayed to us and comparing that with people taking biblical ‘knowledge’. In other words, the idea that ‘both are from books and we have faith in who is telling us’. All of this is assumption and perhaps he can clarify, but I would point out that science – unlike religion – is subject to peer review, repeat experimentation and has practical real-world applications that confirm its usefulness. IF this were accurate, it would indeed be a problem.

“The Tree-Falling Fallacy:” This argument goes something like this: ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one recorded it, it never happened,’ or ‘If no one wrote a book about Alexander the Great, that means he never existed.’

This is trying to justify the fallacy of Shifting the Burden of Proof. The point missed is that without evidence for something, it is not logical or reasonable to accept it. Trees falling is a regular occurrence and the existence of a fallen tree is evidence that it fell in and of itself. When it comes to historical figures the comparison being drawn is obviously between Jesus and Alexander (there’s other examples people like to use too, like Socrates). Compared to Jesus, the claim ‘Alexander existed’ is supported by numerous contemporaneous accounts, archaeology, the records of conquered nations and it is not an extraordinary claim. So not only is this an attempt to shift the burden of proof, but it’s inaccurate too.

“The Goat-Herder Fallacy:” Attributing automatic falsehood (and rejecting the arguments of) anyone based on their profession or career. Example: ‘I reject the Bible because it is written by goat-herders.’

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone actually say that’s WHY they don’t believe the Bible or dismiss the arguments. Rather it is a snarky way to make a point that people in the past were ignorant of much we know today. If this were accurate you could argue that it’s a sort of inverted argument from authority.

“The Contemporary Fallacy,”(also known as “The JFK Fallacy”): This fallacy goes like this: ‘Any books written about President Kennedy after his death in 1963 must be rejected as myth, since they were not written about him while he was alive.’

Again this seems to be making a false comparison between the religious mythology of Jesus and actual historical events. Books about JFK are drawn from contemporaneous accounts, film footage, recordings etc. There is absolutely nothing contemporaneous in the stories of Jesus.

“Telephone-Game Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that adults cannot accurately relay facts to other adults, based on a popular children’s game.

Well this isn’t a fallacy and oral history does, indeed, have issues. We can’t be sure of distortions 100%, but we can be reasonably sure.

“The Uneducated Fallacy:” Attributing a lack of education to your opponent simply for holding views that are different or opposite from your views.

That would be an argument from authority, but it can be true. Most people who reject evolution – for example – know little or nothing about it.

“The Truth Fallacy:” (also known as “The Mislabel Fallacy”): Re-defining the word “truth” or “evidence” to only apply to the position that you support, or to the kind of evidence which supports your argument, but not your opponent’s argument. For example: ‘Only science can be accepted as truth or evidence,’ or ‘Only the Bible can be accepted as truth or evidence.’

If accurate this would be a fallacy of redefinition.

“The Auto-Myth Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that an ancient book is myth because it is ancient, or automatically assuming a book is myth if it does not agree with your worldview.

Arguing that an ancient text is accurate or inaccurate based purely on its age would be an argument from antiquity and from its modernity an argument from that. I don’t think anyone actually says that it’s merely age that makes something a myth.

“The Bias-Fallacy:” Attributing more bias to anyone who has a different view from yours, than you attribute to the people who hold your view.

Cognitive bias is a real issue. In my experience non-believers are more aware of it while theists embrace it as though it were a good thing.

“Extraordinary-Fallacy:” Automatically labeling something false because it sounds extraordinary to you.

A reference to ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. I wouldn’t say this is a fallacy per se since it still calls for evidence. I think we can also, usefully, define ‘extraordinary’.

“The Born-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is always the one which most closely resembles the knowledge you were born with. For example, ‘Atheism is a much better option than theism, because everyone is born without knowledge of God.’ This would be fallacious since everyone is also born without knowledge of science, logic, math, etc.

I don’t know that anyone has claimed this exactly, rather they’ve pointed out that this is the state of nature and that they remain unconvinced otherwise. Religion is not like science, logic, mathematics etc. We could re-learn all these from scratch and come up with the same answers. IF religion started from scratch, it would be virtually unrecognisable.

“The Raised-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is the one most closely matching the status or knowledge you were raised with.

I’d file this under cognitive bias again, rather than a fallacy as such. It’s also one that very much fits theism.

Hammy Presuppositional Apologetics

In the big Ham on Nye debate, Ham tried – a couple of times – to get Nye on the hook with presuppositional apologetics. These were the times he was asking ‘Could you be wrong about everything you know?’ Nye didn’t take the bait either time, which is good because it means the time was spent more productively. I was going to write a big-ass post all about this line of silliness, but the short video at the bottom pretty well covers everything I would want to say.

There’s two additional points I would make.

Presuppositional apologists try to claim that all truth and logic, the basis of science itself is contingent upon the existence of god. This is their presupposition and they try to claim that people they’re arguing with have their own, equally egregious, presuppositions.

This isn’t true.

Logic, reason, science all come from observation and measurement and the time-tested accuracy and utility of that methodology. It is more correct to say that reason follows post-supposition. We test a thing to see if it is true and then apply it. If it doesn’t work, we discard or revise it and try again. We don’t even presuppose that these results are going to be consistent, which is why we have peer review, repeat experimentation and so on. This is not circular, because these methods produce knowledge which can then be used. If we were wrong about radioactive decay, smoke alarms wouldn’t work. If we were wrong about the lifting effect of wings, planes couldn’t fly and so forth.

The Christian presuppositional argument (and it is usually Christian) can also be applied to other deities, ‘real’ or imagined and even to the universe itself without the need to invoke supernaturalism at all. Whatever stance you take it would follow that whatever the source of logic, reason and science (natural laws) would be, it should be demonstrable via those same natural laws. Can we evidence a god via that method? No. Is it then reasonable to assume that such exists? No. (Incidentally, I’ve seen Muslims try to use this argument too, so right there we have a conflict).

Presuppositional apologetics is just another, dishonest, semantic word game. Just as with William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam Cosmological argument and as such should probably, at best, be pointed and laughed at.

Religion Vs Not a Religion

A popular online dictionary defines religion, usefully, thus:

Religion: A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

So then. Is atheism a religion?

Atheism is a singular lack of belief in god/s.

That’s it.

It says nothing in and of itself about the cause, nature or purpose of the universe. Does not posit superhuman agency and has no devotional or ritual observances. In and of itself it says nothing about a moral code or the conduct of human affairs.

Is ‘being in a relationship with Jesus’ a religion?

As such you believe god is the cause of the universe and that by nature it is a creation with the purpose of testing mankind for his worthiness of access to a supernatural afterlife. You consider it the creation of a superhuman agency and you most likely pray and observe religious holidays in the manner determined by your faith. You believe, laughably, that the Bible contains a moral code for the conduct of human affairs.

That IS a religion. Christianity.

Other things that aren’t religions:

Science: A process of evidence gathering and testing to approach a usefully objective understanding of the universe.
Secularism: The singular belief that church and state should be separate.

Religious Spam Round-Up 3: Won’t Somebody Think of Society?!?

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

Atheist Morality!

So the claim runs, I think, that by dismissing god somehow that means an end to basic morality and empathy between human beings. Needless to say, numerous lines of evidence show nothing of the sort. The less religious the nation the less criminal and violent it tends to be (Scandinavia). Atheists are less likely to be criminals of any sort.

Why is this?

Well, it’s a complex number of interlocking things. Less religious nations tend to have better social safety nets and less existential fretting about the future. Atheists tend to come from more educated and financially secure demographics and that has been shown in various studies to be the biggest deciding factor in criminality.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that irreligiosity has fuck all to do with people being horrible to one another and, if anything, the reverse is true. Needless to say, even if religion made saints out of everyone, that wouldn’t mean its assertions were true and if atheism made everyone into monsters that wouldn’t mean its conclusion was false.

This whole line of argument is an enormous irrelevance if your concern is what’s true.

Why We Have Different Standards

quote-forgotten-were-the-elementary-rules-of-logic-that-extraordinary-claims-require-extraordinary-christopher-hitchens-237619There’s a chap on Twitter who keeps arguing in circles around the idea that somehow we’re being unreasonable in having different evidential standards when it comes to recognising human artifice versus the supposed artifice of nature.

We can, pretty rapidly, recognise the hand of humans in the construction of things. The example the chap uses is that of a real flower versus an artificial flower.

We are intimately familiar with human construction, we see it everywhere and it is usually fairly obvious as we see it.

Taking the artificial flower example it is a confluence of alien materials, many of which do not occur naturally (plastics for example) and it is put together from disparate parts in a manner that isn’t possible in nature. We have plenty of examples of human – and animal – constructions of this ilk and they are of an obvious and immediately different character to what we find in nature.

A natural flower, on the other hand, is not artificial. It is not an artefact. It is grown, its parts come from each other. It self-reproduces and grows. We have no examples or experience of a flower (or anything else natural) being created.

Implicit in the question: “Why do you have different standards of evidence of creation for a fake flower and a real flower” is the assumption that both are created.

The reason we have different standards of evidence for different claims is that some are mundane while others are extraordinary.

The claim that a fake flower is created is a mundane claim due to our experience and the evidence thereof.

The claim that flowers themselves are created is an extraordinary claim with no evidence.

More info here.

Not Such a Surprise Ending: Part Two

the-big-bang-theory-12Section Two of the Book

The book represents The Big Bang as being the origin of:
1. Time
2. Space
3. Matter

Several corrections here.

a) Much like evolution isn’t about the origin of life, BBT isn’t about the origin of the universe. Just as evolution is with life development, so BBT is about the development of the universe.

b) Space and time are one and shouldn’t be listed separately. This becomes important.

c) Matter doesn’t originate with the first moments of the universe, it comes later. The early universe is too hot, too energetic for matter to exist. It is only as it expands and cools that matter – fundamental particles and later hydrogen and lithium and develop. Then from the deaths of the early stars you get the other kinds of matter.

Having got that somewhat wrong, the book then tries to draw parallels to Genesis.

1. In the beginning (time)
2. God created the heavens (space)
3. And the Earth (matter)

Again, several problems here. With spacetime coming into being at the same time there is no before time and no outside space in which anything can occur. There is no context in which an agent (such as god) could act. Nor have they accounted for the existence of this god in the first place.

There’s no reason to think any of this was created, as opposed to coming about naturally.

Lastly, the Earth is a latecomer. The Universe is something like 13.5 billion years old while the Earth is only around 4.54 billion years old (give or take around 200 million years).

The authors call this erroneous and demonstrably untrue account miraculous and in line with science, when it simply isn’t.

The problem we have here is one that you would usually run into more often arguing with Muslims.

Muslims are convinced that the Koran contains scientific truths and often try to draw parallels between verses of the Koran and the discoveries of modern science.

This is problematic for Christians (even those trying to reconcile it with science) just as it is for Muslims – and keep in mind that the Muslims had several centuries advantage when it came to accrued knowledge and cribbed a load of their ‘holy science’ from the ancient Greeks, who were pretty smart cookies.

Problem 1: This is post-hoc rationalisation of vague, poetic verses to try and get them to fit the modern understanding of science. This is an interpretation, just like the many other interpretations which is why there are so many sects of these religions based on different interpretations. The objective, outside observer has no reason to favour your interpretation over any others.
Problem 2: These many interpretations have changed over time in an attempt to catch up with or fit the expansion of scientific knowledge – or to oppose it.
Problem 3: This supposedly divine foreknowledge, if correct and useful, should lead us TO these discoveries, not get in the way of them. No significant advances in human knowledge have come from alleged prophecies or divine knowledge. It is always AFTER the discovery that someone goes back and tries to bend the holy book to fit it. It’s just like Nostradamus’ supposed prophecies.

What is the more parsimonious answer?
A: A bunch of bronze age goat herders, including one who almost certainly never existed (Moses) were given special knowledge by an unevidenced supernatural deity?
B: People are interpreting vague language to fit what they want to hear.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say B.

This problem of post-hoc rationalisation continues throughout the whole chapter. The cherry-picking is most egregious when making excuses for the two different versions of the creation story in Genesis.

Here’s the normally quoted version of Genesis:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

This is the order of events in Genesis.
1. God appears out of nothing.
2. God creates the heavens and the Earth.
3. God creates light, day and night.
4. God creates water and the sky.
5. God creates land.
6. God creates plants, on land.
7. God creates the sun and moon (oh, and the stars, as an afterthought).
8. God creates sea life – and birds.
9. God creates land life – including livestock, then man.

Here’s what actually happened so far as we can work out with evidence:
1. The universe begins.
2. The universe expands and cools.
3. Matter begins to form. Simple particles first, then hydrogen. The universe is so dense and compact that some of this fuses, so there’s some helium and lithium too.
4. The universe continues to expand and cool, the early stars form – primarily hydrogen.
5. The early stars die off and some explode, scattering denser matter.
6. More generations of stars form, planets form. Eventually one of these is the Earth.
7. The Earth is a dry, volcanic mess. It is bombarded with meteors and comets (bringing water). One early impact forms the Moon.
8. The Earth cools and stabilises, oceans form.
9. In the oceans – probably around volcanic vents – simple replicating molecules form from organic chemicals. The starting point of all life.
10. Life spreads throughout the oceans.
11. Life colonises the land.
12. Mankind evolves from his hominid forebears.
13. Man domesticates wild animals and starts using technology.

The order of events and their nature is wildly wrong, even with all the post-hoc rationalising in the world.

There’s a reference to The Flood, which one would not expect in a book trying to reconcile science and religion since there is no reason to think The Flood ever happened. No physical evidence, nothing.

There are excuses to try and get around The Problem of Evil, predictably moving to the Free Will argument. Needless to say this has massive problems which are well discussed elsewhere. A good deity setting up the universe would have no need to create evil and Free Will and divine omniscience are mutually incompatible.

There’s further problems with talking about Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge. After all, they couldn’t know disobeying was wrong until after they had disobeyed. It is, of course, just a nonsensical myth but the book seems to treat it with undue gravity.

Satan? Also problematic.

This section is pretty clearly aimed at the religious, not me, none of these things mean a damn thing to me. I don’t believe in Satan and have been given no reason to. I don’t believe in a soul and have been given no reason to. The same goes for god, Jesus, Moses, Adam, Eve, Miracles, Eden or spirit. These things are just included here and no attempt is made to explain or justify their mention or to establish that they exist.

There is ample evidence for human development from precursor species and our relationship to the other primates. None for any divine human creation or Adam, or Eve.

Even more surprisingly this book seems to try to retain the idea of original sin – and, laughably, by appealing to justice.

  • Justice is an appropriate punishment to fit the crime.
  • If we accept the Bible account at face value Adam – and the whole human race everafter – was being punished for something he couldn’t have known was wrong until he did it.
  • His descendents were being punished for something they didn’t even do.
  • This is not moral, this is not justice. It is the very opposite.

This is then followed by a lot of stuff about Mary and Jesus and Luke. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m a (provisional) mythicist and having been given no reason to believe the earlier establishing remarks I have no reason to believe any of this either. It is entirely irrelevant to me.

As such with no foundation upon which to build and no reason to believe in even a mortal Jesus, the extra leap of faith to an afterlife existing has zero chance of being accepted by any rational human being examining this book.

There’s a section on answering the ‘tough’ questions. Here’s the questions and here’s my answers:

Is the Bible free of error?
No, it’s chock full of ’em.

Why did God create Adam and Eve if he knew that they would sin and bring about so much pain and suffering?
He didn’t because he doesn’t exist. If such a being did exist – and was good – why would it do such a thing? It would have to be cruel. Comparison to mortal parents is not valid because we lack the alleged powers and foresight of this supposed deity.

Where does the soul come from?
There doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a soul.

If an individual is in a coma, do they still have a soul?
No, they never had one in the first place. Whether their CONSCIOUSNESS is dormant or not depends on the injury and the coma. It is still quite hard to tell at this point but fMRI etc is helping us work it out.

Where did consciousness come from?
It’s an emergent quality of the complexity of the physical brain. An adaptation like any other. Self-awareness has good survival utility.

But didn’t the scientific community already prove that free will and morality, if they do exist at all, are probably by-products of the brain?
The book makes a rather typical appeal to ‘love’. Can we see or measure love? Actually we can. We can observe love in an fMRI scan of the human brain. We can also detect it in physiological reactions, hormone releases etc and see evidence of it in people’s actions. So it goes for all such claims. We can and do see them and measure them, though there’s been reluctance in the past due to religious interference.

How did God use the natural processes to form life and what role does Faith play in the physics of the universe?
He doesn’t, and none. Respectively.
Faith = (belief – evidence) or, as Mr Clemens put it: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
As such it is an incredibly dangerous mode of non-thinking that causes huge harm to humankind.

How does God’s Word program the quantum world?
It doesn’t and describing the quantum world as information flow is getting to the point of Chopran, new-age bullshit. Quantum level physics is counter-intuitive, but it is not magic. There are horrible misunderstandings of aspects of it such as the observer effect and indeterminacy that lead to people invoking it for their ‘woo’ ideas and this is no different, sadly!

Atheism Challenge Update: Still atheist.

Was Timothy McVeigh an Atheist?

Timothy Mcveigh - BRESCOLAFor you young ‘uns, Timothy McVeigh was the Oklahoma City bomber. Prior to 9/11 this (and the Waco siege) dominated discussions about terrorism, conspiracy theory and so forth in the United States. If you want to know what happened you can read up here. The short version is that a very disturbed, right-wing, nutcase detonated a huge bomb next to a federal building as a sort of ‘first blow’ in a war on ‘socialism’ and the government. Keep in mind that the rhetoric surrounding Obama has been much worse and yet nothing similar seems to have happened, yet.

These kinds of things go in cycles and, of late, much seems to be being made of Timothy McVeigh’s supposed atheism. When you bring up religious bombings, incidents and acts of terror someone inevitably points to McVeigh as an example of atheist terror. Even if one were to accept this characterisation, having to go all the way back to 1995 would show that ‘atheist’ murders and acts of terror occur with a great deal less frequency than religious ones. Still, we don’t have to accept this.

First and foremost, atheism is not a religion, an ideology, a philosophy, a system of belief or anything similar. It is the singular lack of belief in god/s. That is atheism in its entirety. If someone who happens to be an atheist commits some travesty it cannot be atheism that motivates them because atheism provides no motivation, no excuse, no impetus to commit such acts. Religious and ideological texts on the other hand, may very well have such exhortations to violence. The Abrahamic religious texts are replete with examples of this.

Secondly, McVeigh was not an atheist. At least not at the time of the bombings.

McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic Christian and was confirmed in 1985. He was a registered republican, a member of the NRA and voted Libertarian. The bombings took place in 1995 and prior to the bombing his ‘goodbye’ letter to his childhood friend contained the following line:

I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle, Steve. I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause. Blood will flow in the streets, Steve. Good vs. Evil. Free Men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves. Pray it is not your blood, my friend.

In 1996, after the bombing, when he was interviewed and asked about his religious position he said that he still believed in god, though he had lost touch with his Catholicism. He said he still maintained core Catholic, Christian beliefs.

By 2001 he proclaimed that he did not believe in hell and that ‘Science is my god’.

This is the line that people quote but it is one that is attributed to him a full six years after the bombing. It is unusual that he seems to have had a deconversion in prison. Many people claim religious conversion, especially in American prisons, because it gets them better treatment and increases their chances of parole. Being on death row perhaps McVeigh was feeling more fatalistic or didn’t see the need to claim a faith as it would make no difference. He did resist a great deal of urging to become a Muslim during this time.

When it came time for him to be executed McVeigh seems to have rediscovered his religion. A day before he wrote to a paper describing himself as agnostic. On the day of his execution he took the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and read the poem Invictus, which contains references to god and souls.

We’ll likely never really know what he thought or felt or believed, because he is dead. This is part of the waste and uselessness of the death penalty, it eliminates our capacity to learn and to understand. Nonetheless he seems to have been raised and died a Christian and to have been one when the bombing took place.

The truly perverse thing is that, having taken the Sacrament and ‘returned to the bosom of the lord’, by Christian doctrine, this mass murderer and right-wing terrorist would be in heaven, if such a place existed.

 

Critiquing The Sermon on the Mount

Mount

Whaaa? Criticise the Sermon on the Mount? How could I do such a thing! Even non-Christians think this is a pretty good set of values to go by. Still, I disagree and its best to explain why…

1. AND seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him :
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, 
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit : for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The poor are not blessed. A life of poverty is a shorter life of hardship. This obnoxious creed has been used to excuse the vile excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and to exalt the state of suffering. It creates an excuse to leave people wanting and for greed to continue.

4 Blessed are they that mourn : for they shall be comforted.

A false comfort. An accommodation to refuse reality. In the long run, this is an avoidance of actual mourning and unhealthy.

5 Blessed are the meek : for they shall inherit the earth.

Progress requires boldness, questioning. To be meek and passive will not move us forward. Nor will aggression, but extreme passivity is a problem with some eastern religions as well.

6 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness : for they shall be filled.

A dangerous excuse to enact religious law and extremism over others.

7 Blessed are the merciful : for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart : for they shall see God.

There is of course, no god. So promulgating the idea of god and believing it for no reason is directly and indirectly harmful in and of itself.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers : for they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake : for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Legitimising the actions of those who, often on no basis, consider themselves persecuted. Consider the American right in the USA today.

11 Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

This passage is often quoted by believers and used to defend their delusions. Essentially ‘Jesus said you wouldn’t believe his bullshit. He was right!’. Again it allows for a feeling of superiority and a means to ignore justified critique.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad : for great is your reward in heaven : for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

There is no heaven. This sort of thing, valuing an afterlife over this life is what excuses and enables suicide bombers, dominionism etc.

13 If Ye are the salt of the earth : but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted ? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. 
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand ; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.
16 Even so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
17 Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.

The Sermon on the Mount cannot be taken outside of its context and this passage in particular reaffirms that every obnoxious, hate-filled law of the Old Testament must still be followed. Jesus is meant as an exemplar, not a replacement within this mythology.

Can we Blame Islam for Boston?

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Spot the…

It’s been a weird few days, hasn’t it?

Every time a new atrocity occurs it acts as a stark reminder about just how rapidly the news and media landscape is changing. On 9/11 we were watching streaming video in the office (the only place with a fast enough connection) and helping people check on friends and relatives by connecting over IM and IRC.

Madrid and the 7/7 bombings in London were transformed by the prevalence of cellphone video and images and places like Moblog became hugely important in working out what was going on and seeing what was occurring.

Now in 2013 – which always seemed like the distant future to me growing up – we have an atrocity at a marathon caught on multiple (civilian!) cameras from multiple angles, online vigilantes and the news media being totally outstripped by Twitter, Facebook and so on despite throwing aside their advantage (authority and objectivity) in a desperate attempt to keep up with the pace.

Speculation early on was, of course, about the brown faces in the crowd and that could have potentially gotten very dangerous. In a bizarre twist however, it turned out that the bombers were, quite literally Caucasian. It did, of course, also turn out that they were Muslim but I’m sure the concept of a white Muslim has someone like Ann Coulter’s head exploding in incomprehension.

There’s a couple of things I found particularly interesting and timely in the speculation we saw going on, things I hadn’t seen before.

  1. Some people were trying to pin the blame for the bombing on atheists, rather than religious or political fanaticism.
  2. Only very recently Harris, Dawkins etc have been coming under fire under the presumption that questioning Islam is racism.

Number 1 is interesting in that it shows that the rise of atheism (or more accurately the decline of theism) has some people spooked and many of them don’t know what atheism actually is.

Number two is a godsend (ha, ha) for those of us repeatedly making the point that having a problem with Islam is a matter of the religion and what it says, encourages and inspires. It’s not having a problem with Arabs, Pakistanis or whatever other ethnicities are most strongly linked with Islam. Here we have the perfect example to counter that argument. Two white Islamic terrorists.

Is it fair to blame Islam?

Yes, I think it is. The older brother at least seems to have been pious and increasingly militant and while the younger brother was a drinker he seems to have been caught in his brother’s shadow and tugged along by the weight of his growing fanaticism. Various excuses are already being made to try and distance the brother’s actions from their religion and amongst these is the suggestion of ‘white privilege’ that white mass murderers and terrorists, like, say Tim McVeigh, are not seen as part of a movement as a problem, but as individuals.

That is not entirely true. American gun culture, right wing paranoia, conspiracy theory, distrust of government and fanatically extreme individualism and Christianity have played a big role in a lot of American domestic terrorism and massacres and quite rightly this toxic mix should be held to blame for inspiring those individuals. It is much less of a unified belief system and set of grudges than Islamic fundamentalists have  but it is there. Of course there are also violent individuals, sometimes working together as in Columbine, perhaps the event that most closely mirrors Boston in many ways. Those events are individual though, they are not unified by anything more than disaffection, mental illness and isolation.

Moderate Muslims will say that the religion does not condone the killing of civilians or excuse violence and they are to be applauded for exercising their own personal morality to reject the morality present in the Koran, but the fact remains that it is full of passages that speak to violence, particularly against non-believers and that it has inspired much of the terrible violence in this century in the same way political ideology did in the 20th (both are articles of faith).

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…difference

It is not racist to criticise and to honestly examine Islam any more than it is to criticise and honestly examine Christianity. One seems to be inspiring violence on a global level and even on the Christian side of the aisle one sees ‘Crusader’ rhetoric in the war against terror and a similar level of extremism leading to attacks on abortion doctors.

Faith provides the capacity for a level of fanaticism in religion (and ideology) that makes appalling actions seem justified, excusable, even correct. It is worth taking a stand against that way of thinking, both in Islam and more generally.