Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dead Centre of the Ancient World

Bahrain has recently been in the news, with a surprising controversy about whether the Grand Prix should be run there.  The small island nation was probably always run by a despotic non-democratic government and to be honest I see the whole motor racing saga as an unfortunate but barely relevant flash in the pan.

However, you might not realise that, in a sense, Bahrain was the 'dead centre' of the ancient world.  3000 years ago it was a very fashionable place to be buried, and death was a thriving local industry.  As a result, Bahrain contains the largest and most ancient necropolis in the world, with the most famous area being the A'Ali tombs.

A'Ali tombs, Bahrain - the largest and most ancient necropolis.

It is not easy to find many pictures of this 'wonder of the ancient world' and apparently the locals barely notice that they are surrounded by tumuli that were built around 3000 BCE.

In all, it is estimated that there are 170,000 burial mounds.  The architecture of these ancient 'monuments' is not impressive, but the scale of the task is amazing.

Small note: Apologies for recycling one of my father's school-boy jokes in the title of this post!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 - the questions that divide a community

I have been running several computers on the Ubuntu Linux operating system for 5 years, and although not expert I would at least claim some sort of familiarity with the capabilities of the system, its strengths and weaknesses.  I have written previously in Windoze or Ubuntu (Linux)? that I can do virtually everything on Ubuntu that I could do with Windows, enjoy some features that Windows does not offer, and that the one thing that I would really miss if I had to abandon Windows completely is Microsoft Excel.  (Word is pretty good too, although gradually less so!)

Ubuntu has for a long time had a policy of bringing out a new version every 6 months (which is perhaps a bit too often), but having a Long Term Support (LTS) version once every 2 years.  The LTS version is guaranteed to be supported for an extended period, thus making it a more attractive option for people running large networks where they can achieve a level of stability for their users.  I personally like that stability as an individual user too.  Almost everything continues to work fine, although individual packages might get left behind in the rush for 'progress'. 

This means that my desktop machine has been running 10.04 for over 2 years.  I had a netbook running 10.10 and a laptop on 11.04. (My mother and two of my children also run 11.04.)  I have a policy of never installing the version before an LTS release as they tend to be experimental to the point of frustration.  (No I can't support that claim with evidence!  But I do believe it.  9.10 was a disaster from my point of view!)

Over that 5 years, my familiarity with Linux has improved.  The general compatibility and usability of Ubuntu has also also been transformed.  During that time I have found that some of the features that used to be problematic now 'just work'.  Sound was one of those things that sometimes had to be coaxed into operation - now it works fine.  Laptop wireless networking was another weakness that has been improved beyond measure.

On the whole, Ubuntu installs easily, finds the settings for all your hardware and implements everything without human intervention.

Nevertheless, in the background, Ubuntu has been gradually trying to lose the word 'Linux', and appears to be trying to go away from the accepted conventions of all desktop environments in an attempt to stamp out a look and feel of their own.  In some senses, Ubuntu seems to be gradually changing its appearance to be more like the desktop environment of the Apple Macs, and not all of us regard that as being progress.  But for example, why on earth would they move the icons from the top right of a window to the top left?  Yes you can get a script that moves them back, but they fact that Ubuntu imposes this irritation on us shows that they don't give a sh*t for our opinion! 

Introduction of the utterly horrible new 'Unity' interface was another example of that, and the fact that Ubuntu is one of very few distributions to have packaged the 'GNOME3' 'shell' is takes it a step further.  For many Ubuntu users one of these was an incumberance, but putting both together was an imposition that is certain to drive loyal users away.

It is with these points niggling at my mind that I undertook the process of converting all three machines over to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, released 26th April, while half-wondering whether the time had come to abandon Ubuntu in favour of one of the other well-known Linux distros.  Fedora and Debian both have a good following, and Fedora in particular has excellent community support.  Open Suse was another option that I have considered exploring.

One month and a week into the experiment I have completed the transition.  First I transferred the laptop and netbook over, and only after establishing that all my usual activities (see below**) worked properly on the laptop did I convert the desktop machine.

I will say a bit more about my conclusions in a few days.  (I will add a link here when I publish it.)  Will I stay with Ubuntu or not?  The jury is out.

** Normal activities include web browsing, e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, online messaging, Facebook and Twitter (including bulk uploads of tweets), web site maintenance (including FTP), photography and image manipulation, blogging, downloading podcasts and synchronising them to an MP3 player, Skype, listening to music and watching DVDs and probably more.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Kitman - more lies for Islam

Wikipedia describes the word 'kitman' as follows:

The act of paying lip service to authority while holding personal opposition.  It is a sort of political camouflage, for the purpose of survival, in circumstances where open opposition would result in persecution.

That makes it sound almost honourable doesn't it?  But it goes on to say that some early Muslims disapproved of it because it was tantamount to lying, and you should note here that it makes no mention of present day views of the topic.

Look around your society and see what is going on in the background, with the establishment of sharia courts in the main cities and the way our authorities are turning a blind eye to criminal offences as I described last weekend.  Police dare not act for fear of being branded as discriminatory, and so the rule of law is successfully undermined without the majority of people even noticing.

Taqiyyah for dummies (from here)

Kitman in our society is just as bad as the other form of lying for Islam, namely 'taqqiyah' which I wrote about a few months ago in Taqiyyah - lying for Islam.  An absolutely classic example of taqiyya can be found in the comments of my recent post Islamophobic? This is why!

WikiIslam's article on Lying and Deception in Islam says:

Kitman is close to Taqqiya but rather than outright dissimulation, it consists in telling only part of the truth, with “mental reservation” justifying the omission of the rest (adjustment, deception etc, anything short of a full-blown lie). For example when a Muslim maintains that “jihad” really means “a spiritual struggle” and fails to add that this particular definition is an 11th century invention that originated from a fabricated hadith which is universally rejected by Islamic scholars, he misleads by holding back the true violent nature of jihad, and is therefore practising 'kitman'. Another example would be the insistence of a Muslim apologist that 'of course' there is the freedom of conscience in Islam, followed by quoting the Qur’anic verse “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” The impression given is false, for there has been no mention of the Islamic doctrine of abrogation, or naskh.

That makes it all much more acceptable then?  I think not.  Just remember the words of the Quran:

Muslims are harsh against the unbelievers, merciful to one another. – (Sura 48:25)

Don't let anyone get away with this!  One law for all!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Compliant Quislings - a gift from the gods

I sometimes use the term 'compliant quisling' to describe someone who I disapprove of.  In my case I usually mean our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who abandoned his election promises and ruined the future prospects of his political party for a generation to come, just in order to gain brief political 'power'.

Richard Dawkins used the term to describe Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees for similar reasons.  As usual I find it hard to disagree with Richard's assessment.

Something made me realise that not all the readers will know what the term 'quisling' means or why I use it for Clegg.  Hopefully the following might clarify matters a bit.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer who somehow succeeded in WW2 to persuade Norway to surrender to invading German forces so that he could be the puppet Minister-President.  After his appointment The Times wrote:

Major Quisling has added a new word to the English language. To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous. Visually it has the supreme merit of beginning with a Q, which (with one august exception **) has long seemed to the British mind to be a crooked, uncertain and slightly disreputable letter, suggestive of the questionable, the querulous, the quavering of quaking quagmires and quivering quicksands, of quibbles and quarrels, of queasiness, quackery, qualms and quilp.

Quisling also developed his own religion or philosophy, called "Universalism." which essentially looked for the improvement of the human race through "religion and morals as well as statecraft and science."

Nick Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.  As far as I know he is not thinking of setting up his own new religion, although it might be his best hope of a career after the next general election.  However, in the last election none of the political parties got enough votes to be able to create a government on their own so there was a scramble for a coalition.  This gave the Liberal Democrats (who normally come third by a very large margin) the opportunity to go into 'power' as the minority party in one government or another, and so they had a moment of fame.  As it happened, many years of work and some amazingly fair policy promises in their manifesto had brought them more votes than usual.  Ultimately they got into bed with right-of-centre Conservative Party, allowing a slimy millionaire to become Prime Minister.  In their desperation for power, they appear to have given up all of their principles and made it almost certain that the next election will be their biggest electoral disaster in living memory.  They have gone against almost all the election manifesto promises and enabled a raft of amazingly inconsiderate and unpopular policies to be introduced.

In fact, this photo appeared last weekend on the BBC One's hilarious contribution to the news, a weekly satirical programme called Have I Got News for You (@hignfy on Twitter) with a spoken caption relating to Clegg and Cameron.

School of modern dance version of the coalition government!

I don't blame Clegg for everything.  Just for most of it.

This is why I call Clegg a 'compliant quisling'.

** Editorial note - I assume that the "one august exception" is 'Queen', and while that might be true, it is not universally agreed that it applies to the rest of her family!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Islamophobic? This is why!

The criticism of Islam is a topic that I sometimes touch upon - although as you might have noticed, I do not do it nearly enough!  Most of my community of regular readers (thank you to all of you) would probably agree with me, and most will join with me in criticising Islam without necessarily criticising individual Muslims.  I have several Muslim friends who appear to live peacefully in our modern world without controversy.  I do not agree with their beliefs in some transcendent sky-daddy, but their views on that subject are equivalent to Christians believing in their gods - and that is up to them.

However, I have recently heard, second hand, that some of my recent posts about Islam have caused a stir.  Apparently they convinced a few people that my politics are somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan.  In particular, these posts have taken some criticism from ordinary decent English and American people who are so busy being inclusive and undiscriminating that they are drawing vipers into the nest:

Draw Mohammed Day 2012

Abrogation in the Qu'ran and

Halal and kosher meat - the controversy

For the record I would have put myself as centre-left, at least until the 'compliant quisling' Nick Clegg went into alliance with the Conservative Party to enable the current UK government to be so dysfunctional.  (More about quislings tomorrow.)  At present I am sure that there is no political party representing my views in this country. As it happens, nearly all of them seem to bend over backwards to appease Islam, with the exception of the right wing brigade who have no policies except the one of being against Islam.  No way do they get my vote.

My criticism of Islam has no racist foundation, but I criticise it because it portrays itself as harmless while quietly undermining the rule of law in a country that already has perfectly good laws.  I will not tolerate the teachings and practices of this barbaric religion of Islam any more than I would tolerate the same actions from any other person.

I also criticise it because of the appalling 'morals' that it represents.  You can close your eyes and pretend that 10,000 girls are not taken out of UK every year for a 'holiday' in a country where their genitals can be cut in a dangerous, inhumane, barbaric ritual.  You might be able to pretend not to be disgusted, but I can't.  I also find it amazing that people are prosecuted for anti-Islamic remarks on Twitter in this 'civilised' country and yet there has not been one single prosecution for female genital mutilation, which is a criminal offence as well as a morally outrageous infringement of human rights.  These things can't possibly go completely unnoticed by health professionals (although clearly they find themselves in a difficult position).

What's more, we know that we can't trust Islam.  They have two ways of lying to us infidels within their own moral system.  I wrote about 'Taqiyyah - lying for Islam' last year.  I will write about the other one, 'kitman' on Tuesday.

If you are not frightened of this and not utterly disgusted by what is going on in the name of Allah in your own supposedly 'Christian country' then you are really not concentrating!  How can anyone wish peace and blessings upon him and his simply disgusting set of morals!

You don't have to be right wing or Christian to want to stamp out barbarism and inhumanity.  You just have to be a decent person who cares about truth and justice.  You have to stand up and point out the simple truth of the dangers precisely because discrimination is not an acceptable practise.  I wouldn't accept these actions from my children.  If my neighbours carried them out I would go to the police, whatever their ethnic or religious background.  My lack of discrimination extends to being willing to stand up for the rights of the victims of Islam, whether or not they are Islamic themselves.

Let's be completely clear . . .

I do not criticise individual Muslims because they happen to follow Islam.  That is their right and as long as they live within the law I have no quarrel with them.  I do not wish them to go to another country to practise their religion.  However, I do outright and unreservedly criticise individual Muslims who also happen to be criminals under the law of this country, whether or not that criminal activity is 'required' by their faith.  I feel the same way about other Muslims who harbour those criminals too.

I doubt that any accusations of political leanings will ever change my view on that topic.  Yes I am Islamophobic (as in literally 'frightened of creeping Islam')!   But I also want one law for all.

Islamophobia needs to be much more widespread in my opinion!

Mr Deity and the Latter Days

And only because I have been talking about Mormonism a lot this week, I present Mr Deity and the Latter Days as a test to see whether you have been concentrating on what I have been saying!

Very clever as usual.  Maybe I am becoming more converted to Mr Deity the more I understand the subject!

Associated posts:
Blood of atonement - Christ's death was not enough...
God the father was once a sinner
Conservation of Intelligences
Joseph Smith's amazing discovery

Mr Deity and the Rights

The Mr Deity series is not always on my favorites list, but sometimes he and Lucy come up with an absolute classic, and this is one of them!

For those who have never seen this series, Mr Deity represents God, and the lovely Lucy represents his eternal protagonist, The Devil.  Lucy usually makes good points that he struggles to deal with.  In this case she makes excellent points!

He counters by reminding her about women's rights - particularly the right to remain silent.  You have to hear her response.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Things Christians say: part 16. You were never a true Christian.

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

Delayed a week due to poor health, here is the next installment!

If you were a Christian and now you are an atheist, you were never a true Christian to begin with.


This is an interesting type of argument that can easily be used both ways, (and often is).  In fact, it is an argument that I can't completely disagree with, even though it has little logical value.

I know people who claim that they were once atheists, but who also claim that they have now been saved.  Do I believe that they were ever real atheists?  Obviously there is a spectrum of possible answers to that and it all depends on the circumstances.  Do I believe that there is any evidence that they are now 'true' Christians?  I can only claim to be agnostic on this topic.

In particular it depends what they mean by 'atheist'.  If they mean "not a nice person" then they didn't understand.  If they mean that they were very rude to Christians (for example) then they also failed to get it.  And in general terms, if they never quite comprehended the concept that life doesn't have to be for anything, or that there is nothing to say that there has to be hope of an afterlife, then I would say that they never really detached themselves from aspects of theism (or at least deism).

Was I ever a real Christian?  I doubt that many would say I was, even though I feel that I was deluded for over 40 years by something for which there is no evidence.  I admit it.  I never babbled incoherently in a pentecostal service.  I never experienced the pleasure of 'knowing the living Jesus' (whatever that means in everyday English).

That admission has no bearing on the truth though.  It doesn't affect whether any gods exist or not.



Given the above, I would only ask further questions of anyone who uses this supposed 'accusation' (which is not offensive to me in any way).

What gives you the right to assume a special place for the Christian God(s)?  Most Christians divide the world up into a kind of 'us' and 'them'.  For some reason they count many supposedly like-minded 'cults' with radically different views as 'fellow Christians' even if they are not 'true' Christians.  The disagreements go very deep - even down to the question of how many Gods they have - e.g. is Mary divine?  But still these people are in the 'us' category.

The 'them' category would include the 'evil religions' like Satanism, and this other group called 'atheists'.  These are the things that visibly threaten Christianity.

Somewhere sitting on the fence or in some kind of theistic no-man's-land are the 'other' religions.  They're not quite as bad as the 'thems' and after all, perhaps they really 'know' the same God but just haven't yet found the right way to worship him.  But the fact that they have a belief in some supreme being makes them better than the 'thems'.

This happens even though those same atheists would actually lump Christians and Satanists into one category - namely that of 'religionists', and atheists into another.

None of this helps.  It doesn't matter what labels you apply to people and  I don't see what it has to do with the fact that I don't believe in Zeus,  Shiva, or Thor.  In the same way, it is now clear to me that there is no sense in believing in the illogical Christian 'Pantheon' either.

Small note:    The Christian Pantheon might include God, Jesus, Mary, the Holy Spirit, the Saints and the 'all host of heaven'.  I heard recently about a poll of Catholics which revealed that Jesus was only the 6th most likely to be appealed to in prayer!

Last week:  Your atheism is just a way for you to persecute Christians
Next week:  They want to be their own free agents - free of any consequences

Friday, 25 May 2012

Blood of atonement - Christ's death was not enough!

Did you know that Jesus is not a remedy for all sin after all?  In Mormonism, the blood of Jesus was shed to atone for the original sin of Adam (the sin of scrumping an apple or the sin of seeking knowledge - whichever way you choose to describe it.)  It was not shed for your sins.

It is difficult enough for anyone indoctrinated in christian culture (such as me) to realise that the concept of atonement through Jesus is itself a strange claim with no basis in common sense or morality.  Ever since I was a small child - or at least for as long as I can remember - I have heard that Jesus came to die for my sins by shedding his blood.  Until recent years I never bothered to wonder what the blood of a 2000 mythical character could have to do with my own redemption, or to claim that I never asked him to do it and really, given the choice I would prefer that he hadn't.  The whole scape-goat ritual of the crucifixion is as offensive to me as anything that can be said about Christianity.  Not only does it seem uncivilised.  To me it is an immoral act.

The Mormons seem to see things differently - although not the same way as me!

In order to be forgiven for some of the sins that we can commit on Earth, they claim that we would have to atone with our own blood.  Jesus's blood is not enough.  Yes his death allows Mormons to be resurrected, but not to received the full forgiveness needed in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom.

The second leader of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, was very particular about all this.  He preached:

"There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world."


Some sinners who are "now angels to the devil" could have been saved if only some among their Mormon brethren would have "spilled their blood on the ground as a smoking incense to the almighty." 

Until recently, death by firing squad was an option in Mormon Country.

Is it a coincidence that only one of the United States of America retained the firing squad as a 'proper method of execution' until very recently?  That state was Utah, which is where the vast majority of Mormons live.  Death by firing squad was the only method available in USA in which the victim's blood is shed.  In 2004 this option was withdrawn (although there are still three prisoners on death row who could opt for it since it was not retro-active).  Just think of those poor Mormons who will now fail to get to the Celestial Kingdom!

You have to feel sorry for them don't you.   

[Small note to point out irony in the last sentence!]

Thursday, 24 May 2012

God the father was once a sinner

The Mormon God of this world, (or perhaps of this universe) is called Elohim.  Surprisingly, Elohim did not create the universe.  Even Mormons do not claim that.  However, apparently we are all the spirit-children of Elohim and one of his heavenly wives, but he personally went through a similar life to us.

In fact he began life as a spirit child, passed through the 'Mortal Probation', (presumably with first class honours)  and went to Paradise.  From Paradise, Mormons believe that you you pass to one of the three levels of Celestial Kingdom if you achieved the mandatory minimum set of requirements.  (These are not to be confused with the Terestrial or Telestial kingdoms, of which more later.)

Elohim took his wives with him to the the planet (Or was it a star?  They can't decide.) Kolar, and his first born 'spirit child' was Jehovah (which is Mormon 'code' for Jesus).  Jehovah is separate and distinct from Elohim and some regard him as a god.  Others claim that Jehovah will have to marry and have spirit children in order to become a god, and yet others claim that this has already happened).  The reason that Jesus can be regarded as a saviour is that his father was physical but immortal (living on another planet in human form), and his mother was the mortal Mary, (who was also the offspring of Elohim).

So all this means that the main god of Mormonism was 'a sinner' who lived a normal human life (albeit not on Earth) and that Jesus is his son.

Returning to the other kingdoms, you might like to know that any non-Mormon who has lived a good life but who did not qualify to reach even the lowest level of the Celestial Kingdom has a good chance of eventually reaching the 'Terrestrial Kingdom'.  Even those who lived reprehensible lives could reach the 'Telestial Kingdom' instead of Hell.  In both of those places you could continue to exist for eternity (yawn!) but you can have no spirit children.  Only those who are exalted have that honour.  Yes - its another Master Race story!

You might also be interested to know that Hell is largely reserved for apostate Mormons - so you can see why it might be hard to deconvert a Mormon!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Conservation of Intelligences

In Mormonism, 'intelligences' come in only in plural and much like the concept of energy in physics, they are conserved.  Or at least, 'intelligences and matter are the only things that are eternal in Mormonism.

The 'scriptural origin' of the term comes from the Book of Abraham, which was a work of fiction translated by none other than  Joseph Smith.  In yesterday's post Joseph Smith's Amazing Discovery, I promised to talk about this.  This time his translation didn't require magic stones or spectacles, but only a knowledge of a language called 'reformed Egyptian' - a fictitious language invented by Smith himself.  The Mormons describe the book of Abraham a:

A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.

In fact, it was completely made up from a funeral document of a very ordinary kind, purchased from a show that passed through his town.  Thanks to the Rosetta Stone and true scholarship, a copy of the original scroll has now been properly translated by real Egyptologists.  It says nothing of interest to Mormons.

According to a well regarded Mormon source, intelligences are defined as follows: 

The word "intelligences" (plural) occurs frequently in LDS literature, having reference to the period of the premortal existence of mankind. The term has received two interpretations by writers within the Church: as the literal spirit children of Heavenly Parents and as individual entities existing prior to their spirit birth. Because latter-day revelation has not clarified the meaning of the term, a more precise interpretation is not possible at present.

Well - how was that for an explanation?  In other words even they can't pretend that they know what they are talking about!

They go on to say:

While the revelations leave no doubt [editorial splutter!] as to the existence of intelligent matter prior to its being organised as spirits, speculation sometimes arises regarding the nature of premortal existence.

. . . which makes it all much clearer!

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith gave this caution in 1936:

Some of our writers have endeavoured to explain what an intelligence is, but to do so is futile, for we have never been given any insight into this matter beyond what the Lord has fragmentarily revealed. We know, however, that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created or made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual.

This introduces us to the concept of 'spirit children', who are born into the spiritual realm.  They are the children of 'divine beings' (usually deceased Mormons).  They grow and develop in the spirit realm until they are ready to be born into the real world - the 'mortal probation'.  Their (or should I say 'our'?) memory of the spirit world is 'taken away' so that they can be tested properly in this life.

Whatever 'intelligences' might be, the Mormons believe that they are eternal.  They have existed in that form for as long as god has existed, if not longer. This leads on to another surprising fact.

According to Mormons, the universe was not created by god.  More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Joseph Smith's amazing discovery

We have all heard the story of Joseph Smith, and how he founded the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon church) by having a revelation about where he might find a set of coded gold plates.  Millions of people believe in this implausible tale and this demonstrates to me that even decent human minds can be twisted to reach some surprisingly contorted views of the real world.  This makes belief in the bible sound almost completely sane and sensible, although . . . it must be said that there are similarities!

The story that we are normally told involves Smith also having a pair of magic spectacles which allowed him to translate the gold plates into the Book of Mormon which he published in 1830.  The story often goes that he sat behind a curtain and dictated the words of the Book of Mormon to a neighbour, such as Martin Harris, who rarely got more than a glimpse of them.

The classical view of Joseph Smith
translating (image from here)

Carelessly, he lost the first 116 pages.  I won't waste much time wondering what they said but some speculate that they were stolen by Lucy Harris, the wily and wise wife of the neighbour who had been wasting too much time round at the Smiths, writing a book of nonsense.  Perhaps she thought Smith could demonstrate the truth of his claims by simply translating the pages again.   He didn't.

But it seems that this story itself might be apocryphal.  Yes really!

Set aside the question of the weight of this set of gold plates (90 kg or 200 pounds!) and how anyone could have carried them around.  Neglect the fact that the plates have mysteriously disappeared and that the magic spectacles have not survived.  There are other reasons to doubt it.  The Mormons themselves tell of a different method of translation where Smith never even needed to look at the gold.

It seems that Smith had two magic stones which eventually became known as the Urim and the Thummim (as in the contents of the lost Ark of the Covenant).  He almost certainly dug them up while he was digging a well, but perhaps they had been there waiting for him to dig at a revealed spot!  He would put one of these stones into a hat and then bury his face in the hat and dictate in muffled words.

The 'much more believable' (??) view of Smith
inventing the Book of Mormon

The words of David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses whose testimony appears at the front of the Book of Mormon come from this site (and elsewhere):

"I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe . . . "

Somehow the Mormons must think that that makes the story more believable.

Incidentally, all this took place only a few months after Smith's initiation into the Order of Freemasonry.  Many parts of Mormon symbolism are said to resemble Masonic ritual, although somewhat modified as Smith claimed that the Masons had corrupted the truth over the centuries.

The veracity of these stories is there for all of us to believe or doubt.  I have to say that I don't find it overwhelmingly convincing.  Tomorrow I will mention something about another document that Smith apparently translated.  You might see something about his modus operandi.  However, I do find it amazing that so many people think the opposite way to me.  It can't be true that they don't think about it at all.

So surely Smith's most amazing discovery was that people can be much more gullible than even scam artists expect to be possible!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Why criticise Christianity when there are easier options?

Having had a lot of free time to think (hazily) this weekend, while not feeling 'on top form', something made me realise that the oddities of Christianity are almost as nothing compared with other religions.

I wonder why I spend so much time pointing out the all-too-obvious flaws in Christianity when there are other (even easier) targets.  So many people appear to be readily deluded into believing in other, weirder, things that simply can't be true.

I started to wonder about other candidates and after the obvious threat of Islam, immediately thought about Mormonism.  Mormons might be classed as Christians by some, but any serious study of the subject belies this myth.  I must have heard something about a US presidential candidate while half asleep.  We hear quite a bit about him at the moment!

I should say that I know a Mormon family living here in rural England and they seem nice, completely rational people.  I find it hard to believe that they actually believe in the things that their church preaches.  (I can only imagine that one of them wears the magic underwear!  I prefer not to think about it.)  My daughter has even been to worship with them.  You might ask whether I was happy about that, and to be honest I wasn't really sure at the beginning.  However, I wasn't really worried about her being assimilated as she has always been quite sensible.

I have always known that there is little hope of convincing any Christians of the error of their ways, but the comparison with Mormons makes it all the more obvious.  Just imagine that about 15 million people have been taken in by a much less convincing myth invented by someone called Joseph Smith.  He was a man who had previously made part of his living by predicting where people should go to dig for treasure.  He used to put a magic stone in a hat and then bury his head in the hat to see a vision of the place to dig.

Having spent a little time researching about the Mormons I now realise that the organisation is even stranger than I thought.  With its links to Masonic rituals and symbology, with its rascist and polygamous past, and its secretive culture, how could it fail to be an interesting topic?

I think a series of blog posts on the topic is likely to arise.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Draw Mohammed Day 2012

To celebrate 'Draw Mohammed Day, 2012' I present the latest of the excellent series of cartoons called 'Jesus and Mo' and strongly recommend you to see for more of them.

This has the benefit of being more than just a drawing.  It points out something significant.  The cartoons you find there almost always do!

Incidentally, the barmaid doesn't appear this week, but even when she plays a significant role in a cartoon she is not drawn.  Apparently it is forbidden.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Chopping down a tree

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Abraham Lincoln.

 That's the best I can manage today.  Hopefully back to full health soon.

Friday, 18 May 2012

George Bernard Shaw - on cynicism

"The power of accurate observation is commonly
called cynicism by those who have not got it"

Thought for the day!  I will adopt this as a motto for life and for this blog now.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Halal and kosher meat - the controversy

In most civilised countries - although I use the word advisedly - it is now illegal to cause undue suffering to animals.  I say that is 'a good thing', to borrow the expression from Messrs Sellar and Yateman.

This humane approach applies to the treatment of domestic pets, animals used in sporting activities, farm animals, and to the slaughter of animals for food.  The aim of minimising suffering is not completely universal, but even those who favour blood sports generally don't wish to prolong the suffering of the animals that they hunt.

In a more-or-less secular culture we close our eyes to some of the things that are going on around us.  The laws are there to protect the animals, so the animals must be 'enjoying' their protection.

They must, mustn't they?

What?  You mean that the law of the country doesn't apply to everyone equally?  Well . . . it turns out that it does not.  In fact, for a tiny percentage of the population who have irrational beliefs in a special friend in the sky, but no evidence for those beliefs whatsoever, the law doesn't apply at all, and they can profit from it.

We all know, in the back of our minds at least, that Jewish 'kosher' meat and Islamic 'halal' meat are exempt from the legislation about cruelty to animals.  Imagine being one of those animals brought for slaughter, bound and powerless, having your throat cut and seeing your own blood pouring out as every fibre of your being is terrified in in excruciating pain.

Humane killing, the Islamic way.
Most people pretend not to know about this, but in all fairness they are simply turning a blind eye.  Of course it is easier to turn a blind eye in Semitic cultures where it is permissible to take an eye for an eye!  But UK is not supposed to be a Semitic culture.  It is supposed to be multi-cultural.

Even within Judaism and Islam I am sure that many people don't understand the implications fully.  They know that their food has to be ritually clean.  They might know what that implies for the animals involved, and their upbringing has probably conditioned them to believe that it is right and just. 

However, I say we should not be so selective in our view of the world around us.  We can't blame the people who follow these bronze age and iron age faiths for their upbringing, but I think we can require that they comply with the law.  Surely, if it is a bad thing to make animals suffer then it is one of the universal truths that should apply to everyone living in our country.  Belief in Yahweh or Allah should not exempt anyone from the standards of humanity that we expect.

And they say that atheists have no morals!

It gets worse than this though.  You might not realise it, but some of the meat that you eat could have been slaughtered in this same way.  The fact that the laws about slaughter have been neglected might also suggest that other laws do not apply.  For example, is the science of food hygiene understood by the barbarians who kill their meat in this way?  Or is the science of the Qu'ran or Torah applied to the way the meat is prepared too?  May the seventh heaven forbid!

You are probably saying to yourself that this doesn't apply to you.  You buy your food from reputable retailers and they must be ensuring that the required standards are being applied throughout the food chain.  Surely they must.  But this report from the British Humanist Association (by coincidence published this week) seems to suggest that it is not the case.  It says:

"Halal meat accounts for a quarter of the entire UK meat market, despite Muslims making up 3-4% of the population, and is routinely served in some schools, restaurants and hotels as well as sold unlabelled in supermarkets, so it is certain that many non-Muslims regularly eat Halal meat unknowingly."

Perhaps the standards are being applied.  But what would happen if you find yourself in hospital?  If you listen to the news and notice what is said in the background, you might hear stories that hospitals are aware of the halal problem.  Islamic patients have to be assured that their food is ritually clean.  (This would surely be difficult whatever the circumstances, as it is probably being prepared and served by infidels.  Islam allows compromises in a life and death situation though - as long as it is the Muslim's life or death.)  But at the very least, the meat must have been slaughtered INHUMANELY!  The patients complain if they find that this is not the case.  It is more expensive to have the appropriate systems in place to ensure that the halal meat is segregated from the humane meat, so it makes sense in these times of austerity to make the whole menu halal.  That simplifies things a lot.  It cuts costs (even if that halal meat costs more and comes from dubious sources).  It keeps the patients happier.  It makes profits too (for the immoral Islamic slaughter trade).

The other patients do not complain of course.  They probably don't even think about where their meat has come from.  As far as they are concerned it is food that has been produced in the same way as the food in the supermarket.  Little do they know about the torment that the animals suffered, and even if they did know they would probably cast it to the back of their minds because they are more concerned about their own health.  But that report that I mentioned above also says:

"The former Farm Animal Welfare Council and the EU-funded Dialrel Project similarly concluded that non-stun slaughter is extremely painful and distressing for animals."


“At the very least, we believe that animals that have been slaughtered without being stunned should be clearly labelled, as this will ensure that those who have no religious requirements and who object to consuming meat from an animal that has died in extreme pain can avoid it, which will undoubtedly significantly reduce the UK’s consumption of non-stunned meat.”But by stealth, without us realising it, another small aspect of Islam is creeping into our lives."

I say we should make halal and kosher meat completely illegal.  One law for all!

What do you say?  Search your heart.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Just vaccinate - really!

One year on from my previous post about vaccination, Just Vaccinate, a comment was left by a mother who has an autistic child.  I attempted to reply to her with all my sympathy, as follows. 

I don't know how to express as much empathy as I wish to for every mother and father who find themselves in this situation, where their child appears to develop the symptoms of autism shortly after vaccination.  I can only say why I still feel strongly about vaccination.

First, it is an unfortunate fact that science gets things wrong sometimes.  Andrew Wakefield did get it wrong and his infamous paper has now been withdrawn.  His professional career has not prospered - quite rightly - but his wealth has not suffered.  Unfortunately - and for understandable reasons - he now has a lot of followers.

It is also an unfortunate fact that in a community where more and more people are not vaccinated, babies are much more likely to be exposed to dangerous infections early in life, and so it is important that they are protected as early as possible.  When that is, I do not know, but I think it is very likely to have been found, by science, to be the time when the vaccinations are currently given.  Otherwise they would be given earlier.

Mother's intuitions are often right.  Sadly they are less reliable in other cases, because everybody is different, and the best way to choose the right course of action is by measuring it over the whole population for as long as possible. 

Perhaps it would be good to change the time of vaccinations slightly, and delay them or stagger their timings.  Although it would put a few children at risk for a few months initially, it would at least break the 'observed' but incorrect correlation between vaccinations and autism.  Autistic symptoms would then appear before the vaccination and the evidence would be clear to all.  Everyone would be vaccinated and the least possible harm would result from it in just a few years time.

The only problem is that the evidence would NOT actually be there for ALL to see, because all the people do not wish to look.  You can tell that because the evidence already exists.  Sadly, far too many people still see it as a conspiracy by 'big pharma' or dismiss it for other reasons. 

I'm so sad for everyone affected by autism.  I'm equally sad for those infected by measles when this is a condition that can now be avoided, and has been for decades.

I'm sad for those who catch polio, having known people of my parents' generation who lived with its effects all their lives.  Imagine life in a wheelchair, just because you had not had a simple vaccination.

This is why I say 'Just Vaccinate', but I say it with the greatest sympathy to those who have not had the scientific education to help them to know that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Just because two things happen together does not mean that one is caused by the other.

Most people who eat a lot of rice have black hair, but rice does not cause black hair.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

BBC propaganda again - The Queen!

This morning the BBC radio news, and web site included a story that immediately raised my skeptical hackles.

Almost 80% of people in England support a religious role for the Queen, a BBC poll suggests.  In a poll by Comres to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, 79% of respondents said she still had an important faith role.

Obviously this would be surprising!  The Queen herself is not unpopular in England, but on the whole I would say that religion is.  Given the results of the RDFRS-funded poll earlier in the year, it would be amazing if these figures were true.

So I spent a few minutes looking for the data, and for the actual questions that had been asked and I found this on the Comres web site:

Christians reveal soft spot for The Queen

"Five out of six Christians are proud of The Queen

With preparations well underway for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year, Premier Christian Radio asked UK Christians about their feeling toward the Monarchy.

The ComRes poll commissioned by Premier Christian Radio reveals that five in every six (85%) UK Christians are proud of The Queen."

The survey went on to say something less complimentary about the heir to the throne.  For some reason the BBC completely neglected to mention this aspect.

"However, just two fifths (41%) of those polled are proud of Prince Charles.  Respondents favour the ever popular Prince William, with 77% saying that they are proud of him."

So . . . we see that the only people surveyed were those who listened to a Christian radio station.  The ones who responded were a self-selecting group.  It appears that these particular Christians like the Queen.  They haven't mentioned yet whether they want her to defend their faith (and let's face it - it needs defending).  They don't like her heir (who does?), and the next in line to the throne is still young enough that he hasn't made as many mistakes as his father, (so they still like him).  None of this seems at all surprising, but we note that the actual percentage changes with the wind.  (That is three versions so far!)  Now the figures look a bit more believable, but are they true?.

Let's look at some actual data, which you can find here.  In fact we find that:

Q1 - Do you think there is such a thing as a 'British' identity, or not?
81% Yes.  12% No.

Q2 - How proud, or otherwise, are you of the Queen? 
85% Proud.  13% Not proud.
Q2 includes other sub-questions which you can see if you follow the link above.

Q3 - Do you think that the monarchy should be head of the Church of England, or not? 
31% Yes.  55% No   -   Wow - the opposite of the report!

Q4 Do you think the Church of England should be disestablished, or not?
43% Yes.  45% No   -   Still wow!

And then you might find that there is another poll by Comres on a similar topic.  You can find it here, and can see the word 're-run' in the file name  The results are not exactly in agreement!  Which is to be believed?  It is true that there is a subsidiary statement "The Queen still has an important faith role", and the answer is that 79% agree, but how meaningful is that?

It is pretty difficult to square their report with the actual published data in any wayThe big question is this.  "Is the BBC deliberately misrepresenting the data in order to support the powerful at the time of the Jubilee, or is it simple incompetence?"  Or am I doing it?

Which of those options would be the better outcome anyway?

You just can't trust the BBC!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Abrogation in the Qu'ran

If you are concerned about the influence of Islam in your country and generally interested in the relative benefits of different religions, you might have had the 'patience of a saint' and read the Qu'ran from cover to cover.  From that experience - and I bet you did not enjoy it - you must have drawn a conclusion about its contents and what they mean for life within Islam.

If you have come away from that learning with a view that Islam is a peaceful and cuddly faith and that we have nothing to fear from it, I urge you to reconsider.  And if you did not read it in the original language then I hope you realise that you have not read the 'real' Qu'ran, and of course it is full of translation errors and missing nuances.  This provides a convenient theological tactic when logic appears to be working against Allah.

Did you know that more than 60% of the verses in all the Sura of the Qu'ran are subject to questions of abrogation?  In other words, you have to consult Islamic scholars about the relative precedence of the inconsistencies.  Without their advice there is a >60% chance that any verse chosen to prove a point will be wrong.

Of course the Qu'ran itself warns people not to be surprised by its internal disagreements, and in a classic example of 'smoke and mirrors' it says:

"None of our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar." (Sura 2:106).

The question is in each case "Which option is the one that is 'better'?"

For example, it is said that 124 verses call for tolerance and forgiveness, giving the impression that we have little to fear.

But . . .  it is also said that they are all superseded by one verse:

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." (Sura 9:5)

For what it is worth, the 'forbidden months' mentioned in that verse are the holiest months of the calendar.   Jihad or Holy War was forbidden in the 'sacred months' but is allowed, even encouraged, in verse 36 of the same Sura which replaces the former.  In other words, even the slightly more pleasant part of that one dreadful verse has subsequently been abrogated.

This is 'abrogation' for you.  Unlike the bible, you can't pick and choose the bits you want to keep.  In Islam they are chosen for you, and in general the less pleasant the option for us infidels the less likely it is to have been abrogated.

Islam is the religion of peace, you know!

You might 'enjoy' this little video if you have a few minutes to spare.

Taqiyya - lying for Islam could also be of interest.


I would say 'Sleep Well', but . . . 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tithing and taxing

In the days when I was (at least nominally) a christian (with a small C), I heard from time to time that we were exhorted to tithe.  In other words to give 10% of our income 'to God'.

This was not 10% of our disposable income - which was perilously close to zero after buying a house to live in, feeding hungry mouths and paying punitive highly taxed UK utility bills, but 10%.  It was even discussed whether it had to be 10% of the income before tax or 10% after tax (as if that made a huge difference).  I have even heard it said that you should pay in cash 10% of gross income after the tax had already been taken.  (What financial naivety!)

It might seem ungenerous and selfish to say that I could never bring myself to consider tithing, and with the benefit of hindsight I think I was right, for several reasons.

Firstly, the biblical precedents neglect to say whether taxes count within the tithe.  Presumably they did not.  But then again, taxes at that time went to pay for lavish government and for wars.  The taxes did not pay for roads, other infrastructure, public health initiatives, science carried out for the benefit of the public, or social security.  Things are now different in most Western countries.  The tax we pay on our income does contribute to those things.  In the UK the lowest tax rate is 10%, and it is payable by anyone earning enough money to subsist on.  Almost everyone else is paying more than 25%, and many people in medium grade professional jobs find themselves in the 40% bracket.  (Meanwhile millionaires pay virtually nothing if they have accountants!)  On top of that we pay 'National Insurance' at 6.25%.  Other Western countries have higher or lower tax rates.  Some, like Germany still charge a Church Tax unless you specifically opt out of it.

Have you noticed anything about any of those figures?

Yes, almost everyone is paying MUCH more than a tithe to fund the community already, and from that payment the government does all the useful things that the biblical tithe might have achieved.

Some of the churches want a further tithe on top of that, in order to do their 'good works', apparently inspired by God.  The only thing is that these good works are now virtually invisible and virtually ineffective.  They include paying preachers to lie to you, paying for the buildings where they lie to you, and often paying for the rest of the church hierarchy who dictate what lies they are to tell.  And this is all from the beneficial position of tax-exempt status!

Tithing - a scam?  (Image from here.)

Maybe a tiny proportion of the income of the church goes to help the poor in Africa or wherever (and I am not certain that I want that anyway), but it would be hard to convince me that such efforts are very effective.  I would trust some of the other 'real' charities to spend money more usefully.

There is one other critical argument against tithing - one that is so often brushed over.  When a church exhorts you to tithe your income to God what does it really mean?  It means that you should give your money to that church (or perhaps mainly to that church but with a little to other charitable organisations, as long as they are 'Christian').

Give the amount of evidence for the existence of any gods, doesn't this seem to require a remarkable level of trust?

Perhaps I always was a skeptic!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Things Christians say, part 15. Persecuting christians.

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

Your atheism is just a way for you to persecute Christians!


From the point of view of a Christian, this might seem to make sense.

Looking at it through Islamic eyes you might have a different perspective.  For Hindus it would seem equally irrational.

I don't think I need to say any more, do I?



It is quite hard for any rational person to listen to Christians whining about being persecuted.  It happens much too often, and in any case, usually it doesn't mean literal persecution.  None of the persecuted Christians feel physical pain as a consequence of something that an atheist might have said, however physically disappointed they might be.  Usually they mean that they are being treated without special favour.

Can you imagine how that would sound in a political election?  One candidate says something nasty about the other and the other usually responds robustly.  No credible candidate ever says "you're persecuting me" or that its not fair how the other is bulling them.

Considering the record of Christianity throughout the last 1500 years or so, persecution is something that they should understand very well indeed - albeit from the point of view of the persecutor. Now that the Christian faith no longer has a total strangle-hold on society it seems to think that it can play the victim card.  In reality it is no more a victim (and indeed much less a victim) than any other faith.

One thing that is certain about atheism is that it does not discriminate.  Atheists, by definition, disbelieve in all gods without prejudice.  There are different names for atheists who believe in only one god.

For example they might be called Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

I just take it one god further than they do.

Last week: You can't go through your whole life only believing in what you have evidence for.
Next week:  If you were a Christian and now you are an atheist, you were never a true Christian to begin with.

Small note: Shall we broach the topic of Hitler and Stalin acting in the name of atheism soon?  I'm finding it hard to summon the enthusiasm to refute such a ridiculous topic, but it has to be done.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Two Horsemen - without horses

On Wednesday evening I was one of the people lucky enough to get a ticket to see two of the three remaining 'horsemen of the apocalypse'.  (Well in fact I got four tickets and was accompanied by three friends.)  In front of a packed hall in the Oxford University Exam schools, with a similar sized overflow room filled to near capacity, we witnessed Richard Dawkins in discussion with Daniel Dennett.

The event was videoed and hopefully when I find it online I will add a link from here so that you can watch it yourself.  Update 2nd June:  here is the link.

Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins in Oxford, May 2012

The most surprising thing for me was that a large proportion of the discussion revolved around the concept of 'the meme'.  The meme of the meme was introduced in Chapter 11 of Richard's first book, 'The Selfish Gene' like this:

"Examples of memes including tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or building arches.  Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."

I have had the impression from my recent reading that Richard was moving away from using memetics as a direct analogy for genetics but it seems that I would be wrong to believe that.  Exploring the topic a little more, I think he had been surprised that 'memetics' emerged as a new science in the 1990s and had originally proposed the idea as a metaphor rather than a true cultural counterpart to the gene.  (However, I might be wrong.)

In fact, in their discussion, they made analogies to both evolution and 'Intelligent Design', and made a comparison between religion and a parasitic infection - another common meme.  Scientology is clearly an example of Intelligent Design (and we even know who designed it).  Mormonism might fall into the same category, but many other religions could be said to have evolved.  The rest of Christianity (for example) could be said to exist for its own sake, with believers ensnared by (or willingly submitting themselves to) another power.  In much in the same way, ants infected with a parasite (Dicrocelium dendriticum) are observed to go to the top of blades of grass where they are more likely to be eaten by ruminants.  The parasite life cycle is thus continued in the guts of mammals.  This is depicted on the cover of Dennett's book, 'Breaking the Spell'.

They suggested that the test for a good meme is to make a recording every so often and to see whether, on playing back the recordings, it is possible to rank their chronological order.  They also mentioned that memes probably survive in groups, (memplexes) in much the same way as genes.  No single gene can generally propagate itself without cooperation from the others that go around together.  For example, Roman Catholicism's mysterious memes tend to be inseparable and clearly they have thrived for centuries, whereas individually they tend not to survive.  (Do you really believe that the wine turns into blood?)  Dennett pointed out that this particular collection is now beginning to break down, surprisingly quickly.  The Catholic church has gone from the position where it had three priest per parish to three parishes per priest.  He believes that this is largely due to the way that information can now be transferred around the world so easily.  Religions have survived by presupposing the relative ignorance of the parts that make them up.  They were not designed this way but evolved.

There was more to the discussion, much of it revolving around 'The Clergy Project'.  That was followed by a good number of questions from the audience.  As usual some of them made me wonder whether I couldn't understand them or they simply didn't make much sense.  However, I find that to be one of the hazards of attending events in a city which is home to one of the world's top universities. 

The whole event was free, subsidised by the RDFRS.  It is clearly part of the educational outreach to the young people in the city, but I think it also demonstrates that altruism does not require gods.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fictional Character Day

In a news item that made me laugh out loud, I heard that a high school student in Spring Hill, Tennessee was surprised to be awarded $1000 for a normal day at school.

Well . . . I say 'normal day' but perhaps the day was slightly out of the ordinary.  It was 'Fictional Character Day', and 17 year old Jeff Shott went to school dressed as Jesus.

Jeff Shott dressed as the fictional Jesus.
(Image from FFRF.)

Perhaps that might be considered a little provocative, but now Jeff is the first recipient of the Paul J. Gaylor Memorial Student Activist Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Read on via the FFRF site, and smile.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Its all in the bible!

Listening to a debate about the bible the other day, I was reminded that some people regard the words of that book to be the inerrant word of god.  For some of them the bible contains everything that we need to know.

A thought struck me though.  The bible simply isn't big enough to do that is it.

We can't neglect the fact that the bible spends a lot of time on rules that people don't follow any more - about not mixing cotton with other materials, about what we can eat and as Christopher Hitchens said, who we can have sex with and in what positions.  More pages are wasted with impossible myths, whether they be about talking snakes or floods.  Still more describe how the peoples of the surrounding areas were massacred.

This leaves remarkably little space for all of human knowledge. 

Fortunately this reveals the truth, that the bronze age writings of the bible tell us almost nothing about the universe, however you spin the contents. Whatever you do, you can't get all the learning about the universe into a book so small.  Imagine everything we know about astronomy fitting into such a slim volume.  Then fit all we know about physics into another, and Chemistry, Medicine, and each of the thousands of other specialist subjects into individual volumes.  Not only would you not be able to fit any subject into one book, but these thousands of volumes self-evidently contain more knowledge than the bible.

So let's face it.  Its not 'all in the bible'. 

Presuppositionalists - how do you answer? 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Anti-atheist quotes refuted

Last year, a friend posted these anti-atheist quotations on her blog (which is now inactive) and I wrote a reply.  Having found it again recently, I think it is worth repeating it here, somewhat updated in the light of things that I have learned since then.

Maybe the atheist cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman. -- Author Unknown, [but probably Francis Thomson].

Maybe. But then again at least the thief can see policemen and he avoids them because they are real.  Can you see God?  Really?  Incidentally either this was said in humour or else it was typical of the sort of ridiculous analogy that is so often adopted by people who are afraid of atheists.  To show how meaningless it is, you could just as easily say "Christians can't find the truth the same way that a thief can't find a policeman".  It would make about as much sense.

Humanism or atheism is a wonderful philosophy of life as long as you are big, strong, and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. But watch out if you are in a lifeboat and there are others who are younger, bigger, or smarter. -- William Murray

Absolutely not true, and frankly offensive, but it is of course the way that some Christians like to try to put down others by suggesting that charity and altruism only comes from christianity.  For what it is worth, it doesn't.

Atheism is a crutch for those who cannot bear the reality of God. -- Tom Stoppard

So the lack of something can become supportive? Nice rhetoric but nonsense.

The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank.--Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Hardly worth writing a response. But what makes him think that there has to be someone to be thankful to?

If there were no God, there would be no atheists. -- G.K. Chesterton

No no. If there was no concept of god there might be no concept of atheism but we would all be atheists. Chesterton was obviously playing games with words as was his expertise.  Clearly logic was not one of his key strengths.

Atheists express their rage against God although in their view He does not exist. -- C. S. Lewis

Typical C S Lewis nonsensical rhetoric based on ignorance. Do they really express their rage? Most atheists I know are quite calm and not raging at all.  Anyway, how can I express rage against someone who I don't believe in?

Shouldn't atheist have an equal obligation to explain pleasure in a world of randomness. Where does pleasure come from? –- G.K. Chesterton

Pleasure has a clear evolutionary origin.  Obligation fulfilled.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Fly safely

For anybody who is not familiar with a jet engine, a jet fan blade should be perfectly smooth and shouldn't have anything attached to it.  The balance of the engine is quite critical to its safety, and a detached blade can not be described as anything better than a bad thing!

Jet engine blades do become detached from time to time, and the casing of the engine is designed to contain the debris.  But when you are 10,000 metres above ground level I think most of us would prefer it if the people maintaining our aircraft try to prevent this sort of problem.

Are the same standards adopted world-wide?  Apparently not.  I gather that this report was going around 'the industry' a couple of years ago, but a friend recently sent me this scare story which might be worth remembering if you happen to be flying on a Chinese plane.

A pilot for a Chinese carrier requested permission and landed at Frankfurt, Germany, for an unscheduled refuelling stop. The reason became soon apparent to the ground crew: The Number 3 engine had been shutdown previously because of excessive vibration, and because it didn't look too good. It had apparently been no problem for the tough guys on the ground back in China: as they took some sturdy straps and wrapped them around two of the fan blades and the structures behind, thus stopping any unwanted wind-milling (engine spinning by itself due to airflow passing thru the blades during flight) and associated uncomfortable vibration caused by the sub optimal fan.

Chinese jet engine - safely strapped together!

Chinese jet engine - damaged blades

That's not to say that everything in China is subject to the same standard of Quality Assurance.  But even if the engine was not in use when it landed in Frankfurt you do have to wonder how it had been allowed to reach this state.

Given that China is officially an atheist country you can't even say that they were trusting in god!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Playing Devil's Advocate

One of my Christian twitter correspondents, @LostForWords17, tweeted about one of my posts, Faithful genius - a contradiction? He said "This is really interesting, and I agree to a point. What about outside 'irrational' events which only Theists can explain?"  Naturally this got my interest and I invited him to write a guest post to explain, and he kindly agreed.   Here is it.  I have deliberately avoided expressing my views (except whispering the words Forer Effect to myself), but I might join in with the comments if you say something interesting.

Should We Doubt Faith?  Playing Devil’s Advocate 
by  @LostForWords17

As soon as you see the title, you may begin to think why someone such as myself is even bothering to write an article of this very nature on a blog such as this? It isn’t to Bible-bash; ironically it is to play Devil’s Advocate. This post is in regards to a previous entry which was titled ‘Faithful genius - a contradiction?

I actually agreed with this article - up to a point. There is something about having a belief, a faith, or lack of a faith, which turns a switch on or off inside of us - not necessarily changing our being but changing how we view and interact with the world all together [sic].

I also believe that having a way to deal and explain away patterns into a viewpoint is generally a key way to predominately survive, as it (usually) forms something within us which reacts in a very useful way to our surroundings and the intricacies of our very lives. I also agree that a smarter person with faith does not necessarily have a clear view of the world around them, just a better way of explaining it than others.

I see all of these patterns time and time again in the people around me - whether they have a faith or not. It is the issue of this explanation in regards to faith as a whole that I am going about questioning. So, how do I go about questioning about a theory that I see and believe in the world around me day by day? It is simple - expanding the horizon of such a statement predominately to explain away the notion of faith has its flaws.

I say this because there are many things I have seen which I have no control over; things which can only be rationally explained through a Theistic viewpoint. This may sound crazy, but some things which happen to be deemed irrational and unexplainable from a skeptical viewpoint can be a lot easier to explain and digest from a Theistic viewpoint.

Here is an example for you to discuss. This example is from my life as it is a lot better to use first hand examples rather than ‘stories’ and ‘tales’ which have been passed around to me by other people.

The example is quite a recent one. I was at a prayer meeting before an outreach day, and the group of Christians there decided to pray for me (as you do at a Christian gathering).  Don’t worry, it gets interesting! Just to note that most of these people praying for me had never met me before, with the exception of one who had briefly met me a few days before.

They started giving ‘words of knowledge’ to me that they could not have known about at all. Now a word of knowledge is when someone says something into another person’s life that they couldn’t have known about due to (what I believe) to be divine intervention.

This isn’t your rosy and hazy ‘you’ll be rich next year’ kind of word that you hear a guy dressed in a white suit on the TV say. It’s usually a lot more direct and blunt, more like ‘I feel like God told me that you just broke up with your girlfriend yesterday after expressing a lack of commitment to marriage, and your mother is bitter about it because she thought that she was the one. Do you want me to pray about it?’

These Christians at the prayer meeting started saying: “all my life I have felt like I never fit in anywhere, floating around various ideals and career ambitions trying to belong. I have tried so hard to actually fit in somewhere that I have wedged myself into an identity and a ‘box’ which isn’t actually me at all.”

They gave me the metaphor of being a toddler with a square shape, trying to hammer it into a circle hole and actually getting it stuck there. They then went on to say that: “I haven’t felt like I have belonged where I am this year, even surrounded by like-minded people with similar ambitions such as myself,”

They explained to me that this was because: “The purpose of this year was to wrench myself out of this box I had made for myself, and for me to be placed into where I am meant to be for the future,” (the square shaped hole so to speak).

Little did they know that I had felt dissatisfaction in such a way all my life, even now. This year, I am on a gap year Christian course which involves full time voluntary work, which I had felt led to. Last year I was a full time Music Manager, and eventual dropout student of the same subject. The fact that they even had the thought about me spending my whole life trying to put myself into a box and never really ever fitting in anywhere genuinely surprised me.

I had given them no inkling about this at all, and they had no idea who I was as a person - let alone my past (which involved a lot of uncertainty and rather swift movements from one thing to the next thing, more recently with me getting enveloped with Music - especially on the management side of things).

Now, this was just one ‘word’ that they had for me. In the space of ten minutes, they had rattled about 8 in total to me, all of which were completely spot on and true and/or linked on from a previous word I had been given.

A few days later, after I had begun to rationalise the seemingly impossible and thinking ‘maybe it was just me exaggerating’, I had three more words from three separate people. All these words either all matched up directly with something which had been said before, or something which had been said at least a few months before (that they could not know about!).

An example of the latter involves a teenager mumbling the words to me of the second half of a Bible verse, of which the first half has been ingrained into my mind after consistently entering into my thoughts in a way I can’t rationally explain. Interesting.

Now, before I sound like I am crazy and need to go and seek counselling as soon as I finish typing, let me remind you that these words came from people who didn’t know me; or matching words which came from various other people with no collusion, or (as in the example above) from someone I have never met before about something I have never shared about to anyone.

My point is, the only rational viewpoint I can give for this without a Theistic viewpoint is that I’m in The Truman Show. To me, that sounds irrational.

Whereas from my Theistic Christian viewpoint I can explain it like this: God is real and can speak to people whenever he wants to. He can also give people words to give to other people, which they wouldn’t know from any other source, or give people information about other people, which they wouldn’t know from any other source. Also, that this happens all the time in circles which conveniently happen to involve Christians.

You see, something irrational and inherently unlikely/ impossible, such as this scenario, can sometimes be easily explained and reasoned from a Theistic viewpoint. Does that make it necessarily right? No, it does not.

But it does raise the question- is a Theistic viewpoint necessarily something to be doubted? The problem I see with faith being explained away as adapting to patterns around us (which in its basic essence is what the original theory is based upon) is that not everything seems to be within the confines of finite rule and law.

And, contrary to any typical Christian stereotypes, there isn’t much from a typical skeptic’s worldview which can’t be rationalised and explained within a typical Christian Theistic viewpoint. (There are many Christians who see evolution as no problem to their belief system, and MANY MORE who don’t think the Earth is 6000 years old!)

Feel free to challenge or question anything I have said, and feel free to point out anything which might change/ deter my views on this.

PS: If you want any more direct examples that I have come across first or second hand, then  please ask me and I shall make sure I get back to you with them.


Thanks to @LostForWords17 for a well considered discussion of an aspect of faith and for a rational and reasonable line of discussion on Twitter.

Go ahead and comment about his experiences.