Sunday, 4 December 2011

Discussing evolution

I recently came across something said in one of the websites I frequent,  about why the "Theory of Evolution" is "wrong." 
The person making the statement said that evolution, as it is accepted in the scientific community as the explanation for life on earth, cannot possibly be correct because "they don't have transitional fossils." He also stated that there have been no changes in lifeforms since "the creation" and "surely if evolution were true, we should have been able to see changes over the 5,000 years since the Bible story was written." 
In discussing this topic with another theist on a skeptics forum, he claimed that evolution may be true but only in the sense that after “the Flood” which saved the lives of only 16,000 animals, those animals were responsible for the millions of the different species we find on the earth today, including all the species that have become extinct in the recent past. 
Leaving the argument about the Bible creation story having not been written 5,000 years ago (and the Flood) for now, I shall, in this post, after having had the process explained to me by actual scientists, hopefully, clear up some misconceptions that people who don't understand the "Theory of Evolution" have about the process.
Evolution and the speed with which a species makes specific changes depends on, among other things, the length of its lifespan. For instance, fruit flies. The lifespan of one species of fruit fly can be completed in as little as 16 days, from the laying of one generation of eggs, to the laying of a subsequent generation, whereby in an average year, there will be 22 generations of fruit flies, A family of humans, on the other hand, with modern longevity and later reproduction, would take eleven centuries, i.e. over a thousand years to produce 22 generations. Thus evolutionary changes in fruit flies, could be noticeable in two human generations, or 100 years. Whereas the long lifespan of humans, and more than 22 generations having passed since the Bible was written, the only change in humans has been that we live longer lives than we did then, and even that is not due to evolution, but because of a variety of other reasons.
There are other factors of course that eventually cause a species to evolve into several different species and sub-species as explained in the following quote by "Calilasseia" posting in What if Atheists are wrong?
How long it takes for this to happen, however, is not yet quantitatively predictable. Depending upon many factors, such as the fecundity of the individuals in the population, the generational turnaround, the mutation rates of the genes in question, and how quickly those mutations become fixed in the population, speciation could take place in as little as five years (as happened with Dobzhansky's laboratory population of Drosophila pseudoobscura, as documented in his 1971 paper), or could take as long as ten million years. Species with fast generational turnarounds and rapid mutation rates in the relevant genes will exhibit speciation events more quickly under relevant circumstances, than species with slow generational turnarounds and slow mutation rates. Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to use this information in a quantitatively predictive manner, but we can use this in a qualitative manner, to predict that a genetically isolated lineage will eventually exhibit reproductive incompatibility. We will only find out that this has happened, however, when appropriate tests upon the populations in question demonstrate interfertility failure between relevant populations, and of course, with large populations, it will be impractical to test every possible combination of individuals. If you have two populations, each comprising a million individuals, then exhaustive testing would require 1012 trial matings. Sadly, we're not yet in a position to try this out. In this sense, there is no well-defined point at which speciation occurs, because we lack the ability to perform massive numbers of trial matings to find that point. But that point does exist, as I've just explained.
Studying genes does reveal the history of an organism but since DNA material cannot be extracted from fossils, because fossils are not actual bones but minerals that have replaced the bones or are casts of the bones (see fossilization methods in Wikipedia: Fossils), scientists use additional methods to discover the ancestry. These methods include comparative anatomy which paleontologists use to predict the “transitions” that should have occurred in an animal’s evolutionary history. 
For an example of this we need look no further than the anatomy of our own limbs and to compare them with those of the ordinary domestic chicken. The ball-and-socket arm and leg joints, the heavy upper bone, two lower bones and phalanges in the hands and feet demonstrate the common ancestry of humans (apes) and chickens (birds) fairly obviously. Therefore they had to have evolved from a single ancestor but through the evolutionary process, and necessity, changed to suit the individual environmental needs of each shift along the chain of evolution, leading to the sort of diversification we see today. How did they arrive at this conclusion? The original animal, i.e. the common ancestor of all animals who demonstrate the limb physiology I mentioned above, was a fish with “pre-limb-like” fin bones. They named these animals “Rhipidistia;” searching for the link from Rhipidistians to human, they found “Tiktaalik”:
Tiktaalik provides insights on the features of the extinct closest relatives of the tetrapods. Unlike many previous, more fishlike transitional fossils, Tiktaalik's "fins" have basic wrist bones and simple rays reminiscent of fingers. The homology of these is uncertain; there have been suggestions that they are homologous to digits, although this is incompatible with the digital arch developmental model because digits are supposed to be postaxial structures, and only three of the (reconstructed) eight rays of Tiktaalik are post-axial. They may have been weight bearing. Close examination of the joints show that although they probably were not used to walk, they were more than likely used to prop up the creature’s body, push up fashion. The bones of the fore fins show large muscle facets, suggesting that the fin was both muscular and had the ability to flex like a wrist joint. These wrist-like features would have helped anchor the creature to the bottom in fast moving current.
This type of “comparative anatomy” predates Darwin by some 62 years and was formulated by a man named Carl Linneaus. 
Does this mean that a man can mate with a chicken and produce a chicken-man? Of course not. These changes do not happen overnight, as explained above. Also, the study of evolution involves many branches of “science.” It is not simply a matter of drawing conclusions from a single fossil example.
A really good and easy to read and understand source for people who don’t understand how evolution works is this book Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne.
Thus it is easy to understand that a deity did not suddenly drop "creatures" onto the planet making them similar in many ways and different in others, nor did it happen as a result of really fast evolution after the fictional “Flood.” If two animals (and humans are included in this) share a similar physical attribute, they also share a common ancestor. This doesn’t happen because a deity was too busy to think up a new idea, it is the result of millions of years, and thousands of generations of adaptation and change. A process which is still ongoing, even in the so-called “higher” order of animals.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Free Will

I'm not talking about "free will" in the philosophical sense. This is about the option that believers claim we have when it comes to whether or not to believe in God, or whatever god they happen to be discussing with us.

According to the tenets of Judeo-Christian religions, God, the father, is omnipotent and naturally it follows that if Jesus and the Holy Ghost are part of the God-trinity, this applies to them as well. Thus, God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are omni-everything: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and so on, in a word, omnifarious. To put it simply, there is nothing that God cannot do.

By saying this, the believer then accepts that this god is able to know, see and not only do anything, but also to affect the outcome of everything.

If this is the case, then there are a few questions that arise.

If God was able to foresee, and if he is omni-everything, then he can also foresee the future, he knew that Adam and Eve were going to eat the fruit of the tree, whether or not he told them not to. He also knew that they would be tempted by the snake, and take the snake's word for it about eating the fruit of the tree, and he knew that they would discover their nakedness. So then why did he set them up for failure? Believers claim that he "also gave them free will to choose to not eat the fruit." But if they had chosen to ignore the snake and not eat the fruit, then he already knew they would do that. And then what would have been the point of the story? So there was no free will involved: they did exactly what God wanted them to do.

This also applies to everything else that happens, God knows everything, and the way everything is going to turn out, because he can see, and control everything. So why does he sit back and do nothing when people make stupid choices? And if he does, then he's just playing with them, and if they're doing what he knew they were going to do and if he arranged everything for them to do what they do, there's no free will involved.

According to this belief then, that I don't believe in God, is not my choice. God is controlling what I do and what choices I make, so I'm doing what he set me up to do. He chose me for a future in an eternal hellfire by giving me a brain that can reason that he is merely a myth created by Near Eastern desert dwellers, but, if he exists, he still chose to create me and every situation in which I find myself, purely for his own amusement.

Thus, everything that's happened everywhere, ever since the "creation" has happened because God made it happen, you can't have free will and still be subject to his omnifariousness. If we have free will, then God is not Almighty, and therefore omnipotent. If he had to search for Adam and Ever, he didn't know where they were, he is not omnipresent and omniscient, and his saying that he is, is a lie.

Therefore, if we accept that we have free will, then God is impotent. And if he doesn't know what we are going to choose to do, because we have "free will" to choose which road we're going to take, then he is also not aware of the future. And by this deduction, he is not really a god, is he?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Homosexuality... the Bible's problem with it.

This verse in Leviticus is the source of the religious condemnation of homosexuality:

Lev 18:22 Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
Interestingly enough, this instruction is presented only to humans, all other animals are free to love any other animal no matter whether they are male or female.

I've been told, over my lifetime that "homosexuality is a human aberration, and that no other animals indulge in homosexual encounters." This is not true: Wikipedia gives a comprehensive list of animals known to display homosexual behaviour.

This is interesting to me, because on Saturday afternoon I witnessed some of this behaviour in the monkeys outside my kitchen window.

 And in particular, this chap, he is the leader of the clan:

I watched him interact with another male. He was very obviously sexually aroused, so his interest was not merely friendliness or a request for grooming. He approached the other male with an act which surprised me: he kissed him on the mouth. The other male backed off, without returning the kiss or encouraging a further approach.

The aggressive male tried again, and then again, but then realising the other male wasn't interested, or perhaps realising his mistake (I'm prepared to admit it might have been that he merely realised the other monkey was male), he backed off and went on to approach one of the females.

Now, while I'm prepared to concede that the monkey could have been mistaken in approaching what he thought was a female, I also can't believe that because surely, as the leader of the troop, he would know all the members, and their gender. So I'm prepared to accept that he was happy to engage in homosexual sex. But also, another thing I found interesting was that he accepted the rebuff, without pressing his advance. It seems that monkeys don't rape each other. Well not in this family anyway.

As for the kissing... that fascinated me because I truly believed that kissing was a cultural thing exclusive to humans.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Riots in England and Religion

I've heard a few people say that one of the major causes of the dissatisfaction and unruliness of the young people who rioted and looted in English cities this week, is due to their lack of religion.

They go on to say that teaching children old-fashioned "honour thy father" rules and respect for authority and making them attend church would help to give them direction.

Is there any validity in this?

This is what Exodus 20 says:

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
I have a few problems with this. The first one is that if your parents are criminals, or if your father is the person who comes into your room at night to rape you, should you still "honour your father?"

Then, do Old Testament values, the same ones that instruct that Children of Israel smite all unbelievers and worshippers of "false gods" the ones we want our children to follow?

What evidence is there that church attendance and obedience to the rules of the Bible actually do make people behave more morally? And yes, this behaviour does bring us back to what is "moral."

This is how my dictionary defines morality:
Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
Behavior as it is affected by the observation of these principles; a particular system of values and principles of conduct, esp. one held by a specified person or society;  the extent to which an action is right or wrong; behavior or qualities judged to be good.
Do these people, the ones who broke into and looted their neighbours' shops understand the difference between right and wrong? I'm sure they do. It certainly sounds like it from what I heard in interviews with them. They observe the behaviour of people who work long hours to keep their businesses going and they understand the principles of acceptable conduct within their society, otherwise why else would they cover up their faces? So they do understand what is moral and correct, yet they choose to ignore it.

So it's not that they don't understand what constitutes moral behaviour, they simply choose to not adhere to the moral rules of their society. I can't see how going to church, and making them suffer feelings of guilt is going to change the fact that they are living in a society that doesn't really care about what happens to them. These young people grow up in the inner cities in circumstances that have to be experienced to be understood. A lot of them are the children of people who gave birth to them when they were children themselves and many of them, even in their early teens, have children who they have to raise before they've finished growing up themselves. They are told that their education is free, but not encouraged to take the opportunities offered to them. And when they do manage to get some education, there are no jobs for them. And then the social welfare system, rather than make actual efforts to help them help themselves, merely hands out money, as if throwing money at a problem is the way to fix it.

Surely the answer is not to change the way that the victims of the "broken society" see their society, but to change the way the society sees and treats them. The question then becomes, if religion is the answer to fixing England's broken society, where were the leaders of the English Church when all the rioting was happening?

Friday, 27 May 2011

The rapture was a non-event

To follow up on my previous post explaining the origin of the rapture story, I have to speak about the big rapture event on Saturday last week that didn't happen.

The tragedy of it is that people actually believed Mr Camping's silly prediction and handed over their money to him because they thought they would not need their possessions after the weekend.

Not only that, there have been reports of people who had their pets "put down" and prepared their children to finally meet Jesus and live forever with grandparents and other loved ones "who'd gone before."

How does this man get away with this? If any secular organisation, or even an ordinary person had perpetrated this kind of fraud, they would be made to, at least, give back the money, at worst, face a prison sentence. But because religion is sacrosanct, these types of prophets get away with the nonsense they spout and the money they extort from their gullible followers.

Does anyone believe that his new date of 21 October is correct? I'm sure there are millions of believers telling further lies to their children while they either cover up the previous ones, or even worse, figure out a way to lie to them to explain why they are not good enough to be raptured up to meet Jesus. I'm angry that people get away with this. It's bad enough that adults are duped by their gullibility to hand over their money and possessions to this charlatan, but to brainwash innocent and trusting children to believe in this nonsense. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

I would like to see the religious indoctrination of children declared "abuse" and parents be forbidden to teach them about religion until they are old enough to make that decision for themselves, based on informed knowledge of what believing in religion entails. But that's a pipe dream, which as an older person, I'm entitled to entertain.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

May 21, 2011: The Beginning of the Apocalypse

As unbelievers around the world patiently wait for today to pass, there are also millions of people who have been convinced to prepare themselves for the "rapture."

This is what the Bible says:
1 Thessalonians 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Revelation 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel... 9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;  10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

These are the basis of the insanity that encourages people to believe that the "rapture" i.e. the second coming of Jesus will happen today and after that there will be plagues, famines, earthquakes and other natural disasters until the world actually "ends" on October 21.

So far, nothing unusual has happened. But then it's not quite 6 p.m. yet, not in South Africa anyway.

And when nothing happens today, will every natural disaster that happens between now and October be shown to us as signs that the end is approaching? Will the person who came up with the date, and when the second coming doesn't happen, claim that there was no reason for Jesus to turn up because there was no one, not even 144,000 of them good enough to be "raptured" up to heaven.

Whatever the excuses, I wouldn't suggest anyone hold their breath today. It's not going to happen.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Do Christians really understand what the whole "Lent" thing is about?

I thought I'd speak about this subject seeing we're coming to the end of Lent and people are starting to feel hungry for the things they've given up for this 40-day period.

So I thought I'd write about the whole run-up to and celebration of Easter. And because I wanted to write something about it, I've asked the people who adhere to the practices "what is it all about?" I was surprised to find that very few Christians knew why they did it, they simply replied, "it's just something we do." But eventually I found some ardent Christians who were able to enlighten me, and I thought I'd share what I found out.

It starts with Pancake or Shrove Tuesday. This marks the beginning of Lent and is celebrated by the eating of pancakes. Why? Because it is symbolically also the beginning of Passover when the Jews threw out all their leaven and leavened bread and, as we know, for a period before the actual Passover feast, Jewish people eat matzos, but Anglicans (and Catholics) eat pancakes. This is mere symbolism.

Then for the next forty days they give up something they like. In some cases it's desserts, others give up smoking, drinking, going to the cinema, anything that they will miss. You're not allowed to give up foods you don't enjoy; you can't get away with cheating. When you make the vow of not eating cakes, or smoking for forty days, the priest puts an ash cross on your head (on the day after pancake Tuesday) called Ash Wednesday. The ash is made from the palm cross you made the previous year, and symbolises a renewal of your faith.

Then for the next forty days you lead an exemplary life while you wait for Good Friday when you celebrate the crucifixion. So what is the forty days all about? It symbolises the forty days that Jesus fasted in the desert.

The Sunday before Good Friday,  is Palm Sunday, a very holy day in the calendar. It symbolises the entry by Jesus into Jerusalem for his crucifixion with people waving palm leaves at him. Crosses are made from the palm leaves and kept until the following year's Ash Wednesday.

Good Friday is the holiest of holy days in the Christian calendar. It marks the Friday of Jesus' crucifixion.  They survive through Saturday and then on Sunday morning, just before they start hunting for Easter eggs in a lovely pagan Spring festival, they go back to using the thing they gave up for Lent.

Then everything is back to normal again. They're allowed to enjoy everything they like until they start the process all over again.

In this celebration of a holy period, we have a recognition of a Jewish practice -- the eating of unleavened bread, the emulation of another mid-Eastern practice --fasting, and the fun pagan festival of welcoming the Spring with Easter eggs. They say it marks a rebirth and Jesus having risen from the dead.

Having learned this, I thought I'd share it with my readers who may be interested to know what the whole Easter story is all about.

In South Africa, because Easter Sunday is a holiday, and we get Monday off whenever a holiday falls on a Sunday, we have a long weekend. Far from hanging around in churches praying and waiting to start eating desserts again, most of my compatriots head for the beaches, for the last suntan before winter. They also bring their kids' Easter eggs with them which they hide in the gardens around their holiday venue before heading off back to the interior and school again. It also marks a period of extreme carnage on our roads.

If you are travelling on the roads over the long weekend, please drive carefully.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Monotheism and Judeo-Christianity

Monotheism, and the idea of a celibate God the Father,  lies at the heart of Judeo-Christian religion, however, news reports this weekend quote Francesca Stavrakopoulou, of the University of Exeter, and an atheist, who says “God, also known as 'Yahweh', had a partner called 'Asherah' who was worshipped.”
She says God's wife was presented as a deity in Israel, who sat alongside him.
Stavrakopoulou, who has a doctorate in theology from the University of Oxford, has confirmed she does not believe in God.
She says archaeological evidence, including inscriptions, figurines, ancient texts as well as the Bible, indicate that God was also coupled with a goddess. She was worshipped alongside him in his temple in Jerusalem, she says.
She discovered that Yahweh had to see off a number of competitors to achieve his position as the one and only God of the ancient Israelites.
The biblical texts name many of them - El, Baal, Molek, Asherah. It appears the other gods were worshipped alongside Yahweh.
The goddess Asherah was worshipped in Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem. In the Book Of Kings, it says that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her, she says.
'What, then, was her relationship to Yahweh?' she asks.
'She was a powerful fertility goddess. But perhaps most significant of all, Asherah was also the wife of El, the high god at Ugarit - a god who shares much in common with Yahweh.' 
In the article in Discovery News,  Dr Stavrakopoulou says further:
After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife.
Lord George Gordon Byron 1788-1824, in his poem: The Destruction of Sennacherib, ends with the words:

And the widows of Asher were loud in their wail, And the idols were broke in the temple of Baal; For the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Lay melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
Referring to the idols that were present in the Temples of the Canaanites:
Jeremiah 7:18 says:
The children gather wood and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
Jeremiah 44:17 says:
But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth to burn incense unto the queen of heaven…18 But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her…
Astarte, Asherah, or Athirat is was a goddess in the Urgaritic pantheon called “the creatrix of the gods (Elohim).” And in the Amarna letters   an Amorite king is referred to as the “servant of Asherah.”
Deuteronomy 16:21-22 says:
Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord...22 Neither shalt thou set up any image which the Lord...hateth.
Referring to the Asherah “poles,” in II Kings 23:6-8: 
And he brought out the grove from the house of the Lord, ...and burned it… and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. 7 And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense…
Thus even the Bible reports that the early Canaanites were not monotheists and that they worshipped not only Baal, but also Asherah who was the wife of the Elohim, the name that the early Hebrews used to name their own god, the one that evolved into JHWH, the father of Jesus. 
Strict monotheism was only devised in the era of the exile in Babylon and the subsequent rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the middle of the first millennium BCE. Thus we can see, the idea of the Creator God and a youth earth with a people who worshipped this single god for 3000 or 4000 years before the birth of Jesus, is simply incorrect. 

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Finally, we get down to the real proof for God... gets a little weird when they say:
5.We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him.
Here’s the real story, we know God exists because he chases us, he keeps wanting us to come to him. And how do we know this? Not through critical scientific study but through that great contribution to science: personal experience. People “know” God exists. They can’t produce any valid verifiable evidence for his existence but they insist that those of us who don’t believe in him, should simply accept their word that he exists. 
And they’ll tell you that they know this because he answers their prayers. I’d like to see the prayers of an amputee answered before I’m likely to even concede that there might be something in this prayer business. 

I knew Jesus had to enter into it somewhere, here we go:
6. Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God revealing himself to us.
There is absolutely no concrete evidence that Jesus ever existed. Not a single artifact or word written by his contempories about him. The Romans, who were assiduous record-keepers in the same way that the Nazis were, never wrote a word about him. All we have that suggests that he might have been a real person is the fact that from around the middle of the first century, people spoke about him and began to worship him. But everything said and written about him was produced long after he supposedly lived. 
I want to close with some quotes that may be food for thought:
God made a garden. He made a snake. He had the power to stop the snake tempting Eve, but he didn't. He put a temptation in the garden, for children who DID NOT at the time know the difference between good and evil. ONLY by eating of the tree, did the children become apprised of good and evil. Therefore, the children did not have free choice as to choosing to eat; they lacked understanding of good and evil, which was antecedently required in order to make that decision. Furthermore, since the snake compelled them, through their God-given ignorance, it's the snake's fault. But since God laid the trap and MADE the snake, it's his fault. Now, God decided to turn himself into a mortal to come to earth for man. But he did, admittedly, wait 4000 years first. So for 4000 years, evil was allowed to reign on earth, with no chance of salvation. After 4000 years of guffawing at the misery, God finally felt guilty and went to earth. How? Well, he had sex with a virgin. He didn't marry her and become mortal first, no. He broke his own law. But anyway, this virgin gave birth to God in human form, Jesus. This means God had sex with his own mother. Thereafter, he wandered around and got into trouble. He was executed. His followers chalked this up to him offering himself (as Jesus), to himself (as God), as a human sacrifice. Let me repeat that so you can see how stupid it is: he sacrificed himself to himself. Why? Because of a fiasco 4000 years ago that HE orchestrated. He sacrificed himself to himself to punish himself and take on the sins of man, wherewith the face of man was blackened, because God himself did not forgive those sins for 4000 years. So in order to forgive those sins of 4000 years' duration, God sacrificed himself to himself to make himself forgive man for having sins which man acquired as a direct result of God's little entrapment scenario that he set up at the beginning of earth's time. So, in summary: Christianity is the view that God tricked man into evil, punished man for this evil, had sex with his own mother, sacrificed himself to himself to forgive man for sins that God himself had created anyway. If that's not circular and incredibly stupid, I do not know what is. John Ostrowick for more on Jesus' existence, see his  book: The Anointed 

The fruits of Christianity were religious wars, butcheries, crusades, inquisitions, extermination of the natives of America and the introduction of African slaves in their place. Arthur Schopenhauer.
Matthew 7:16-20 (King James Version)
 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Continuing the discussion on whether God exists...

I'll deal with parts 3,4 and 5 in this post...
2. The universe had a start - what caused it? 
And they end this claim with The universe has not always existed. It had a start...what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.
Stephen Hawking says:The ideas which had grown over two thousand years of observation have had to be radically revised.  In less than a hundred years, we have found a new way to think of ourselves.  From sitting at the center of the universe, we now find ourselves orbiting an average-sized sun, which is just one of millions of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. And our galaxy itself is just one of billions of galaxies, in a universe that is infinite and expanding. But this is far from the end of a long history of inquiry.  Huge questions remain to be answered, before we can hope to have a complete picture of the universe we live in.
Does this mean that when we don’t know the answer, we should simply say “God did it!” When a child, for no apparent reason, develops a fatal illness, is it God’s fault? Does it matter why things happen? Sometimes it does, which is the reason that scientists continue to seek for the reason for the ‘big bang.” Just brushing it aside with “God caused it to happen,” is to close the door on further exploration. Imagine if the first man to see that walking upright would allow him to carry his tools with him, and thereby save him having to make new ones at his next camp had refused to change the way things were done, as the believers in God would have us do? We would still be dragging our knuckles on the ground and God would never have been invented.
3. The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?
Then they continue to appear to be citing scientific evidence to prove that these laws of nature are due to God’s design.

The whole point of accepting evolution as fact as opposed to “God did it” is because nature is not perfect. If animals, and thereby humans, had not evolved from earlier evolutions, would laryngeal nerve in giraffes, and the vas deferens in humans have deliberately been designed to take the long journey that they do?
The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a fourth branch of the vagus nerve, which is a cranial nerve. In mammals, its path is extraordinarily long. As a part of the vagus nerve, it comes from the brain, passes through the neck down to heart, rounds the dorsal aorta and returns up to the larynx, again through the neck.This path is suboptimal even for humans, but for giraffes it becomes even more suboptimal. Due to the lengths of their necks, the recurrent laryngeal nerve may be up to 4m long (13 ft), despite its optimal route being a distance of just several inches.The indirect route of this nerve is the result of evolution of mammals from fish, which had no neck and had a relatively short nerve that innervated one gill slit and passed near the gill arch. Since then, gills have evolved into lungs and the gill arch has become the dorsal aorta in mammals.
4. The DNA code informs, programs a cell's behavior. 
Wow! God invented binary and made our DNA in the same way, according to creationists.

Obviously someone heard this and thought that it was an easy way to explain the complexities of DNA sequencing: “it’s just like binary, see, very simple.” Except it’s not a simple sequence of the positioning of zeros and ones. It’s a little more complex than that. Besides if God had “did it” then why didn’t he explain it to his mouthpieces instead of telling them that their children originated in their “bowels.” 

You’d think that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent god would know all about his creation wouldn’t you?
2 Samuel 7:12:... I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.Isaiah 49:19 Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof…
But that’s not the end of the incorrect science in the Bible, if God is all-knowing (if he exists of course), you’d think he’d know...
...that bats are not birds: Deuteronomy 14:18 And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
...that rabbits (and hares) do not “chew the cud:” Leviticus 11:6 And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
...that snails do not melt: Psalms 58:8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away...
...that fowls do not come from the ground, or water: Genesis 1:20 ...let the waters bring forth..the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth. 21:...great whales,… which the waters brought forth.
...that is would be impossible to see “all the kingdoms of the earth” no matter how high the mountain: Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
...that snakes do not “eat dirt:” Genesis 3:14:...and dust thou shalt eat all the days of thy life.
...that the earth doesn’t hang "upon nothing:" Job 26:7...and hangeth the earth upon nothing.

The DNA code, like a floppy disk of binary code, is quite simple in its basic paired structure. However, it's the sequencing and functioning of that code that's enormously complex. Through recent technologies like x-ray crystallography, we now know that the cell is not a "blob of protoplasm", but rather a microscopic marvel that is more complex than the space shuttle. The cell is very complicated, using vast numbers of phenomenally precise DNA instructions to control its every function.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Does God exist - part 2

Having established that when someone says “God does exist!” they are speaking about the God of the Old Testament, not Zeus or Mithras, let’s take a look at the evidence for that existence, and I’m going to quote from a Christian website  I’ll deal with each of their claims:

1. The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.
The site then goes on to quote the size of the earth, and its distance from the sun, water, the human brain, and the human eye.

The complexity of our planet? Shall we see how complex the people who wrote about how God “created the universe” saw his creation? 
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning  God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4...and God divided the light from the darkness. 5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. 
He creates day and night before the sun?
Hmm! Had this God actually done the creation, wouldn’t the writing of the creation have read something like this:
In the beginning, God caused an explosion in the firmament which gave shape to the earth and all the stars and the planets. And he caused one of the stars to glow brightly giving off great heat which caused the planets to spin around it. One of the planets, he called “the earth.” And he caused the light and heat from the star, which he called “the sun” to shine down upon the surface of the earth.
The Bible doesn’t explain the complexity of the planets, it merely gives the Creator the ability to make it all in the matter of a few hours. I’m not impressed.

All the nonsense the site quotes about the size of the earth and the distance from the sun, has nothing to do with God putting it there, the instant it was “created” but rather as a result of billions of years of chaos that eventually slowed down to the point where the earth’s surface was stable and friendly enough for life to form. 

The size of the earth? Those people who wrote the Bible, and in fact until people were persecuted for suggesting that the earth was spherical in shape and rotated around the sun, everybody, including the God-inspired ‘scientists’ thought that the earth was flat, and that they would fall off the end of it if they travelled far enough. How come “God” didn’t disabuse them of this error?

They quote water as being perfect for drinking because it is ‘tasteless,’ really? I’ve tasted some pretty nasty-tasting water in my time. And the water of the sea is not exactly perfect for drinking. Or did the writer of that website forget that little detail?

The human brain, the human eye? Is the human indeed “God’s greatest creation ever?” What about the compound eyes of insects, surely the complexity of their eyesight and the relative size of their brains makes them far more interesting and again, more complex, than those of humans. But seeing we’re concentrating on the Intelligent Design argument that the ‘human eye’ couldn’t have happened “by accident” and that there had to be an intelligent designer behind it, I’ll quote something said to me by a fellow poster on one of the forums I frequent: 
Surely, God could have made better eyes, and ones which didn't lose performance with age quite so much. Wouldn't we appreciate the wonders of the divine universe even more if we could see into the ultraviolet and infrared, like some animals do?

More to follow...later.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Does God exist?

Before I go into the question, I want to try to explain what is meant by ‘God.’

To Christians: he is the loving father figure. The kindly grandfather, father of Jesus, who gave his only son to die, so that people who accept Jesus can live forever, with Jesus, in Heaven. And Christian literature depicts this ‘heaven’ as a place similar to that promised by God in the Old Testament when he was chatting to Moses about getting the Hebrews out of Egypt. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey, where there will be no pain, no heartache, no wars, eternal peace and so on. In other words everything that people would like the real world to be. Christians actually buy this nonsense, literally buy it, because they hand over vast sums of money every Sunday to listen to some prelate or other pontificate about how ‘sinful’ the earth and everyone in it is, including the congregants who are paying for his keep.
To Jews: God is the punisher. He is JHVH of the Old Testament who punished his ‘backsliding’ chosen people by allowing the Romans to destroy their temple in Jerusalem after which he allowed the Muslims to build their own temple on the ruins. God loves them in the way that an over-bearing authoritarian father loves his children, by beating them. They continue to pine to return to Jerusalem as it was it the golden days just after they rebuilt the temple and before Alexander’s heirs wrested it away from them, beginning the cycle of possession that exists until today. 

To Muslims: he is ‘Allah’ also the god of the Old Testament, but he is not the god who gave the inheritance to Isaac. Their version gave the inheritance to Ishmael and Esau. Muslims believe that the Jews stole Isaac’s inheritance when Jacob conned Isaac into handing it to him, just after Isaac stole it from Ishmael. They also believe that Jesus was a prophet similar to Mohammed who tried to interpret God’s will to the people, and failed, leaving the way open for Mohammed to do the job and thereby deliver the true message of God, who they then named “Allah.” 

To agnostics: he may or may not exist. They don’t care. They hedge their bets by saying “well I don’t exactly know if he doesn’t exist, but I can’t say for certain that he doesn’t, because no one can prove it either way!”

To atheists: there are some who are prepared to give all the above the benefit of the doubt, and they also don’t care. They are too busy proving everything else in the universe to bother with whether or not something unprovable does or doesn’t exist.

Then there are atheists who militantly say, “no, he does not exist, but if you think you can show me that he does, bring the evidence!”

It is not up to the people who don’t believe in gods to prove that the gods don’t exist. The people who do believe in him (and it’s only the god of the Bible that people fight about, no one really cares whether the Hindu gods, or Buddha or the gods of the aborigines of Australia exist) adamantly demand that non-believers prove he doesn’t exist. They believe he exists because the Bible says so! 

If you want me to believe in your particular fantasy, then prove to me that the fantasy is real, and not merely the meanderings of your mind. I don’t believe in fairies and goblins and ghosts either, to me they don’t exist. I’m not the one making extraordinary claims about supernatural events. If you are claiming that some deity is watching over your every move, and actually gives a damn about whether John marries Peter or Jane marries Mary, or whether India or Canada win the cricket world cup, then you prove to me that he exists. Until you do, I’ll continue the way I have for almost six decades, I’m happy to live without the supernatural in my life. I have more than enough reality to cope with, and at the end of my life, I don’t care about eternity if I can’t spend it here on this earth where all the people I love right now will be living.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Creation, various hypotheses

In case you thought that people who believe in biblical creation all believe that the earth was created by God in six days after which he invented weekends, this is not so.

Our friends who deny evolution and the “Big Bang” also have their ‘theories’ about what the story in Genesis 1 says. There are three main schools of thought.

The Literal 24-hour view:
This view states that the earth was created in six actual days, and that God rested on the seventh exactly as it says in Genesis, and its proponents are people such as Martin Luther the German priest who started the Reformation. He believed that Moses was literal (yes, he believed that Moses wandered around the desert with a pen and paper in his hands). Then in modern times there was Henry Morris, an American and a founder of the American Creationist movement, who wrote extensively on the subject, stating categorically that the six-day creation was real.

The day-age view:
This view holds that the ‘days’ refer to ‘ages’ or ‘epochs’ such as the era of the people in the Old Testament and that those people with their own long ages were living in the same ‘era.’ This is the view of people such as Charles Hodge who was the principal of the Princeton Theological Seminary in the 19th century and Hugh Ross, an astronomer and astrophysicist from Canada, who promotes Old Earth creationism. He gets around the universe’s age by saying that although the earth is billions of years old, a “supernatural agent” formed life in progressive stages.

The Figurative 24-hour view:
Augustine of Hippo, whose writings influenced the development of Christianity and who lived in the late 4th and early 5th centuries in Africa, believed that the account in Genesis was a “literary device” and not historical narrative. Today we have Robert Godfrey, a Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He says, as does Augustine, that God’s ways are not for us to understand or explain and therefore that even creation occurred exactly the way that God wanted it to happen. 

Wouldn’t you think, even if there was the slightest truth in the creation as written in the Old Testament, that the people who believe in it would at least be able to agree to what degree it is “true?”

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Is the Bible sacrosanct?

Does the Bible warrant special ‘privilege’ from being critiqued, the way that any other ancient text is analysed and even ridiculed for inaccurate content? Is the Bible sacrosanct:

ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from Latin sacrosanctus, from sacro ‘by a sacred rite’ (ablative of sacrum) + sanctus ‘holy.’  
(esp. of a principle, place, or routine) regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with : the individual's right to work has been upheld as sacrosanct.[From the Mac OS dictionary]

When someone undertakes a study of history, they are required to read and familiarise themselves with the original texts written by eye-witnesses or reporters who may themselves have had access to original text. The student is also required to be able to evaluate that text for its validity as an original source. 

In the absence of any other written text about the Ancient Near East, the Bible is offered as one of these ‘original’ source documents. However, when the text is evaluated and compared with what other forms of research uncover from the same period, the writer who announces that the stories written in the Bible do not agree with the science, is him/herself criticised for reading the Bible only for that purpose.

Also as atheists we are often asked why we ‘nitpick’ about the extravagance of the genocides, or the ‘facts’ of the flood and the plagues, and we are told to assess the ‘good’ and the ‘morality’ stories without hammering on about how the ten plagues and a forty-year wandering in the desert are an improbability.

As an example I would like to quote from another book written around the same time as the Old Testament, Thuycidides’ The Peloponnesian War Book 2 [Penguin Books, 1954, pp 143-151] 
In the same winter the Athenians, following their annual custom, gave a public funeral for those who had been the first to die in the war...When the bones have been laid in the earth, a man chosen by the city for his intellectual gifts and for his general reputation makes an appropriate speech in praise of the dead, and after the speech all depart.
The writer then goes to to quote, word-for-word, the contents of the speech delivered by Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, which I won’t quote but which is easily found in websites on the subject all over the internet. Suffice to say that the speech goes on for the next eight pages of the book.

Now, any logical, rational-thinking person would say that given the period in which the book was written, 431-430 BCE, the only way that the writer would have been able to record the speech in its entirety would have been to write it down as it was being spoken. There is, however, no evidence that Thuycidides was even present at the funeral. 

He says of his writing:
And with regard to my factual reporting of the events of the war I have made it a principle not to write down the first story that came my way, and not even to be guided by my own general impressions; either I was present myself at the events which I have described or else I heard them from eye-witnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible. Not that even so the truth was easy to discover: different eye-witnesses gave different accounts of the same events, speaking out of partiality for one side or the other or else from imperfect memories (I,22).
Thus even this writer admits that his reports were not first-hand and that “different eye-witnesses gave different accounts of the same events…”

If we are to take the Bible seriously, shouldn’t we put it through the same stringent tests that we use for this other book, and the others of the same period. Even more so, surely, with the Bible because of the power that it has 2,000 years later?

So, why is the Bible sacrosanct? Is it because it is the unerring, infallible "Word of God?" Then if that is the case, how do we know that the words written are, indeed, the “words” of “God” when we have no evidence that God himself actually exists.

Had Thuycidides claimed that he was inspired by Zeus, and if there was a whole cult of Zeus in our society claiming that every single word as written was the absolute truth in his would, there would be as many Zeus-atheists as there are Jehovah atheists. And there would also be a whole group of people shouting "blasphemy" every time a Zeus atheist said that Thuycidides couldn't possibly have reported Pericles' exact words. 

Finally, if the Bible is sacrosanct; if it is the word of the all-powerful, all-seeing, all-creating almighty God, then it should also not contain any errors or even self-contradictions. Because it does contain errors and self-contradictions, it is not infallible and it is not the word of a perfect God, it is not sacrosanct.

My opinion is that people have to accept that, for as long as they are going to tell us that the Bible is unfailing, and that the words in it are inspired by God, we shall continue to examine and probe this particular book more than any other, simply because none of the others claim that their writers were inspired by gods, and none of the other books are offered to us as being essential to living a "moral" life.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Let's stop all the rapture nonsense shall we?

I’m not following the sequence of the Bible in these posts;  that’s because I want to talk about the parts that come up in conversations I have with my internet friends, and that provoke me to express what I think about them.

There is a lot of talk about how the dates in this year 1/11/11 and 11/1/11 and 11/11/11 all seem to be portentious and that the biggie is going to be December next year when on the 20th day , the date will be 20122012 or some combination of those numerals depending on where you live. 

I did speak about dates and dating in an earlier post, so I’m not going to bore my readers with more of the same here. Instead I want to talk about “the rapture” as supposedly foretold in Revelation, except it doesn’t foretell any rapture. 

All the book does is speak about metaphorical fantasies, which as I said in a previous post, sound like the ramblings of someone high on LSD! These verses are some of those that supposedly describe the events on that day, with seven angels performing magical feats with vials filled with something not explained.
Revelation 16:
2 And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
3 And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
4 And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.
10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,
12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
So what exactly is the rapture and where does it come from? It comes from this verse:
Revelation 14:4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The “firstfruits” refers to the tradition of sacrifice from the texts in the Pentateuch, when the priests were told to collect the firstborn animals from the flocks of their congregations and the first fruit of the harvests from their fields. These offerings were delivered to the priests who made a show of burning them up to God.

The sacrificial offerings always had to be unblemished, perfect from every point of view. No bruised fruit or deformed lambs for God, no, the best the pick of every litter or crop. 

This is carried forward to the idea of the people who God will harvest to populate eternity. Because of this, the faithfully have to be faultless, or they won’t be chosen. 

The actual image of “graves giving up their dead” or people being whipped off to the sky from wherever they happen to be on the day of the “second coming” or the rapture, are nothing but the thumbsucking meanderings of the deluded minds of people with some sort of agenda, that agenda usually being getting other deluded people to give them money.

But look at the actual words of that verse: “they who were not defiled with women” in other words, unmarried men who have never “known” women in the biblical sense. This therefore excludes all men who have stuck to vows of chastity, and no other. But not only that, being “defiled with women” by implication makes women into “defilers.” Do women really want to be part of something that views them as “defilers?” 

Despite all the above, there is one point that most believers miss completely.

When the book of Revelation was written, the people writing it believed that the earth was flat and that day and night were the same not matter where they happened to be. They knew that there were places far away, obviously. Even though they travelled they didn’t know that when the sun came up in the area of the Euphrates, it was still dark in Rome-- they are two hours apart! They merely accepted the idea that morning was the same everywhere, and night was the same everywhere. Imagine how they would have been confused by the idea that when it’s midnight in Baghdad, it is midday in America? When they thought about the relationship of the sun and moon to the earth, they were convinced that the sun moved around the earth and that the earth just hung there on a level plane. 

We know now that it is physically impossible, even if angels did exist, for people in America to know that there are vials being emptied over Baghdad or Rome, unless CNN’s correspondents are filming the event. Even if it was possible for Jesus to come floating down on a cloud to collect the 144,000 men to drag off to heaven with him, the logistics of finding, and assembling all of them in one place would be a nightmare of organisation. Even if God were capable to stopping the earth from spinning, flattening it out into single flat plane, the physics, even to my unscientific mind, would cause unimaginable catastrophes.

So with some rationality about dates being merely a simple way to differentiate one day, month or year from another, and there being nothing magical about the way their numbers line up to produce patterns, 144,000 “undefiled” men being found from all the millions of candidates around the world, and visions of clouds, angels and Jesus all happening and being able to be seen at the same time, let’s drop this stupidity shall we?

There is no rapture coming, not this year in November, nor next year in December. The world will keep revolving around the sun. And if that’s not enough to convince you, then think about the 144,000 undefiled men the next time you go out on a date. For women just the idea that you are a ‘defiler’ ought to be enough for you to drop the idea of a misogynistic God who thinks so little of you, yet expects you to keep grovelling and giving him money.