Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas and atheism

It's been a while since I posted something on this blog.
I've been a little busy with moving house and settling in a new town. Now it's done, and I'll be going back to my work of "rationalising the Bible."
This post is a commentary on the question I'm often asked: "as an atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas."
First let me point out that I don't subscribe to the use of "X" for the word "Christ" as the word doesn't hold some sort of magical power over me. I won't convert to Christianity simply because I choose to not insult my friends and family members who are Christians, by using terms that are intended to insult. For the same reason that I don't commit crime, I also don't deliberately seek to hurt the feelings of people I care about: it's unethical. Therefore, for me Christmas will always be "Christmas."
Then, about the "true" meaning of Christmas.
I like to think that, if the person who is the basis of the "Jesus" character in the New Testament really said the things that are reported in the New Testament, he would be pleased with the idea of one day in the year when the whole world stops to celebrate the idea of "peace" and "goodwill to all men." This is think is the true meaning of Christmas.
In my youth, living with parents of mixed religious beliefs, we never celebrated the holiday as was done in my friends' homes.  My dad used to buy a present which he placed on our beds on Christmas morning, and my mother used to cook a special meal. We were familiar with the Christmas story because we attended Catholic school, and were taught to sing Christmas carols, which I've always liked for the same reason that I like the idea behind Christmas. Not the happy "Boney M" carols, but the religious ones, which were written a long time before Santa Claus became the man in a red suit, and before Jingle Bells rocked. With the evolution of popular music in the middle of the 20th century, Christmas carols also evolved to become songs that are no longer associated with the actual nativity story: White Christmas, and rocking Jingle Bells are more party than church service music.
In my own family, we used to have a meal on Christmas eve, to which we invited friends and family members who didn't have anywhere else to go. On Christmas morning, we sometimes took the children to an Anglican church service so that they would learn how Christians viewed it, but also so that I could sing the carols without someone telling me "enough!" As they grew older, they chose to stop attending the service, and as there was no further need for education, we also stopped going. Now I play the music as often as it pleases me to, and I sing along with it, even while I'm shopping, something only crazy old people and babies can get away with doing in public.
So why the celebration? A whole month of charity, kindness, happy singing, goodwill to the rest of humanity, boosting the economy with excessive spending, sharing festive food, and handing out gifts culminating in a night of anticipation of a new year filled with promise, is a good idea. It is one I hope will continue for a long time after the religious idea of a baby being laid in a manger, while shepherds watched their flocks, and three kings of the "Orient" bore gifts, has passed into the realms of mythology.
I wish all my friends and their families a very Merry Christmas (there I've said it, none of that "Happy Holidays" nonsense for me). May 2013 bring you health and happiness, peace and prosperity. If you're travelling over the holidays, be safe: don't drink and drive.

Friday, 24 August 2012


Reading through my favourite social websites this morning, I came across the term I've used as the heading for this post. 

There is a simple point that is missed, even by atheists themselves, and that is that not believing in gods doesn't create some sort of solidarity among the non-believers. The only thing the non-believers have in common, is their non-belief. Not believing in a deity doesn't automatically guarantee a commonality of personal philosophy with other non-believers on every other topic.

As demonstrated in this post by the woman who initiated the "boobquake," Jen McCreight, atheists come in all shapes and forms, and with all sorts of values and also weaknesses.

Atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of gods, and generally, among the more knowledgeable about the beliefs in the various gods worshipped in the world's religions, it is the disbelief in all gods, not only the ones of Judeo-Christianity and Islam.

Trying to place atheism under some sort of banner, and forming committees to define what does and what doesn't fall under that banner would be equal to herding cats.

I'm sorry that she's experiencing resistance to her feminism in her society, and that she is being accused of being a man-hater. (I'm not going to comment about that here, because that is not the topic of this discussion).

What she is calling for is ridiculous. She is speaking from the point of view of the perceived misogyny directed towards her. She merely wants to enforce some sort of conformity about the perception she has that she is being targeted by the men in her society because of her gender. In order to achieve this, she is using the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, i.e. no true atheist would also be a misogynist.

People are just people. Whether they believe in gods or not, they will still be the people she perceives them to be. She is trying to get people to change their behaviour towards her by shouting about their not being "true" atheists because "no true atheist would be a male chauvinist."

Atheists, and even religious people, need to understand that the term "atheist" simply means that the person using the term to describe themselves simply doesn't believe in the existence of gods. It does not also imply an advanced knowledge of science, or a support of the theories of climate change, feminism, vegetarianism, animal and human rights and racial tolerance. The term is nothing more an a single word for "not believing in gods," and nothing else. Forming a defined movement under the label "Atheist+" will merely achieve exactly what atheism isn't - a religion.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Atheism: the truth about it

What exactly is atheism?  Before I discuss the arguments we get from theists (i.e. people who believe in gods and the religious dogma they get from their holy texts), I would like to point out that it is not a a religion. 

A religion is defined by sociologists as:

1) A standardised belief in some or other deity and the worship of that deity;

2) A dogma around the practice of the belief in that deity;

3) A set of rituals of ceremonials that involve the worship of that deity; and

4) The appointment of a hierarchy of - mostly men - to decide on the rituals, dogma and process of practicing the worship of the deity. 

So, looking at these points:

1) There is no standard for atheism. A popular meme is that trying to standardise atheism is like trying to herd cats. There is also no deity worshipped by atheists. Most people who declare themselves to be "atheists" regard all gods as mere mythical beings, not to be believed in as real, or to be worshipped.

2) Thus there is no dogma. There is no decided standard, because there are people who do not believe in "God" but who do believe in alternative medicine and astrology and that global climate change is a myth. There is also no trademark on the term "atheist," the only possible way that someone may identify themselves publicly as an atheist would be if they adopted the "A" symbol as an avatar or wore it on a t-shirt. Mostly we don't wear identifying symbols.

3) There are no rituals involved, unless writing weblogs or books is a ritual. Atheists do tend to write a lot about why they don't believe.

5) There is no hierarchy. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris are not our priests, and Christopher Hawkins would spin in his grave if anyone dared to declare him a "saint." 

Now, having got that out of the way, and having demonstrated that it is not a religion, I shall continue to debunk some other memes that abound on the internet about atheism.

1) Where do we get our morals? Humans and most other animals are born with innate morality. Even apes in the jungle have to be taught to murder members of their own species. We don't need to be taught morality, it is a natural part of being a sentient being, as may be seen from the thousands of images on websites demonstrating how other animals take care of the young of other species. We are taught to be immoral by our nurturing. People who are natural killers are called "psychopaths" and "sociopaths" by psychology, and usually they are that way because they are taught to be cruel by their upbringing. Most children have a natural empathy. That is where we get our morality, and it is that which prevents us from committing crime. 

2) We are not "rebelling" to "make a point." Nor do we want to outlaw religion or "believe" in some alternative belief system, as demonstrated in my explanation above. Most people who have used their disbelief in deities to expand their learning into other fields, also tend to use critical thinking in their learning and thereby to question everything they are taught, asking for "evidence" before they'll accept what they are told. Religion teaches people to close their minds to conflicting evidence, but to blindly accept whatever they are told, particularly that which is told to them by other religious people. When they say that they "question," what they are told, they usually mean that they question what disbelievers tell them. Questioning what you are told, especially about religion, is evidence of open, rather than closed-mindedness.

3) We don't have to prove that "God" doesn't exist. We didn't invent him, nor do we believe he exists, therefore atheism does not have to prove the non-existent any more than people who don't believe in Santa Claus have to prove that he doesn't exist.

4) We are told that "most people believe in God" and that we are "surrounded by evidence" for him, with the human eye being cited as that evidence. To refute this, I shall quote my mother who used to say "if most of your friends jump off a cliff, would you do it too." Just because large numbers of people believe something, it doesn't make it true. Also why the "human" eye, why not the eyes of bees, or birds who have far better sight than humans? If human eyes are so special, how come they deteriorate at a very young age? Most modern humans have to have assistance with their sight by the time they are in their middle 30s. How does the "greatness of the human eye" account for cataracts and sun-blindness? God did not create the mountains, or the forests, mountains were created by the movement of the tectonic plates, and the world's forests evolved from the first plants that took root millions of years ago. 

5) What is the reason for your life? Aren't you afraid of hell? Why don't you just believe, just in case (Pascal's Wager)? The answers are simply: there is no reason for any animal's life except the perpetuation of the species. What is the purpose of a life that dies at birth? There is no purpose, you were dead before you were born, you'll be dead after you die. All the eggs your mother expelled in her menstrual flow or in the dozens of lost pregnancies throughout her life (yes, a lot of fertilised eggs are expelled as menstruation - google it) and the eggs that weren't fertilised and the other more than a million sperm cells expelled by your father in night time emissions as a teenager and during intercourse, they were all prospective life. So what was their purpose? As you can see, I don't care about hell, because when I die, I'll go back to being the stardust I was before I was born.

6) Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, were all atheists! No they were not. Hitler's soldiers wore a badge on their uniforms that said "Gott mit us" (God with us), Hitler himself invoked the name of Jesus in many of his speeches, especially in rants about the Jews being "Christ-killers." The other two were communists, their religion was communism. They merely replaced "God" for a hammer and sickle, their churches were the offices of their tyranny and their priests were the people who carried out their bidding; in the same way that the Pope sits in the Vatican and sends out priests to carry out his instructions in their cathedrals and churches. They were not "atheists" because they rejected "God" who they believed was real, and replaced the worship of him with the worship of their ideology, and Karl Marx.

7) The devil, prayer, hell, etc. do not exist and they do not work. Being an atheist does not include the worship of the devil. We do not pray and personally, I've recently have evidence of its inefficacy when people "prayed" for me to sell my house and someone else "prayed" for me to be cured of my chronic illness. 

8) "If you read the Bible, you'll change your mind." As may be seen from this website, I took on this challenge. Rather than change my mind, it confirmed what I'd always thought: that the Bible was based on ancient mythology and that the deity in the Bible was evolved from the deities worshipped by the people whose mythology was adopted. He emerged from the El of ancient Ugarit, Babylon and Canaan to become the JHWH of the Old Testament and later the "God the Father" of Christianity. Reading the Bible from cover to cover is more likely to cause you to stop believing in God than to strengthen your belief. 

9) There are no atheists in foxholes. Having never been in a foxhole, I do not have enough personal experience to comment on this, but I do have a lot of friends who were soldiers during WWII and most of them say that being in the war was what killed their belief in "God." They say that they can't worship a God that would allow that sort of atrocity to happen. 

10) Finally, because I'm obsessive about round numbers. Far from being "intolerant" of religion, personally I am extremely tolerant of people who blindly follow religion. I have a fairly large extended family, some of the members are atheists, others are ambivalent about it, others have some sort of spirituality that they don't discuss, others are devoutly religious. I don't try to convert them. I don't even suggest that they read my blogs, although I read theirs, and comment on them. I have friends who have all sorts of beliefs, and we discuss their beliefs without rancour. They call me a "militant atheist" and that I sometimes come across as "arrogant" which makes me smile because apart from being passionate about the things I enjoy discussing, I mostly live and let live. Far from being arrogant about my knowledge and non-belief, I am rather insecure because every time I learn something, I realise how little I really know. I also know that most of my atheist friends don't go about ringing people's doorbells asking people to "convert" to atheism. Which is a lot more than I can say about theists.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Chapter 6. Adam and Eve and their descendants

To me, the story of the "fall" is merely a morality tale, in this case a story about “lusting” after forbidden fruit. Aesop’s Fables which date back to pre-Herodotus’ days, are taught to most children as part of their “morality” education, and have been since before the current era. The stories of the creation and the fall from grace in Genesis are nothing more than typical morality tales of the first millennium BCE. The fruit is not defined, again the interpretation is left to the theologian. 
As Adam and Eve are about to be thrown out of Eden, they also learn about death, in the killing of their first animal as God clothes them in “coats of skin” in verse 21. Then God says:
Genesis 3:22 is now the same as one of us, we need to send him out into the world so that he has to work or he will think he can live forever in this paradise.
Note the reference to "us" which could be explained as the "royal we." In my interpretation, it indicates polytheism, as it appears in only the early parts of the Old Testament. Also there are references to angels, and ranks of them:
Then ... all the people who dwelt in Egypt ... answered Jeremiah: “We will not listen to you! We will ... burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble.– Jeremiah 44.15-17.
It is possible that the "Queen of Heaven" was Asherah (Astarte) from the religion of the Canaanites, the wife of the senior god in Ugaritic mythology and often thought to have held the position of the wife of the god of the early Israelites, Baal
The Old Testament makes several references to the gods of the people of Canaan. It is therefore clear that, while they were struggling with trying to establish a monotheistic form of religion in the areas occupied by the families of the first settlers, and who became the Jews, they were still under the influence of the general worship of different gods, and among those gods, was the “Queen of Heaven,” Astarte or Asherah.
The evidence for polytheism among the people of Canaan before the exile and the resettlement of Judah in the middle of the first millennium BCE, simply cannot be ignored, nor brushed aside with the idea that JHWH was the only god that these people worshipped. The Old Testament refers to the other gods throughout its text, and one of the reasons for JHWH allowing them to be taken in exile is because of the worship of Baal and other gods. 
Adam and Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel fight over their gift to their parents; in the fight Cain kills Abel.
Genesis 4:13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."
The storyteller admits that there are other people and that these other people do not worship the same god. There’s no explanation about their origin.
17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
Cain went to the “land of Nod” where he started the dynasty that gave birth to further characters in our story. Seth also bore a son who he named Enos. 
Metal-working is mentioned here, “Tubal-cain” the “iron-monger” takes the writing of this verse out of the Bronze Age (about 8000 BCE to 3000 BCE, which is when the first bronze tools and weapons appear. The Hittites of central Turkey are known to have mastered the technique of smelting iron ore, and were hammering on the first blacksmiths’ anvils by about 1400 BCE, which is when the European and Mediterranean Iron Age is said to begin.)
This genealogy taking 5000 BCE as the date for Adam and Eve, would put this descendant of Cain at around 4800 BCE well in the Bronze, and definitely before the Iron Age, and shows that in order to give antiquity to their characters, they cause them to live for a thousand years.
Classically, the Iron Age is taken to begin in the 12th century BCE in the ancient Near East,  this anachronism puts the writing of Genesis 4:22 :
Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.....
...after the Iron Age (1300 to 600 BCE) at least.  
Then, considering that the Babylonian exiles had been living under the influence of Babylon for fifty years, and that there were almost two generations of people who hadn’t known the original Jewish state, when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, it was not to full autonomy as an independent state. Judah fell under Persia as a province:
After the exile, Judah was politically rebuilt as a Persian satrapy, a semi-autonomous administrative province, ruled by a priestly elite that remigrated from Babylonia and whose views and attitudes were shaped by the religious blue-prints for reconstruction drafted in the exile.. 
...the culture of the now ageing population had to have been affected by Babylonian forms of worship. It becomes clear that the religion of Babylon has affected their prophecies and story-telling too, and in particular, the religion of Zoroastrianism.
...This was a philosophy which began in Persia about 600 B.C., and was growing in popularity when Judah went to Babylon / Persia in captivity. This philosophy posited that there was a good god of light (Mazda) and an evil god of darkness (Ahriman). The well known passage in Is. 45:5-7 is a clear warning to the Jews in captivity not to buy into this- Israel's God alone made the light and the darkness, the good and the "evil". But Isaiah is in fact full of other allusions to Zoroastrian ideas, seeking to teach Judah the true position on these things. Thus it was taught that "Saviours will come from the seed of Zoroaster, and in the end, the great Saviour", who would be born of a virgin, resurrect the dead and give immortality. These ideas are picked up in Is. 9:6 and applied prophetically to the ultimate Saviour, Jesus- as if to warn the Jews not to accept the prevalent Persian ideas in this area. Indeed, it appears that [under Divine inspiration] much of the Hebrew Bible was rewritten in Babylon, in order to deconstruct the ideas which Israel were meeting in Babylon…
Ahriman, the Lord of Darkness, is portrayed in Persian bas reliefs as having wings- and hence Satan came to be depicted as having wings, even though the Bible is utterly silent about this. According to Zoroastrianism, Ahriman envied Jupiter/Ohrmazd, and tried to storm Heaven. This mythology was eagerly adapted by the Jews to their myth of some rebellion in Heaven, and was later picked up by writers such as Milton and made standard Christian doctrine- even though the Hebrew Bible is utterly silent about it. It has been commented by a careful, lifelong student of the history of the Devil idea: "In pre-exilic Hebrew religion, Yahweh made all that was in heaven and earth, both of good and of evil. The Devil did not exist.” 
Thus, Adam and Eve, having sinned against God’s direct instruction to not “eat” of the fruit of the forbidden tree, are driven out of Eden. They produce two sons, one of who kills the other and is then sent into exile where he meets people not created by God but arising from somewhere, or something else. He produces descendants who will feature in the next parts of the biblical story, while his mother produces another son. 
The foundation for the build-up to the first extinction of all living creatures is laid, then while these early ancestors are still living, a newcomer to their family has to help God extract punishment from his creations for breaking laws which haven’t yet been defined.
God doesn’t instruct the people to worship him, and only him. He doesn’t tell them to not enjoy their lives. He hasn’t yet instructed them about the first great law, that of cutting off the ends of men’s penises, he merely tells Noah that they’re evil and wicked and that he has to destroy them in order to start his little experiment all over again. This is very important. The first law is given to Abraham, a descendant of Noah. Before that, there were no defined laws, therefore no definition of what wickedness was. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Revision: Chapter 1: In the beginning

I have now completed the final edit of the first part of my book that deals with the Old Testament. Over the next weeks, I'll be posting abbreviated versions of the book's chapters for comment.
1. In the Beginning...
The Bible tells us that in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Over the next week, he went on to create light, animals, plants, the waters, and finally man to rule over them, or so we are told by our teachers, and the author of the first five books of the Bible, who is, according to tradition, the patriarch, Moses.
This tradition says that an Egyptian prince led the Jews to their promised land. Moses was raised in a palace until adulthood, with his mother and sister as his nursemaids, not tutors, educators, courtiers, advisers etc., but as his childhood nursemaids. After an event that led him to adopt his Jewishness, which according to my research was merely the covenant of circumcision, something that was also part of the Egyptian culture, he was nominated as their leader. Being an Egyptian prince, Moses would have been literate in the Egyptian language, and possibly the language of his mother and sister, who being descended from the children of Jacob, possibly spoke some version of their ancestral language but, more likely would have spoken some form of Egyptian.
However, modern science has allowed us to refute the hypothesis of Moses as the author, especially since his descendants didn't consider it worth preserving anything he may have written.
Reading the Book of Genesis critically, it is fairly obvious that more than one person was responsible for the writing, the two different versions of the creation of humans is ample evidence for this: 
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul...18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him...21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man...25 And they were naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Also “Moses” reports events that happened after his death. The question has to be asked how he described the events immediately preceding and following his death, at the end of Deuteronomy, notably, Chapter 34?
5 So Moses died there…according to the word of the Lord 6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab…8…and the children of Israel wept for Moses thirty days…9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him. 
The best explanation for how the Pentateuch was written, is explained by the Documentary Hypothesis which I discuss in this post: The Documentary Hypothesis.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God speaks and everything is created: the heavens and the earth, and the transformation from light and land to a planet populated by animals, plants and humans, who are “created in our own image,” in six days, and he rests on the seventh day. 
One of the questions that atheists ask, on reading the creation story, even without knowing of the “Big Bang Theory,” is “how long was the creation day, was it a literal day, or does “day” mean an era, or a period of evolution. I discuss the different points of view of biblical time in this post: Creation: various hypotheses.
As I mentioned earlier, in the second chapter of Genesis, there is the first clue that different people were responsible for the writing. If only one person was writing the story, why would he find it necessary to repeat the story told in the previous chapter, and then leave out the details? The second chapter merely states that everything was created but that there was no one to work the ground. To achieve this, God creates man, and, in so doing, the world’s first slave. 
There is no rain; streams come up from the earth and water the ground, while God “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” In the second chapter, there are details about Eden and the four rivers that flowed from there, Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. There is thus no doubt of where the story is set.
The only explanation I am able to offer for this duplication is that, if different writers did not collaborate on the work, or write it separately, or if the “redactor” deliberately retained both versions of the story, then the intention was to point out that there were two creations of humans: one lot to take care of the land, and the second, to separate the “other” people from the ancestors of the Jewish people, Adam and Eve.
It could merely be that, as the society became aware of other people who didn’t worship their gods, the story tellers made an attempt to explain the other people who were there when Cain was sent out into the “wilderness” after he’d murdered Abel, and that only the descendants of Seth, the third son, were the true ancestors of the Jewish people. This story is similar to the mythology of their neighbours, and I deal with this comparison in this post: The mythology of Creation.
The idea of a monotheistic god, which is central only in Jewish mythology, may have been adopted from the idea of the single sun-disc god of the “heretic king” Akhenaten of Egypt, who ruled for 17 years in Egypt, and who died in c1334 BCE, well before the establishment of Jerusalem and the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This hypothesis does not prove to be valid on closer inspection. All records of Akhenaten and his heresy were expunged from Egyptian history after his death so there were no records for the Jews to examine. It is more likely that the monotheism emerged by evolution of the religion, rather than being the cause of the religion, making their god more powerful than all others because he was all-seeing and all-powerful
Once the people of El or Jahweh, as he became in the later stories, had established their religion, the origins of the religion were expunged from their stories, to be revived only centuries later when more enquiring people looked for more than just the Bible for the origins of the religion.
The similarities between the gods from Sumer through to the Hittites, down to the creation of the single God, JHWH, or God the Father, show the evolution of the deity and how the stories were adapted to arrive at the point where the people created begin to become self-sufficient, i.e. the expulsion from “Eden.”
What was the reason for the creation of gods, and what stimulated the need for gods? Why didn’t people merely follow their natural instinct to preserve the species, and to protect each other? The answer is a simple one: in every animal society, i.e. where animals live together in social groups, there is always one dominant member. Whether these are monkeys, or apes in our case, elephants, lions or even ants. There is always one member of the group who decides where to settle, who is to hunt for food, and how the settlement is organised. 
Being able to explain how the particular god performed the creation was a way of gaining status in the society, especially if the person telling the story was also older than the people to whom the story was being told. Thus the elder of the tribe, the story teller, became the priest and the wise person to whom all the people in the tribe deferred, and what better way to retain that deference than to claim an ability to talk to the gods? For this reason we see that all the story tellers or the main characters in the Old Testament are also old men, and that the patriarchs of today’s main religions are also mostly old men. 
It seems to me that gods were merely a way for a privileged few people from a society to control the society, and to get the society to pay for their upkeep. These privileged few people, were the contact between the society and the gods, interpreted the unknown to them and in giving power to unseen gods were able to convince the ignorant about anything, as long as the explanation was that the gods were responsible. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Original sin and its implications for Christianity

I saw an interesting comment from someone on one of the forums I frequent.
According to the forum member, without original sin, there would be no need for Christianity to exist, seeing that Jesus died as sacrifice for the sin into which all people are born, as a result of the criminal act of Adam and Eve in eating the "forbidden fruit."
If it can be shown that the Genesis story is mere mythology, then the "fall" would not have happened, and therefore there would be no "original sin," no reason for Jesus to have existed, or died, and thereby, no need for the religion.

What is original sin? According to the Catholic Church, who were the original formulators of the Christian religion, from the Wikipedia page on this topic:
By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin". As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").
The Catholic Church (according to Augustine of Hippo), and most Protestant Christians in their "christening" of newborns, believe... 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261 declares: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism."
…that all children are "born in sin" and need to be absolved of that sin by baptism and then, being raised as Christians, they have to be taught to live the religious life and be "saved" from eternal damnation by their religious life experience, and by the "free will" given to them by God to do so. (The subject of free will is another topic for another discussion, at another time).
More and more properly conducted research, both historical and archeological, is disproving the truth of the historical accounts in the Old Testament, and most certainly the story of the evolution of humans. 
Does this mean that within the near future, we will see Christianity disappear as a result of this? Will people realise that if there was no original sin, and therefore no need for the Jesus story, that the whole idea of Christianity is based on a falsehood and therefore not valid. Or will they continue to believe that there has to be some reward after this life and that the only reason that they obey the rules of their religion is to obtain "eternal life?"

Friday, 15 June 2012

Response to an anonymous reply to my essay on Evolution

This post is a response to a reply on my post about evolution to which a reader named only "anonymous" responded with the following quoted comments, the original post may be found here:

Rationalising the Bible: Discussing evolution

Flies go through their generations faster than humans do, but that doesn't mean the fly evolves into anything other than what it already it; a fly. There may be genetic variations, but those variations are limited to what the fly already contains in its DNA.

This is a common error made by people who do not understand evolution. It is not a matter of one thing changing into another in a generation, but rather adaptation by an organism to its environment, as Darwin pointed out with birds on different islands on his travels. If a bird could conceal itself on one island using certain feather colourings, and it happened to arrive on another island where its colouring didn't suit the flora of the island, and thereby placed it at risk of easy detection, it would, after a few generations, adapt the feather colouring to become undetectable.

You never pointed to any transitional stages but only said that having a comparative anatomy explains common ancestor. I would rather hold to the fact that their is a common designer. It's not that this designer (God) couldn't make creatures look vastly different. He choose to make them look similar in some parts and different in others.

My post was merely an overview. As I explained above, the bird, in adapting to its new environment would go through a series of changes, and then the feather colouring that suited the environment would survive, whereas the early incarnations of the feather colouring would not, demonstrating natural selection and survival of the fittest. Those that didn't survive, if it were possible to trace them over the period of the transition, would be the "transitional" versions you are speaking about. You may hold to whatever opinions you have but if you're looking for "facts" you're not going to find them in a theologically based hypothesis as the one you've suggested.

These different species that you say evolved after the flood have common ancestors, which when counted would be about 16,000. In the story of Noah and the flood, God said that Noah take two of each kind, not species. The small variations that occurred to produce the vast amount of species we see today could happen because the genetic material in the DNA of that comment ancestor 'kind' allowed it to happen.
Interesting that you should mention Noah. Please explain, seeing that the fictional story of Noah was set in a time after the continents had moved away from each other, how Noah was able to bring animals from isolated places that he didn't know existed, and then after the flood was able to again place them back there. I would refer you to my essay about the flood which may be found here:

Rationalising the Bible: The Flood
Please explain the evolution of chemistry (how the elements on the periodic table evolved), evolution of life/organic evolution (how that which is alive came from that which isn't alive), stellar evolution (how stars evolved), cosmic evolution (where time, space, and matter came from), and macro evolution (animals evolving past what their DNA, the genetic code, allows them to.
I'm not a physicist and I am not prepared to do research and write essays about things for which I'm not qualified to discuss. I'm also not prepared to do the research for someone who chooses to remain "anonymous" on the internet. However, I refer you to this post: 
Rationalising the Bible: A bedtime story...

To believe the religion of evolution takes more faith than to believe in the creator God.

You make an assertion about the Theory of Evolution being a "religion" please explain what rituals are involved in the worship of Evolution, what deity is worshipped, and what books and theology is written about this "religion." Calling it that demonstrates nothing other than ignorance about not only the Theory of Evolution but also about what "religion" is. The Theory of Evolution was formulated on thorough, properly examined evidence and peer review. Faith in a creator god is nothing other than a belief in the thumb-sucking of ancient goat herders.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Center of the Bible - A Must See

I belong to several atheist groups on Facebook. This morning on scanning through the messages that were posted overnight, I came across the following one, which I thought was worth sharing with my readers.
The actual presentation referred to, may be found here.
An acquaintance sent me an e-mailed PowerPoint presentation, “Center of the Bible - A Must See. BREATHTAKING”. Here is my reply.

Dear Neil

I am sure you meant no harm in sending me your chain-letter e-mail promoting religion, the bible, and prayer. No doubt you believed it was a Good Thing to do. Let me explain why I find it reprehensible.

Imagine that you got an e-mail from me inviting you to a festival of the Sun God, based on ancient Egyptian writings. We will offer prayers and, to ensure good rains and a bountiful crop, will be sacrificing some first-born: Yours might be lucky enough to be included. You should command your wife and slaves to attend as well.

I’d expect a sharp reply from you castigating me for my barbarism and superstition, pointing out that the Sun is a common star with no supernatural powers, that praying and sacrificing to it will not influence the weather or crops, that your wife is an adult who makes her own decisions, and that no decent person today owns slaves.

Now, make two changes to my hypothetical invitation: Replace “Egyptian writings” with “Bible”, and “Sun God” with your name for God.

Human sacrifice is a theme running through the Bible from Isaac to Exodus to Jesus: Indeed, it is a central tenet of Christianity that it is a good thing to torture an innocent man to death in the place of the guilty. Civilised? I don’t think so.

The Old Testament gives detailed commandments for the keeping of slaves, including the requirements for selling your daughter into slavery. The New Testament supports it. The “Good Book’s” attitude towards women is that they are possessions: Witness Lot’s willingness to give his daughters to a mob to be raped. Good? I don’t think so.

As with many other books, the Bible contains its share of wisdom, but there is a lot of bad stuff there too. If you take the Bible as the word of a God that must be obeyed, you would murder me for speaking against Him, and kill everyone you know for working on the Sabbath.

I am worried when an educated 21st-Century person advocates the Bible as anything more than a myth from the infancy of our species. Today anybody with matric knows more about the universe than the authors of the Bible did. Yet your opinion of me is so low that you think I follow it.

The god depicted in the bible is a nasty piece of work: Rigid, jealous, angry, sectarian, misogynist and genocidal. Fortunately it is obviously also fictitious.

Prayer is at best a waste of time, and may well be counter-productive, as shown by scientific studies (STEPP, for example). You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

In an age when religious fanatics who welcome Armageddon can get hold of nuclear weapons, you are doing our planet a grave disservice by spreading superstition. Please reconsider.

Rick Raubenheimer

Rick may also be found on his website here.  

Monday, 12 March 2012

"The Thing that Makes Me Irrepressibly Happy"

I am a member of Rational One of the members posted this yesterday about his deconversion from religion. I was moved by the post, and I thought it was worth putting out in the general bloggosphere to be shared with the people that read this blog and for anyone else who is thinking of making the change, but is worried about feeling a sadness about leaving behind a lifetime of religious belief.

Read the original post here.
I cannot tell a lie to my friends here at the Rational Skepticism forum; I am undeniably enraptured with the romance of non-belief.
Many were the hours, in the wake of my Born Again Christianity, when I prayed with fervor in the face of failure and a complete lack of any miraculous response. Yet continually I sought Him out, and daily I increased in the galvanization of my unwavering faith.

To me, the pursuit of knowledge engaged by the Scientific Community was an advance column of satanic despoilment and sabotage, seeking to fascinate Mankind by the wily devices of the deceiver. The pursuit of peace and friendship amongst nations was merely the time-wasting conceit of a hell-bound world that failed to acknowledge the Soon-Coming King of Kings who would return imminently to set the whole accursed business aright. 

But in all of this certainty was included the disappointing acknowledgment that the text upon which my life's narrative was founded was itself excavated from the deep historic caverns of events long past, and that its prophetic fulfillment was drawn upon the unfocused reconnaissance of events that were yet to come. I was born too late to see Him raise the dead, and (perhaps) too early to witness the culmination of earth's sinful career in the establishment of The Kingdom. The utter dissatisfaction of it left me weary. Give me a miracle! Or give me an aspirin.

One day my doubts were focused like a laser beam that scorched and eventually tore enormous punctures in my armor. The occasion of this focus was the near-fatal, 95% third-degree burning suffered by a small child in a lighter fluid episode wherein his earthly father did everything in his power to rescue and comfort his agonizing son, but in which his Heavenly Father stood dispassionately by and did nothing. The lance of religious absurdity unhorsed me entirely when the call went out to praise God for his miraculous provision of a medicinal treatment that partially preserved the boy's eyesight even as he writhed in torture and looked forward to a life of pain and disfigurement.

My original doubts were one thing--the inconsistency of the scripture, etc.--but I now realized that the endless effort to justify God in the face of His absolute, consistent failure and undeniable absence from the scene left me unable to continue working on the campaign. The conflict within me allowed me to realize that I not only doubted the truth of my beliefs, but that I also no longer felt motivated, excited, or fascinated by them. 

I used to stand upon the seashore at night listening to the waves lapping the beach and thinking of the awe-inspiring power and authority of their loving Creator, who set the waves in motion and just as certainly established our moral impulses through his Holy Spirit. I now ventured out of an evening with the assurance that the same stars that gave rise to these stormy moonlit billows also engendered the arrangement of heavy elements that was the consciousness inside my head; and that this was the reason for a feeling of connected-ness and awe. I began to understand the fact that no one is telling us what is right or what is wrong, that good and evil are discoveries to be made by those who have the courage to set sail and embark upon the rollicking journey, the trans-oceanic quest for a better world, and a better humanity.

The wind is astern, we are under full sail; science gives us questions that beg for answers, discovery gives us mysteries that arrest our attention; no one is watching us from afar, and no supreme authority is cherishing with wringing hands any plans for our damnation either in a lake of fire or in a dull choir of endless praise. My life began when I was born upon the pitching deck, with the voyage well under way; it will end when I am enshrouded and committed overboard to the whispering waves. For now I am content to walk upon my sea legs and steer by the stars, seeking on behalf of my grandchildren for sunny ports and high intrigue. 

All of these, the thrill that comes with the freedom of my new birth into the realm of Atheism, the ability to finally jettison absolutism and dogma, make my life a romantic adventure into which I plunge with the coming of each gorgeous dawn, a precious treasure that I wish to share while life and breath remain. 

I am truly happy. 
Truly inspired.
And very truly yours,


Sunday, 12 February 2012

A bedtime story...

I wrote this story for the benefit of a young person who defends his continued clinging to a religion that teaches him that God was responsible for everything in the universe. The original post may be found here.

Once upon a time (all the best stories start that way), about 13.7 billion years ago, there was a disturbance in the space/time continuum. This disturbance caused a microscopic dot that was so small that it couldn't be seen to shudder and pop. Later, 13.7 or so years later, someone would invent a telescope that could see so far into the cosmos that he could map a picture of what the "pop" that his successors would call the "big bang" caused to happen, and it looked something like this:


For the next few billion years, it seemed that nothing happened but it did, all sorts of things were getting together, forming connections, giving each other their phone numbers, getting married, making babies and causing all sorts of things to become what science would call "elements" and matter. And out of this masses formed making lots of collections of these all of them collecting into neighborhoods, which we call "galaxies."

While all this was happening, the "matter" and the "elements' would get together to a degree that they would form a few properly formed bodies that travelled around in an ellipse formation around a bright glowing thing that later would be called a "star" which we know today as "the sun."

And this sun was the centre of a solar system, which is part of a greater system, called a galaxy where a little body of one of these, came to be known as earth; and the outer fringes of the galaxy where this "earth" grew was called by the people who would eventually learn this "The Milky Way."

As you can see, the "third rock from the sun" was the friendliest one, the one where all the elements happened to get together in exactly the right combination to form landmasses and huge bodies of water.


All of this took about 10 billion years. A long time, but we're not aware of it because it all happened long before any of us were even a twinkle in our dad's eye.

Then around 3.8 billion years ago, the weather and the mess on the place where the water and land met caused some chemical reaction. The chemical reaction that happened caused a single cell of exactly the right elements to replicate itself. This happened over and over again. And as these cells replicated themselves they became more and more intelligent and more and more complex and they found different uses for themselves and made themselves into different looking things some of them ate each other and then they in turn were eaten by the others.

Then one day, the ones on the land started sprouting leaves, and because they needed to live, the unpleasant atmosphere on the land made them happy and because they were happy they breathed out making a more pleasant atmosphere from their waste.

This pleasant atmosphere attracted some of the things in the water to stick their head out of the water where they were constantly being eaten, they liked the air on the land so they came out found it was a nice place to live and they could eat the plants on the land and in eating the plants on the land, they made poop that fed the land, causing the plants to grow bigger right up to the sky, so it got better and better and friendlier for the creatures who ate the plants pooped food for the plants who breathed the carbon dioxide that the animals breathed out and, in turn breathed out the fresh air that caused the animals to become happier and bigger. But then some of them got bigger and bigger and they started to eat the smaller more defenceless ones until one day, there was a catastrophe and all of them were wiped out and they had to start all over again. This happened again and again over the next few billion years until finally there were huge animals that ate everything in sight. This went on for about 150 million years.

In the meantime, the land mass split up moved around and the huge animals that we know as the "dinosaurs" lived all over the planet. Then one day around 65 million years ago, a huge meteor came down from space and crashed into the earth causing a terrible catastrophe that totally killed everything on the earth land mass, causing the sun to be blocked out and causing an ice age. But under all the mess the meteor left behind, there were little animals hiding away, eventually they came out, with the babies that they'd learnt to make while they were in hiding. In turn these animals which came to be known as mammals split up into all sorts of different animals, one of which separated from its ancestors around 200,000 years ago, it changed as it learnt to use tools, to eat better food, to build shelters to develop into societies.

About 5,000 years ago one of these societies living in a lovely place where plants grew and there were lots of other animals to hunt, started planting their own plants in an organised way, and they figured out how to make other animals do what they wanted to do, they learnt to communicate with each other and how to make marks on pieces of clay to communicate further. They traded with each other and some of them put themselves over the others organising the others into groups of people who had to hand over some of their food and animals to them in order that they could explain to them the rules of the society and how everything around them worked.

Some of these animals who now began to see themselves as fairly important because of their ability to organise themselves moved away and in moving away they took the stories the people who took their animals and food from them with them, and they allocated the story telling to certain members of these societies, they named these people priests, and the people who told them what to do, they called kings. These priests and kings were afraid of the people who gave birth to their children, so they set them apart calling them "dirty" because they bled and when they gave birth they made a noise and bled for a long time.

But then the "priests" and the "kings" became powerful so powerful that they started scaring the people into giving them more and more of their possessions, and they fought other groups of people and made them work for them, stealing their women from them, and taking their possessions, and the more powerful they became the more oppressive they became and the worse their stories of fear became. They then invented beings that couldn't be seen, and called them "gods" told the people that the "gods" would punish them if they didn't do what they told them to do. These "people" created huge empires built on the backs of the gullible people who believed in their power and their gods, until they reached a point where a man became so clever he built a telescope that could show him where it all began, and another man worked out how the animals came to be the way they came to be, and atheism was born. These "atheists" began to explain to the gullible people that they didn't have to fear the "gods" because they were merely invented in ancient times so that greedy people could make them into slaves and that for as long as they trusted the greedy people who took their money, now promising them that they would live forever if they kept on paying money.

But by now, the story of the "gods" had become so entrenched in the society that they are held by the fear that if they let go of the gods, they would die and burn forever in eternal hell. But the atheists who are now able to explain everything except the "shudder" that caused that first little "pop" known as the "big bang" continue to beat down the "gods." Because for as long as the gullible people continue to believe in the gods, they will never appreciate the wonderful chance, the spectacular piece of luck that caused them to be able to experience this universe and their only chance to experience it.

And that's the truth, the truth is not the stories written by frightened people who feared people who were stronger and more powerful than they.

For the benefit of those readers who still cling to theology: learn, you will "pass this way only once." And when you're very old, you'll look back with regret at lost chances to experience this beautiful life that you, the winner of the sperm race have won for yourself.

Because I can't comment on my own posts, I want to add this from my friend "Thwoth" at

The true 'miracle of creation' is not that we exist, for we can say that natural circumstances led to our inevitable existence--we are here, this is a bankable fact--but that Mother Nature, by a casual flick of her fickle heel, has endowed us with the ability to acquire information and to understand it. That our understanding is less than complete is not in doubt of course, but this only serves as motivation to expand that knowledge and understanding and to grow into more than we were, as both individuals and as a species. 

Invoking the notion of the creator deity stymies that honest search for understanding, for if all questions about the nature of the real world, our place in it and our relationship to it, have already been answered before we even begin our enquiries, then why would we bother to ask the questions and seeking out the answers? If the answer is always and only ever 'God did it' then no question need ever be asked again, and all that would be required of us would be an obsequious parroting of authorities wishes, whatever they might be.

In the words of that great public defender of Darwin, his friend Thomas Henry Huxley, in putting aside the declarations, strictures and insistences of religious authority we eschew the convenient, simplistic, and self-serving explanations that would have us writhing in perpetual fire or gurning in perpetual, somnambulant bliss, and instead undertake "to follow reason and fact in singleness and honesty of purpose, wherever they may lead, in the sure faith that a hell of honest men will be more endurable than a paradise full of angelic shams."

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sex and violence in the Bible

A recent court order that forced a local pay-TV provider in South Africa to shut down an adult-content channel, has provoked a profusion of stormy discussions on social networking sites.

There are two very definite camps. On the one hand those who "thank the Lord" that South Africa has not leaned that far into the liberal camp that "our children's minds will be polluted with that filth." On the other there are those who say simply "live and let live" and "you don't have to pay for it if you don't want it" and "you can always change the channel if you don't like it."

This gave rise to a question in my own mind: how do the "thank the Lord" camp firstly explain how they know that adult channels on TV are necessarily "filth" and, secondly, how do they explain the amount of "filth" contained in the book that they leave lying around their homes in prominent places and and even encourage their children to read. I'll come back to this in a minute.

This is 2012 not 1812, we openly discuss sex, with our children and each other, and make no secret of the origins of their baby brothers and sisters when our children ask the question. We actively encourage our children to ask questions, and teach them to be responsible about how they choose the people with whom they engage in sex acts. It's not as if sex is a big secret to anyone, anymore. Also do we really want our courts to censor our entertainment, and if we allow and "thank the Lord" for their decision to close this channel, how long will it be before they demand that any channel that does not encourage their personal vision of their place in the universe, should be "shut down" and revert to the day where we are no longer allowed to see anything that does not promote the creationist point of view?

To return to the hypocrisy of the "thank the Lord" camp, allow me to demonstrate the sort of thing they refuse to discuss but that the openly and without a second thought, actually give to their children to read:

Judges 19 22Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.23And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.24Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.25But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.26Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light.27And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way:and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.28And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.29And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.

There's more: to post what I've already said on a popular social networking site:

2 Kings 2: 23And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

24And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Genesis 19:
The men of Sodom demand the angels who've come to see Lot so that they may know him, he offers his unmarried daughters instead, but they refuse so his family escapes.

Genesis 19:
Lot's daughters get him drunk and have sex with him producing a son each.

1 Samuel 18:27
David and his men went out and killed two hundred Philistines. He brought their foreskins and presented the full number to the king so that he might become the king's son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

Genesis 34:
The rape of Dinah when Jacob sons circumcise all the rapists and then kill them and take all their goods, because one of the men had raped their sister.

Genesis 12:
Abraham is short of money so he offers his wife (who incidentally is also his sister by another mother) to Abimelech as a sex slave, saying she's his sister. The king finds out she's his wife so he offers him money and cattle to go away. And Abraham does this not only once, but twice.  
Psalm 137:9 "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

I have, in my collection of Bible verses to quote, a collection of no less than 1155 instances of violence in the Bible. This book is promoted, as the "best selling book of all time." Sometimes I think because it promotes violence and particularly violence towards women and children. But a television channel, one that the viewer has to pay in order to obtain access, and that is accessible only via a password, will "pollute our children's minds" and will "promote paedophiles to attack our children," is shut down and the "Lord" is praised, as if, if he really exists, he actually cares about what people watch  on television, while he's busy sending horrific diseases to people who are living in the most unfriendly places on earth, earthquakes, tsunamis and cruise ship disasters to others.

My personal feeling about pornography is not pertinent to this discussion because I don't judge what other consenting adults do with their bodies. I don't care if people want to have tattoos, have multiples sex partners, sleep with members of the same sex, marry people of the same sex, are prepared to have sex in front of a room full of camera operators and be paid for it, have abortions, or any of the other activities in which people engage, for a very simple reason: it is none of my business as long as the participants are consenting adults, and no one is being forced to participate.

Let us put this nonsense into perspective. Pornography is available on the internet, in adult video stores, can be downloaded from video websites and people enjoy watching it. Who am I to demand that they be prevented from doing this? I am very much in the "live and let live" camp.