Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Francis Bacon Rebutted

Francis Bacon (22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626)
Francis Bacon (22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626) was a leading thinker of his day and pioneer of the scientific method. His essay "Of Atheism" is frequently cited, usually uncritically, by theologian and Christian apologists.

Let's examine it, especially to see how a leading thinker and advocate of scientific methodology, was none the less a child of the times, and was constrained by the limitations of knowledge and understanding of the times, not to mention the political realities within which he operated.
I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.
Bacon might well have rather believed the the 'universal frame' has a mind but then he knew little or nothing of modern science especially cosmology, Relativity including gravity, or Quantum Theory. He knew little or nothing of the chaos which characterises the underlying structure of the cosmos nor of Chaos Theory which explains how structure and order is an emergent property of it, especially when given direction by gravity.

Instead, baffled by the apparent order and appearance of design, Bacon opted for the only theory which seemed to explain it - a god did it. As we shall see in a moment, Bacon's understanding of how the world was constructed was primitive, to say the least.

In reality, Bacon was opting for the God of the Gaps and the argument from ignorance: because he couldn't understand it he assumed it was not understandable and therefore needed something to fill that gap. And of course there was only one god allowed. The penalty for suggesting another one was death.
It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.
So, the more you think about it the more ignorant you realise you are and so the bigger the gap you discover to fit your preferred god in. It's hard to believe it would not have occurred to Bacon that this same argument can be used for ANY god of your choice, but he would have been acutely aware of the dangers of saying so.
Nay, even that school which is most accused of atheism doth most demonstrate religion; that is, the school of Leucippus and Democritus and Epicurus. For it is a thousand times more credible, that four mutable elements, and one immutable fifth essence, duly and eternally placed, need no God, than that an army of infinite small portions, or seeds unplaced, should have produced this order and beauty, without a divine marshal.
Four mutable elements and one immutable fifth essence?

Bacon's false conclusions are probably best explained by this revelation of the limitations of scientific knowledge of the times. How on earth could he have understood the universe when viewing it through this inadequate telescope?

Personally, I would be acutely embarrassed if as a modern Christian apologist, I was reduced to relying on the thinking of someone with such limited understanding of reality, no matter how learned and brilliant he may have been, but considerations of this sort seem to matter not to the present generation of religious apologists.
The Scripture saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart; so as he rather saith it, by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it. For none deny, there is a God, but those, for whom it maketh that there were no God.
It looks like Bacon is here giving his appreciative audience a simplistic slogan to use in lieu of thought. He knew the Bible as well as anyone and would have been fully aware of the dire risks of calling someone a fool given in Matthew 5:22 for those who chose to believe it, but he chose to ignore it.

And of course he was, or should have been, aware of the logical fallacy of the circular reasoning involved in quoting the Bible in support of the Bible, as well as the a priori assumption of the Biblical god's existence as an argument for it's existence.

One wonders if currying favour with the political establishment of the times was a factor in Bacon's apparent abandonment of reason here.
It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip, than in the heart of man, than by this; that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it, within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened, by the consent of others. Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects. And, which is most of all, you shall have of them, that will suffer for atheism, and not recant; whereas if they did truly think, that there were no such thing as God, why should they trouble themselves?
Whereas Bacon, and religious clerics, who spend their time and earn their living by talking of their opinion and would be glad to be strengthened by the consent of others, have nothing to explain of course.

And why would an advocate of the scientific method object so strongly to people expressing opposing ideas? Is he betraying here a fear that Atheists may be right and might be raising objections to Christianity which are hard to counter?

Is Bacon here giving Christianity 'permission' to repress and persecute opposition because he can't counter them by honest discourse, facts and reason?
Epicurus is charged, that he did but dissemble for his credit’s sake, when he affirmed there were blessed natures, but such as enjoyed themselves, without having respect to the government of the world. Wherein they say he did temporize; though in secret, he thought there was no God. But certainly he is traduced; for his words are noble and divine: Non deos vulgi negare profanum; sed vulgi opiniones diis applicare profanum. [Not profane to deny the gods of the common people, but the gods of the common people to apply profane opinions.] Plato could have said no more. And although he had the confidence, to deny the administration, he had not the power, to deny the nature.
It's difficult to know what Bacon was driving at here other than that the Atheist views of ancient philosophers shouldn't be trusted because they spoke of gods. Of course, none of them spoke of the Christian god but Bacon seems to be clutching at straws here.

Of course, talking of gods is no more an acceptance of their existence than is a Christian talking of Greek or Roman gods an acceptance of their existence.

It's hard to believe Bacon was fooling himself with this 'logic', which begs the question of just whom he was seeking to fool..
The Indians of the West, have names for their particular gods, though they have no name for God: as if the heathens should have had the names Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, etc., but not the word Deus; which shows that even those barbarous people have the notion, though they have not the latitude and extent of it. So that against atheists, the very savages take part, with the very subtlest philosophers.
So believing in any god is the same as believing in the Christian one? And we can trust the ill-informed and ignorant opinions of 'barbarous savages' when it comes to matters of a god's existence?

More pandering to the political establishment? That is the more charitable view to the alternative of Bacon abandoning reason.
The contemplative atheist is rare: a Diagoras, a Bion, a Lucian perhaps, and some others; and yet they seem to be more than they are; for that all that impugn a received religion, or superstition, are by the adverse part branded with the name of atheists. But the great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end.
Blimey! Almost the 'No True Scotsmen' fallacy! Bacon is now arguing that Atheists aren't really Atheists so they must be hypocrites. And so they deserve to be 'cauterized in the end', in other words, burned at the stake or at least thrown into Hellfire.

More permission for the authorities to repress and persecute those with opposing views?
The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division, addeth zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism. Another is, scandal of priests; when it is come to that which St. Bernard saith, non est jam dicere, ut populus sic sacerdos; quia nec sic populus ut sacerdos.[now is not to say the people are as with priests; the priests are as with the people] A third is, custom of profane scoffing in holy matters; which doth, by little and little, deface the reverence of religion. And lastly, learned times, specially with peace and prosperity; for troubles and adversities do more bow men’s minds to religion.
So Atheists are not genuine but they're up to something. They are trying to cause schisms, expose scandalous behaviour in priests and to 'deface the reverence of religion' by scoffing at it.

Bacon offers no reason why Atheists should be doing these things. Instead he is trying to raise people's suspicions and paranoias, as a propagandist would. And just who is he aiming his written propaganda at if they think exposing the scandalous behaviour of priests is a bad thing? Hmm... I wonder who was capable of reading in those days...
They that deny a God, destroy man’s nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts, by his body; and, if he be not of kin to God, by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature; for take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on, when he finds himself maintained by a man; who to him is instead of a God, or melior natura; which courage is manifestly such, as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. So man, when he resteth and assureth himself, upon divine protection and favor, gathered a force and faith, which human nature in itself could not obtain.
Again the words of a propagandist, not those of a seeker after truth. Bacon has resorted the the God of Personal Necessity Fallacy which argues that there must be a god, and that god must be the locally popular one because otherwise I wouldn't be justified in my anthropocentric arrogance. In effect, he's arguing that a god is obliged to exists because he lives in a compliant, anthropocentric universe which exists solely for man to live in, and this universe requires a god.

This argument of course appealed to those at whom it was aimed in the 17th Century just as it appeals to those at whom it is aimed in the 21st.
Therefore, as atheism is in all respects hateful, so in this, that it depriveth human nature of the means to exalt itself, above human frailty. As it is in particular persons, so it is in nations. Never was there such a state for magnanimity as Rome. Of this state hear what Cicero saith: Quam volumus licet, patres conscripti, nos amemus, tamen nec numero Hispanos, nec robore Gallos, nec calliditate Poenos, nec artibus Graecos, nec denique hoc ipso hujus gentis et terrae domestico nativoque sensu Italos ipsos et Latinos; sed pietate, ad religione, atque hac una sapientia, quod deorum immortalium numine omnia regi gubernarique perspeximus, omnes gentes nationesque superavimus.[Which roughly translates as: We know better that all those foreigners and even the locals. Our religion is right and bestest so there!]
This isn't the work of a brilliant philosopher using the scientific method to prove there must be a god and that the only possible god is the Christian one. This is the work of someone busking it as a political propagandist in early 17th Century England. Bacon knew which side his bread was buttered and was trying to curry favour with the establishment of the day and to avoid the pitfall of saying anything which could be considered blasphemous, so solving his domestic heating problem for life.

Bacon makes sense in the context of the political, scientific and religious history of the times; a context which renders it useless for the purpose which Christian apologist try to use it today, almost certainly without having read it.

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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Easy Task For Christians.

Just a simple little "Put your money where your mouth is" challenge to Christians.

Very many Christians, even some highly respected ones, often cite "all the fulfilled prophesies" in the Bible as their main reason for believing in their god and why they accept the Bible as its authentic word.

However, there are also very many failed prophecies in the Bible.

Would you explain all these, please or explain why you believe the words of prophets you know to be false and ignore Matthew's advice to beware of false prophets?

Alternatively, please explain any SUCCESSFUL prophesies in the Bible and give the historical evidence that they indeed occurred and occurred AFTER the prophesies were written.

That shouldn't be too difficult, should it?  After all, you just need to give the evidence you found convincing.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Favourite Fallacies - Pascal's Blunder

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, philosopher, physicist, inventor and writer.

Also known as Pascal's Gambit, Pascal's Wager is the suggestion that, because the existence of God (and by that he meant the Christian god of course) can't be determined by pure reason, a person should 'wager' that one existed. He reasoned that if it turns out (i.e. is 'discovered' after death) that there is no god, then one has lost nothing. If it turns out that there is one, then one has gained everything. So, in effect, one is betting nothing against infinity.

Apart from its abject, and frankly disgraceful, abandonment of reason, in the implicit assumption that reality can be determined by a wager, where else does Pascal's Wager fail?

Well, as many people have pointed out, and as many apologists for other gods have shown, Pascal's Wager can be just as easily used for ANY deity, whether actually believe by anyone or merely hypothetical, whose supporters claim promises eternal life to believers and eternal suffering for non-believers. Indeed, it is frequently used for the Abrahamic god.

But apart from that damaging error, there are several unstated and fatal assumptions in Pascal's Wager which show that it only 'works' if you assume a priori the following:
  1. There is an after-life - requiring a priori belief in the existence of a god and a soul.
  2. The Abrahamic belief in Heaven and Hell is valid - requiring a priori belief in the existence of the Abrahamic god.
  3. That the Abrahamic god is the only god, requiring a priori belief in the existence of the Abrahamic god.

What if we exclude these assumptions?
  1. The wager fails since there is no difference in outcome no matter which we opt to bet on.
  2. The wager fails because what happens, even if there is an after-life, may not depend on which option you bet on.
  3. The wager fails because you will have almost certainly lost everything by opting to believe in the wrong god. With an infinite array of all possible gods being bet against just one, the bet to believe becomes indistinguishable from the bet not to belive.

So, without these a priori assumptions, where does that leave Pascal's Wager? It leaves it as a gamble in which you opt either to sacrifice your intellectual integrity, independence of thought and action and responsibility for your own beliefs and actions, against a life of freedom, personal integrity, self-reliance and personal responsibility.

You surrender freedom and self-respect in favour of abject, cringing, voluntary slavery.

And what benign, benevolent, loving god could respect a person who did that?

And this is the final nail in the coffin of Pascal's Wager: as any god with an IQ above that of a cucumber should be able to work out, it assumes the god it purports to promote is too stupid to notice that it's 'believers' don't have any real reason to believe in it but are just pretending to believe in case it's true.

In fact, Pascal's Wager, far from being the trump card many apologists like to keep up their sleeve for when they look like losing, actually shows what poor, tenuous things religious faiths, especially the Abrahamic faiths, are that they need to depend on such weak and hypocritical fallacies and implied threats to maintain themselves.

Pascal's Wager is an attempt to fool an omniscient god.

Or is it an attempt to fool a gullible people by those who know they're pushing a lie?

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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Fooling The People All Of The Time

Surely you've heard the story of the Emperor's new clothes, haven't you? Well, skip the next few paragraphs if you have then.

A conman went to the Emperor and told him he could make him a suit of clothes so fine, with such minute stitching, that only the most discerning; the most refined of people could see them in all their finery. He showed the Emperor an empty package which he said contained a sample of his handiwork. The Emperor, not wanting to appear coarse and unrefined, agreed that the sample was indeed the finest work he had ever seen, and ordered the conman to make him a full suit and to spare no expense. He would show the courtiers and nobility in his empire how refined he was. No one would doubt his refinement ever again. Not that they ever had, mind you.

The conman went away and dutifully delivered an empty package, and a very large bill, a few days later. The Emperor called all his courtiers together to see him in his new clothes after telling them they would only see them if they could appreciate their true finery. Not wanting to appear coarse and uncouth either, they all agreed that the clothes were the finest and most beautiful they had ever seen and complimented the Emperor on his good taste and discerning character.

It was agreed that they would hold a parade in the town so the Emperor could impress the townsfolk with his refinement and great taste in clothes. All the citizens were told the story of the new clothes and how only the most intelligent; the most refined of people could appreciate their wondrous beauty and the great skill of the tailor.

All that is apart from a young boy.

Yep. You've guessed it. The young boy noticed that the Emperor was starkers and said so.

He had scarcely got out the words, "Is that a ferret, Dad?" when a hand was clamped over his mouth and he was rounded on by all the townspeople and accused of blasphemy; of being possessed by evil demons who had blinded him to the truth, and the Emperor rode on and the people all went home, none of them daring to mention that they hadn't actually seen any clothes either in case they were treated like the little boy. Some of them even believed they may really be possessed by demons or had something wrong with them.

This is called peer pressure.

Patriot Bible University, Colorado, USA
The conman? Oh, he got away with it and set up a tailor's shop in the town and became very rich pulling the same trick time after time and even being admired for his great skill at tailoring. Later he set up a college to teach Tailor studies from which you could buy degrees in Tailoring. Graduate conmen went to other towns and countries and set up shops everywhere. Pretty soon you could see lots of people proudly showing off their new clothes and still no one had the courage to admit they couldn't see them because they thought they must have the wrong faith in tailoring.

Have you noticed how religious theologians come up with all manner of obscure philosophical arguments and tell us only the most intelligent; the most discerning; those possessed of the necessary refinements and understanding can see the obvious logic in them?

The Emperor's new tailor.
Have you noticed how few people have the courage to stand up and say, "Er... well... actually, that didn't make any sense at all", and so how everyone is left thinking they may be the only ones who can't understand the argument and that they may be the ones with the problem? And of course, those who haven't followed the argument at all will often be loudest in their praise of it, hoping to convince others that they have understood it.

Go to a meeting addressed by William Lane Craig or any of the many religious apologists currently plying their trade to appreciative audiences across the world for very large sums of money. Or just go to a church on a Sunday and watch the audience enthusiastically agreeing with the preacher, making large donations and never raising a voice in doubt.

This is called peer pressure.

Conforming with peer-pressure it's the most important human characteristic which theologians and other religious conmen and snake-oil salesmen exploit.

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Friday, 25 November 2011

Christian Logic. No! Really!

Believe it or not, this is a theological argument used by the Christian apologist, Norman Geisler. I have taken it from "Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity" by John W. Loftus.

Supposedly, each step leads inexorably to the next in a 'logical' progression towards a therefore irrefutable conclusion:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. Miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of Gods through a messenger of God.
  6. The New Testament documents are reliable.
  7. As Witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus' claim do divinity was proven by a unique convergence of miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as truth, is true.
  11. Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the word of God and whatever is opposed to any biblical truth is false.

Can anyone discern a logical progression leading inexorably and irrefutably to the conclusion here? Apart from maybe the first two points, is there anything which is more than just an assertion or a statement of faith, with no connection with the preceding statement?

Let's see if it works with some other proposition. Let's see if we can use this method to 'prove' that the Pacific Ocean is composed of Scotch Whisky.

  1. Truth about Whisky is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The Pacific Ocean is compose of Scotch Whisky.
  4. Scotch Whisky is possible.
  5. Scotch Whisky made in connection with the claim that the Pacific Ocean is made of Scotch Whisky is an act of people who distil Scotch Whisky to confirm the truth of the claim.
  6. This blog is reliable.
  7. As witnessed in this blog, the Pacific Ocean is composed of Scotch Whisky.
  8. The claim that the Pacific Ocean is made of Scotch Whisky has been proven by the miracle of sea water turning into Scotch Whisky in the Pacific Ocean.
  9. Therefore the Pacific Ocean is composed of Scotch Whisky.
  10. Whatever is affirmed in this blog is true.
  11. This blog affirms that the Pacific Ocean is composed of Scotch Whisky and whatever opposes the truth in this blog is false.

YAYHEY! It works!

Pacific Ocean, Made of Scotch Whisky
So, using Christian 'logic', we have 'proved' beyond any possible shadow of doubt that the Pacific Ocean is composed of Scotch Whisky. And, anything which opposes that, including scientific analysis, is false. So that proves it, then!

Given that devastating demonstration of the wondrous power of this theological reasoning, how can anyone now seriously doubt the existence of the Christian god and the truth of the Bible?

Well, that, folks, is the standard of 'logic' which convinces religious people and so gives them the self-confidence to dispense 'truth' to the rest of us and to pontificate on and interfere in all aspects of our lives, the education of our children, our laws and our legal system.

Or is it just the clever-sounding hogwash they use to bamboozle the people they fleece for a living and to gain a power and trust they could never earn on merit?

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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

So Creationists. A Universe From Nothing?

Hardly an hour goes by without some Christian or Muslim fundamentalist posting a message on Twitter to the effect that Atheism/Evolution is the belief that nothing went bang and magically created everything, or some such infantile parody of science.

Of course, a few minutes on Google, or reading a book on Big Bang cosmology would dispel that cherished myth and I have dealt with this several times in this blog, here and here and here, so I'm not going to rehearse the science yet again.

Instead, let's look at what Christians and Muslims believe.

Um... well, strangely enough, they believe the universe was magically created out of nothing.

How odd that they believe the very thing they wrongly ridicule Atheists for believing. How odd that the infantile parody they accuse Atheists of believing is the very thing they believe themselves.

Anyone would think Creationists no more know what they believe than they know what Atheists believe.

So, Christians and Muslims, instead of showing your ignorance by being wrong about Atheism, how about showing us your knowledge by answering the following simple question:

How did your god created everything out of nothing?

If it didn't create everything out of nothing, who or what created the stuff it used and out of what?

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Parenting for Christians.

Nicolas Poussin - Battle of Joshua with Amalekites
Christians! What ARE you teaching your children?

Are you REALLY telling you children to look to the god of the Bible for moral guidance?

Are you REALLY telling them to follow the example of a god who:

  • Intended to destroy all life on earth save a few randomly chosen lucky ones as in the Flood story.
  • Killed every firstborn Egyptian just to soften Pharaoh's 'heart' which he had deliberately hardened in the first place.
  • Told Joshua to kill all the inhabitants of the Promised Land.
  • Told Saul to obliterate the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3).
  • Is please with anyone who dashes Babylonian babies against rocks (Psalms 137:9).
  • Was going to destroy the people of Nineveh.
  • Destroyed and scattered the tribes of northern Israel because he was displeased with them.
  • Allowed Satan to destroy Job's family and health to win a bet.
  • Will destroy all unbelievers in the lake of fire.
  • Decreed that any man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath should be stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-36).
  • Commanded that anyone who cursed his mother or father was to be put to death (Exodus 21:17).
  • Ordered that witches and anyone with a differing religion were to be killed (Exodus 22:18).
  • Declared that a slave is the property of another man (Exodus 21:21).
  • Said that female captive in war were to be forced to be Israelite men's wives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).
  • Decreed that if a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped she was to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).
  • Decreed that if a virgin who was not pledged to be married was raped she must marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
  • Ordered Israelite men to divorce their wives if they were not themselves Israelite (Ezra 9).
  • Told Abraham to kill and sacrifice his son.
  • Sent his own son to confirm these laws (Matthew 5:17).
  • Had his own son killed to appease himself.

Are you REALLY telling your children to follow this bloodthirsty, barbaric, vindictive, misogynistic, genocidal, psychopath who apparently believes the blood sacrifice of an innocent person can absolve other people of the wrongs they've done?

If so, just how do you expect your children to turn out? With this role model, is it remotely likely to be kind, caring and compassionate people who value all people for who they are, not what they are, what they think, where they were born or how much they own?

Wouldn't you rather teach them to be decent human beings?

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Science vs Religion - Speeding Neutrinos

You may recall back in September how a group of scientists working at CERN had appeared to show that neutrinos can travel faster than light - something which Einstein's Theory of Relativity was thought to have shown to be impossible and which has been a basic principle of physics for a century.

I wrote a short blog on the lessons we can draw from this and the approach these scientists were taking  when comparing science with religion.

It has now been reported that an attempt to validate the CERN data has not only confirmed the findings but has added support to them by analysing the results of 20 more specific neutrino events where the speed of individual neutrinos has been measured and which all support the findings by arriving at the detector some 60 nanoseconds BEFORE they should have done if travelling at the speed of light.

Now, what will we expect to see in the scientific community?  Will we see scientists looking gloomy and crestfallen, feeling their entire life has been wasted believing a lie?  Will we see creative denialism as scientists find ways to ignore the findings, including name-calling, character assassination of the CERN scientists and impugning their motives?  Will we even see them accused of heresy with demands that they be excommunicated from the scientific community?

Or will we see a buzz of excitement and lots of new hypotheses being proposed and tested as this area of science is re-examined and re-assessed and it's implications worked through into other branches of science?

Could these findings lead us closer even to the elusive 'Grand Unifying Theory' which is assumed will bring together Relativity and Quantum Mechanics which currently don't quite join up. One thing we can be sure of is that science will incorporate this new knowledge if it turns out to be fully vindicated.  It will not be ignored and dismissed as some ineffable mystery too deep for mere mortals to understand.

What do you think would happen if a bunch of theologians came up with some research findings which showed that an especially cherished religious principle, say original sin, or the existence of souls, was fundamentally wrong and the entire field of religion needed to be revised, reassessed and adjusted to take into account these new, verified, findings?

Couldn't happen, you say?

Of course it couldn't happen.  No theologians or even Creation 'scientists' are actively looking for reasons to think their fundamental principles are wrong.  Indeed, many of them have even sworn an oath never to 'discover' anything which isn't in full accord with their paymasters' religious dogma.

Religion isn't about discovering truth; it's about enforcing dogma.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Favourite Oxymorons - Religious Logic

One of the more absurd arguments for religion (in this case Christianity) I've seen today is:

"If God doesn't exist then there would be no Atheists so the existence of Atheists proves God exists".

No. Honestly!

By the same 'logic' if football didn't exist there would be no such thing as not playing football. Therefore it follows everyone would be playing football... if there was no such thing as football!

Yes, folks. People who think that makes any sense can readily fall for religions.

Let's see if we can get away with telling them that if there were no such thing as Atheism, everyone would be Atheist. We may even be able to get them to campaign for more Atheism so there would be fewer Atheists.

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And Let Them Have Dominion... Again

Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (KJV Bible)

Photograph Kim Cheung/AP
Seized rhino horns in Hong Kong

Customs officers seized a total of 33 unmanifested rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17m ($2.23m), inside a container shipped from Cape Town, South Africa

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Evolutionary Tree of Life | Unreasonable Faith

A stunning diagram of life on earth tracing all species back to their common origin

Posted on Unreasonable Faith by Daniel Florien.

Imagine - New Hampshirite Liberation Organization

Just imagine.

Imagine a tribe of Native Americans who previously lived in New Hampshire, the Abenaki for example, had as part of their traditional origin myths a story of how what we now call New Hampshire had been granted to them for ever by one of their gods some 4000 years ago. This belief was central to their sense of identity, to their very idea of nationhood and ownership of this part of North America.

Imagine now that history had turned out differently; that this tribe's land had been occupied by other people with superior technology and that they had been scattered across the world to be a minority people in other nations, but always staying loyal to the tribal myth of rightful ownership of New Hampshire; indeed, clinging to this myth was the one thing which kept them together as a people but always a minority wherever they settled.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire history moved on and new people arrived, set up home and developed a new state; the state we now call New Hampshire. These people who called themselves New Hapshirites had built homes, created towns and farms, and set up industries and prospered. They had their own religion and knew little and cared less for the old religions of people who used to live there. These people were justifiably proud of the state they had created and were determine to defend it at all costs and to keep the freedoms they had won for themselves.

Roll on a couple of thousand years to a time when the displaced, dispossessed people had lived through periods of repression and persecution and of determined attempts to wipe them out entirely in genocides and pogroms and denials of basic civil liberties. Now they were enjoying a revival in more enlightened times and earning a new respect as progressive bankers, scientists, artists, craftsmen and lawyers and had become influential within the ruling class of a new world powers; a world power that had found itself to be the political and military power in New Hampshire, to the general irritation of the New Hampshirites.

Imagine if this new power had been persuaded that the original people of New Hampshire had a case; that they had a right to live in their former homeland of New Hampshire; that there was actually something in their claim to be the rightful owners because their god had said so several thousand years earlier.

And this new power allowed them to flood into New Hampshire under their protection until they were strong enough and powerful enough to launch a bid for independence; a bid for independence which included expelling the New Hampshirites from their homes; from the towns, villages and farms, and herding them into refugee camps to be treated as lesser people whose land could be taken at will and a people now subjected to the strange laws and customs of these invaders.

Now, imagine the New Hampshirites are trying to gain their state back; to return to live in their former homes, and are engaged in a guerilla war with the occupiers.

Whose side would you be on? Would the New Hampshirite Liberation Organization be terrorists or freedom fighters?

Would the traditional legend of a Native American tribe be a good enough reason to ignore the basic human rights of New Hampshirites?

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The Probability Of Being

What was the probability of you existing at all?

For it to happen, for as many generations are their have been human generations, and for as many generations as there has been life, every single one of your ancestors needed to meet exactly the right mate at exactly the right time and to produce one of your ancestors with exactly the right combination of genes. In each generation the right sperm needed to fertilise the right ovum.

And if any one of these had been different, you would not exist.

So how to calculate the probability of you existing? Don't bother to do the math; the result is so small that it would have more zeros after the decimal point than there are elementary particles in the universe.

And yet you exist.

Isn't this evidence of a controlling force; some intelligence running things? How can something so hugely improbable happen at all? Well no. That view only makes any sense if you assume the purpose of everything was to produce you.

Let's do a little experiment.

Take a standard pack of cards, shuffle it well, and deal four hands of 13 cards. Now calculate the probability of all four hands being dealt in that order with exactly those sequences of cards.

Well, okay, I'll tell you. It is 1 in 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000

Now take another pack, shuffle it and deal again. Do this ten times in all so you have forty hands

What is the probability of dealing those forty hands in exactly that order?

It's... well... vanishingly small, actually. Again, more zeros after the decimal than there are elementary particles in the universe.

You might feel justified in thinking this can't be mere chance. How can you have dealt exactly those forty hands when the probability against you doing it is so astronomical? Surely it was impossible for all practical purposes, wasn't it? Such a vastly unlikely outcome can't be due to mere chance, you might think. Surely such a vastly unlikely event happening could only be caused by some super power; some vastly intelligent, vastly powerful being with total control of everything - couldn't it?

And yet you have just achieved this seemingly impossible task with hardly any effort at all. Even a machine could have done it.

And that's where the mistake is.

Actually, the chances of you dealing forty hands is almost certainty, failing some event stopping you in mid deal, so to speak. The only thing that isn't certain is just what these hands will contain. But they WILL contain cards.

The chances of a human being born are almost certainty (once humans had evolved) and failing some catastrophe like a comet strike, the sun exploding or climate change causing extinction. The only thing that wasn't certain was exactly who those humans were going to be; exactly what genes they contain.

And if it hadn't been you, you wouldn't be reading this now.

Was there anything in that process which designed those forty hands and made them inevitable? Is there any design to be explained? Not unless you were trying to deal a pre-determined set of forty hands. If you WERE, then there is some explaining to do. It's so unlikely that a trick would be far more likely...

Still not convinced?

Okay, try this thought experiment:

Imagine you could write down the name of every person who ever lived, say 100 people to a page, and 100 pages to a book (10,000 people to a book). Lets assume the number of people who have ever lived is 100 billion. This would give you 10 million books.

Now, imagine you could arrange these books on two shelves on opposite walls of a vast library.

Now flip a coin. If heads, eliminate the right hand wall; if tails, the left.

Now flip a coin again. If heads eliminate the right hand half of the remaining shelf; if tails the left.

Continue this process until you have one book left.

Now flip a coin to decide which half of the book to eliminate. Continue this until you have just one page left.

Flip a coin to eliminate to top half or bottom half of the page.

Continue this until you have just one name left.

Is there anything special about that person? If so, you could repeat the process and arrive at the same person, couldn't you? And yet the probability of doing so is 1 in 100 billion.

Yet this person needed every one of some 37 consecutive coin flips to be correct in order to be selected. Probably as unlikely as winning the National Lottery every week for a year.

But the probability of SOMEONE being selected was certainty. No explanation other than chance is required, UNLESS the intention was to select that one individual. Only then we would need to explain it in some way other than random chance.

Was there anything in that process which designed that particular result? Did you require any super-powers to achieve it?

Nope. It was all pure chance and it produced an astronomically unlikely result. And yet A result was certain. It is not the fact of a result we need to explain. An explanation is only required to explain a particular pre-determined result.

Yes, it was astronomically improbable that you would be here, now.

But there was no designed intent to produce you. No one intentionally produced exactly you with exactly your genes and exactly your life.

So there is no explanation needed beyond pure chance because there is actually nothing to explain.

And it's this huge unlikelihood of you having this chance to experience life which makes you special; not the notion that there was some pre-determined intent to produce you. Had that been so, there would be no wonder in your existence. You would be nothing more than a conjuring trick; easily understood by the simple-minded but nothing more to be said or discovered.

As it is, your existence is truly wonderful.

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Favourite Fallacies - The Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument was invented by Anselm, an 10th century Archbishop of Canterbury who was later made a saint. Anselm 'reasoned' that you can conceive of a perfect god and an essential element of perfection is existence, so a god must exist.

Er... and that's it.

No. Really!

Of course, it went without question that the only perfect god was the Judeo-Christian one, so the Ontological Argument could only be an argument for the Judeo-Christian god, and no other.

Anselm has been féted through the centuries by Christian apologists for this 'proof' of their god. You still see and hear them trotting out this 'killer proof' at regular intervals and then sitting back in smug contentment as their opponent struggles. What they don't seem to grasp though is that the thing their opponent is struggling with is to understand just how they imagine they've proved anything with it.

And of course, there is always the blissful ignorance, feigned or genuine, that, if it were true, it would apply to any god which would be conditioned on the cultural ideas of perfection being used, one of which might even be non-existence.

So, if you're tempted to believe there might be something in this argument, put it to the test. Go to your window and 'conceive of' (i.e. think about) a perfect car outside.

Did one appear?

Maybe it takes a day or two to work, so if you want to wait a while and check later, please feel free...

Well, okay! Let's put these practical considerations to one side and enter the fantasy world of philosophers and religious apologists for a moment. Let's play with the Ontological Argument to see what we can do with it.

Try conceiving of any perfect thing you like, no matter how ludicrous. Does it exist? According to the Ontological Argument it must do. All you need is to conceive of something and it shall be yours...

I can conceive of a perfect universe. To me, a perfect universe is one where everything about it is amenable to reason; one in which, given the right tools, the right technology and the right understanding, everything can be understood in materialist terms. A perfect universe to me is fully understandable without the need for supernatural explanations. A perfect universe is one in which there is no need for gods or mysteries. A perfect universe is a god-free universe. Exactly like the one we live in, in fact.

According to Anselm of Canterbury, such a universe must exist.

Oops! St Anselm has now proven there is no god.

So, how can Christianity's favourite 'proof' of god prove gods don't exist? How can the same logic lead to two mutually exclusive conclusions?

Because, by simple logic, using a simple mind experiment, we've now proved the Ontological Argument to be the nonsense it always was. The Ontological Argument is like a conjuring trick where even the rabbit is imaginary, or, to put it another way, The Emperor's New Clothes. Who in their right mind was going to put their hand up and say, "Er... rihthámsócn, úre Ár, ðu bist gemaðel sceallan!" ("Er... actually, your Grace, you are talking bollocks!", as a 10th century Englishman would have said it). And who would have listened to them before they went to the stake?

Anselm's Ontological Argument is nothing more than our old friend, anthropocentric arrogance. It's nothing more than the idiotically arrogant argument that a god must exist because I believe it does; that somehow human imagination controls reality in an obedient universe which exists merely to serve the needs of humanity, so 'faith' is enough.

And that of course was exactly the universe which Anselm imagined he lived in and why he and others who shared his arrogant ignorance found his argument so convincing.

I wonder why modern theologians have never managed to update their view of the universe from that of a 10th century cleric who thought the earth was flat, the centre of it all, and all made especially for him.

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Yes Dear! Of Course Atheism Is A Religion.

One of the more bizarre accusations theists, and especially creationists, level at atheists is that atheism is a religion and requires faith.

It's almost as though they believe if only they can persuade people this is true it will somehow justify their religious faith whilst simultaneously disproving the atheist position that there is no evidence for any god and so no reason to believe in one.

One wonders if they've actually thought about this or if, as seems more likely, they are simply mindlessly parroting some charlatan or other who is obviously supplying them, probably for money, with the spurious rationalisations they crave to maintain their infantile belief in magic. These people don't seem able to work out that if they could discredit atheism by calling it a religion or saying you need faith to be one, they are also discrediting their own superstition.

They seem quite capable of holding two diametrically opposite views of religion and faith simultaneously: that religions and faith are false therefore atheism must be because it's a religion, etc., and that religion and faith is the only way to determine ultimate truth and of acquiring unquestionable knowledge and understanding of the world.

And of course, they are capable of holding diametrically opposite views simultaneously. Indeed, they pride themselves in their ability to do it. This is an essential mechanism for self-delusion. This is precisely why they are religious in the first place.

A whole industry has grown up supplying them with books and on-line articles (with the give-away 'donate' button conspicuously displayed) providing them with the arguments, lies, deceptions and mental techniques required to do so. Many people earn a very good living supplying this industry and assiduously maintaining through fear and misinformation, the ignorance upon which it depends.

So, how much 'faith' does it take to not believe in Zeus or Ra, or the thousands of other gods which different people at different times have believed in with just the same level of evidence as exists for the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto or Hindu god or gods? How much of a religion is not believing in Wotan, or not believing in Quetzalcoatl?

The answer, of course, is none at all. It takes no more faith to not believe in Apollo or Horus than it takes to not believe in some god once believed in by Amazonian Indians or New Guinea Highlanders of whom no one alive now has ever heard.

It takes no more faith to not believe in those gods than to not believe in Yahweh, the god of an insignificant tribe of Bronze Age nomadic pastoralist marauders whose god just happened to be taken up by the ruling class of a declining Iron Age Roman Empire, who could equally well have adopted any other of the many mythical gods then on offer, leaving Yahweh to sink into the obscurity of myth, or maybe to be forgotten altogether, the way so may gods have done in the past.

Surely the charlatans who feed these unfortunate simpletons this pap can come up with something just a LITTLE more intelligent than "It takes too much faith to be an atheist!", and "Atheism is a religion!" for them to trumpet under the sad delusion that it shows deep wisdom instead of revealing their shallow stupidity.

Surely they can think up some slogan which makes their victims look just a little more intelligent and just slightly less thick than two short planks. Or can't they? Maybe that would be asking the impossible.

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Questions For Christians 2

Does your god tell you something is wrong because it is wrong, or is it wrong because your god says so?

Think before you answer.

If you tell me your god tells you it's wrong because it is wrong, you are telling me there is a higher authority than your god; that your god is subject to that higher authority and needs to defer to it for its own knowledge of right and wrong.

If that's so, then surely it's this higher authority which is the real god and yours is merely a subordinate, lesser god.

That's fine, if that's what you want to say. Only now you need to answer the above question with regard to this new, higher god...

On the other hand, you might tell me something is wrong for no other reason than that your god says it is. That's equally fine by me, so long as you realise you're telling me there is no objective morality; no objective right and wrong. That you're telling me, in fact, that there is no objective standard by which you can say whether the god you worship is a good god or an evil one and that when you tell me it's the god of love, you have no way of knowing if that's true or not. That you're telling me you have no objective way to know if it's your god or Satan who's giving the orders and commanding you to act.

So which is it?

A higher god than your god, and no real answer to the question other than a infinity of higher gods all handing down morality to the one beneath it with no end in sight and an answer that's no answer at all?

Or no way for you to tell whether it's a good god or an evil one; a loving god or Satan, who's telling you what to do and a moral code that's as useful as a back pocket in a vest?

Or do you have a third option - that your god has nothing to say about morality and it only has the morality you project onto it?

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Xeno's Religious Paradox

Xeno (pronounced Zeeno and often spelled Zeno) was a 5th Century BCE Greek philosopher who specialised in paradoxes.

One such, known as Xeno's Paradox, says that Achilles (a legendary Greek runner) should not be able to overtake a tortoise if the tortoise is given a head start in a race. By the same reasoning, it should be impossible for an arrow to hit a running rabbit.

This neatly illustrates how 'philosophy' can be used to confuse people and explains how it can be used with equal success to 'prove' whatever dishonest (or maybe, to be charitable, just not very bright) philosophers want you to believe, usually for money, and often to 'prove' diametrically opposite conjecture simultaneously, especially in different cultures. More of that later. Now back to Xeno...

Xeno's reasoning was this:

Let's assume the tortoise is given 100 meter start and Achilles can run ten times as fast as the tortoise. (The actual figures don't matter so long as the slower thing starts ahead of the faster one).

When Achilles has run to the point where the tortoise started from, the tortoise will have travelled 10 meters and will still be ahead of Achilles, now by ten meters. When Achilles has run the next ten meters, the tortoise will be one meter ahead. After the next meter, the tortoise will be one tenth of a meters ahead. And so on. In this way, Achilles can never overtake the tortoise because every time he gets to where it was, the tortoise will have moved on.

The gap continues to close but never reaches zero.

But, we can see that any runner can overtake a tortoise. We can also see that an arrow can hit a running rabbit. Why does the observation not match the theory? Is it the observation which is wrong, or is it the theory?

This problem taxed the brains of philosophers and mathematicians for centuries. There seems to be nothing wrong with the theory; the maths looks impeccable; the logic appeared to be sound. Yet runners can overtake tortoises and arrows can hit running rabbits.

Well, although no mathematician could prove it, because they lacked the mathematics, the theory is clearly wrong. A theory which produces a different outcome to reality is clearly wrong. But it wasn't until calculus was discovered (independently by Newton and Leibniz) that it could be shown mathematically.

The fundamental error in the theory is now obvious: Achilles and the tortoise are moving independently through space-time. Achilles' position is not dependent upon that of the tortoise. Achilles overtakes the tortoise when his trajectory crosses that of the tortoise. The only problem was in calculating the precise point in time when that happened. The wrong math was being used to calculate it so it could not give the correct answer. In fact, things were more complicated than Xeno was allowing for, and this shows the danger of relying on intuition to assess reality. The logic seemed sound because it was intuitive. The maths tells us intuition was wrong.

So what has this to do with philosophers 'proving' to people whatever they want to prove?

Let's take one of the philosophical arguments often used to justify belief in a god or gods: that of the origin of morality. The argument goes that there must be a god (or gods, according to the culture in which the argument is being used) otherwise there could be no origin for human morality. The argument goes that humans have no way to tell right from wrong unless a god (or gods) have told us what it is; that there is no objective right and wrong, only a set of rules handed down on the arbitrary whim of a capricious god. To behave 'morally' all we need do is learn the rules and obey the commands. The consequences of our actions are no concern of ours since they are the 'will of God'.

But, as with Xeno's Paradox, where does this lead us? Is the theory supported by what we can see for ourselves? Let's assume for the sake of argument that the one true god is the Christian god of the Bible, and that this god is perfect, omni-benevolent and inerrant, like Christians claim. If the theory is correct we should expect to see all non-Christians, and non-Christian cultures behaving in a chaotic and inhumane way towards one another, with no sign of any morality or ethics, whereas all Christians and especially Christian cultures should all be paragons of virtue with everyone behaving with impeccable morality and ethic and everyone would be doing unto others only and exactly what they would have others do unto them.

Is this what we see? Well, is it?

It would take an extreme form of parochial ignorance to believe that this is indeed the real situation. Anyone who has been to another country, or even seen television pictures of life in one, or met someone with another faith or no faith at all, could not fail to notice that, by and large, they behave at least as well, and often much better, towards others than do very many Christians.

Indeed, a moments thought, let alone seeing with your own eyes, should tell you that no society could succeed without the morals and ethics which ensure a more-or-less cooperative society which operates according to accepted rules of inter-personal behaviour and the necessary mechanisms for dealing with those who transgress them.

Any objective observation will tell you that Christian societies are not more moral than non-Christian ones and are frequently actually worse. Any reading of history will show you that Christian countries did not behave any more morally than non-Christian ones, and often behaved far worse. It will also show you that acceptable standards of behaviour have changed over time; that Christian societies changed their minds about right and wrong - slavery, female emancipation, burning heretics, etc. Generally we can see that the more fundamentally religious people and societies are, the LESS morally they tend to behave towards others.

The other possibility, which you've probably thought of already, is that a god has handed down morals to all societies, just in different ways. If THAT were true, we would all share exactly the same moral codes wouldn't we? And yet we can barely find two countries, or even two areas in the same country, which have exactly the same customs and traditions of behaviour towards one another, to women, adolescents and minorities; to ideas of appropriate punishment for crime, of political freedom and emancipation; of the age of consent, of contract and hospitality, or of the boundary between individual and collective interest and freedom.

Manifestly, we do NOT share a common set of detailed ethics and yet manifestly we have many morals in common. Our moral codes are like a wide-spread biological species - subject to regional variation and varieties - just like the human species.

And is it really the height of human morality to just obey orders? Does being moral really mean we have no concern for the effects of our actions on others, as long as we behave like a Nazi Auschwitz guard and obey the rules?

Just as with Xeno's Paradox, religious philosophers through the ages have debated this conundrum ad infinitum and never reached a consensus. And none of their different conclusions has managed to come close to describing observable reality - not that that has been seen as much of a problem.

So what's happening here, and what has this to do with Xeno's Paradox?

Quite simply, the god-given theory is wrong. We know it's wrong because the outcome it predicts is different to what we can see to be the reality. The reality is, of course, more complex than religious apologists would have us believe.

The theory is wrong because, like Xeno's Paradox, the basic assumption behind it is wrong: we do NOT get our morals from a god or gods. We get our morals from our cultures where they have evolved and developed over time.

If we apply THIS theory we can easily see why morals and ethics in different places and different cultures have many things in common yet differ in detail, and why they have changed over time.

Because the theory is correct it now equates to observable reality. And this is how we know the theory is correct.

Morality is not an argument for gods; it is an argument against them.

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Questions For Christians 1

I often ask myself why Christians don't seem to act any better than others when they alone claim to have the power, wisdom, and guidance of God right there within them. Apparently, the Holy Spirit didn't properly do his job here.

John W Loftus,
Why I Became an Atheist

So, Christians: why don't you seem to act better than others?

Could it be that your claim to have higher morals, which come straight from your god, is just a lie intended to deceive or to cover over something you want to keep hidden?

You might want to read Children of an Amoral God before you answer.

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