Sunday, 28 October 2012

Top Five Reasons People Are Leaving Faith

These are my top five reasons why there is such a massive increase in agnosticism and outright disbelief in gods at present.

You may of course have different ones...

  1. Behaviour of believers.
    • Access to news has shown people how religion gives excuses to believers to act in ways which could not be excused any other way. Religion is behind most regional conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sudan, the Middle East, India/Pakistan, the Philippines and the developing religious tension in parts of Western Europe. International terrorism is now almost entirely religiously.
    • Religion is the excuse of choice for right-wing politicians looking to gain power on the back of community, ethnic and racial tensions, xenophobia, prejudice, misogyny, homophobia and general hate. (cf. the close link between the US Republican Party, conservative Christian fundamentalism and Christian neo-fascist white supremacist groups, and the Christian fundamentalist Creationist industry tryingto subvert secular constitutions in the USA and elsewhere.)
    • Public awareness of abuses of power and privilege by clerics and others acting under cover of religion, and the attempts by leading clerics, especially in the Vatican, to cover up these abuses whilst allowing them to continue unabated. As secularism grows, the media have become less deferential than in former, more obsequious, times and more willing to catalogue examples of abuse, especially paedophile abuse of children, fraudulent use of money donated as charity, the blatant hypocrisy of televangelists, especially in America.

      Disgust at the widening gap between what they do and what they tell us we should do has approached the levels of disgust felt in Middle Ages Europe at the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church and the blatant debauchery and gluttony of the priesthood which led to the Protestant Reformation. The difference being that this time the disgust has driven people to examine the very foundations of religion and to find it wanting.
    • Religion as an excuse. On a personal level, religion is used as an excuse for bigotry, misogyny, racism and simple smug condescension by people who need an excuse to elevate themselves above others and pretend to moral superiority. Religion is also used by unscrupulous charlatans, con artists, sex abusers and paedophiles to find and exploit vulnerable, gullible and credulous people. On social network sites like Twitter, religion is commonly used as the excuse for bullying, hate messages and threats of violence.

  2. Science and education.
    • Science has not only given people access to social network sites where they can see people using religion as an excuse for the above and access to news so they can see the effects of religion on a world scale and the threat it poses to peace and security, it had also helped replace the ignorance upon which religion has always depended with a better knowledge and understanding of the material nature of the universe.
    • People who have received a science education can now readily see the ignorance underpinning the religiosity of those who haven't, and can even, via social networking, try to counter this ignorance with facts, hence ignorance is being dispelled even in those areas where education is lacking through lack of resource or as the policy of religiously motivated government.
    • Scientifically literate people are now discovering that finding out how the universe really works is far more satisfying and 'spiritually' rewarding than being satisfied with not knowing and dismissing it as magic and beyond our understanding whilst cringing in fear of an imaginary protection racketeer in the sky.
    • The major impact on the lives of ordinary people that science has had can be seen in marked contrast to the minimal or negative impact of religion.

  3. Welfare, security and prosperity.
    • Income disparity. Various studies have shown a direct correlation between income disparity in a state and religiosity, with those at the lower tier of the social spectrum being the more fundamentalist and prone to primitive religious extremism. There is also a socio-economic link between lack of education and poverty. Hence there is a triad of poverty, social deprivation and religious fundamentalism with religion offering the illusion of hope for something better later to those who, in reality, have little hope of a better life within the status quo which their religious leaders work to maintain and justify.
    • Politicians and con artists alike have learned to exploit this false hope by selling religion in return for money and/or political power, the latter ironically dependant upon keeping the social order intact and so minimising any realistic hope of a better life for those whom politicians exploit.
    • Improved social conditions. In Western Europe, and now increasingly in recently democratised Eastern Europe, the major political post-war movements have been concerned with closer international cooperation within a European Union, social welfare, health and equal opportunities, so that now, compared to pre-war Europe, people are better housed, better educated, better fed, have more security and leisure time, enjoy freedom from war and have better health and consumer choice.

      In many parts of Europe ordinary people now enjoy a lifestyle formerly the preserve of the rich and middle classes. Consequently, the attraction of religion with its promise of 'jam tomorrow' if you accept the dry stale bread of poverty, deprivation, squalor and hopelessness of today has been reduced. At the same time, education has provided an alternate view of reality and a reluctance to settle for what we are given by our social 'superiors'.

  4. Proselytizing.
    • Religious terrorism. Following the faith-based initiatives of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, the lethal attacks in London and Madrid, and Christian terrorism in Denmark and the USA, Atheism stopped being liberal and accommodating in its approach to religion, realising that religious 'moderates' and tolerance of religion by non-religious liberals was what was giving permission to religious extremists.
    • Books like 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, 'God Is Not Great' by the late Christopher Hitchins and 'The End of Faith' by Sam Harris built on the new understanding of evolutionary biology that had grown up around 'The Selfish Gene' by Dawkins and 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' by Dan Dennett, and said outright that religions are dangerous and should be opposed; that they have no basis in fact and are mere delusions built on a primitive view of the world.

      Moreover, the 'morality' they promulgate is at best no better than that of non-believers and at worst is malignant and primitive, reflecting the values of Bronze Age tribalism rather than of modern industrial democracies, and are open to exploitation by manipulative self-interest. It also inhibits the development of more appropriate ethics as society develops so increasingly detaching them from the needs of society.
    • Growing acceptance of Atheism as a mainstream view in many parts of Europe, encouraged by, for example in Britain, leading respected media personalities like Stephen Fry, Richard Attenborough, Ricky Gervais and Prof. Brian Cox has encouraged many people to come out of the closet or to examine repressed doubts anew. In many European countries non-believers are now by far the largest majority and religions are increasingly the preserve of the lunatic fringe.
    • Activity by Atheists and Humanists on social networking sites like Twitter allow the rational, science-based view to be contrasted with the semi-literate ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and often outright insanity, of the fundamentalists who daily swarm the Internet trying to impress someone with their ignorance and convince the world that their primitive superstition is a better explanation for the universe than that of people who learn and study, or that you should buy their latest book of recycled myths, lies and random cut & paste Bible verses if you want to go to Heaven, or even that you should just send them some money.

  5. Demand for equality of opportunity and equality before the law.
    • Aspiration towards a classless society, produced in part by the growing post-war influence of American ideas in Europe, French egalitarianism, British social democracy and a Marxist view of the relationship between capital and labour and the nature of society. Close associations between the predominant church and the ruling class has associated religion with the right-wing opposition to these improvements in the lives of ordinary people.
    • Egalitarian progress. Concerted moves to remove barriers to individual progress and self-improvement, including full female emancipation, ending of discrimination in the provision of services and employment opportunities on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. For many of these, religious fundamentalist and even 'moderate', main-stream churches, have been leading opponents, the most recent of which has been the Catholic Church's vigorous opposition to a woman's right to plan her family, decriminalisation of homosexuality and to same-sex marriage.
    • Contrast between secular democracies and theocratic despotisms. The contrast between the much-improved conditions in the West and that in many Islamic countries where women are still regarded as inferior beings with little protection afforded them in law, girls are routinely genitally mutilated in barbaric ways to prevent them enjoying sex, and homosexuality carries the death penalty, allows people in the West to see the use religion is put to in maintaining this discrimination and to compare those views with the closely similar views of Christian fundamentalists.
    • Religious anti-minority reaction. By opposing moves towards equal rights for minorities, religions have alienated one group after another and have increasingly appealed to the forces of right-wing reaction, moving into the lunatic fringes as they do so, and vacating the moderate centre-ground to be occupied by Atheism and Humanism as the more attractive ideas; ideas moreover based on rational arguments and science.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

Law For Creationists

A great deal of Creationism depends on people misunderstanding simple words, which is why the most lucrative market for those who peddle creationism for a living is to be found in the less well educated parts of the world, and why the creationist package includes a mistrust of education and an admiration for ignorance as part of the deal.

An example of this can be found daily in the social media where the term 'theory' is assiduously and carefully 'misunderstood' in it's scientific context and given it's lay meaning. This helps creationists dismiss science as merely guesswork and claim wrongly that the Theory of Evolution therefore does not have any supporting evidence.

This 'misunderstanding' often goes hand in hand with a misunderstanding of the scientific term 'Law', as in 'Law of Gravity', 'Law of Conservation of Energy', 'Boyle's Law', etc, etc. Here, the trick is to confuse the term with the way it is used for Man-made laws, like Contract law, Common Law, Road Traffic Law, etc.

This enables creationists to come up with one of their favourite 'killer' questions, "Who made the scientific laws"? Leaving aside the deliberate loading of that question with the first word, and leaving aside the fact that a question intended to be unanswerable is one intended to kill the debate rather than to discover the truth, what else is wrong with this question?

Quite simply, a Man-made law and a scientific Law are very different things.

Man-made laws are coercive. They seek to control the actions of people who have a choice. They can forbid an action, such robbing a bank or hijacking a plane, or they can compel an action, like wearing seat-belts whilst driving or stopping at red lights. Yet people still rob banks, hijack planes, jump red lights or leave their seat-belts off. Because people have a choice, if governments want these laws enforced they need a police force to monitor the people and courts to determine if the law was broken, and what penalty to levy if it was.

Scientific laws are descriptive. They describe what will always happen in a given circumstance. There is no freedom of choice for an electron orbiting an atomic nucleus, for an atom reacting with another atom in a chemical reaction, for a planet in motion round a sun or for differential survival rates in future generations for different alleles of the same gene in a selective environment. No one is monitoring the universe, arresting elementary particles and handing out penalties for non-compliance and no government or governor is deciding what the laws are and which laws to enforced.

Scientific laws are essentially simple descriptions of what happens. Take a simple example of traffic moving along the Santa Ana Freeway, Los Angelese, CA, with all the drivers choosing to obey the law by driving on the right, and not exceeding the local speed limit, because the local cops are around, when the San Andreas Fault slips and tilts a section of the freeway to an angle of 60 degrees. The traffic will cease obeying Man-made laws by choice and will obey Newton's Laws of Motion and Einstein's Law of General Relativity instead. The drivers will not have any choice in the latter.

Simple, uneducated and unintelligent people, especially those who have been fooled by Creationist charlatans like, to take a random example, Jason Lisle of Answers In Genesis, Inc, who knows full well what a scientific law is but pretends not to, have great difficulty understanding this distinction and so easily fall prey to the idea that if there are scientific laws there must be a law maker.


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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Why Religion Is For Bird Brains

If you're wondering why religious people love rituals, the answer can be found in an experiment involving birds - pigeons to be exact.

The great Harvard Professor of Psychology, B.F.Skinner showed how pigeons become religious when given random rewards that have nothing to do with their behaviour.

This was a spin-off from the experiments on 'operant conditioning' where he showed how pigeons can be trained to carry out an action by associating it with a reward. For example, pigeons can be trained to peck a green light if they get a pellet of food every time they do so. Skinner wondered what would happen if the reward was completely dissociated from their actions.

One of Skinner's experiments examined the formation of superstition in one of his favorite experimental animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon "at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior." He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions.[49]
One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.[50][51]
Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their "rituals" and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:
The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one's fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one's luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing—or, more strictly speaking, did something else.[50]

So, random, ritual movements become associated in the pigeon brain with rewards when the two are, in reality, dissociated.

What has this got to do with religion?

Religious people believe that prayers and rituals will bring about rewards in the form of something favourable or desirable happening or something undesirable not happening. Examples of these random movements and rituals include:
  • Putting hands together.
  • Closing the eyes.
  • Making a cross-like sign.
  • Touching the floor with the forehead whilst facing Mecca.
  • Lighting candles.
  • Sprinkling saffron and/or rose petals.
  • Rocking to and fro whilst talking to a wall.
  • Spinning wheels with sacred writing on them.
  • Ringing special bells.
  • Kneeling.
  • Genuflecting to a statue.
  • Kissing a ring.
  • Kissing a statue.
  • Uttering magic spells like "Allahu akbar", "Jesus!", "Amen!", "Hallelujah!", "Peace be upon him!"
  • Singing special songs.
  • Chanting sacred prayers.
  • Wearing special clothes and head-coverings.
  • Wearing head and facial hair in a special style.
  • Reading from a sacred book.

Religious believers consider many of these to be essential depending on what they were taught as children, even though scientific experiments have consistently failed to show any detectable influence on reality. Rewards, outside the mind of the superstitious person, is purely fortuitous and unrelated to the action, or is explainable in terms of psychology, group association or placebo effects.

Religious people are, in fact, behaving exactly like Skinner's pigeons and performing essentially random actions which have subsequently been ritualized in return for 'rewards' which are themselves merely imaginary or random and unrelated to their actions. The difference between religious people and pigeons is that religious people have learned these random actions from their culture whereas pigeons devise their own anew.

No doubt, if Skinner's pigeons could talk and rationalise their behaviour they would use the same arguments that religious people use in defence of their rituals; that when they don't provide a reward it's because they haven't performed the ritual correctly or the reward was being withheld because they didn't deserve it, and when they appeared to work, that proved the ritual works. Either way it reinforces the bizarre behaviour and makes it more important for them to carry it out, not less.
Further reading: - Superstition

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Monday, 22 October 2012

Religion Kills [Updated]

Massacre of the Innocence, Pieter Breugel the Elder, 1565
One of the great lies religious people tell is that religion is a force for peace; that without religion there would be no morality and nothing to stop people rushing around killing one another. Like so many other claims made by religious people the facts directly contradict the claim.

Here is a list of religion-inspired massacres, i.e. a single event of mass killing inspired by religion or specifically of followers of a different religion, often merely a different sect of the same religion as the killers.

This is a work in progress, and probably always will be, as there will probably never cease to be excuses for religious massacres.

DateLocationPeople KilledNameDetails
782 CE Verden, Lower Saxony, Germany 4,500 Massacre of Verden Saxon prisoners killed on orders of Charlemagne during his war to forcibly Christianise the Saxons
30 December 1066 Grenada, Al-Andelus 4,000 Grenada Massacre Responding to a rumour that Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela intended to assassinate the king and usurp the throne, a Muslim mob killed him and the Jewish population of the city.
1099Jerusalem, Palestine10,000Siege of JerusalemDuring the First Crusade, a Christian force had laid siege to the Muslim/Jewish city of Jerusalem. When it fell, almost all the inhabitants was slaughtered. Reports spoke of streets being ankle-deep in blood.
16 March 1190York, England150-5001190 York MassacreDuring a period of Christian fervour stoked by the Crusades, and egged on by local gentry who were heavily in debt to Jewish money-lenders, the entire Jewish population of York, which had taken refuge in York Castle, were killed. Similar massacres had earlier occurred in Lincoln, Norwich and Stamford and were to be repeated elsewhere in England in succeeding years.
1209 Béziers, Langedoc, France 15,000+ Massacre at Béziers First major military action in the 'Albigensian Crusade' against the Cathars in Béziers, in which the Cistercian abbot commander, having been told that there were many Catholic Christians in the town, ordered his soldiers to "Kill them all. God will recognise his own". See also "Feel That Christian Love!"
1298GermanyMany thousandsRintfleisch MassacresA local Christian demagogue, the self-styled "Lord Rindtfleisch" claimed he had been given a mandate from Heaven to exterminate the Jews. Starting at Röttingen on 20 April 1298 where his mob burned the Jewish population, he then destroyed the Jewish populations of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Würzburg, Bamberg, Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen, Forchheim and Nuremberg. He then moved into Bavaria and Austria where a further 5,000 Jews were massacred.
21 March 1349Erfurt, Germany100-3,000Erfurt massacreEncouraged by local Catholic clergy, a mob massacred the Jewish community of Erfurt, believing them to be responsible for spreading the Black Death. This was one of many such massacres of European Jews by Christians during the Black Death.
29-31 May 1453Byzantium (Constantinople), Byzantine Empire4,000-50,000Fall of ConstantinopleFollowing a siege from early April, 1453, Byzantium eventually fell to the Muslim forced led by Sultan Mehmed II. The victorious soldiers were given the traditional three days of freedom to loot and pillage. Estimates of the number killed vary from the entire population (of some 50,000) to just 4,000, mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians.
1555-1558England300+Marian PersecutionsIn an attempt to reverse the Protestant Reformation in England, encouraged by the Pope and her Catholic husband, King Philip II of Spain, Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary") instigated a campaign of executing leading Protestants, mostly senior clerics, by burning at the stake.
1570 Cyprus 30,000-50,000 Cyprus Massacre Ottoman (Turkish Muslim) forces conquered Cyprus and killed the Christian inhabitants.
23 August 1572 Paris, France 5,000-70,000 Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre Catholic mobs massacred French Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants) who had gathered in predominantly Catholic Paris to celebrate the marriage of the King's sister Margaret to the Protestant, King Henry III of Navarre.
1612Yorkshire, England10The Pendle WitchesFollowing an outbreak of witch hysteria, nine women and two men from Pendle and the surrounding area were tried for witchcraft at York Asizes. One woman was acquitted; the rest were executed by hanging. Another woman died in prison before coming to trial. These form a small sample of some 500 English 'witches' to be executed.
September 1649 Drogheda, Ireland 3,552 including 700-800 civilians Drogheda Massacre An English force of Cromwell's Puritan "New Model Army" massacred the Irish Catholic Royalist garrison of Drogheda after a brief siege, following the Parliamentarian victory in the English Civil War. See also "A History of Ireland - 3. Rebellion, Cromwell and Jacobites"
1649 Wexford, Ireland 2,000+ including 200 women and children Wexford Massacre Fresh from their victory at Drogheda, Cromwell's Puritan "New Model Army" sacked the town of Wexford and ran amok, killing at least 2000 people, including 200 women and children 'executed' in the market square. See also "A History of Ireland - 3. Rebellion, Cromwell and Jacobites"
February 1692 to May 1693Salem, Massachusetts, Colonial America20. 19 hanged and 1 'prest'Salem Witch TrialsDuring another bout of Christian witch hysteria 20 people, mostly women, were executed, fifty more 'confessed', one hundred and fifty were imprisoned and a further 200 faced accusations of witchcraft before the Governor, William Phips intervened and stopped the trials.
1755-57Northwest China500,000-800,000Dzungar MassacreThe Manchu emperor, Chien-lung, sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, poet and art collector, massacred eighty percent of the Tebetan Buddhist Dzungar people in a series of campaigns of conquest.
April 1821 Peloponnese, Greece 35,000 Tripolitsa Massacre Greek Orthodox Christian forces captured the town of Tripolitsa after a siege and killed the entire Muslim and Jewish population, in the Greek War of Independence.
19 August 1821 Peloponnese, Greece 3,000 Navario Massacre Greek Orthodox Christian forces repeated their success at Tripolitsa and killed the entire Muslim population of Navarino and the surrounding area.
1822 Chios, Greece about 20,000 Chios Massacre Tens of thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians on the island of Chios were killed by occupying Ottoman Muslim troups.
30 October 1838 Caldwell County, Missouri, USA 19 Haun's Mill Massacre 240 members of the Livingstone County Militia attacked and killed a Mormon settlement in Caldwell County, Missouri, killing 18 Mormons and one non-Mormon. Although their names were known, no one was ever charged with the murders.
1850-1864China20,000,000Taiping RebellionA disaffect and mentally ill Hakka Chinese named Hong Xiuquan (born Hong Renkun) became convinced that he was the younger brother of Jesus whom he had read about in some pamphlets given him by European Christian missionaries. He decided that he had been sent to rid China of demons (i.e, Confucianists & Buddhists). The resulting Christian, violently anti-Confucian, anti-Buddhist, and above all, anti-Government, cult was eventually put down in a protracted civil war in which some 20,000,000 Chinese were killed. See also The Heavenly Peace Of Jesus.
11 September 1857 Mountain Meadows, Utah, USA 120-140 Mountain Meadows Massacre A Mormon force, the Utah Territorial Millitia, disguised as Indians, together with Paiute tribesmen, attacked and plundered the Baker–Fancher emigrant wagon train, killing all the emigrants.
30 April 1876 Batak, Ottoman Empire 3,000-5,000 Batak Massacre Muslim Ottoman irregulars killed Bulgarian Christian civilians who had taken refuge in a church.
1894-96 Anatolia, Ottoman Empire 100,000-300,000 Hamidian Massacres On the orders of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Muslim forces killed Armenian Christians across the Empire. Includes the 1895 Massacres of Diyarbakir, in which Syrian and other Christian denominations were also killed indiscriminately.
10 March 1906 Bud Dajo, Jolo Island, Philippines 800-1,000 Moro Crater Massacre An American Army unit under the command of Major General Leonard Wood and a US Naval unit together with a detachment of native police, attacked and killed 600 unarmed Muslims including many women and children in a village inside the crater of an extinct volcano.
April-May 1909 Adana Province, Anatolia, Ottoman Empire 15,000-30,000 Adana Massacre Religious-ethnic tensions between Muslims and Armenian Christians in Adana province, led to a series of anti-Armenian pogroms throughout the area.
21 November 1920 Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland 23 Croke Park Massacre A detachment of the British special force, the "Black and Tans", opened fire on the predominantly Catholic crowd at a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary, during the Irish insurrection against British rule.
August 1933 Iraq 3,000 Simele Massacre Armed Iraqi and Kurdish Muslim forces killed 3,000 'Nestorian' Christians in an attempt to ethnically cleanse Northern Iraq. Methods of killing included running over children with armoured cars and bayoneting pregnant women.
29 September 1941 Kiev, Ukraine 30,000 Babi Yar Massacre Nazi Einsatzgruppen killed the Jewish population of Kiev.
22-24 October 1941 Odessa, Soviet Union 25,000–34,000 Odessa Massacre German & Romanian forced killed the Jewish population of Odessa and surrounding towns.
25 & 29 November 1941 Kaunas, Lithuania 4,934 Ninth Fort massacres of November 1941 First systematic killing of German Jews by the Nazi state.
1941-1945German-occupied Europe6,000,000The HolocaustLed by the psychopathic and delusional Catholic fanatic, Adolf Hitler, and encouraged by the German Catholic Church, the German state embarked on an industrial-scale genocide against European Jews who had been officially classified as non-human. Until the early 1960s, the Catholic Church's official position was that the Germans were doing God's work as a punishment for the Jews having killed Jesus. None of the predominantly Catholic Nazi leaders were ever excommunicated for their genocides.

Note: The Nazi German state also systematically killed a further 11,000,000 Romani, homosexuals, disabled, communists, Poles, Russians and Polish prisoners of war as well as some 1,200 Jehovah's Witnesses.
October-November 1946Naokhali, Bengal, British India5,000Noakhali GenocideA series of massacres, rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus and looting and arson of Hindu properties, perpetrated by the Muslim community in the districts of Noakhali and Tipperah.
1947British Indian250,000-1,000,000Partition of India"Ethnic cleansing" of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu populations leading up to partition of India into India and Pakistan at Independence. In some areas Christians were also persecuted.
1975-79Kampuchea25,000Khmer Rouge MassacresThe Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, attempting to introduce a primitive form of agrarian Communism, killed 25,000 Buddhists in an attempt to eradicate Buddhism. In all, the regime killed 1-3,000,000 Cambodians and ethnic Chinese, including doctors and intellectuals, targeting anyone with an education.
16-18 September 1982Beirut, Lebanon762-3,500Sabra and Shatila MassacresDuring the Lebanese Civil War, a unit of the Israeli Defence Force acting on the orders of Ariel Sharon, Israel's Defense Minister, sealed off two Palatinian refugee camps and illuminated them at night with aerial flares so that a Christian Phalangist militia could butcher the unarmed Shiite Muslim inhabitants including the women and children. Ariel Sharon later became leader of the Likud Party and Prime Minister of Israel whilst the leader of the Christian Phalangist murderers, Elie Hobeika, became a minister in the post civil-war Lebanese government
1975-1990Lebanon120,000-150,000Lebanese Civil WarMultiple massacres of various religious groups by others, taking advantage of the collapse of central authority and degeneration into warring factions and religion-based warlordism.
1994Rwanda500,000-1,000,000 mostly TutsiThe Rwanda GenocideAided by Catholic and Protestant Christian priests, following the death of the President in a suspicious plane crash, the Hutu population unleashed a pre-planned campaign of murder intended to exterminate the Tutsi. A popular technique was for priests to invite Tutsi to take shelter in churches and then hand them over to armed Hutu execution squads or, at least in one case, to order bulldozers to demolish the church and crush those inside.
July 1995Srebrenica, Bosnia8,000+Srebrenica MassacreBosnian Moslem men and boys from the town of Srebrenica and surrounding villages were butchered by a Serbian Orthodox Christian force supported by Greek volunteers, led by Ratko Mladić during the Bosnia civil war which followed the break-up of Yugoslavia. Many of the Greek volunteers who participated in the massacre are now in the Greek neo-Nazi 'Golden Dawn' party.
11 September 2001New York and Washington DC, USA29779/11Muslim fundamentalists hijacked four planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center, New York and the Pentagon, Washington DC. In the fourth plane, passengers overpowered the hijackers but the plane crashed, killing all on board. The 19 hijackers also died.
13 November 2015Paris, France140+Paris 2015A number of Muslim fundamentalists attacked random targets across Paris, killing people regardless of faith, gender or age, by shooting and suicide bombings. At one nightclub, guests were executed one at a time until the police stormed the building at which point three of the attackers blew themselves up killing more victims. Other targets, apparently selected at random, included a packed restaurant and a friendly international football match between France and Germany. Other than killing innocent people for the sake of killing and to spread fear and insecurity, the objective for this massacre remains obscure.

Obviously, there are many yet to be added, and it doesn't include all those little religious massacres like mass witch burnings and the odd clutch of heretics. I'll add to it over the coming days.

Suggestions in the comment section, please.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Birth Of Jesus - Southern Version

This is interesting. There seem to be three different accounts of the impregnation of Mary and the birth of Jesus; two Christian ones in the Bible and a Muslim one in the Qu'ran. The weird thing is, the then recently-converted Christian King of Abyssinia thought the Muslim one was the authentic version!

What's maybe even more weird is that none of them bear more than a passing resemblance to one another.

First, the Bible versions:

Version 1

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) [i.e. 6-12 CE] And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Version 2

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king [i.e. 37-4 BCE], behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

So, in version 1, sometime between 6 and 12 CE, an angel tells Mary that she will become pregnant then later she and Joseph have to go the Bethlehem to be 'taxed; because one of Joseph's remote ancestors once lived there. It's not clear why it should be the town of this particular ancestor or how the authorities could possibly have checked that everyone had gone to the right town. Jesus is born and placed in a manger because there was no room at 'the inn', there only being the one, apparently.

In version 2, Joseph is embarrassed to find his fiancée Mary is pregnant even though they have not has sex. This would normally result in a stoning and the return of the dowry but Joseph, 'being a just man' plans to break God's Law and merely send her away. Breaking God's Law is the act of a 'just man', eh? But let's not get bogged down in the details. It doesn't matter anyway because, in a dream an angel tells him that this is nothing to worry about because God did it.

They are to call the baby Jesus because it is prophesied that they shall call his name Emmanuel, a name by which he is never known.

Moving swiftly on...

So Joseph marries Mary but doesn't have sex with her until after her baby is born. The baby is born in a house over which some wise men have seen a star, which somehow contrives not to be over any other house.

Then they have to run away to Egypt because all the babies under two are to be killed on the King's orders, so Joseph learns in another dream.

Mary's 80 year-old (sic) cousin, Elizabeth, has a baby 6 months old which somehow escapes this slaughter too.

Well, that all seems perfectly clear.

Let's see how the Koran deals with this same story:
She [Mary] placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

She said: "I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear God."

He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son."

She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?"

He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us': It is a matter (so) decreed."

So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!"

But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee;

"And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.

"So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'"

(Koran 19: 17-26)
Quoted in: Werleman, CJ (2011-07-05). Koran Curious - a guide for infidels and believers (Kindle Locations 792-806).
Dangerous Little books. Kindle Edition.
They obviously used a lot of brackets when they spoke in those days.

Anyway, no mention of Joseph at all. Mary just gets told it's a done deal and goes off to a remote place where she gives birth under a palm tree. God thoughtfully provides her with a river to drink from and some dates to eat, provided she can shake the palm tree herself whilst in labour (can't have these women expecting to be waited on now, can we!), but tells her she is to tell any man who comes near her that she isn't going to talk to them.

Now, the curious thing about this, apart from how Mary was going to tell a man anything without talking to him, is that when this was related to the King of Abyssinia who had recently been converted to Christianity, he saw nothing wrong with it.

The background to this story is what was going on in Mecca at the time (around 620 CE). Some 200 Muslims had been sent by Muhammad to Abyssinia to keep them safe because the Quraysh (who were running the city) had imposed a trade boycott against all Muslims. Thinking Muhammad was building up his forces in Abyssinia, the Quraysh sent a delegation to see the newly-converted Christian king with a plan to tell him that Muslims were blaspheming against Jesus and to ask him to eliminate them.

It was Muhammed's cousin who recited the above verse from the Koran to the king to convince him that they respected Jesus and Mary - and it convinced him. He allowed them to stay and take refuge in his country.

Now, why would a new Christian convert in Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) not see anything wrong with that tale of Jesus being born under a palm tree with no one in attendance and being fed on dates and watered by a miraculous river? Can you imagine a Christian despot in Medieval Europe being impressed enough with that to imagine that the teller was in full accord with Christianity?

A glance at the map might well hint at an answer.

Abyssinia (Ethiopia) lies just across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, near the so-called Horn of Africa, a little south of Mecca and a short sea-crossing from modern Yemen, then Sheba, where there were known to be both Christians and Jews, which were then more like different sects than distinct religions, and who traded north to Mecca and beyond and across to Africa. Muhammad is known to have had contact with Christians in Mecca who, along with Jews and local polytheist religions, all worshipped at the Kaaba and observed the rituals of Ramadan, which pre-dates Islam by many centuries.

It is entirely possible that whatever version of Christianity Muhammad learned that story of the birth of Jesus from was the same version to which the King of Abyssinia had converted. This was a southern version which had migrated from Palestine down the Red Sea coast to Arabic Yemen and into Africa south of the navigable upper reaches of the Nile.

Meanwhile, further north in Palestine and up into Syria, Iraq, Asia Minor and West into the Roman Empire, other versions of the Jesus myth had been developed and promulgated by the different sects and traditions, by incorporating into it the myths of Persian and other gods then popular in the Roman Empire...

Clearly, all three of these versions of the birth of Jesus can't be right... but they can all be wrong.

I'll leave the Christians and Muslims to fight over who has the right version of the myth, just so long as they don't involve me in their fight.

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Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Heavenly Peace Of Jesus

Hong Xiuquan
An interesting BBC Radio 4 program a couple of days ago on the "Taiping Rebellion" in Southern China, 1850-1864. What made my ears prick up was the fact that this rebellion was lead by a fundamentalist Christian zealot.

I'll come on to him later; first a little background:

At the time of the rebellion, China was ruled by the Manchurian Quing Dynasty which was regarded as foreign by the Han Chinese. The Manchus had invaded China from the north east in 1644 taking advantage of the disarray following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty during a peasants' revolt in Beijing.

China, under the Qing Dynasty in the mid-19th century, suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of the Western powers; in particular, the humiliating defeat in 1842 by the United Kingdom in the First Opium War. The Qing government, led by ethnic Manchus, were seen by much of the Chinese population, who were mainly Han Chinese, as an ineffective and corrupt foreign regime. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south among the laboring classes and it was these disaffected who flocked to join the charismatic leader Hong Xiuquan, a member of the Hakka community, a Han-Chinese sub-group that inhabited southern China but traced their ancestries back to northerners in the Song Dynasty. Having arrived too late to acquire the best land, they were engaged in constant conflicts.5 Among these serious problems were the prevalence of female infanticide, creating massive imbalances with shortages of women being worst in the primary Taiping centers.

The Western Powers, including the United Kingdom, Portugal and France were then at the height of their imperial expansionist zeal and regarded China with the same superior, patronizing disdain that they had held for the rest of the non-European world, on the grounds that they were obviously mentally and culturally retarded what with having the wrong religion and being clearly marked by God with different colour skin so we could easily identify them as lesser peoples. We were naturally shouldering our Christian duty to teach these unfortunate people better ways - and of course relieving them of their wealth and natural resources by shipping them back to Europe where they could be put to better use.

In the eyes of Imperial Britain, the Opium Wars were the result of the disgraceful and ill-considered attempt by an upstart Chinese government to stop the lucrative trade in opium which Britain was them selling in vast quantities to Chinese peasants. They were, of course, swiftly put in their place by a few gunboats and made to see the good sense of allowing Britain to continue to exercise her God-given right to sell anything she wished to anyone, according the God-given laws of free trade, even signing over Hong Kong to Britain as a sign that they had seen the light.

Of course, as with the rest of the non-Christian world, Christian missionaries were leading this assault by softening up the population and telling them the Europeans were coming to save them from a fate worse than death and rescue them from the clutches of their satanic, demon-controlled governments and their satanic demon-worshipping religions; something which could be best avoided by abandoning their old customs and culture, handing over their land in return for Bibles, praying with their eyes closed, accepting the puppet governments we were installing and doing exactly what the Christian preachers told them to do - and no questions!

The Taiping Rebellion was lead by a disaffected Hakka Chinese named Hong Xiuquan (born Hong Renkun) who had started out with high hopes of progressing in the Imperial Chinese Civil Service but who had failed on two counts:
  1. He failed to pass the entry exam four times (the pass rate was only about 1%).
  2. His family were not wealthy enough to pay a large enough bribe.
In 1836, during the visit to Guangzhou for his penultimate attempt at the Imperial Civil Service examination, Hong had heard an Evangelical Christian preaching and was given pamphlets containing summaries of the Bible in Chinese. He took the examinations for the fourth and final time a year later and failed once more. This final failure appears to have caused a mental breakdown, during the recovery from which Hong seems to have suffered from vivid dreams and hallucinations.

In one of these dreams he met an old man and a 'brother-figure'. The old man complained that people were not worshipping him enough but were worshipping demons instead. In other dreams he saw Confucius being punished by the old man and being made to confess his sins, and again met the 'brother-figure' who gave him a magic sword and a seal and told him he had to purge China of demons. He also told Hong that his name was now Hong Xiuquan in recognition of this sacred role.

Some six years later Hong, still unable to see himself in anything other than a leadership role, and having tried his hand as a school teacher, managed to interpret these dreams by reference to the Bible tracts he had been given. He concluded that the old man was the Christian god and the brother-figure was Jesus, and therefore he must be another son of God, and so Jesus' younger brother - and he had been given the sacred task of cleansing China of demons by none other than his older brother, Jesus.

Provisions for mental health care were non-existent in China in the 1840's.

Together with a small band of equally disaffected Hakka who had also failed their Imperial Civil Service exams, he started vandalizing Buddhist and Confucian statues and symbols in the surrounding small towns and villages. They were promptly driven away by the enraged locals to the predominantly Hakka town of Guangxi, 300 miles away to the west. Here they found a people much more willing to join in a campaign to rid China of Confucianism, the religion of choice of the hated Manchus and the basic principles on which imperial government was founded - with its hard exams!

Gradually, Hong built up his following by preaching his own blend of communal utopianism and evangelical Christianity. He had studied briefly under the 'difficult' American Southern Baptist, Reverend Issachar Jacox Roberts and had formally studied the Old Testament, but he got most of his understanding of Christianity from the "Good Words to Admonish the Age" by the Chinese preacher, Liang Fa, assistant to the Christian missionary, Edwin Stevens, who had given Hong those pamphlets in Guangzhou in 1836.

By 1850 Hong's supporters were strong enough to fight off an attack by Manchu forces, decapitate the local army commander and declare the "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" in January 1851. Later that year they were able to break through a Manchu blockade and capture the town of Nanjing in Hunan province which Hong established as capital of his autocratic Christian theocracy which he ruled by decree from the "Heavenly Palace" demanding strict compliance, in the style of Biblical despots, to his moral and religious rules. Property was socialized (i.e. placed under Hong's control), trade was abolished (i.e. placed under Hong's control) and polygamy outlawed - apart from for Hong and a small band of elite who were of course permitted a harem of concubines.

To demonstrate the principles of brotherly Christian love in his theocracy, the commander of Hong's army, Yang Xiuqing, who had been a key figure in the Taiping Rebellion, who also claimed to speak with the 'voice of God' and had proclaimed himself the 'East King', was summarily murdered, along with his entire family, when Hong began to be suspicious of his ambitions.

In June 1864, the Manchus, aided by the western powers, were finally gaining the upper hand. Hong told his starving followers to eat the 'manna' which God would provide and died, probably of self-administered poison, or, as his cousin later claimed, through eating manna himself.

There doesn't appear to have been any reference to Kool-aid.

It was to take until 1871 for the scattered remnants of the Taiping rebels to be finally put down with the destruction of the last Taiping army in the borders of the Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces in August of that year.

In all, some 20 million Chinese died in the rebellion precipitated by this fanatical Christian cult and its clearly deranged leader, and conducted in the name of the Christian god, making it one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history. Curiously, God had failed to provide support to the person whom he had commanded to cleanse China of demons, but some of the egalitarian, anti-property and above all anti-imperial sentiments Hong had espoused, and which he claimed to have been given by God or learnt from the Christian Bible, were later to influence and inspire the young Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist revolution and later Chairman of the People's Republic of China.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Why Science Is Right And Religions Are Wrong

Interesting Huffington Post poll out today. More Believe In Space Aliens Than In God According To U.K. Survey.

Some of the reason given for belief in aliens were absurd, of course, but, in contrast to a belief in gods, there is sound logical argument for thinking that life, and thereby possibly intelligent life, would exist elsewhere in the universe.

The maths is relatively simple: leaving aside Earth, there are so many, maybe half a trillion, galaxies in the universe, each with somewhere around a trillion stars, that the probability of several, maybe very many, stars having a planet on which life evolved approaches certainty.

However, because of the distances involved and, for all practical purposes, the limitation on speed imposed by relativity, the probability of us coming into contact with any of them approaches zero.

How do we get to that conclusion?

For the planet to contain the right elements for life to evolve it would need to form from the accretion disc formed by a second or third generation star. This means a star formed from the remnants of a first or second generation star, which in turn means it's unlikely to have formed before the universe was about 5-10 billion years old. Given that we know it took about 3.5 billion years for intelligent life to evolve on Earth to the point where we could even consider space travel, let alone undertake any beyond the nearest planets in our own star's system, there is no reason to suppose life on any other planet would have evolved technology any more quickly and no reason to suppose they could have overcome the limitation of Relativity, so they will not be travelling at anywhere approaching the speed of light.

Within our own galaxy, the nearest star is Proxima Centauri, a star which is gravitationally associated with the binary star system known as Alpha Centauri consisting of Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Alpha Centauri B has a single planet, the Earth-sized Alpha Centauri Bb. It is possible that this is the closest planet on which intelligent life could have evolved, though there is no evidence for this one way or the other and it's likely surface temperature probably rules it out.

This system is about 4.37 light years from our sun.

This means that light reaching Earth left the Alpha Centauri star system 4.37 years ago. A spaceship travelling at the speed of light would have needed to set out 4.37 years ago to arrive here tomorrow. In practice, of course, even if it could attain a speed of half that of light, it would take some 9 years to reach us, not allowing for acceleration and deceleration. Travelling at the sorts of speeds our spaceships currently achieve, it would need to have set out tens of thousands, even millions of years ago to get here tomorrow.

And this is the closest body which could conceivably be a location for extra-terrestrial life. Most of the likely candidate planets will be many millions of light years away. So, it doesn't take much imagination to work out that inter-galactic travel, and even intra-galactic space travel, is for all practical purposes, impossible. Quite simply they wouldn't have had time to get here yet.

Never-the-less, it is interesting to speculate what we would discover about such an alien civilisation, were we ever to contact one.

1. Religion

One thing we can be sure about, given our own experience of contacting other civilisations consisting of members of our own species on this small planet, is that, if they were religious at all, their religions (there is no reason to suppose they would only have one, if they had any at all) would be nothing like any that we have on Earth. None of their creation myths, if they have such things, will bear any resemblance to our creation myths. If they have gods, they will be different to ours, their gods will have different powers and will demand different rituals to ours, just at ours differ one from the other. Some of their religions may have many gods, some may have one, or at least a supreme one. Some may have no gods at all.

However, if they are religious, we can be sure their history will be littered with wars between followers of different religions and with examples of different priesthoods assuring their followers that they are killing unbelievers for good reasons demanded of them by gods who love them or to rid their world of the evil followers of evil gods intending to do them harm because they hate them.

If they have or have had religions, their history, like our's, will not have been a peaceful one.

2. Science

Well, we can be as certain that their science will be exactly like ours as we can be certain that their religions will not be. We can be sure they will know the velocity of light in a vacuum, and that it will have the same value we have discovered. We can be sure they will know about atomic structure and will have identified the same elements and isotopes we have identified and will have discovered the same number of the same elementary particles in them that we have discovered, though they will have different names for them. They will have discovered the same half-lives of the same radioactive elements as we have discovered. Their electrons will occupy the same energy levels surrounding the atomic nuclei that our have and will take exactly the same amount of energy to raise them to a higher state as our do. They will know how catalysts work to speed up chemical reactions.

They will have discovered electrons and electricity and their electrons will have the same charge relative to a proton as ours have. They will know about protons and neutrons and that a neutron is a proton bound to an electron. They will know about photons and about wave-particle duality because they will know about quantum mechanics. They will use a form of the Feynman equation and will understand quantum entanglement and decoherence at the macro level. They will also know about bosons and gluons and quarks in all their different flavours and they may know more than we do now about the underlying fabric of reality and how (and if) quantum mechanics and Relativity can be unified.

They will know how stars and planetary systems are formed and it will be the same way we understand it. They will know about the uncertainty principle and the Planck length. They will know about the cosmic microwave background radiation, the red shift and the rate of recession of bodies in space. They will know about the Big Bang and how long ago it happened and they will agree with us on all the important measures, though they may know them with greater accuracy.

They will know about gravity and how bodies move in a gravity field. They will use the same mathematical formulae to calculate trajectories and the rate of acceleration due to gravity. They will know the laws of thermodynamics and how energy can change form but not be created nor destroyed. They will know the gas laws and the chemistry laws of constant composition and multiple proportions. They will know Avogadero's number and how to calculate the volume of a given weight of gas at a given temperature and pressure.

They will understand Archimedes principle, how gears and levers work, how to calculate the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle and that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its radius cannot be expressed rationally in the same units as the radius. They will know that e = mc2.

They will know about evolution by natural selection and how it leads to biodiversity, change in complexity and fitness for survival in any suitable environment, and how accumulated change over deep time pushes an organism up an improbability gradient towards peaks in the possibility landscape. They will almost certainly understand the genetic code, which will very probably be based on DNA and RNA. They will come from a planet which has biodiversity and life forms which can be arranged into hierarchical trees based on morphology, anatomy, physiology, genetics and differences between body proteins, and they will all show descent with modification from common ancestors and all these trees will be nearly identical.

They will know all these things. The only difference will be the terms and the basic units of measurement they use and maybe the base of the maths they use, otherwise our science will be identical to theirs, though it may not be so advanced. They will know all these things because science is a truly universal concept and deals with truly universal realities.
We can be sure of both these things because we know that religions always diverge and splinter, never converge on the truth but always lead to violent conflict over which is the right truth because there is no factual basis by which differences can be settled and no objectivity by which disputes can be decided. We know that the same religion has never arisen twice independently despite all their supporters believing theirs was given to them by all-knowing, all-powerful deities. We also know that science always converges on the same answer no matter how or where it arose and no matter what the beliefs of the culture from which the scientists come. We know the reason for this is because science looks objectively at evidence and is always prepared to re-examine, revise and replace opinions when the evidence demands it; that science is an open-minded process for discovering and moving ever-closer to the truth. And we know that religion is a closed-minded psychological process of self-deception and delusion used by the ignorant and intellectually indolent and by the charlatans who parasitise them.

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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Even Christians Have To Obey The Law.

Excellent news today from Reading Crown Court where a Christian couple have been ordered to pay compensation to a gay couple whom they had discriminated against in 2010, using their superstition as the pretext for their bullying and denial of basic human rights by refusing to supply them with hotel services on the grounds of their sexuality. See BBC News - Gay couple win Berkshire B&B refusal case.

This case follows an almost identical one in Bristol which resulted in damages being awarded to a gay couple who had been similarly victimised by the Christian owners of a Bed & Breakfast Hotel in Marazion, Cornwall, in 2008. The case was upheld by the Court of Appeal last February. The message from these landmark cases should be crystal clear to Christians, and indeed any other religious minorities seeking to impose their bigotry on the rest of us.

For centuries, Christianity has been the superstition of choice in England for people looking for an excuse to bully, discriminate against and harass people or to interfere in their private affairs and indeed in any or all aspects of public life. There was nothing better for those who needed to put themselves above others and pretend to be their moral superior than to be sanctimonious, judgemental, holier-than-thou, Christian bigots.

Until recently, Christians had assumed the right to legislate for the rest of us and to impose their Bronze Age superstition on ordinary people by any and all means at their disposal. Now, to howls of protest by Christian organizations, in recognition that Britain is an increasingly secular society and increasingly rejecting the Bronze Age morality of the Bible, the Law is at last recognizing that Christians too are subject to the normal laws of civilised behaviour. It has accepted that their superstition should no longer be an excuse for antisocial behaviour and that the privileges they have abused for centuries are no longer justifiable in a society in which they form a rapidly diminishing minority of the population.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

What God Thinks Of Disabled People

Are you disabled in any way? Do you have even the smallest blemish? A mole or a birthmark maybe? Do you know anyone who is? A friend or relative? That girl or boy down the street with a squint? Even just a little bit disabled? How about that lame man or that woman with a hare lip or someone needing to wear spectacles?

In fact, given that no one is perfect, doesn't everyone have a defect of some sort?

Here's what the Christian god thinks of imperfect people:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.

For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;

No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.

He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the Lord do sanctify them.

And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.

Leviticus 21:16-24

Profanity, also known as swearing, cursing, coarse language, foul speech, strong language, dirty words, 'cussing', bad words, bad language, adult language, vulgar language, inappropriate language or simply language, is language that is strongly impolite or offensive in many situations. It can show a desecration or debasement of someone or something, or show strong or intense emotion. Profanity can take the form of words, expressions, gestures (such as flipping the middle finger), or other social behaviors that are construed or interpreted as insulting, rude, vulgar, obscene, obnoxious, foul, desecrating, or other forms.

Apparently, being even slightly disabled is a profanity. Disability of even the slightest degree is offensive to the god of the Christian Bible. After all, who wants to look at someone with a flat nose, or a dwarf, or someone with a mole on their face?

So make sure imperfect people stay out of the Christian God's sight won't you. Above all don't let them anywhere near an altar. Remember not to let children with blemishes or handicaps take those offerings along for Harvest Festival. That would really piss off the Christian god.

Of course all women are banned from approaching the altar too, presumably because being female is considered a defect, a blemish or an imperfection, or maybe all three.

And it's not just humans with blemishes, defects or disabilities that the Christian God finds repugnant; cattle too are repulsive if not perfect. Maybe it reminds him of his infallible mistakes.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them, Whatsoever he be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers in Israel, that will offer his oblation for all his vows, and for all his freewill offerings, which they will offer unto the Lord for a burnt offering;

Ye shall offer at your own will a male without blemish, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats. But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer: for it shall not be acceptable for you. And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.

Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed, ye shall not offer these unto the Lord, nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar unto the Lord. Either a bullock or a lamb that hath any thing superfluous or lacking in his parts, that mayest thou offer for a freewill offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.

Ye shall not offer unto the Lord that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut; neither shall ye make any offering thereof in your land.

Neither from a stranger's hand shall ye offer the bread of your God of any of these; because their corruption is in them, and blemishes be in them: they shall not be accepted for you.

Leviticus 22:17-25

And it gets worse! That last verse shows that the Christian god regards 'strangers' as corrupt and blemished even, as though merely being foreign is a defect - which is basically what a lot of flag-waving, right-wing, jingoistic nationalists believe, of course.

Makes you wonder why Christian churches don't have signs on their doors saying "No Cripples, Defectives or Foreigners!", but then to be consistent, they'd have to prohibit women too and that would cost an enormous amount in lost donations.

All this is rather strange, considering the Bible claims the Christian god created everything. Obviously, whoever was making that stuff up assumed a creator god would be inordinately vain and more than a little insecure, and that, not being very good at this creating thing, it would not want to be reminded of its mistakes. In fact, it looks like the author assumed the Christian god would be very much like a despotic male Bronze Age tribal leader with a personality disorder, probably much like the sort of powerful people the author was used to.

It seems the 'timeless and eternal' Christian god has a personality which is firmly fixed in the pre-wheel Bronze Age. That's the problem with having a religion from the childhood of mankind which is more a fossil relic than a living, developing and evolving thing.

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Unintelligently Designed Creationists

You have to pity Creationists. If only they would (or should that be 'could'?) think things through!

I blame the leaders of this money-making industry and right-wing political control cult; people like Ken Ham, Duane Gish, Kent Hovind, Michael Behe and William Dembski who feed off these unfortunate victims in return for worthless pseudo-scientific pap, and so release them ill-prepared in terms of reasoning ability and facts, onto the Internet to try to push their lost cause to people who actually understand biological science, as though that was ever going to be remotely possible. It almost constitutes child abuse, even for the chronologically adult Creationist children.

I can understand that there is little money to be made trying to educate Creationists - indeed it is to avoid the need to bother with learning science that attracts so many of them to the cult in the mistaken belief that saying 'God did it!' is going to put them on an equal footing with real scientists who have even passed exams and things - but surely they have a moral duty of care not to make their hapless victims look quite so infantile and uneducated in full view of the world, don't they?

But then, which right-wing Creationist parasite is interested in morality? Isn't morality for softies? Does money in the bank have morals?

Take for example the incessant clamour from Creationist for a complete set of human fossils showing every evolutionary step in detail, as though the absence of this complete series utterly refutes Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection, just like the parasites who took their money told them. In fact, of course, even if no fossil had ever been found, Darwinian Evolution would still be irrefutably supported by genetic, biochemical and anatomical evidence, as well as by geology, cosmology, physics and mathematics.

But why should they expect to see a complete series of fossils from any evolutionary history of any species? This would be quite extraordinary, especially for terrestrial species like the ape family and it's post-aquatic ancestors. Fossilisation is an extremely rare and unusual event outside an anoxic marine sediment environment where it's still not very common, otherwise we would be quite literally climbing over mountains of pure fossils, as a moment of intelligently designed thought would have told them.

In practice of course almost all dead bodies are eaten either by micro-organisms or larger scavengers (that smell of a road kill that's been a couple of days in the sun is not a fossil being formed) and even the rare piece of surviving bone or teeth will usually be dissolved and will disappear in a few years.

In fact, so unlikely is it that a fossil would be laid down for every generation (the only complete series that would satisfy Creationists) for the whole of human and pre-human evolution, in conditions in which it would have been discovered since we started actively looking for them about 150 years ago, that it would be very hard for science to explain it.

The discovery of such a complete series of human and pre-human fossils, the series that Creationism, and its under-cover wing the Intelligent Design industry, demands, would itself be evidence of intelligent design. It would be so unlikely that the probability of it occurring would be vanishingly small. It would be so hugely unlikely that some sort of intelligent intervention would need to be seriously considered as an explanation - which is why we can be as near certain as makes no difference that such a complete series of human fossils will never be found.

You see, what any decent Creation 'scientists' who cared about the reputation of those whom he was priming to make fools of themselves on the Internet would do would be to tell them not to be so stupid as to keep pointing out that there is an incomplete, gap-ridden fossil record of human evolution, which is exactly what science expects and which is evidence against intelligent design.

Maybe they over-estimated the intellectual abilities of their credulous victims and expected them to work out these simple pieces of logic for themselves. Or maybe they just hoped intelligently designed flying pigs would tell them.

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