Friday, 31 August 2012

Inspiring Atheists

One of the more condescending arguments used by sufferers from religion, and ranking alongside their claim to hold a monopoly on morality for demonstrably unjustified arrogance, is that without religion we wouldn't have great works of art, music, etc., because only religion can inspire human beings to artistic creativity.

While there can be little doubt that religious subjects were often the subject of great works of art or musical composition - the breath-taking beauty of Handel's Messiah and Van Gough's "The Sower" spring to mind. (Some might struggle to see the religion in Van Gough's works but it absolutely pervades it. Look at the painting on the right. It's one of Vincent van Gough's most profoundly religious paintings, in my opinion).

I'll maybe write a blog about Atheist artists one day. This one is about Atheist composers.

It will probably come as a surprise to religion sufferers who like to pretend their co-superstitionists have a monopoly on artistic creativity that there is an enormous list of Atheist and non-believer composers, and that many of them wrote 'religious' music. Some of them, like Elgar and Mozart lost faith in later life, so whatever religious beliefs may have inspired their earlier works, they clearly never inspired them to remain religious.

This list includes many of the better-known Atheist composers and songwriters. Enjoy listening to music not inspired by superstitious belief in gods.

Giuseppe Verdi

10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901

Italian Romantic Composer

Irving Berlin

May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989

Russian-born American composer and lyricist widely considered one of America's greatest songwriters.

Aaron Copeland

14 November 1900 – 2 December 1990

American composer, composition teacher, writer and conductor.

John Lennon

9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980

British popular musician, singer and songwriter.

Sir Edward Elgar

2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934

English classical composer
(Former Roman Catholic who became an Atheist in later life)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791

Austrian classical baroque composer

Ludwig van Beethoven

16 December 1770 – 26 March 1827

German composer, transitional between European Classical and Romantic.

George Gershwin

26 September 1898 – 11 July 1937

American popular songwriter and classical composer.

Johannes Brahms

7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897

German-born Romantic composer who worked in Vienna, Austria.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958

English classical composer, hymn writer and collector of English folk song. Great nephew of Charles Darwin.

Maurice Ravel

7 March 1875 – 28 December 1937

French composer probably (though he denied it) influence by the Impressionist art movement.

Gioachino Rossini

29 February 1792 – 13 November 1868

Italian composer of opera, 'sacred' and chamber music.

Hector Berlioz

11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869

French Romantic composer and musical critic.

Robert Schumann

8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856

German Romantic composer and music critic

Georges Bizet

25 October 1838 – 3 June 1875

French composer, mainly operas.

Richard Strauss

11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949

German Romantic and early Modern composer.

Sergei Prokofiev

23 April 1891 – 5 March 1953

20th Century Russian composer, pianist and conductor.

Scott Joplin

c.1867 – 1 April 1917

African-American composer and pianist most noted for rag-time jazz compositions.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Easter Challenge

Here's a challenge for Christians, especially those who believe the Bible to be the literal, inerrant word of a god, and even those who believe the five accounts of the resurrection of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul are an account of an actual resurrection by Jesus.

First, a few words from Thomas Paine:
I lay it down as a position which cannot be controverted, first, that the agreement of all the parts of a story does not prove that story to be true, because the parts may agree and the whole may be false; secondly, that the disagreement of the parts of a story proves the whole cannot be true.

Thomas Paine. The Age Of Reason. 1776
The challenge is to take all five accounts of the events following the supposed crucifixion of Jesus and, starting on Easter morning and, omitting none of the details given in the five biblical accounts, construct a logical sequence of events.

I make no claim of authorship of this challenge which appears in Dan Barker's book 'Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists'.

The relevant chapters and/or verses of the Bible are:
  1. Matthew 28
  2. Mark 16
  3. Luke 24
  4. John 20-21
  5. Acts 1:3-12
  6. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
If the Bible is giving an account of a real sequence of events as seen from the perspective of five different views, these events should line up in their sequence of events and in the important details, and should occupy the same approximate time-span.

It might help if, as you read the 165 verses, you attempt to answer these questions and to reconcile and harmonise the differing accounts:
QuestionThe Bible's Answers
1. What time did the women visit the tomb?
  • Matthew: As it began to dawn - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: Very early in the morning... at the rising of the sun - Mark 16:2
  • Luke: Very early in the morning - Luke 24:1
  • John: When it was yet dark - John 20:1
2. Who were the women?
  • Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome - Mark 16:1
  • Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women - Luke 24:10
  • John: Mary Magdalene - John 20:1
3. What was their purpose?
  • Matthew: to see the tomb - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: had already seen the tomb - Mark 15:47, brought spices - Mark 16:1
  • Luke: had already seen the tomb - Luke 23:55, brought spices - Luke 24:1
  • John: the body had already been spiced before they arrived - John 19:39-40
4. Was the tomb open when they arrived?
  • Matthew: No - Matthew 28:2
  • Mark: Yes - Mark 16:4
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:2
  • John: Yes - John 20:1
5. Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
  • Matthew: One angel - Matthew 28:2-7
  • Mark: One young man - Mark 16:5
  • Luke: Two men - Luke 24:4
  • John: Two angels - John 20:12
6. Where were these messengers situated?
  • Matthew: Angel sitting on the stone - Matthew 28:2
  • Mark: Young man sitting inside, on the right - Mark 16:5
  • Luke: Two men standing inside - Luke 24:4
  • John: Two angels sitting on each end of the bed - John 20:12
7. What did the messenger(s) say?
  • Matthew: Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. - Matthew 28:5-7
  • Mark: Be not afrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. - Mark 16:6-7
  • Luke: Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. - Luke 24:5-7
  • John: Woman, why weepest thou? - John 20:13
8. Did the women tell what happened?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:8
  • Mark: No. Neither said they any thing to any man. - Mark 16:8
  • Luke: Yes. And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. - Luke 24:9, Luke 24:22-24
  • John: Yes - John 20:18
9. When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:7-8
  • Mark: Yes - Mark 16:10-11
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:6-9, 23
  • John: No - John 20:2
10. When did Mary first see Jesus?
  • Matthew: Before she returned to the disciples - Matthew 28:9
  • Mark: Before she returned to the disciples - Mark 16:9-10
  • John: After she returned to the disciples John 20:2, John 20:14
11. Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:9
  • John: No - John 20:17 and Yes - John 20:27
12. After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?
  • Matthew: Eleven disciples - Matthew 28:16
  • Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to 11 - Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14
  • Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to 11 - Luke 24:13, Luke 24:36
  • John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) - John 20:19, John 20:24
  • Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the 12. (Twelve? Judas was dead and wasn't replaced until after Jesus had departed.) - 1 Corinthians 15:5
13. Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?
  • Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) - Matthew 28:16-17
  • Mark: To two in the country, to 11 as they sat at meat - Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14
  • Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. - Luke 24:31, LUke 24:36
  • John: In a room, at evening - John 20:19
14. Did the disciples believe the two men?
  • Mark: No - Mark 16:13
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:34 (it is the group speaking here, not the two)
15. What happened at that first appearance?
  • Matthew: Disciples worshipped, some doubted, Go preach. - Matthew 28:17-20
  • Mark: Jesus reprimanded them, said, Go preach - Mark 16:14-19
  • Luke: Christ incognito, vanishing act, materialized out of thin air, reprimand, supper - Luke 24:13-51
  • John: Passed through solid door, disciples happy, Jesus blesses them, no reprimand - John 21:19-23
16. Did Jesus stay on earth for more than a day?
  • Mark: No - Mark 16:19 (Compare Mark 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday)
  • Luke: No - Luke 24:50-52 It all happened on Sunday
  • John: Yes, at least eight days - John 20:26, John 21:1-22
  • Acts: Yes, at least 40 days - Acts 1:3
17. Where did the ascension take place?
  • Matthew: No ascension. Book ends on mountain in Galilee
  • Mark: In or near Jerusalem, after supper - Mark 16:19
  • Luke: In Bethany, very close to Jerusalem, after supper - Luke 24:50-51
  • John: No ascension
  • Paul: No ascension
  • Acts: Ascended from Mount of Olives - Acts 1:9-12
Barker, Dan (2009-05-01). Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (p. 289). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Personally, for a story so central to the Christian faith and upon which the entire religion rests, I'd be astounded if this exercise is not a regular feature of Bible study, Sunday School and church services so it shouldn't be a problem at all for true believers. So, you have all the material you need, and links to an on-line edition of the Bible to check that everything stated above is a true and accurate account of all the known accounts of the supposed resurrection of Jesus, just in case you don't have your own Bible.

All you have to do is produce a logical sequence of events from Easter morning to Jesus' claimed ascension bodily into Heaven which includes all the facts stated and following the sequence of events given in the Bible.

Otherwise, please explain why Thomas Paine was wrong to conclude that the whole story cannot be true and why the myth of Jesus should not be consigned to the dustbin of history along with the myth of the goddess Eastre (aka Ishtar aka Astarte) after whom the pagan festival of Easter was named before it was plagiarised by Christianity for the Jesus myth.

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Friday, 24 August 2012

The Historical Evidence For Jesus.

Is there good, extra-biblical evidence for the Jesus described in the New Testament?

Most Christian apologists and most preachers will usually be able to quote a list of names of ancient 'historians' or other writers who mentioned Jesus and will confidently assure us that these prove beyond reasonable doubt that the biblical Jesus existed and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are accurate biographies (in spite of the conflicting, contradictory and obviously anecdotal and/or invented details). It's almost as though Jesus was being regularly referred to in contemporary accounts and written about by all manner of historians of his day. No doubt at all that the Bible is real history and can be verified by independent eye-witness accounts.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Debate: Is There Scientific Evidence Only For The Christian God?

Terms and conditions

The topic for debate will be the proposition that:

There is verifiable, falsifiable, scientific evidence for only the Christian God for which no possible natural explanation can exist.

This debate will take place between the proposer (the person calling himself @Sacerdotus) and myself. It will be conducted according to the following rules:

The proposer will supply an agreed scientific definition of the Christian God against which the proposition can be tested, precise details of the evidence and how it can be verified, how it could be falsified and how it establishes the truth of the proposition beyond reasonable doubt. Failure to do so will be regarded as conceding the debate.

A neutral referee will be agreed. The rulings of this referee will be final and binding on both parties to the debate. The referee will rule on:
  1. Whether an assertion of fact has been validated with verified evidence.
  2. Whether questions have been answered fully, honestly and without prevarication.
  3. The meaning of words, when these are in dispute.
  4. Whether an argument was ad hominem or not.
  5. Any other disputes when requested by either of the parties to the debate.
  6. Whether a referral to the referee was mendacious or an attempt to prevaricate, divert or otherwise obstruct the normal flow of debate.
  7. The referee may intervene at any time to declare the debate won, lost or drawn.

Should either party fail to provide evidence for which a claim of its existence has been made, the debate will be considered lost.

Making any claim which is shown to be untrue or unsupported by evidence will result in forfeiture of the debate.

Ad hominem arguments will result in forfeiture.

Failure to respond to an reasonable point, answer a reasonable question or to supply the evidence requested within three days (subject to notified periods of absence) will result in forfeiture.

The debate will take place across two blog sites; this one and @Sacerdotus' own blog. Each party will make it clear which point is being addressed. A record of the entire debate may be published in full at the discretion of either party.

As I expected, though I hoped not, Sacerdotus would not accept these terms and conditions nor was he able to establish the proposition despite his boasts that he could produce scientific proof of the Christian god's existence. Perhaps his definitions of the meanings of the words 'scientific' and 'proof' are private ones and not those used by normal people.

Eventually, I posted this proposition in his blog and invited him to refute my assertion that he would not be able to establish it's truth.

He then went into what looked like panic-stricken denialism and posted some 20-30 tweets on Twitter demanding I reply to his blog, and despite repeatedly being given screen-captures of my reply. He even created at least three new accounts to RT his hysterical tweets.

Eventually, the overwhelming consensus of people who responded to my tweet asking if I should continue was that Sacerdotus clearly had no intention of debating honestly and seemed not to understand the basic rules of debate. The whole ploy had been disingenuous from the outset, hence his fear of holding it on neutral ground with a neutral referee and according to agreed rules to prevent prevarication, diversion and the other traditional tactics of Christian apologetic sophistry.

If 'Sacerdotus' has the integrity to leave his blog up, this may be read here. It is not a pretty sight.

One can only assume that Sacerdotus was fully aware that he could not support his claim and had decided that his 'faith' can only be defended with these sorts of tactics of deception. One wonders at the mentality of someone who knows they are pushing a lie but never-the-less is prepared to go to these lengths to 'promote' it in their own deluded way. One can only assume they are getting something out of their phoney piety in terms of the behaviour, opinions and attitudes they can blame on it. Or maybe it's just the hope of an easy living from the life as a parasite on the gullible and vulnerable.

Whatever the motive, there is clearly no belief that a god of honesty is watching his every move and taking note. The abject abandonment of intellectual integrity is too profound to support that view. It never ceases to amaze me how people are prepared to drag their 'faith' through the gutter rather than to back down and admit that it is baseless.

Clearly, their precious ego is much more important than the god they purport to believe in

[Further Update]
As a rather sad footnote, it seems my challenge to @Sacerdotus and his laughably infantile attempts to make excuses for running away from it seem to have pushed him over the edge psychologically. I'm not a psychiatrist so I don't pretend to understand the processes involved but I suspect I undermined his one remaining claim to a degree of importance in the fantasy persona he believed he had constructed on social network sites like Twitter and Blogger. With that gone he now has to come to terms with just being ordinary again. It's a shame he sees no value in that.

The last few weeks, when @Sacerdotus, who turns out to have been a failed trainee Catholic priest called Manuel de Dios Agosto from Bronx, New York, who left the St Joseph's Franciscan seminary, New York in mysterious circumstances some time after entering it sometime after 2003, became increasingly bizarre in his claims and behaviour, have culminated in some of his many Twitter accounts being suspended. His increasingly bizarre and irrational claims have included claims that I am a paranoid schizophrenic, a child abuser and a terrorist in whom the FBI have an interest. His blog now includes a picture of a typical modern English house which he claims is mine provided by his 'contacts' and a claim that 'the authorities' have been passed a file he's compiled on me. I assume his 'contacts' are as fictitious as his other claims of multiple degrees, impending priesthood, etc.

Needless to say, the house bears no resemblance to mine and his claims are pure fiction, the product, so it would seem, of a deranged and psychotic or immature mind. And all because I challenged him to substantiate his claim to have scientific proof of the Christian god. I obviously blew his cover in a big way with that simple challenge.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is the rather obvious one; that those who profess piety and identify with religious belief often do so as a cover. There can be little doubt from his blog, his tweets and his actions, that Manuel no more believes in a watching god of truth who requires it's followers to be honest and to behave well towards others, than I do. The difference being that I don't believe Atheism frees me from responsibility to be honest and to behave with integrity and respect towards others.

On the other hand, Manuel, whose upbringing has been steeped in the belief that one has to behave well to avoid eternal suffering, and for no other reason, seems to have concluded that Atheism for him means freedom to abuse and take out his anger for his failure on others. It's a shame that loss of 'faith' for so many former Christians seems to mean loss of the control that fear once had on their latent psychopathy. This control may be one of the few benefits of religion but it surely can only be needed for those damaged by religion in childhood in the first place.

I wish Manuel well and hope he gains the self-esteem he so obviously lacks at the moment. Maybe just trying to be a decent person rather than trying to get away with pretending to be something he so obviously isn't, would help.

[Further Update] Manuel is still after five months, constructing ever-more elaborate and deranged fantasies about me, including letters to 'UK Authorities' detailing reports from his imaginary UK 'contacts'. It's almost as though he's living out his fantasies through me, including lurid tales of stalking New York school children. One can only hope that these remain fantasies.

Surely there must be someone in the Bronx Catholic Community who can arrange for him to get the psychological support he clearly needs, even if they are ashamed of him and embarrassed by his bizarre behaviour. Aren't they at least partly responsible for the mistake of accepting him as a trainee priest in the fist place?

Here is the account in a New York Catholic newsletter of his entry into the Franciscan Seminary in 2001 (when the site was archived), about three quarters of the way down. Use your browser's search facility to find Manuel de Dios Agosto.

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Sunday, 19 August 2012

How Christian Fundamentalists Lie To Us

It's never a pretty sight to watch a fundamentalist in melt-down, hilarious though it might be, and I don't normally carry over spats in Twitter into this blog, but this one is too good to pass up.

Of course, you can't draw a general conclusion from a specific example, but this illustrates what can happen when religious (in this case Catholic Christian) fanaticism crossed the boundary between a sincere attempt to convince people of the truth of a firmly-held superstitious belief, and a blatantly dishonest attempt to fool people, having run out of ideas for doing it honestly and with integrity but lacking the moral courage to admit to not having any evidence to use when asked for some.

It also illustrates rather nicely I think, the point I made in an earlier blog - If Creationism Is Science, Why Do They Need Tactics? - to which no creationist has yet been able to produce a coherent reply.

It also illustrates the parasitic viral nature of the religion meme in one of its more pathological manifestations.

These tweets on the right were posted by a fundamentalist who claims to be a trainee Catholic priest but who already has a reputation for dishonesty and is something of a figure of fun in the community of people who follow and post to the #Atheist / #Atheism hashtags on Twitter. He is know by the user-name @Sacerdotus. The tweets were all sent between 16:41 and 16:53 on 19 August 2012 BST.

The first thing to notice is the the link @Sacerdotus includes ( does not link to any such challenge, nor is there any reference to one on the site it links to. It is merely a link to his blog.

@Sacerdotus has access to my blog (Rosa Rubicondior) and regularly posts comments but has never seen fit to post his 'challenge' there, nor have I ever received a challenge to him via email. I have never seen a Twitter tweet referencing this 'challenge', although, as @Sacerdustus knows, I had blocked him several months ago having tired of his infantile and dishonest 'debating' tactics there and in accord with the policy I state in my Twitter bio, and only unblocked him yesterday, so maybe @Sacerdotus chose to hide his 'challenge' by tweeting to me when he knew I wouldn't receive it.

But perhaps I am crediting @Sacerdotus with too much intelligence in assuming he would know that to issue a challenge, one needs to communicate that challenge to the person you are challenging, but, even for a trainee Catholic priest it seems unlikely that he would really be that stupid.

Which just leaves us with one realistic explanation: @Sacerdotus is lying again, and hoping again to trick people with deception because he knows that truth and honesty won't work.

And this of course illustrates what Francis Collins, himself a Catholic Christian, means when he says in The Language of God "Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time". I would also add moral bankruptcy to that charge but then that is to be expected of those who have abdicated personal responsibility in favour of obedience to the diktat of a character in a book, who then provides a convenient scapegoat in the 'God Sez!' excuse.

@Sacerdotus' abandonment of even a pretence of honesty and integrity and his descent into the playground tactics illustrated above in lieu of evidence, reason and logic in civilised debate, shows how religion can pervert the human mind and turn it to it's own purpose at the expense of personal integrity and dignity, just as a virus perverts the host it infects and uses it for the benefit of the virus at the expense of the host.

One wonders just what else sufferers from this psychotic delusion are capable of perpetrating on mankind if they ever regained the power they once held over us in the appropriately-called 'Dark Ages', if this is the sort of response you get to a polite request to validate an assertion or provide supporting evidence for a claim of fact.

Further reading: It Could Never Happen To Us - Zombies Controlled By A Parasite.

[Update]: To see how this subsequently developed and how @Sacerdotus, who turned out to be Manuel de Dios Agosto who was expelled from St Joseph's Seminary, NY because of his behaviour there, and who now spends his days trolling the Internet harassing, abusing and intimidating people, including threatening them with violence, under a variety of guises, see:

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Friday, 17 August 2012

Saint Augustine's Blunder

St. Augustin - Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Here's an interesting quote from one of Christianity's favourite thinkers - Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE).

First, a little background information:
[Saint Augustine] was a Latin philosopher and theologian from Roman Africa and generally considered as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all times. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity...

After his conversion to Christianity and baptism in AD 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives. He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war.

When the Western Roman Empire was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual De Civitate Dei (City of God), in a book of the same name, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine's City of God was closely identified with the Church, the community that worshipped God.

In the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church, and the patron of the Augustinian religious order... Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Reformation due to his teaching on salvation and divine grace. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he is also considered a saint, his feast day being celebrated on 15 June. He carries the additional title of Blessed. Among the Orthodox, he is called "Blessed Augustine", or "St. Augustine the Blessed".

So, St. Augustine is famous and respected throughout Christendom as a philosopher and one of the fathers of theology whose writings are regarded as at least semi-divine if not actually divine.

Unfortunately he made a crass blunder: he made a testable prediction - something that is almost a cardinal sin in religious apologetics.

Here is what he has to say about the subject of a spherical earth and whether people could exist on the far side of it:
But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part that is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.

It is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man. [My emphasis]

Source: De Civitate Dei, Book XVI, Chapter 9 — Whether We are to Believe in the Antipodes,
translated by Rev. Marcus Dods, D.D.; from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College.
So there we are, using Bible 'science', one of Christianity's foremost thinkers and the father of theology has proved that, even if earth is spherical, the idea that there could be people living on the far side is absurd because, being all descended from one man, namely Adam, they couldn't possibly have got there.

Yet, when European explorers got to the New World, to the East Indies, the Pacific Islands and the 'Antipodes' of Australia and New Guinea, not only had we shown that earth was indeed spherical and the 'Antipodes' existed, but there were people living on the far side of it, and had been there for thousands of years.

Augustine's confident prediction had been falsified.

Now, when science has a theory which makes a testable prediction which turns out to be falsified this is normally considered grounds for abandoning the theory. Not so with religious apologetics. Augustine's prediction was based on the theory that everyone alive on Earth was descended from Adam (actually the Bible says we are all descended from Noah but be that as it may). Was that theory abandoned when the prediction it made was falsified?

Of course not. Like so much else with theological 'proofs', reality didn't support it and, as is usual with Christian apologetics when the facts turn out to be the opposite of what was predicted, suddenly the 'reasoning' behind the prediction is also dispensed with. For example, you never hear creationist theologians who still admire Saint Augustine, turn his 'logic' round and argue that, because there were people living on the far side of Earth, they could not have been descended from Adam.

Yet, if St. Augustine's argument, that there could not be people on the far side of earth if we are all descended from Adam, was true, then the presence of people on the far side of earth proves we are not all descended from Adam.

Strangely, to a theologian, the brilliance of an argument, the validity of the 'facts' upon which it's based and the reliability of the logic is contingent on the conclusion. If the conclusion turns out to be different to the one required, the once brilliant argument suddenly dulls and loses its utility value, and can be dispensed with. As usual, when the dogma isn't supported by the evidence, the evidence must be ignored.

But of course, the person who dreamed it up in the first place is no less brilliant for being shown to be wrong, just so long as his other arguments still have a utility value for theologians and religious apologists by supplying them with the conclusions and 'proofs' they want.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Matthew's Bad Beatitudes

Continuing my quest for the source of the 'superior' Christian 'morality' which they are forever telling us they get from the Bible, I turned hopefully to Matthew 5 to read the so-called 'Beatitudes' from the quaintly named 'Sermon on the Mount'. Apparently, according the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus stood on a hill and made a speech to a multitude setting out the basis for a moral code.

For doubters, here is a nice photo of Jesus delivering his sermon.

I've noted before how Matthew reads more like someone trying the discredit Jesus, for example, 'Are These The Silliest Verses In The Bible?', 'Pull The Other One Matthew!', 'Hey Christians! Is Matthew For Real?' and 'Christians - Try Not To Think About Matthew', so I was not really surprised to find Matthew, true to form, showing us a Jesus with the morality of a mule stringer who thinks his charges only respond the threats and promises.

As Dan Barker points out in Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, none of these are truly ethical because they are all conditions for a future reward. This is a précis of Dan Barker's analysis of them:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Nothing by way of ethical actions here. All it says is that if you happen to be “poor in spirit” then you're going to heaven. Verses like this have been cited to keep slaves and women in their place.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.Again, nothing by way of ethical actions. Why didn't Jesus tell us to comfort those who are in mourning? That would have been ethical.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.This is only stating that if you happen to be a meek person then you're okay because you won’t be left out. This is like saying, “Be nice to Grandma because she might put you in her will.”
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.This is about observing rituals and has nothing to do with ethics. Politically, righteousness breeds censorship, segregation, persecution, civil inequality, intolerance and the death of millions. If “righteousness” means “morality,” then why not just be moral?
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.This is nothing more than a threat: God won't be merciful to those who aren't merciful. Why would God not be merciful in this situation if mercy is a good thing?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.What does “pure in heart” mean? Feeling kindly towards others? Not wishing for misfortune for other people? Not being judgemental? Not thinking about sex? Never trying to mislead? Being 'spiritual'? Leaving aside the biological nonsense of believing thoughts occur in a heart, this is just a nebulous cliché which can mean almost anything to anyone. And how can a person be “pure in heart” if we are all sinners by virtue of being born in the first place anyway?
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.Jesus even flatly contradicted this when he said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In biblical times, peace was a military concept. In Deuteronomy 20:10-11 God told his chosen people: “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.” So 'peace' means turning non-Jews into slaves, or killing them. Are these the 'blessed' to whom Jesus is referring or didn't he know his scripture?”
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.Again, no specific moral behaviour, just an encouragement to invite and praise confrontation and dispute; to seek persecution for its own sake. This persecution complex contradicts the seventh Beatitude but if you stir up trouble for Jesus, you will be blessed and will receive a great “reward in heaven.” You are supposed to “rejoice, and be exceeding glad” when your actions incite others to treat you badly!

We only need to look at the hate-filled antics of the Westboro Baptists to see what happens when people take this one seriously.

So, again, Matthew portrays Jesus as a sanctimonious hypocrite and purveyor of empty rhetoric - not so much Beatitudes as platitudes - and once again, no worthwhile morals can be found in the Bible. I'm really beginning to wonder if this book of origin myths and accounts of competing primitive sects called the Bible has anything worthwhile to offer at all.

I've shown that the 'Ten Commandments', whichever version you read, are next to useless, so can anyone suggest some other chapter which might contain a semblance of this 'moral compass' that Christians seem to be so sure is in there somewhere?

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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Randomly Refuting Creationism

It's an article of faith of the creationist/ID movement that information cannot arise by a random event, so it was some amusement that I received some information on the radio as I was driving home this evening. It was a classic example of what William Dembski calls 'Complex Specified Information' (CSI).

It almost goes without saying that creationists can ever explain why new information can supposedly never arise by a random event, and few if any of them ever seem to see any need to even try to understand the argument. It's sufficient merely to quote it like a protective mantra when the going gets tough and all the other arguments have been refuted yet again.

The information I heard was that a couple from Suffolk have become millionaires by winning £148,000,000 in a lottery. Here is a BBC TV news item about the same thing. Listen to them telling about how they received the information that they were now millionaires.

The information arose by a random process which was witnessed by millions of people across Europe and is carefully audited to ensure it is indeed entirely random. It involves randomly selecting balls with numbers on them. In the context of an environment in which the couple from Norfolk had previously selected some numbers on a card, this random signal translated into meaningful information just as randomly produced information in a genome can be translated into meaningful information by the environment.

Sorry about that creationists but you're now going to have to find another protective mantra and start looking for another hero who can hide his missing logic under a heap of impressive-sounding verbiage. I'm afraid reality has once again intervened and refuted another of your favourite fantasies.

William Lane Craig's Logical Kalamity

Let's have another look at William Lane Craig's filched (from mediaeval Islam) argument for a god (in his case, of course, not the Islamic god but the Christian god, which is the only one he will allow) the Kalâm Cosmological Argument.

I've previously debunked this fallacy in Favourite Fallacies - The Kalâm Cosmological Argument but a closer look at the argument reveals the basic flaws in logic with which Lane Craig bamboozles his credulous audiences using the same tactics as a televangelist wringing donations out of lonely, vulnerable and gullible people.

This argument isn't mine - I only wish it were - it's from Dan Barker's must-read book, Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists.

Basically, the KCA argues:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therfore the universe had a cause.
Of course, like medieval Islamic scholars who wanted to prove the universe was caused by Allah and so declared Allah to be the cause, William Lane Craig concludes that it must be his preferred god (or more accurately, his desired conclusion) and so declares the Christian god to be the cause.

It's fun to substitute anything you like for 'God' in Lane Craig's argument and so 'prove' it was anything you want. It works. Try it! You can 'prove' a peanut-butter sandwich created the universe if you want to.

So, where is the fallacy? How come something which Craigites love to tell us proves their favourite god created everything, can also, with equal ease, 'prove' it was anything you like which caused everything to exist? The answer of course is that there is a subtle trick in the argument which Lane Craig hopes you won't see.

The trick Lane Craig pulls is hidden in the first line - everything that begins to exist has a cause. This clearly implies that there is a set things which don't begin to exist. So what is there in this set of things-which-don't-begin-to-exist? Can you think of any? Are these natural things? If not, why not?

How do we identify these things and, more importantly, if there are such things, how does Lane Craig eliminate them as candidate causes of the universe?

What Lane Craig does, having created this convenient set of things-which-don't-begin-to-exist simply by including the deceptive clause, 'which begins to', is to allow only his desired conclusion to occupy it, and so he rigs the argument by stating it in such a way as to exclude everything but the answer he wants.

If you deny him that right and, with the same justification that Lane Craig uses (i.e., no justification at all) put any number of things you want into that set of things-which-don't-begin-to-exist, you can create as big a range of choices of causes of the universe as you want.

You can also choose, with the same justification, to say this set-of-things-which-don't-begin-to-exist is empty; that there are no such things. After all, if Craig can simply deem his preferred conclusion to be in that set, we can equally deem it not to be. We can, if we assume the same right that Lane Craig claims, declare that there is nothing that could have caused the universe, and conclude that therefore the universe had no cause. QED!

But why should there not be perfectly natural things which don't begin to exist, such as a non-zero quantum energy field, a black hole in another universe, or simply 'something' which may be the default state of existence rather than the nothing assumed by the KCA?

In essence, the KCA as used by William Lane Craig is nothing more than saying, "If the universe had a cause it must have been my god.". It is of course, the religious ploy of fact by fiat. Fiat Deus! Let there be God!

The only thing it proves is that there is a gap in William Lane Craig's knowledge and understanding into which he has projected an imaginary deity. Once you take away his deception of the rigged argument, you open up the possibility of perfectly natural causes of universes whilst still retaining the logic of 'everything which begins to exist' having a cause.

And you don't need to subscribe to that other logical absurdity in the KCA: the notion that there can be such a thing as nothing. How on earth can something which, by definition doesn't exist, exist? How can there be nothing for any possible meaning of the word 'be'? And how can anyone possibly claim to be able to assign properties to it or to make any meaningful statement about nothing, like declaring that nothing can come from it?

This may well be the most absurdly irrational assumption ever made. I'd certainly like to hear of a more absurd one.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Christian 'Logic'

I just came across this outstanding example of Christian 'logic' in a blog by one Richard Bushey entitled Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?. Richard is setting out to 'prove' that Jesus was really resurrected from the dead using 'historical evidence', or so he implies in the tweet linking to it.

So, sit back and enjoy Richard's exposition of this historical evidence which, under normal circumstances would be expected to win the discoverer instant world-wide fame and fortune and a heap of awards:

As a Christian, I do believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. God incarnated himself in Jesus, and in confirmation of this, three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, he was resurrected, returned to the disciples and hundreds of others, and ascended to glory and immortality. I believe this, as a Christian, just as I believe that the scriptures are divinely inspired.

But when approaching an issue historically, one cannot take their presuppositions with them. Therefore as difficult as it may be for some people to read, I will not be treating the New Testament as though it were a divinely inspired text. I will be treating it as though it were a collection of historical documents. [My emphasis]

Er... and that's it. Richard is going to treat the New Testament " though it were a collection of historical documents", and, presumably, that is enough to turn them into historical evidence. No further verification, authentication, validation with external sources; no analysis of writing styles and/or cultural references. Deeming them to be evidence is all that's needed. To 'prove' your religion you start with your conclusion and works back from there, taking whatever leaps of logic and mental contortions may be needed on the way.

If all else fails, simply proclaim facts by fiat. Let there be evidence!

Well, not quite. Richard couldn't resist presenting us with a last clinching piece of evidence - an authentic photograph of an empty tomb. No! Honestly! Look!

Of course, Richard is only aping other Christian apologists who take great pride in performing these mental gymnastics with scant regard to reality so long as the bottom line comes out the way it's intended. No doubt he too has been impressed with the enthusiastic appreciation of an audience eager for any crumbs of comfort with which to handle the inevitable cognitive dissonance from having to live in the real world whilst still believing in magic.

And it's with 'logic' like this that Christians like Richard Bushey condescend to the rest of humanity, declare our children to be sinners for merely being born human, claim the right to make laws to constrain and compel us, claim the right to relegate half the population to second-class status, claim the right to frighten our children with threats of eternal pain and torture if they don't comply, declare themselves to be the arbiters of human ethics and morality and try to abrogate the right to political power over the rest of us.

In the past, logic like that was used to excuse the killing of anyone who dared to question it, and doubtless would be again if it ever manages to slip the leash we've managed to put on it in the civilised parts of the world.

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Taslima Nasreen
I have contributed an article about feminism on Taslima Nasreen's Blog 'No Country For Women'.
Taslima Nasreen, an award-winning writer, physician, secular humanist and human rights activist, is known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas calling for her death. In India, Bangladesh and abroad, Nasreen’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry and memoir have topped the best-seller’s list.

It is a huge honour for me to have been asked to contribute to her blog.

The article may be read here: 'Why I Am A Feminist'.

'via Blog this'

The Immoral Bible

"The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp." - God
If you are Christian, imagine reading a story in the Qur'an in which Allah orders the killing of a man who was not harming anyone or anything, merely for providing for his family. Would this induce you to convert to Islam because Allah is such a kind and merciful god and a source of such wonderfully humane and just rules for humanity to live by?

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.

And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

Numbers 15:32-36

Really? For picking up firewood instead of obeying a god who doesn't even seem sure why we should observe the Sabbath, judging by its change of mind between the different versions of the fourth of the 'Ten Commandments'?

What possible reasons could this man have for collecting firewood? Who exactly is the victim in the 'crime'? Who got hurt or suffered loss?

The only reasons for collecting firewood was for fuel to keep his family warm or to cook food. The man was doing good to others and got killed for the victimless crime of not observing the Sabbath to the letter of the law.

What on earth standard of morality for humanity is that? What does it say of the morals of a god whose ego is so precious that it can't be a little understanding and grant a little mercy to a man who was only trying to provide for his family? In fact, in what way exactly is providing for others not 'remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy'? Isn't that exactly what people should be doing if they are remembering a kind, caring and benevolent god? The god of the Bible doesn't think so. The god of the Bible wants us to remember a petty tyrant.

"I hear you killed another young son, Mr Smith."

"Surely did. Warned him not to run across the road without looking and what did he do? Ran right on across the road. Had to kill him to teach the other kids a lesson!"

"Guess you had no choice, eh? Killing's the only language these kids understand! Probably going to have to kill a daughter or two myself soon. See you in church on Sunday?"

"Certainly will pastor. Praise the Lord!"
"Do it because I say so and I'll kill you if you don't!" Would you respect a father who brought his children up using the tactics of the tyrant and who saw nothing wrong with threatening his unfortunate children with death if they disobeyed him?

How could society work if the only reason for doing anything was the fear of execution? Why is it that we don't allow employers to stone their employees to death if they fail to comply with a management directive? How about if school teachers could kill disobedient children or police officers could execute any petty criminal without trial?

That's the 'morality' this petty mendacious and vindictive little god is ordering in the Bible. Very clearly we are better than that. And yet this god presumes to lecture us on morality.

And, just in case you're tempted to think somehow Jesus changed all that and replaced God's perfect and omniscient laws with some better, more civilised ones, Jesus enthusiastically endorses it too, with:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19

No wonder people are rejecting this primitive barbarism in droves and are adopting more humane moral and ethical standard.

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Why Black Athletic Supremacy Evolved

An interesting theory was proposed on BBC TV this eveningt prior to the Olympic 200 meter final, in which Jamaican athletes, Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir won gold, silver and bronze respectively.

Only one white athlete, the Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, has ever run a sub-twenty second 200 meters and black athletes have dominated many Olympic events, especially those from the USA, Britain and the Caribbean nations although, curiously, they are noticeably absent from swimming events.

The theory is that this is the result of a Darwinian evolutionary process caused by the slave trade. Almost all the African slaves which were taken to the new world came from West Africa and were selected from amongst the fittest because these commanded the highest prices and were most likely to survive the appallingly inhumane conditions in the slave ships.

So, in addition to fittest being selected initially, another selection occurred on the slave ships, with only the exceptionally fit surviving the journey to the New World.

Then another selection process occurred on the plantations where the work was hard and physical and, with slaves being cheap and disposable, those who failed to work hard enough were simply killed and replaced by more bought from the next slave ship to dock. And of course, a wise slave owner encouraged his fittest (i.e. hardest working and most productive) slaves to breed, just as a herdsman breeds from his best stock.

And so the slave trade produced an intense Darwinian selection for fitness from which today's population of African Americans, Caribbean Islanders and Britain's Afro-Caribbean population is descended. It's not surprising therefore that they contribute disproportionately to the sporting success of their respective nations.

It's ironic that they tend to subscribe disproportionately to a religious superstition which teach that Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection doesn't happen. A religion moreover which slaves were originally forced to adopt because it made them easier to control by accepting a place allotted them by the slavers' deity, using scriptures in the slavers' Bible, and so less likely to use their superior fitness against the slave traders and the slave owners, who of course had all the guns, dogs and instruments of torture and execution, the better to ensure obedience and adherence to the 'faith'.

A 'faith' which sold them the lie that accepting your place without complaint in this world would ensure freedom and happiness after death (when they were no longer any use and couldn't complain) and which, in some countries, is still being used to give false hope when all real hope is being denied by those who still depend for their wealth on a supply of cheap, compliant and passive labour who humbly accept their place as allotted by a 'white' god.

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