F Rosa Rubicondior: 2010

Sunday 5 December 2010

The Faith Fallacy

What’s so good about Faith?

Faith: The thing held most dearly and proudly by the ‘faithful’; the means by which the ‘faithful’ know things without evidence; the means by which no evidence is needed to believe in a god, the nature of gods, and that the things attributed to gods were indeed performed by them.

Faith: The knowledge of things not seen.

For a Christian, faith is the means by which they know with complete confidence that there is a god and a heaven and the ONLY way to get to Heaven is by acceptance of God’s son, Jesus and by following his teaching as revealed in the Bible which faith tells them was unquestionably either dictated by or at least inspired by the god in Heaven.

Faith is also the means by which Christians know with absolute confidence that all the other religions are wrong.

For a Moslem, faith is the means by which they know with complete confidence that there is a god and a heaven and the ONLY way to get to Heaven is by acceptance that Mohammed was the last prophet of that god and wrote a book with clear and concise instructions which must be followed without question.

Faith is also the means by which Muslims know with absolute confidence that all the other religions are wrong.

For a Jew, faith is the means by which they know with complete confidence that there is a god and a heaven and the ONLY way to get to Heaven is by following the laws and rules as revealed by God to Moses, Elijah and other prophets and which include strict dietary rules, dress codes and observance of special days when life is lived differently to normal days.

Faith is also the means by which Jews know with absolute confidence that all the other religions are wrong.

For a Sikh... but you're probably getting bored by now and have recognised a pattern here.

But hold on! If faith is telling different people completely contradictory things and leading them to mutually exclusive conclusions, how can it be the sure and certain way to know the truth?

Clearly it can't, so what good is faith as a measure of physical reality, or even of mystical ‘transcendent reality’?

Let’s do a little mind experiment.

Imagine you’re the unfortunate victim of mistaken identity and find yourself in a court of law, charged with some offence or other of which you are completely innocent. Your defence team has brought in expert witnesses who have presented undeniable scientific evidence showing that, not only could you not have committed the crime, but you weren’t even in the same town at the time the offence was committed.

Well, that’s just about clinched it, hasn't it? Innocence proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Case dismissed! Phew! I expect you’re wondering why you were ever prosecuted in the first place. And you WOULD be so acquitted in a society in which guilt or innocence is decided by a rational examination of evidence and logically deduced conclusions from that examination.

Imagine now you live in a society which holds that faith is a superior form of knowledge; that faith is a sure and certain way to determine the truth. So sure and certain in fact that evidence is regarded as inferior and not to be trusted, especially when it contradicts faith; a society which is, in fact, founded on good Christian, Islamic and/or Jewish principles; principles which were used to justify the society having that form in the first place. A society founded on the faith of the faithful.

The prosecution have put up a witness who has sworn on a holy book that he has faith that you are guilty. He freely admits he has no evidence but explains that his faith is strong; he has no doubt at all that you are guilty because this has been revealed to him by faith. Since faith is superior to evidence as a measure of reality, the jury should ignore the defence evidence and go with faith. In fact, he argues, it would show a lack of faith amounting to heresy to believe mere scientific evidence in the face of strong faith. So weak is mere evidence compared to faith that he did not look for it nor at the defence evidence. He had no need. His faith is strong.  The jury should understand, as good followers of the faith, that all the so-called defence 'evidence' shows is just how misleading science is and why it should not be trusted... and anyone who doesn't see that is showing suspiciously heretical arrogance and is betraying the oath they swore when they entered the jury box...

Who would you want the jury to believe?

Suddenly faith is not so reliable after all. Faith can lead to completely wrong conclusions. Faith can convict the innocent and free the guilty. Faith can lead to wrong being mistaken for right.

Faith can lead the faithful to convict those with the 'wrong' faith of being unfaithful...

That’s why the same process of faith leads Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and all the other religions, and every different sect to conclude that they, and they alone, are right and all the others are wrong.

Faith is a trap set to catch the unwary. It was invented by religious leaders because they had no evidence.  Had they had real evidence, you can be sure they would be forever trumpeting that fact and citing it at every opportunity. Children the world over would be herded in droves to see this wonderful evidence. "There's your reason to believe", the priests would shout. "You don't need 'faith'! We have the evidence!"

Faith is not a virtue; faith is unquestioning obedience to dogma, and that is a sin.

To believe through faith alone is to make the assumption that something MUST be true just because you believe it. The arrogance of that belief would be breathtaking if the notion of faith had not poisoned our culture to the extent that this arrogance is considered an admirable quality; that being ‘faithful’ is assumed to equate to being good.

Faith is the trick by which the unscrupulous control the credulous and gullible, and make people ashamed and guilty for having doubt and asking questions.

Faith is the means by which Jewish, Islamic, Christian and other religion’s clerics and theologians have sought to exercise control and hold back human cultural, ethical and scientific development to a level it attained in the Bronze Age, at the nomadic pastoralist stage, when the myths and superstitions were first written down.

Faith is the means by which charlatans seek to prevent us asking the questions and accepting the answers which would break their grip on society.

Faith is the mind-numbing toxin of the religion parasite, in all it's different varieties.

Do not have faith in faith for that way leads to insanity.

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Friday 5 November 2010

On Omniscience And Freewill

Despite my blog exposing the logical fallacy of an inerrantly omniscient god and free will, it seems the full implications of this have gone unnoticed by many.

Let’s recap:

We are discussing the god of the Bible which Christians, Jews and Moslem all regard as omniscient (all-knowing) and whom they believe has granted mankind free will.

Following from this is the idea that, by exercising this free will, mankind committed the ultimate sin of disobeying God and must now seek God’s forgiveness. God does not pre-ordain our decisions so we bear sole responsibility for our own actions and are accountable to God for them. At the same time, God is all knowing and inerrant and so knows everything with absolute certainty. He knows everything about the past, present and future and is never wrong, ever.

Christians, Jews and Muslims and their various sects all believe they alone know the special secrets for gaining this god’s forgiveness for this supposed supreme sin of disobeying God. The only way to achieve this is by joining them, accepting their dogmas and following their rituals.

Furthermore, mankind knows about this sin, about God’s inerrant omniscience, about mankind’s free will and about the need for forgiveness, because it’s all written down in a book either written by, dictated by or inspired by this inerrant (and perfect) god, so it too is inerrant and absolutely true.

Surprisingly though, a simple question which can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer seems to put Christians, Jews and Muslims all into the same flat panic.

The simple question is:

Saturday 23 October 2010

On Quantum Cats and Future History

Hold onto your hat. This could get a little rough.

At the heart of quantum mechanics lies a paradox. All experimentation has shown that a particle has a dual nature - the so-called quantum duality. It is, at the same time, a particle or 'quanta' of energy, and a wave. It has been shown that a single photon, fired at two slits in a screen, passes through both slits simultaneously and creates an interference pattern with itself on a photosensitive detector behind the slits. And it's not just two slits. The same effect will be seen with three, four, five slits or as many slits as you like.

Furthermore, it has also been shown that, when we try to observe a particle on its journey through the two slits, by placing a detector behind one of them, the interference pattern disappears and the particle behaves like a perfectly respectable single entity and passes dutifully through the slit with the detector and not through the other one.

Observation has (apparently) caused the waveform to collapse into a particle. Seemingly, our observation of it has changed the nature of reality with respect to the particle being observed and it now only has one future.

The conclusion is inescapable, even if a little disturbing. All particles have many futures, possibly infinitely many futures, and they all take all of them.

The experimental data showing the collapse of the wave into a single future by our observation of it has also lead some people to conclude that somehow we create reality by detecting it, even leading some to speculate that there was no reality until mankind was there to observe it.

This conclusion is the 'Copenhagen Interpretation' of quantum duality and has lead to the multiverse hypothesis, where all possible universes, representing all possible futures potentially co-exist but we determine which one by our observation.

Cue, Schrödinger's Cat.

In an attempt to repudiate this view, Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment in which a live cat is placed in a sealed box, with air, food and water, and a phial of cyanide linked to a device which breaks it, so killing the cat, on detecting a particle emitted by a single atom of a radioactive isotope.

In this system, the cat's future is inevitably linked to a single quantum event - a radioactive decay - which is purely random and independent of any other event. The future of the isotope is either decayed or not and the future of the cat is either alive or dead. However, since the emitted particle will exist simultaneously in both possible futures, and the isotope will thus be both decayed and not decayed at the same time, so the cat will be simultaneously both alive and dead.

However, if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, this paradox will only be resolved when we open the box and observe the state of the isotope. Only then will the cat's future be determined; until that point, according Copenhagen, the cat will be both dead and alive.

This, of course, is a highly anthropocentric view of reality and assumes that observation is a uniquely human ability. In fact, it's naive. 'Observation' is carried out by detecting the effect(s) of a particle interacting with one or more other particles. Observation is witnessing the effects of quantum entanglement, when the future of one particle becomes entangled with that of another, and this has been happening since the beginning of time regardless of whether humans were present to witness it or not.

Schrödinger had intended his thought experiment to show the illogicality of the Copenhagen Interpretation but it failed to do that. What it lead people to conclude is that we discover which future we are in when we observe reality. When we open the box we discover whether we are in a future in which the cat is alive, or one in which it is dead. The multiverse hypothesis is not scratched by Schrödinger's cat.

The late, great Richard Feynman, working at Caltech, went some way towards resolving this problem. He showed that all possible histories with respect to a single particle can be expressed as a probability distribution expressing the 'sum over histories' and that this distribution is the wave we see when we observe the wave nature of a quantum event.

He has also shown that for complex systems, these waves 'decohere' to produce what may be a single future. This apparently refutes the multiverse hypothesis, but it may not do. It is still possible to view the future histories of small objects like atoms and molecules as having multiple possible futures because we know they, like particles, take all possible paths through spacetime. It could be that decoherence occurs only above a certain level of complexity.

The largest objects which have been shown to pass simultaneously through both slits in a two slit experiment are molecules of buckminsterfullerene (C60) consisting of sixty carbon atoms arranged in a geodesic - the dome-shaped structures designed by the architect Buckminster Fuller. Sixty atoms is large for inorganic molecules but still quite small for organic molecules, and many orders of magnitude smaller than an organism such as a cat, dead or alive. And we know that if we throw a dead cat at a couple of slots in a wall, it won't go through both, don't we? In fact, unless our aim is good, it'll most likely go through neither and we'll see the dead cat bounce.

So what do we make of this? Small objects have many possible futures, yet larger objects have only one - and we don't yet know where the dividing line is...

Rosa's speculation:
It could also be that what we see as 'now' is an advancing front of decoherence as we move into an array of futures. That NOW is only the interface between our macro-reality and micro-futures operating at the quantum level.

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Tuesday 5 October 2010

The Joy of Living

The Joy of Living - although this was not the last song Ewan MacColl wrote, it was meant as a farewell to the world and to the people he loved.

Farewell you northern hills, you mountains all goodbye
Moorlands and stony ridges, crags and peaks goodbye
Glyder Fach farewell, Culbeg, Scafell, cloud bearing Suilven
Sun warmed rocks and the cold of Bleaklow's frozen sea
The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Farewell to you my love, my time is almost done
Lie in my arms once more until the darkness comes
You filled all my days, held the night at bay, dearest companion
Years pass by and they're gone with the speed of birds in flight
Our lives like the verse of a song heard in the mountains
Give me your hand and love and join your voice with mine
And we'll sing of the hurt and the pain and the joy of living

Farewell to you my chicks, soon you must fly alone
Flesh of my flesh, my future life, bone of my bone
May your wings be strong, may your days be long, safe be your journey
Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love
May it bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving
Eagerly savour each new day and the taste of its mouth
Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living

Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling
Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind
So that I may be part of all you see, the air you are breathing
I'll be part of the curlew's cry and the soaring hawk
The blue milkwort and the sundew hung with diamonds
I'll be riding the gentle wind that blows through your hair
Reminding you how we shared in the joy of living

© Ewan MacColl Ltd 1986. Black And White

Ewan MacColl, whom I had the pleasure of meeting twice, spending a great couple of evenings with him and his partner Peggy Seeger, died in 1989, aged 74.

more info : http://www.ewanmaccoll.com/

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Monday 27 September 2010

What Makes You So Special?

Your Story

[Edit. This article has now been greatly expanded into my book, What Makes You So Special? : From the Big Bang to You, available in paperback or ebook for Kindle]

Bear with me a while because yours is a long story but it's a story very much worth telling.

About 13.7 billion years ago the universe came into existence as a singularity. We know this because the universe is expanding in all directions at a measurable rate. Projecting this backwards leads to a time when the entire universe occupied a single point of nearly infinite density; a black hole or singularity.

We also know that time and space are part of the universe and do not exist independently of it, so there is no sense in which we can talk of where and when this singularity occurred in some pre-existing space-time dimension.

Friday 10 September 2010

Reasons Why Atheists Should Speak Out - Inspiring Words for Rational Thinkers

A short collection of writings, poems and other stuff.

First they came...,

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
after all I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
after all I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
after all I was not a trade unionist.

[When they came for the Jews and the Romani
I did not speak out;
after all I was not a Jew or a Roma]

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (with additional verse by me)

Friday 20 August 2010

The Doublethink of the God Delusion

Doublethink or the ability to simultaneously hold two mutually contradictory opinions.
This blog is a response to the challenge from @TweetMinistries on Twitter to comment on a blog by Gary Gutting, a philosophy teacher at the University of Notre Dame. The blog was a critique of, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

Gutting's orginal blog may be read at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/on-dawkinss-atheism-a-response/

Gutting starts off badly and shows he hasn't understood what he is criticising by summarising Dawkins as saying natural selection explains the complexity of the universe. Dawkins only ever argues that natural selection accounts for the diversity and complexity of life, not of the universe. However, this is not the central argument of Gutting’s case.

The central argument is that Dawkins failed to take into account the theological argument that God is a special case and can be regarded as irrational, therefore it should be exempt from arguments aimed at showing there is no rational basis for a belief in one.

Gutting correctly points out that Dawkins' argument is that a creator god would necessarily be more complex than the universe it created, therefore the argument for a god from complexity is unsatisfactory in that it simply introduces another unexplained layer of complexity, so not only failing to solve the problem but actually making it worse.

He then complains that Dawkins never addressed the fact that, “philosophers from Thomas Aquinas through contemporary thinkers have offered detailed discussions of the question that provide intelligent suggestions about how to think coherently about a simple substance that has the power and knowledge attributed to God”.

This neatly sidesteps the problem of the necessary knowledge and information required to create a universe with all its complexity. The definition of God is shifted dramatically away from an omniscient, omnipotent god capable of emotions such as love and anger, able to formulate morality, hand down laws of behaviour and to monitor and record our thoughts, and in whose image we were created, to something much easier to fit into the debate at hand. This god is now a simple substance, presumably having no complexity whatsoever, yet still has the “power and knowledge attributed to it”.

In other words, this god has complexity without having complexity. Yep! That IS irrational, but that’s not a problem either. You see there is always “the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what). On this traditional view, God’s existence would be, so to speak, self-explanatory and so need no explanation...”, something Gutting also complains that Dawkins didn’t take into account.

What Gutting is complaining of here is that Dawkins should have accepted the workarounds for the difficult questions which theologians have assiduously devised to help them ignore them, and that he cheated by not allowing for them.

Yes indeed, Dawkins, in his argument that there was no rational explanation for a god did not take into account that there is an irrational explanation which should have been regarded as rational because it’s not fair to subject it to rational analysis (because it would fail that test).

Gutting then attempts to support this view by reference to Bertrand Russell’s point that we would require very strong evidence to believe that there is a teapot in orbit around the sun. Dawkins agrees with Russell that an extraordinary claim such as that requires an extraordinary level of supporting evidence to justify its acceptance.

He points out that, if astronauts had reported a teapot shaped object in orbit and satellite data had strongly suggested that there was indeed a teapot in orbit, this would be sufficient evidence to at least cause us to allow for the possibility of the teapot hypothesis being correct.

Gutting then tries to argue that there is indeed just such strong evidence to support the god hypothesis. Unfortunately the only evidence he has to offer is, “There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being”, neglecting to point out that none have ever produced evidence of a reality, and, “there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence”, as though arguments from authority are a good as real evidence.

What Gutting is attempting to do here is to suggest that somehow, the subjective interpretations of perception and the opinions of philosophers should be place on an equal footing with scientific data and independent eye-witness accounts. This is, of course, nothing more than special pleading again. The god hypothesis will only work if you exempt it from the normal tests you apply to other hypotheses, therefore it should be granted these exemption without further justification.

Gutting reinforces this claim with, “But religious believers will plausibly reply that science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”). They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science”.

He has ignored the fact that neurophysiology is material and so consciousness, thoughts, feelings, etc, are not evidence of the immaterial at all (‘plausible’ seems to mean ‘convenient’ in this context). And there again is that plea of special status for the god hypothesis. Now the reason is that this god should be exempt from ALL tests of existence because it is now assumed to be immaterial and so beyond the reach of science.

In summary then, Gutting is arguing that Dawkins was wrong to argue that there is no rational basis for belief in a god because belief in god is irrational and Dawkins should have accepted that as er... rational.

Presumably this form of 'logic' is perfectly acceptable in theological circles.

We also have here yet another example of the special pleading which theologians use to defend their god hypothesis. Their little hypothesis wants to play with the big boys of science and compete on an equal footing, but it needs affirmative action and special assistance to get by. It’s not fair that it should have to take the same tests scientific hypotheses have to pass. It’s perfectly fair to claim it is as rational as scientific hypotheses even though it is irrational.

This compartmentalised doublethink is a perfect example of Dawkins’ God Delusion.

It's really rather sad that humans, in attempting to create a god, have only managed to create a seriously handicapped one.

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Thursday 19 August 2010

Refuting the Arguments For God

These arguments for God appear on http://snapshotsofgod.com/evidence.htm .

This blog examines them one by one and shows the fallacy behind them.

“If you live in a desert and never leave it, you won't find a shred of evidence for the existence for polar ice caps or polar bears.”

True, but if you had never heard of polar icecaps and bears, why would you even think of looking for them? You won’t find any evidence of Martians either but is that a reason to believe they exist? Of course not. Whilst absence of evidence is far from being proof of absence, it is most certainly supporting evidence for the idea of absence.  It is a very long way from being proof or even evidence of presence.

The extraordinary thing is that the blogger opens his blog with what amounts to a claim that the absence of evidence is in some way evidence of presence!

The temptation is to walk away right now.  Let’s hope things get better...

Friday 6 August 2010

Biblical Contradictions

For a long list of Biblical contradictions please see  http://www.evilbible.com/Biblical%20Contradictions.htm

Also see http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ for an annotated Bible pointing out the errors and contradictions.  Something like 1616 of them in all.

The Special Needs God of Creationism

Science works by applying a set of agreed fundamental requirements, based on the principles of logic, mathematics, and established accepted scientific axioms, to all hypotheses. All competing hypotheses must meet these basic requirements and each will stand or fall according to how well or badly the presented supporting evidence, when view according to these principles, supports the hypothesis. No serious scientist would expect to get away with pleading that his favourite hypotheses should be exempt from, say, an accepted fundamental law and least of all from one which is fundamental to his hypothesis.

For example, imagine a scientist who is proposing a new hypothesis explaining flight and claiming it is a much better account of how an aircraft flies than any other. In fact, it is so brilliant that it utterly destroys the science of aerodynamics and will require the fundamental laws of physics to be re-written.

He has rightly pointed out that a fundamental requirement of any aerodynamic theory is that it must explain how an object in flight in air is apparently defying gravity and is able to move up and down in a controlled manner in a gravity field. However, it has been pointed out to him that, applying HIS hypothesis would not actually explain anything. If it were true, no object would actually be able to leave the ground, let alone move up or down in the air, in a controlled manner or not.

Imagine the reaction from his fellow scientists when he retorted that this was not a problem for his hypothesis because it was a special case and was exempt from any principle or principles which rendered it false. How long do you think this scientist’s credibility would last? About as long as it took his fellow scientists to stop laughing and persuade their incredulous colleagues that he had really made that claim - and was not even joking!

Now, consider the Creationist hypothesis concerning causality. They will argue that all things must have a cause (ignoring things like spontaneous decay of radioactive isotopes, which don’t, but let’s ignore that with them for the time being). The argument goes that, since everything must have a cause, there must have been a prime cause for all things and that the only possible prime cause must have been their favourite god. They also argue that this is an absolute universal law of logic from which nothing can escape and to which all scientific theories must be subject, with absolutely no exceptions.

We can also ignore the fact that, even if this was true, it would not establish that this prime causing is their favourite god, or anything even remotely like it. Assume for a moment that creationists have established somehow that the need for a prime cause IS an absolute and immutable fundamental law of the universe and that any such prime cause can only be their god.

“Ah!” You’ll no doubt now be saying, “What was the cause of the creationist god?” And you’d be entirely correct. Applying our universal immutable law to which all things must be subject, the creationist god must also have had a cause. The ‘prime cause’ is not prime at all.

Okay, so let’s hypothesise a cause before the prime cause (a sub-prime cause?). In fact, we now have to hypothesis an infinitely regressing continuum of pre-pre-pre- (ad infinitum) prime causes. In fact our prime cause hypothesis does not explain causality at all. The prime cause hypothesis has just collapsed under its own absurd logic. It has spectacularly falsified itself, something only possible for the more absurd hypotheses.

“No!” Creationists will retort. “My hypothesis is a special case and is exempt from its own fundamental law! Everything else is obliged to pass the test of my first cause hypothesis, but my god is exempt. It is a special case to which special laws apply. It is not fair to expect it to compete with science on an equal footing”.  And they are not even joking. Special pleading is a fundamental part of almost all theology!

The creationist’s god is like a special needs child which can’t be expected to compete on an equal footing with normal children. It needs affirmative action and special provisions to be able to lead the semblance of a normal existence. These sentiments would be quite understandable, even laudable from the point of view of parents who have such an unfortunate child, but why have creationists created a god with so many handicaps and challenges that it needs to be treated as a special needs child?

The answer of course, is that they had no choice. Their problem is that their god IS handicapped. These handicaps were inherited from its parents. It was created by people who find reality difficult to understand and so constantly strive to live in an alternate one: one with simplistic answers, carefully constructed so as to be amenable to people with little or no learning and who take comfort in ignorance.

So of course it too can’t cope with reality either.  Imaginary friends are only as good as the minds that imagine them.

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Thursday 5 August 2010

The False Dichotomy Fallacy - Creationism's Moral Failing

Read any serious scientific paper and you will see evidence and discussions which support the hypothesis or theory under consideration. The authors may refer to opposing or alternative hypotheses but only to compare and contrast their results or arguments. Any evidence against any opposing hypothesis is completely irrelevant to that task, as are any deficiencies in that evidence.

The authors know that their hypothesis will only stand if they can show firm evidence supporting it, or if they don’t they will quickly learn from the peer review process which will give their paper short shrift. The humiliation of having a paper rejected on the grounds that ‘the author has presented no evidence supporting his/her conclusions nor his/her underlying hypothesis’ is not a good career move in an ambitious young scientist, who will never be an old scientist unless they learn better science.

Now compare that to a reading of any ‘creation science’ article – which is never subjected to the peer review process by submitting it to respected fellow scientist regarded as experts in the particular field. Almost invariably, the entire thrust of the article will be attacking established science, and in particular, established science which conflicts with the creationist view. There will rarely be a presentation of hard evidence supporting creationism or ‘intelligent design’ to give it it’s alternative name.

It’s as though the author wants you to believe that there are only two possible hypotheses: the established scientific view with all it’s supporting evidence, or the creationist view. You are expected to believe that, if they can cast doubt on the scientific view, their own view will somehow gain strength from it and if they can destroy it, their preferred view will automatically be accepted as the correct one.

A moment's thought should lead you to see the fallacy there. There are not just two possible alternative hypotheses. In fact there are an almost infinite number, limited only by human imagination. Each hypothesis must stand (or fall) on its own. If no evidence is available to support it, it falls by default. No single theory, no matter how fond it's proponents are of it, has the special distinction of being accepted as the right one in the absence of any supporting evidence.

But that is exactly what the author wants you to believe. This is the false dichotomy fallacy. It is the scientific and intellectual equivalent of a deliberate lie designed to mislead. Creation ‘scientists’ use this fallacy for two reasons:
  • They have no evidence for their creation hypothesis, so have none to present and no conclusions to draw from it.
  • They want to mislead you into believing their hypothesis even though they have no evidence for it.

This neatly illustrates the intellectual dishonesty of creationism. It is the technique of the confidence trickster who has identified his mark and is playing to his weaknesses.

It is dishonest in it’s pretence of using scientific methodology. Just using scientific-sounding words and aping a scientific style of writing is not science. It is dishonest because:
  • it deliberately sets out to mislead and to deceive and so reveals a hidden agenda that the writer wants to conceal from you.
  • it exploits an assumed ignorance and/or lack of critical thinking ability in its target readership.
  • it betrays an awareness of this ignorance and intellectual deficit, yet fails to correct it. Instead it assiduously seeks to perpetuate and exploit it it.

Creation science shows the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of creationism. Not surprisingly, proponents of it are loud in their claim to occupy the moral high-ground, as they shout out from the moral gutter in which they live.

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Saturday 31 July 2010

Kent Hovind's Ten Most Ignorant Questions

The convicted fraudster and Young Earth Creationist, Dr Kent Hovind, (or to give him his proper academic title, Mr Kent Hovind) claims to have ten questions which Evolutionists cannot/will not answer.

Various estimates put Hovind's income from his idiosyncratic biological, geophysical and cosmological claims and lecture tours at $1-2 million dollars per annum.

Hovind's doctorate (which was in Christian Education, not, as has been claimed, in a science subject of any sort) was the result of a short correspondence course with an unaccredited Bible college, Patriot Bible University.

Patriot Bible Shed, Colorado, USA
The college refuses to release his dissertation but those who have managed to see a copy report that it is incomplete, repetitions, unoriginal, lacking references with very little academic merit, and shows a lack of basic understanding and knowledge of science. Hovind claims to be a scientist but his sole science 'qualification' appears to be that he taught 'science' in private high-schools, all of which were fundamentalist Christian schools, some of which Hovind himself owned.

[Later note: A copy of Kent Hovind's doctoral 'dissertation' is now available on Wikileaks at http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Young-earth_creationist_Kent_Hovind's_doctoral_dissertation. As readers can see, this is barely up to the standard required for an 'A' level assignment report and shows no evidence of having been submitted for peer review.]

This blog both answers Hovind’s ten questions and exposes the attempted deception behind them.

Thursday 29 July 2010

The Evolution of God

Whenever you’re wondering about the origins of something in human evolution or human culture, think 'East African plains'. The East African plains are where almost all our modern characteristics evolved. That's where we evolved upright walking, fully opposable thumbs and, perhaps most importantly, our brains.

As our brains developed we developed pattern-recognition, maybe firstly for facial recognition, which led us later to develop reading and writing skills, amongst other things. Early on however, it helped us to track animals by recognising the footprints of the different prey and predator species. We are probably the only species which can look at a set of footprints and ‘read’ the information in them. We can tell the species, or at least the family – big cat, dog, antelope, ostrich, etc - and we can tell where it came from, where it was going and, with a little learning, how long ago it passed by.

All this is invaluable information for both catching lunch and avoiding becoming something else’s lunch. Inheritors of these skills, in the presence of a powerful brain, would have had enormous advantage, so the genetic variations which facilitated them would have spread rapidly through the gene-pool.

Our brain allowed us to learn these skills and to pass them on to the next generation, and the ability to teach and to learn also allowed us to develop cultures by establishing group norms and ethics, and to pass these on to the next generation. Group cohesion and, especially, group identity would have been enhanced by these cultural norms, inculcated from birth and accepted as ‘right’ by the whole group. Failure to comply would have meant exclusion from the group – not a very attractive prospect for a species which is relatively weak as an individual but immensely strong when part of a coordinated group.

Incidentally, Man is not alone in developing cultures which are passed from one generation to the next. The other African apes all have observable cultural differences between groups, as do some more distantly related simian species such as macaques, and baboons. Dolphins and killer whales also have distinct cultural groups and even some species of bird have local (i.e., cultural) calls and songs.

But I digress.

Early humans were now inheriting two different sorts of replicators. They were inheriting biological genes which determined their physical form and they were inheriting cultural or 'memory genes', more correctly now known as memes, which determined their culture, group norms and ethics.

Just as with the other African ape species, we would probably have lived in small groups of related individuals, each group dominated by an alpha male. This alpha male would have won his ‘right’ to be leader and the size of the group would have been related to how many individuals this alpha male (and maybe his alpha female mate) could exert control over. The alpha male would have had first pick of the females and would have enforced this right, maybe through a group of loyal supporters, by the sanction of physical punishment against those who infringed his right or who threatened his dominance. The idea that the alpha male had this right would have been passed on from one generation to the next as a group norm or ethic.

In evolutionary terms, there would be an advantage in the alpha male passing on the genes which enabled him to dominate and the group would have benefited by being more likely to be led by a strong male able to dominate and lead. However, there would have been an evolutionary arms race between these ‘alpha male’ genes and genes which predisposed to illicit sexual activity, since these genes would have enjoyed the protection of the alpha male. Whether these ‘genes’ were actual DNA genes or memes, inherited as part of group culture, is immaterial. The fact is that human groups would have been evolving by gene-meme co-evolution. Replicators have no concern for the nature of the other replicators with which they form alliances.

Now, place yourself in such a group in the plains of East Africa. The plains of East Africa have very many rocky out-crops which offer shelter and which are good vantage points from which to survey the surrounding plain. These outcrops also give the alpha male good vantage points from which to survey the group and keep an eye on what’s going on: who’s doing what and with whom, with particular regard to illicit sexual activity. Alternatively, other males and females will be trying to evade his watchful eye, and those of his supporters.

It is easy to see how this idea of a dominant alpha male, who is at the same time, the strong leader on whom the group depends, and the vengeful deliverer of pain and suffering for any transgression of the group norms, came to evolve in human culture. It is also easy to see why this alpha male takes a special interest in the sexual activities of his 'subjects', and is especially concerned that females remain inactive until he's had his turn, or at least sanctioned their mating.

Domination of his group through controlling their sexual activity ensures his genes get priority and he can also use this control as a reward system to ensure obedience. Meanwhile other selection forces are ensuring continued 'illicit' sexual activity, even making this thrilling and exciting.

Now, move on two or three hundred thousand years and remove man from the East African plains. Place him now in larger nomadic tribes or into settled farming communities and towns across Africa, Europe, Asia and into the Americas. Now there is no place for a single alpha male to sit and watch the whole group and the group is too large or diverse for him to dominate it, yet he still exists in the culture. The memes which arose on the plains of East Africa are still being replicated down through the generations. So many of our cultural ideas have been conditioned by the alpha male's presence and have evolved in an environment in which he exists, but the physical reality of the alpha male has now been replaced by the cultural idea of one.

The alpha male now sits on some imaginary vantage point overlooking the tribe, still the benevolent protector and leader, the guardian of the law, and the vengeful enforcer of his right to grant permission for sexual activity and for whose permission all, but especially the females, must wait until he grants it through the symbolic ceremony of marriage.

His loyal supporters who act as his enforcers, still exist though. They have become a self-selecting band who act as though the alpha male still exists and whose claim to power and authority is that they represent him and are doing his bidding. They have become his priesthood.

Welcome to the god hypothesis: the imaginary benevolent leader who is also the object of fear; the loving protector who punishes transgression and who takes a special interest in our sexual activities. The man whose authority to rule is now so deeply embedded in human culture that many regard it as a sin punishable by unimaginable pain and suffering and withdrawal of the alpha male's 'love' even to question it. And the leader who may just take it into his head to show us his power by some random act of indiscriminate violence if we're not very careful.

God: a cultural idea which is a fossil relic of our evolution as an ape on the plains of East Africa.

Cultural evolution explains both the origin of the idea of a god and its fallacy. The cultural idea of a god is evidence of human evolution as an ape on the plains of East Africa.

Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It

This book explains why faith is a fallacy and serves no useful purpose other than providing an excuse for pretending to know things that are unknown. It also explains how losing faith liberates former sufferers from fear, delusion, and the control of others, freeing them to see the world in a different light, to recognise the injustices that religions cause and to accept people for who they are, not which group they happened to be born in. A society based on atheist, Humanist principles would be a less divided, more inclusive, more peaceful society and one more appreciative of the one opportunity that life gives us to enjoy and wonder at the world we live in.

Available in Hardcover, Paperback or ebook for Kindle


What Makes You So Special? From The Big Bang To You

How did you come to be here, now? This books takes you from the Big Bang to the evolution of modern humans and the history of human cultures, showing that science is an adventure of discovery and a source of limitless wonder, giving us richer and more rewarding appreciation of the phenomenal privilege of merely being alive and able to begin to understand it all.

Available in Hardcover, Paperback or ebook for Kindle


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Thursday 22 July 2010

The Nature of Atheist Belief

A charge frequently levelled at Atheist is that Atheism is a belief system just like religion, so let’s look at what 'belief' actually means.

Scientific belief is not an absolute position, but is always subject to review, revision and, when justified by evidence or logical deduction, abandonment. No scientific belief is sacred and unchallengeable, save perhaps the belief that no scientific belief is sacred and unchallengeable.

1. Strong scientific belief
I believe that, when I drop a stone it will fall towards earth. This belief is based on a life-time of experience, the knowledge that Earth has gravity and that gravity will cause it to happen, based in turn on the acceptance of the body of scientific opinion that gravity will cause a small object to fall towards a large one (though this latter explains how gravity works and so only explains what I can observe for myself).

My belief that a stone will always fall under gravity is strong because it is evidence-based and can be repeatedly tested in experiments. However, it allows for the possibility that one day a stone may fail to fall and so overthrow the entire theory of gravity, necessitating a complete revision of some basic scientific principles. And, of course, in the special circumstances which might prevail at some future state of the Universe, there may be no gravity so a stone would not then fall to Earth, although in such circumstances there would be no Earth, no stone and no-one to drop it.

2. Weak scientific belief.
I believe that Manchester United could win the Premier League next season. This belief is derived from the fact that there IS a Premier League in which Football teams compete and that Manchester United is a team in that league. These are factual observations which can be independently verified. I also believe that Manchester United have a team capable of winning the Premier League. This is based on the evidence of past results.

However, this belief in a possible outcome is NOT a strong belief because I also have a belief in several possible, mutually exclusive, alternative outcomes. I also believe that any other team in the Premiership could win the title. Given sufficient time and information, the probability of any one of them doing so could be ranked in order of probability, though maybe never accurately since some of the required information is itself subject to probability and uncertainty. However, it MAY be possible to reach a broad measure of confidence in the approximate final position of most teams, so my belief that Manchester United could win the title can be given an approximate measure of confidence.

Note: this latter belief differs from my belief in gravity only in the degree of confidence. Both are observation-based and can be scientifically verified, yet both are subject to probability and both allow for the possibility of being wrong. The probability of a stone not falling under gravity is very low (almost, but not quite, zero); the probability of Manchester United winning the Premiership may be less than 50%, however, my belief is only in the POSSIBILITY of it happening, not in the certainty of it, so I have complete confidence that it is possible, though it may not be probable.

3. Religious belief
Religious belief never allows for the possibility of being wrong. Faith is certainty, based on unchallengeable ‘truths’ which must be accepted a priori. No observations or experimental testing is required. Indeed, the act of doing so is an act of doubt which is contrary to faith and tantamount to heresy. Given the choice between faith-based ‘knowledge’ and evidence which refutes that knowledge, the true believer will choose faith and dismiss the contrary evidence.

4. The difference
So what is the fundamental difference between scientific belief and religious belief?

With scientific belief, the observer adopts a position subservient to the factual, observable, or logically deducible evidence and bases their belief, and their confidence in that belief in that evidence. The believer is subservient to, and is humbled by, the evidence.

A consequence of this subservience is that there can be no belief in its absence. Evidence drives belief, so, with no evidential drivers there can be no belief. This is where atheist arrive at their belief that there are no gods. There is no evidence for them so no belief that they exist. To believe they do so would be the equivalent of believing in a force which moves a stone horizontally when dropped. To believe in the absence of evidence is to adopt the religious position.

With religious belief, the ‘observer’ adopts a superior position and holds the view that something MUST be true simply because they believe it. The ‘knowledge’ they derive from their faith needs no evidential or logical support. Indeed, observational evidence is immaterial and irrelevant. The observer is superior to the evidence and can determine ‘truth’ by belief alone. In effect, religious belief is the assumption that the Universe is subservient to the will of the believer and facts only exist if permitted so to do.

As an Atheist, I find the arrogance of the religious position to be an affront to the Universe and an abuse of what must be one of the greatest creations of evolution – the human brain and the mind it allows us to have. It is an affront to humanity.

In the unlikely event that there is a sentient creator of the Universe, it is difficult to believe that it would not also be affronted by the arrogance of religious belief.

Saturday 26 June 2010

What's Wrong With Faith?

Can you tell red from blue?

Suppose for a moment that you have been born with some rare defect which makes it impossible (not just difficult, but impossible) for you to tell red from blue.

You have been given a piece of coloured paper to hold which you know it’s either red or blue. Your task is to discover what colour it is.

To help you, you have two people:

• You know one person will try to help you and wants you to know the true colour of the piece of paper.
• You know the other person will try to mislead you and prevent you discovering the true colour of the paper.

You do not know which is which.

What questions can you ask either of these people so you can discover the true colour of the paper in your hand?

Remember, there is no point asking them what colour the paper is because, even if you ask the person who is trying to help, you can’t tell if he has or not because you can’t check the paper in your hand.

You can’t ask either of them about the other’s motives because the person trying to mislead you could do so by telling the truth. You have no way to know this in advance, so have no basis by which to assess the truth of the answer.

Take as long as you need, then continue with the rest of this blog.

In fact, there is absolutely no way you can discover the truth. You simply do not have a framework by which to judge any of the answers so none of them will help you, no matter how earnestly they may wish to.

Conclusion: Unless you can tell red from blue you cannot discover the colour of a piece of red or blue paper, and, more importantly, you cannot use that knowledge to judge the motives of someone wishing to help and someone wishing to mislead and so discover which is which.

If you’re a Christian, Moslem or Jew you’re probably beginning to feel a little uncomfortable by now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re looking for a reason to stop reading....

You see, the problem you have, if you believe in God and Satan, and you believe you only get your morals (your knowledge of right and wrong) from God through your holy book, is that you believe you have no a priori knowledge of right and wrong, so you have no independent basis for judging whether the author of the book wishes to help you discover right and wrong, or wishes to mislead you.

In short, the logic of your belief is that you cannot know for certain whether God or Satan wrote your holy book. For all you know, they might be Satan’s greatest deceit. There is absolutely no way for you to discover that, if you believe what you were led to believe by the Bible or Koran. There is nothing in your book that you can look to without the thought that, if Satan wrote it, he might be misleading you. You MUST look outside them for proof – and you have ruled that out in advance when you claimed your morals come only from your book.

The central fallacy of any book-based morality is that you cannot know the morals of the author. You can never be sure you have not been misled by him or her.

One more thing you might wish to ponder on if you’re a Christian, Moslem or Jew, assuming you’ve not tiptoed quietly away, is the fact that the Bible or Koran  (or rather it’s author(s)) has mired you firmly in this moral morass with, apparently, no way out. You are told you have to believe it to be 'saved' and avoid eternal pain and suffering, and you are told you must tell others to believe it all too, or they too will suffer eternal pain, etc.  Yet you can not be sure this is right. You MAY be ensuring your own, and those you tell to follow your holy book, to the very eternal pain and suffering you wish to avoid. 

You COULD be walking blindly into the trap Satan has carefully prepared for you.

Is that the act of someone who wants to help you and guide you through life?

There is a way out of course, if you want to take it. All you need is belief in yourself. All you need do is accept that you DO know right from wrong without the help of a book. Try this little thought experiment for yourself. Imagine someone gave you a book telling stories about a man who taught his followers to hurt children, to steal, cheat and lie, and to be nasty to old ladies. If the person who gave you the book told you it was about a good man who’s teaching you should follow, would you believe them and start lying, cheating, hurting babies, etc, or would you judge the giver and the character in the book to be bad and not worthy of your following?

Isn’t the reverse of that exactly what you did when someone gave you a copy of the Bible? If you are a Christian didn’t you in fact judge Jesus to be good and worthy of your following?  If you are Jewish, didn't you judge God, Isaiah and Moses to be good?

And if you are Moslem, didn't you judge Mohamed to be good?

Indeed you did.

You see, man judges gods and prophets and finds them to be good or bad according to innate human standards; standards which have evolved within our culture as we have evolved as a species and diversified across the earth into various different cultures each with its traditional, culturally inherited detailed morality, but almost invariably including the golden rule – do as you would be done by.

Monday 21 June 2010

The Fallacy of God's Inerrant Omniscience

As an atheist, of course, I don't believe in any gods so what I'm discussing here is the god of the Bible, whom Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe to exist and who is at the centre of their belief system.

This god is generally assumed by all believers to be inerrantly omniscient, i.e. it knows all things, including, in absolutely inerrant detail the entire future of the Universe and everything in it - every celestial body, every living thing, every atom and every particle. This god could, if it was so inclined, tell you with absolute accuracy, the position of any given electron at any point in time, past or future.

Saturday 12 June 2010

The Agnostic Hypothesis

The Agnostic view of gods is that, while there may be no evidence for them, this does not prove their non-existence; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You cannot prove a negative therefore you cannot prove non-existence.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, the same case can be made for any possible notional idea. The universe of all possible 'truths' is bounded only by the limitations of human imagination. For example, you may imagine your loft to be full of scientifically undetectable hippos.

The Agnostic purist would argue that the hypothesis that this proposition is not true cannot be proven and so we must allow for the possibility that your loft is indeed full of invisible, weightless, odourless hippopotami. Indeed, it would be dishonest, even bigoted, to argue that the idea is nonsense; that there are absolutely no undetectable hippos, in your loft.

Despite the absurdity of the conclusions to which this this argument can lead, it seems, on the face of it, a logical, irrefutable and intellectually honest position to adopt. Certainly you can't prove a negative, so is the Agnostic right to believe that there may indeed be lofts full of undetectable hippos, and there may be gods, even the Abrahamic god of the Jews, Moslems and Christians, and their various offspring sects? Is it right to take the view that those who DO believe those things MAY be right and that their beliefs can't be challenged with science?

But hold on a minute; are we really seeking here to do the impossible and prove a negative? Isn't there an assumption underlying the Agnostic argument that any notional idea MAY have a physical reality? Aren't Agnostics assuming something positive which they must prove, and which IS falsifiable in a scientific manner?

Are they not assuming that there is some mechanism by which anything which can be imagined by the human brain can leave that virtual world of human imagination and gain physical reality?

If so, their claim becomes a positive, testable hypothesis which can be falsified by science.

If not, then what exactly is the basis of the assumption that any proposition which can be dreamt up MAY have a physical reality, the possibility of which should be acknowledged?

So, a challenge for Agnostics: establish by science that this transfer mechanism exists and the human mind can create physical reality by thought alone, and you have proven the underlying assumption behind agnosticism. The test will require you to demonstrate repeatable instances of a physical reality brought into existence by thought alone, which did not pre-exist your imagining it.

I await the result with interest.

Thursday 6 May 2010

UKIP Crash

The former leader of the United Kingdom Intolerance Party (UKIP) was slightly hurt by his party’s devastating crash on 6th May.

Nigel Farage (13) said, “One minute we were flying high in the polls, then the next we were nose-diving towards the ground. I’m not sure exactly what happened but it was almost certainly caused by those foreigners from Europe directed by the faceless Brussels Bureaucrats who run Britain from Strasburg. I blame the Poles, coming over here doing our plumbing. Look, my father and millions like him died in the trenches in 1945 fighting the Poles and Belgians to prevent just this sort of thing. I used to run a bank, you know, so I know about this stuff...” (Continued for another 45 minutes). Nigel Farage (12) suffered minor head injuries.

UKIP Chairman, Lord Pearson (87), said, “You can’t expect me to discuss our policies when I haven’t read them. I want to concentrate on the broader issues like the recent shortage of cheap plumbers and whose head should be on the Euro. The crash? Oh! Was there a vote of some sort? I don’t normally bother with those. Farage? Is he one of ours? You sure? Sounds like a Belgian to me.”

Nigel Farage's condition is reported as unchanged. A spokesman said, "He'll never be any better but he's as well as can be expected. Nothing to do with the crash, he's just made that way".

Tuesday 4 May 2010

British Humanist Association - Countering Creationism

Countering Creationism British Humanist Association report

Attempts to have creationism and ‘intelligent design’ taught in science lessons have been made in some state-funded British schools, in particular academies run by the Emmanuel/Vardy foundation. The creationist organisation ‘Truth in Science’ launched a new website encouraging teachers to incorporate ‘Intelligent Design’ into their science teaching and mailed free resources to all Secondary Heads of Science. Other creationist organisations are increasingly operating in the UK, attempting to subvert science education in state schools (Read more...)

Monday 3 May 2010


A regular commentary on religion and politics from the point of view of a centre-left atheist humanist.
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