Tag Archives: Religion

Killers for Religion and Atheism?

So, an atheist kills a bunch of religious people, and the religious can now cite an example that shows that their religion isn’t that bad after all.

Not so fast.

Atheism vs Theism

Both Atheism and Theism are simply opposing philosophical positions. Any other system’s metaphysical philosophy is ‘atheistic’ if it rejects theism.

A particular theism might be vary vague – “I believe there is one, and possibly more gods, but I don’t know whether any of the religions are true …”.

Or it might be specific yet still ‘other worldly’ – “I believe that there must have been a creator god, but I have no idea what he intends for us, and I offer no moral guidance based on my belief that there is a god.”

Or it might be committed to the variable claims about the god or gods of a particular religion, which may have many sects.

Atheism is pretty much opposition to these sorts of theism, usually on the grounds that there is no evidence or reason to believe specific claims, or support the level of hopefulness that the ‘spiritual’ seem to be clinging onto. In this respect Atheism is a negative position: it simply rejects the claim that there are gods.

Note that Atheism does not assert that there are definitely no gods.

Some atheists might assert that there are absolutely no gods, but that isn’t much better than asserting absolutely that there are gods. You might call such an atheism a ‘faith’ based atheism. But if you take the trouble to pin atheists down they generally agree that they do not hold such a strong opinion, but merely act as if they do because that’s often easier to express.

But this acting as if there are no gods is a fair position to take. Christians act as if there are no Norse gods. They act as if there are no fairies or Santa. (Note that playing along with such fantasies for the fun they provide for children isn’t acting with true belief.)

Religions

Religions are a subset of Theism …

Atheism-Theism-Religion

[Agnostics may not deny the existence of god, but they don’t positively assert there are gods either.]

Religions take the basic philosophical position of theism, thinking there are some teleological entities that created our universe, and add many more specific claims:

  • Our god is the only god.
  • Our god cares about us.
  • Our god dictates our moral codes.
  • Our god wants us to punish people that don’t follow his codes.
  • Our god wants us to punish people that don’t believe in him.
  • Our god doesn’t want us to eat pig meat and thinks it a moral obligation that we don’t.
  • Our god wants us to punish people that have sex outside the specific type of union sanctioned by our god (monogamy for Christians, up to four wives, but one husband for Muslims)
  • Our god will not remarry divorcees – old school Catholic; god changes his mind sometimes; he’s fickle; or humans decide he changed his mind.

Most religious people are born into, indoctrinated into, their religion. And the religion may provide many social benefits if it’s a large religious community.

But there can also be great costs for those that simply cannot continue to believe. In some more fundamentalist communities, ex-believers can be ostracised, might suffer social and economic hardship if rejected by the community, and might even risk death. If the religion prescribes death for apostates, as is the case for Islam, then even if the religion isn’t the state authority, believers are easily persuaded to take it upon themselves.

The list of additional beliefs on top of basic theism, including the many moral prescriptions and proscriptions, is long. It depends on the religion, the sect within the religion, and the personal willingness of individuals to follow the rules of the religion.

This becomes a little tricky for the religious that try to divert criticism away from their religion, when opinions differ so widely within:

  • God changes his mind often, it seems, judging by how religious opinions change.
  • Individuals make up their own minds what they take from their religion … you’d think the religious would therefore appreciate how atheists make up their own minds about morality.
  • The greatest opponents to a particular religious believer’s views are … other religious people. Islamic terrorism? Many victims are other Muslims, for being the wrong type of Muslim.

The variety of religious belief is often greater than the difference between Atheism and a particular Religion. Modern Anglicans that accept secular liberal democracy, have no problem with homosexuality, even in the church, are for full gender equality, and gender identity. They have much more in common with the social and political leanings of many atheists, than with even their fundamentalist Christian brethren, let alone than with people of other faiths.

And yet, the religious stick together. It only takes the whiff of an atheist with a strong opinion for the ‘interfaith’ community to band together in offended outrage. And let anyone speak out about the Islam of the Islamic extremists and even moderate Muslims will come to Islam’s defence as much as agree with an atheist that there might be a problem with the religion.

[Update 5/12/2017] There was greater outrage that Trump retweeted a lead figure one of Britain First’s outspoken anti-Islam activists than at the content of the videos the activist posted. One was ‘fake news’, but the other two were of Muslims persecuting others. Despite the acts of the Muslims, this was actually seen as anti-Muslim bigotry. Take a moment. Here’s the upshot: every tweet condemning German neo-Nazis is anti-German bigotry; every tweet showing and condemning videos of Britain First are anti-British bigotry, and by extension, anti-Muslim bigotry, since, as  is belaboured painfully, British Muslims are British. This is the state of play in 2017, where any criticism of Islam is interpreted as ‘Islamophobia’, ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ … and yes, ‘racism’.

Political Ideologies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, …

Whenever an atheist argues with Christians or Muslims, it’s not long before we get the Hitler, Stalin, Fascism, Nazism, Communism line thrown at us. And no matter how often it’s pointed out that this isn’t a valid argument, it still keeps on coming up. Often from the same people that have had this pointed out before.

Political ideologies can of course cross boundaries of Atheism-Theism. Christians can be socialists. In the 70s it was quite common for Islamists to lean towards socialism … maybe they hadn’t realised how far right Islam really is … or maybe they had.

And, Hitler was not an atheist. He might not have favoured the established churches that opposed his thugs, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t religious. Many Nazi ideas were based on the old Teutonic ideals of religiously motivated knights.

Communism? Don’t think that political ideology stops you believing in a personal god … it just becomes less convenient and maybe a little dangerous to admit to one, but Communism does not preclude theism.

These political ideologies tell us little about the wide variety of atheists. The Atheism that some political ideologies might embrace informs the ideology with nothing other than the fact that there is no evidence for any god.

Religious Political Ideologies

Some political ideologies are religious ones.

And most religious ideologies are political – they are inherently so because they dictate the behaviours of people, and that’s a very political thing to do. And they usually have a lot to say on social issues … not all good. Homophobia, sex outside marriage, modesty, … religions can be obsessed with sex, particularly with regard to women, and if feminism isn’t a political matter I’m not sure what is.

It is possible to believe in a religion and treat it as an entirely personal belief system that determines how you live your own life, without you making any claims about what it implies for anyone else.

But this is rare. Most religions, and especially religious organisations, are very keen on telling: religious believers how they should act; non-believers that they are anything from misguided to evil; the religious what they should do to the non-believers: killing apostates, bombing abortion clinics, punishing people for blasphemy (the modern version is imprisoning people for ‘hate speech’).

Christianity, as supposedly expressed by Jesus, is a “render unto Caesar” kind of religion – a reasonable basis of separation of church and state. However, the Catholic church in Rome put a swift stop to that. Christianity, especially through many bishops and popes, made state business very much church business. The US continues this tradition by distorting the intentions of the founding fathers and making it the godly nation the founding fathers tried to avoid – they’d seen enough of that in Europe.

Islam is very specifically, inherently, by design, a political ideology. Only Muslims can hold certain offices of state. Muslims and non-Muslims are taxed differently.

Many Muslims will try to pull a fast one by telling you that Islam insists that Muslims follow the laws of the the land in which they find themselves … where Muslims are a minority that does not hold power. But Islam also requires Muslims to spread Islam … which means it would eventually become a majority. This is why many opponents of Islam also oppose too much immigration from Muslim countries.

Of course many Muslims don’t want a dominant Islam any more than non-Muslims do. Many escape the domination of Islam of their homelands, and are quite happy to live in secular democracies where they can practice their religion in peace.

But then we also see a lot of duplicitous language from supposedly ‘moderate’ Muslims that think homosexuality should be illegal, and make excuses for their more extreme brothers and sisters (“Nothing to do with Islam”).

In Europe the atheists and secularists have been opposing the power of the church for centuries, letting the humanistic principles take precedence. There’s still plenty of religious protectionism that goes on – a refusal to give up the reigns of power, as diminished as they are. Why the heck do Bishops get seats in the UK House of Lords – and why is there even such an unelected house still?

But I’ve seen and heard much more of the stranglehold religion has in some parts of the US, where the mark of a good plumber is whether he’s a good Christian or not. “In God We Trust” – indeed they do.

So, religions are political, and as such are as fair game for criticism and ridicule as any non-religious political ideology.

And being offended when religions are criticised is just one more political tool the religious try to pull. It may be a genuine feeling, and so they try to give it moral weight. Hence, critics of Islam are labelled haters of Muslims.

But, realising that atheists tend not to be impressed by the special pleading for the religion, that atheists aren’t taken in by the piety, the hurt feelings, what are the religious to do? Compare their religion to atheism? They can’t. They are not comparable.

Humanism

So, religious friends, you can’t really compare Atheism with your religion.

You can compare Atheism with Theism, if you’re talking only about the philosophy, reason, evidence, to support either case.

But you can’t compare Atheism as such with Christianity or Islam. Yes, I know that atheists argue against Christianity and Islam, but they do so on two quite separate grounds:

1 – A disagreement with the underlying theistic claims of your religion. If your religion relies on a claim that there is one or more gods, and there isn’t, then 2 is irrelevant. But, we humour you anyway and so …

2 – A disagreement with the moral assertions that you think your imaginary god has prescribed. It’s not like we disagree with all your moral positions, we just hold those we agree on for different reasons, for which we don’t need an imaginary god. But those Humanist atheists also find many of the moral guides of religion to be immoral, barbaric at times, and remnants of ancient codes of conduct prescribed at the time of the religion’s inception.

The thing is, Atheism prescribes no moral position whatsoever. It really is merely the rejection of your unsubstantiated claims about your god.

And this, of course, leads to another failure to understand atheism: “Atheists have no morals. They are nihilists.” Not so.

We have morals. We just don’t think some imaginary friend dictates them; and we very specifically reject many of the immoral codes that gods supposedly do dictate.

But you’re nearly right. it’s not our atheism that determines our morals, it’s something else.

Many atheists find other reasons for their morality – many simply acknowledging that harming others isn’t nice. People and animals don’t like to suffer harm, so we prefer to minimise that. It seems a very simple idea, but it’s amazing how far you can go with just that basic starting point. And it also avoids the need to punish people for daft reasons – such as for having sex outside marriage, for not being heterosexual, for drinking, for working on the Sabbath.

[In the UK the Shops Bill 1986 was defeated; the Sunday Trading Act 1994 eventually introduced limited Sunday trading … so strong was Christianity’s hold over British life. Now we’re finding we have to start again, with Islam.]

Many atheists want to live by their own moral ideals, and many collect these ideas about living a moral life into a set of codes. It’s not that these codes are necessary, but they are helpful in declaring some minimal set of behaviours we agree to abide by.

And one example of such a guide is the Humanist Manifesto. Take a look at it. You’ll find no diktats about women being lesser than men, or how to deal with the evil of homosexuality, or what the best way is to kill apostates. Humanists don’t have to look for ‘nuance’ and ‘scholarship’ to explain away inconvenient passages ‘revealed’ through some desert warlord or hippy.

So, if you want to carry out any comparisons I’d suggest you try these:
– Atheism vs Theism
– Humansim vs Christianity, Islam, …

You might find that many atheists tell you they don’t belong to any Humanist organisation, because they would rather not belong to any group that sets their ethical standards for them, as they can figure it out for themselves. They have a point. We are free to decide our own moral codes, and put them to the test in our societies.

My personal subscription to Humanism is one of convenience, and support for many of the programs of Humanists UK (formerly British Humanist Association).

Other atheists might join other groups of common interest, such as the many secular and skeptical societies around the world. Ex-Muslims have a shared experience that brings them together in various groups – often with the added benefit of providing a safe community to those ex-Muslims that are still at risk from their families.

Let that sink in, and imagine a child of Humanists being ostracised, forced into marriage, threatened with death, killed. I don’t know of any such incident. Has one ever made the news?

The next time you’re arguing with atheists on Twitter, they are unlikely to be Nazis. So when you pull the “What about Hitler, Stalin ..” it’s a Straw Man. If you want to argue for your religion, why don’t you try coming up with good reasons for it, not excusing the bad stuff by dragging in some irrelevant comparison.

And for pities sake, give up on trying to defend the indefensible. Your religious texts are full of ancient stuff that really doesn’t stand up to our moral standards today. Some religious passages are outright contraventions of the human rights that most people would want to sign up to. Stop defending that crap with ‘nuance’ and ‘scholarship’ – it makes you look like damned fools that are fooling no one but themselves.

Atheist Terrorists

And that atheist killer you want to call a terrorist because you’re sick of hearing about Islamic terrorists? Could be they are genuinely crazy, or have some motive other than their hate for religion.

And even if they carried out the heinous act because they hate religion and religious believers, there’s no Atheist Bible, and nothing in the Humanist Manifesto to suggest they should … unlike your religious books. Not even The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, or any of the New Atheist books.

If some killers that are atheists really are killing for atheism, there’s nothing in atheism, or Humanism, that can be removed that would stop them. There are no doctrines we can reject. There’s no “Believers are children of Satan” sermons going on. Pointing out the problems with religion doesn’t automatically create Atheist Killers. Sadly it does all too often create killers of atheists.

But, hey, if someone has a terrorist agenda, against believers, for atheism, then pretty much all humanist atheists will oppose them. I’ll happily denounce any such terrorists. But I won’t be able to point to any atheist texts that has incited them. I can only point to Humanist texts that are very short and very explicit in their opposition to doing harm. There is no Humanist Prophet whose example I should follow that includes his beheading of enemies.

The Humanist Manifesto is so clear in rejecting doing harm to others there’s no way you can mistakenly or otherwise derive some crazy idea that it’s a good idea to kill believers.

This cannot be said of the books of Christianity and Islam. Alongside all the lovely stuff is some seriously dark and immoral doctrine.

Look, if you want to call some atheist killer an atheist terrorist, knock yourself out. Any disagreement from atheists will be on a technicality, not for some fear of having to explain away our inconvenient texts. Let me help you out with A Guide To Terrorists For Idiots.

You Should Read The Quran – Really? Why?

I’m often told, “You Should Read The Quran.” – Really? Why? Islamic specialism seems to presume I’d be enlightened by one particular holy text, but not by others.

I’m an atheist that doesn’t see any merit in holy books that claim to be inspired by or revealed by imaginary friends. I don’t swallow the presuppositional existence of a deity that such inspiration or revelation demands. There are just too many religions, and sects within religions, to make ANY of the claims credible – and there is NEVER any evidence to back up the claims.
Continue reading You Should Read The Quran – Really? Why?

Justin Welby’s Easter, Dishonest or Dumb?

Justin Welby, Dishonest or Dumb? At least the latter has no moral implication for him – he can’t help it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter 2017 Sermon – Sunday 16th April 2017

Christian faith starts with One who literally (that misused word) rose from the dead.

So much for the hard work of all those sophisticated theologians (h/t Jerry Coyne) that have been trying to dissuade people from reading books like The God Delusion by Dawkins, “because nobody believes it that literally”.

Literal belief is literally real.

And the depths of irony in Welby’s ‘that misused word’ has my head spinning. Here’s a summary of Christian theology

Jesus literally rose from the dead … allegorically … such that there’s no actual evidence that he did … and no real requirement to provide evidence … except that if you have faith, and believe it, it will be literally true …

And so the nonsense goes on like the endless Easter parades I used to watch as countless churches gathered and marched to bands.

Laid stone cold dead in Joseph’s tomb on Friday, on Sunday morning the tomb is empty, he is physically, bodily, tangibly alive. Why would we presume to know better than these first witnesses what took place?

Let me see …. because there were no witnesses? Because there is no evidence of witness to the death let alone any resurrection? Because a fourth century Emperor got tired of all the conflicting stories and with a bit of arguing and a game of eenie-meanie-miny-mo (there’s as much evidence of that as there is of the resurrection) chose which fairy tales would make the least implausible gospels?

Welby knows damned well how flaky Christian history is. He knows damned well that none of the gospels represent a true interpretation of what little biblical ‘original sources’ exist.

It happened: the witnesses are those who met him. Today the calling of every Christian is to be a witness to the Resurrection.

Let that sink in. “Today the calling of every Christian is to be a witness to the Resurrection” As much a ‘literally happened’ witness as any original person that happened to live around the time Jesus is supposed to have died and been resurrected … by himself.

How do you do that, resurrect yourself, when you’re dead without not really being dead, as in dead dead, not an undeadable deity pretending to be dead? God did it? But Jesus IS God? Miracle! Maybe Harry Potter is literally true by the same sort of miracle.

The idiocy of Christian belief is palpable – and a damned sight more literal than the theological nonsense.

In our reading from Acts, Peter speaks of events that are only a couple of years in the past … It was a testimony easily checked, easily dismissed.

No it is not easily checked. This is an utter lie. There is no way to check that. Even if there were multiple records that were used as evidence that Peter actually said what he is supposed to have said, that would be no verification whatsoever that what he said was true – it would be hearsay, nothing more. Likewise Josephus, that supposed ‘witness’ to Christian truths that merely told us what Christians were telling someone else. Hearsay!

We are used to facts being contested. We are even used to facts being reduced to the level of opinion. So individualised are our news cycles that our opinions are in themselves the only facts that seem to count. However, what brings the faithful out to worship in Tanta and Alexandria is truth. It happened. The resurrection is an event which – although never experienced before or since – changes everything because it happened.

This is an unbelievably stupid thing to say. It happened because Welby and a bunch of other gullible or dishonest people proclaim that it did. He has nothing else.

Events claimed to be fact are reduced to opinion when there is no evidence to support the claim that the events took place. Just as in the case of the resurrection, or the cruciFICTION, or most other stories about Jesus. So many are so obviously trumped up they out-trump Trump.

You know what this bit is …?

However, what brings the faithful out to worship in Tanta and Alexandria is truth. It happened.

That’s an infant mind throwing it’s toys and stamping its feet because it can’t have its own way. That’s all that is. It really is that childish a statement, especially in the context of the paragraph as a whole.

 

We atheists often point out how Islamism, the politicised Islam, is actually plain old Islam, because Islam is a political religion. But next we have Welby making the political claim for Christianity:

Yet it was not on the lists of important dates for me to learn at school. It is not in the politics text books, although it defines the aims and ends of politics. It is not in the economics lessons, although economics is transformed by it. It is not in the geography courses, although human geography was changed more by this than any event that has ever happened. It is not on courses at military academies, although war and peace are judged by it.

He’ll be asking to ‘teach the controversy’ of of Design over Evolution next, the dimwit.

Bear that in mind when political leaders that are religious tell you they are ‘informed’ by their religion but don’t let it interfere with their politics. Looking at you, Tim Farron, my dear leader of the Liberal Democrats. [I may be a bit harsh on poor old Tim, but I’d rather keep imaginary friends right out of politics.]

And talking of political Islam, here’s Welby’s back stabbing ode to it … inter-faith respect, my arse.

The greatest mystery is that the greatest event went almost unnoticed and spread to conquer the known world without drawing a sword, without taking a life, winning an election or starting a campaign.

Welby headed his sermon with references to St George’s church Tanta and St Mark’s church Alexandria, sites of Islamist killing of Christians. No such barbarity from Christianity! … except …

Actually, it’s no mystery that the ‘greatest event’ went almost unnoticed. It didn’t happen. And neither is it a mystery that it ‘spread to conquer the known world without drawing a sword’, because of course swords were well and truly drawn in its spread, from the early Roman emperors converted to Christianity, through warring popes and kings and queens, and on through the western empires that that forced Christianity on the wider world. A bit like Islam really, just better at it … so far. Heads up!

At the resurrection the world did not merely shift, a new world emerged in embryo …

Funny that nobody noticed until many years later, with many twists to the tales. Just like a myth, really.

Consider the women; they thought death ruled, that despair had conquered, that stones could not be moved. They were wrong on everything. Death was conquered, despair fled, the stone was rolled away.

This is what the religious do. They feign doubt, talk about opinions, present objections as if unimportant, … and then go right on an act as if it’s all totally documented, triple signed and on record, with photographic evidence that has passed umpteen tests for photoshop trickery true.

Because God acted and raised Jesus everything is different: we know the truth about God, through the resurrection.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Did I say stupid? This little circle is tighter than Jesus’s sphincter when the nails went in.

Look, you cannot have a supposed revelation (in a book, the word of a person, or the content of a myth) that claims to be the source of its own truth.

If  liar came up to you and said, “Hi, I tell the truth. I never lie.” And then a truthful person came up to you and said, “Hi, I tell the truth. I never lie.” How would you know which was telling the truth? How would you even know they were not actually both liars, if all you had to go on was that I told you one of them was telling the truth … you’d then be relying on me telling the truth too … and so it goes. This rhetoricaly BS from Welby is stupid … did I say that?

This is the holy book. Revealed by God. To the man. The man that is handing it to you now. A book in which it tells you that God is real, and that did the revealing, … a book that totally wasn’t made up by the man. … honest!

Stupid!

More on that topic … The Liar’s Holy Book – Your book, your god’s revelation, cannot contain the proof of the truth of its own claims. You have to presuppose a god that does the revealing; and a presupposition isn’t proof of anything, it’s you making shit up.

After a couple of paragraphs of more mumbo jumbo meaningless Alice in Wonderland prose, Welby comes up with this:

But be under no illusion, this is utterly counter to how the world runs itself, and so we live in the now of a world in which the resurrection has happened, and the not yet of a world where there is still evil.

Illusion? It’s not an illusion. It’s a fully fledged and taken flight of fantasy delusion.

But, the words Jesus says on that first Easter day he says to you and me now; ‘Do not be afraid’….

But of course there is no known record of Jesus having said anything.

There is only one finality: Jesus the crucified one is alive. … blah-dy-blah-dy-blah … joy and light in the face of suffering bullshit … blah-dy blah …  it happened, Jesus is alive.

“It’s True!”

Here’s Justin welby as a little girl explaining his theology:

 

Hope I’ve not hurt anyone’s feelings … except …

MeansSoMuch

 

 

 

Catlicks and Prodidogs

 

Religion’s sectarian influence pervades the minds of children and can persist into adulthood and on into politics, and on across generations.

Heather Hastie’s More Delusions About Religion looks at a news article that tries to distance religion from violence, by trying to convince us that the the Northern Irish Troubles were not about religion. That’s nonsense, and here’s why. Continue reading Catlicks and Prodidogs

Jew Hating Indoctrination of Children – Religiously Validated

Jew hating indoctrination of children in schools – all religiously validated, of course. That wouldn’t happen today. Would it? Even after this in the 1930’s …?

Already in grade school, we were told that the Jews were evil because they did not believe in Christ and that they were “Jesus killers. … One of my teachers was a member of the “Waffen SS” and I can remember when he came to school in uniform with the imprint on his belt buckle, “Gott ist mit uns” (God is with us). He was very strict and attendance of the Wednesday afternoon Hitler Youth meetings were just as important as school attendance.

Mmmmm. His dedication is a bit like praying five times a day.

What Made Me Turn To Atheism – Carl Zimmerling explained in his 2000 piece.

When the up-side to religion is that it is so God damned awful it can turn you to atheism.
Continue reading Jew Hating Indoctrination of Children – Religiously Validated

The Quran – Polysemous or Duplicitous?

I’d like to address the nonsense that is passed off as reasons for thinking the Quran is a fine book, that it represents a religion of peace, that it’s all for freeing slaves, that blah blah blah … you know the typical lines.

As an example, I’ll use a recent comment made to excuse Islam and the Quran. Continue reading The Quran – Polysemous or Duplicitous?

Those Spiteful Atheists

Some stupidity like this is doing the rounds:


1) Being an atheist is okay. Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay

2) Being a Christian is okay. Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist or otherwise hateful person in the name of Christianity is not okay

3) Being a reindeer is okay. Bullying and excluding another reindeer because it has a shiny red nose is not okay


Continue reading Those Spiteful Atheists

Another Empty Claim That ISIS ‘Warp’ The Religion

Paris attack: As a Muslim I’m disgusted how Isis can carry out this violence and claim to represent my faith – Miqdaad Versi

“I am equally if not more so angry that these people should do so through some misguided and warped grasp of my faith.”

Come on, Miqdaad, this is not convincing.
Continue reading Another Empty Claim That ISIS ‘Warp’ The Religion

Justin Welby Likes To Torture Sick People?

And here we go with another religious justification for torturing people, from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Of course he doesn’t like to torture sick people, or to use his religious belief to justify such torture. I thought, well, if he’s prepared to use ridiculous rhetoric to make his case, I might too. But then I thought again, Continue reading Justin Welby Likes To Torture Sick People?

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Have A Cunning Plan

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis reveal their cunning plan to bring those dreaded Muslims on side and blame everything on the atheists: In the secular age, it is crucial for people of faith to stick together. Good luck with that.

This is such a brazen plea for anti-secularism, and a worry about Islam, disguised as the reaching out of the hand of friendship. Many Muslims will see right through it, as atheists see right through the machinations of all religions. Continue reading Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Have A Cunning Plan

God Probabilities Are Pointless, Even From Physicists

Physicist Sean Carroll indulges one of his physics colleagues in a post Guest Post: Don Page on God and Cosmology. Sean:

Don Page is one of the world’s leading experts on theoretical gravitational physics and cosmology, as well as a previous guest-blogger around these parts. … He is also, somewhat unusually among cosmologists, an Evangelical Christian, and interested in the relationship between cosmology and religious belief.

From here on I’ll address Don on his piece, by picking up only the statements I think are really problematic. I’m basically repeating what I wrote in the comments section, with some minor mods. Continue reading God Probabilities Are Pointless, Even From Physicists

Mehdi Hasan Destroys Islam

Mehdi Hasan destroys Islam. He doesn’t mean to, but as he thinks he’s distancing Islam from ISIS he picks so many reasons for rejecting Islam. Good job, Mehdi.

In this online CNN video, Does ISIS have any religious legitimacy?, Mehdi Hasan debates with Graeme Wood over Wood’s piece on ISIS. Mehdi responded in his own article, which had lots of holes in it and begged and received criticism. Poor sap Mehdi just can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth. Continue reading Mehdi Hasan Destroys Islam

Josephus on Christianity Is Hearsay

There are a bunch of people building reputations on the historicity of Jesus – whether the man Jesus existed, what he did, what he claimed to do.

Christians want, no, need, Jesus to be a real mortal man, at least, because they depend on that in order to make their next set of claims about his divinity, his miracles, and most of all, the resurrection. Continue reading Josephus on Christianity Is Hearsay

Religious Language Frustrates Michael Nugent

Michael Nugent tries to grasp and challenge the meaning of the mystical words of Swami Purnananda as the latter explains something or other about his beliefs.

I’ve always been fascinated by how well artists capture moving water. I remember visiting Niagara Falls, and I tried to pick out and follow a pattern in the flow of water as it went over the edge – no sooner had I selected one fast moving ripple to examine its form and it was gone, and the water just kept on coming. Swami Purnananda’s meaningless words just keep on coming, and Michael Nugent has barely a moment to grasp each one and impart some sense onto it. Continue reading Religious Language Frustrates Michael Nugent

What do I believe ‘in’? Nothing.

I had a conversation with an atheist friend recently and I think we surprised each other.

Though an atheist she still felt she needed to believe in ‘something’, though she didn’t quite know in what; and to some extent she envied religious believers in that they had something to turn to, some belief. This surprised me, because though I know of some atheists who feel this way this was my first opportunity to hear it first hand. What surprised me more was her surprise at the nature my atheism. Continue reading What do I believe ‘in’? Nothing.

The Dangers of Praxis – Acting ‘As If’

Richard Wiseman has put up a post on a youtube video on The Power of Acting ‘As If’ (the video is here).

This seems to be the basis upon which various forms of Rationalism succeed in being so convincing to their proponents. By acting ‘as if’ what you think is true, is actually true, you can start to behave is if it is actually true (and eventually believe it is actually true). Even if there is no basis in reality, other than the reality that is one’s own imagination.

Praxis – the religious behaviour of performing rituals and acting as if your spiritual beliefs are actually representing a reality. It can make the beliefs seem even more true; so much so that to the proponent they ‘become’ true.

Though Richard presents some positive uses of praxis, as a means of overcoming procrastination, for example, it seems to be a dangerous tool if used indiscriminately. It seems to lie behind the success of political propaganda and prejudice. Act as if other people are different, and to you their difference becomes real. And if the supposed differences are a threat to you, then those other people become the embodiment of a real threat. In the 1930’s how did a nation come to believe that a particular religious sect, the Jews, where the embodiment of evil and the cause of the nation’s problems? How do similar beliefs sustain themselves across populations today? To what extent does acting out a belief make it seem true, even if the evidence is counter to it?

We can see the benefit to the individual in using ‘as if’ to overcome procrastination. This seems to be a benign method of changing one reality into another: he who was once a procrastinator overcomes that fault (assuming he considered it a fault) and changes, in time, into a different person in this respect.

We can see a benefit to humans generally if they act ‘as if’ we are all part of the one human race, if we all owe each other love and kindness. We can see the benefit of acting ‘as if’ our love and empathy is more powerful than our fear and hatred of others. But there is a danger in being naive about this. We have to be on our guard. We are not naturally wholly loving and empathetic. We each have other animal instincts within us; and some of us have stronger detrimental selfish intuitions than do others. We have to guard against some of our own animal instincts, and we have to avoid being too naive in seeing only good in others as we act ‘as if’ we are all good.

The effectiveness is true in the less benign cases, in that the person does indeed change into another: the unbeliever can become a true believer. The person changes. But the reality of what they come to believe does not. We can make our personalities, change because they are fluid. There is a wide range of social behaviour that human animals are capable of. But we cannot change the laws of nature we discover, into ones we would prefer. Our false beliefs in reality come unstuck by evidence, or the lack of it: eugenics, geocentrism, astrology. Whatever our social group of culture comes to believe is not in itself an indication of the reality underlying that belief. Empirical evidence is what really determines what is real – at lasts as far as humans are capable of doing empiricism well.

Even whole societies may change, from a capitalist to a communist state, for example. But it is still the people that have changed their beliefs and their personalities. The realities that underlie their existence does not change. The communist ideal sounded like a good idea, but it required ideal citizens to pull it off. But the citizens could not escape their stronger natural behaviour – they could only change so far.

This praxis can be oppressive and self-affirming. Take Turkey, for example. Despite its otherwise democratic capitalist changes over the last few decades, there are subsumed beneath the surface extreme Islamic forces. Listen here. Though some supporters of AKP stress the pragmatism (but then Islam has never been opposed to commerce), other voices express the concerns about the direction Turkey is taking. They tell us about how the oppressive nature of Islam forces people to act ‘as if’ they are more Islamic than they are – closing store shutters ‘as if’ the owner is attending to his prayers, whether he is or not, or the attack on individuals who break rules of Ramadan, or the increased wearing of the head scarf by women, whether they want to or not. Praxis can hide true beliefs and can oppress.

Note that religious praxis can have subtle political effects. Read this from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Where are the comments on the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey? Ignored? Well, an international faith foundation can hardly be expected to be too critical of faith can it. In practising his faith Blair is blind to the problems of faith: Is Faith Rational.

While it is true that if they are lucky enough (lucky for the rest of us that is) many religious people can become better people, toward themselves and others by believing in something for which there is no evidential support whatsoever, it is also true that many can end up interpreting their belief system in all sorts of unhealthy ways (unhealthy for them, perhaps, but certainly unhealthy for the rest of us). Praxis, acting ‘as if’, has its dangers. It’s a consensual change to one’s mental outlook; and it need not reflect any known reality but the pesudo-reality it constructs for itself.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. When we act ‘as if’ we belong to a well meaning loving democratic nation we should acknowledge that it is a struggle to maintain that outlook. Once we are locked in it does become easier. But as we look around the world we see many examples where seething fear and hatred is just below the superficial surface. Some nations are struggling to act ‘as if’ they are democratic. We in many Western states may feel we are doing better – we’ve had longer to act ‘as if’ we are democracies. But there are many natural human animal forces within us that could easily come out in different circumstances. We are evolved humans. The few hundred years that Western Europe has eased itself into democracy is too short a time for evolutionary changes to have made us naturally totally ‘good’ democratic people.

It would be foolish to take our current expressed nature, of secular libral democracies, for granted. While we can blame influencing systems like Islam for the state of affairs in many nations at the moment, they are dealing with a religious system that is no more brutal than other religions have been from time to time. It seems that the loving nature of Christianity has something going for it – even if the figure upon which it was based is either merely mortal or almost entirely fictional. As a system it is sort of going in the right direction, away from the viscous god of the Old Testament and of Islam. But Christianity, particularly in Roman Catholicism and some other churches, still has its fair share of hell and damnation.

The religious right in the USA are still a reprehensible force for the discrimination and persecution of those that don’t see things their Godly way. And that’s in what could have been the worlds first true fully democratic republic – the intentions of the founding fathers are about as humanistic as we’ve ever seen. As it is, religion, personal capitalist greed and military power have a far greater role than one might wish.

There’s a lot of acting ‘as if’ going on in the USA that isn’t quite in tune with reality. And that’s the case in other nations too – including here in the UK. It’s tough changing our cultural habits when we have these damned evolved innate biological devils on our shoulders.

Evolutionary biology tells us how we are. It caused both the good stuff in us and the bad. It’s no use wishing evolution were not true, or acting ‘as if’ it were not true, or ‘as if’ it’s responsible only for the ‘red in tooth and claw’ stuff, or acting ‘as if’ some imagined God is the source of our goodness.


Update: From WEIT: Oliver Sacks debunks near-death and out-of-body experiences, as well as religious “revelations”. Interesting post that includes some good sources.

Update: There’s a lot of acting ‘as if’ ISIS has ‘Nothing to do with Islam’ going on at the moment (2016).

What’s Up Doc? Heaven, Apparently

In this piece, Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife, Neurosurgeon Eban Alexander gives his account of a brain event that made him see the light. (h/t @SkepticViews)

This is the dumbest piece of God promotion I’ve seen for some time. I wouldn’t have this neuroscientist anywhere near my brain. He says how much he wants to believe, has a specific brain experience that matches reports of experiences by other people, and that’s it – job done, God exists.

1) Auditory hallucinations can be auto-generated in the brain without sound input through the ears, so it’s possible for someone with a brain to ‘hear voices’; and some people who ‘hear voices’ attribute them to God or Jesus. He should know this. Humans hallucinate.

2) The brain perceptions experienced (bright light, vast space, God, etc.), and the reality of the things supposedly conceived (heaven, God), are quite distinct. The experience of the perceptions is no guide to the reality of the thing perceived. That’s why we call them hallucinations. Near-death is a rare experience for a human brain (except for those with a one way ticket, but then they don’t come back to report), so it is difficult to say what we would expect to experience. Novel brain experiences are not a sufficient guide to reality.

3) People will have similar experiences because, duh, they have brains too. We should expect that experiences of near death will be similar, so the similarity of the reports should not be taken as mounting evidence for the thing claimed of the experience.

4) As others have pointed out in the article’s comment stream, similar experiences can be achieved by using drugs. And by stimulation of the brain in the lab or operating theatre. There is no reason to suppose that the perceptions contained during these experiences represent a reality, and plenty of evidence that they don’t.

5) On what grounds does Alexander suppose that his perceived experiences occurred in real-time while he was unconscious? He has no way of knowing, because he was unconscious! Only later, when his consciousness returns, is he able to report on his experiences. For all he knows his brain might be constructing a completely false memory, as if it had occurred, as part of the process of recovering consciousness. Perhaps this is what it’s like when a brain is ‘turned on’ again. Being a neuroscientist he should know of this and many other rational possibilities.

There’s a problem here that theologians, many philosophers, and it appears some scientists, have with the nature of the brain and its relation to our inner thoughts and experiences. Lurking behind views expressed by those like Alexander is a presupposition that the mind is distinct from the brain and that what we experience in the mind has some distinct reality. I call this the primacy of thought problem, where we suppose that the mind and our thoughts, through our Rationalism, is the primary source of knowledge. To some extent this is understandable, since as physical animals we have to wait until our brains achieve a certain degree of complexity and experience before they become self-aware enough to do any reasoned thinking. It’s then as if our ‘mind’ has been switched on, and then is perceived to exist as if it is something independent of the brain. Contributing to this feeling is the fact that our self-awareness, our introspection, can only go so deep. We cannot, for example, perceive the individual neurons firing away as we think. We only perceive the thoughts, not the cause of the thoughts. We have no physical sensation in the brain, like touch or pain, that tells us what is actually going on inside our heads as we think. So, we feel detached, as free-floating consciousness.

In the context of this post Alexander is in no position to say what caused his experience. All he ends up with is a perception of an experience – a brain experience.

What a dumb-ass. He was lost to religion before he started on his unconscious journey; he wanted it; he says as much. Confirmation bias?

Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma…

Is this guy really a neuroscientist? It’s difficult to say to what extent a brain is ‘inactive’ during a coma, or other states where external appearances imply unconsciousness. It’s not even fully understood to what extent there is a real barrier between consciousness and un-conscious activity.

What happened to me demands explanation.

There are plenty answers to choose from. You can go with the simple functioning of a brain under stress and bad health that is capable of inducing perceptual experiences that are not associated with any reality; or you can go for your God explanation, because you want to.

Today they are realities. Not only is the universe defined by unity, it is also-I now know-defined by love.

Of course this statement tells us more about Alexander’s understanding of ‘knowing’, his views on epistemology and what it is for an animal brain to ‘know’ something, his commitment to Rationalism, than it does about any actuality.

The universe as I experienced it in my coma is – I have come to see with both shock and joy – the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways.

It’s hard for this statement to be wrong, because of course it is a fatuous profundity – a deepity, as Dennett would say. Quite meaningless in that it could be taken to mean anything. A straight forward physical interpretations is that yes, the physical brain has physical behaviours that under some conditions give the impression of a spiritual experience while at the same time the very same brain is governed entirely by the natural laws of science as we discover them.

But that belief, that theory [of the brain], now lies broken at our feet.

No, just at his feet, as he perceives it to be broken; as perceived by his broken brain that has had a perceptual experience that has left him with the impression that the imagined content of that experience is real.

When the castle of an old scientific theory begins to show fault lines…

The fault lines are as imagined as the content of his dreams.

… no one wants to pay attention at first … The looks of polite disbelief, especially among my medical friends, soon made me realize what a task I would have getting people to understand the enormity of what I had seen …

Oh dear. The plight of the unbelieved prophet. Everyone else is blind. Why can’t they see?

One of the few places I didn’t have trouble getting my story across was a place I’d seen fairly little of before my experience: church.

No fucking kidding!

I’m still a doctor, and still a man of science every bit as much as I was before I had my experience.

Well, I’d say not. Unless we take this to mean that he was already lost to science in his desire to believe.

I only hope he doesn’t turn into one of these evangelical doctors that you get from time to time. My mother is a believer in God of sorts, but she decided that enough was enough when at her local GP practice (an evangelical husband and wife team) her doctor suggested at the end of a consultation that they should hold hands and pray together for her recovery and well being. Preying on the sick by praying for them. But you can see this coming with Alexander.


Update: Sam Harris has chipped in:  This Must Be Heaven covers more detail, including comment by Mark Cohen. As well as going to town on Alexander, he also dishes it out to Newsweek. Harris is as eloquent as usual, so it really is worth a read. Pleas do.