Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

It’s Darwin Day (actually)

February 11, 2016

Happy Darwin Day 2016!

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Freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science. (Charles Darwin)

The darwinday.org website has lots of resources about the life and work of Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) and the Richard Dawkins Foundation has recently added teacher materials.

From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Charles Darwin, Origin of Species)

Meanwhile, let creationism talk itself into oblivion.

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known; but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

 

Critique of a Christian pamphlet

December 14, 2015

Most Friday nights, Christian street preachers and pamphleteers inhabit Adelaide’s Rundle Mall. One pamphlet offered to me recently had the title The Final Flicker.

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In summary, the pamphlet makes the following assertions:

  1. Everyone will die.
  2. The time of our death is unknown.
  3. The sudden death of a loved one shocks and distresses.
  4. The Bible can provide answers to the questions about life, but Science cannot. Neither can friends or doctors.
  5. Our time here and now is only a space in which to prepare for after death, according to the Bible.
  6. The Bible is clear that after death we go to one of two places, Heaven or Hell, and it’s your choice.
  7. God never created man for Hell, but…
  8. God is holy and just and cannot live in the presence of sin, so…
  9. Heaven is only for those who have had their sins forgiven, those who have been made righteous.
  10. Hell is the sad and necessary place of those who refuse God’s mercy.
  11. The Bible says that whoever believes in God’s son will not perish but have everlasting life.
  12. God is just, so must punish sins.
  13. God loves each of us, despite of our sin.
  14. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
  15. Jesus was the son of God, holy, pure, and sinless.
  16. The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross took away our sins.
  17. He was the only one who was able to do this.
  18. Death could not hold him. On the third day he rose.
  19. He now sits at the right hand of God.
  20. All you have to do is repent, turn from your sin, trust Him as your Saviour and you will be saved.

The first two are self-evident: we’re going to die but we don’t know when. For anyone who has lost someone close, the third is not hard to fathom either. Actually, it’s patronising and pedantic. Everyone dies. Welcome to Life.

Point 4 says that the Bible has all the answers about life and that friends and scientists don’t. This is a bold claim indeed and needs to be justified.

That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. (Christopher Hitchens)

The fifth point declares that the purpose of life is only to prepare for death. Really? How depressing. Another unjustified claim unworthy of further attention. Nothing to see here. Move along…

Hmm. Wait. If these people really believed what they said, namely that the purpose of life is only to prepare for death, then why wait? Why not just end their lives now? I suppose the counter claim will be that suicide is a sin. Phew!

EDIT: After reading this post, a friend pointed out that since all sins should be forgiven, even this is not really an objection.

Another objection a Christian apologist may raise is: time is needed for such preparation. But how much preparation and of what kind? If it’s just a matter of believing something, well, anyone can do that, at anytime. If life is a moral training ground, and salvation comes from good works, then sure, that would take time. But, skipping to the end, point 20 says:

All you have to do is repent, turn from your sin, trust Him as your Saviour and you will be saved.

So no good works are required, just turning away from sin and having faith.

Higher up the list again: point 6 says that the Bible is clear that after death we go to Heaven or Hell.

Crystal clear?

What biblical verse declares this so unambiguously? The pamphlet is keen to point to specific verses to “back up” other points. Why not this one, given its obvious importance?

Perhaps it should quote Matthew 25:41. Want to see what that would mean in practice? Read points 7 to 10 again, view as much of  the The Thinking Atheist’s video Burn Victims as you can and then ask yourself whether any aspect of a god who would send one of its own creatures to such an unimaginably hideous place could ever be considered good, just or righteous in any meaningful sense.

Point 11 brings us to John 3:16, the idea that if we just believe in God, we won’t be punished for our sins eternally but will have, a better, eternal life. That brings us back to the question I raised above: how much preparation is necessary and of what kind? Well, if we just have to believe, then we can end it all at any time! Right?

Surely this is all just too much like a game…

God could simply declare that everyone can come to the eternal party. Apparently this god requires the attention and adoration of its creatures. But an all powerful god should want for nothing. Right?

Point 12 declares that “God is just, so must punish sins”. That’s like me saying that I have a strong sense of morality, so I should punish those who don’t, or at least those who do “wrong”. Oh, I forgot. I’m not a god… Apparently, you need to have created a universe to be able to call yourself “just”.

All other points (12 to 17) are in need of evidence, not the least of which:

  • that Jesus was the only one who could atone for our sins;
    • including weak “supporting” Old Testament prophecy fulfilment claims such as referred to in the pamphlet: Isaiah 53:5;
    • that there were any sins in need of atonement in the first place;
  • that Jesus rose from the dead and…
  • now lives with God;
  • that salvation (if necessary at all), is attained by faith alone and not by works;
    • i.e. that in order to be saved, you don’t have to be good, just gullible.
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
(Christopher Hitchens)

In the end, the essence of the pamphlet is this:

  • We will all die.
  • All of us have sinned and fallen short of God (Romans 3:23).
  • Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins.
  • Belief in Jesus leads to eternal life rather than eternal punishment.

The only positive thing I can say about any of this is that at least the pamphleteers are being consistent regarding core Christian claims, rather than adhering to some watered down theology consisting of only a vague notion of god, like many liberal denominations. That’s not to say anything about the veracity of the fundamentalist’s claims of course.

One particularly obnoxious idea that emerged in antiquity is Pascal’s wager, the “argument” that it is in our best interest to assume that God (but which?; there are so many to choose from) exists, to avoid the possibility of eternal punishment.

If God does not exist, the thinking goes, nothing has been lost, right?

Wrong! A life of pointless servitude can been avoided if a person recognises the distinct possibility that monotheism is an off-by-one error, i.e. that there is no evidence that any god exists, some version of the Judaeo-Christian god or any other, so that the correct number of gods is not one but zero.

Based upon the available evidence, this is all an atheist claims. My son noted this short animation recently, which makes a pretty compelling case for the off-by-one error.

In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.”… Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
(Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation)

The Universe revealed by Science is rich enough. We don’t need to add our own unfounded complexity. Science and engineering have created the modern world that so many of us are fortunate to live in and is, along with critical thinking more generally, the only hope for solving our biggest problems.

If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.
(Christopher Hitchens)

I get that people are afraid to die and find the idea of losing those they care about difficult to bear. The deep-felt desire for an afterlife is, I think, at the heart of most religions, whether openly acknowledged or not.

However, given the challenges to our way of life from climate change and dogmatic thinking, it’s not okay to retreat into The Dark like frightened children.

Come on people, grow up! We are not at the centre of things.

I’ll end with another quote from Hitchens, who has said it all better than I ever could:

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.

 

 

The kindest, wisest, sanest of us all. Gone.

August 17, 2012

She was the kindest, wisest, sanest of us all. But she’s gone. Not in a better place. Just Gone.

It’s ten years ago today that my Mother died after failed heart valve replacement surgery. Four days later on August 21, the date of her funeral, she would have been 74.

I have started to write about this several times before. Each time I have felt inadequate to the task and stopped.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. (Gustave Flaubert)

Today, I felt compelled to write, couldn’t delay longer.

Along with family members, I was at Mum’s bedside when she died, when the ventilator was turned off; I watched the electrical activity of her heart fade on the monitor. In the days that followed, it seemed to me that some fundamental law of nature had altered, as if the universal law of gravitation had changed, or that a new parallel universe had forked from the old, leaving those in the new one behind, forever disconnected from the old.

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself In dark woods, the right road lost. (Dante)

If even the most deeply religious amongst us were brutally honest, they might admit that a large part of the reason we grieve when someone we love dies is because there is at least the suspicion, deep inside, that they are Just Gone. The extent to which I embraced this, given the lack of evidence to the contrary, was I think directly related to the depth and duration of my grief.

Only someone who has lost a parent (or partner or child or…) can have a hope of understanding what that feels like, just as only a woman can understand what it feels like to give birth.

Even after a decade, although I’ve accepted Mum’s death, she is still in my thoughts at some point of every day. I try to recapture the sound of her voice, her facial expressions, kind, caring, at times whimsical. And yes, I still miss her. The sense of loss reduces over time, but doesn’t leave. Not that I want it to entirely.

I want to tell you about my Mum. In future posts, I will use this space to reflect upon her life and death, but mostly who she was, what she meant to me and to others.

A true revolution of values…

May 6, 2011

A track on Linkin Park’s latest album (A Thousand Suns) includes excerpts from a Martin Luther King speech given during the Vietnam War. You don’t have to share King’s religious convictions (as an atheist, I don’t) to agree with this:

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. 

I’m not sure why, but this came to mind when I heard about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Somehow I expected better of the Obama administration. Should governments really be in the business of assassination, no matter how hateful the target?

Granted, the Australian government has been party to some ethically questionable actions (think of the Baxter Detention Center), but I’m fairly sure that a random Australian plucked off the street would be a little shocked if Canberra suddenly ordered a targeted assassination of a terrorist. I realise that the scale of the Bali night club bombing was much smaller than 9/11, but Australia is not immune to terrorist acts any more than other nations.

The well-known Australian lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has called the killing of bin Laden a perversion of justice, making Osama a martyr and giving Obama the next election.

In the more than 40 years since King’s speech, we still seem to be totally clueless with respect to wisdom, justice, and love…

If we were the inhabitants of a planet seeking entry into something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, we should expect to be ignored as the savages we still are.

Abandoning Infantile Beliefs

September 18, 2008

Paul Davies made this comment during a radio interview, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

…one should abandon infantile beliefs based on Sunday school stories and embrace the scientific path which reveals a universe which is even more wonderful than you can imagine and a source of inspiration.

If the bible is literally true then π is 3 and my odometer is wrong

March 29, 2008

“What is not possible is not to choose.” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Consider the following:

  • “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.” (1 Kings 7:23). See also 2 Chronicles 4:2.
  • π is the ratio of the circumference (30 cubits) of a circle and its diameter (10 cubits).
  • ∴ π is 3.

Either the bible is literally true, and π is represented as the ratio of the two integers 30 and 10, or π is irrational with a value of around 3.1415926. We recently set up new odometers on our bikes. The manual for the device instructs the user to multiply the diameter of the bike’s wheel by 3.14, yielding the wheel’s circumference. So, for a 700 mm wheel, that’s about 2198 mm for a π of 3.14 and 2199 mm for a π of 3.1415926. But what if π is 3? That circumference becomes 2100 mm.

Now, for say 50 revolutions of the wheel:

  • for a circumference of 2.199 meters we have 109.95 meters (if π is 3.1415926);
  • for a circumference of 2.198 we have a 109.9 meters (if π is 3.14);
  • for a circumference of 2.1, we have 105 meters (if π is 3).

If π is 3, the wheel traverses almost 5 meters less. So is π 3?

Choose

Read more about the π saga than you probably want to in this Gospel of Reason blog entry and follow-up comments.

“It makes sense to revere the sun and stars, for we are their children.” (Carl Sagan)

Consider the following:

  • The world was made by God in 6 days (see Genesis), including all living things.
  • Massive stars exist for millions of years before exploding as supernovae, the only known means by which elements heavier than iron are created.
  • Our bodies contain elements heavier than iron, e.g. iodine.

Either the bible is literally true and the world and us (including heavier-than-iron elements) were really created in 6 days, or the universe really is old.

Choose

“What is not possible is not to choose.” (Jean-Paul Sartre)