Monday, 30 April 2012

Sagan's Dragon in the Garage

This was kindly provided in the comments on a post last year by Luke Scientiae who would quite rightly like to promote a passage from Carl Sagan's wonderful book "The Demon-Haunted World". This is from a chapter called 

"The Dragon in My Garage"

A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

'Show me,' you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle - but no dragon.

'Where's the dragon?' you ask.

'Oh, she's right here,' I reply, waving vaguely.

'I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon.'

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

'Good idea,' I say, 'but this dragon floats in the air.'

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

'Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.'

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

'Good idea, except she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick.'

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work. Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?

If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.

Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there is a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.

Well - you can see where he is going from here, can't you.

Carl Sagan's "A Demon Haunted World" is one of the classic books of skeptical and critical thinking.  It is out of print but readily available.  I ordered a copy from the States a year or two ago and it arrived looking as though it was absolutely brand new.  Yes he rambles on a bit about alien abductions, but each case is used as a comparison with other ancient phenomena.  The book also includes the classic and famous chapter "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" which was part of the inspiration for my own single page Delusional Logic.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Beautiful Minds - a treat for Dawkins fans

I can't be sure whether this Youtube video will play in your location, and I have a suspicion that it might be taken down quite soon, but if you are a fan of Richard Dawkins then this is a treat that you should watch as a high priority.

Watch it soon!  You have been warned.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Things Christians say: part 13. Deep down you really believe.

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

You know, I think deep down you really believe!


I'm afraid not.  Sorry.



Believe in what?  In your god?

Why would I choose your particular god in the event that, deep down, I needed to believe in a deity?

I'm sure you realise that the majority of people in the world do not believe in your god, and the same can be said to be true of every other god.  Obviously the 'truth' is not a popularity contest, and I have had similar conversations with muslims.

In my own case I would say that my disbelief is only enhanced by the lack of credible arguments from christians, and this one is not a credible argument. 

Last week:  I just don't think you're sincere in your search.
Next week:  You can't go through your whole life only believing in what you have evidence for

Friday, 27 April 2012

Apparently, Jesus never existed

Sometimes in the past I have posted about the historicity of Jesus, and the lack of evidence.  I have mentioned the similarity between the Jesus myth and other, much earlier, stories.

Keeping a skeptical eye on the evidence, I like to remain aware of the possibility that I might be falling for mis-information that is being spread mischievously.  Certainly some of the claims of similarities between the Jesus story and others are a little bit exaggerated, and correspondents have pointed this out to me now and then.  (e.g. Justin's comments on this post about Jesus and Horus which seem to be very fair.)

So imagine my interest in finding a site called, where virtually every story that you ever heard in all your skeptical life seems to have been collected. - where are the fallacies?

If you have any interest in the ideas suggesting that the whole of christianity is built on very poor foundations, I think you will enjoy exploring that site. 

To give you a taster, the following is probably only about 10% of the content of the home page alone. 

Do you really think it all began with a sanctimonious Jewish wonder-worker, strolling about 1st century Palestine? Prepare to be enlightened.

  Jesus – The Imaginary Friend
Christianity was the ultimate product of religious syncretism in the ancient world. Its emergence owed nothing to a holy carpenter. There were many Jesuses but the fable was a cultural construct.
The nativity yarn is a concatenation of nonsense. The genealogies of Jesus, both Matthew's version and Luke's, are pious fiction. Nazareth did not exist in the 1st century AD – the area was a burial ground of rock-cut tombs.
With multiple authors behind the original gospel story it is no surprise that the figure of "Jesus" is a mess of contradictions. Yet the story is so thinly drawn that being a "good Christian" might mean almost anything.
The 12 disciples are as fictitious as their master, invented to legitimise the claims of the early churches. The original Mary was not a virgin, that idea was borrowed from pagan goddesses. The pagan world knew all about virgins getting pregnant by randy gods: The Mythical "Virgin Mother".
Scholars have known all this for more than 200 years but priestcraft is a highly profitable business and finances an industry of deceit to keep the show on the road.
"Jesus better documented than any other ancient figure"? Don't believe a word of it. Unlike the mythical Jesus, a real historical figure like Julius Caesar has a mass of mutually supporting evidence.
The case for a mythical Jesus – Nailing Jesus.

Not only does it address the stories of Jesus, but it goes on to explore the myths about Paul too.


Thursday, 26 April 2012


Some time in 1880s Paris, the body of an unidentified young woman was pulled out of the Seine.  Who was she?

L'inconnu de la Seine - one of the most famous faces

Nobody really knows, but stories abound.  She has been known as 'L'inconnue de la Seine' - the unknown woman.

Since it was not possible to identify her, a plaster cast of her face was taken before she was buried.  According to some accounts, that was common practise at the time, before photography was cheap and easy.  It gave some hope that she would eventually be identified.  Such identification was not entirely altruistic of course.  It was the only opportunity for the funeral expenses to be recovered.

Many cities in Europe claim to have been her place of birth, and in each case they have a plausible story to back up that claim.  The discovery that she was pregnant has made many people speculate that she might have taken her own life rather than face the future as an unmarried mother.

The really surprising thing about her is that her face is said by many people to be the most beautiful imaginable.  In 1958, many decades after her death, two Swedish inventors decided that she was just what they needed when they invented a form of dummy that could be used to train people in the newly invented technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Therefore, she has been called "the most kissed face" of all time.

You might have met her.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Amazing Hitchslap Index: part 9

Here is the next instalment of 'The Amazing Hitchslap Index', summarising the content of the next 7 of the 66 'Hitchslaps' uploaded to Youtube by Loy Machedo as explained here.  For each Hitchslap, I summarise the content in the form of direct quotations and summaries, list co-stars and 'authorities' called upon.  This series should help you to find that one perfect Hitchslap to send to someone who you are debating.

Hitchslap 66. Man made gods, and not the other way round.

Hitchslap 59 There is no such thing.  5:13
Phobia means fear and does imply dislike.  I dislike Islam as I dislike all religion.
All the time we have to hear propaganda across the muslim world, telling children to kill Jews, Christians and Hindus.
Have to read and claim not to be offended by the stoning of 10 people in the Islamic republic of Iran in the last week alone for crimes that would not be crimes except under the mad religious laws that Islam proposes.
All we ask in return that he upholds the first amendment.
[Koran says clearly “Terrorise them”  Its a command from Allah.  Making them fearful so that they think twice.]
Moral blackmail of Denmark – physical threat to destroy its economy . . . by Ambassadors of countries claiming to represent Islam. (Much as Hitchslap 18)
Claiming Muslims have a special right to be offended . . . at gun point and by force.
‘Co-stars’: Hooper,, Younes Abdullah Mohammed
Cited: OIC, Mr Rasmussen, Ambassadors of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria

Hitchslap 60 Henry Kissinger is a thug, a liar and a murderer.  5:04
Strongest case on which Kissinger could be indicted.
Illegal money and weapons through US diplomatic bag
Found beyond doubt that nobody in congress ever new that Kissinger had evolved a plan to murder the head of the general staff in a neighbouring democracy.
Bombing of Cambodia also concealed from Congress

This is a vandal, barbarian and crook, thug and pseudo-intellectual and a murderer.
‘Co-stars’: Unknown
Cited: Chilean general, Schneider, Henry Kissinger, President Ayend, East Timor, Cyprus, Bangladesh

Hitchslap 61 Hitchens and a 911 conspiracy theorist.  2:15
Hold it right there.  You're wasting your time.  I'm not going to answer. You can speak - I'm not bothering with you.  That was a big wow from a small mind.

Hitchslap 62 Europeans and Bush.  4:09
Mr Chirac is a de Gaulle wannabe claiming the mantle of Gaullism
Anglo Saxon racketeers
French speakers crossed the Atlantic to escape the horrors of European nationalism.
EU utterly failed to deal with Yugoslavia and had to beg USA to rescue them.
American Revolution is the only one that has a model still standing.
Bush couldn't give you much of an account of the 1776 revolution.
Bush knows one small thing and one big thing.
Cooperation with totalitarians isn't desirable.
This is a man who gave up drink for Jesus.  Neither halves of that world I will ever understand. ‘Co-stars’: 
Cited: Jacques Chirac , Charles De Gaulle, Quebecois, Jefferson, George Bush

Hitchslap 63 If god does not exist, what is our purpose.  4:07
Socrates answered that he had an inner daemon – not demon.  An inner critic.  A conscience.
Any person of average moral equipment has the same knowledge.  If you don't I feel sorry for you.
Adam Smith called it “the internal witness”.
Why do you behave well when nobody is looking?
There are people who do not think that way and there are some who only get pleasure from being unpleasant.
Sociopathic and psychopathic appear in nature.
That we are all made in the image of god is the one explanation that absolutely doesn't work at all.  It gets you nowhere, explains nothing at all.
What cheers me up?  Mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people.  Doesn't always work but it never completely fails.  And irony – that's the gin in the Campari.  Sex can have diminishing returns but its amazing . . . That's pretty much it, and then it is a clear run to the grave.
‘Co-stars’: Unknown
Cited: Socrates, Adam Smith, C S Lewis

Hitchslap 64 The decline of believers in America.  3:11
Smuggled-through-customs name of 'intelligent design'.
Number of people like myself who think that religion is false, that it is a delusion in other words, and that it is bad for you, is pretty small.
Science will beat pseudo-science every time.
[Christopher wears his unbelief like a fur coat.  If Jesus didn't come back from the dead then Christianity is an appalling fraud and delusion and people ought to attack it.]
Often when you argue with religious people they are completely mushy.  Charity.  Metaphors.
If it is based on a fraud then those preachings are immoral.
‘Co-stars’: Douglas Wilson

Hitchslap 65 George Galloway gets the taste slapped out of his mouth.  2:44
So these Al Qaeda chaps, killers sadists, nihilists and producers of indiscriminate explosions, wouldn't be this way if we weren't so mean to them?
Kurdish leadership is a strange target for a holy war.
This is masochism being offered to you by sadists.
100% consistent in your support for unmentionable thugs and criminals
Thank him for . . . full declaration of support for the campaign of sabotage, murder and beheading, demolishing offices of UN and Red Cross in Bagdad.
Continues as a campaign of mayhem to this day.
‘Co-stars’: George Galloway
Cited: Mr Zarqawi

Hitchslap 66 Man made god in his own image.  3:19
Anyone can look at any religious text and take any prompting or authority from it that they like from any number of sides for any proposition.
Religion is man made and it shows.
Our species making made many hundreds and thousands of gods in vain hope of certainty
In hope of establishing a secular tyranny of rule by men over men but to say that these men have divine warrant for what they do.
Essential core of religion is that there is a creator and that his wishes can be conveyed by a priesthood to the rest of us.
Did not call me an extremist – I wouldn't particularly have bristled if you had - but you are saying that the examples of religiosity that I adduce are extremist beliefs
The gods that we have made are exactly the gods that you would expect to be made by a species that is about half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee.
‘Co-stars’: Professor Barry Brummett

Previous Hitchslap Index posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
This is the last in the series of The Amazing Hitchslap Index.  I hope you have enjoyed it.

Please add your comments, suggestions and corrections so that they can be included (with credit) in the final summary index that will be made up of these posts.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Olympic strikes

Was there Olympic hysteria in 1912? No no!  I'm not talking about the Olympic games!  I'm talking about RMS Olympic, the older sister of the Titanic.

Just imagine the situation 100 years ago.  The whole world was still reeling in shock after the loss of the 'unsinkable' Titanic, and White Star Line had made no secret of the fact that Titanic was the second of its Olympic Class liners.  There is no way that anyone boarding Olympic would have done so without a measure of concern for their own safety.

Olympic and Titanic - sister ships

White Star Line was obviously aware of this too.  When Olympic arrived back in England they hurriedly arranged for an additional 40 lifeboats to be provided in case of another disaster.  Good for them!  Except this did not actually satisfy everyone.

Strike reported in New York Times, 25th April 1912

The reason for the dis-satisfaction was that these additional lifeboats were not brand-new seaworthy craft like those that were already in place.  In reality it would not have been possible to procure so many, let alone immediately to fit the ship out to launch them swiftly.  In fact these new lifeboats were hurriedly purchased, second-hand, collapsible, and in some cases rotten and nonfunctional.  The men who worked in the engine rooms of the ship were not convinced that they added sufficiently to their safety and the sent a delegation to the owners.

On 25 April a deputation of strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. Only one was unseaworthy and they said that they were prepared to recommend the men to return to work if it was replaced.  However, 54 of them were arrested when they left the ship, and charged with mutiny!  The court found them guilty but imposed no punishment and most of them returned to work in time for the ship to sail on 15th May.

Less than 5 months later, the ship was withdrawn from service for a refit, which included fitting 64 'proper' lifeboats and improving the double hull.  When she re-entered service with a gross tonnage of 46,359 tons, she was again the largest ocean liner in the world - at least for a few months!

At least in 1912, Olympic hysteria achieved something useful!  It won't be the same in 2012.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Nolympic hysteria and fusion funding

Am I allowed to use the word "Olympic"?

It would seem that the organisers of the £11 billion sporting extravaganza would like to reserve the word for their own use and prevent anyone else from using it or the well known five circled symbol.  And as was mentioned on the BBC's surprisingly satirical TV show, 'Have I got News for You', someone had described the Olympic Games as "the 11 billion, tax funded advertising campaign for some of the world's worst companies".  (I don't know which companies they meant though!  Perhaps I will find out when all the advertising starts in earnest!)

Naturally there must have been businesses in London which already used the Olympic theme in their names, and I have no idea how they have been treated.  The whole event was billed as an opportunity to improve the economic climate for business.  It was going to bring prosperity to an area that has been run down for decades.  So, just imagine the pettiness of a legal challenge to a small cafe called Cafe Olympic.  Fortunately the owner managed an inexpensive solution to the problem by painting out the O.

Cafe Lympic's new improved look
(61 West Ham Lane, Stratford
London, E15 4PH)

It is now only three months to the beginning of the the Olympic farce, but more importantly it is only four months until it is all over.

I for one will have to adopt an avoidance strategy.  I'm not interested in the competition and to be honest I think it is an outrageous waste of a lot of money.  The £11 billion is just the cost to UK to build the facilities.  How much more has it cost to train the athletes around the world?  We shouldn't just include the successful competitors.  For every one of them there must be 50 who failed.  Then the costs of transport to London are hardly likely to be trivial.  The real costs of the whole event are massively higher than anyone ever mentions.  Estimates of £25 billion are not hard to find.  Isn't it interesting to compare this with the original estimate of £2.37 billion.

Illegal use of the Olympic symbol.
At least someone in Beijing had a sense of humour!
I'm not saying that sporting events do not have any social value.  Even I can recognise that many people enjoy partaking in sport, and an even greater number enjoy being inactive armchair experts.  But I do object to the fact that for a few weeks the whole world will appear to revolve around an event that will bore me silly.  Even more than that I feel strongly about another thing.

Is it worth the cost?  Most people will say that it obviously is, and they will point out the benefits to society and global international relations.  Think of all the jobs created in arranging for the games and think of the legacy in an area of London that needed to be improved.  (Notice one thing that is not included in the legacy - new technology!)

But . . .

Think of another project that costs the same amount of money.  The ITER fusion reactor that is being built by international cooperation (in possibly the most inefficient way conceivable!) will cost about £11 billion, give or take say 30%.  Just as many jobs will be created, but these are jobs that will teach scientists and engineers things that will actually be useful for the world.  Think of the legacy that a working fusion reactor would represent - clean and reliable carbon-free energy, virtually for ever!  The value of ITER is so much greater to humanity than the value of the Olympics, and yet there is only one of it, and it has taken decades to get the project off the ground because of . . . the cost!  Not because of lack of technology!

Yet somehow ITER is referred to as a 'black hole' and the Olympics is not.

Where is the logic in that?

Small note: I don't suppose there is any point in proposing that the next three Olympic events are postponed, and the money spent building machines to compete with ITER in order to get the most efficient possible power source for the future.  You could probably build two devices for the cost of each Olympics if you did it efficiently.  Competition, after all, brings out the best in the market.  We are always being told that by those conservatives who object so strongly to spending money, unless they spend it on a sporting event.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A niche for negativity

There are times in life when a negative attitude starts to invade your thoughts.  Maybe your job is boring or your home life is frustrating - or both.   This must affect virtually everyone.  Even those irrepressible (and annoyingly) optimistic individuals who are good at putting on an act all the time must feel something inside, even if they try not to show it.

Although often accused of being negative myself - yes really - I actually believe that I tend to take a pretty positive attitude.  How many people could work in development of a product that will not be commercially available in their own lifetime, and still be enthusiastic about it?  Well, most of the time I can.  I might say that I am equally often accused of over-optimism and over-simplification. 

Let's assume that, like everyone else, I might be negative sometimes.  Is this such a bad thing?  After all, negativity is in very plentiful supply and it is free at the point of use.  Rarely will it actually create risk in the same way that overt optimism can do.  I have blogged previously (in Don't be so negative!) about the way that some people confuse negativity with realism, and pointed out the semantic errors in the way that they tell you about it

Are there some cases where negativity provides a very positive benefit?   Certainly it is unfashionable among the chattering middle-management classes to think so.  And among the droves of 'business consultants' who blight many of our lives it is almost unheard of.  I say 'almost' for a good reason, and I will return to that shortly.

One area where I have observed positive negativity is in the field of safety and emergency management - although I am sure that most trainers on this topic would dress it up in a different way.  I'm not talking about the type of safety management where we are all advised about everyday hazards, wearing highly visible clothing and cycle helmets etc.  I'm thinking more of the sort of situation where professional people have to work to avoid putting the lives of others at undue risk.

It might be a fire officer faced with the decision about whether to send a fireman into a building where there is a risk of a potential gas explosion, just because one of the occupants has not been accounted for.  After all, perhaps someone had felt ill and gone home early without telling their boss.  It would be a foolhardy action to rush into the building without assessing the risks, when the missing person might not be in the building anyway.

It might be a new project to build a nuclear power station just across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament.  Being positive, we could say that the risks are infinitesimally small.  If we have enough confidence and optimism then we know that the facility will run safely for decades with no chance of exposing the public in the City of London to radioactive contamination.  After all, it has hardly ever happened at the plants built in the more remote areas of the world - honestly!  Be positive!

You see - in cases where the risks really outweigh the benefits, not many would claim that it was clearly and obviously correct to take a solely positive attitude.  (This is not to say that I would be completely against the idea of a nuclear power plant on the site of Bankside Power Station by the way.  I say build it!  Focus the minds of the planners and politicians on real risks for a change, instead of implying that parts of rural England do not matter as much!  And it would get rid of the pretentious Tate Modern art gallery at the same time!)

I truly believe that people often have skill of being able to think through a situation from a realistic point of view and identify the real reasons why it is hopeless to try it.  It simply MUST be true that overt optimism brings unconsidered risks to most situations.  OK, the odd surprising win might be experienced, just as people sometimes claim miracles to prove that their god exists, but on the whole a well considered and honest assessment of the risks and benefits must always be better, however unfashionable.

Coming back to business consultancy though, I am delighted to see that a few of them have at last recognised the value of harnessing negativity for profit and benefit.  Here is one example.  In his article Using Negativity Wisely, Derek Cheshire takes a refreshingly positive attitude to negativity.  (He mentions an earlier article about Reverse (or Negative) Brainstorming but does not link to it.  (I think this is the one.)

So tell me . . . have any of you tried using these techniques and found them useful?  My gut feeling is that this is a powerful and untapped resource, but as Carl Sagan said, "I try not to think with my guts".

Let's all continue to use our negativity wisely.  After all, we've been doing it quietly all our lives, even if we have never been recognised for the benefits it brings.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Things Christians say: part 12. You're not sincere in your search!

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

I just don't think you're sincere in your search.


Now that you mention the topic of sincerity in searching, I think it would not be too unreasonable to ask about your own search.

My guess is that you have searched for God quite a lot and that you might not even have found him yet.  A few 'proper' Christians claim to have "met the living Jesus" (although I assume that they mean that in a spiritual sense).

Many others have not yet succeeded but they live in hope and they believe that others have.

Maybe it is a virtue to continue with that search.  On the other hand maybe one would be better served by broadening the scope of the search a little to consider the possibility that there is no God, or indeed no gods at all!



When I was a Christian I searched for God.  I didn't know where to search.  Advice about searching my heart was not very helpful.  Searching the bible wasn't much use either.  The more of it you read, the harder it is to know what God is like, but one thing becomes gradually clearer - whatever he is like, there is very little to suggest that he is all-powerful and all-loving.

And then came the challenge from our pseudo-catholic Anglican minister - now retired.   "Read this book called 'The God Delusion'!" he said. (At the time it was virtually unknown and only available in hardback).  "Then after reading it, search your heart for the answer, and consult another much smaller book called "The Dawkins Delusion" to assist you to find the 'right' answer."

It would be hard to describe a more life-changing experience than that.  Aside from my observation that Dawkins was rational and thorough (possibly sometimes too thorough) and that McGrath was virtually incoherent, so many of the standard arguments for faith were totally undermined by a single book.

That's when the search really began.  Not all the arguments that Dawkins made were completely and unambiguously obvious and clear to me at the time, but his writings made me aware of a few other authors.  As you read more work by more people you find that each has found a few topics which (to me) they explain better than all the others, and so the search gets steadily more exciting.  After reading Dawkins, you are introduced to Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, the so-called 'four horsemen'.  Then they introduce you to others from the pantheon of writers against the hypotheses of gods, including Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss and Carl Sagan.  Add Mark Twain, James Randi, Dan Barker and perhaps even Penn Jillette (who is better on stage than in writing) and the search begins to widen even further.

My challenge to Christians is to be more sincere in your search.  Don't just read the jumbled collection of bronze-age and iron-age fiction, by anonymous ancient authors and expect to learn everything useful that there is to know about life's modern mysteries.

Be more sincere in your own search!


Last week: If there's no god I don't know how anybody would get up in the morning.
Next week: You know, I think deep down you really believe

Friday, 20 April 2012

Venomous Hitchslaps?

A friend has gently taken me to task for my Amazing Hitchslap Index series (see links below), for reasons that I can understand but can't possibly agree with.  The reason that I took the time to index them all was that I have a great deal of respect for the direct and rational challenges that he made against all religious institutions.

Now obviously that is not the same as saying that all Christians (or indeed all Muslims) think in the same way as the formal religions of which they are members.  Of course most ordinary Christians think of themselves as decent and well-meaning people, and although I know fewer Muslims I would assume that they would claim the same.  (I must admit that I'm naturally more suspicious of a religion which has a concept of taqiyyah though!  Yes, people lie for Jesus, but its not quite as highly formalised in christian doctrine.)

But they are all members of organisations that have a lot to be ashamed of!  They must take some responsibility for the way that their donations are squandered.

In a nicely christian way, my friend has very refrained from making comments on the posts out of a sense of respect for the recently deceased Mr Hitchens.  However, I think he would not be upset at all if she said what she disagreed with, in a calm and rational way.  He might very well have answered, as he did in Hitchslap 56:

"You give the awful impression of someone who has not read any of the arguments against your position ever. "

After all, Christopher Hitchens was much less respectful of the dead and terminally ill, both while they were alive and after their deaths. He expected (and to some extent got) the same treatment during his own illness. 

You may say that he slandered Christians but to be honest I think you would have trouble supporting that claim.  Slander requires his words to be untrue.  Besides that, he generally argued against Christianity rather than against specific Christians, with the exception of people like Falwell and Robertson who have shown themselves to be 'notorious' characters anyway, and Mother Teresa who was (at best) not beyond suspicion.

My main argument would be that you should ask yourself whether his words would be considered acceptable in a political debate though.  I think they would not seem unusually harsh in such a context.

Hitch - equally outspoken on politics (as you can read here)

It is just that Christianity has become accustomed to being immune to questioning and at long last it has to face up to those hard questions being asked. In my view it has no right to expect that immunity. Do YOU think it does?

Far from being an outpouring of venom, I prefer to think of the work of Hitchens as brave, reasonable and rational opinion on a topic that should be important to all of us.

Sometimes I'm more outspoken than other times.  I generally I try to maintain a reasonable degree of politeness but I decline to be unnecessarily reverent.  That doesn't mean that I can't respect someone who was less reticent with his views.

Hitchslap Index posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Small note: He famously changed his mind about the Iraq war.  That demonstrates open-mindedness and represents a virtue rather than a weakness in my opinion.

Altruism without gods

This is not today's scheduled Something Surprising blog post (which is coming later) but merely a pointer to a great post by The Lady Atheist.  Read it at "What I've Learned from Watching Eagle Families".

It is about evidence for altruism in families of eagles, and it suggests rather a lot about the origins of human altruism. 

Apparently it is not necessary to have a god to have this quality.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The gorilla's genome says . . .

The full genome of the last of the great ape species has been sequenced at last, and the results have been the cause of great excitement among the 'Intelligent Design' community. The gorilla genome is about the 50th to be completed, and it turns out that it has taken quite a while, partly because it is a great deal larger than our own.

The surprise is the finding that about 15% of the genes of gorillas are shared with humans and a different 15% with chimpanzees.  On the face of it, ID's proponents would appear to have a good point when they claim that this calls the family tree of the great apes/hominids into question.   They claim (e.g. here if you can read the words of Casey Luskin without imagining his whining voice) that 'neo-Darwinian evolution' has now been shown to have failed - yet again!

Just a few observations about Luskin's technique before attempting any analysis of the science.  In only the second paragraph he had to launch into an 'ad hominem' attack on Eugenie Scott.  Given that his argument might have had some face-value scientific merit, I think I can be forgiven for finding this approach to be unnecessarily confrontational and defensive.  But evidently he thought that it strengthened his argument.  I don't agree but I'm interested (and proud) to see that Eugenie has got him on the run like that.

I am much more interested in his 'reasoning'.  He says:

"The standard evolutionary phylogeny of primates holds that humans and chimps are more closely related to one-another than to other great apes like gorillas. In practice, all that really means is that when we sequence human, chimp, and gorilla genes, human and chimp genes have a DNA sequence that is more similar to one-another's genes than to the gorilla's genes."

Indeed that is what we might have expected, but the fact that the data seem to show something different is interesting isn't it?  I would also have expected Luskin to 'muddy the waters' for a non-specialist audience by using words like 'phylogeny'.  Why use a small word when a big one can be used instead.

I like to hone my arguments by listening to this sort of rhetorical tosh and trying to spot the logical fallacies.  My first thought on the topic was that the process of speciation must have been slow enough to allow a degree of gene transfer between the sub-species that later divided into the current completely separate species. We know that Neanderthals interbred with our ancestors to some degree.

Indeed, it turns out that this has been offered as an argument, but being a relatively weak one, this was the one that Luskin proceeded to attack.

"Called incomplete lineage sorting, it provides a convenient after-the-fact explanation for why different genes carry different phylogenetic signals. Of course, this is merely an ad hoc hypothesis invoked to explain away inconvenient data which contradicts the standard phylogeny."

That sounds reasonable until you discover that 'incomplete lineage sorting' is not quite what he describes.  Fortunately, proper specialists in genetics have come to the rescue.

In his slightly technical but manageable post Chimps are our closest relatives… but not for all of our genes, David Winter describes much more clearly how different variants of genes (called alleles) can be spread exactly as has been observed.  It turns out that it is perfectly understandable how the gene tree can be different from the species tree.

The gene tree can be different from the species tree. 
From an excellent article by David Winter

As David Winter says:

"For recent or repeated and rapid speciation processes there might not be time for the genetic lineages to sort. The gene tree can be different from the species tree"

and he then goes on to explain that this very observation can probably tell science something useful:

"Although we’ve always known this problem existed, we’ve only recently been able to extend population genetics theory to actually infer the history of species for gene trees even when those gene trees are unsorted."

So now you can decide for yourself who to side with - since we are 'teaching the controversy' as the ID community likes to say.  Do we believe a real geneticist who has a real explanation (or was it only an ad hoc hypothesis that we have always known about?).  Or do we believe someone who goes for ad hominem attacks on respectable and rational scientists, then uses 2 dimensional analogies that fail to prove anything because of their simplistic nature and merely rhetorical value?

I would still go for a strong adherence to the belief that chimps are our nearest cousins (speaking as a species of course).

ID might still be one of the strongest lines of evidence for the existence of a god, but let's face it, it doesn't have much competition!  Nor does it imply which of the current catalogue of 3000+ gods might have been responsible for the design, or why he did such a poor job of it.

Small note: Of course this very post could be said to be an 'ad hominem' attack but I trust you to judge that for yourself.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Amazing Hitchslap Index: part 8

Here is the next instalment of 'The Amazing Hitchslap Index', summarising the content of the next 7 of the 66 'Hitchslaps' uploaded to Youtube by Loy Machedo as explained here.  For each Hitchslap, I summarise the content in the form of direct quotations and summaries, list co-stars and 'authorities' called upon.  This series should help you to find that one perfect Hitchslap to send to someone who you are debating.

Hitchslap 52 Religious nastiness and menace!

Hitchslap 52 Religious cowards. 2:54
Change in the zeitgeist.  Large audience now for resistance to clerical bullying and religious lecturing and self-righteousness and nastiness and menace.
We've had about enough of all this
Pope – having just repudiated limbo after a long struggle – says we need to teach the children more about hell.
Limbo was a real place for those parents who thought that was where their poor kids had gone.
Oh by the way – we were wrong about this, but we are now ready to be infallible all over again . . . teach the children more about hell.
Maladjusted elderly virgins.
“No child's behind left.”
AIDS in Africa may be bad but nothing like as bad as a condom.
Will not have people who want to bring on Armageddon and destruction - should recognise them as enemies.
‘Co-stars’: None
Cited: To celebrate my birthday, Dawkins , Dennett, Harris

Hitchslap 53 National day of wishful thinking. 6:36
First amendment written with admirable clarity.
Would it unite the nation if it was a day of Hindu prayer or Muslim prayer?  You know what day of prayer it is – it is a day of prayer for Christians
It would be a tyranny of the majority.
Whatever judge said that this would be unconstitutional would be incorrect.
Can you tell me what date this national day of prayer originated? (1988)
Obama administration is afraid of being accused of being socialist and secular.
‘Co-stars’: Tony Perkins
Cited: George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin

Hitchslap 54 A clash of civilizations. 3:13
[Clash of civilisation between Islam and the west is inevitable?]  Yes.
A great number of Muslims are violently annoyed by our policy and thus we are 'less safe' however that is estimated.
Does going to war make one more safe? One asks a question that is flat-out incoherent.
e.g. Denmark – small European multicultural democracy with no history of imperialism in the middle east – has its embassies burned and its diplomatic immunity violated.  Well organised attempt by several leading Arab governments to destroy the quite vulnerable Danish economy because the Danish prime minister will not break the law to ban the publication of cartoons.
Those who say 'don't make enemies' in those conditions are being flat-out masochistic.  We can avoid their ire just as long as we destroy everything that makes our society different from theirs. 
Well I'm not ready to do that
I would rather fight it out – if it takes all my life.
‘Co-stars’: None 

Hitchslap 55 If religious leaders are as uneducated as this guy. 8:48
Christian nation is a meaningless statement.
Declaration of independence mentions a creator but does not say that this creator intervenes.
Many christians are full of doubt and skepticism.
Those having no faith are the fastest growing group.
Wall of separation between church and state.
Jefferson Bible cuts out all references to the divinity of Jesus.
George Washington would not take communion.
I don't have a constitutional right to be theologically wrong.  I don't require your permission.
USA's founding documents are secular.  If you don't know that you don't know anything.
Our worst enemy in the world is very obviously a faith based one.
Our enemy is no longer godless communism but the most godly imaginable group.
‘Co-stars’: Ken Blackwell
Cited: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Meacham

Hitchslap 56 Sean Hannity is a cock smith.  4:54
An atheist says that there is no evidence to believe that there is a god but they may wish it were true.
I'm anti-theist because I think it would be rather awful if it was true.
Permanent total around the clock divine supervision.
Watched controlled and supervised by some celestial entity
Its only after death that the real fun begins isn't it.
You give the awful impression of someone who has not read any of the arguments against your position ever. 
One planet in this petty solar system that can support life some of the time on some of its surface.
99% of species extinct already.  This is some design isn't it?
Our minds demand – we look for patterns.
Not angry with god - obviously – that would be absurd!
Contempt and hostility to constant religious intimidation and clerical bullying to which we are being subjected.
Pope says "Limbo may have been a mistake but let's talk about hell".
I am very hostile to this
It is innately irrational.
If you reduce religion to social work then so does USAID do all that, actually rather more convincingly.
‘Co-stars’: Sean Hannity
Cited: The Pope

Hitchslap 57 Zionism. 2:07
Idea of building a state of Jewish farmers on Arab land in the middle east was a silly messianic, superstitious, nationalist idea.
Many states are founded on injustices or foolishness but it doesn't mean that people can just come and evict or destroy them
It was a waste of Judaism and guaranteed a quarrel with the Arabs
Trying to make Jews into peasants – already a silly idea.
Guaranteed injustice to the Arabs.
4th generation of Palestinians being brought up in exile or dispossession or under occupation and in humiliation
Something has to be done to redress . . .
Have been writing in favour of a Palestinian homeland all my life.
If Jews born in Brooklyn have a right to a state in Palestine then Palestinians born in Jerusalem have a right to one?
‘Co-stars’: Unknown interviewer, (Carter von Riedel)
Cited: George Bush

Hitchslap 58 A threat to everyone! 3:03
Can't tell whether the Koran is the work of god or not.
Can hope that this was a bad day for god and I can hope to live in a country where I can say that and get applause.
I don't like the idea of a paradise reward for martyrs.
Are the Jews ever going to be forgiven for rejecting two messiahs in a row?
Couldn't say this everywhere in Europe. 
All of this has been done to us by the wrong Muslims  Let's get rid of them and have an honest discussion about the texts and the reader.
Is this the culture that Islam wants us to have in relation to it?  One of pre-emptive submission and pre-emptive cowering backed by the fear of force.  That is not multi-culturalism.  Nothing like the gorgeous mosaic.
Have to look rather askance on a religion whose preachers openly make threats against people like us.
Where is the authoritative statement of moral outrage saying that this is not acceptable behaviour for followers of the prophet?  I missed it.
‘Co-stars’: None

Hitchslap Index posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9

The next and final part of this series is coming in one week.  Check back for more!

Please add your comments, suggestions and corrections so that they can be included (with credit) in the final summary index that will be made up of these posts.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The emptiest grid square and associated hazards

The Ordnance Survey maps of the UK are divided up into 1km 'grid squares'.  The question is  "are any of them empty?"

The normal answer is that there are no empty grid squares on 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 scale maps but that the grid square with the least detail is at SE 8322 on the OS Landranger Map 112 (Scunthorpe and Gainsborough sheet). The only feature shown in this field is a high voltage power line which just cuts across the corner.

The emptiest grid square in UK - but not hazard free!

So is that a fair answer?  After all there is a bit of writing inside the top of the square too but nobody ever seems to claim that this stops the square being considered empty.  It seems to me that since there are no actual pylons within the square, it counts as being one of the least interesting places in UK, but in one of the most interesting ways.

What could possibly be hazardous in such an empty area?

Well . . . speaking of electric pylons and the hazards that lie between them, a young hot air balloonist made the news a couple of weeks ago, by crashing his balloon into pylons in another part of England, namely Northamptonshire.

Whenever I have been in a balloon, my pilot has been very much aware of these hazards, but evidently this one made an error of judgement.

Hot air balloon crash in Northamptonshire.
Everyone survived, but only at the cost of huge inconvenience and risk to the people who came to their rescue.  I suspect he won't be doing that again!  A former owner of that balloon also happens to be a close colleague.  Isn't it a small world!

Monday, 16 April 2012

The first recorded medical trial?

It is sometimes said that the first documented medical trial is found at the beginning of the Old Testament book of Daniel (1:1-16).  This is the story in which Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are among a group of the most gifted children selected by Nebuchadnezzar, who have just besieged and conquered Jerusalem.  These special children were to be taught to speak Chaldean and to learn the ways of the conquerors in order that they could govern the Israelites.

This claim might make it appear that the bible contains some science, but when you examine it, as usual, the 'science' is more or less at kindergarten level.  Yes, some of the children were fed with pulses for 10 days , while the others were fed portions of the king's meat and wine.  At the end of the trial period their appearances were compared.  Of course Daniel and his three friends'  'countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat'.

This sounds a bit like science doesn't it.  But if a medical trial was carried out like this in the present day, would be really considered to be scientific?  I think there are two possibilities.

  1. In alternative medicine circles, such as a test of a homeopathic 'remedy', it could be regarded as 'proof' that the magic remedy worked reliably without side effects.  What a wonderful result.  The results proved exactly what was expected.
  2. But in real science this would not be acceptable.  This is the simplest sort of medical trial that could be performed.  The main reason that it would not be considered valid (apart from the very poor statistics of examining only four subjects) is that it is not 'double blind' (and couldn't be).  Indeed it is not even 'single blind'.  In other words, everybody knew which children were in which group, and they all had a suspicion that there might be a difference in the outcomes.  Who judged the results?  Were they independent?  The fact that the bible doe not specifically say so would be enough for the study to be thrown out in the present day.
As usual, the claim that you can find science in the bible is found to be wanting.  I never remember hearing this story in church for some reason. Maybe the clergy have spotted the scientific flaw?  :)  On the other hand at least the story is rational and believable, unlike the great majority of the bible.  Maybe this is the reason.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - famous for a less believable story

As for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they went on to much greater fame by surviving being thrown into the 'burning fiery furnace' where they met an angel who 'looked like the son of god'.  Yes apparently everyone knew what the son of god looked like!

Subsequently they were promoted to positions in Babylon.

And just for a little fun, here is a song by Louis Armstrong.  I would have embedded it but that feature has been disabled.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Claiming the moral high-ground

Penn Jillette recorded for USA's 2012 Reason Rally, claiming back the moral high ground.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Things Christians say: part 11. If there's no god why get up in the morning?

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

If there's no god I don't know how anybody would get up in the morning.


I wonder whether anybody only gets up in the morning because there is a god to worship.  I suppose there will be a few.

I do frequently wake up and want to turn over and go back to sleep, but its nothing to do with whether I believe in god or not.  It is more to do with whether I went to bed early enough the previous night - and that would be rather a rarity.

I do get up in the morning for lots of reasons though.  I might be hungry.  I might have to go to work - or perhaps even want to go to work sometimes.  Maybe I'm going to meet a friend or write an anti-theistic blog post - although normally I wouldn't do that until I'm properly awake.

Another reason to get up (here)
I can't imagine ever having a life so empty that I need to think about god in order to get out of bed though.



Well that's just a silly comment isn't it?  I can't summon enough disdain to reply to anyone who can say that with a straight face.


Last week: You really need to read 'this' (substitute any book or web site).
Next week:  I just don't think you're sincere in your search

Friday, 13 April 2012

The past is a foreign country

They say that the past is a foreign county, ans I, for one, believe them!

Sitting in Madrid's glorious Plaza Mayor we enjoyed a dinner.  Unfortunately it was punctuated by the inevitable (and completely resistible) offers to make purchases of useless gimmicks, or to donate to the inevitable beggars who frequent every city environment.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.
Madrid's friendly atmosphere and glorious architecture seem slightly foreign but only in a friendly and cosmopolitan way.  Zooming in on that scene you find a surprisingly light hearted sight.

Headless man - apparently!
But a chance visit to the Museo Nacional del Prado art gallery a couple of days later reminded me that the past is a much more foreign country to the Spanish than present-day England is!

Spain may still be a Catholic country, but it is one where the dreadful strangle-hold of the Roman Catholic Church has been relaxed.  Many different cultures exist in the city now, with the blessing (I assume) of the Spanish people.  But just a few hundred years ago the Spanish Inquisition ruled the country with terror, and Plaza Mayor was the centre of its diabolical work.

Rizi's painting - Auto da fé in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid in 1683 represented 'The Inquisition' at its diabolical worst!
This is a reminder that, whatever the trials of present-day life might be, this is the best time in history to be alive.  Not very long ago, in most of the world, we would not have been free to express our heretical views without being in fear for our lives.

Who says that religion does no harm?  (But of course I keep being told that Christianity is not a religion!)

On a slightly lighter note, later in the week at another tourist attraction, I was in a group with some Maltese people.  Our guide spoke English well, but she was surprised to learn that Italian was not the main language spoken on the island.  The Maltese gentleman explained to her that they had had several hundred years of English rule.

"You're lucky" I said.  "We've still got it!"

Of course he asked where I came from.  I'm glad to say that he laughed heartily when I revealed that I come from England.  As you see - the past really is more foreign than the present!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The surprising story of a monkey in Hartlepool

The port of Hartlepool (pronounced 'Hart lee pool') is on the north-eastern coast of England, south of Newcastle upon Tyne (pronounced nooCAStle).  For a rather surprising reason, its residents are known (in jest) as 'monkey hangers'.

That sounds quite rude (in various ways), but it is really intended as a reference to a story from history - one which it is hard to escape from.  By now we ought to have dropped the joke, as even in biblical times the sins of the fathers only reached the third or fourth generation.  But the story is too good to be ignored.

One dark and stormy night during the Napoleonic Wars, when the whole of England had been primed to expect a French invasion, a French ship was blown ashore at Hartlepool.  Only one survivor reached the safety of the land alive, dressed in a French naval uniform.  That poor survivor was not human - it was probably the captain's pet monkey dressed for the amusement of the crew.

Of course it could not speak English.  The fact that it could not speak French either was hardly relevant.  How would anyone know what French sounded like anyway?

The people had never met a Frenchman but it was obvious that this was no Englishman.  Indeed they had probably never even heard of monkeys.

Inevitably, for the safety of the realm, the poor creature was hanged as a spy and the story has gone down in legend.

It seems that the people of Hartlepool (in general, at least) are not offended by the terminology.  Perhaps they have grown up with it and developed broad shoulders.  Even the official mascot of Hartlepool Football (soccer!) Club has the name 'H'Angus the Monkey'.

For the rest of us it is a rather nice tradition to tease them gently.  It was a perfectly understandable error, under the threat of invasion by a strong foreign power.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Amazing Hitchslap Index: part 7

Here is the next instalment of 'The Amazing Hitchslap Index', summarising the content of the next 7 of the 66 'Hitchslaps' uploaded to Youtube by Loy Machedo as explained here.  For each Hitchslap, I summarise the content in the form of direct quotations and summaries, list co-stars and 'authorities' called upon.  This series should help you to find that one perfect Hitchslap to send to someone who you are debating.

Hitchslap 48 - Visibly shaken!

Hitchslap 45 Hitting religion's claims out of the park!  6:31
[How you doing?] Too soon to tell!
Why is America so far behind Europe.
Not enough room in the churches.  People lie to opinion pollsters.
In hospital they act as though Darwin is more likely to be right
The Queen is head of the church in England as well as the state.  When she dies, her slobbering, weak chinned dauphin of a son . . . who wants to convert to Islam . . . 
Don't you always love it to see how the Christians love one another
Until 1965 the Mormon Church was officially a racist organisation
Romney a senior member of a racket like that
Some Republicans quite careful not to appear too pious
“Its Jack Daniels or me . . . scum bag”.  (wife to George Bush)
‘Co-stars’: Bill Maher
Cited: God is not Great, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Prince Charles, Henry VIII, Al Sharpton, Mitt Romney, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Karl Rowe, George Bush

Hitchslap 46 Hitchens asks for security to remove a conspiracy nut.    2:19
Battle to defend the constitution.
Slobbering chinless sympathiser of Islam, a witless dauphin who goes to the mosque these days will become the head of the church.
That's what you get when you build a church on the family values of Henry 8th
For all that, I think England was worth saving.
Security called to throw someone out.
‘Co-stars’: LA Times Festival, 2007
Cited: The Queen, Prince Charles, Henry VIII, A fascist crackpot

Hitchslap 47 Michael Moore. 4:55
Natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan
Saudis decide everything in Washington.  
Pointless war, kept going for profit.
Cited: Bill Clinton, George Bush, Prince Bandar (bin Khalid bin Faisal Al-Saud), George Orwell, Winston Smith, John McCain, The Weekly Standard

Hitchslap 48 Interviewer visibly shaken by Hitchens comments.  5:20
Idea that I needed supernatural prompting to think this way is a barbaric idea.
Communism and fascism a very serious question.
Fascism and National Socialism effectively nothing more than the right wing of the RC church. 
National Socialism is pagan and anti-clerical but never breaks its concordat with the church.  Church reciprocates by having prayers for Hitler's birthday.
Third leader of the axis, the Japanese Emperor is actually a god.
Stalinism – millions of Russians had been told that the Tsar is the head of the church.  Not quite divine.  Stalin shouldn't be in the dictatorship business if he doesn't know how to exploit an inheritance like that - millions of credulous servile people.  Replication of the preceding theocracy.
Russian Orthodox church was always on the side of Stalin.  Kept the church in his corner throughout the collectivisation.  The church had to split because the hierarchy stayed with the regime.
Cited: George Washington, Stalin, Trofim Lysenko, Lucretius, Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, Hirohito

Hitchslap 49 There is [sic] not enough churches for 25% of Americans to be Christians  5:00
It wouldn't bother me to be the only atheist in the country.
80% of Americans lie that they go to church regularly on Sunday.
Not enough churches to take that many Americans
Easy to lie to an opinion pollster about a matter of faith.
Its one of the ways that people who are religious get their own way.
Such a man as Sharpton would not get away that with this in our culture if he was not called Reverend.
Feeling of annoyance at the prevalence of religious bullying and intimidation.
Everyone in this room subject to a Fatwah by Mr Bin Laden and his associates.
I'm not a person of faith but I seek to kill the enemies of civilisation.  
It is immoral to tell me to love these people.
One definition that you can't meet – a person of faith who will leave you alone.  
They have to interfere in my life.  
Can't watch me go to hell.  Will love me to death if they have to.  
They start fighting among themselves – terrible wars of faith.
They have gravely retarded civilisation for hundreds of years and they are still doing it.  
There is no possibility of living a life that is untouched by this barbaric belief.
Cited: Al Sharpton, Robertson, Falwell, Mountabank, Osama Bin Laden, Iraq, India, 

Hitchslap 50 The warrant for slavery was biblical.  2:19
The warrant for slavery was biblical to begin with.  Found in the bible and preached by the churches.
For every Christian who was an anti-slavery activist that were millions and millions who did not just passively but actively supported the institution.
Main founders of the American anti-slavery society, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, had no god.
Chaotic and disordered and undesigned nature of the cosmos and the universe.  If you claim that it is ordered and designed you will have a serious problem.
That there is so much injustice and random misery and unfairness is not my problem.
Look at a God who had made a penis that needs to be snipped, it is so badly thought out.
Poet Fulke Greville “Created sick and then ordered to be well.”
That can only be done by a heartless cruel incompetent designer.
Cited: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Fulke Greville

Hitchslap 51 Communist ideology is fundamentally religious in nature. 1:55
Russian Christian Tsars started the First World war, pogroms, Tsarist secret police brought the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' imported to Europe by national socialist Christian gangsters.
How much do you think the export of Russian Orthodox anti-Semitism cost us in point of lives.
Have you ever counted up what happened in the wars that were started by tsarism, persecutions and famines and tortures and starvation and the people who have just died of neglect.
If you want to do this accounting I am here for you.
Or what the Serbian and Russian Orthodox have just done in the Balkans – the most recent genocide we have seen in Europe entirely done by orthodox and catholic . . .  Grinding a whole part of civilised Europe into nothingness and bloodshed for their filthy stupid medieval quarrels.
How dare you say that any secularist, we who have opposed this kind of barbaric stuff are on all fours with these creeps? You should take it back you owe me an apology.
Civility is over-rated.
Cited: Tsar

Hitchslap Index posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9

The next parts coming regularly.  Check back for more!

Please add your comments, suggestions and corrections so that they can be included (with credit) in the final summary index that will be made up of these posts.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Not a religion?

I keep being told by Christians that 'Christianity is not a religion'.  Often, but not always, they follow up with "It is a personal relationship with the living Jesus" or something similar.

If you have been following this blog at all, you will know that I'm certainly not a believer in the second part of that argument.  Not only do I strongly doubt that there ever was a living Jesus, but any relationship with him seems to be impossible to prove objectively.

However, let us examine the claim that it is not a religion with the help of my trusty Collins English dictionary (Second Edition).  It might not be absolutely authoritative but it is widely respected and very thorough.

Religion is defined in several ways:
  1. Belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny.
  2. Any formal institutionalised expression of such belief
  3. The attitude and feeling of one who believes in a transcendent or controlling power or powers.
  4. Chiefly the RC Church, the way of life determined by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience entered upon by monks, friars and nuns to enter religion.
  5. Something of overwhelming importance to a person.
  6. Archaic: The practice of sacred ritual observances, sacred rites or ceremonies
Does Christianity qualify in any of these categories?
  1. Yes, clearly even the 'wrong kind' of Christians have to believe in this.
  2. Yes, if you ever attend a church service, although possibly not if that service is an informal type of 'house church' or similar.
  3. Yes, if you believe in the power of prayer.
  4. Yes, even if you are not this particular 'wrong kind' of Christian, you must accept that some do believe in this.
  5. Yes, undoubtedly.  What could be more important than your faith if you are a 'real' Christian (even if the wrong kind)?
  6. Yes, even if you are not archaic.

The same dictionary defines Christianity as "the Christian religion".

It might be a relationship too of course, but that does not prevent it being a religion.

My conclusion is that, by all these definitions, Christianity is a religion.  You can only hope to deny it by some sort of cunning word play and use of rhetoric.  Of course Christians are accustomed to doing that.  It is the only way that they can make their somewhat shaky beliefs hang together with any kind of intellectual honesty, in the absence of any objective evidence for the existence of God or his intervention in the world

It is also worth noting that other religions adopt a similar argument when they want to make themselves stand out from the crowd and seem as though they are more important than all the rest.

I think that they are wrong too.

Your comments are invited.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Trilobites in 3D

We've all seen pictures of fossilised trilobites, from the Early Cambrian period.

The classic view of a trilobite

But in the Madrid Museo Geominero there was a small but fascinating exhibit.  A fossil had been carefully excavated from the surrounding rock to show the animal in 3D.  I don't mind spiders in the bath, but something like this would be much more disturbing.  This creature, the size of your hand, is viewed from the underside, with its legs and curly antennae revealed.

Trilobite from underneath, in amazing 3D

Exhibits like this bring the fossil world back to life in a way that I found surprising.