Comfort-able Lies

raycomfort

It’s just a pity I cannot reblog this post about Ray Comfort from Skepticblog. Instead I’ve lifted the hilarious image above, and you can read the rest here.

For those who don’t know, Ray Comfort is a preacher of sorts who hails from Down Under, and now plying his trade in the USA, which is perhaps one of the most gullible countries in the world. Comfort trades in lies, by the way.

Like Ken Ham (who coincidently also hails from down under), Ray Comfort perverts the basics of science any way he can, to spread pathetic lies about Evolution, while promoting the absurdity known as Creationism. When his total and utter lack of understanding of the basics of biology and science is pointed out to him, he ducks for cover behind willful ignorance.

After reading the article, one has to wonder whether Ray is indeed a total idiot, or a very clever money-grubbing scumbag.

The “open mind” conundrum

bible wheel

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

Variations of this quote have been attributed to a number of different people such as Richard Feynman, G.K. Chesterton, Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell. However, having recently debated a literalist Christian on this blog, I have realised that it sounds rather crude.

My detractor claimed that I don’t have an open mind, which is why I will never understand, let alone accept the assertions in the bible. In hasty retort I quoted the line that precedes this post.

So as I’m currently re-reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World – Science As A Candle In The Dark, I was reminded of that encounter in a chapter titled The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder, which I think perfectly settles this conundrum.

As I’ve tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension.

There, now everything’s clear as daylight. Thanks Carl.

Books from trees

I got three actual paper books for Christmas from family members. I fairly raced through them all inside of two weeks; something of a record for me.

Off course there were special circumstances involved – my Internet activities which have dominated my time in recent years, were severely curtailed by being limited to my smart phone because of er other circumstances which I’m embarrassed to divulge. Okay, I was stupid enough to “mislay” all my chargers and power cords for my various devices, because I had them all in one package while on holiday.

And so, not being able to troll online,¬† I had all this time on my hands…

They were all great books really, but so clumsy to read. I haven’t held a real book in my hands for quite some time, and they felt awkward to handle. My reading method of choice is the Kindle. It just feels right. I wonder for how long real books will still be around. I feel bad for all those book stores where I’ve spent many hours in the past, browsing.

I’ll post reviews of these books in time to come, when I’m back behind a real keyboard again. Posting from my newly acquired tablet is as awkward as reading paper books.

In order read:
1. The Saga of the Volsungs – The legend of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer and the magic ring of power, translated from Old Norse by Jesse L. Byock
2. A More Perfect Heaven – How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos, by Dava Sobel
3. An Appetite for Wonder – The Making of a Scientist, by Richard Dawkins

Aaaand, I’ve just started reading my paper book copy of Carl Sagan’s The Demon – Haunted World, again…

I’m sooo sorry Thor

It was a valiant fight, but with hail this size…

Alas my poor Honda came off second best. What chance did Japanese tin foil have against the bullets of an angry God.

I’m sooo sorry Thor. I promise never to worship Dawkins again ūüôā

I prefer to call it funny-mail

Came across this video today which reminded me of some of the comments I receive regularly on my blog posts.

Dawkins calls it hate-mail; I prefer to think of it as funny-mail because it’s generally quite amusing and it does leave me scratching my head sometimes trying to come up with witty rejoinders.

I am glad for it however, because everyone has the right to express themselves…

Richard Dawkins Reads His Hatemail

How many Atheists will the Vatican convert? Seriously?

The Pontifical Council must be losing it. Last year they announced an initiative to reach out to Atheists by staging a series of debates and other forms of dialogue, in an effort to foster better relations.

Known as Courtyard of the Gentiles, the Vatican has now revealed that the event will take place in Paris, France on March 24-25. But it seems that they may follow through with their stated intention of not allowing some of the world’s most outspoken Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to participate. Apparently the “irony and sarcasm” of these gentlemen are not appreciated.

One news source I read today proclaimed that the event is aimed at introducing non-believers to God. Ahem!

I would tend to think that Atheists are quite well acquainted with the gods of the world – which is why they’ve become non-believers! It never ceases to amaze me how believers still hang onto the notion that non-believers are just angry with the gods for whatever reason, and it will just take some sort of enticement [such as this Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative], or even the fear of approaching death, to get us back among the faithful again.

Anyway,¬†if “sarcasm and irony” is missing from the event in Paris, it would just be another great big boring preaching session. It’s not like the Church, that bastion of backwards thinking,¬†is going to teach an Atheist something new.

Yawn!

Heretical news…

A couple of stories that caught my interest recently:

A guy in Edmonton, Canada legally changed his name to God. Apparently he fought the government and won the right to change his name. How cool is that? How cool is Canada? I can just imagine him going for a job interview and introducing himself, “Hi, I’m God. I need a new job ’cause people didn’t take me seriously in my old one.”

**************************

Famous atheist Richard Dawkins has thrown his weight behind the calls from self-proclaimed non-theist, Christopher Hitchens, to have the Pope arrested when he visits the UK later this year. This follows the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. This type of action is unprecedented, as ordinary religious figures seem to enjoy a special status in society, but the Pope is deemed untouchable.

Personally, I don’t think anything will come of it, but just imagine if the Pope was actually arrested and charged, with among other things, human rights violations. I’ll bet that would send all other clergymen scurrying for their lawyers.

More amusing however, is picturing the Pope in a hard-core prison, sharing a cell with Bubba. Upon finding out that Bubba is called that for a very special reason, the Pope exclaims, “get thee behind me Satan,” whereupon Bubba licking his lips in glee shouts out, “with pleasure, your Popeness, with pleasure.”

Ignorance about ignorance

I have just started reading Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth – The Evidence for Evolution and was discussing it (evolution) with a work colleague the other morning. He mentioned that he was not aware of the validity of evolution as¬†his religious upbringing had steered his thinking about the concept in a negative direction.

This is nothing new. It is quite common for those with a religious bent to assert that evolution is¬†just a theory, as if it was¬†merely a silly proposition or conjecture. It’s not their fault that they were led into thinking so by their¬†parents and religious instructors. I am convinced that these people¬†usually find no need¬†to question the authority of¬† elders, as it would be construed as disrespectful. Invariably there would be no need to¬†seek out substitutes or alternatives. I mentioned to my colleague that ignorance, although regularly referred to as not being a virtue, would in this instance not be a major transgression.

Ignorance merely points to a lack of knowledge, even though most people use the word to imply something more sinister. However, wilful¬†ignorance is another matter entirely. When¬†one actively disengages¬†one’s mind from searching for, or educating himself or herself about the alternatives, when a dogmatically held belief is shown to be wanting, then that constitutes wilful ignorance.

I remember my colleague¬†responding that¬†“new-found knowledge invariably upsets one’s lifestyle, routine, beliefs, even relationships and thus caused more problems,” when we were interrupted and I could not finish my argument. I sincerely believe that he is open-minded and willing to embrace new knowledge,¬†so for his benefit, my response follows:

Knowledge can never be regarded as harmful by itself. There is no harm in finding things out; you are not obligated to accept what you find. What could be harmful, is the manner in which you choose to use that knowledge. You could use it for good or bad purposes. The key is to evaluate new knowledge critically before accepting or rejecting it. Any other treatment of new knowledge has more chances of causing negative changes in your life. The simple truth is that the truth is not always pretty or palatable.

Truth is good; actively seek it. Change is good; embrace it.

Are there giant gaps in religious thinking, or is there a deliberate agenda to mislead?

We have access to information on every conceivable subject available either on-line or in books, tapes, discs and other media. People are relatively free to choose what information they retain and what to discard, what to believe and what to scoff at. However, given the availability of all this information, the levels of uncritical thought among people (even those one could describe as intelligent), is unbelievably appalling.

One can never believe anything with 100% certainty. There are ranges of probability always. And choosing what to believe is not so easy, but science, or more precisely The Scientific Method, through skeptical and critical thinking provides probably the only acceptable tool for making that choice with near certainty. Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon Haunted World РScience as a Candle in the Dark proposed a toolkit for skeptical thinking. Called the Baloney Detection Kit, it provides some basic tools for testing credulity (or detecting baloney according to Sagan).

I don’t want to re-invent the¬†stunning work done by Carl Sagan, or by Michael Shermer in the video which the link above¬†points to, but briefly the Baloney Detection Kit asks the following questions (the video provides a more detailed explanation with examples):

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

Now, if you’re still with me, I’ve just ¬†mentioned all these things because it is leading up to the question I posed in the title of this blog post. Over the last week or two, I’ve been receiving comments on some of my earlier posts which lead me to believe that either there are monumental gaps in religious thinking which causes them¬†to articulate innocently or unknowingly. Or there is an effort by believers to obscure their beliefs¬†either deliberately or collaboratively through premeditation [Chapter 12, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,¬†Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World].

Over the years, I have observed that the debate between the evolution and creation camps has become¬†more than just a fight between science and religion; it¬†has come to represent the difference between belief and non-belief, the god-fearing against the heathen. It’s no surprise then that believers usually resort to dragging up this old debate every time they¬†are confronted by non-believers.¬†¬†In recent times, and with this being the Year of Darwin (the 200th anniversary of his birth on 12 February, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species on 24 November), Evolution is¬†yet again under attack, and Creationism¬†with its more fashionable alter-ego Intelligent Design,¬†is defiantly being bandied about with renewed vigor, but with the same absence of credible evidence. Only these days, even though fewer people believe this creationist¬†and intelligent design nonsense, those who still do, express their belief with the absolutist fervour that¬†mainly religion provides.

It seems that the main problem creationists have with evolution is the gaps in the fossil record. They conveniently ignore the¬†wealth of¬†evidence that has been collected over the years in other areas and disciplines of science which overwhelmingly point to the validity of evolution, and natural selection. Ergo¬†question 6 in the Baloney Detection Kit above. And¬†at the risk of belaboring this¬†point, consider¬†this revelation¬†from Richard Dawkins in his book,¬†The Ancestor’s Tale¬†:

In spite of the fascination of fossils, it is surprising how much we would know about our evolutionary past without them. If every fossil were magicked away, the comparative study of modern organisms, of how their patterns of resemblance, especially of their genetic sequences, are distributed among species, and of how species are distributed among continents, and islands, would still demonstrate, beyond all sane doubt, that our history is evolutionary, and that all living creatures are cousins. Fossils are a bonus. A welcome bonus, to be sure, but not an essential one. It is worth remembering this when creationists go on (as they tediously do) about ‚Äúgaps‚ÄĚ in the fossil record. The fossil record could be one big gap, and the evidence for evolution would still be overwhelmingly strong. At the same time, if we had only fossils and no other evidence, the fact of evolution would again be overwhelmingly supported. As things stand, we are blessed with both.

The other grossly dishonest practice by creationists is the constant referral to evolution as a belief system or just a theory. Invariably in my correspondence, I have also¬†come across the veiled inference to Darwinism as a kind of belief-system or religion. It’s quite inexplicable why to date, creationists have not learned what a scientific theory really is, with all the information available on the subject. Have you ever heard them refer to the Theory of Gravity, as just a theory? ¬†Is it laziness or plain ignorance,¬†or perhaps more sinister; wilful ignorance? And¬†have you noticed this¬†pathetic attempt by the creationist lobby to bring the whole debate down to the level of worship: do you worship Darwin or god? It leaves me filled with anger.

The other fundamental dishonesty I have come across is the attempt to pass religious texts off as containing profound truths about the secrets of the world, life and death, and even scientific facts. Most claims in this regard reference the bible, although I’m pretty sure that other religions make similar claims about their religious texts too. Consider the following from one of my commenters:

…things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

If you haven’t figured out what this scientific fact is, allow me to enlighten you: everything you see is made of invisible atoms. Although why the particular text does not state ” things which are seen are made of atoms” is beyond me. However, I’ve been cautioned not to question the word of god.

He…. hangs the earth upon nothing. (Job 26:7)

Supposedly it is a great leap forward from¬†ancient mythology when the belief was that the earth sat on the back of some animal or other creature¬†(common belief¬†from Greek mythology is that it was the¬†Titan Atlas, but¬†it has been more accurately interpreted as him actually holding up the sky on his shoulders to prevent the earth and sky from embracing). The contention is that the bible revealed long before the advent of science that earth floated freely in space. Perhaps it has not occurred to believers that by the time the bible was being compiled, people had already figured out, just by observing the moon, that maybe the earth was also floating freely in space. But it still doesn’t explain why the wording is not plain, and why the earth should “hang” on anything, even if it was nothing.

He that made him can make his sword to approach unto him. (Job)

Apparently a reference to behemoths in the book of Job, describes the dinosaurs and how god made them go extinct. What the book doesn’t describe is why god would create¬†dinosaurs in the first instance¬†and then destroy them before the great flood that apparently wiped out his original creation of man.

There are off course other claimed references to scientific fact in the bible, but it’s not necessary to list them. I think the point is made.¬†Some of these other references apparently point to the fields of medicine¬†as well. Who knows, maybe there is the cure for AIDS in there somewhere, but we’re too dumb to find it.¬†What also remains inexplicable is why the claimed scientific facts were not more clearly spelled out¬†to enable man to use¬†them and¬†thus¬†eliminate years of suffering and misery. Apparently god’s agenda encompasses a great deal of pain and suffering, then grovelling, before salvation is earned.

I have touched on a few aspects of flawed religious thinking here, but the question still remains: Is it naive ignorance, or a deliberate attempt to obfuscate? Or maybe a bit of both?

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has not exactly found favor with some of my fellow atheists who accuse him of turning atheism into some sort of crusade, but the God Delusion has sure helped me cement my breakaway from religion. For me, Dawkins comes across as a respectable gentleman who decries the rise in religious fundamentalism and sincerely wants the world to adopt secularism. 

The book provides a fairly good exposé on irrational (religious) belief systems and is quite easy to follow. Recommended as a good starting point for anyone afflicted with doubts about religion, but is also recommended to fervent religionists alike.

Notable quote:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.