Friday, March 28, 2014

Standards of proof

Here's something light hearted for a Friday that's intended to generate a grin (and a slight rolling of the eyes) I happened across this Christian publication the other day, it's called "Charisma News", this was the first thing that made me smile, this is a pretty optimistic title for most serious Christians I've ever met. However, the WEB site seems like a genuine attempt at relevant news, I wondered if perhaps the title was evidence of further wish-thinking contained within, I read on..

Inside the site, an article entitled "7 things that prove God is real" caught my eye; at last I thought, some tangible evidence that one of the persistent mythologies of the last couple of millennia might actually be true in some way, in the hope of enlightenment I persevered, just what are these "7 things" then?

1. Babies
2. Thunderstorms
3. Flowers
4. The Bible
5. The spread of Christianity
6. Jesus
7. My personal friendship with God

Whoa, wait, what, flowers? is this a spoof? clearly I need to take a closer look at these "proofs"..

1. Babies - Clearly the author gets that warm fuzzy feeling most of us do when he looks at a baby, particularly his own, but is this "proof" of God? It struck me that the author must come from one of those scientifically impoverished Southern US states and didn't study any Biology! If he had he would have a wonderfully complete picture of life on Earth; how we got here, how our cells and bodies actually work, how we reproduce, why we love our babies and more importantly what happens when the process goes wrong, tellingly something he doesn't cite as evidence for his God.

2. Thunderstorms - I'd agree thunder and lightening can be impressive, but "proof" of a Deity? Clearly his education is lacking again, the author is deficient in three important scholarly disciplines. Firstly, meteorology to understand the weather and why storms happen, then physics to understand electricity and lastly religious education, everyone knows it's Thor and not Yahweh who is the God of thunder, duh!!

3. Flowers - Wow is this guy impressed by flowers! The way they look and the way they smell, their subtle colours and hues, who knows, perhaps this is an indicator of suppressed gender orientation issues? You know what those repressed clergy can be like, or possibly an argument that God is a giant insect?

4. The Bible - You can get the gist of this one pretty quickly, my Bible is true, because it says so in my Bible, it says in the Lord of the Rings that when elves die they go to Valinor but can be re-born in middle Earth, just as a point of comparison.

5.The spread of Christianity - I guess he has a point here, considering the poor quality of the ideas it contains it seems like a miracle to me too! Then again, when you look at the facts we're over 2000 years into the invention of this particular religion and during the first 80% of it's life it was spread at the points of swords and red-hot pokers! Even with the threat of unspeakable horrors the "good news" still hasn't percolated to everyone on this tiny planet. If this omniscient God of his does exist I think it's fair to say he's a hopeless communicator.

6. Jesus - I guess they didn't have any lessons on logic in whatever Southern Baptist school the author attended either, the proof that god exists is the son of God. In other news, the proof that Jor-El is real is Superman, also he has a cloak and x-ray vision, which Jesus does not, so there.

7. My personal friendship with God -  Love this one, God is real, I know he's real because I believe in him, he created the universe just for me and will reward me for thinking this way, it's classic solipsism bordering on psychopathy. Whilst this is certainly a clear illustration of ego and self aggrandisement it has no bearing on the reality of the universe the rest of us inhabit. Christians often label themselves as humble, but this "proof" reminds me of a description I once heard of the "humble" Christian position, it went something like..

"Yahweh created a universe of a hundred billion galaxies each with a hundred billion stars like our own Sun, then he picked one particular planet circling one insignificant star, on that planet he chose one particular species from millions and one individual member of that species, again from millions; at that critical point he thought to himself I really must tell that guy not to gather sticks on the Sabbath"...

Thursday, March 27, 2014


As we all know there's a lot of media content being generated at the moment about missing flight MH370 the Malaysian airlines flight that seems to have completely disappeared somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean. It must be incredibly frustrating for those involved that our satellites in orbit seem to be able to spot potential debris but so far none of the ships or planes have been able to verify or identify the data. The vast distances involved are clearly a huge impediment to the search. I wonder why someone doesn't try using some kind of seaplane with a support ship so that a verification capability can be situated closer to the area, thereby maximising the search time. I'm sure I read about this kind of thing happening in WWII where planes could land near their support ship and be winched back onto some kind of steam launcher, I guess we don't use such machines any longer or perhaps the weather is too variable?

Anyway, on this theme I spotted a familiar Human contradiction in a news report earlier, it said that the families of victims were passing their time praying and holding vigils whilst waiting for news and that several who were interviewed said that they were refusing to give up hope until presented with indisputable evidence that the plane has crashed (i.e. physical evidence of debris). It struck me how easy it is for human beings to hold dissonant views, i.e. praying to unseen entities in which they believe for which there is no physical evidence for just that, i.e. physical evidence, before believing. Hopefully they will get what they need sooner rather than later, my heart goes out to them, although like many things we experience in our lives we may never get a satisfactory answer, none of us finds that concept easy to deal with.

Can you have good without evil?

Here's an interesting idea, Oxford Philosopher Stephen Law has published a paper entitled "The Evil-God challenge" it's a study of the thought experiment which goes something like..

Religious people (main monotheisms) claim that their "God" is all good, loving, perfect, omniscient etc. and deal with the question "why then is there evil in the world" by citing the concept of "free will", i.e. God did not create us as "puppets" and we can make our own decisions including deciding to do evil. However, when you pose the question "why then could God not be intrinsically evil with free will permitting us to do good deeds" it's much more difficult (i.e. impossible) to provide an answer. This paper outlines the argument in the form of a challenge to religious thinkers to come up with an answer (that's logically coherent) - I doubt any will be forthcoming, most religious people I know don't regard logical fallacies as reasons to doubt their truth claims.

The closest thing to an (attempted) answer to this problem I've heard is a position promoted (among others) by religious philosopher William Lane-Craig who claims that anything God does or commands is "good" by definition even though we might see certain commandments (such as genocide, slavery, tsunamis etc.) as evil according to our "limited" view of the universe, IMO this is just a more fancy way of saying "God works in mysterious ways". Such an argument is logically flawed of course because its circular, i.e. it attempts to prove that God is the source of morality which is precisely what it assumes.

Deep for a Thursday morning! Too much coffee probably..

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sticks and stones

Wow, the BBC just showed a Jesus and Mo cartoon on Newsnight (un-redacted!), this is progress!

Unfortunately they have three Muslim guests who insist on shouting over each other and they're all getting quite excited. Entertainingly I sense them to be trapped in a delicious dichotomy. The dilemma is that they have to feign solidarity with a tolerant (Western) attitude (as they're on BBC2) but clearly feel obliged to defend the sensibilities of their religion's bizarre prohibitions (and presumably their more theocratic constituents) by claiming to be offended, it's rather like a game of cognitive dissonance top trumps. Perhaps when they get home tonight and tuck themselves into bed with a cup of cocoa they'll ponder how much the fabric of the (real) universe has changed as a result of the cartoon being show on TV then realise that free speech liberates even them, and blasphemy is a truly victimless crime.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Busy week

I see that the odious American fag-hating shaman Fred Phelps has finally kicked the bucket, good riddance is probably what most people who know about him are thinking at this moment although I fear the temptation to write about him (as I'm doing here!) will lead to his bumpkin family gaining some warped encouragement from it all. So, I'm going to stop there even though the urge to have a joke at his expense is great, I will leave any concluding thoughts to those who actually knew the man for example his estranged son Nathan who wrote a nice piece here.

There have been much more interesting things going on this week, for example the publishing of scientific work from the BICEP2 project in Antarctica that shows observed evidence of gravitational waves from the beginning of time itself, the big bang. If verified these results are as significant as the discovery of DNA or electromagnetism although judging from the reactions of many non-scientific observers you have to conclude that the interest levels in this kind of stuff isn't great, where's Prof. Brian Cox's floppy hair and cheeky accent when you need it.

Secularists and non-religious types have been complaining for a long time now that even though we have laws governing FGM in this country no one has ever been prosecuted, even though the reported cases continue to drip in. I was pleased to read today that the first case has been brought by the CPS against a Doctor in London; throw the book at him I say, "culture and religion" be damned, we shouldn't be allowing this kind of barbarity to remain hidden in plain sight within our country.

To cap it all J&M (above) today is funny and it's FRIDAY! let's hope the weather stays nice..

BackToFront 1986-2014

I went to the cinema last night to see the film "Back to Front" (see the trailer above). It's about a concert done by Peter Gabriel at the O2 (London) last year which celebrates his "So" album which was released back in 1986. In the concert he performs all the songs from the album with more or less the same band. The film cuts back and forth between the live concert and various clips of concerts he did back in the 80's of the same material, in fact the cuts are even lip synced with the modern performances. It causes you to reflect on watching two identical performances by the same people separated only by 30 years in time, you realise that the music and the meaning of it doesn't change but the people who created it do, it's a very powerful image. The other great thing about this movie is that it was filmed in 4K which is the new ultra-high definition format, the picture quality is just amazing and the sound was good too a great way to watch music if you can't make it to the original concert. If you are a Gabriel (or even an original Genesis) fan then I would recommend this film, or grab it when it comes out on DVD, although I suspect some of the atmosphere will be lost switching from the big to the small screen. If you fancy watching this at the cinema then you can check the dates here.

I must have a listen to some PG back-catalogue today, remind myself of his enviable creative talents.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Humanism and morality

Nice video from the British Humanist Association narrated by Stephen Fry, all perfectly rational, evidence soaked and common sense although as we know, some of us would prefer something much less tangible to be true. There's more on their WEB site expressing the Humanist perspective on other important topics such as death, truth and happiness, it's hard for me to understand why anyone would need anything more.

House for president

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn

Classy thinker who put principal above popularity, delightful economy in his words.

"If one meets a powerful person - Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler -  one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."

"A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world."

 "When you think of the number of men in the world who hate each other, why, when two men love each other, does the church split?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Craving peril

I was fortunate to escape the usual 9-5 routine for a couple of days last week and head off to the French Alps with a couple of mates to do some skiing sans family! There's nothing like a bit of fresh air, hard exercise and constant peril to take your mind off the daily grind; we were also lucky to get 3 days of perfect weather conditions (good snow, clear skies and sun) too!

We went to a little place called Megeve which is near Chamonix, France nestled in the shadow of Mont-Blanc (the tallest mountain in Western Europe). I haven't been there in over 25 years so it was interesting to see how things had changed and to experience the place through older, more experienced eyes. It's certainly a beautiful place, dramatic scenery, tree lined pistes which are immaculately groomed every night and a nice French feel to the place (i.e. not too commercialised), the food and wine was great too.

For the last couple of years I've been skiing with my family, now don't get me wrong, I love skiing with my family but it also felt good to be released from the responsibilities of child-care (perceived as well as actual) for a couple of days and just ski to my own beat. I reckon I racked up about 260 km skied over the course of 3 days which is probably more than all my previous family skiing holidays combined, although judging by the rate of progress of my two nippers it won't be too long before I'm trailing and not leading! To be honest though being lucky enough to visit such places and fit enough to ski well that's just fine with me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The alchemy curriculum

Turns out that certain Jewish girls schools in Hackney, London have been doctoring their science exam papers to redact (hide) specific Biology questions. This vandalism is apparently because the people who run those particular "faith" schools don't like the idea that the facts of life, as confirmed by mountains of scientific evidence and indeed common sense, conflict with their religious dogmas. Predictably, it's evolution that's the subject at the core of this education scandal. Like most religions the fact that humans are evolved animals rather than magically created demi-gods doesn't fit with their mythologies and feels intuitively wrong to them. Our experience however shows that as we outgrow such myths and explore the universe honestly, we come to the realisation that reality does not conform to our parochial, tribal wishes or intuitions and also that ego's are notoriously bad drivers of real education.

I have a little thought experiment for the governors of such schools; how about if the secular society that provides the cultural and technological foundations for such establishments does a bit of redacting of it's own? How about we allow any old faith school to rip up carefully developed (factual) curricula and to insert any old supernatural nonsense instead? We allow this freedom under the condition that none of the graduates from such schools are permitted to hold positions involving science, technology or the evaluation of evidence, so forget careers in medicine, law, science, government, consultancy or technology because your kids simply aren't trained for it.