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Archive for April, 2008

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EarthI was listening to a recently filmed debate and the idea came across that the earth was designed; this was presented by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. These are the things he mentions, which I have heard before, I would like to summarize them; if the earth were a little closer or further away, then the earth would freeze or boil. If the earth was not tilted then massive ice mountains would build up, drawing the water away from large parts of the world creating deserts. If the earth did not rotate at the 1000mph, rather at a slower 100mph then the days would burn everything alive and the night would freeze the same life. If the moon was a little closer then the tides would flood all the land. If the oceans where deeper it would absorb all the carbon dioxide making plant life impossible. If the atmosphere was a little thinner then meteors would fall to earth and cause vast devastation and if water did not expand when it freezes the fish in the seas would die. I agree with all of this, however, I disagree that this should be used in the case to support the idea of the Earth being designed for the life. This is not a religious debate, rather a reasoned one. The designed Earth statement means that it would be the result of a designer that knew what life required and then created the Earth for the purpose, even if the designer was nature.

What is to say that if one of these things changed that there would be no life on earth? Of course, there would be differences between the life that we know and the life that would have existed, that is a given in these new set of circumstances. The earth as we know is a perfect place for life and that life can be found almost anywhere on the planet. If we take the statement the earth is designed for life, let’s put that into a deductive model so we can see what we have:

The Earth was designed for Life.
Only Earth (or Earth like planets) has the ability to support life.
Life can only exist on the Earth or Earth like planets.

All we need is to find life that does not exist on earth, to show that environments unlike Earth’s can support living things and from that we can take the earth was not designed for life, since other places that are not like the earth has life on them. As soon as life not from earth exists then we either have to reject the idea of a designed earth or we have to consider that other planets or places in the universe are also designed. It just happens that the ‘unique’ set of circumstances makes the earth a successful place for life , being successful is different from the notion of a designed earth. Carolyn Porco discusses the idea that one of Saturn’s moons Enceladus has the three building blocks of creation; liquid water, organic materials and heat. This was discovered via the last probe that went passed the moon and in theory it is possible that life on Enceladus is completely achievable. This moon has the right environment for the life as we know it to exist. If it is later discovered that there is life on Enceladus, which would most likely be in the form of micro organisms, then that would prove false the statement the Earth is designed for life and we would have to rethink the statement to produce something like the earth and other places are designed for life. Or it would be equally likely that the statement some places in the universe have a greater likelihood of life depending on certain factors, would be an acceptable replacement. This is not design but rather chance and a certain possibility considering the size of the galaxy.

It is interesting that if life on Enceladus is found, where would this leave the idea of evolution as a scientific theory? I think that it would support the idea strongly, once we have removed the idea of the Earth being designed for life we are left with the notion that life is designed for the earth, even if we assume that the Earth is such a great place for life, then nothing better than evolution explains both this life in two places in our solar system.

I cannot wait until the next mission to Enceladus!

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Image taken from - www.d.umn.edu One thing that amazes me is that science tends to work quite often; I don’t need to tell you that you already know. The point here is that it tends to work, still there are places where the misunderstanding of science comes in, these are my thoughts on how science sometimes is not based upon real knowledge rather agenda based needs. The aim of the positivists who had its home in part in Vienna, one of the most liberal places in the world at the turn of the last century, was to create an independent body of knowledge that in affect was a real reflection of the world as it exists. In truth as the result of the Vienna circle and those the preceded & came after the circle created three types of worlds, the members are most likely known to you such as Comte, Ayer and Carnap. Ok you have only heard of Comte, that’s ok the names are not that important here. The first world they created was that of Faith and habit, this world was seen as those unimportant things each generation picked up and their children adopted this meant very little because they could not be seen as true and were different from person to person. The second world was that of the metaphysical, in other words religion and its use of explaining the events that where happening. Since this again can’t be observed and tends to differ, this world was also dismissed. The third world was created by the rational and logical person, with the assumption of the scientific method; there are many assumptions in this method. The idea was not that these three worlds could survive side-by-side rather, the second world had replaced the first and the third would replace the second.

 Science as the key to Understanding the world – Science can get it very wrong – In the 19th Century there was a strong organic model that was adopted from the field of biology and was used on one group of people, the poor. This I could describe as the first type of eugenics formed by science, it saw those suffering from poverty not as the result of the society being unfair as it was at the time rather a different and dangerous race of people. At the time of the research there was a great worry about the conditions people were living in and the diseases that were being created by the support of the industrial revolution that were forming tightly packed cities. The poor were seen has having a choice about how they lived when clearly the choice was never given to them, there was no welfare state and if you did not work then you did not eat. Science got this approach wrong and was later dismissed as working and living conditions improved. Still this idea of the race of the poor came about because the scientists involved used their personal experience to understand a social problem and they were not objective.

Science as the progress of society – Newton published in “The Opticks” 1704 the results of how light when it goes through a prism Image from www.wikimedia.orgseparates into the colour spectrum, removing the idea that white light itself cannot be broken down and is only made up of one element. Why did this even matter to Newton? He could have not understood the benefits that would later be developed from this idea; in part we can thank him for the ability to understand radiation and infrared light which are also based on the same spectrum. Perhaps the drive to understanding the world was his greatest force. Newton did provide something much more useful, the idea of induction. I won’t go into induction that deeply here but it is the idea that first you can close the world off and take out the things you want to test putting them in an artificial environment in the process. In other words putting the objects of study into an experiment to see their nature & relationship and this is where science can also go wrong. Taking the objects of study outside of the real world so we can test them, means something more – it means that we are unable to test them in the world, so effectively science never deals with the reflection of the world. Just a controlled version of it! Most science is pushed into explanations of real world things, it is important to remember that science is simply a theoretical model and theories sometimes go wrong.

So why does Science appear to be a contradiction and wrong at times, it’s first that scientist belong to a society and being part of the society with values & social identities, those can get in the way of a rational and logical person. Although the aim is to remove the first and second worlds, they do exist and what we take from them affects who & what is studied and with what aims. This is still happening and if you don’t believe me maybe you would like to visit the Creationist museum in Kentucky. Even if the creationist museum is right, not that I believe it is, then there are still others to provide the contradiction. The second is the misunderstanding of science, it is in essence a working model of the world which does not mean that it will predict or be able to control events in real life from those working models. This is not to say there should be an abandonment of science, it is very useful. Things have come from science that are valuable and people rely on it every single day, so although it can be powerful that does not mean that science is 100% a true reflection of the world, rather it is closer to the true reflection than any other body of knowledge. Evidence that refutes current belief changes that belief and this is why the model of science keeps on growing. The ability to explain and provide is not enough, the ability to change and stand up against evidence is its greatest strength even if it can only be 95% effective at best.

We come to why science happened and took hold in Europe, this is not a simple question to answer because during the dark ages Europe dismissed science and others in the world had a much greater use of it. There came about a new set of social and historical conditions, this was a move away from the divine and the rejection of God as the one in control of the world. Human knowledge took control and this came about through four sets of general changes. With the development of the nation states across Europe it developed the idea of liberalization and social reform. The idea of making your country better and dealing with social problems was at least on the table and the solutions to the problems could be allowed to grow. There was also a change in attitude; people started to think that reason could hold the key to the ability of changing the world. If there was ever going to be a method of making life better science was seen as the most effective one to meet that aim. The old methods of the divine had its chance and it fail to make the necessary improvements. Religion itself caused the place where science could slowly form; it was because of differing religions that caused so many wars and conflicts that resulted in the social development of an understanding for the tolerance of new concepts and ideas. Once people got fed up with conflict they allowed others to think what they would like to and this opened the door for the scientific method. Last of all there was a change in the model of business; once the industrial revolution happened there was a value change in people and by this I mean how much they were worth to a society. With the development of the capitalist market just because someone was a lord it did not matter, money really did make the world go around. This rejection of the old ways allowed the successful and intelligent a place to do their work, rather than a presubscribed position being allocated.

The power of the new idea of humans and their role to play started the shift away from the traditional towards the new methods. The needs of humans became the force of the aims of science. They were able to work together to produce a new set of knowledge and the more success supplied, the higher the role and importance of science. This is of course is a very short history but it is the general direction that happened. I would like to put the reference links in here but that seems too lengthy a process however, if you are interested in the reference books please let me know and I will give them to you. I would recommend Smith’s Social Science in question, ISBN 0-7619-6041-4 if you are interested in learning more.

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* This is not the original video but it has the same gist

I have already done the Christians so it is only fair that I comment about this Muslim man as well. Mr Zakir Naik makes me very angry in so many ways; I don’t recognise his Dr as he does not deserve it. He might be a doctor but someone only deserves that honour when they are not so faulty in their understanding of the world. This man is not in the real world and once again the agenda that he is trying to present is more than clear. I will once again put the general statements in blue with my reaction afterwards. Watch the video before you read the comments, even if it’s only for the first couple of minutes or you will not understand my reaction to it.

Rape should first be dealt with by men averting their gaze, and then covering women up and finally Capital punishment. America should adopt Islamic law to stop rape. – Let me say that this is messed up in all respects, to start off with a logic problem; Naik argues that America suffers from more rape victims than countries with Islamic law like Pakistan. The population of Pakistan is 164 million; the population of America is 301 million so of course there are going to be twice as much of everything because there are almost twice as many people. Pakistan is a country where women can be sentenced to gang rape for a brother’s crime (cited in Hitchens – god is not great and here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4322021.stm). Rape Victims are the ones who are punished for being rape against their will, they did nothing wrong (cited here: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE6D81E39F934A25756C0A9649C8B63). They don’t listen to rape victims because it is against Islamic law (cited here: http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/006808.php) Why would women report being raped when they could suffer not only under the protection of the state but also punished for it by their society? They would not and this means that the level of reported rape in Pakistan is not a true reflection of rape that occurs.

Women should not be forced to cover up; if men are the ones that rape women then it is men who need to be forced to do things not women. Since we have already discussed why women covering up, as is required in Pakistan, does not stop rape it should never be used as a method of prevention. If you want to make the case for women covering up then don’t base it on these grounds. As for capital punishment he is wrong, America also performs this act against its people. The problem with it, is that it is clear that capital punishment does not work, so if the reason for capital punishment is to get your own back on people that have wronged you then it should be accepted, if you think that it stops crime then there is a body of evidence that goes against this. I don’t want to over cite the evidence, still it is the case from a large body of research. I think that it is wrong but that is my personal opinion. So would I rather live in America where rape is a crime and the state/society punishes the person committing the crime? Or would I prefer to live in Pakistan where the issue of rape is hidden, not discussed and ultimately not dealt with? The answer is America.

Islam is the best way of life; Islamic law achieves good things – See above! I am not saying that Muslim people cannot do good things but at its core, Islamic law does not protect good people. Zakir Naik is not doing a good thing here on the grounds that the more time & energy there is in moving away from the truths of an issue the less time & energy we spend dealing with the issues that we as societies need to address. I will simply say here that if the statement “Islamic law achieves good things” is true, then we only need to find one event where it does not achieve good things for the statement to be proven false. I have given the evidence that proves this statement false. I can accept that Islamic law can achieve good things sometimes, but that is a completely different statement and has a completely different meaning to what Naik illustrates for us.

Atheists have become atheist because they believe in science and technology – Umm… No! After Naik’s statements about atheists he goes on to talk about how science is represented in Koran, that is a different debate although I will acknowledge those fact as being true, I don’t have evidence to say it is wrong at this time. I don’t agree with his idea of science and the use of his metaphor of creation. Still speaking as an atheist, even though I don’t speak for the group, I never became an atheist because of science and technology. I rejected religion because I believe it is not true, it does little to explain things in the world. I rejected religion because it does harm, so many things have been done in the name of religion to which religion never has to answer for. I reject religion not because it has been replaced with science and technology but personal experience and reason. To be an atheist is not to accept science, atheism does not equal science. To be an atheist does not mean you believe in evolution. Atheism is non-belief and it should never be confused with belief of anything non-religious. Atheism is the rejection of theology, Evolution is a scientific theory.

These are the reasons why Zakir Naik is wrong and why he does not understand the world.

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www.Ted.com – Interesting talks and discussions on many things, mostly around science, cultural and social problems.

www.richarddawkins.net  – The Man that started my belief of in non-religion.

www.patcondell.net  – this guy funny and against religion, although sometimes the logic is not there he certainly makes me laugh.

www.hitchensweb.com  – insulting and rude, still he always makes a good point!

http://www.thesciencenetwork.org  – Interesting and thought provoking

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Ok first listen to this guy about how the Koran is wrong and that the bible is a more dependable source for historical accuracy. There are a few interesting things that I will highlight from what he is saying and then we can discuss why he is wrong, I will put his statements in blue they are not quotes just me summarising what was said. Before I go on I don’t know who this man is because the person that posted the video to youtube did not post his name and comments were not allowed. At the end he says however, that even if he was not a Christian he would still say these things – No, he has an agenda of his own faith that means that everything he think about in this area goes through the coloured glass of Christianity. Second, the audience, which seems to support him on these matters, also means that he is more likely to gain from insulting Islam and reinforcing Christian beliefs & values. So these things are based not on any kind of truth, rather on his own religious belief producing his own truth.

The Koran is not an accurate document – Really? Neither is the bible, it has been rewritten so many times which has resulted in it being more of a political document than an historical one. It also does not follow any evidence, according to the bible dinosaurs were created only 6,000 to 10,000 years ago despite at least 12 independent tests of dinosaur remains putting them living at least 65 years ago going up to 230 million years ago. Oh and now a museum in Kentucky USA based on the creationist perspective cites that dinosaurs were taken on Noah’s Ark. What is it called when someone makes statements about something things even though there is no mention in any historical artefact? Oh right, it’s called a guess.

Jesus was born talking Islamic scripture – This has to be the best statement ever! Oh of course the point here was that Muslims were making it up so that the “truth” would meet their own ends. This is so less believable then Jesus being immaculacy conceived which was just something the Roman Catholic Church made up in order to portray Jesus being born without sin. In fact those Christians that don’t believe Jesus being immaculacy conceived describe it as Jesus being the result miraculously Conception. And I know that Catholics will argue that the virgin birth and Immaculate Conception are different things, they mean the same thing in most people’s head but just to make sure Mary the mother of Jesus had a one way vagina which is a lovely expression Christopher Hitchens used. Any real proof that this happened Christians? *cough*

His second misgiving of Islam is that it is an historical inaccurate conception of Jesus – I don’t want to sound like a broken record but how they hell does he know that? Ok he also said that either the New Testament or the Koran is wrong and it’s more likely that the New Testament is right because it was basically written closer to the time the events are supposed to have happened. Bart Ehrman points out the mistakes in the New Testament resulting just from monks making mistakes in copying out new bibles. There is evidence for this and that these mistakes once made where recopied and the original meaning changing over time due to errors being recopying again and again. You want to talk about historical accurate documents, let’s start there.

My point is that twats like this man that comment on other religions when they don’t even care about looking at their own religious belief are not only inexperienced at thinking, they are also stupid. I admit I make comments about religion but I am not promoting one particular faith neither am I suggesting that somehow the floors in my belief systems are unimportant. The general point of this post – Don’t throw stones in glass houses. How is his statements anymore than a promotion of his own beliefs.

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http://news-service.stanford.edu   Karen ArmstrongKaren Armstrong discusses in her Ted presentation the three Abrahamic religions, she is a well educated woman and although she is referring mostly to fundamental extremists I can’t help but apply it to the whole which means that I only agree in part with Armstrong’s points. She comments that compassion is the golden rule of all religions and that only once this is accepted and put into practice does someone truly understand God & the divine. However, there has been an abuse; those terrorists that use the Koran to commit murder and those that ignore the word of Jesus to judge others and commit uncompassionate acts. The conflict is where ego becomes more important than the golden rule of compassion and religion simply becomes a fault line. I agree with this point that people tend to use the surface differences to create a them and us, whether this is religion, colour or football teams there will always be these created divisions. I should not attack religion for the result of some people creating hate or lack of concern for others because of these insignificant differences, if I believe that those fundamental believers (not extremists, just fundamentalists) do show compassion in their everyday lives. Fundamental believers are those that believe in their religion and act in accordance.

So do I believe that fundamental believers show compassion in their everyday lives? Well, no. The evidence suggests that this is not true. Religion does not always live within evidence; I do however happen to live there. I could list a lot of examples here but let me start with just a few. Stem cell research in America could not be possible because religious groups consider 150 cells that could possibly, with no certainty, become a human more important, worth more protection than killing an alive house fly with 100,000 cells (Sam Harris). In Pakistani a sister can be sentenced by law to gang rape for a brother’s crime (Christopher Hitchens). There is a current attack on science that will see many children not taught about evolution because it steps on the grounds of the church (Richard Dawkins). These three examples are not the result of compassion, the first would deny people help from disease, the second is just wrong and the third lacks the rules that compassion allows us to understand others knowledge. I am not saying that some religious people are not governed by compassionate acts, still you cannot pick and choose what examples you’d like to keep hidden and others you would like to demonstrate. If “Religion is compassionate” is a true statement, where all evidence suggests that it is then it goes without saying that if one piece of evidence suggests that it is not, the whole statement becomes untrue. And these examples are not fundamental extremists, they are the norm.

Armstrong commented on her idea for a charter for compassion, where she would get popular religious leaders to sign up and it would help promote compassion within religious settings. As an atheist and God damm proud of it, I find it particularly disgusting that we have to remind religious people to be compassionate and stop causing trouble for the rest of us. I understand the point that is being made, the extremists that have taken over religion are seen as the enemy but that is not true anymore. People do all sorts of crazy stuff in the name of religion and it should never be accepted. As if people need to be taught how to read scripture correctly, as Armstrong suggests, presents a great worry – either they are simply using it for their own ends in which case they will ignore anything a rational person says or they have spent all this time missing the whole point of their own religion. I find this approach a little naive still there is always one choice that people have, people have a choice not to believe in religion at all. If you don’t like what people of the same faith are doing, then you can always leave it no one should ever force you to stay with a faith. If they do, it’s not about faith anymore it’s just about people trying to control other people. Armstrong talks with passion and I do respect her approach, even if I don’t always agree.

Another newspaper article has the same effect on me, where Armstrong comments on the pope’s ill timed statements directed towards Islam, it divides my opinion on her. To start with describing current anti-Islamic feelings in the west based on a historical perspective being that of the last thousand years is a wrong approach to make. I’m not involved in many conversations where such a detailed history is ever discussed and to be fair although there has been a media dominated frenzy in recent years it is not why people can come to dislike Islam. I dislike Islam, Christianity and Judaism, just to be fair I will say that now so this is not seen as an attack just on Islam, they are all equally distasteful. I do agree with Armstrong when she says that the Catholic Church should not judge the position of the Jihad since they are the ones that have caused countless murders of their own, at a much larger scale than Islam. Let’s not forget the role they took of condoms in Africa, they are committing genocide. Still getting back to Armstrong, there are two quotes that I found most interesting in her article, they are:

“But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments.” & “They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.”

Of course, Armstrong here is maintaining her perspective that we should not go back to anti-Islamic thoughts and we should not blame violence on Islam. Let me say that this is a fantastic view on what Islam should be like but it’s not like that, the Islam of the world does not only exist in the Koran. The notion of a violent faith does persists, I could just talk about terrorists but that would mean your thoughts are moved away from Islam in its everyday sense, I don’t want to do that, I want examples you can’t dismiss as the acts of a few. A Muslim cleric claimed that the polio vaccine was a plot against them and this resulted in 2005 in another outbreak and the deaths of children. This is not violent but it still it’s important that children are being affected, there is also abuse of children going on in madrassas and mosques within the EU because they are seen as sensitive areas for police and social workers to enter. Ok so this leads me to the Dutch cartoons, these cartoons 3 of which were never made by the Dutch artists rather an Islamic propaganda organization caused a man in London to dress as a suicide bombing during the protests (the cartoons were never published in the UK), Was this an acceptance of a young Muslim man that violence and Islamic protest went hand in hand? How about the 139 people that died in Danish embassies? Is this a result of a peaceful religion? Sam Harris wrote that most of the crime committed in France was done by Muslim immigrants. These are the things that I hear about and there are lots more examples too, so why does Islam to me seem like a violent religion? Well for these reasons because the arguments are presented to me like so. In this sense I don’t need to understand a historical perspective or even the Koran in order to understand Islam. Still these are real perceptions of what is going on. While there is argument that it is inappropriate for the pope to make these comments, it’s never inappropriate to demand these issues be dealt with before any further discussion.

As I said I reject all religion so this is not me picking out one religion. Armstrong comments that since the 9/11 attacks on New York there has been an increase in unconscious prejudice towards Islam, this is true but at the end of the day every Muslim has to be blamed for this. I will tell you why, it’s because there is a sense that fundamentalist are the ones to blame, this is not the case. It is the moderate believers that are the origins for fundamentalists, if there were not moderates then there would be no fundamentalists. Most holy books are bases of violence that is how they have survived all this time, it’s the moderate approach that allows for the immoderate to use the process. Let’s go back to the idea of religion being used for political means and the case of the cleric stopping the polio vaccine. If we assume that this was just a political move, how did the cleric get support and power to perform these political acts? The answer can only be that religion, even those that of moderate religion supported this cleric because they thought the cleric being closer to God & performing his will and the respect that religion teaches about its own religious teachers. If those two things were not in place the power of one man would have been significantly reduced. Moderate religious people cause more harm than fundamentalists do, that is true across all Abrahamic religions. Look at priests and there abuse of children within the Catholic Church, they were able to do this because people gave priests the power and in turn disempowered themselves & their children. So while I accept that most religious people can be kind and the situation is far more complex than I’m presenting here, my perceptions are valid.

The west has always been Islamophobic, still at least in the UK people have been religion’o’phobic for a long while. Consider the difference between George Bush and Tony Blair, George Bush has tried to move away from religious wars against people to just wars against evil regimes. Religious statements have tip toed into Bush’s comments quite often. Tony Blair had to wait until he left office until he came out about his conversion to Catholicism, the British are suspect of religion and so they should be. Still for the average person on the street in the UK after the recent London suicide bombings they are more phobic than perhaps they were before because all they see is the death Islam can cause. This might be a natural reaction, even if it is not a correct one and it will repair itself with time. If you were to ask me I am more scared if Islamic countries or the USA on the bases of its religious intent directing its action, I would have to be honest and say I am more scared of the Christian USA than any Islamic countries. Both however, are justifiable as violent religions. I don’t agree with Armstrong on many things.

Newspaper article : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/sep/18/religion.catholicism

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Something I have always wondered about is why believe in God? Part of the story I thought was that fear held religion together, creating something of an understanding in people’s life which in turn made the unexplained events into an explainable thing. Still this is not the case; people are just not pushed into religion because they cannot understand death or illness even if they are very scared. Fear directing belief is not true of course, if it were I would be happy because at least it is a logical reason and something science can remove slowly. More than that, this reason alone helps me feel less scared about the world I live in. Perhaps there is some truth about it which exist in religion, well at least be honest with me here the Christian religion, the one I know most about, has a bible full of evil things. If you disagree than you are a fool, those without religion have a morality that exceeds that of the bible or religious people. Hell is an evil construct and something an atheist would not teach with such force to make Children do what they want them too.

The truth is scary, at least this why I think religion exists, part of it is the family were people grow up in and the rest is in what society we happen to live. As children we are exposed to a certain religion, it is then we take in the information and then as we grow older, to start to believe that its true and right with all the others being so wrong. This is why when we watch a scary movie as a child that we should have not, the fears it presented us lives long into adulthood, clowns for some reason do this with my generation. If you never saw a clown until you were an adult then you would simply wonder what all the fuss was about. This is a lot but not enough, for religion does something else it creates a community in which it can survive. Catholics don’t just believe they also demonstrate that they believe and it’s not just going to church on a Sunday that can do this. People tend to live, know and be friends with people that tend to share their own believes, even in multi-cultural societies faith schools and the role of parents help children to grow up mostly knowing their own. Their own is a succinct way of saying this, there is no real difference between us.

It’s these two reasons why belief in God is so real, none of this is about true or rational understanding. It does not show how some people can turn towards a religion that they did not grow up with it, still most people I know would fit this explanation and this should never be the cause of belief.

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