God: The ‘fine tuning’ problem.

March 3, 2015

fine tuning, atheism

“One does not have to appeal to God to set the initial conditions for the creation of the universe, but if one does He would have to act through the laws of physics”.
– Stephen Hawking.

At first glance, one may be forgiven for presuming that the physical constants that make up our universe, are clear evidence for a very precise designer. Paley argued as much with his watch. In these more enlightened times, the physicist and author Victor Stenger, writing in ‘The Fallacy of Fine Tuning‘ wonderfully dismantles the presumptions that inform the ‘classical proof’ using the physics itself. Supporting Stenger’s critique – and far more in keeping with the theme of this article – is the “The God Argument” by A.C Grayling. In it, Grayling provides a simple, rational dismantling of the fine turning argument, that coupled with Stenger’s critique, must surely put an end to the use of the argument as evidence for the existence of a creator.

To highlight the problem with the fine tuning argument for the existence of God, Grayling states that if his great-great-great grandparents had not lived the exact life that they had, had they lived ever so slightly differently, circumstances would perhaps not have permitted his own life. The intense number of coincidences that are required to line up in order to result in the life of A.C Grayling, are amazingly unlikely…. in retrospect. And yet, one would not suggest that the history of Grayling’s family was specifically finely tuned to arrive at his life. The fine tuning argument for the existence of a creator is retrospective in exactly the same way.

The point Grayling raises, is that it is both arrogant and irrational to believe the history of your family was specifically designed in order to produce you, looking back retrospectively, and simply because you exist. Similarly – and perhaps more so – it is arrogant and irrational to retrospectively argue that 14 billion years ago, the universe was ‘created’, took 9 billion years in order for the Earth to develop, an Earth that is uninhabitable in large parts and contains the ability for natural disasters to destroy life, alongside 99% of species since that time dying out, and humanity struggling to survive the harshest of conditions, just so religious philosophers can presume it was all designed with them in mind; a species that – in the context of the time scale of the universe – exists for such a short pin point of time. Indeed, life – human life – on planet Earth is such a small momentary blip in the history of vast open of space-time, that the universe seems anything but created with life at the forefront.

But I think even before we feel obliged to move on to the logical problems with the intricacies of the fine tuning argument, before we need mention Grayling’s family history, before we note that the vast majority of the universe – throughout time – is uninhabitable, we must note that the very premise of the argument in the first instance is in fact, self defeating in a couple of ways. Let’s assume for the moment that the ‘creator’ posited in the fine tuning argument is given the traditional attributes of the God of the Judeo-Christian traditions – omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence – it would necessarily follow that such a creator could ensure life existed for any possible tuning of the universe. If that creator could not create life to exist in any possible tuning of universe, it would at the very least suggest that the creator’s actions are dictated by the conditions of life – conditions that ‘He’ has no control over. Thus, the creator did not create life, life (as we know it, because we’re here) can exist with or without the ‘creator’, requiring only the conditions to be right. The ‘creator’ is thus defeated by the very fact that the natural laws that ‘He’ must adhere to in order for life to flourish are – by definition – greater than ‘He’ because they precede ‘He’.

But even that is one big step further than we need to take to discard the ‘fine tuning’ argument as self defeating. Indeed, if a creator did in fact create the conditions for the existence of intelligent beings, the creator must have done so – and thus, existed ‘Himself’ – in conditions that permit existence, other than the conditions that He has now created. The conditions for existence, thus exist prior to the creator. And so before we even discuss whether or not a creator should be able to create life to suit any and all possible universes, we must note that the conditions for existence must precede the creator.

If human life were transplanted from Earth, to 99% of the rest of the universe, it would instantly perish. Indeed, just outside of the boundaries of our own atmosphere, we encounter radiation that would kill us in an instant. If human life were transplanted to a past state of the Earth throughout most of its history, it would not survive. And so, it is no great exaggeration to say that the ‘fine tuning’ argument for the existence of a ‘creator’ is the weakest of all the classical ‘proofs’. It is self defeating, it depends largely on our bizarre assumption that the universe – largely uninhabitable and violently opposed to life – is created with us – a split second in cosmic time – in mind, and falls apart before we even have to analyse the actual cosmological constants that permit you to be sat reading this right now.


The nature of religious privilege…

December 29, 2014

On BBC local radio here in the UK after the Sydney cafe siege, the presenter had a conversation with a local Imam on the subject of religious extremism. The Imam reiterated that the attacker was a lone nut, who didn’t represent Muslims. The conversation was one of damage limitation and worry for Muslims who may be abused and attacked in the aftermath. The rise of anti-Muslim hate must be addressed – one would hope with the promotion of civil rights & protections for all – but I was unsure that the conversation on BBC local radio that day was particularly helpful, when at one point, the presenter insisted that ‘all religions promote peace and love‘. To begin from that uncritical premise – as if it is a matter of undeniable fact – is just as problematic as beginning from the premise that all religions are violent and oppressive. The problem of religious dogma – that is, the chaining of morality to a single time and place (usually very patriarchal, middle eastern tribal squabbles) – is suddenly dismissed, and other explanations for extremism take its place. The rise of ISIS was blamed on Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, sometimes on Israel, but little attention payed to religious dogma. It is almost as if it is too uncomfortable to accept that such ingrained religious traditions & much loved religious ideas may present issues within themselves and autonomous of surrounding context. And so it is a distinct religious privilege, to free its problematic dogma from shouldering any blame for extremism, instead blaming everyone else for its problems. No other ideological framework of power has that privilege. But it isn’t the only privilege religions currently enjoy…

When the debate over same-sex marriage came up before Parliament last year, the only dissenting voices – and those who believed themselves to have the privileged right to tell others whom they can and can’t marry – were those of the religious. It is as if “it’s unnatural, because Leviticus says so” is a legitimate argument in a 21st century that has extensive knowledge of the natural spectrum of sexuality. It is therefore a religious privilege for Christians to believe that firstly they own the institution of marriage; Secondly, that they and they alone have the right to tell others whom they can and cannot marry based on discredited myths; and thirdly, that breaking the barriers to equal rights and freedoms regardless of sexuality, is an assault on Christianity.

It is breathtakingly delusional to believe that extending rights that you have always enjoyed, to those traditionally oppressed by your faith, is oppressing you. It is even more delusional to assume that the institution of marriage is a solely Christian, unchangeable institution. Hebrew society engaged in polygamy much of the time, it certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Monogamy in a marriage is a pretty new development. We know that the Mohammad married Aisha when she was 6 years old. In Ancient Rome, marriage was civil, it was not overtly religious. In India, if the bride was born when Mars and Saturn are “under the 7th house”, she is considered cursed and could end up murdering her husband. And so to break the curse, the bride must first marry a tree, the tree is then destroyed, and the bride is free from the curse forever. In the Tidong community in Northern Borneo, after marriage, the couple must not urinate for three days. Marriage is not official within the Neur tribe in Sudan, until the bride has had two children. It was only in 1967, that the US allowed interracial marriage. By 1910, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah had all banned interracial marriage. And what was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws in the US? Of course it was the Bible. The destruction of all other concepts of marriage, to the benefit of just one concept – the Christian concept – and then attempting to ensure that single concept reigns supreme, is wildly oppressive to say the very least.

A couple of months ago on the Bill Maher show over in the United States, in a debate on extremism Sam Harris referred to Islam as the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘. Consequently, actor Ben Affleck- also appearing on the show – referred to Harris’ statement as ‘racist‘. It is a curious criticism and one that had me considering the unique nature of religious privilege, the language that sustains it, and its lashing out – by among other things, demonising criticism – when challenged. It is a religious privilege to be able to claim racism at criticisms of an idea. As a secular liberal, I define racism as the institutional disenfranchising and denial of equal civil rights based on ethnicity. Language can & does of course further add to the perpetual dehumanising of an ethnicity. Also as a secular liberal, I believe all ideas must be up for inquiry, criticism, satire, and mockery. Religions are not immune to this, nor should they be. Racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a religion. Much like racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a political ideology. Further, and by implication, I would argue that if words that offend a religion are to be deemed racism, then equally words that offend non-believers must also be deemed racism. And so, left-leaning commentators like Mehdi Hasan would be deemed racist, for rants like:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– I am quite certain that if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris had referred to all Muslims as ‘living like animals’, Hasan would be the first to call racism. Further, the New Testament, Old Testament, and Qur’an would be deemed incredibly racist books. Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with God explaining how great he is (a little arrogant), followed by a lovely little description of the fate that awaits those of us who have not been convinced that a God exists:

“[10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Whilst Sam Harris simply referred to a religion as a bad idea and was deemed racist for doing so, Holy Books go beyond criticism, and become threats of eternal torture for non-belief. This of course would also mean that the idea of a Caliphate – in which non-believers are barred from highest office – is institutionally racist. It would mean that South Carolina was institutionally racist when Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor in 1992 but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. It took five whole years for the courts to rule in his favour. It is therefore a massive religious privilege to demand and expect respect for a book that threatens people like me, with religious institutions that disenfranchise anyone ‘outside’ of the religion, whilst yelling racism if I am to call that book the ‘mother lode of bad ideas’. If one is to be considered racism, so must the other.

Along with compulsory worship in schools, and a Monarch whom also happens to be head of the Church of England, it is a religious privilege in the UK, for over 25 Bishops to have a permanent position in the national legislature, as if they have some sort of natural right to consider legislation based solely on which invisible being it is they believe in. To be called ‘Lords Spiritual‘, as if spirituality is a supernatural phenomena consigned to the religious only. The perpetuation of privilege based on the bizarre belief that a deeper understanding of a very unproven deity somehow grants one a position to legislate above the rest of us. It is worth noting that no religious scholar has any more of an idea about what happens after we die, than the rest of us, and that filling in that gap in human knowledge with myths is a ‘science’ consigned to the history books in every other realm of human understanding, yet when it comes to this particular question, we put Bishops in the Lords for their adherence to 1st Century Palestinian myths. It is also worth noting that spirituality does not in any way require a belief in God, or an afterlife, and is a perfectly natural and human trait. Religious supremacy has no more place in a national legislature, than racial supremacy, sexuality supremacy or gender supremacy. The very fact that structures of religious supremacy are not treated with the same contempt as those of racial, or gender supremacy, is in itself, a vast privilege milked for every drop it is worth by those in positions of religious power.

Often, religious privilege is sustained by the powerful few, & the denial of many. Those who are so invested in their religion, refuse to accept that it might be flawed. Jumping back to the racism theme, not too long ago Twitter exploded in rage at Lady Gaga wearing a full face veil. The charge was that she – a white westerner – had ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol of the Islamic east. It is a wildly hypocritical religious privilege to claim the veil for one religion, thus dismissing it from every other culture that has ever used the veil, whilst refusing to acknowledge that Islam has appropriated Christian & Pagan stories, Temple Mount, the Hagia Sofia, the Palestinian freedom cause (Palestinians are all who live there – not simply heterosexual Muslim men), every piece of land deemed to be “Muslim land” (no land belongs to a religion), and when Mo Ansar recently mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism, he neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place. It is a religious privilege to rewrite history by deflecting onto others, the often violent ‘appropriation’ of cultural symbols into its own black hole.

It is a religious privilege for Christianity to be so enshrined into state constitutions, that it requires a national constitution to protect everyone else:
Arkansas’ Constitution:

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this
State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland Constitution, Article 37:

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi Constitution, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

South Carolina Constitution, Article 17, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee Constitution, Article 9, Section 2:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

The list of religious privileges is endless. It includes Jehovah’s Witness families torn apart if a member decides they don’t believe any more. It includes apostates dehumanised and abused for leaving Islam & then referred to as ‘Islamophobic’ if they dare to speak out. It includes women covered from head to toe so as to not arouse the apparently uncontrollable lust of men. It includes Uganda’s Christian Minister for Ethics condemning homosexuals to a life of fear, whilst insisting that the rape of young girls in his country is, and I quote:

“… the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– It includes Pakistan’s grotesque blasphemy laws that punishes the ‘offending’ believers, whilst institutionalises the ‘offending’ of non-believers. It includes the Boy Scouts of America prohibiting the inclusions of atheists and whose charter states:

“The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

– It includes ‘In God we trust’ and ‘One nation under God’ placed on US institutions in blatant disregard of the secular founding. It includes Iran murdering gay people because an ancient, unenlightened, out-of-date myth condemns homosexuality and is taught to impressionable young minds as truth – despite the fact that many of those young minds, will be gay – whilst neglecting to teach the actual biology and genetic base for sexuality. It includes all of these things causing little uproar, whilst a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, or a “There is no God” billboard on the side of buses causes the religious to insist that their faith is under severe attack. It is the moment the religion of one, extends to control the liberty of another. In short, the nature of religious privilege.


Re: The $100,000 atheist challenge.

September 5, 2014

Dear Joshua Feuerstein,

Your recent YouTube video challenging atheists to disprove god for $100,000 has, as you know, received a lot of attention and criticism. I thought I’d offer my thoughts on why I am an atheist, and why it is unlikely that your God exists, because, well, I could really use that $100,000. I have four quick points I wanted to make:

Firstly, it’s important to note what the atheist proposition actually is. Contrary to your statement that we’re trying to claim there is no god that exists outside of our individual knowledge, we invite you to provide evidence that there is, at that point we can have a meaningful discussion. You cannot just assert the existence of a god, and decide it’s meaningful, without it actually based on anything other than you just asserting it. I could assert that I have an invisible, silent monkey on my shoulder, and the fact that the claim cannot be tested and proved or negated doesn’t render it more likely to be true, it renders it the opposite. Very few – if any at all – of us would ever claim with certainty that god doesn’t exist. We simply claim that there is no reason to believe god does exist, and that believers throughout history have never provided a substantial reason for us to believe god exists. The fact that we provide evidence that gravity exists, rather than forcing people by the sword to accept gravity without criticism, implies that evidence can stand on its own whilst precarious falsehoods require coercion to survive.
We do not claim certainty on anything. We do not even claim certainty on the Earth being a sphere. We assert that we are 99.9999% sure that the Earth is a sphere, but we leave 0.0001% open to doubt, because doubt is what drives scientific progress. We do not shut out all arguments that the Earth is not a sphere, instead we weigh the evidence. If the evidence for one position holds greater than the evidence for the other, we accept it. We want to disprove assertions, in order to come to stronger assertions about the nature of nature. So again, my proposition is that you have not provided any reason for me to believe a god exists; this is entirely different from insisting with certainty that god doesn’t exist. Further, by weighing the arguments for gods existence (usually the cosmological argument – which I try to refute here), and the teleological (from design/fine tuning) argument (which has been masterfully refuted by Victor Stenger – though I’d argue that an infinite and unrestricted god could create life for any possible universe, and so the ‘fine tuning’ is rendered unnecessary), and the moral dimension (which you predictably brought up with regards Hitler, and which I wrote on here) I come to the conclusion that I am 99.999% sure that god doesn’t exist. And since you asked for “proof or evidence“, I thought I’d provide what I’d consider evidence that god doesn’t exist.

Secondly, since all the arguments for the existence of god seem to be philosophical in nature, the refutations must be philosophical (when you provide material evidence, we can then scrutinise and attempt to refute it in the way we do with everything else). And from a philosophical point of reference – whilst based on what we know of the observable universe – the idea of a god seems to me to be entirely self defeating. Prof. Hawking notes:

“Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang.”

– With that in mind, let’s examine the implications. If time began at the big bang, by implication everything that exists – since existence requires time (unless you have evidence to the contrary?) – has therefore always existed. There was never a moment when ‘nothing’ could exist. There was never a ‘before’ the big bang, given that ‘before’ denotes a measurement of time, and is entirely reliant on time existing. Also reliant on time, is cause. Since the cosmological argument argues that everything that begins to exist has a creator, we must be consistent and accept that everything that begins to exist, was created in time and space. If god therefore created time and space, He would have required time and space in order to create time and space. We are left with three options; 1) Accepting the absurdity of that. 2) Asserting that god exists in another realm of space and time, that he used to create this realm of space and time. Or 3) Causation does not require space and time at all. If we take option 1, well, you’re close to owing me $100,000. If we take option 2, then you need to provide evidence for a time outside of time, it’s characteristics, and whether or not that realm of time preceded god, which then becomes an endless chain of realms of time, before you give up and accept that what we know of time appears to render god obsolete. Or we could take option 3, which is to say, we require abandoning everything we know of space and time, and starting from scratch, which would only eventually lead us back to where we are now.

Thirdly, there is nothing in nature that requires divine intervention in order to exist. Life itself, did not require the hand of a creator. The entire basis of modern medicine, of modern biology, zoology, genetics, botany, is based on evolution by natural selection (note, this is different from the social Darwinist example you raise when you ask “how is Hitler not the fittest?”). If you seek to suggest that the beautiful tapestry of nature came about not by natural selection, but by divine magic, I await your thesis disproving the basis for all modern biology, zoology, medicine, genetics and botany and replacing with a theistic model. Good luck with that. Whilst it’s true that the biochemical study of the origins of life are yet to fully understand how life sprang into existence, there is no reason to place god in the gap. Indeed, the god-in-the-gap answer has a terrible track record of being wrong on every occasion, and so there’s little reason to suspect it is true on this occasion. By contrast, the scientific method has a pretty great track record.

Fourthly, a quick mention of your suggestion that the knowledge that murder is wrong – and moral principles – came from a divine source. You are right that our ability to deduce right from wrong is an in-built concept (though devout religious folk over the centuries appear to be the exception, as they murdered their way across the globe). But a lack of divine moral structure, does not imply that all moral conclusions must therefore be equal, dismissed as equal opinions. Our understanding of right and wrong is the result of a complex set of ideas. Murder contradicts our evolved ability to empathise with others, whilst posing a direct threat to our survival as a species if accepted universally. We rationalise, and we empathise, and we come to conclusions based on what we understand at that point in time. Sometimes we get it wrong, but we progress. Empathy is an evolved trait from the earliest days of mammal life. From taking care of young, to group living in order to survive, empathy was required for species survival. This isn’t a guess. neurologists invest vast time, and effort into understanding the evolution of empathy. We empathise; that is to say, we imagine ourselves in the position of the other. As we expanded, grew together, asked questions, created art, philosophised, our social needs evolved with them, and morality became very complex. Is that a basis itself for objective moral standards? Perhaps, though not in the form crafted by the religious, of an outside standard that transcends humanity. It is as much a part of our nature, as breathing. It is not separate from humanity. If indeed morality were a set of distinct rules, separate from humanity, existing prior to humanity, set out by a God, it would make sense – if God is to be considered ‘good’ – for those rules to be succinct and lacking ambiguity when handed to humanity. For those rules to be ambiguous, requiring 200,000 years of human suffering and violence to attempt to work out – which God would have known, given that he can see all of time and space – implies a vastly immoral game by the divine rule giver.

Lastly, I think a far better explanation for the origins of the concept of god stem from our evolved sense of curiosity and language to convey that curiosity through art, stories, music etc. At the primitive age of our species, a time in which rainbows were inexplicable and an earthquake was a sure sign that a small tribe had angered god, we had no explanations based in observable science. But we do have wonderful imaginations, a desire to understand, and we appeal to forces beyond our understanding, because we’re influenced by mystery. At a time when tribes across the World wished to explain the origins of their community, we see wonderful stories of Romulus of Rome, we see P’an Ku’s egg in China, we see the Lakota tell the tale of Ite, and we see the people in around Judea tell the story of Adam & Eve. We are a beautifully imaginative species, but when we apply the scientific method based on observed and repeated evidence, instead of coming closer to proving god, we shrink the space in which he resides, whilst at the same time sending Voyager 1 to the very limits of the solar system and beyond, and creating the internet for you to issue challenges. The scientific method works, and it hasn’t led to god. That is why I am atheist.

Sincerely,

Futile Democracy.


God’s tapestry & the problem of foresight.

September 2, 2014

There was a moment during a debate between Dr William Lane Craig & Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens points out that to believe in the Christian narrative, one would have to believe that for 200,000 years of human existence, through the awful conditions that our fragile species barely survived within, through the disease and violence, through it all, heaven didn’t particularly care. 198,000 years later, heaven decided it was now time to intervene, by having a 1st century Palestinian Jew tortured to death somewhere in the Middle East. Laurence Krauss used a similar argument in his debate with Dr Craig also.

Craig countered and insisted that it wasn’t the timing that was important, but population, in that only 2% of the overall population of mankind existed prior to Christ and that Christ appeared to have arrived at a time prior to a population boom. Dr Craig referred to this as God choosing “an opportune moment” to send Jesus, right before massive population growth. Leaving aside God’s lack of concern for the poor 2%, and the fact that an all-powerful God could have created a population boom whenever He pleased rendering the “opportune moment” suggestion meaningless, I think it important to note the consequences of that “opportune moment” chosen to intervene, and its implications for the premise of the Christian God.

For, not only would you need to believe that for 198,000 years heaven peered on with indifference, but you’d also have to believe that either God did not foresee the future consequences of choosing that moment and that specific region to send Christ to ‘save’ mankind and the suffering that it would entail, or He did foresee it, and was absolutely fine with it; the problem of foresight.

All religious narratives suffer a form of contradiction every so often, whether that be contradiction within texts themselves, or the text contradicting the premise of the God on offer. In this case – the problem of foresight – it is the latter that we’re focusing on, because the premise of an all-knowing God implies eternal foresight, whilst the historical consequences of what Christian’s believe to be God’s actions, imply a God unaware of how this plan was going to turn out, or simply an uncaring God (contradicting the concept of an all-loving God).

For Christianity, time – God’s creation – is laid out in front of Him like a tapestry that He wove. Before the events of Genesis 1, He already knew, because He created as a timeless absolute, the consequences of the actions of all mankind at all times, from the hugely consequential decision to convert the Roman Empire to the faith, right through to an individual’s private sex life in the 21st Century. He sees it all and crucially, He can intervene whenever He chooses. And yet it seems unfathomable that such a power would be so oblivious – or simply uncaring – to the consequences of the manner in which His followers would convey the Christian message over the centuries. Indeed, He necessarily knew the consequences, and again sat back with indifference for the next 2000 years.

Whilst not wishing to document every instance of Christian-led persecution over the past 2000 years, it is perhaps worth noting a few, in order to highlight the contradiction and the problem of foresight.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that the brutality by which Christian Emperors of Rome – like Constantius and his persecution of Pagans – would aid the growth and power of Christian dogma into a disastrous dark age and the suppression of all things ‘heretical’ – including extensive book burning – for at least the next thousand years. He could have encouraged free inquiry in medicine, democratic accountability in political affairs, astronomy, human liberty, and all over forms of inquiry that simultaneously shrink the gaps by which God traditionally resides, whilst elevating the suffering of mankind. With few exceptions, the opposite occurred. Along with the centuries-long justification of tyrannical Christian power under the guise of “divine right”, and knowing as He would have if He were all-knowing, among other edicts of suppression, that the Emperor Jovian would order the burning of the library at Antioch, through to the child abuse scandal of the modern day Catholic Church.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that a great deal of Europe’s human beings – like Thomas Moore – and their families would suffer the indignity of religious-inspired state murder; the unimaginable physical and psychological pain that comes with confinement and executed for such nuanced differences as whether or not the King or the Pope had supreme control of the Church. His own devout followers, who offered nothing but devotion and love, He knew would be subject to the most cruel punishments for simple disagreements. An all-knowing God would necessarily have seen this in great detail, long before the “In the beginning…” of Genesis 1.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God before events described in Genesis 1, knew the tragedy that would beset Native tribes in the Americas when the sincerely believed Christian message was forcefully imposed. Indeed, He knew far greater the reason for that pain and tragedy than the Friar’s involved, yet started the ball rolling down that inevitable path by sending Christ, and very mixed messages in the Holy Book that followed. Ken Burns documentary ‘The West’ notes one 18th Century Friar during the missionary period firmly believing his life’s work must be to save Natives from damnation, confused as to its clear failure, saying:

“They live well free, but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life… they fatten, sicken and die.”

– The Friar could not understand how a Godly message of what he considered to be saving grace, was having such an adverse affect on the Native population. God however, does not get the luxury of such an excuse.

It must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that Jerusalem would be a Holy centre for three major faiths, and consequently, the centre of such a violent dispute. He set humanity up for that inevitable conflict. The Gods of Islam and Judaism don’t escape this criticism either.

And most notably, it must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that 1700+ years later, a movement to prevent further Christian state brutality, and to free human ingenuity and autonomy required the disestablishing of Christian authority over the public realm.

The birth of Jesus was a moment that would change the course of history for humanity… though not for God, who knew how it all would pan out anyway. It is on that second point that it is not viable to suggest He provided that divine message, and that from that moment on, it was up to humanity to live according to it. It is not viable, because with the tapestry of time laid out in front of Him, He could see the minute-by-minute detail of exactly how His message would be used, and He chose to go with that course anyway; in fact, He created that course and intrinsically stitched humanity to it. Indeed, to suggest God is all-knowing, is to suggest humanity has no choice but to follow the path God is already aware that he/she will follow. The only possible way to deflect from that path, is to be more powerful than God, which again, contradicts the premise of the all-powerful Christian God.

And so we’re left with three possibilities; 1) God knew exactly how the course of human history would be affected by the onset of Christianity, and not simply allowed, but forced through His unbreakable tapestry, centuries of violent oppression – including the suppression of scientific endeavor – to take place for the sake of a grand scheme that He refuses to reveal. This is appealing because it allows for the all-knowing God, yet leaves a lot to be desired for the notion of an all-loving God, seeming as it does to imply that God is playing a cruel game with human beings who have no choice. 2) God is restricted by time, cannot see the long stretching consequences of His actions, which implies He is not all-knowing, nor all-powerful and if we look back over the course of history of the religion, reads like a series of bad decisions by the divine. Or 3) There is no God, and the flawed species of humanity is responsible for its own shortcomings. Because the problem of foresight as summarised in points 1 and 2 necessarily contradict the Christian premise of an all-loving, all-knowing God, I am further led to conclude that point 3 is the more likely.


God does not love you.

May 11, 2014

'The Sacrifice of Isaac' by Caravaggio.

‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’ by Caravaggio.

This morning I found a collection of old photos of family, and myself as a child. My mum has less of a 1980s Bon Jovi haircut going on these days, but nevertheless is still looking pretty similar, whilst my dad hasn’t changed a bit (though he has thankfully opted to ditch the three top buttons undone on his shirt these days). Another similarity between my parents of the ’80s and my parents of the 10s, is that neither were religious back then, and neither are religious today. And yet, the picture depicts my family all smartly dressed and me as a baby, on the day of my Christening into the Church of England.

I was baptised almost entirely because of my mother’s fear. Fear that if I died young, and the Christian God really did exist, there’s a chance He might send me to the pits of hell simply because a man in an old, elaborate crucifix shaped building hadn’t dunked my head in water. It is the hideous notion that a baby – far from obtaining the age in which they can reason – has angered God simply by existing. The sin of Adam, passed onto a completely innocent child, that now requires a bizarre ritual to cleanse, or eternal punishment. This is not a ‘love’ that any parent would wish to emulate and inflict upon their child, because it is not ‘love’ by any definition of the word.

The element of fear is doubtlessly a factor driving people to baptise not only their children, but themselves, in times of danger. In 2003, the Chicago Tribune posted an article entitled: “Facing uncertain fate, troops line up for Baptism”. It includes a quote from Cpl. Jason Irving, that reads:

“If I don’t get to see them again here on Earth, I want to make sure that I am all right with God, so I can see them in heaven.”

– The implication being that if his head is not dunked in water, there’s reason to suspect that the God of Christianity will forever keep him apart from his children in an afterlife. For myself growing up through years of school prayers, and hymns, hearing stories of what seemed to be good people destined for hell, the “love” of the Christian God seemed confusing at best, and today it seems absurd to me to claim that God loves you.

If we are to start from the premise that God is the single, infinite cause of everything (which apparently, doesn’t encompass ‘everything’, if we play by the illogical features of the commonly utilised cosmological argument), and thus has full control over all of His creation, then it seems self evident to me that human beings, and every living creature on the planet, are just small parts of a rather grotesque game. We are ‘valued’ as a pawn on a chess board might be valued, and sacrificed, and discarded, in a game of chess that God is playing against himself. We have no choice but to be chained to this game, to follow rules that are completely His invention, for a supposed ‘higher purpose’ that He created and has the full ability to achieve without the suffering He inflicts, and all appear to be for no other reason than to stroke His ego by insisting upon unquestioned worship and reverence – like a slave holder – on fear of eternal punishment.

The Christian God offers us His ‘love’ at the small price of suspending all of our natural faculties of reason – something He endowed us with in the first place. We are a species that values criticism and doubt in order to progress. Indeed, criticism and doubt are the essence of reason. God must have been aware of the cruelty of this. Like dangling bread in front of a starving child, and threatening to punish him if he eats it. We do not then get to claim we had a higher purpose all along. It is not ‘love’, it is blatant cruelty.

The disciple Thomas – as described in John – seems to have been a very wise, reasonable and curious man. He was not convinced by the other disciples that Jesus had returned from the dead, and so rightfully demanded proof. Thomas thus reflected the curiosity of Adam and Eve, forever punished for wishing the freedom to learn and to question according to our natural curiosity. If there’s one thing that oppressive power structures do abundantly well, it is policing thoughts and expression, for their own ends. Later, Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hand and side wounds in order to provide Thomas with the evidence he demanded. Upon seeing the evidence, Thomas is convinced. Jesus says:

“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

As with Genesis, Jesus seems to be condemning doubt, and blessing unquestioned belief. Thus, both Genesis and Jesus (according to the Gospel of John) punish humanity for our natural condition, whilst demanding the suspension of that natural condition in order to achieve his blessing. A sick and completely unnecessary game of abuse. We are not free if our minds are chained. A worthwhile teacher does not teach children to believe exactly as they’re told without evidence. A worthwhile teacher inspires curiosity and a yearning for knowledge, to engage their natural desire to understand without bias or dogma. There is no love in demanding unquestioned obedience. It seems to me that if we are to indulge our curiosity and inquire into the nature of God’s ‘love’, and it is a love we identify with, it is all the more stronger if backed up with evidence, rather than a claim of ‘love’ that we are demanded to accept without question. The latter suggests that God may be a little insecure about his concept of ‘love’.

After endowing humanity with curiosity, the ability to reason and to doubt, and yet failing to recognise that we might use that natural disposition to question His demands, God sets out to fix it. In order to correct His mistake (the mistake of a seemingly unintelligent designer), He refuses to accept any responsibility, and chooses instead to violently torture to death a 1st century Palestinian Jew, and claim it was all for us. Christians today tend to argue that this was a heartbreaking ‘sacrifice’ for God to have made. To me, it seems the opposite. A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if the ‘victim’ rises three days later, walks around for a while, and ascends to heaven to join God as a judge for eternity. And again, this is all part of His design, His game, nothing and no-one else is responsible, it is all Him. Any deviation from his apparent plan, reflects His inability to think and plan ahead. But he can’t accept that, He refuses to accept responsibility for his dreadful workmanship, and instead punishes his creation for it. A victim blaming mentality. Indeed, absolving sins requiring a torturous death, is also His concept, His broken rules, and His idea of a fitting punishment, no one else thought this up. He may just as easily have told us that forcing Jesus to wear sandals that are too big for his feet, is the punishment required to absolve our sins. It’s all his silly little game, not ours, we didn’t ask for this badly planned dictator-like game. And what a stunningly ineffective punishment the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for sins was, given that Christians spent the next 1700+ years killing each other, forcing conversions, and building oppressive empires. It spawned just as bad, if not worse oppression, than it replaced.

All of this, a few centuries after asking Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, before stopping him at the last minute. What needless and self indulgent cruelty to inflict upon a child. In the years between Abraham and Jesus, God chooses to make Jephthah follow through on his promise to sacrifice his child in return for victory in battle, rather than renegotiating a far less horrific deal, thus freely choosing to violate the sacred life of a completely innocent young girl. This is a God that appears to think that showing love and devotion, is intrinsically linked to torturing and murdering family members. Appeasing a problem that He created in the first place, is apparently redeemed not by accepting that His plan may not have been the most wisely conceived plan in history, but by the suffering of others; whether Adam and Eve, their progeny, Isaac, Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus, or the rest of mankind; we are all liable to be punished for His mistakes.

The predictable answer from Christians, is that we cannot know God’s love. It is a divine ‘love’ beyond our limited understanding. We are finite beings unable to conceive of the love God has for his creation. I find this to be a cop out. After all, God must know that this World is all we know, and so it would make sense for his dealings in the material World, to be sympathetic and sensitive to our condition in order to cause us the least suffering and pain. Instead, He is fine with intervening according to His own standard, knowing the suffering and pain it causes His subjects. God must be aware that by way of its cruelty, the ‘love’ he offers, is a love that no reasonable person would strive to emulate with people that we love. And in fact, in many cases – human sacrifice as a sign of devotion for example – if we were to emulate His divine standard as reflected in His example to us, we’d be condemned to Hell.

To conclude, even if we discard the horror of God’s ‘love’ for us, it would still seem to me that a finite human being, with such precious little time on this Earth, offering to spend that time loving you for just being you, is a far greater love than an infinite being, unrestricted by time, offering to love you or torture you depending on how well you adhere to His list of demands. A human being’s love for another human being, is therefore greater than God’s ‘love’ for humanity. To the Christian God, you are simply an ant struggling to survive, and God has his foot hovering just above your head, waiting to crash down upon you if you do not sufficiently beg him not to. God does not love you, God tortures you.


“Before The Big Bang”: A Divine Neverland.

November 17, 2013

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People often ask each other what our favourite Disney film is. Peter Pan is always my answer. I was always fascinated by the idea of Peter Pan and Neverland, growing up. It seemed, to the naive mind of a child, that J.M Barrie had managed to capture the essence of wonder of childhood, and anchored that essence forever, full of mythical creatures and beautiful islands and lagoons (I adore that word) and pirates and lost boys and I remember being five or six years old and closing my eyes, thinking happy thoughts, and wondering if I’d start to fly. It seemed like a heavenly place to me as a child. Incidentally my happy thought was the idea of being able to fly. I’m not sure if the paradox there was the reason I never achieved human flight, either way, I didn’t, and I slowly realised that Neverland may just be fictional and may not actually exist anywhere in reality.

In Neverland, time comes to a halt. You stop aging. It obviously isn’t supposed to be a scientific explanation for anything – merely a children’s tale – but the idea that aging stops divorces the aging process from time itself. Events still take place in Neverland. Events that have consequences, in other words, causation, which requires time, still exists. Neverland has a complete revamping of the characteristics of time. In reality, without time, nothing exists, not even causation. The two are entwined.

I briefly touched on this subject in my article on the Cosmological Argument, but I thought I’d expand on my thoughts below. I am quite certain that the existence of time is evidence against the existence of a divine creator.

Hamza Tzortzis on his blog says:

“Science cannot explain the past or the origins of things. For instance questions such as, what was before the Big Bang?…. are technically outside the realm of the scientific method.”

– Apart from being an entirely false premise, the sentence presumes that there ever was a “before the Big Bang”. This is a false presumption, and not only is it a false presumption because it lacks any kind of evidence relying instead on flimsy guess work, but it also ignores evidence to the contrary. The phrase “before the Big Bang” gives one the sense that time itself preceded the Big Bang, and whilst that’s up for debate on the level of science, this isn’t what Hamza was getting at. He’s suggesting and arguing for divine creation.

The word “before” denotes the context of time. Time is woven into the fabric of the universe. Therefore “before”, is an absurd term to use for the question posed. For, causation itself can only exist within the context of of time. There cannot be a time before time and so the context of the word “before” begins at the point that time itself began. To suggest otherwise not only represents a manipulation of language, but also commits the fallacy of composition. A new concept of causation based not on time is required from creationists to come anywhere close to saving their Neverland. Causation of the universe, they must separate from causation in the universe. Good luck with that.

Stephen Hawking, in a lecture on the beginning of time says:

“Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang.”

Discounting the theory of chaotic inflation, or the big bounce concept, or the idea that endless black holes create endless infinite universes (an intriguing idea, well worth reading up on, and perpetuated by Vahe Gurzadyan among others) for one second – because all of those theories will still lead believers to ask “what came before? Who started it all? Infinity is impossible!!”, they aren’t looking for scientific theories, they’re automatically suggesting a creator – and so I’ll be focusing on the premise that the Big Bang was the beginning of everything.

As we know it, time & space began at the moment of the Big Bang. Therefore, time and space are precluded from “before” the Big Bang, in fact, the word “before” is precluded from before the Big Bang… or to be a little more in keeping with the point of this article… There is no “before” time. Indeed, this is not a faith based guess. It falls therefore on the believer to provide any sort of verifiable evidence that a being can exist outside of time and space, that there existed a separate realm in which a creator had the ability to kick start the universe as we know it, and what the characteristics of that realm are. All of which can only ever be taken on guesswork, fantasy, and are entirely self defeating. This should not be progressed as a serious inquiry into origins. It is creationism and nothing more.

Indeed, if a creator existed in a realm of time and space prior to the beginning of the universe, then that time and space must have different properties to what we understand of time and space, it must also have preceded the existence of the creator within it, therefore, it is a higher realm than the creator, and the creator cannot be called a creator at all. Certainly not the God of the omni’s.

The existence of time and its beginning renders the idea of a creator either obsolete, or creates a sort of Neverland realm, in which the creator dwells – which again, suggests the realm preceded the existence of the creator – a realm in which time doesn’t exist, but events are still able to occur, which in turn suggests a version of time does actually exist in this divine realm; at that point, believers tend not to give any evidence nor characteristics of this magical land.

And so if this divine realm exists before “time” (again, impossible, because existence requires time), did the creator create it also? If the creator created this divine realm also….. how did it do so? In what realm of time and space was it able to exist in order to create this new fantasy realm required before the universe was created?

In other words, if there was a “before” the beginning of time, this would have required another realm for causation to exist – which as I pointed out earlier is a product of time – which then leads to a “before” that realm, which in turn needs a “before” that realm and so on… The chain is endless. And so if you’re suggesting a “before time” – as a synonym for “before everything” – and placing your particular God in that new realm that you’ve just created – out of nothing, ironically – you’ve opened up a whole bag of new questions that you must answer before the question “What came before the Big Bang?” is taken seriously.

Is this Neverland completely timeless? If so, how do events occur?
If it is timeless, do you have any such verifiable evidence that something can exist outside of time and space?
If your creator exists, you must therefore believe existence, and cause and effect do not require time or space? What then, do they require?
Or does this realm have another version of time? Do you have evidence for the existence of more than one version of time?

Or does this realm include our understanding of time, that was simply extended to the universe at the Big Bang? In which case, where did your creator exist in order to create it? How did your creator exist before existence was possible?

If you conceive of a “before time”, you have created Neverland. A place where time doesn’t exist, but causation exists. You have divorced causation from time, you have divorced time from the universe. I see no reason to accept this as a reasonable proposition, rather than a completely absurd and illogical proposition. Especially when you provide no evidence for such an extraordinary revision of all known physical laws.

To summarise:
If a creator created everything – which encompasses itself – including the time and space required to ‘create’ the universe, it must have done so in another realm of time and space. Suddenly “everything” doesn’t encompass itself any more, and the creator is no longer the creator, because this new realm preceded it. Arguing the existence of a creator of the universe does nothing but lead to complete absurdity and eventually defeats itself. He created time, whilst in time. Or he created time, without time existing, despite creation requiring time in order to happen. Absurd. The believer essentially creates an endless stream of divine Neverlands, whilst both changing the nature of existence and time and through it all, offering no evidence whatsoever for the existence or characteristics of any of those wonderful Neverlands, or even the ability for any to actually exist. It is fantasy dressed up as viable, and credible inquiry.

The evidence is clear; if there is no time and space, there is no existence. Existence requires time. Causation requires time. All characteristics of the universe. Therefore, not only does God not exist…. He isn’t required to exist, and actually cannot possibly exist. It is logical impossible.

That the universe – time, space, matter, energy – came into existence doesn’t suggest a creator. Quite the opposite. It negates the need for a creator, and entirely precludes His existence.

Just like a child slowly coming to the realisation that J.M Barrie’s Neverland does not exist anywhere in reality, what we understand of the universe, of time, and of space necessarily leads us to a point in which we do not abandon the search for truth, but we recognise there is not – and cannot possibly be – a God… Except of course, within the absurd and contradictory, self defeating realm of a hopeless divine Neverland.


Oprah… Awe is as natural to Atheists as breathing oxygen.

November 1, 2013

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I am quite used to hearing religious folk assert that Atheists do not have an objective moral base for our conception of right or wrong, and it’s so easy to refute, it’s getting tiresome to hear. But a couple of weeks back threw open a new attempt to dehumanise Atheists. This time, from Oprah Winfrey. Oprah suggested that non-believers cannot possibly experience a sense of awe or wonder, and that if you do experience a sense of awe and wonder, you are in fact a Theist. I would like to take the opportunity to point out how desperately wrong she is.

It seems self evident to me that science – the pursuit of knowledge – is itself driven by awe. We are a species blessed with curiosity. Awe is what drives science. Religion is simply a failed science that was used to try to explain the natural World when we had no other explanation. A sense of wonder drove both religion, and science. It is natural to humanity, and does not require faith.

What do you think drove the wonderful Stephen Hawking to dedicate his life to trying to understand the cosmos? Do you not think that he was driven by the awe one feels whenever we stare into the heavens and contemplate the vast blackness of space, our place within it, and the tiny pinholes of light in the heavenly canvas that we now know to be balls of burning gas millions of light years away. I took the above photo, outside of my house. I felt I just had to document how beautiful the night sky appeared to me that evening. In fact, the documentation of beauty is why I take my camera everywhere with me. It is why I can spend hours in an art gallery. It is why music can inspire. It is why the landscape of our breathtakingly diverse planet can drive people to tears. It is why the words of Hemingway can make my heart race and dream of Paris. How humbled we feel. Do you not think that when we consider those balls of gas burning millions of light years away, that we aren’t overcome with a sense of awe and wonder when we remember that the light has travelled so far for so long that many of those stars no longer exist, and that our eyes are therefore our personal time machines? That perhaps one of those balls of burning gas has a planet like ours circling it, with its own inhabitants staring back at us in their own wonder? Why does this need religion?

Is there no excited imagination in dreaming of what it must be like to stand for just a brief moment on the lip of a black hole? The event horizon, upon which light can neither escape the grip of the gravity of black hole, nor is gravity strong enough to pull it in. The moment that time itself comes to a stop. If you were to leave the slowness of time around a black hole, and return to Earth, you would find time has moved faster on Earth, and so whilst a few weeks may have passed to you; days, years, decades, perhaps centuries to those on Earth. Do you not think the knowledge that this actually exists, has us in awe? Do you think that belief in a talking burning bush is what is missing from our lives?

The awe was in the search, but also in the truth of knowing that every last atom that makes up our body, has always existed, since the moment our home sprung into existence at the big bang. We are made from the left overs of stars that have exploded in the very distant past, and those left overs from all over the universe have come together, to form you. You are star dust. Star dust that over time, has developed the ability to know that it exists, to question its existence, to acquire knowledge, to experience love, and beauty, and happiness, to produce incredible feats of art for expression, and engineering. For the brief time that each of us exists, we are a random collection of atoms that have already experienced an incredible history, and we are the universe trying to understand itself. How does this not fill you with awe? Why must you need a story of human sacrifice to atone for sins, to feel a sense of awe? Why can you not experience that in itself?

Does looking out of your window at the colourful tapestry of life, all at the mercy of the unguided design of natural selection, not make your heart race at the majesty of it all? The almost infinite number of ways your genes could have lined up, have lined up in a way that produces you. The history of your family over the centuries, the struggles and hardships have converged, to produce you. You, as a life form, are incredibly unique across the incomprehensible vastness of everything. There is nothing else like you. Your experiences and the way your mind works will never be repeated across the billions of years the universe has left to exist.

How do you not feel humbled, and thankful that our ancestors fought the harshest of conditions, to adapt, to innovate, to conceive of new ideas, to spread to every corner of the Earth and develop art, music and language. Language! A new way to express ideas that doubtlessly contributed to the development of our natural awe and curiosity. The elegance of words have us inspired daily. A single gracefully crafted sentence can change our lives…. “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal“…. and it is humanity that built the structural foundation upon which language could be expressed so strikingly. This requires neither Prophets, nor Gods. It only requires a sense of astonishment at the achievements of mankind since our birth as a species, through Socrates, Al-Biruni, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, and what we are capable of in the future.

Religion insists that we have the answers. Stop looking. It’s all in this book. To have faith is to look into the mysteries of the unknown and instead of considering all possible avenues of explanation of inquiry – most of which are incredibly beautiful propositions – simply places “God” into the gap. I see no charm in this. The wonderment and the excitement and the emotion is in the search and the truth can be just as stunning – if not more so – than the fiction. If you need faith for a sense of awe, I feel very sorry for you.

Life is a wonderful question, do not settle for “God did it”.


Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic

October 25, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

I’ve commented a couple of times on Islamic blogger, and occidentalist Hakeem Muhammad’s obsession with presenting every critical comment of Islam, as a product of racism. I wrote here taking point by point Hakeem’s claim that Atheism itself, is a product of white supremacy. Indeed secularism – all belief treated equally under the law – he considers a white supremacist plot. What I’ve come to understand by Hakeem’s obsession with ensuring that every criticism has a racial element to it, is that he considers the criticism and the critic as a threat to an unearned, unjustifiable religious privilege that simple ‘belief’ has allowed believers to enjoy for so long. It is the only reason that his most recent attack on me (though I do like the picture he used, I scrub up well when I try), contained the word “white” 15 times. And every one of those times, to reiterate just how terrible critics of Islam are, if they happen to be white. “Racist white men”, “misogynistic white men”, “Patriarchal white men”, “white saviour complex”. It is quite insulting to be reduced to what colour my skin is, rather than the content of my argument.

Let’s begin at the start:

“Here is futiledemocracy’s basic argument: Ayesha, who lived over 1,400 years ago, was a victim of sexual assault, and I, as a white male, need to save her. ”

– No it isn’t. This has never been my ‘basic argument’. The article in question can be seen here. My argument was quite clear, allow me to reiterate what I said, and what Hakeem completely misrepresented:

“Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.”

– My argument was structured upon the concept of ‘objective’ morality as offered by the religious, and how that static concept hinders progress. In other words, how anchoring your sense of moral justice to a 7th Century text might cause some problems in the future. I never claim the Prophet is a paedophile in the modern sense, and don’t consider it right to do so. I also don’t believe he was a Prophet, nor heard the word of God, and therefore Muhammad is just another human being constrained by the social context of the time in which he lived. However, it is the enshrining of that one particular time period into a system that is claimed to be timeless and unchanging and taught as truth to young and impressionable minds, that I find repulsive and dangerous. I do not claim Muhammad, or Aisha’s father could at that time rationalise that promising a young girl in marriage at such a young age to an old man, locks her into a life without her considered consent and is in fact abuse. Of course they didn’t understand the effects of child abuse, 1400 years ago.

Similarly, those who wrote and later edited the Old Testament books were writing from the context of their time, and so the buying of selling of slaves as advocated in Leviticus 25:44-46 is completely redundant today, and called out for the horrifying “objective” moral cancer that it is. And whilst Christians continue to chirp the same “we have a book of objective morality” nonsense, they eerily discard those passages that no are no longer acceptable to modern life. And so, Muslims and Christians have in fact out grown and progressed beyond the “morality” of their own Gods.

I thought I would comment on Aisha’s age, because it has become a relatively new form of apologetics, mainly by Western Muslims, who feel a sense of shame that their Prophet might have consummated his marriage to a child. It is they who abuse the memory of the history of their religion by trying to twist it to fit a modern narrative. They tend to present that modern narrative, disregarding the historical consensus for the story of Muhammad and Aisha, to seem more presentable to a global audience that has come to understand child abuse for what it is; a cancer. So I will focus here on Hakeem’s highlighted point:

“Ayesha was an adult when the marriage was consummated”

– This is by no means an established Islamic truth (it certainly isn’t an established reality-based truth). In fact, according to muslim.org, the first person to suggest that Aisha may not have been 9 years old when the marriage was consummated, was Maulana Muhammad Ali, in the 1920s. For 1200+ years, this wasn’t even questioned. And from my reading, the new 20th Century interpretations are almost all based on very weak guessing games and conjecture, rather than the actual testimony of Aisha…. the testimony of whom Hakeem places great importance upon… until it doesn’t go his way. No evidence is progressed for why the testimony of Aisha is wrong. It’s just ignored, despite the fact that the well respected and authentic source sahih al-Bukhari is quite clear on the matter:

“Narrated Aisha:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became All right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234:

– And in fact, again, in sahih al-Bukhari:

“Narrated Hisham’s father:
Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married ‘Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.”
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236.

– If these verses are considered to be entirely wrong by the apologists, why is everything else supposedly collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari not considered just as questionable? Indeed, Hakeem himself, in his article references al-Bukhari and tells us that only a “white misogynist” (why race has anything to do with misogyny, is beyond me) would disregard the testimony of Aisha, and then goes on to use her testimony in al-Bukhari to support his point. He then completely ignores her testimony when she gives her actual age (he must be a white supremacist). Not only that, but Muhammad al-Bukhari’s findings are confirmed by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, whose Hadith are considered second in authenticity only to al-Bukhari:

Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: “Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.”
Sahih Muslim 8:3310

– Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his wonderful Quranic commentary ‘Tafsir al-Tabari’ also appears fine with the age of Aisha at the point the marriage was consummated:

“I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old. Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me.”
Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 131

– The fact that Aisha was a young child is repeated through many more verses, including Abu Dawud 41:4915:

“Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. according to Bishr’s version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.””

– And again, in Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1877:

“It was narrated that: Abdullah said: “The Prophet married Aishah when she was seven years old, and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, and he passed away when she was eighteen.”

– Prize winning author Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri in his modern day biography of the Prophet ‘Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum’ writes:

“She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnèd woman in jurisprudence.”

– It takes some incredibly creative number games (or the usual… the interpretation must be wrong!) to attempt to dismiss the obvious, in order to appeal to a modern narrative. Hakeem is one of those seemingly embarrassed by the age of Aisha when his Prophet married and consummated the marriage to his young bride. Hakeem’s article is a mess of inconcise arguments from “She wasn’t a child!” to “It was fine to marry children back then!” to “omg why aren’t you focusing on how great Aisha was?” Look:

“Ayesha was outspoken, powerful, and witty; certainly not the type of woman who people would see as a victim. This utter demolishing of such a fallacious trope demonstrated by Ayesha’s life leads to imperial feminists slandering, degrading, and misrepresenting her story.”

– So that’s “white supremacists”, “white misogynists”, “patriarchal white men”, and “imperial feminists”. Meaningless ad hom attacks. Hakeem the psychologist has now apparently decided he knows “the type of woman who people would see as a victim”, presumably the opposite of outspoken, powerful and witty.

It is absolutely right, when talking about a man considered the ideal human being, whose life must be replicated as best as possible, to thoroughly critique and understand that life. This cannot be escaped by glossing over it, focusing on something entirely different – like Aisha’s ability in war or her later political prowess – or attacking anyone who does bring up the uncomfortable narrative of the marriage and consummation, as “imperialists” or “white supremacists”. It isn’t good enough.

As it turns out, I do quite like Aisha. She seems to have been incredibly rebellious, supremely well educated and echoes suspicions we non-believers share with regard the questionable times the Prophet has ‘revelations’ coinciding with his own personal desire for women:

Narrated Aisha: I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, “Can a lady give herself (to a man)?” But when Allah revealed: “You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).” I said (to the Prophet), “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”
Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311

– Sarcasm at its finest! And I completely agree with her. She was certainly impressive, outspoken, witty and suspicious, and rightfully so, given that Sura 66 of the Qur’an exists for no other reason than to threaten the Prophet’s wives with hellfire usually reserved for us terrible Atheists. Never one to miss an opportunity to speak degradingly and violently against those of us who don’t believe, the same Sura 66 insists that the Prophet should “deal sternly” with us because “Hell will be their home”. It then goes on to note specific women currently in hell, in order to ensure Aisha and Hafsa toe the line and allow their husband to continue his conquest of slave girls.

Whilst Aisha’s strength in suspicion and outspokenness, and her dedication to women’s education must be taken into account for discussions around Aisha as a person according to Islamic accounts and women in Islam today; her achievements and historical importance do not apply to a debate around the ‘objective moral anchor’ that Islam claims through the life of its Prophet especially when it concerns the vulnerable. It is a separate discussion, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when child marriage in Islamic states continue to this day.

But we must also note that in late antiquity, child marriage was not confined to Islam. Child marriage was common across the World, in Europe too, and lasted until very recently. It is unfair for non-Muslims to focus on the Prophet Muhammad whilst ignoring the vast majority of the rest of the very Patriarchal planet for the past few thousand years. It was a planet (and still is) ruled by men, for men. It is no surprise that Holy Texts reflect that. But it isn’t the context of the time that is the debate here, it is the enshrining of the context of one time period, for all subsequent time periods, through the life and deeds of one man confined by that time period, and presenting it as universal “truth”. That simply cannot be justified.

Indeed, if you absolutely believe that a text that anchors ‘right and wrong’ to a single geographical location at a single point in time, is the unchangeable word of truth, requires the belief that everything in that text is infallible, that the God who spoke those words exists across the context of all time periods did not consider it important to let the Prophet know that marrying and having sex with children might be wrong. This is uncompromisable to believers, and that is when dogma becomes dangerous. Given that a perfect God must know in the 7th Century, that which we in the 21st Century now understand about the horrific psychological effects of child abuse, why would He insist on intervening with Sura 66 to sort out the Prophet’s love life…. but not intervene to let his followers know the damage caused by child abuse? From an Atheist point of view, Muhammad cannot be condemned through 21st Century specs. The concept of anchored morality to one specific point in time…. absolutely can be condemned.


The importance of Moses

August 15, 2013

529px-Moses_Pleading_with_Israel_(crop)

It is difficult to over exaggerate the importance of Moses to the narratives of the three major religions. The Talmud refers to the Pentateuch as the ‘Book of Moses’. Jesus mentions Moses’ supposed Prophecy if the Gospels are to be believed. The Qur’an speaks of the exodus as if historical fact, with Moses (Musa) being a key Prophet for the faith. All three rely on his existence, and his deeds. All three rely on the story of the Exodus. If the stories of Moses & the exodus fall down, all three major faiths fall down with it.

It is of course obvious, that the first five books of the Bible contain massive inconsistencies and errors. This in itself is not enough to dismiss the entire text, given that it isn’t considered the exact word of God (as the Qur’an is) but it is enough to question the legitimacy of the claim that the first five books were penned by one man; Moses. It has been the opinion of most scholars for around the past century, that the first five books were written by multiple authors. There has been disagreement over how many authors there may have been, when they were composed, when they were edited and put together. Despite the disagreements, it is generally accepted that multiple hands are at work with the first five books.

The Yahwist source (known as Source J, and named so because it refers to God as ‘Yahweh’ – Jehovah – some argue that this source was produced in the 6th Century BCE as a prologue to Deuteronomistic history covering Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) places Moses as someone only able to stop God’s plagues upon Egypt. God is solely responsible. Moses, the intermediary. Whereas, the Elohim source (Source E, named so because it refers to God as ‘Elohim’) suggests that Moses was someone who openly threatened Pharaoh, and was himself responsible for bringing about the plagues. Both sources were written centuries after Moses supposedly lived.

The contradictions begin right at the start of Genesis, and proceed from there. The contradictions are actually two versions of the same story. For example, the order of creation in Genesis 1 is: plants, animals, man & woman together. Whereas, the order of creation in Genesis 2 is: man, plants, animals, woman.

So, if we can discount one Jewish/Christian myth of Moses, what about the others? Well, the most notable story is the Exodus out of Egypt. It is this story that places Moses at epicentre of Judaism, and therefore Christianity, and later, Islam. Without this, Judaism falls to the ground, Jesus’ mention of Moses in the Gospels, is irrelevant, and the Qur’an appears as nothing but a plagiarised version of the other two.

The supernatural elements of the claims about Moses certainly have no evidence. There is no evidence to suggest that a large amount of Israelites crossed a parted Red Sea, no Egyptian source that ever mentions Israelites enslaved in Egypt who later escaped. In fact, no Egyptian source mentions an enslaved Israelite population at all. There is also absolutely nothing to suggest the plagues took place. No evidence of the mass genocide of first born Egyptian sons.

We can of course accept that the supernatural elements were invented to give divine aspect, thus solidifying a story for the purpose of group solidarity and power, in much the same way as the later – more creative – stories of the Prophet Muhammad developed in order to solidify a new Arab Empire.

On a side note, one of the supernatural elements of the story – that of the genocide of first born Egyptian sons commonly known as Passover – always seemed to me to be a particularly vile ‘celebration’. There seems to be an odd obsession with linking death, to salvation within Christianity and Judaism. I have never been able to understand why Jesus needed to die, in order to absorb the sins of humanity. Where is the connection between the two? Why must Egyptian children be murdered, in order to free Israelites? I am delighted that Passover isn’t based on historical fact

The situation though, seems to suggest that even the more historically ‘believable’ aspects of the story lack any sort of evidence. Archaeologists have all but given up searching for evidence of a mass exodus of Israelites out of Egypt. There is nothing that even slightly suggests it ever happened. Ze’ev Hertzog, an Israeli archaeologist says:

“The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century [BCE]—of a history that never happened.”

Similarly, renowned archaeologist Israel Finkelstein says:

“Modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world…repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the Sinai peninsula…yielded only negative evidence, not even a single shred , no structure, not a single house, no trace of an ancient encampment…there is simply no evidence at the supposed time of the Exodus.”

The traditional date set for the exodus at 1450bc (set, due to the mention in Kings of 480 years before the founding of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem) conflicts with Biblical description of just how the Israelites were put to work years before the exodus, here:

Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
– Exodus 1:11

– The name Rameses was used by Egyptian Pharaohs, though the first to use these conflicts with the dates given for the supposed building of the city of Raamses. As Kenneth Kitchen points out:

The first of these, Ramesses I, reigned only sixteen months and built no cities. None of the rest founded major cities either, with but one exception. He was Ramesses II, grandson of I, who was the builder of the vast city Pi-Ramesse A-nakhtu, “Domain of Ramesses II, Great in Victory,” suitably abbreviated to the distinctive and essential element “Ra(a)mses” in Hebrew.

Ramesses II reigned from 1279–1213 BC. Two hundred years after the exodus, and even longer after the Bible suggests the Israelite slaves built the city. Ramesses II’s body was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but is now in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum…. not at the bottom of the ocean after the parted Red Sea engulfed him.

The site “Islamic Awareness” also comes to the conclusion – through Qur’anic inquiry – that the Pharaoh of the exodus (as well as at the time of Moses’ birth) was Ramesses:

“In conclusion, the Qur’anic presentation of the Pharaoh of the Exodus is internally consistent and fits well with the extant egyptological data. This is also in line with the earlier studies by Hamidullah[87] and Fatoohi et al.[88] who have arrived at similar conclusions, albeit using less exhaustive and sometimes shaky evidence, that the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt before the birth of Moses until the Exodus and his (i.e., Pharaoh’s) death was Ramesses II.”

– And despite their thorough discrediting of the traditional Biblical narrative, “Islamic Awareness” offer no evidence for an exodus during the time of Ramesses. They also do not mention how Ramesses II actually died; at the ripe old age of 90, with terrible arthritis and hardened arteries… not drowned at sea, as the Qur’an claims.

The exodus would have been perhaps the most calamitous moment in Egyptian history (with the exception of Augustus’ annexation) The Biblical narrative states that:

37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside women and children.
38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
– Exodus 12:37-38

– To put this into perspective, the English city of Manchester has a population under 600,000. Less people live in Manchester than the population of Israelite men (not including women & children) supposedly breaking away from Egypt. When we include women and children, we can guess of a number higher than 1,000,000. At around the time of the exodus, Egypt’s population hit around 3 million people. This means, that around 33% of the population of Egypt escaped from a state of captivity, without any record of them ever existing.

The Amarna letters dated to the mid-1300s bc, make no mention of any huge slave revolt or inevitable economic meltdown that a 1,000,000+ slave revolt would have caused. The Amarna letters are unique, in that they are 382 diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets from that very specific period of Egyptian history. Fourteen correspondence with the Babylonians, more to the Syrians, Hatti, and Lebanon. None mention Israelite slaves or a mass revolt.

The website “Answers in Genesis” tries to argue that the Israelites didn’t just build Pi-Ramesses, but also built the Pyramids. David Down, the author of the article, and apparent archaeologist says:

“When we take the history and chronology of the Bible as written, we find that it makes eminent sense of the archaeological evidence. The pyramid builders were not people who had evolved from animals over millions of years. Rather, they were once part of an advanced civilization which built an imposing tower that soared over the plains of Babylon (Genesis 11), a people descended from a family that disembarked from the 15,000-ton ocean-going Ark (Genesis 6–8). We still do not know exactly how they accomplished all their engineering feats in ancient Egypt, but we can be sure that a people who were less than 30 generations from Adam had incredible intellectual skills.”

– It is difficult to know where to begin on such a ridiculous paragraph, but what strikes me as being at the heart of this piece, is that Down takes for granted the idea that the Pyramids were built by slaves. This is a myth. It is handed to us by Greek historian Herodotus, who claimed the Pyramid builders were slaves originally, but modern archaeology tells us that the Pyramid builders were in fact, paid labourers. Ex-director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, Dieter Wildung says:

“The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood.”

– Many of the workers who died during the construction of the Pyramids, were buried with honour, by the site, something that would not have been offered to slaves. Slaves did not build the Pyramids. Israelite slaves, descended from a family on an ark, certainly didn’t build the Pyramids.

The ‘Torah’ relies on the story of Moses for credibility with regard its laws, handed down by God, to Moses. If Moses did not pen these laws, and if multiple sources over time penned these laws, then it stands to reason that they came from already established systems of law. Around 3200BC there existed a tribe of people who lived in Egypt called the Kemet. They seem to have been a civilisation who lived a rather advanced existence, just slightly before the Early Dynastic period, and so predating Pharaoh Narmer who is identified as the man responsible for uniting the different tribes of Egypt, thus becoming known as the first Pharaoh of Egypt. The unified Egypt incorporated ideas and beliefs from the tribes that it unified, one of which was the Kemet concept of “Ma’at“. Ma’at was the principle used as a guide on law, morality, truth, and spirituality that was needed to help unify Egypt. The principle was depicted as a Goddess – also called Ma’at – who was said to be in control of the stars, the sky, law, and men. They deified the concept of Ma’at. She was essentially the main God. The guiding principles of Ma’at were set out in what is known as the 42 Declarations of Purity. Of those, 10 of which can be found in the Commandments handed to Moses. Or, possibly, given that Egypt had long been a force in Canaan and the surrounding area, by the 20th century BCE, the influence of those basic principles enshrined in Ma’at; principles that lived on in Ancient Egypt, reached the Israelites, who simply appropriated much of it for themselves.

Judaism relies on the story of the exodus for its origins. Christianity relies on the historicity of Moses for the very fact that Jesus himself mentions Moses as if a historically accurate figure from the Old Testament:

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
Matthew 19:8

Indeed, if the first five books of the Bible are not written by Moses, then Jesus is completely wrong:

45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.
47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

– Christianity, and the claim of Jesus as a fulfilled Prophecy from Deuteronomy 18:15-22 among others, relies solely on not only the existence of Moses, but his penning at least some of either Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, if not all of it. And yet, we now know that those five books were penned by different authors, at vastly different times.

Similarly, the Qur’an, a book supposedly the exact, uncompromising, completely accurate word of Allah mentions the story of Moses, as if historical truth:

Then we sent after them (the messengers) Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they disbelieved in them; so see what the end of the corrupters was (7.103). Moses said: “O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of all peoples (7.104). It is a duty on me to say nothing about Allah but the truth; I have come to you with clear proof from your Lord, therefore send with me the Children of Israel” (7.105).
Sura Al-A’raf

– This suggests that either Moses’ people escaped from Egypt, left absolutely no trace, and their captors wrote nothing of them, or even acknowledged their existence until God mentions it to Muhammad thousands of years later. Or, the Qur’an is not the word of God, and was instead used as a way to anchor the new Arab empire to a religion that was strengthened by the name of already established mythical names and events. Indeed, later Hadith tell us that Muhammad upon his Night Journey visited heaven, and met Moses. The reliability of both the Qur’an and Hadith, and so, Islam’s claim on Jerusalem, whither away to nothingness, if the story of the exodus is false, which is appears to be.

There seems to be very little reason to believe Moses achieved what the Holy books claim he achieved. It is as good as certain that there was no vast exodus out of Egypt; the underpinnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam fall at their most basic hurdle. If the exodus didn’t happen, then Christianity stole it from Judaism and fabricated the words of Jesus in an attempt to confirm the Prophecies of Moses. Similarly, if the exodus didn’t happen, early Muslims must have appropriated the story for themselves, added a few bits, subtracted a few bits, but ultimately the point remains the same. Therefore, the first five books of the Bible – written by different people, at different times, for different purposes – are the most important aspects of the three major religions.

Collective enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, and their subsequent break from bondage, appears not to have ever occurred. The supernatural elements of the story can therefore be equally as dismissed as fantasy. It is more likely that Canaan slowly became Israel, incorporating Semites from Egypt, with stories of their own, crafting a new narrative for a new people. All civilisations have their creation myths. Moses was a key name to this, much like Romulus was a key name to the mythical creation of Rome. Whether Moses existed historically, may never be determined, but what is becoming increasingly obvious is that the stories attributed to Moses from the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an, are all fabrications.


Searching for Jesus: ‘Antiquities’ of Josephus.

April 3, 2013

flavius-josephus

Outside of the New Testament (which undoubtedly contains notable forgeries; most of the letters of Paul, for example) there appear no mentions of Jesus by which we can establish who he was, what he said, or in fact, whether he actually existed in the first place. Whilst there are no sources, apologists tend to be adamant that there are. Most notably, the writings of Josephus. And so I thought i’d address the Josephus source here, in three parts. Josephus’ Book 18 of his work ‘The Antiquities of the Jews‘, followed by the early Christian writer ‘Eusebius‘, onto Antiquities ‘Book 20‘, ending on my own thoughts. Each ‘part’ is highlighted relevantly, for convenience.

Book 18:
The passage from Book 18 of ‘Antiquities‘, often cited as evidence, is referred to as “Testimonium Flavianum“, or simply “the Testimonium“, and it is this:

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”

– Pretty conclusive. But if we read it carefully, there are problems immediately.

Firstly, Josephus was not a Christian. He was a devout Jew. His writings are important in the history of Judaism, they show Josephus to be fully committed to his faith. His Grandfather lived around the same time as Herod, in Judea. His father lived during the time of Jesus, in Jerusalem. Josephus writings about his father, make no mention of the apparent shockwaves Jesus was sending through Jerusalem when he first arrived, according to Matthew:

“The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.”

– Apparently Josephus’ father, who lived through this ‘uproar‘ didn’t mention it to his son. All the miracles, the huge following, the darkness that covered the land for hours following Jesus’ crucifixion…. not one mention from Josephus in his history of the Jewish people, despite writing much less impressive, and far more mundane accounts of life for Jews in Jerusalem. So, already alarm bells are ringing that he would suddenly, 60 years later, write an extremely brief, yet extraordinary claim on the divinity of someone that as a Jew, he doesn’t believe to be divine in the first place. In fact, make any claim on the existence of Jesus at all, given his silence on the subject for over half a century.

Josephus wrote many works on Judaism. A faith that denies the divinity of Jesus. By all accounts, the divinity of Jesus – central to Christianity – is not central, nor has any more relevance to the life of Josephus, nor his writings, than the one passing, paragraph above. And yet within that paragraph, Josephus writes like he’s a devout Christian apologist. He accepts that Jesus died, and rose from the dead. He calls him “the Messiah“, he refers to his teachings as ‘the truth‘, he accepts that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. This is not a story a Jewish writer would be perpetuating.

Every other ‘Prophet‘ of Judaism, are presented in ‘Antiquities‘ as great Philosophical leaders (to help appeal to Pagan Rome at the time). Josephus though, places Jesus above all of them, as not only a great Philosophical teacher, but also divine, the Messiah, the fulfilment of all earlier Prophecies. It would seem from that passage, that Josephus is very, very Christian.

It is the early Christian writers who linked Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament, in order to ‘prove‘ his divinity. The story of Herod and the murder of the innocents mentioned in nowhere but the Gospel Matthew, which concludes the story with:

“Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.”

– This Gospel quite obviously attempts to link Jesus with the apparent Prophecies of the past. Josephus then, appears to agree with the Gospels. Josephus, a Jewish man who mentions Jesus divinity nowhere else, nor does it affect the way he lives his life, nor is he a Christian; apparently believes Jesus is the divine Son of God, fulfilling the Prophecies of the Jewish Prophets. He concurs entirely with Christian writers at the time.

Secondly, ‘Antiquities‘ was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Jesus supposedly died during the reign of Tiberius. Between Tiberius and Domitian, we see the three year reign of my favourite Emperor, Caligula. We see the thirteen year reign of Claudius, the thirteen year reign of Nero, the year that saw Emperor’s Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the ten year reign of Vespasian, the two year reign of Titus, and finally the fifteen year reign of Domitian; under whom the ‘Antiquities‘ was completed, in the last year or two of his reign. So, that’s a full nine Emperors, and around 60+ years after Jesus death. This does not count as evidence. Especially given how wide spread Christianity had become, and how much of a threat it was perceived, even as far before Domitian as the reign of Nero. Josephus himself, was born after Jesus supposedly died. The best you could say is, if it is his work, Josephus was apparently told the story, and convinced it must be true. Hearsay. Nothing more.
This is not a valid source of evidence for proof of the life of Jesus.

And thirdly, and most importantly…. it would appear that most historians agree that either the entire above paragraph is a forgery, or it is a genuine verse of Josephus, with the more ‘Christian‘ parts added later. I place myself in the “the entire passage is a forgery” camp.

For example, the passage uses the phrase “a wise man” to refer to Jewish figures throughout history, like Solomon. Never, does he use the term to refer to anyone outside of the scope of Judaism. Most other leaders around that time, are referred to negatively. The philosophical figures, for Josephus, are all those of Judaism.

The beginning of the next sentence, that directly follows the above passage is:

“About the same time, another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.”

– What an odd line to follow such a positive passage about a wonderful, wise, Messiah, and a band of loving followers. Yet, if we take the passage out entirely, the line of the new paragraph flows perfectly from the passage preceding it, which discusses slayings, and Jewish misery. Go look for yourself…here.. Chapter 3, verses 2,3 and 4. It becomes obvious that verse 3 (the Jesus passage) is completely out of place.

Not only that, but it isn’t until the 4th Century that any Christian mentions the Jesus passage by Josephus. Three hundred years pass by, and not one notable Christian scholar, including Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Origen, Justin Martyr, Clement, Tertullian and Methodius – all commentators on Josephus, mention this passage at all.

Origen actually mentions Book 18, but doesn’t refer to the passage at all. Did he genuinely not consider it important? Well, there is actually something more telling than that in Origen’s words from Book 1 of Contra Celsus:

“For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless–being, although against his will, not far from the truth–that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ)–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice”

– Here Origen quite openly states that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. So, we can confidently suggest that the passage in question was not there, when Origen was reading it. So where did it come from?

Eusebius:
The first mention of the Jesus passage, comes from a man the Church refer to as the Father of Ecclesiastical History; Eusebius. He was a member of the First Council of Nicea, and a friend and biographer of the Emperor Constantine. He also happens to have been one of the most distrusted, and fraudulent Christian historians in history. The great Cultural Historian Jacob Burckhardt says of Eusebius:

“the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity”

It isn’t as if Eusebius would disagree with that analysis of himself, given that in Chapter 13 of Eusebius’s own book ‘Praeparatio evangelica‘, he states:

“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”

– Eusebius, in his role as courtier and biographer to Constantine, along with his work with the Council of Nicea, was a political propagandist of the Constantinian era. He writes during Constantine’s lifetime, that the Emperor had grown up around Christians. After the Emperor dies, suddenly Eusebius tells us that Constantine had a divine vision of the Cross, which led to his instant conversion. Propagandist, and nothing more. He helped to shape Christianity within that framework. And it would seem, he is responsible for the Josephus passage above, given that no other Christian scholar appears to have noted it before him. It all begins with Eusebius.

Eusebius is also the first person to record the legend of the King of Edessa writing letters to, and getting replies from, Jesus himself. Eusebius also claimed to have not only found the letters, but translated the letters into Greek. They can be seen here. The letters themselves use language from Jesus, that he absolutely doesn’t use when we look at the Gospel. In the letters, Jesus, for some odd reason, wishes to emphasise that he is separate from God the Father:

“I went out of My Father, who is in Me like I am in Him! However, the Father is the Highest, because He is My Love, My Will.”

– Coincidentally, this letter appears at a time when the Trinity was a hotly debated topic among the early Church, and Eusebius happened to believe that Jesus was separate from God, but also ‘from’ God. They were different, but attached. The Son was subordinate to the Father, according to Eusebius. Much like Jesus seems to be emphasising in the letter above – “The Father is the Highest” – conveniently found, and translated, by Eusebius. Similarly, in his work “Church History”, Eusebius is very anti-Jew. He dedicates a lot of time to writing about how awful the Jews are. For example:

“that from that time seditions and wars and mischievous plots followed each other in quick succession, and never ceased in the city and in all Judea until finally the siege of Vespasian overwhelmed them. Thus the divine vengeance overtook the Jews for the crimes which they dared to commit against Christ.”

– And so, can this hatred for Jews be linked in any way to the words of Jesus? Well, not if you look at the Gospels. But, if you look at the letters conveniently found and translated by Eusebius, we get:

“However, be steadfast in all, what you will gradually hear of Me from the wicked Jews, who soon will deliver Me into the hands of the hangman.”

– Jesus seems to confirm most of Eusebius’s views. How convenient.

If we are to say that these letters are forgeries (which pretty much every historian accepts, and it is quite obvious, they are forgeries, most probably by Eusebius for purposes of propaganda) then we cannot trust anything Eusebius says. Especially his reference to a Josephus passage that no other preceding Christian scholar seems to have noticed. Therefore, it is not a mention of Jesus.

Book 20:
The other apparent mention of Jesus by Josephus, is Book 20 of Antiquities:

“But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus, the Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned. But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

– There are marks that certain changes have been made to this passage, though the passage itself is not completely invented, like the passage in Book 18. The change here, is the use of the term ‘Brother of Jesus, the Christ‘. If we take “Brother of Jesus, the Christ” out of this passage, it suddenly makes sense to the proceeding lines, which end:

…… and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

– If we take this story at face value, it seems to not make much sense. After James is killed, the Jewish elders are very angry, and demand Ananus, his condemner, have the High Priesthood taken away from him, and given to Jesus….. the son of Damneus.

Why would Jewish elders care so much about the Christian Lord’s brother condemned to death? It makes no sense, and this is especially true, given that the death of James does not correlate with early Christian writings on how he supposedly died. It’s a completely different story. It’s a different James, and a different Jesus. The phrase “brother of Jesus, the Christ” was added later.

My Thoughts:
The problem for Christianity is, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was incredibly famous during his own lifetime:

“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

– And so you would expect that someone might have made some sort of reference to Jesus at the time. There might be some contemporary source, given how famous he apparently was. And yet, we have nothing. Nothing by Jesus, nothing written of Jesus during his lifetime, by any one. It isn’t as if we’re short of historical sources from that time period and that area, either. It’s just, none of them mention Jesus. As noted in my previous article, Philo of Alexandria – an impressive contemporary historian and cultural commentator in Jesus’ time – wrote nothing about Jesus, despite living in and writing about the exact area Jesus was in, throughout the life of Jesus. No mention of miracles, no mention of ‘uproar’ caused as Jesus entered Jerusalem, no mention of the many ‘Saints’ who rose from the dead and appeared to many people in Jerusalem, according to the Gospel of Matthew:

“The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

– No mention of anything mentioned in the Gospels. Similarly, nothing mentioned by Josephus can reasonably back up anything suggested in the Gospels pertaining to the life of Jesus. And even if it could, it would be hearsay, based on the fact that Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus.

I am therefore led to believe, given the veritable lack of evidence, that Josephus does not provide a mention of Jesus at all.


Does God Exist? The importance of Step One.

March 15, 2013

Michelangelo-Sistine-Chapel-Adam-

It occurred to me recently, that whilst I often write articles explaining my displeasure at religion as a political and social force, as well as questioning key figures and documents in the history of such religions; I have never explained why I don’t accept the premise that a God exists. It is the most fundamental of questions for an Atheist to answer. Why don’t I believe that a God exists? I will try my best to argue my points in this article.

Firstly, it is important to note what Atheism is. There are many misinterpretations of the word. Atheism, is the rejection of Theism. Theism asserts that a God exists. Atheism simply looks at the evidence for the position held by Theists, and rejects it as unsubstantial. We do not make an assertion ourselves. There is a vast gulf between the phrase “I don’t believe in a God” and “I believe there isn’t a God”. One is a positively held belief, the other is a rejection of a positively held belief. As an Atheist, I simply hear “I believe in God” and reject it due to lack of evidence. I don’t claim to believe a God exists or doesn’t exist. I simply say there is no reason to believe a God does exist. It is the rejection of belief in a God, rather than a belief in no God.

Secondly, The burden of proof is not on me to disprove the existence of a God, because it is logically impossible to do so, if the assertion being made, does not bring with it falsifiable evidence. It would be equally as impossible to ask a person to prove that there isn’t a monkey sitting on my head, that turns invisible whenever someone else looks at me. They would not logically be able to disprove it, because it is an extraordinary assertion that I have made without the use of falsifiable evidence. The burden of proof is lodged firmly with me in respect of the invisible monkey. If I am to make an extraordinary claim that defies the laws of nature, then I should provide tangible evidence that can be tested and falsified. If I don’t, then the claim requires no inquiry and can be rejected straight out. It certainly should have no authority over the World (hence, the superiority of Secularism).

And thirdly, we could get into a deep discussion about what is meant by ‘God’ and that without a thorough definition to start with, the whole inquiry is meaningless. So I’ll simply say that I will approach two arguments that are usually put forward for the existence of a ‘creator’; the Deistic Kalam/Cosmological argument, the Theistic objective morality argument, and also my own opinion on steps a Deist is required to take in order to move the argument forward to Theism.

Cosmological Argument:
William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis among others, often cite the old Cosmological Kalam argument to try to prove the existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
You will note several problems with this argument immediately. The phrase “the begins to exist” is newly added to the argument. It used to be simply “Everything has a cause”. Well, then, if everything includes itself, then we must say that a creator must also have a cause. And so the phrase “that begins to exist” was added. This is intense circular reasoning when examined closely. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t “begin” to exist, which suggest they’ve also existed, which exempts them from the entire argument, but just assuming something can exist, without beginning to exist… i.e… a creator. The argument already presumes a God, whilst trying to prove a God. To put it simply, Point 1 can thus be rewritten as:
1. Everything, except God, has a cause.
Which means point 2. can be rewritten as:
2. The Universe (but not God) began to exist.
Causality is linked necessarily to time. So the Kalam Cosmological argument, by including the phrase “that begins to exist” suggests that something can exist outside of time and so have no cause, without actually providing evidence for it. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. They fail to convince me.

Deism to Theism is quite a leap. If you are to claim the existence of a God personal to your religion; let’s say Christianity, and you are to use it in the public sphere to help define sexual health policy, or marriage policy, or any other sort of power over the lives of others….. then it seems to me that you have three steps to take before such authority can be taken as legitimate. You must prove…. absolutely prove….. the Universe has a creator. Step One is the most vital. Everything else follows from step one. So:

Step One:
You must prove that something can exist outside of the confines of time. If you use the Cosmological/Kalaam argument, as William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis tend to do a lot, as noted above, to apply human understanding of causality in order to prove the universe had a moment of creation…. then you must be consistent. According to human understanding, nothing can defy or exist outside of the confines of time. Space time is everything to us. It binds everything. We cannot jump in and out of time, and therefore we cannot say there is an ‘out of time’ in any meaningful way. We’d just be speculating.
To claim a creator that existed prior to the creation of everything – including time – you are suggesting that the creator exists outside of time, to have created time. This is quite the assertion, as we know of nothing that can defy or exist outside of time and this is because the idea is not falsifiable.
Stephen Hawking, writing in “The Grand Design” notes that time started at the moment of the Big Bang, alongside matter/energy. There was nothing before the Big Bang. No room for a creator of any sort. Whether I accept that there was ‘nothing’ before the big bang (could well have been an endless series of Big Bangs), or not, is irrelevant. Hawking may be wrong on that point, but he cannot be wrong that time existed at the point of matter/energy. Hawking proposes a model, consistent with the laws of quantum mechanics, that doesn’t require a Creator. M-Theory is making great strides in this direction. We need not fill a gap in our understanding with an absolute God, this is important to note. But to even begin to suggest the Theistic God of the Bible exists, you must prove that something can exist outside of time, in order to have created time. And then, you have to explain how something existing outside of time, can conceive of creating time, if it itself has no time in order to ‘conceive’ anything. Since we are ourselves limited to the confines of time, this is impossible to prove, it is not falsifiable, and so the first step in proving your God to be true, is always going to be incomplete. It is irrelevant whether you have a definition of the word ‘God’ or not, if you do not have proof that ‘existence’ does not require time. Everything else follows from Step One; ‘finely tuned for our existence’ follows from Step One. ‘Objectively Morality’ follows from Step One. Without fulfilling Step One, a Theist has nothing to go on.

Step Two:
Once you’ve proven that something can exist outside of time, you must prove that the being that created time, and the universe is all good, all loving, all seeing, all powerful. You must consider every other possible creator, and adequately reject it. Why not an all evil creator? Why not two, three, four, five creators? Or a creator that created the universe and then backed away? Why not a creator that created billions of universes, and doesn’t care too much for ours? Why not a creator whose last act before vanishing forever was to create everything? Given that humanity has endured 200,000 years of violent deaths, preventable poverty, coming close to joining the other 99% of species that have become so flippantly rejected by evolution and made extinct, where most of the Earth is uninhabitable yet populations still live within the regions….. how do you not reject or at least question an all loving, all good God? It seems to me, if we are to insist on a Creator, all loving and all good, are not attributes we can so easily assign. It seems that the horrors that natural selection has produced, are not indicative of an all loving and all good God. If we are to assume this was all done by design, and that now we have set rules, it would seem that we are simply a pawn in a rather violent game.

Let’s examine the story of Eden. It would seem that two humans were put on Earth and told not to question. Questioning leads us away from God. This immediately sets off alarm bells. Why shouldn’t we question? We would an all-loving, all-good God put a punishable restriction on knowledge? Suddenly the snake tempts man to eat from the tree of knowledge, and as a show of horrendously disproportionate punishment, God inflicts terrible suffering on all of mankind, for generations. Those generations did nothing wrong. Punishing the child for the mistake of the great, great, great, great grandfather seems to me to be radically immoral system of justice. And what sort of authority, other than a dictator, would punish for simply wishing to learn? To absolve this original sin – learning, God decides to brutally murder his son. I have no reason to believe that any ‘crime’ can be absolved, with a human sacrifice. It also seems odd to me that a God would give us a curious mind, a rational mind, a mind that thrives of knowledge and learning; and then punish us for using it, with such a vicious punishment. What a spiteful thing to do.
The faithful are going to have a very difficult time proving Step Two.

Step Three:
Once you have successfully proven that something can exist outside of the confines of time (impossible to do, given that humanity itself is confined to time) and you have proven that the creator is all loving, all good, cares about his creation and you’ve managed to disprove every other attribute that a creator could possibly have….. you then have to make the leap, and explain the leap between a creator – an Artistotelian prime mover – and the laws and rules that are enshrined in your particular book. I wish you all the luck in trying to prove that link. As argued before, I don’t accept the divinity, and even question the existence of the Biblical Jesus, and I am pretty certain that whilst Muhammad most certainly existed, he invented the entire Qur’an because there seems to be a suspiciously high number of verses pertaining to his life, and in particular, his sex life. Neither the Bible, nor the Qur’an are reliable at all. The Bible, for its vast historical inaccuracies and lack of evidence (we know there was no Exodus, for example) and the Qur’an for its hugely ambiguous and just out-right mistaken ‘scientific’ claims as well as the very dubious life of Muhammad and supposed ‘revelations’.

Only once you have proven beyond any doubt that something can exist outside of the confines of time and space in its own realm, and only once you have proven that that being in its own realm is all good, all loving, all seeing, and all powerful, and only once you’ve proven the direct link between that creator and your Holy Book…. can you reasonably say that God exists, or claim a system of ‘objective morality’. As it stands, the idea that a God exists has no basis in reality, or the laws of nature, and so the notion of ‘objective morality’ can only reasonably said to be a figment of the imagination of the faithful.

Objective Morality argument:
The Objective Morality argument is one cited often as a reason to believe in a God. I reject it.
Objective morality can only exist, if you have successfully proven (not Philosophically rationalised in your own mind) the existence of the God of your religion. And even then, objective morality has its problems. I would agree that based on Hamza Tzortzis’ understanding of objective morality, we Atheists don’t have it. I would go one further, and say, neither does Hamza. We must be clear what Theists mean by objective morality. They are moral truths, that are unquestionable and true regardless of the social group, or time period that humanity inhabits at that moment. They have not evolved alongside humanity as a survival tool linked to our ability to rationalise, they are innate, handed to us divinely and can never be changed, they preceded humanity. So, I am almost certain most Atheists and Theists would agree with my moral statement: It is morally wrong to slaughter innocent people… men, women and children, who have not done any wrong. However, If you are Christian, you would have to argue that that is not necessarily true (objective). According to 2 Samuel 15, in response to David’s census ordered by God (later we learn that it was Satan who ordered the Census, in First Chronicles, chapter 21), and that after David realised it was on Satan’s ordered, he apologises to God, but God isn’t pleased:

“So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.”

– 70,000 innocent people killed because David thought he’d sinned by taking a census. Must we therefore conclude that if God commits violent genocide for absolutely no reason, it is ‘good’? Not to mention the needless punishments all non-Christians face after the day of Judgement simply for not believing. This is genocide. It cannot reasonably be assumed as a book of objective good. It would seem to me that the God of the Bible violates rules that we would consider to be morally unacceptable, and abhorrent. If we are to accept that the God of the Bible is the perfect being, all good, then we must accept that our belief that it is immoral to kill innocent people unnecessarily, is wrong and we are in fact immoral for thinking so. This seems inconsistent to me.

But on a more fundamental level, it is illogical to claim objective morality based on ‘revealed’ texts. The very essence of revelation, is to one specific individual, and passed on to others, to every major religion. Mohammad was apparently given moral revelation, in a cave outside of Mecca, and then sporadically throughout his life – but only him. Therefore, the objective truth pertaining to morality, is objective to him only. To everyone else, it is secondary hear-say. It is taken on faith alone. No one is compelled to accept it, and therefore, it is subjective morality.

It is absolutely irrational to claim an objective anchor for your morality, when it is second, third, fourth hand ‘revelation’. So it is of course, ludicrous for anyone to suggest morality is anchored to religious texts. Not just for the limitations of revelation, and lack of anything even close to ‘proof’ on any of the above points, but also what those ‘revealed’ moral statements enforce at their core and that the majority of religious people, today wouldn’t dream of following or endorsing, because we know those “morals” to be wrong. If we are to accept that ‘God’ is timeless, then it logically follows that his system of right and wrong also be timeless. So let’s examine what that would mean for Islam.
I have argued previously that people who believe, cannot reasonably use the “place Muhammad in the context of his time” to defend his sexual relationship with a child. It is also damaging for their interpretation of ‘objective morality’.
If you are Muslim, then you believe that Muhammad was capable of receiving ‘revelation’ that changes the ‘context’ of the time period quite significantly, because it comes from a divine source that transcends ‘context’ of time. His life is dedicated to changing the ‘context of the time’, and yet the timeless God of Islam doesn’t see fit to reveal to Muhammad that having sex with a 9 year old girl is wrong, or that it might lead to Islamic Patriarchal societies in the future using this to justify lowering the age of consent? The ‘place it in the context’ of the time period argument, is a failure. If Muhammad can receive divine command that changes the context of the time, then Allah has no problem with 50 year old men having sex with 9 year old girls. It just isn’t on his list of cares. He seems more concerned with acquiescing to Muhammad’s request to pray facing Mecca. Allah dedicates an extraordinary amount of time to Muhammad’s sex life. If however, Muhammad isn’t divine. Then yes, he can be placed within the context of the time period, and we cannot judge him by today’s standards in that respect. The moment you accept that he is a Prophet who can receive divine revelation, that negates the ‘context of the time’ argument and seriously damages the ‘objective morality’ argument, because to most of us it would seem the God and the Prophet of the 7th Century, were pretty immoral.

The objective morality argument, along with the cosmological argument make up two key features of the often used arguments to attempt to provide proof for the existence of God. They both fail quite substantially at every hurdle. They don’t convince me.

My thoughts:
It is the mark of modesty to accept that which we simply don’t know. Theists claim to know. Atheists claim that we do not know everything, and that we mustn’t fill gaps prematurely. History tells us that where ever ‘God’ has been placed in gaps within the natural World, He doesn’t last long.

Belief in a God, I do not claim to be irrational. I think it has its practical uses and I think when it is used privately, providing hope and comfort at difficult times, it was and remains an essential part of our emotional development as a species. I don’t believe it has any place in public political debate and the shaping of policy, nor should it be taught as fact in school, and nor should a religion claim any piece of land as their own via divine right.

If you cannot prove that something can exist outside of time (Step One), then nothing else matters. Arguments predicated on objective morality are irrational without Step One. The Cosmological/Kalam arguments are irrelevant without Step One. And Step One, is not falsifiable, because human experience cannot transcend time. Therefore, for me, any argument for the existence of God cannot logically be made.

Humanity is naturally curious and inquisitive, as well as introspective (spiritual) and so it is no surprise that during our infancy as a species, at a time when we could not understand the natural World in any great detail, at a time when a rainbow seemed divinely inspired, when a sense of hierarchy aided our survival alongside our natural state of curiosity, that we would assume a higher power when we simply didn’t understand and to help establish rules by which to govern. Imagine not understanding plate tectonics, or even that a World outside of your tribal area exists, or that people elsewhere exist, whilst trying to explain thunder, lightening, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes without any scientific understanding. A higher power seems to be an almost inevitable social construct. Today is no different. We strive to understand, but we also prefer simple answers, and we all require guidance regardless of the form it takes. We want to feel acceptance, and a sense of hope. The promise of heavenly reward, or divine justice for wrongdoing is also a key factor in belief. We do not like the idea that humanity has no purpose. That we are just a brief blip on the fabric of time, with no direction, no design, no purpose. We are a species that searches for meaning in a meaningless universe. And yet we are brilliant. We are star dust that has existed for billions of years, and has developed the ability to rationalise our own existence. We are the universe experiencing itself. This is beautiful, without requiring a creator. In fact, the lack of design, the lack of creator makes it all the more awe-inspiring.


The Myth of the Unchanged Qur’an & Muhammad as a role model.

February 20, 2013

Quran_cover There appear to be two often repeated key romantic ideas used to add credit to the Islamic faith. The first, concerns highlighting the Prophet Muhammad as an ideal role model for humanity, and the second is the notion that the Qur’an, throughout its history, is the perfect, unchanged word of God. That whilst Christian and Jewish texts have been revised, and rewritten throughout history (this is true), the Qur’an has remained the pure, and perfect word of God and that it is so wonderfully written, no one could repeat the perfection of it. This myth is cemented into the minds of children at a very young age. It is unquestioned. It is provided as fact, and yet, it seems anything but fact when examined.

This is a long article, so I have tried to break it down into two parts, though they are just rough guides to the proceeding paragraphs.

Muhammad, Revelation, and Hadith:

We are told that Muhammad received the word of God, through sporadic revelations throughout his life. He used scribes, we are told, to write some revelation down, and others memorised parts. Nevertheless, we have no documented evidence of this or anything relating to the Qur’an from that time period, other than hear say (some will point to the odd parchment here and there, that definitely aren’t verified, nor have any strong claim to be of value. I once saw a museum in Istanbul claim to have a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, and the staff of Moses, I dismiss that for the same reason). This is entirely based on trust. We must trust that the Qur’an we have today, is word for word, that which Muhammad received. There is no evidence for this, other than tradition and sentiment. Muslims are very good at repeating the phrase… “The Prophet said this….” without actually providing falsifiable evidence that what they are saying, was in fact something spoken by the Prophet, rather than something someone made up years later.

The reason written versions are largely irrelevant, is because firstly, Muhammad and his followers were for the most part, illiterate, and the ones that could write, only had at their disposal a defective (incomplete) script, leading to questions of pronunciation. It had to be memorised, to preserve its integrity. It strikes me as incredibly bad planning on the part of the Islamic God, to reveal his demands and divine plan for mankind, to illiterate people with no complete script (other civilisations at the time, did have complete scripts), spoken by very few people, whose best hope of preserving it, was through memory…. of which, many forgot:

The Hadith suggests that some of those claiming to have memorised it, at times forgot:

We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara’at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it:” If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.” And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it:” Oh people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise” (lxi 2.) and “that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection”

– Whole Sura’s have been forgotten! And therefore, those who were entrusted to remember it, cannot be trusted. They could recount wrong, they could change words, they could just invent whatever they wish. And again, it shows complete lack of planning on the part of Allah.

But don’t worry! If you do forget a verse, a new vaguely similar verse will be handed to you.

“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Qur’an 2:106”

– I shall come back to Muhammad inventing new revelations when it suited him later in the article. The idea of losing a verse, and replacing it is not unique to Islam. Joseph Smith of Mormon fame, when his manuscript was stolen, and asked to match it word for word, if it truly were the divine, unchanging word of God…. he said he didn’t have to, because the old version was now tainted with the Devil, and so he would receive a new and similar revelation, but not word for word, conveniently. It is of course, ridiculous. And in both Muhammad’s and Smith’s case; the resulting revelations include power over others and unique sexual ‘rights’ for the ‘Prophet’.

Secondly, Muhammad was illiterate. God has chosen to give his message to someone who is illiterate, whilst proscribing war knowing those who memorise it might be wiped out? If He wishes his religion to spread, revealing it to an illiterate in the hope that he might memorise it, doesn’t seem too wise, and will inevitably lead to people not accepting it.

Remember, revelation is only revelation to the person receiving it. To everyone else, it is hear say, there is no reason to believe what another tells you as fact, especially when it lacks all evidence. We have no reason to believe that Muhammad didn’t just make it up. We also have no way to know that the words written down, were the words of Muhammad; he was dead by the time the words were written. We have no way to know that the writers didn’t just make it up. There is no surviving written Qur’anic text for almost 100 years after the death of Mohammad. Again, to believe the Qur’an is the perfect, unchanged word of God, Muslims have to place their trust in 100 years of passing down words, followed by over 1000 years of interpretations and copies of the text.
The belief, is based solely on trust.

Muhammad himself seems capable of having ‘revelations’ whenever he wished. And then replacing them with new ‘revelations’ for new reasons.. We know that in order to appease Polytheists who didn’t seem receptive to the idea of Muhammad as their new self assigned Prophet, Muhammad claimed that he had a revelation, insisting that under his new religion, the Polytheist Gods: Allāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt whom previously he had said weren’t allowed, were actually all real, and could be worshipped! HURRAH! But then, Muhammad decided that they weren’t real afterall. For this, he blamed Satan. Hence, the Satanic Verses. And there is the answer to “no one can produce anything like it”. Well, Satan did apparently.

There are then curious moments in the life and revelations of the Prophet, that certain things he desires, suddenly become divine revelations:

The Prophet prayed facing Bait-ulMaqdis (Jerusalem) for sixteen or seventeen months but he wished that his Qibla would be the Ka’ba (at Mecca). So Allah Revealed (2.144) and he offered ‘Asr prayers (in his Mosque facing Ka’ba at Mecca) and some people prayed with him. … (Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 13, Khan)

– Muhammad originally prays facing Jerusalem, but “wishes” he could pray toward Mecca. Suddenly, he gets a call from Allah, telling him he can now pray toward Mecca. Convenient.

It seems that Allah didn’t actually wish women to be veiled originally. But Muhammad’s friend Umar ‘wishes’ it, and suddenly Muhammad gets another call from Allah, and women are to be veiled for the most mundane reason:

And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.” So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed. (Qur’an 24:31)

And one need not even wonder where this nasty little verse, offering special sexual privileges to Muhammad came from:

Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom Allah had given you as booty; the daughters of your paternal and maternal uncles and of your paternal and maternal aunts who fled with you; and any believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet and whom the Prophet wishes to take in marriage. The privilege is yours alone, being granted to no other believer. (Qur’an 33:50, Dawood)

In the Hadith we see further changes to revelation, to suit Muhammad or his friends. Ibn Umm Maktum was a blind man, who later in life converts to Islam and becomes a friend of Muhammad. He takes exception to the idea that Muslims who sit at home rather than fight for their religion are not equals. And so, Bukhari tells us:

“When the Verse: “Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home)” (4.95) was revealed, Allah’s Apostle called for Zaid who wrote it. In the meantime Ibn Um Maktum came and complained of his blindness, so Allah revealed: “Except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame…” etc.) (4.95) (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, Book 60, Number 117)

– How convenient! And also, how weak of a God to not consider exceptions in the first place. He needs them pointing out to him?
Judging by certain revelations, that Muhammad received at times when it suited his own ‘wishes’ or those of his male friends, it is reasonable to suggest that the alternative to Muhammad as a Prophet, is that he concocted the entire thing, for purely selfish, misogynistic reasons. There are too many ‘revelations’ that are concerned with Muhammad’s personal life to be ignored or played off as a God that wished to offer a divine guide for the entire human race. This God is far too pre-occupied with satisfying Muhammad’s lust for women and power.

Here is a God that could be describing the wonder of Dinosaurs, or the mysterious beauty of the Event Horizon, or evolution through natural selection and random mutation, or the curvature of space time when a great mass is involved, or the spectacular insights offered by quantum physics. Instead, he chooses to spend much of his time, telling his Prophet who he personally is allowed to sleep with; turns out, it’s whomever he wishes at the time. Which is convenient.

We cannot reconcile the horrifying genocide of the 600 – 900 Bani Qurayza men who Muhammad personally demanded beheading, and in fact, helped to behead; with a ‘peaceful’ interpretation of Islam. What happened to the poor women of the tribe, whose husbands had now been so viciously slaughtered by such a violent warlord? According to “The Life of Muhammad” by Ibn Ishaq:

“Then the apostle sent Sa’d bin Zayd Al-Ansari brother of bin Abdul Ashhal with some of the captive women of Bani Qurayza to Najd, and he sold them for horses and weapons.”

– Sold into slavery. A Prophet of God, making money, out of selling captured women of men he has just slaughtered, into slavery…. and no intervention or revelation from ‘Allah’ saying “don’t do that”. Extremism is not a fringe element of Islam, or a misinterpretation… it is inbuilt into this ideology itself.

Muhammad is a contradictory character; he is entirely different in Medina, to his life in Mecca. He becomes violent, dictatorial, sex obsessed, polygamous and his words become forceful and threatening. When in Medina, noticing the Jews living there did not accept him as some new wondrous Prophet, he turns vicious, the Jewish population, understandably, are not exactly happy with the subtle threats:

The apostle assembled them in their market and addressed them as follows: “O Jews, beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon Quraysh and become Muslims. You know that I am a prophet who has been sent – you will find that in your scriptures and God’s covenant with you.” They replied, “O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for by God if we fight you, you will find that we are real men!” (Ibn Ishaq, 545)

Suddenly, and predictably, Muhammad gets ANOTHER call from God.

Say to those who disbelieve: “You will be vanquished and gathered to Hell, an evil resting place. You have already had a sign in the two forces which met”; i.e. the apostle’s companions at Badr and the Quraysh. “One force fought in the way of God; the other, disbelievers, thought they saw double their own force with their very eyes. God strengthens with His help whom He will. Verily in that is an example for the discerning.” (Ibn Ishaq, 545; Qur’an, 3:12-13)

He then finds a wonderfully convenient way to explain why Allah suddenly decides to change or replace verses in the Qur’an, when people start questioning Muhammad’s divine messages, suggesting he may in fact be a fraud:

“When We substitute one revelation for another – and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), – they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not. Surah 16.101″

– Basically; don’t question. Allah knows best. The Qur’an has changed…. because Allah himself (at moments that were convenient to Muhammad’s current situation in life) decides to change passages, apparently deciding the original ones weren’t right afterall. Surely a perfect being would get it right the first time? Surely, if you’re preparing to release the most important message in history, to the whole of mankind, you plan a little better than this?

But we should not be surprised by the violence. As well as threats, and death for apostasy… Muhammad manages to demand his message start spreading, by force, from childhood:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Command a boy to pray when he reaches the age of seven years. When he becomes ten years old, then beat him for prayer.” Abu Dawud 2:494

At the time, certain Jewish Medina citizens did not take kindly to this new violent man threatening and murdering his way through their mist. Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a poet, began mocking Muhammad and satirising him. And like a modern crime family Mafia Don, Muhammad gathers a few of his followers, and says:

“Who will kill Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf? He had maligned Allah, and His Messenger.”

– Ka’b bin Ashraf is then murdered; for insulting the delusions of the Prophet. And he wasn’t the only one to meet this fate, simply for disagreeing with the violent Prophet of Islam. Ibn an-Nawwahah was a rival Prophet. Muhammad, feeling threatened by a rival reacted badly, as is explained in a Hadith:

“I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: Were it not that you were not a messenger, I would behead you. But today you are not a messenger. He then ordered Qarazah ibn Ka’b (to kill him). He beheaded him in the market.”

A lovely little story recounts the tail of Uqba bin Abu Mu’ayt, a man who absolutely despised Muhammad. He wrote against him, he mocked, and he tried to fight the murderous advances of the Prophet. Eventually, Muhammad gets overly annoyed and orders his death, whilst Uqba begs for his life, and for his children. The heartless Muhammad, does not care.

When the apostle ordered him to be killed, Uqba said, “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?” [Muhammad’s reply] “Hell.” The man was put to death. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 458)

– So we see, the condemnation and murder of anyone who dares to mock, or even criticise this religion is not new, it didn’t begin with the death threats against Salman Rushdie nor the Danish Cartoonists. It is an inbuilt trait of the religion itself. It began with the Prophet. The enemy of free expression. This was not a peaceful man. He may indeed have been a great military leader and conqueror placed in the context of the time period, but this does not make him a great spiritual leader. And even if we place Muhammad in the context of the time period… which undoubtedly was a violent time, this ‘great’ Prophet did not rise above it as might be expected for a Prophet of the all-loving and all-knowing bringing a message of peace; no, he became a part of it. He spread his message, through fear and violence. This is not to be admired.

The sex life of Muhammad is a key theme for the Qur’an:

“O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her– specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; ”

– Basically, Muhammad, you’re free to sleep with whomever you want. Apparently this was a necessary revelation, from the overlord of the Universe. If this isn’t a key indication that the Qur’an was invented by a human man, i’m not sure what is. The point here, in relation to the Qur’an never changing, is that Muhammad simply invented revelations, when it suited him. Revelations pertaining to his sexual desires were delivered whenever he required it. If this is the basis of ‘morality’, it is truly horrifying.

The historical context is irrelevant, because for Muslims, the man in question is in contact with an angel of God. He is capable of receiving ‘revelation’ that changes the ‘context’ of the time period quite significantly, leading to a brand new empire based on a brand new religion. His life is dedicated to changing the ‘context of the time’, and yet God doesn’t see fit to reveal to him that having sex with a 9 year old girl is wrong, or that it might lead to Islamic Patriarchal societies in the future using this to justify lowering the age of consent? Saudi Arabia is not just a ‘Patriarchal’ society. Islam is a Patriarchal religion, clearly invented by men, for men.

The ‘place it in the context’ of the time period argument, is a failure. It is a weak attempt to defend a man who cannot be defended. If Muhammad can receive divine command that changes the context of the time, then Allah has no problem with 50 year old men having sex with 9 year old girls. It just isn’t on his list of cares. He seems more concerned with acquiescing to Muhammad’s request to pray facing Mecca. Allah dedicates an extraordinary amount of time to Muhammad’s sex life. If however, Muhammad isn’t divine. Then yes, he can be placed within the context of the time period, and we cannot judge him by today’s standards in that respect. The moment you accept that he is a Prophet who can receive divine revelation, that negates the ‘context of the time’ argument.

Muslims tend to trust the infallibility of the Hadith. Many will quote what the Prophet ‘said’, during debates with non-believers to add support to their argument or the way they choose to live. Their stories and explanations become intricate, and detailed. But let’s not be fooled by people acting as experts for something so ambiguous. Because Muhammad al-Bukhari, one of the most trusted collectors of the sayings of the Prophet, whose Hadiths are held up as a key component of Islam, was born in 810ad. Two centuries after Muhammad. It takes a lot of trust to accept that a man writing two centuries later, hearing stories passed down over many generations, knew the exact words that the Prophet had uttered. The Hadith are supremely important to Islam, and so if there is doubt over even one Hadith, then they must all be questionable, and the writers cannot therefore be completely trusted. Well, a book written by liberal Muslim Jamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2008 published a book entitled: “The Cleansing of Bukhari and Muslim from useless Hadiths“. In it, he claims that 653 of the Hadith are wrong, and should be discarded. Even within the Muslim World, they do not agree on the authenticity. And who can blame them?

In fact, the first full account of Muhammad’s life was not only written a century after his death by Ibn Ishaq, all based on oral traditions, it has since been lost, and was rewritten under the authority of Ibn Hisham, even later. Again, this is not something we are compelled to believe is ‘truth’. This is ambiguity at its best. Believers have their work cut out for them, if they are to convince me that this is quite obviously the truth.

Muhammad was a war lord. A very violent man. He was not simply a peaceful type who wished to convey personal faith, and let others know what he believed. He wished to spread his religion, by the sword, crushing anyone who disagreed or disobeyed, and indoctrinating children along the way through violence. And there’s no doubt about what Muhammad achieved. As a military leader and conqueror, he was undoubtedly spectacular. One of the greatest of all time. But not as a spiritual leader. His power also extended to his sex life, inventing verses when it suited him, for his own personal desires and those of his friends. Muhammad was not a good man, and the example he set, is the very reason the religion of Islam has a very intolerant sect of fanatics wishing to replicate what Muhammad achieved. When Nasser al-Bahri (or Abu Jandal) was arrested for his links to al-Qaeda, his reasons for extremism were not primarily American “imperialism” or anything of the sort. His motivation, was certain Hadith that states quite openly, that those who carry the Black Flag, will fight and be victorious for the ownership of Jerusalem. That is the goal of Islamic fanaticism. And it is directly related to the Hadith; the supposed words of the Prophet, not to the actions of America or Europe or any other global power. It is an autonomous ideology, it isn’t a mistranslation of Holy texts, and we must stop making excuses for it.

This religion and this Prophet, are not inherently peaceful (note; I do not claim individual Muslims are not peaceful, this would be incredibly short sighted of me), nor do they lend themselves well to secular values, regardless of how much we delude ourselves into desperately trying to believe otherwise.

The Qur’an and its changes:

Perhaps in Arabic, The Qur’an is written far more wonderfully than the version I have in English, which is really quite ordinary and frankly, the narrative is all over the place. I wondered why Muslims often ask people to create something as ‘wonderful’ as the Qur’an, where did that demand come from? Much like Christians use Biblical verses in a show of circular reasoning to attempt evidence for the existence of God (usually “A fool has said in his heart, there is no God”) it seems that Muslims use a Qur’anic verse, to insist that no one can write something as wonderful as the Qur’an:

“If the mankind and the jinns were together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another.” [Qur’an 17:88]

– This is a fallacy. You cannot use the words in a book, to prove that book is true. It must have substance. The substance in the above is empty. The beauty of a text is of course very subjective. Having read the Qur’an, I was not impressed, and in fact, found it to be anything but well written.

We then find that there is no agreement over who actually gave the order to write the Qur’an. Whilst some claim it was Ali, most claim it was Uthman that gave the order to have a standard, written copy of the Qur’an. This presents problems, because Uthman’s motive for the written Qur’an seem to be down to the fact that around the Islamic Empire at the time, different regions had their own versions of the Qur’an with different ways of reciting, and different styles. There was not one standard version from the time of Muhammad, which you’d expect, if it was the perfect, unchangeable word of Allah. To deal with this, Uthman standardises the Qur’an (in much the same was as early Christian dictators decided what deserved to be called the correct version of the Bible) and had his new version sent around the Empire. This is one man’s attempts to define a system of belief. Let us also not forget that Arabic itself, was not standardised until centuries later (the 9th Century). And so the interpretations, even of a standardised text, was interpreted and repeated far differently, depending on where in the Empire you happened to be from. It seems an awful time to send revelation. Why would a God not offer his revelation to a literate group, with a standardised system of writing? It is an astounding show of incompetence.

The Hadith themselves tell us that certain Qur’anic verses were just discarded at times. Maybe Allah had a change of mind.

“Narrated Anas bin Malik: … There was revealed about those who were killed at Bi’r-Ma’una a Qur’anic Verse we used to recite, but it was cancelled later on. The verse was: ‘Inform our people that we have met our Lord. He is pleased with us and He has made us pleased.’” Bukhari vol.4:69 p.53. See also the History of al-Tabari vol.7 p.156.

The Uthman Qur’an, considered by some Muslims to be the actual Qur’an of Uthman, currently residing in Tashkent, Uzbekistan also has its issues. The script itself is its major weakness. The Uthman Qur’an is written in Kufic script. This script was a form of writing that did not appear until decades after Uthman’s death. There is no reason to accept that the Qur’an in question, belonged to Uthman. It is likely an 8th Century version. Still old, and valuable, just not what it being suggested of it.

In Yemen in 1972, a set of parchments were found. The Sana’a manuscript is thought to be the oldest written Qur’anic manuscript, dating to around twenty years after the death of Muhammad. It has two layers, the top layer seems to collaborate the fact that the Qur’an was put together during Uthman’s era, as it reflects the Qur’an today in large parts. However, the bottom layer has vast differences between it, and the standard Qur’an of today. Much of the bottom layer had been erased, but not fully, so we still actually see the lower text due to the materials in the ink that turns the ink light brown over the years. Due to carbon 14 dating, we know that there is a 75% chance that the lower text was written before 650ad, which means it was erased some time later. Which means it was erased, because it didn’t agree with the new standardised version. Which means Uthman (or maybe someone else) decided words spoken by God, to the Prophet Muhammad, were not ‘right’ for his new version. It also means that there have absolutely been variations in content of the Qur’an right from the beginning. There has never been agreement.

The Sana’a manuscript is not just important because it shows the differences in the wording of the Qur’an which Muslims tend to suggest has never happened; it is important because of where it was found. The Great Mosque of Sana’a was, according to Muslim tradition, a Mosque that had design help from the Prophet himself, and became a centre of Islamic learning. Archaeological evidence appears to back up the claim that the Mosque was built during the Prophet’s life time. The manuscript therefore, is important. And so with that, we must look at the differences.

From the Standard text of the Qur’an today:

sanaa2
The translation of this from the Sahih International is:

‘… if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”

However, the Sana’a manuscript appears to be missing words:

sanaa3
The translation here, is:

“… if they turn away, Allah will punish them in this world. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”

– There is no talk of the ‘hereafter’ nor do we need the adjective ‘painful’. But more tellingly, when Muslims insist that not one word has changed since it was first received by Muhammad; they are wrong.

We cannot even claim that Uthman’s version is the version we know today. The Qur’an we know today, includes many changes. Some of which come to us from the early Islamic teacher, and Governor of Iraq, Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf Al-Thakafi. He didn’t entirely agree with Uthman’s Qur’an and so made changes himself. In Surat Yunus 10:22 he decides to take it upon himself to change “yanshorokom”, which means “spread you,” to “yousayerokom”, which means “makes you to go on.” In Surat Al-Hadid 57:7, the word “wataqu”, which means “feared Allah,” becomes “Wa-anfaqu”, which means “spend in charity.” The Qur’an we have today, is a mesh of what different Islamic rulers thought necessary to include, to omit, to change, based on revelations that Muhammad was conveniently, and changed, when it suited his and his friends needs. There is no compelling reason to belief any of it.

Verses also appear to have been changed around. Many Muslims note that Sura 5:3 is the final revelation. This causes a problem for both the unmatchable ‘beauty’ of the Qur’an and the idea that it is unchanged from Muhammad to today. Because, oddly, the apparent last revelation, doesn’t appear at the conclusion of the text of the Qur’an. It appears close to the beginning of the Qur’an:

“This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. ”

– It cannot be a perfected religion, or a completion of favour, if there are still the majority of revelations to come. And given that this Sura is not at the end of the text, it suggests the Qur’an was not compiled in order, which is a huge continuity and structual deficiency for any book, especially one claiming to be unmatched in beauty, and certainly contradicts the idea that it was passed down exactly as it was recited to Muhammad.

Certain parts of the Qur’an were said to be irretrievably lost. Abdullah ibn Umar, son of the second Caliph wrote:

“It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: “Let none of you say ‘I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an’. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say ‘I have acquired what has survived.”

– This constitutes a ‘change’ to the Qur’an we have today, from the one apparently spoken to Muhammad. With missing parts (parts that Allah doesn’t appear to have reissued, to someone else, as one would expect, given that they are his rules for life), means an incomplete religion, and an incomplete Holy Book.

Of course, to even suggest the Qur’an has changed, usually brings with it death threats and brands of apostasy from the incredibly insecure faithful. Dr Nasr Abu Zaid, ex-lecturer in Koranic Studies at Cairo University questioned the idea that the Qur’an was unchanged, back in 1990. The Egyptian courts ruled that he was apostate, and forced him to divorce his wife. He then fled to Holland to escape the increasing hostility and death threats.

The Qur’an cannot objectively be described as a book that has never changed. It quite obviously has and it was quite obviously used to fulfil the desires of Muhammad and his male friends. But even if you trust that Muhammad memorised the entire book, did not change one word for himself or his friends, that his followers memorised the entire book, that they passed it on, word for word, without any omissions or glitches of any sort to the next generation, and that it was written down perfectly; even if you trust the absurdity of that, and even if you can somehow rationalise in your head love for a Prophet who spent much of his time ordering executions and slaughter for very little reason; you cannot get away from the fact that there have been variations of the Qur’an since Muhammad’s life time, that he changed ‘revelation’ at certain points, used it to justify violence when it suited him, and that the variations across the Empire were enough that they caused Uthman to standardise the book, in a language that itself was not yet standardised, and that the standard Qur’an today, differs from the manuscript found at Sana’a. There is no perfect, direct line from the Qur’an as given to Muhammad, to today’s standard version. There is simply hazy recollection to forgetting Sura’s entirely, replaced revelations by the Prophet to suit himself, hear say, arguments over which was right, suppression of unauthorised versions by the leading Patriarchs of Islamic society, and disagreements between today’s version, and ancient versions.

But even if you are willing to overlook all the obvious discrepancies with the traditional story that the Qur’an is unchanged…… that doesn’t imply that the Qur’an is divine. An unchanged book can easily survive for centuries, and not imply divinity or truth. To the cause of divinity, the question of the Qur’an being unchanged, is irrelevant.

It is simply incoherent, ignorant, and disingenuous to claim that the Qur’an as it is today, is the exact, unchanged word that was handed down to Muhammad in a cave, in the 7th Century. The history of both Muhammad and the Qur’an are shrouded in ambiguity. Nothing is clear. The overwhelming evidence quite clearly points to changes to the Qur’an all along the way.

The very idea of forced belief (which is what it is, when punishment and reward enter into the equation, as is the case with Islam and Christianity); God will hand down a very dubious list of demands, surrounded by very ambiguous circumstances, and questionable characters instead of irrefutable proof, which if you simply do not believe, will have you roasting in hell for eternity, is a concept that repulses me. We should all feel threatened by anyone who claims they have divine permission to tell you how to dress, how to act, how to talk. Or anyone who demands unquestioning respect and an end to all mocking of their faith, whilst they themselves demand the right to tell you that your ways are wrong and destined for eternal punishment. It must be resisted.

To believe it, is to suspend all reason, and all critical faculties, and replace it with sentiment.


Morality needs religion; like the sea needs Poseidon

December 16, 2012

TheWarOnFaith-MP-ChristianMoralityIsBarbaricSupreme Court Nominee Judge Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan in 1987, once gave his rather insulting explanation as to how Atheists can live a moral, decent life, as follows;

We all know persons without religious belief who nevertheless display all the virtues we associate with religious teaching…such people are living on the moral capital of prior religious generations… that moral capital will be used up eventually, having nothing to replenish it, and we will see a culture such as the one we are entering.

It is a rather curious comment from Bork on a couple of levels. Firstly, Bork is suggesting that Agnostics and Atheists are living off of the back of religious teaching as a guide to our moral existence, whether we chose to believe in the dogma or not. Without that religious backbone, people like me, would be robbing, raping and murdering all over the place. For Bjork, morality preceded life. It was kept in Heaven, before it was handed to us, in the middle of the desert, around 198,000 years after humanity evolved. And then a new set, handed to Muhammad, that directly conflicts with the old set, and caused, still causes, and continues to cause misery and destruction. He is suggesting Moral rights and wrongs existed before humanity, but were not possible to know, until God very generously intervened in human affairs to tell us we were all born sinners, and according to his game, will be violently punished unless we now do exactly what he says. Without this, we would be awful people. He is suggesting that despite all the research and studies into the structure of our minds and how it affects empathy and other key components for moral decision making, it was in fact, Jesus. He quite conveniently ignores the question of why religion has been able to play such a central ‘moral’ role in society for the past 2000 years; this usually involves a lot of violence, oppression and vicious silencing of dissent. Even now, draw an insulting cartoon of Christopher Hitchens, and draw an insulting cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad…. and you watch which group provides the more morally respectable response.

And secondly, because the very reason he is in the position he currently enjoys, is because of the secular nature of the Constitution. He is supposed to be protecting that secular nature. Religion should not play a role in his public life, nor in his public rhetoric. The fact he is in a position of secular power, means he is living off the back of secular reasoning.

He always seems to be under the impression that Christian ‘morality’ is 1) Objective (it isn’t) and 2) Unchanged (it hasn’t).

Bork’s comments stem from the notion that there cannot be a sense of morality, without Religion. This often repeated idea from the Christian community, is embedded in Christian thought. Psalm 14:1:

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.”.

– It is a theme that runs through Christian ‘thought’. Any sort of free thinking, any rational inquiry, and kind of curiosity and questioning is punishable, because in a show of circular reasoning, the Bible says so, and so the Bible must be right…. because the Bible says so. It is odd that a God would endow us with critical faculties, and then punish us for using them.

This isn’t morality, this is very heavy dictatorship based on fallacy after fallacy. You mustn’t question, you must be silent, and worship. You are punished, for thought crime. It is made clear right at the point of the ‘fall’, as we are told that the Devil urges Adam and Eve to eat from the ‘tree of knowledge’. God, obviously did not want humanity to think, or to question. Our natural curiosity as a species, is punishable. God wanted blind obedience. He wanted pawns in a very devious game. The Devil seems to get a bad reputation, for simply inspiring free thought. He certainly isn’t as vicious, and as punishing, as genocidal, and as discriminatory as God of the Bible. Nor is he as obsessed with Muhammad’s sex life, as the God of the Qur’an. As i’ve previously argued,The Devil, in the Bible, represents Enlightenment. The enemy of religion.

Bork’s words were echoed yesterday, when Mike Huckabee of “execute Julian Assange” fame (interesting, given that Assange isn’t bound by American law), claimed that the reason the tragic shooting in Newtown took place, was because God was missing from lessons. Call me cynical, but the last time the Church mixed with children, the outcome was a systematic covered up child sex scandal, that still hasn’t been dealt with. I’m not sure I trust Christian teaching, and children to be in any way connected. If we take the recent Hebrew lessons taught in schools in Palestine as dictated by the Hamas leadership; we note that it isn’t for reasoned dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, it is to teach, and I quote:

“Expanding (Hebrew) teaching comes as a result of our plan and meeting greater demand by students to learn Hebrew. They want to learn the language of their enemy so they can avoid their tricks and evil.”

– It is to further perpetuate hate, and suspicion. Nothing more. There is no Human value to it. It is further indoctrination of children, to create a further atmosphere of tension, at a young age.

Back to Huckabee: Why wouldn’t a God intervene to stop a brutal massacre like Newtown? Christianity is clear; God is immanent. He answers prayer. He flooded the Earth. He can intervene if he wants to. A tiny school that doesn’t base its values on Christian Theocratic principles is not an obstacle for a God that has already wiped out millions before. And yet, he didn’t intervene this time. Why? Simply because the US is a secular Nation? That’s his reason for allowing mass slaughter? He seems to be able to intervene in order to commit genocide every so often, but not to stop a massacre. Keep your God, he’s insane.

I have blogged previously on the Pope’s rather ludicrous claims that non-belief leads directly to Hitler. The Muslim speaker Hamza Tzorzis in practically every debate, insists Atheists ‘lack of moral basis’ can lead to all sorts of atrocities, like Hitler (Hamza’s main talking point in debates, seems to be moral anchors; along with old, long discredited Cosmological arguments) Their suggestion is quite possibly the biggest slippery slope fallacy I have come across, and ignores the very fact that Hitler professed his pro-Christian, anti-Atheist credentials whenever he saw fit, was endorsed by the Catholic Church, and used centuries of anti-Jewish sentiment screamed by the Church, to promote the need to destroy them. In my previous article, I note:

In 1939, Cardinal Orsenigo was sent by Rome to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Pope Pius XII started an annual birthday celebration tradition for Hitler in fact. The Catholic Church each year would send “warmest congratulations to the Fuhrer in the name of the bishops and the dioceses in Germany”.
Hitler in 1922, said this:

My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.

Hitler in 1933, said this:

“Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity.”

Hitler, also in 1933, said this:

“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

Hitler in 1934, said this:

“National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.”

Now, compare Hitler’s speeches above, with the Islamic Palestinian Political Party Fatah today:

Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims. “Let the eyes of the cowards not fall asleep.”

Compare Hitler’s motives for a Empire by conquest, with Hamas today. Hamas member “cleric Yunis Al Astal”:

“an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe.”

– So do not tell me, that non-belief creates an atmosphere that leads to parties like the Nazis being morally acceptable. It is absolutely the religious claim on ‘objective morality’ that both motived Hitler, and motives those like Hamas who wish to emulate him entirely. Religious ‘objective morality’ permits acts that we non-believers find abhorrent, by stigmatising groups based on culture, gender, sexuality and race. It is religion that does that, it is religious that creates a hateful atmosphere by creating an Us VS them mentality and claiming divine right to do so. Never trust, nor pay attention to anyone who claims divine right to tell you how to dress, how to talk, what to think, or who you may or may not fall in love with. They are totalitarian poison.

Back to the point. So, the Theist’s are suggesting that morality comes directly from God. An anchor, as Hamza often puts it. A moral anchor, lodged firmly in the setting of bronze age tribal desert people, who took slaves, sacrificed people, and where women were created simply as a companion for the man, whilst gay people are treated to the death penalty.

It is illogical to claim objective morality based on ‘revealed’ texts. The very essence of revelation, is individual to every major religion. Mohammad was apparently given moral revelation, in a cave outside of Mecca. Therefore, the objective truth pertaining to morality, is objective to him only. To everyone else, it is secondary hear-say. No one is compelled to accept it, and therefore, it is subjective morality. It is absolutely irrational to claim an objective anchor for your morality, when it is second, third, fourth hand ‘revelation’.

To begin to suggest “objective” morals from divine source, you need to do a few things first. Your starting point, would be to prove a creator. This implies something ‘outside’ of everything. Everything encompasses itself. Which is impossible. And also logically absurd, because it demands a being that can exist outside of the confines of time. So, to prove a creator, first you must prove that something can exist outside of time (to have created time). Prove it, not philosophically suggest it. Actually prove it. If your faith is to have any power over the lives of others, you have a whole lot of proving to do.
Then, once you’ve proven that something can exist outside of time, you have to prove that the creator is all good. Why not an all evil creator? Or two creators? Or a creator that created everything, and then stepped back? Or a creator who created the universe in a final act before dying?
Then, once you’ve proven something can exist outside of time, and successfully dismissed all other possible creator attributes other than ‘all good’, you then have to prove that the creator, is the God of your particular religion. I wish all Theists the best of luck in that.
Once you’ve done all of those things, proven everything above, then, and only then can you speak of ‘objective’ morals. Otherwise, you have a subjective base for your morality, that you claim is ‘objective’ because someone once wrote it down.

So it is of course, ludicrous for anyone to suggest morality is anchored to religious texts. Not just for the limitations of revelation, and lack of anything even close to ‘proof’ on any of the above points, but also what those ‘revealed’ moral statements enforce at their core. We are also told by anyone insisting that to have a God, is to have ‘objective morality’ that their texts are open to masses of interpretations. Hamza Tortzis of Islamic Public Speaking fame is insistent that to be Muslim, means to have an anchored set of moral principles. Yet when challenged on the brutality that the Qur’an and Hadith have inflicted upon the World, and continue to inflict, he weasels his way out of it, by claiming a multitude of interpretations for those specific ‘objective morals’. The contradiction is glaring.

The Qur’an and the Bible are both excellent examples of what we would consider vast immorality and totalitarianism. It is, for example, very ‘morally’ dubious, for Abraham to have agreed to sacrifice his son, purely to glorify God. Though God stops it eventually, he is happy enough to put Isaac through the horror of believing his own father is about to sacrifice him. Is anyone happy to say that this is morally acceptable? That this represents an all loving God, rather than a very needy God? This test of faith, is disgusting. Islam is no different, and in many ways, far far worse. The Hadith is quite clear on what the punishment for leaving Islam should be;

‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ – Bukhari (52:260)

‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’ – Bukhari (84:57)

“A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu’adh bin Jabal came and saw the man with Abu Musa. Mu’adh asked, “What is wrong with this (man)?” Abu Musa replied, “He embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism.” Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down unless you kill him (as it is) the verdict of Allah and His Apostle” – Bukhari (84:58)

– Most Muslims do not accept this any more. Why? I’d suggest it is because killing people simply for saying “I’m no longer Muslim” is a moral evil. Therefore, those Muslims have absolutely no right to claim a ‘moral anchor’. Unless of course they only claim a moral anchor, with the Qur’an…. which is one big war manual, as well as a guide for Muhammad’s sex life.

And we know the purpose of death for apostasy. As Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood said:

“If they [Muslims] had gotten rid of the punishment for apostasy, Islam would not exist today.”

– Islam, like Christianity, spread it’s “moral” message, through force. Nothing else. Yusuf al-Qaradawi was using the quote above….. as reason to allow death for apostasy to continue. One of the leading Islamic Theologians in the Middle East (and also, admirer of Hitler) was advocating death simply for leaving a religion. Is this your Islamic morality? Keep it.

Now, I am convinced that Muhammad invented the Qur’an to satisfy his own desires for power, wealth, and women. So therefore, to me, the ‘moral anchor’ given by Islam, is simply a man made concoction, with billions of people clinging to the ‘morality’ of a power hungry womaniser. It seems that Allah didn’t actually wish women to be veiled originally. But Muhammad’s friend Umar ‘wishes’ it, and suddenly Muhammad gets another call from Allah, and women are to be veiled for the most mundane reason:

And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.” So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed. (Qur’an 24:31)

– Unless Muslims can absolutely prove beyond any doubt that 1) A creator exists. 2) He’s infinitely good (a creator could also be infinitely evil, or he/she could be a creator that kick started creation, and then walked away, or there could be multi-creators) 3) The creator is the God of Islam and 4) Muhammad didn’t make it up….. until they can prove all of those points, then we have no reason to accept that the Qur’an is a moral anchor, any more than we must accept that the Chronicles of Narnia offer a moral anchor.

Similarly, we are aware, in the 21st Century that a grown man should neither marry, nor have sex with a child. We know that to be wrong. Yet, for all the revelations for irrelevant reasons (which way to pray, acquiescing to veil wearing ‘wishes’ of Muhammad’s friends), Allah doesn’t see it necessary to insist that having sex with a child, is wrong. If we are to presume the morality of God is unchanging (which we must, to consider Islamic morality to be ‘objective’), then we must assume that abusing children, is not something God cares too deeply to prevent…. but praying toward Jerusalem instead of Mecca, he feels it necessary to correct. I am not sure I like this God or this ‘objective’ morality. Most Muslims of course abhor child abuse, in the same way as the rest of us do. This is in spite of their Prophet, and in spite of Allah’s tacit acceptance of it. They have evolved a sense of morality alongside the rest of us, shunning the more vicious and frankly, despicable verses that supposedly bind all morality for eternity. The evolved sense of morality is a combination of biological and neurological traits for survival and nothing more. Natural selection is the key.

The very idea of faith; blind acceptance of a system of morals (and I use the word ‘morals’ in its loosest possible form), offered by second, third, fourth hand sources, all of whom based their accounts (if we take the gospels as an example) on second, third, fourth hand sources, edited and revised over the years…. on fear of punishment ….. is a disastrously immoral notion, especially when it is forced onto children.

Let’s assume there is a God, and He commanded us to be good – which suggests we are born sick, having been given no choice in this state of being – by providing a system of anchored morality. This is incoherent. Because if God has an actual reason for us to be good, then we don’t need God. The reason is apart from God (unless it’s simply, to get into heaven, in which case, it is no longer good for the sake of good…. it is now for the sake of reward – and unless he hasn’t revealed the reason to be good – in which case, why should we be compelled to do good?), and so the REASON stands on its own, and does not need someone to give us those reasons. Or maybe God doesn’t have a reason. In which case, there is no longer an anchor. God could say “be kind!” and so if there is a reason to be kind, then humans do not need God. The reason is apparent. Again, unless the reason is hidden – which, means the basis of your morality is a God that you have no evidence for, having a reason that he wont tell you about. If there is no reason for Him to say “be Kind”……. then there is no anchor. Hugely insecure basis. Inconsistent. Irrational. Dangerous. The stuff of children’s story books.

A sense of right and wrong, of course does not have to come from a divine dictator. There does not have to be a supreme idea of perfection, of beauty, of morality, for a sense of those ideals to exist. They are perceptions that have evolved, and appear in different degrees, to different people, in different cultures. We build those ideals ourselves, we are conditioned by society, by our family and our friends, by the injustices we see, by putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and through this, I can quite happily say my sense of right and wrong is due entirely to the evolution of our minds and the course of human events that has shaped perception. Morality is the result of rational minds debating, rationalising, and coming to conclusions based on thought, and evidence available at the time. Sometimes we get it wrong. But we learn, we evolve and we advance. The basis for Atheist morality, is trust and belief in humanity to act justly.

The Bible and The Qur’an are simply reflections of the workings of social cohesion at the time they are written. We tend to ignore the most brutal ‘morals’ because they are no longer permissible. Society has outgrown some of the ‘morals’ set out in these texts. Like the picture at the top of this article. It is absolutely morally wrong to stone someone to death for working on a Sunday. But, if we are to accept that God’s rules are absolute, and binding throughout time…. then why aren’t Christians advocating stoning people for working on a Sunday? We have out grown it. Therefore, morality is an ever evolving idea, it isn’t anchored, it doesn’t require doctrine, and it certainly doesn’t require a vicious God. Religion rides the wave, and claims it as its own.

You do not abandon moral relativism, just because you claim to have God on your side. In fact, you embrace it more than anyone.

I have noted in a previous blog, that the Ten Commandments (arguably the backbone of Christian morality) is clearly stolen from the 42 Principles of Ma’at, from the Kemet tribe of Ancient Egypt. Does this mean that Christians are simply living off the moral capital of the Kemet tribe?

The Ten Commandments of Exodus 19:23 is quite the questionable source for morality also. What we see from the Ten Commandments, is a couple of useful tips for life, but then nothing more than a rather jealous God threatening his followers. Instead of “Do not have any other gods before me”, a seemingly useless commandment, why not “Do not rape” or “Do not molest children“? Why is God using the most important set of rules in human history, to put his own jealousy ahead of much more important guidelines for life? He appears to have abandoned the idea of suggestion, and telling us that in order to live a moral existence we MUST believe in him. And so, we have no choice. It is not a matter of free will. If I were to tell my child that he either love me, or I’ll cook him in the oven, he’s going to tell me that he loves me regardless of how he actually feels. It is simply a form of control, not a form of love. This is evident in the fourth commandment “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” It’s a carrot mentality, in that you will be rewarded for honouring your mother and father. But religion goes further; it tells you what you must think. It convicts you of thinking “wrong”. That in itself, does not promote morality.

Do we know what moral capital Bork is living off? Well, the foundations of his life, can be traced back to his ancestors, who made it possible for Bork to exist at all, as the Christian Puritans from England fled, taking over land with a rather ambiguous moral crusade of slavery, forced removals and the systematic destruction of the natives. Ward Churchill, Professor of Ethical Studies at the University of Columbia has estimated that between 1500 and 1850, 12 million Natives across America soon became less than 237,000. David Stannard at the University of Hawaii refers to the genocide as “The worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people.” And this was all in the name of a brand new Nation derived from Christian ideals? Shouldn’t the argument be “is morality sustainable WITH religion?

We could go into the deep corruption and evil the Catholic Church has spread over the Centuries. The blood that has been shed in the name of Christ. The money that has been squandered from the masses in places like Germany during the early 16th Century to provide funds for the building of St Peters. The Crusades, the holy wars, the immense loss of life. We could also mention Islam’s autonomous ideology of hate, racism, and death-for-apostasy/adultery/homosexuality/insulting the Prophet with words. We could question the horrendous practice of child genital mutilation in the name of religion. We could go into all of this, but I think history speaks for itself. Christianity has survived, not primarily because it offers hope (although, that certainly does play a part), but mainly because it has thrived on fear and murder and indoctrination of children, to the point where we now ingrain it’s teachings (much of which, is far from what I’d describe as “moral”) into our education system, and another generation is disturbingly brainwashed.

Countries that have abandoned the conjoining of Church and State, for a secularist future, are all a huge improvement on the Theocratic hellholes that Christianity carved out when it had the smell of power. I attribute the moral problems we face today, to economic hardship, to the idea that there is no such thing as communities, and only the individual can help himself… perhaps secularism has helped perpetuate that problem by inevitably occupying a middle ground, and introducing a sort of money and Nation state worship. Though, Interestingly, Weber suggests this idea of rampant individualism and materialism, is very much rooted in 16th Century Protestant thinking.

But it stands. Secular liberal democracy, even with its faults, is far superior to anything offered by religion.

It seems unquestionable to these people, that humanity could possibly have a sense of right and wrong without religion. Their trust in humanity is pitiful. They doubt we can be thoughtful, and rational enough to build our framework for morality, without the idea (not proof of, just a very weak idea) of a divine overlord.

From my point of view, our sense of morality has been shaped over millions of years; our minds have evolved and adapted to the constant shift of culture, society, expectation, and interaction. We as humans have a wonderful sense of empathy; a trait that studies suggest has absolutely nothing to do with how we ‘ought’ to feel or act based on religious conviction, but is in fact hardwired in our genetic make up. To suggest morality is dependent on Religion, is as ridiculous as to suggest that the sea is dependent on Poseidon. Religion seems to have a transcendent nature, that opposes progress, until it can no longer sustain itself, and then it changes and updates. It is, in this respect, autonomous – by which I mean, not completely dependent on the social or political context of the day (though certainly influenced by) – I’d go one step further and suggest that if your motive for a moral existence is a Heavenly reward, then you are not acting morally at all. You are acting selfishly. Whereas, if an Atheist were to perform a moral act, he is doing so for utterly selfless reasons, and so by definition, is a virtuous human being.

Morality should not be linked to heavenly consequence. The entire nature of religious morality, is based on Pascal’s Wager. You should do what the Bible says; because it might be true. How irrational. How immoral. It seems, as long as we say “…oh, and you’ll get a reward when you die” we suddenly have an ‘objective’ basis for our morality. How childish. Not only that, but morality is not objective. Even when suggesting a religious “base”. That “base” is simply trusting the account of the person claiming to have revelation, and the historical accuracy of the life of that person, shrouded as it always is, in ambiguity. We are also told that these religious texts have “several interpretations”. So, if you are religious, your “objective” base, is based on trust that the revelation was given to one person, that every subsequent revelation must be a fraud, with very little and historical record for your case, and containing several interpretations and inaccuracies. Most of which, you now ignore, because we know it to be hugely immoral or irrational.
To conclude; the religious don’t understand the word ‘objective’.

Morality needs religion; like the sea needs Poseidon. It doesn’t.


“Question with boldness even the existence of God” – America as a Christian Nation.

August 24, 2012

The often quoted claim that the United States of America is a “Christian nation” is not an attempt to link the percentage of the population who identify themselves as Christian, with how the Country should be governed; but is in fact a suggestion that the Country was founded by devout Christians, developing a country on the Christian system of belief and values.
This simply isn’t true.

The true genius of America’s Founding Fathers lies in their commitment to the separation of Church and State. It is impossible to quantify how huge an experiment this was. Church and State had been intrinsically linked without question for at least a thousand years. The merging of the two, was based on religious authority. To question that, was to question the legitimacy of religious rule itself. A truly revolutionary concept.

It is true that none of the Founders were Atheists, many were deists and highly critical of Christianity, and few were devout Christians. None were Theocrats. Christianity cannot claim the Founders as their own, nor can they claim the intention of a Nation built on Christianity. We Atheists, similarly cannot claim the Founders as our own. Neither have a strong case. To understand the brilliance of the Founders barrier between Church and State we must examine the context of the period in which they lived. We must not view them through 21st Century Atheism/Christian Right tinted specs.

1776 was a time far before Darwin produced the greatest scientific discovery of all time, the greatest story ever told; The Origin of Species. It was a time when, up until very recently, to question Church doctrine was punishable by torture, imprisonment, or even death. For over a thousand years the basis of government was questioned very periodically and with very little acknowledgement of the fusion of Church and State. The two were the same thing. Kings and Queens derived their ‘right’ to rule from God. That they were the middle men between God and humanity, and so they were not accountable to anyone other than God. Powerful barons at times tried to overthrow the Monarchy; Simon De Montfort (power hungry, had no intention of popular rule), Oliver Cromwell (Puritan; as fundamental as Christianity gets). But the logic that the Monarch derives their power from God was left unchallenged, and was still at the heart of the understanding of how Government works by 1776.

The Church was at the centre of the community. Education was predominantly Christian by nature. And Capitalism was developing in the Northern States whilst the Southern States seemed poised to hold onto an economic system built on slavery; the two systems would one day clash violently, resulting in the triumph of Capitalism. We almost instinctively link the birth of modern Capitalism to the United States. But Capitalism has its roots in Christian thinking. Weber once argued that the type of Protestantism that made its way to the United States in the 17th Century differed vastly from the old Catholic powers, in that it exhalted the importance of the individual and his/her duty to improve the materialistic needs of those around them. Before the Constitution officially separated Church and State we can see that the new Protestant work ethic surrounding the materialistic desires of the individual was helping to foster the atmosphere of a nation built around the individual. In this respect, Christianity played a pivotal role in the building of America.

During their schooling the Founders would have attended Catechism classes, sang hymns, and made to learn and recite Bible passages as was the norm for the education system at the time. The majority of the population would have been subjected to Christian literature, and not much else. And this is where the Founders differ.

They were all, without exception, members of the upper classes. Their education would have been mixed. It would certainly have included the necessary Catechism classes and hymns and Biblical recitals, but it would also have been mixed with new Enlightenment ideas coming out of Europe around the time. It is important to note that Thomas Jefferson was schooled in Latin, Greek and Classical Literature. His Philosophy teacher was a man named Professor William Small; himself a child of Enlightenment ideals. Jefferson’s philosophy lessons covered morality, ethics, and the study of early Greek atheist writers.
Benjamin Franklin was a student of the Socratic method, and idolised the Ancient Greek Atheist. Franklin himself states quite openly:

“I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”

Franklin exemplifies Socratic reasoning with:

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

– We may call Franklin a Deist, but I’m pretty convinced he’s as close to Atheist as the 18th Century could ever produce, given the lack of scientific understanding for much of how the World, and human biology worked.

It would seem that the United States of America, as a political entity is wholly secular. The Constitution itself is a beautiful piece of Enlightenment literature. It unequivocally states the end of the Divine right to rule. A 1000+ year old settlement that not even the Magna Carta could break. It gives power to the people in a way that had never been considered before. But whilst the political resolution was indeed secular, the majority of the American public in the 1780s, were Christian. But that is largely irrelevant to our understanding of what America “is”. For that, we have to understanding the Constitution, and the people who framed it. As already noted Franklin was pretty much an Atheist. Jefferson on the other hand, was simply anti-Christian. He was Deist:

“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.”

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”

And, I think most importantly of all Jefferson’s writings…. a letter he penned to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

– In fact, the Christian Right in Jefferson’s time attempted to block his Presidency based on the belief that he was an Atheist. Jefferson is a deist. He believed in a creator, but not the God of Christianity. He believed more strongly in the principles of the Enlightenment; individual freedom, the supremacy of human reason, and a binding separation between the Church’s ethical positions, and the State. He believed in certain teachings of Jesus (but denied his divinity) that supported the golden rule seen throughout the World and not limited to Christianity; treat others as you wish to be treated. This is where the new Christian Right and the Founding Fathers part ways.

The 1950s saw a new strand of Christian thought, moulded to political agenda with the Christian Right. This took on three branches:

  • Anti-Communism.
  • Hayekian Free Market Principles.
  • Opposition to social liberalism; values that appeared to be incompatible with traditional Christian thought.
    In short, it was a response to the massive changes economically, socially and politically taking place during the middle of the 20th Century. Science and technology were becoming ever more necessary and sophisticated. Darwinism was being taken seriously. Women were ever more liberated, working and forging careers. Immigrants from non-Christian backgrounds were arriving. Communism was supposedly threatening property and individual freedoms. The Christian Right could vastly broaden their appeal, if they aligned themselves with a political and economic view point that Government = bad, Corporations = great. Suddenly poorer people struggling to put food on their tables will vote Republican to uphold traditional Christian values, not realising that economically their neighbourhoods will be ignored, investment dried up, and any sort of Welfare help cut to within an inch of its life…. all for the benefit of a few wealthy tax cuts under the almost hilarious – if it weren’t so curiously dangerous – rhetoric of “Well, they’re wealth creators”. So, the Christian Right has a broader appeal.

    This merging of Christian fundamentalism with the Right Wing can be most clearly seen with its most revered members. Billy Graham managed to link Christian dogma with anti-communism and as a result, ranks a record 41 times between 1948 and 1998 on Gallup’s poll of Most Admired Men in America. The agenda seems obvious; align Christian Right Winged thinking with the National identity; make America a Christian-Right country, and claim it has always been so. And it’s had its successes….

    In 1979 Ronald Reagan appointed a man named Paul Laxalt as his campaign manager. Among the campaign team, and later the White House staff, Laxalt was known as the “First Friend” for his close relationship to the President. Laxalt, in 1979, whilst Senator for Nevada, introduced a Bill called the ‘Family Protection Act’. Note the naming of the Bill. Point three on my list above, points to opposition to social liberalism. This Bill is a prime example of that. ‘Family Protection’ is worded to suggest there is an imminent attack on YOUR family. Be afraid. Where does this attack come from? Well, according to the Bill; pretty much everywhere that isn’t fundamentally Christian. It restricted access to abortion, restricted gay rights, and offered tax incentives to stay at home moms. It is a curious paradox of the Right Wing; they claim to be anti-big government, yet enact very anti-Constitutional, anti-separation of Church and State, anti-individual rights, where ever those individual rights don’t suit their very narrow vision of what being an ‘American’ truly means; (Christian, white, rich, male).

    Like the rest of the Right Wing, Christian America holds Reagan up as a great President. The perfect Christian Conservative. It seems Christian voters are happy to overlook his disastrous Presidency (truly one of the worst in history – as I have noted in a previous blog), simply because his values were Christian by nature. Reagan’s legacy was one of homelessness, selfishness, arrogance, lack of compassion or empathy, hate, Corporate greed, death, and misery. All in the name of an economic policy disastrously known as “trickle down”. History will remember both him and Thatcher as little beacons of horror and misery for the majority. That’s all.

    Thankfully Laxalt’s Bill never made it past Committee stage, but the fact is that as small Christian Right pressure groups popped up during the 1960s as a way to counter the social liberalism of the day…. by the 1980s, they had members in both Houses of Congress, and very close to the President. This says three things to me about the nature of the American identity by the 1980s; people are willing to vote based on religious conviction, ignoring the economic implications of their vote. Two, most people in the US considered their faith to be of great importance. Three, those who do vote based on religious conviction, are anti-Constitutional in their belief that religion should play a part in the legislative process, and not simply be kept between the individual and their ‘God’. And Reagan was the ideal candidate to play on this anti-Constitutional religious dogmatic approach to politics. He was quite willing to break down the wall that was so brilliantly erected between Church and State some 200 years previous. In 1984, Reagan gave a speech the National Religious Broadcasters. The only President up until that point to agree to give a speech to them, in which he states:

    “Let’s begin at the beginning. God is the center of our lives; the human family stands at the center of society; and our greatest hope for the future is in the faces of our children. Seven thousand Poles recently came to the christening of Maria Victoria Walesa, daughter of Danuta and Lech Walesa, to express their belief that solidarity of the family remains the foundation of freedom.”

    – This irritatingly nasty little manipulative quote stands to try to define what it means to be a human being. God must be the centre of our existence. The family, can only possibly be a religious concept. To a Christian public angry at the social liberalism and apparent moral relativism born out of the 1960s, this must have sounded wondrous. It is also, of course, nonsense. The entire paragraph, utter garbage. Let us not forget that whilst Reagan stresses the importance of ‘our children’ for the future of the Nation, he was busy cutting away all social programs, oversaw the closing of schools and libraries on a huge scale, creating a legacy of child poverty that still hasn’t been fixed, ensuring that the gap between rich and poor widened beyond anyone’s expectations. This wasn’t a man who cared about humanity, or “our children”. But he believed in God, and so the public warmed to him.

    In 1988 Reagan completely destroyed any trace of Enlightenment thinking that brought around the creation of the secular United States of America with his State of the Union address, in which he states:

    Well now, we come to a family issue that we must have the courage to confront. Tonight, I call America — a good nation, a moral people — to charitable but realistic consideration of the terrible cost of abortion on demand. To those who say this violates a woman’s right to control of her own body — can they deny that now medical evidence confirms the unborn child is a living human being entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all federal funding for abortion — and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense.

    And let me add here: so many of our greatest statesmen have reminded us that spiritual values alone are essential to our nation’s health and vigor. The Congress opens its proceedings each day, as does the Supreme Court, with an acknowledgment of the Supreme Being — yet we are denied the right to set aside in our schools a moment each day for those who wish to pray. I believe Congress should pass our school prayer amendment.

    – Here, he completely reasserts the link between Church and State. He includes the famous phrase from the Declaration. He appears to be trying to link himself to the Founders. Suddenly political America has a “Judeo-Christian tradition”. This is a Theocratic President, not a secular, democratic, constitutional President. This is a Christian that the Founders specifically wanted to keep away from Government.

    The rewriting of history to suit Christian America is a regular occurrence from the 1950s until the present day. Somehow, it has managed to convince a Nation that “One Nation, under God” was always a part of the Pledge, or that “In God We Trust” always appeared on the dollar bill. Both of which are a product of the rise of the Christian Right in the 1950s. Jefferson and Franklin would have reacted with anger at the inclusion of “One Nation, under God” on any public institution.
    The rewriting of history doesn’t stop there. The Christian Right are experts at rewriting the Bible to appear to support their prejudices. As noted above, anti-social liberalism is a key ingredient in the making of the Christian Right, and this social liberalism extends to homosexuality. We see the influence of the Christian Right in the passing of the ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ – again… using ‘defence’ to hide the fact that they are slowly breaking down the barrier between Church and State, slowly eroding individual rights, replacing them with Christian theocratic ‘values’. The ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ states:

    “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

    -If this isn’t a restriction of human rights, by a bunch of homophobic anti-constitutional theocrats, I don’t know what is. This is the ultimate in Government power over individual rights. It is a restriction on ‘love’. Which on the surface, appears to be based on Biblical principles, but underneath it is clearly a case of prejudice making its way into law. I say this, because if marriage were in fact based on Biblical principles, we could all marry our sister’s as advocated in Genesis 20:1-14. Or we could, by law, have a right to take concubines as advocated in 2 Sam 5:13
    and 2 Chron 11:21. Or that we’d be forced to shave our wife’s head as advocated by Deut. 21:11-13. Or a wife would be banned from offering an opinion of her own, especially in Church as advocated in I Corinthians 14:34-35. Or if a man rapes a virgin, as long as he pays, he is entitled to marry her as advocated in Deut. 22:28. Or we may take a child of a foreigner, and marry her, because by law she’d be our property, as advocated by Leviticus 25:44-46. And so it goes on. The ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ is simply a Bill of prejudice, and nothing else.

    What The ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ shows is how vast the Theocratic Christian Right has managed to penetrate a Government that was built on anti-Theocratic, Enlightenment principles. Language like “Defence” and “Freedom” and “Individual” when linked to Christian-inspired changes to the law, are an attempt to provide a direct link using secular language, to the nature of the Founding documents and the people who penned it, whilst being vastly incompatible with the ideals set out by the Founding Fathers as they seek to limit the rights of anyone who doesn’t fit the narrow band of “Christian” that they attempt to perpetuate. It is within this context that it isn’t surprising that the Republican Party requires the Christian vote to be electorally successful, and so with that need comes deeply anti-constitutional, anti-freedom policies designed to placate Christian extremists with regard to abortion, homosexuality,and the teaching of evolution above creationism (I refuse to call it ‘intelligent design’).

    The growth of the Christian Right seems to be a reaction to a perceived ‘threat’ to their understanding of how a moral society should work. It is true that Protestantism, as noted by Weber, set the ball rolling for the freedoms that would paradoxically come to shatter the grip that the religion had on the Country. The attempts by Reagan, and later by Presidential candidates like Santorum to make sure the wall between Church and State be forever knocked down have had their successes when trying to define the United States as a ‘Christian Nation’, but luckily the principles of the Enlightenment and the atmosphere created by the Constitution seem almost always likely to prevail, unfortunately the Christian Right will always have an incalculable affect on the nature of National identity within the very secular United States. It is the nature of a secular Constitution, a secular system of Government, contrasting with a majority Christian population.

    Nevertheless, it is within the atmosphere of an almost entirely Christian Nation, in 1776, before Darwin, before Einstein attempted to provide a theory of everything, before anyone had even suggested the model for the Big Bang; that a few men came together, and questioned the prevailing notion that a society should be based on religious values. People who insisted that reason and inquiry were key to progress, and who told us all to question everything, including the existence of a God. Were they influenced by Christianity? Of course. It would have been impossible not to be. But breaking the chains that Christianity had forced upon its subjects for so long, was an act of great rebellion. To build a country around these new principles was ground breaking, and without any precedent. To them, they were not building another Christian nation. They were building something that transcended religious belief. It is something the Christian Right have attempted to destroy time and time again over the past sixty years. For my part, I am with the Founders. Religion should be kept as far away from the public sphere as notably possible.


  • The Jesus Myth

    July 9, 2012

    I have previously pointed out – here – that one of the major inaccuracies in the entire Bible is the suggestion that the Ten Commandments – the very foundation of Christianity – are unique to Christianity, or originated with Christianity. They didn’t. They originated with a pre-Pharoah tribe of Egypt called the Kemet, whose concept of truth, law and justice was consolidated into a theory called ‘Ma’at’. The ten commandments of the Bible are derived from the 42 principles of Ma’at.

    But what if the glaring lie that the ten commandments were uniquely handed to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai, was not the biggest inaccuracy in the Bible? What if the biggest lie in the Bible was that Jesus existed at all?

    Biblical historians generally agree that a man named Jesus probably did exist. Though, they never tend to give any strong evidence for his existence. Nothing written from the time he was alive. Nothing for decades after his death. It is all hear-say. If we are to give such power over people’s lives to the Church, we should at least provide evidence that the entire base of the Church itself is credible. At the moment, it really isn’t. Why must we resign ourselves to believe he existed, when we have pretty much no evidence? It seems far more likely that Jesus didn’t exist, and i’ll explain why.

    I have been convinced for a number of years that there was never a man called Jesus as described by the Gospels or by Paul. He just didn’t exist. I will try and give as good an explanation as possible for coming to this conclusion, starting with Raglan’s Scale, moving onto Biblical inaccuracies, addressing an argument made famous by C.S Lewis, a quick glimpse at Paul, and ending with the Crucifixion, and quite possibly the most important element of my claim that Jesus never existed; Philo of Alexandria.

    Raglan’s scale
    In 1936 Lord Raglan wrote a book that attempted to rationalise ancient religious hero worshipping by their shared characteristics, and rank them. The more characteristics that fit the so-called hero, the less likely they were to be real, and simply following a tried and tested method of hero creation. If they had less than five of the characteristics that Raglan sets out in his book, then they are more likely to be historical figures. The characteristics were as follows:

    1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin
    2. His father is a king and
    3. often a near relative of the mother, but
    4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
    5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
    6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
    7. He is spirited away, and
    8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
    9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
    10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
    11. After a victory over the king and or giant, dragon, or wild beast
    12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
    13. becomes king
    14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
    15. Prescribes laws but
    16. later loses favor with the gods and or his people and
    17. Is driven from from the throne and the city after which
    18. He meets with a mysterious death
    19. often at the top of a hill.
    20. his children, if any, do not succeed him.
    21. his body is not buried, but nevertheless
    22. he has one or more holy sepulchres.

    – Each mythical hero is given a score out of 22 depending on how closely their lives follow these characteristics. For Raglan, Oedipus scores the highest with 21 out of 22. Here is a ranked list of ancient heroes:

    How Some Heros Scored
    Oedipus scores 21
    Theseus scores 20
    Moses scores 20
    Dionysus scores 19
    Jesus scores 19
    Romulus scores 18
    Perseus scores 18
    Hercules scores 17
    Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
    Bellerophon scores 16
    Jason scores 15
    Mwindo scores 14
    Robin Hood scores 13
    Pelops scores 13
    Apollo scores 11
    Sigurd scores 11.

    – Jesus makes the top 5. By Raglan’s scale, it is more likely that Apollo existed, than Jesus. The Jesus myth seems to follow almost perfectly – the mould for religious hero creation. This of course doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus never existed, it would however be quite the coincidence if he just so happened to follow the exact pattern of hero creation. But if we are to still believe Jesus was an actual historical figure, we must ask…. why not Apollo too? Why not Mwindo? Mwindo is more likely to exist than Jesus, and Mwindo is a figure who is said to have travelled to “the underworld”.

    Historical inaccuracies:
    The Bible is excellent at rewritting history. It is wonderful at contradicting the life’s work of so many great history scholars. We know for example, that there is no historical mention of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents as mentioned in Matthew 2:16-18. This is quite plainly invented history, much like the Exodus in the OT. There are other important aspects of the Jesus story, that are also clearly invented:

    2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
    4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

    – It is in Luke that we get the story of Jesus’ birth. Luke suggests that the reason the family of Jesus travelled to Bethlehem was because Augustus issued a census of ‘the entire Roman world’ so that Joseph, being a descendent of David, had to go back to the town of his forefather.
    This short description, given by Luke, is entirely nonsense. Put aside the fact that a Roman census absolutely never forced people to go back to the town of a certain generation of ancestor, and put aside the fact that we now can only really trace our lineage back a few generations whilst Joseph seems to have been able to trace his back thousands of years (unlikely), there is no evidence whatsoever that Augustus ordered an Empire wide census to take place throughout his entire 40 year reign. It isn’t like we don’t know much about Augustus; he is one of the few Emperors that historians have a wide knowledge about, and not once, in all the literature written about Augustus, or at the time of Augustus, alludes in any way to a census. The only time it’s mentioned, is in the gospel of Luke.
    Perhaps then, Luke was just a little bit incompetent his historical accuracy (which in itself, means the entire Bible should be called into question) and was in fact referring to the Census of Quirinius in 7ad. Quirinius was governor of Syria and proposed a census for tax purposes. Again, this didn’t mean everyone had to travel back to the land of a certain generation. The problem with this is that if Luke was referring to this, he then places Jesus birth around 7ad. It gets problematic, because the Gospel of Matthew states:

    1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
    2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
    3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

    – Herod died in 4bc. 11 years before the Census of Quirinius.
    Either Luke is wrong, Matthew is wrong, or as I suspect…. given that they were both written decades after the death of Jesus, by people who had never met Jesus, nor lived close to Jesus…. both are wrong. There have been attempts to correct this mistake, all have been disastrous attempts to hold onto something that is just massively inaccurate. In the 1550s, the cardinal and “historian” Baronius tried to argue that Quirinius must have been governor more than once. In the same era, John Calvin tried to suggest that the census was ordered by Augustus before Herod’s death, but not implemented until after his death (an entire decade? really?). None of which has any historical evidence to back it up. It is unsurprising that Luke got it all wrong, given that he was writing after 70ad (he mentions the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70ad. Jesus supposedly died in 34ad. Quite the gap).
    The one thing that is obvious from the gospels, is that Jesus had ‘divine’ parentage. This isn’t new. Julius Caesar claimed to be descended from the Goddess Venus. This again, follows the myth creation mould perfectly.
    So, we know that the gospels really do not have any idea what they’re trying to represent. There are glaring contradictions between the accounts. And they were written by people who were writing second, third, maybe fourth hand information, three generations away from the actual events they describe.

    The ‘trilemma’
    Linking somewhat to historical inaccuracies, the author C.S Lewis attempts to draw us into a ‘proof’ for the divinity of Jesus by offering a false ‘trilemma’ argument:

    ” am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”

    “We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said, or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.”

    – There is a falsity here. Lewis is claiming that there are only two possible alternatives to the divine Jesus. Either he’s divine, or he’s a lunatic, or he’s ‘the Devil of hell’. Which suggests ‘the Devil of hell’ actually exists, which automatically presumes God exists. This is an argument, already presuming a God. He doesn’t question the existence of God, the Devil, nor Jesus in the first place, nor does he consider the possibility that a man named Jesus perhaps existed, and a legend of hear say grew up after the death of the human Jesus. It goes something like this:
    1. Jesus was either a mad man, a liar, or divine.
    2. Jesus was neither a mad man, nor a liar.
    3. Therefore, Jesus was divine.
    – On the surface, perfectly logical. But dig deeper, and it becomes very problematic on several levels. Firstly, “…or divine” is a bit of a leap, given that Jesus makes no such claim as we understand it today, to be the son of God. We know that the only real claims on divinity – and often cited – come from the Gospel of John. We cannot take this seriously, as it’s the last gospel to be written, and so almost certainly inspired firstly by the other gospels (Mark in particular), and by the consensus and traditions of the early Christian church. So, “..or divine” is not an acceptable addition to the premise. Secondly, why are those the only three choices? Why not “Jesus was either a mad man, a liar, divine, didn’t actually exist, or a later legend?” In fact, i’m sure we could all think of many more choices to add. And so, by not including “or didn’t exist” as an option in point 1, it already presupposes that he did. And so we should add point “0.5. Jesus Existed” before Point 1. Point 2. is irrelevant as point 1 is incomplete. Though on point 2, how can we be certain Jesus was neither a mad man nor a liar? C.S Lewis fails on this one, and yet it is often used by Christian apologists as a proof of Jesus’ divinity. They use the Bible to ‘prove’ Jesus was neither mad nor a liar. Fallacy after fallacy.

    Paul.
    Paul, the man that Christian scholars point to as evidence for the existence of Jesus does not mention his divinity, his virgin birth, or his miracles. Paul didn’t know Jesus; never met him. Simply had a “vision”. I’m afraid I can’t base historical or divine accuracy of Christ, on a supernatural “vision”. Nor is there any evidence, actually, to suggest Paul was real. Paul was supposedly hunted down by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spears men according to Acts. There is absolutely no evidence for any of that actually happening. Not one reference other than the Bible. For a man who supposedly caused quite a lot of ripples in the ancient World, in a well documented and understood region, to not be mentioned once is ludicrous.

    Paul is the link between the death of Jesus, the thirty years in between, and the writing of the gospels. So, how did the gospel writers come across all this information about the divine birth, the years in the wilderness, the miracles, the Jewish council (who supposedly met up on Passover eve to condemn Jesus…… that just wouldn’t have happened), the wise men, the disciples, and every other aspect of the life of Jesus that Paul had no knowledge of and never spoke about?

    Philo of Alexandria.
    Perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of Christianity in their quest to prove the existence of Jesus, is Philo of Alexandria. Philo lived a long life throughout the entire supposed life of Christ, lived in and around the areas affected by Christ, and wrote about the Jews of the time extensively. He was in or around Jerusalem when Herod supposedly sent out the order to massacre the children, he was in Jerusalem for Christ’s supposed entry into the city with a plethora of adoring fans. He was there when Christ would have been crucified, when the darkness came over the city, when the earth shook with the wrath of God. Philo lived through it all. And yet, in all his writings, he mentions none of it. He doesn’t acknowledge any earth shaking, he doesn’t mention a man who apparently had the ear of thousands, he doesn’t mention the trial on the eve of passover, he mentions nothing of the sort. The name Jesus, is not even suggested by Philo.
    It is not like he would not have known, that it might all have been kept from him. Philo’s nephew was married to the daughter of Herod Agrippa – the ruler of ‘the Jews’ in the region after the exile of the evil Herod of Bible fame. Philo’s brother was one of the richest men in the area. It is impossible that Philo would have not known of such an important and beloved-by-the-masses son of God. The reason that Philo does not mention Jesus in over 850,000 words that he wrote of the time period, is because Jesus didn’t exist.
    Philo isn’t the only person at the time who didn’t mention Jesus. No one else did either. Not even Jesus himself. There is nothing written by Jesus in the history books (for such an important man, you’d have thought something might have survived), there is nothing written by any contemporary’s of Jesus, written about Jesus. The first mentions come decades later.

    Crucifixion and Resurrection.
    Ressurrection may seem miraculous to we with 21st century rationale. But in 1st Century Judea, it was nothing special. Everyone was doing it. It was the cool thing to do. Jesus did it within the Christian tradition. Izanagi did it in Japanese mythology. Dionysus in Greek mythology, along with many other parallels between this god and Jesus, did it. The Phoenix in Arabian tradition rises from the ashes. Ba’al of the Caananites around the Levant did it. Inanna, who, quite scarily was the Sumerian goddess of sex… and war, did it. So you see, Jesus rising from the dead was pretty common, and had been done before. He was nothing special.

    In fact, even regular dead people were rising back to life:

    ….the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
    Matt 27: 52-53 (NKJV)

    – We picture Jesus rising from the dead. Nowhere in any lesson, do Christian teachers tell us that dead people started breaking out of their graves and walking the Earth, like a mad zombie attack. What this shows is, raising from the dead isn’t exactly an attribute that only Jesus possessed. Everyone was doing it.

    The death of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion. The cross is the most revered symbol on the planet. Churches are built in its design. So, you would think, given its importance, the Gospels would be consistent on this central event. But no, they contradict each other…. again.
    Firstly, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all agree that Simon carried the cross to the place of execution. John however – along with Mel Gibson – have decided that Jesus carried the cross. This is the story as we picture it. As suggested by one gospel. The gospel of Thomas, which was excluded by early Church leaders for being too heretical (not conforming) does not mention the crucifixion or resurrection at all. The gospel of Peter, says that Herod, not Pilate ordered the death of Jesus. Peter also says that Jesus was resurrected, and ascended on the same day, not days later.

    According to John, Jesus last words were “It is finished“. According to Luke, they were “Father, into your hands I commit your spirit“. In Matthew and Mark they were “My god, why have you forsaken me?” … he also said “Woman, behold your son” to his mother, he also said “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do“…… Jesus said way too much for his final words. In a Court of Law, the gospel writers, as witnesses, would be deemed unreliable.
    Who did Jesus first magically reappear to? Well, if you believe Mark, to all the disciples. If you believe Matthew, to Mary Magdalene. If you believe Luke, to Cleopas. Truth is, the gospel writers are clearly guessing. They have no idea. Because, as shown previously, the one link – tenuous as it is – that they have, is Paul, and Paul didn’t witness any of it. There is no reason to accept such weak hearsay as fact, or even historically probable, in any way.

    The theory of where the myth of Jesus actually came from varies to large degrees. It has been hypothesised for over a century that Jesus may not have existed. In the early 20th Century a Mathematics professor from New Orleans named William Benjamin Smith put forth the idea that a small Jewish cult existed centuries before the supposed birth of Jesus that believed in a God named Jesus. A sect that essentially grew into what it is today by incorporating myths from other sects and evolving over time, becoming more inclusive. Smith points to a couple of suggestions by the third Century Theologian Hippolytus, that there existed a pre-Jesus sect of Nazaraean’s.

    Ellegard argues that Paul was simply a mad man convinced that the World was set to end, and when it didn’t, the gospels arose to give credit to his claims amongst his followers and believers who now had very little to believe in. Ellegard’s articles are well worth a read, and can be found here.

    This has been a pretty short introduction into why I’m almost certain that the historical, and divine Jesus as depicted in the Bible never existed. Nonetheless, it can all be summerised quite simply by stating that there is nowhere, other than the Bible (and the gospels that were not accepted into the final edition of the Bible) that mention Jesus, or any part of his life from any contemporary source. Nothing written by Jesus. Nothing written by any of his followers. Nothing written by any historian of the time. Just, nothing. This suggests to me, that there was not a divine, nor historical figure of Jesus present at the times suggested. The implications for Christianity are obvious; if Christ was either not divine, or didn’t exist, the power of the Church is illegitimate.
    Christianity began with the gospel writers. Not with Jesus. Not with Paul. It began with gospel writers, and history was then rewritten to fit their story, for reasons of power. Nothing more.
    Even if we were to suppose by some huge leap that Jesus did exist as depicted by the Bible; there is no reason to believe what he says was true. Being born of a virgin does not automatically make you dependable or trustworthy. Power should be able to legitimate itself. The power of the Christian religion over the poorest and vulnerable throughout history, the bloodshed, the forced conversions, the excesses of faith by revered figures such as Mother Theresa. The treatment of homosexuality, the subjugation of women, the regressive attitudes toward social progression and scientific advancement. All of it is illegitimate, borne out of the premise of either a very ambiguous historical narrative, or a completely invented narrative. Further, if Jesus was a completely invented figure; it would seem to suggest that Islam plagarised much of its religious claims, from Christian traditions. The implications for the non-existence of Jesus, are huge, and should be the topic of intense historical research and critical analysis.

    UPDATE:
    For Part II of this, I have written here, and deals entirely with Christian claims that the writings of Josephus ‘prove’ the existence of Jesus.

    For Part III of this, I have written here, to focus exclusively on the Annals of Tacitus; another often referred to source.