The brilliance of humanity & the shackles of religion.

November 12, 2014

Rosetta's Philae touchdown.

Rosetta’s Philae touchdown.

Since the dawn of humanity, we have been a species addicted to discovery. Our ape-like ancestors braved the unknown as they left Africa and spread to every corner of the Earth. We tamed fire, and we built machines to carry us across oceans. We innovated with bronze tools and placed a flag on the Moon. Our natural curiosity is a wonderful trait that despite attempts throughout history, cannot be suppressed. Over ten years since its launch, the European Space Agency successfully landed a man-made machine – Rosetta – on the surface of comet 67P travelling at speeds of up to 135,000km/h. This wonderful ingenuity is a reminder of the greatness that humanity can achieve.

Our natural inclination toward discovery is a product of our desire to understand the World around us. Today, the civilised World has the scientific method – with a flawless track record – to keep that desire to understand on the right path, free from dogma and superstition, continuously re-evaluating itself, attempting to prove itself wrong, and open to all regardless of thoughts, words, beliefs, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. It is at its core non-discriminatory and open to all who seek knowledge. This wonderful framework for applying Mankind’s continued search for knowledge is a freedom we may take for granted, whilst much of the World clings as they do to archaic and very much discriminatory methods of discerning knowledge, of which only a select few unjustifiable privilege themselves according to old myths, to the misery and detriment of everybody else. We know this as religion.

Whilst the scientific method this week landed a craft on the surface of a speeding comet, Pakistan arrested Tufail Haider on ‘suspicion’ of voicing his opinion about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, Haider’s opinion differed from those who bizarrely believe themselves to be granted the inherent privilege of violently punishing anyone who happens to think differently. It is the obscenity of considering the lives of others to be so chained and dependent on your beliefs only. Haider – who was Shiite – was then murdered by a policeman with an axe. This comes a few days after the young couple Sajjad Maseeh and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were attacked by a mob, had their legs broken so they couldn’t escape, and were thrown to their deaths into a kiln after being wrapped in cotton wool (to catch fire quickly) by hundreds of people, for “blasphemy”. It was rumoured that they had burnt a page of the Qur’an. To that barbaric mob, burning human beings alive is far more acceptable, than accidentally burning a page of something the mob quite likes to think is divine (of which, they haven’t actually offered any evidence for). Similarly, in the case of Haider, the police referred to him as ‘mentally unsound’, rather than the policeman willing to kill a man with an axe for expressing negative thoughts about a group of people who lived 1400 years ago.

Humanity is capable of placing a man-made craft on a speeding comet, whilst murdering other human beings – including a pregnant woman – for saying unkind words about a magic invisible sky man who cannot do His own dirty work. It seems to me that if we are to base concepts of justice on how offended one may feel by the beliefs or words of others, it is non-believers – insulted and threatened on practically every page of most Holy books – who should be the main beneficiaries of such a policy.

Whilst my fellow atheists at times tell me that at its core, religion is the promotion of peace and love, I see nothing but what Sam Harris recently described as the mother lode of bad ideas. It would seem self evident to me that if religions are to be considered fundamentally peaceful, then the fundamentalists must be peaceful. The opposite is the case. Human suffering caused directly by religious dogma, is a clear result of anchoring human knowledge & moral ideals, and the human search for knowledge to a single time and place – often patriarchal – far removed from our own and that we as a species outgrew both intellectually and morally centuries ago. Indeed, a significant – if not the most significant – barrier to individual freedom, happiness and social and scientific progression, is the assumed privilege of religious supremacists. Over too vast a geographical spread, it plunges individuals whom tend not to fit its very narrow moral structure into fear and silence, which not only robs the individual of their right to a happy and dignified life, but also robs humanity of countless great minds. What if the cure for cancer is in the mind of a gay man in Uganda right now?

Humanity cannot be so great until it universally accepts that no single ideology or religion is inherently gifted the privilege to control the lives of others, to tell others that they are not to be included in society, or to withhold the talents of much of the population based solely on their skin tone, or gender, or belief, or sexuality. The minds and lips of all, free to believe and to utter according to the conscience of the individual alone, is the absolute prerequisite for a free and civilised society, and one in which the talents of all can be utilised. I see no greater flaw in our species than our ability to be so wonderful, to move with the times, to change based on the constant updating of human understanding, to free those traditionally oppressed by unjustifiable power structures, to create machines capable of landing on what is essentially a speck of sand in a cosmic ocean; yet at the same time be so willing to coerce and harm others in order to enforce – and make excuses for – the mother lode of bad ideas, regardless of the endless misery it so clearly causes.


Creationists: Give equal airtime to P’an Ku.

May 15, 2014

P'an Ku - Creator of the universe, according to ancient Chinese mythology.

P’an Ku – Creator of the universe, according to ancient Chinese mythology.


Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ has been given a wonderful new life with Neil deGrasse Tyson resurrecting the popular series this year. But not everyone agrees. As we’re all aware by now, creationists across the US are incensed that ‘Cosmos’ only relies on an abundance of scientific data, rather than Bronze aged myths.

Whilst the complaint appears to be that ‘Cosmos’ doesn’t allow for the possibility of ‘creation science’, they specifically seem to mean Christian notions of young earth creation. As if scientific data, and the Book of Genesis, offer equally as viable explanations. But it seems to me that Christian creationists are guilty of the same charge they throw at ‘Cosmos’. Creationists should also be asking: Why aren’t Christian creationists willing to offer equal air time, and a place on the school science curriculum for the ancient Chinese creator of everything; P’an Ku.

China is rich with beautifully crafted mythology, framing the cultural heritage of one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. In the third century, the Chinese author Xú Zhěng wrote of the creation of the heavens, the earth, and everything on it from a Taoist perspective (A Buddhist perspective of the myth differs slightly). The creator is P’an Ku. As with most creation myths, a great void preceded P’an Ku, until the chaos of that void pulled together to form an egg. The egg lasted for 18,000 years. Inside the egg existed the elements of the universe, working to balance the concepts of Yin and Yang, until they perfectly aligned. Once aligned, the egg began to open and P’an Ku emerged. P’an Ku worked tirelessly with the perfect principles of Yin and Yang to create opposites; wet and dry, day and night, male and female.

The top part of the shell that cracked open as P’an Ku escaped, became the sky. The bottom part of the shell became the earth. Another 18,000 years passed as P’an Ku pushed up the sky, and pushed down the earth, as they grew larger and larger each day. Each day, P’an Ku grew six feet taller than the day before. P’an Ku parted the heavens and the earth (a claim that Muslims – like Zakir Naik – like to believe comes directly from the Qur’an and is evidence of their holy book mentioning the big bang; in reality, it’s a concept that preceded the Qur’an, existing in a plethora of creation myths).

Once the sky and the earth had been created, P’an Ku died. His body fell apart, and collapsed down to the earth. His final breaths became the wind that would forever circle the planet. His roaring voice became thunder. His teeth and bone marrow became metals. His blood became the waters in the rivers; the rivers controlled the earth before humanity. One of his eyes became the sun, and the other the moon. His head became the mountains. This idea of the dead body of the creator becoming a part of his creation, is reflected in the Norse creation myth of Ymir, whose flesh becomes the earth, and his blood becomes the rivers and seas. One must also note the similarity with the body of Jesus becoming the bread, and his blood becoming the wine served at the Eucharist. Unlike the God of Christianity, P’an Ku didn’t create humans, that was left to the Goddess Nüwa; the creator of humanity.

Nüwa was lonely on the earth by herself, so she started to create sheep, and horses among other creatures, to keep her company. After a while, she hand crafted humans out of clay. This process became tiresome, and so Nüwa dunked a vine in clay, and swung it around, with each droplet becoming a human. At times, she continued to hand craft humans out of clay, and those chosen few became the nobility.

And that is story of P’an Ku, and the creation of everything.

Humanity is a wonderfully creative and curious species. The Chinese merged those two together, to form the story of P’an Ku. Creation myths are beautifully creative, and expertly crafted works of art. They exist as an example of humanity’s ceaseless quest for understanding and explanation, in the primitive age of our species. But they are not testable explanations or predictions that can be applied reliably, and so they are not science. This is as true for the myth of P’an Ku as it is for the Biblical creation myth. If creationists wish to see equal airtime given to Christian creation myths as to science, or to be taught as science in schools, there is no reason the curriculum – or ‘Cosmos’ – shouldn’t also include every other possible creation myth – including P’an Ku – throughout history. All the more so, in a secular country.


Dr Naik and the muddled Islamic story of creation.

January 13, 2014

Wikimedia Commons. Author: Ashfaq403

Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Ashfaq403

It is often the case that believers of Islam go to great lengths to thoroughly manipulate the words of their text to fit a modern narrative. Words are suddenly interpreted entirely differently to however they were interpreted for centuries previously, the moment a new scientific discovery is made, in order to make the Qur’an fit that new understanding. The historical context is abandoned. It is the religious equivalent of painting a 21st outfit onto Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and then claiming it was like that all along. Dr Zakir Naik is an expert in this most curious and disingenuous form of manipulating the words of the Qur’an to mean something that they clearly don’t. In this article, I will look at Dr Naik’s claim that the Qur’an’s description of the creation of the universe perfectly corresponds to modern scientific understanding.

The softly spoken, suited Dr Naik is loved by many Muslim apologists. For the rest of us, he’s a bit of a mad Televangelist who thinks 9/11 was orchestrated by President Bush, believes apostates who ‘speak out’ against Islam should be put to death, and that evolution was originally a conspiracy against the Church, and is now “only a hypothesis”. Ridiculous. He is essentially the Jerry Falwell of Islam. Nevertheless, he is taken seriously by a large number of Muslims, and so I thought I’d focus on him today.

For reference, I am using the English translation of the Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem. Haleem was born in Egypt, he learnt the Qur’an off by heart at a young age, and he is now Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His translation, according to ‘Muslim News’ is:

“One of the best to have appeared in recent times.”

Similarly, suhaibweb.com calls the translation:

“…one of the most genuine and refreshing translations in contemporary times.”

– I trust this translation. It sits on my shelf, and I use it for most articles I write on Islam.

Onto the topic. Here is Dr Naik trying so very hard to suggest that the Qur’an mentions the theory of the big bang.

Let’s examine the verses of the Qur’an mentioned here by Dr Zaik:
Chapter 21 Verse 30:

“Are disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart…

– No. Disbelievers are not aware of this, because this isn’t reality. The verse is quite clear. The heavens and the Earth – not the raw material that eventually forms planets, but the Earth itself – were joined. This creation idea is not unique to Islam. It is worth noting that the idea of the pulling apart of the Earth and the sky at the moment of creation, is known itself as the ‘World parent’ myth of creation. It is a common myth. The sky is usually depicted as the male, and the Earth as the female in these myths, with both existing tightly packed together before splitting apart in primordial state of being. The Egyptian deity Shu split the Earth from the skies, for example. The Qur’an mixes elements of the World parent myth, with elements of an ex nihilo variety of myth creation, with Allah bringing the Earth and sky into existence with speech, by forcing them apart. This also, is common. It is important therefore to note that the Qur’an follows earlier creation myth building perfectly, and offers nothing new or impressive. This does not in any way relate to modern cosmology, because it is entirely related to earlier myth creation, which itself was a way to try to explain our origins at a time in our magnificent history, when our species had absolutely no idea what was going on.

The Qur’anic verse above implies that space and the Earth were ripped apart at the same moment. We of course know that the big bang happened around 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The atoms that eventually became the Earth spent 9 billion years as other forms of matter. For most of the history of the universe, the matter that formed the Earth, was not, and will not be the Earth. The explosion of a star around 5 billion years ago, its remnants colliding with a gas cloud, that eventually formed our solar system. The heat from the supernova helped to form clusters of matter that eventually created enough gravitational pull to form the sun, which naturally became inconceivably dense and violently hot that it pulled surrounding objects into its orbit. Those surrounding objects eventually lumped together to form the Earth and other planets and moons. The matter that makes the Earth, will eventually create another form of matter, when the planet and the sun and solar system die out. The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. It was not once joined to the ‘heavens’ in the way the Qur’an implies.

A plethora of Islamic apologists – including Adnan Oktar – seem to suggest that the Qur’an actually means “matter” and not “the Earth” with verses like that of the one above. But that’s not what the words actually say. This represents one of those moments where Muslims insist every word of the Qur’an is exactly as it was revealed to Muhammad… until they decide it needs changing.

It is also worth pointing out that the materials required to create the Earth were created long after the big bang. For example, stable hydrogen atoms required the cooling of the universe over hundreds of thousands of years before it began to form. This of course, isn’t present in the Qur’an. Just “We ripped them apart”.

Also not present in the Qur’an; the infinitesimal singularity, there is no mention of matter, of atoms, of how planets form, of how gravity warps spacetime, no mention of the cooling period of the early universe and the creation of stable hydrogen atoms, no densely packed inconceivably hot energy in the early state of the universe, no quantum physics, no mention of the importance of the core of a star, no mention of how galaxies form, or of energy. There is no mention of these key aspects of the beginning of the universe because those who wrote the Qur’an were unaware of it all, relying instead on earlier myths. Had this been a ‘revelation’ from the divine, and given that the Qur’an goes out of its way to care enough to mention creation, I would have expected far more information, and a leap forward for scientific endeavour, rather than regurgitating legends of old. Instead we’re treated to cryptic nothingness that wouldn’t have been considered ‘advanced’ scientific knowledge, had it been ‘revealed’ 500 years earlier.

Further, the verse suggests that the Earth is now separate from the sky, and that separation occurred at the moment they were “ripped apart”. Whilst this is in keeping with World parent myth creation, in reality it doesn’t resemble truth at all. There is no separate “sky” and “Earth”, they are both part of the same system, with the Earth forming around 9 billion years after the initial expansion at the big bang. There was simply an expansion. There was no ‘before’ the big bang in which the Earth and the sky were in a different state of being, unless you accept the primitive creation myths in which a primordial state of being existed whereby the Earth and sky were joined. None of this is mentioned in the Qur’an, just a simplistic “We ripped them apart”. Let’s stop pretending this is credible, or scientific, or representing some sort of advanced knowledge. It isn’t. It is a simple, and primitive creation myth.

Chapter 41, Verse 11 (a chapter that tenderly takes a brief time out – a couple of sentences – from describing the painful eternal torture awaiting us non-believers, to discuss ‘creation’, before launching into more violent descriptions of our imminent punishment):

“Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

– Again it is worth noting that the use of God’s voice to bring into being everything, is not new. Everything springs from a creator after a thought, or words, or breath. Secondly, the mention of ‘smoke’ is not a new idea, having been propagated by the Greeks centuries earlier, as a potential state prior to the creation of the Earth. Aristotle, for example says To rest the entire idea of the Qur’an mentioning the state of the early universe on ‘which was smoke’ shows just how incredibly weak the claim is. There was no smoke at the conception of the universe. In fact, the early state of the universe cannot be said to resemble smoke – defined as ‘a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance’ – in any form. Carbon itself would not exist for a few million years. Stable hydrogen atoms also took a very long time to form. The early universe was a very dense, incredibly hot, lightless mass of energy. Not smoke. Nothing like smoke. Again, it takes very creative language manipulation to try to claim the word ‘smoke’ can be used to describe the early universe. It just can’t.

Much like the previous quoted verse, this verse suggests that the Earth and sky came into being at the same time, at the moment in which they were “ripped apart”, and again, this is wrong. Indeed, not only does Chapter 41, Verse 11 of the Qur’an absolutely contradict our understanding of the cosmos and the formation of the universe and Earth, but also, lazily, contradicts itself over the previous two verses. The preceding verses of Chapter 41, from verse 9-10 state:

“[9]Say ‘how can you disregard the One who created the Earth in two days? How can you set up other gods as His equals? He is the Lord of all Worlds! [10]He places solid mountains on it, blessed it, measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them – all in four days.[11]Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

– So, from verse 9 and 10 we get creation of the Earth. The inclusion of the word ‘then’ at the beginning of verse 11, implies that God turned His attention to the sky, after already forming the Earth. By verse 11 the Earth has been created with mountains and ‘provisions’. There is no sky at this point, despite the fact that the earlier chapter 21 implies they were created at the exact same moment in which they were “ripped apart”. Provisions and mountains exist, but the sky is just smoke. But then, oddly, God turns to both and demands they come into existence together. Which they do, confirming the earlier chapter, but contradicting the previous verse.

An earlier myth from Memphis in Egypt tells us that the God Ptah simply thought the World into existence, and gave everything its essence, through his words. As noted earlier, the use of divine speech – important to this Quranic verse – to bring everything into existence is not new. As well as appearing in countless creation myths, it appears in the Torah too: “And God said; ‘let there be light!'”

So, if we take Chapter 21, Verse 30, along with Chapter 41, Verse 11, as Dr Naik does, we come to the conclusion that the Earth – complete with mountains and ‘provisions’ – was created first, the sky was then created. They were joined. They were then ripped apart. It is very similar to Genesis, with a few tweaks here and there. It corresponds wonderfully to earlier primitive creation myths that speak of the sky and Earth pulled apart at the moment of creation. But it doesn’t correspond in any conceivable way to reality, without a thorough rewording, and creative reinterpretation of what the text actually says. Dr Naik is attempting – unsuccessfully – to rescue a dying and failed ‘science’ from its inevitable demise, by recreating what it actually says. It is a very defensive form of apologetics. I am yet to find any scientific peer reviewed thesis in relation to the origins of the universe and planet formation that references the Qur’anic story. It isn’t difficult to see why.


The Beautiful Everything.

January 11, 2014

It is most difficult to conceive of a more humbling experience in life than to lay and stare at the stars on a clear night. Our place within the grand everything seems in equal parts so small and wonderful. Each of our lives are permitted to take up just a split second within the vastness of time before those atoms that make you – and that have always existed – move on to form something new and equally as unique. But for a brief moment those atoms from every corner of space and time, from the explosion of stars billions of year back, became self aware, they became rational, they became the universe trying to comprehend itself, they became you. You are unique. The atoms have always existed. It is only since your birth, that those atoms became self aware. This is life. The collection of atoms that – after billions of years flying aimlessly through the cosmos – became the people that you love and are unique and will continue to exist until the moment time itself comes to an end. It is therefore true that the connection between you is so thoroughly unique and wonderful that it becomes simply impossible to describe. So cherish it. Let it devour you.

I am quite certain that this is the most awe inspiring and beautiful image mankind has ever taken or witnessed. It is one of very few objects in my life that make my heart race just by looking at it for a brief moment.

687px-Constellation_Fornax,_EXtreme_Deep_Field
– This is the Hubble Extreme Deep Field. Every object you see is a galaxy. It shows one section of the night sky. Space.com tells us that this image is just one piece in a jigsaw of 30,000,000 more images like it. As if zooming in on one pixel in a grand image. This one piece of the jigsaw shows around 5,500 galaxies. The redder galaxies are the most distant ever recorded. The image shows galaxies from as far back as 13.2 billion years ago. This means that the light collected by Hubble that you now see on that image above, began its journey before the Earth itself existed. What a phenomenal human achievement. A testament to the brilliant curiosity of our species.

Further, our home galaxy, the Milky Way contains around 200 billion stars, with perhaps as many planets, if not billions more. Many of which will exist in the habitable zone of their system. In one galaxy alone. Andromeda has perhaps one trillion stars. Those are just two galaxies. Imagine, as you look at the picture above, how many planets you must be looking at. How many potential lives, events and species you are witnessing. How many beautiful sceneries you are not even aware exist. How many traditions and philosophies that have never been seen on Earth. The potential is almost too incomprehensible to consider.

The brilliant Carl Sagan once reminded us that every name of every great sports person, military general, singer, religious prophet, politician, and scientist, every species, every book, every ocean, every period of history, every discovery, every Rosa Parks, every Isaac Newton, every Socrates, every explorer and every artist that has ever existed is known only to us on our one tiny planet. Our knowledge is inconceivably vast, and yet inconceivably limited to our little ball in a tiny obscure region of the universe. Indeed, the history of our species alone is perhaps less than a quarter of a million years. Imagine the scale and varieties of ideologies, of species, of creativity, of discovery, of tribes, of literature, of war, of festivals, of Paris’ and Beijing’s, of love, of heroes and rulers, of Hemingway’s and Brontë’s, of conversation and music, that you could potentially be looking directly at when you look at that image. At that one single, seemingly limitless image.

Quite amazingly – and even more likely to melt your brain – if we assume a very conservative estimate of 100 billion stars per galaxy, on the scale used to estimate the size of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, the observable universe would contain 123,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. That’s 123 billion billion stars. Consider that for a second. Try to rationalise that number in your mind. And then perhaps marvel at the beauty of the simple fact that your mind – an assortment of atoms no different to those that make up the stars you look upon, nor those that make up the clothes that you wear – even has the wonderful ability to try to rationalise that number.

In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch. It is the successor to Hubble. It is expected to go far beyond the capability of Hubble, around 100x more powerful, producing images of galaxies forming and formed just a couple of hundred million years after the big bang. The farthest we have ever glimpsed into our past. It will achieve this in hours. How incredible it is to be human, and to be able to try to comprehend our origins. So when you next have five minutes to spare one evening, lay and stare at the stars. Really consider what it is you are staring in to. It is an overwhelmingly emotional connection, and experience. It is so humbling. The beautiful everything.


The magnificent science of 2013.

January 7, 2014

Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey.

2013 was a wonderful year for science. Thousands of breakthroughs in medical science, in space science, in technology, and genetics changed human understanding of ourselves and the universe that we inhabit, forever. We are now far closer to treating disease, to understanding our evolutionary journey, and to exploring the cosmos on a scale far greater than we were just twelve months ago. Each breakthrough deserves articles for themselves, but I thought I’d present a few here in snippets, with links to articles that describe the astonishing scientific breakthroughs of 2013 in greater detail. Here is a brief year in science:

January:
After a severe gout infection in his hand, Mark Cahill became the first man in the UK to undergo a successful hand transplant. Here.

In early January a study from Caltech in Pasadena estimated that each star in the Milky Way galaxy alone, contains at least one planet. This further estimates that our galaxy is home to at least 100 billion planets. In just one galaxy. In 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there exists 125 billion galaxies. Here.

Also in the UK, a team of experts cured blindness in mice. The treatment – which includes injecting light sensitive cells into the eye and rebuilding light sensitivity – could in future be the launching pad for treating retinitis pigmentosa in humans. Here.

In Bolivia, a team of researchers discovered that injecting certain engineered stem cells in the minutes immediately following a stroke, could significantly aid recovery. The discovery was made after rats suffering a stroke were found to regain completely normal brain function within two weeks, after stem cell treatment. Here.

February:
In early February, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the development of potential treatments for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, by finding a way to overcome the problem caused by the blood-brain barrier – a barrier between the blood and the brain that blocks drugs from entering blood tissue. This is a remarkable step forward for the treatment of neurological disorders in humans. Here.

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have managed to engineer 3D printing techniques to create stem cells. The researchers believe it could be the first step in creating brand new organs, without the need for organ donation. Here.

Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover became the first human machine to drill a hole into the Martian surface, and recover samples for analysis in order to discover whether the planet ever held conditions for supporting life. In March, results showed that the rocks contain oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. A clear indication that life may have once existed on the Martian surface. Here.

Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs using a method of gene therapy. To achieve this, a new gene is coded and used to replace a damaged gene. Here.

March:
My particular favourite – red wine makes you live longer. So if any of my readers appreciate me continuing to exist, you should send me red wine. Here.

In March, stem cells taken from mice and humans were successfully used to create new teeth to replace damaged teeth in mice, leading to the possibility of stem cells being used to create new teeth for humans in the future. Here.

In Leipzig, for the first time the full genome of Neanderthal was published, using a toe bone found in Siberia. By understanding Neanderthal’s genome, we get a clearer picture of the genetic divergence between modern humans, and our cousins. Neanderthal’s genome is a window into the history of humanity. Here.

The genetics of oesophageal cancer were more thoroughly understood, in March. Mutations in a number of genes were located that directly match those required for the development of the cancer. This is key to developing treatments to target the horrific disease that kills 400,000 World wide, every year. Here.

April:
Researchers discovered in April, the genetic mutation that can lead to the build up of certain proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease. This discovery significantly aids researchers in developing treatments that target those areas of the brain with a view to understanding, treating and preventing Alzheimer’s on a far more targeted manner. Here.

Kidneys are the organ most in demand across the planet, for transplants. Scientists in April successfully created a lab grown kidney and transplanted it into animals, using stem cell technology. Whilst still in its early stages, this is a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Here.

A safer and easier technique of transforming bone marrow stem cells into healthy, functioning brain cells was produced by the Scripps Research Institute in April. This leads to far better treatment for stroke, and spinal injuries. Here.

May:
Energy efficiency in low grade silicon was improved greatly in 2013. UNSW in Australia developed a technique to better control hydrogen atoms, improving electrical efficiency from 19% to 23%. By October of 2013, the team was aiming at silicon solar cells with 29% targeted efficiency. This also helps to lower costs. Here.

Scientists at UC San Francisco successfully cured epilepsy in mice, opening the way for treatment for the prevention of the causes of epilepsy in humans. Here.

Fossils found in south west Tanzania seem to confirm earlier DNA analysis showing that monkeys and apes diverged 25 to 30 million years ago. By 25 million years ago, the fossils suggest old World monkeys and apes had separated. Here.

Neuroscientists at Lund University successfully prevented early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in mice, by switching off a mutated protein in the brain. Treatments for Huntington’s is currently lacking, but this research provides the basis for future experiments and eventually treatments for Huntington’s in humans, by showing that symptoms can be controlled by dealing with the mutated protein. Here.

June:
In June the US Supreme Court ruled that a company could not patent genes. It sounds obvious. But that’s exactly what Myriad Genetics in Utah attempted to do. The company attempted to patent isolated DNA connected to ovarian and breast cancer, which in turn meant other groups had vital research frustrated and threatened. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled against Myriad, and research and treatment costs are now expected to fall. Here.

Researchers in London pioneered hologram technology to be used to lecture theatres across the World designed to make is easier for students to understand – through visuals – the huge amount of information they study. The effect is one in which a study subject – such as the kidney – appears to be floating in mid-air and can be manipulated for teaching purposes. Here.

The Israeli company NeuroDerm – a company supported by the Michael J.Fox Foundation – has developed a skin-administered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and initial reports are very promising. Here.

In June this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb working on therapies for metastatic melanoma and with a new drug, found that a third of patients were still alive three years later. This is a major breakthrough, because almost 100% of those suffering from the advanced disease in the past, do not survive. The therapy was said to lead to rapid regression of the tumour. Treatments are currently undergoing greater research into why it only seems to help around a third of patients. But the advancement in cancer immunotherapy was named the breakthrough of the year, in December this year. Here.

July:
The London Array. The World’s largest offshore wind farm – with 175 turbines – opens in the Thames estuary in London. It is set to reduce annual Co2 emissions by 900,000 tons; equivalent of 300,000 passenger cars. Here.

New research can now be opened for Down’s Syndrome, after US scientists managed to isolate and silence the chromosome that causes Down’s Syndrome, raising the possibility of future treatment for common symptoms. Here.

One in ten suffer from cat allergies. In July, researchers discovered a protein from cat dandruff that causes cat allergies in humans, and hope to develop a cure within five years. Here.

August:
Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2013, came with the clearance of a simple skin patch that works to slowly feed a drug into the bloodstream and regulate blood pressure stability on a level never seen before. The patch has the potential to save millions of lives a year. Here.

Researchers have finally discovered certain processes that lead to mutational factors prevalent in most types of cancer, previously unknown. By understanding the genetic development of particular cancers, researchers in 2013 have opened the doors into future research for treatments. Here.

Using 3D printing technology for stem cells, researchers in Australia have developed lab-grown cartilage, leading to hopes that by 2025, brand new functioning, patient-specific organs will be produced in much the same way. Here.

September:
Scientists announced that a universal vaccine for flu could be available within five years. The flu virus mutates constantly and so is particularly difficult to immunise, but scientists have discovered what they term a ‘blue print’ that could eradicate all forms of the virus. Here.

The World’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg was developed in September. Here.

In New York, cotton-top Tamarins were observed and recorded making whisper-like behaviour The evidence suggests the Tamarins were investigating the threat level from the zoo supervisor, and communicating that information with other Tamarins via whisper. Here.

October:
Researchers at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen discovered gut stem cells that repair the damage caused by inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice. Here.

A 17 year old girl in China with serious facial disfiguration due to terrible burns had a new face using pioneering technology that used tissue from her chest to craft a new face. She told reporters that the best part of this whole process, was that she could smile again. Here.

A huge leap in harnessing fusion for the benefit of unlimited energy was taken by US scientists in October. The amount of energy created by the reaction exceeded the amount used to cause the reaction. This is a World first. Here.

November:
A brand new way of scanning the heart for early signs of the causes of heart attacks was developed passed early tests. It highlights dangerous areas of the heart most at risk, in far greater detail than ever before. Here.

Researchers at Sheffield University discovered a method to reduce nuclear waste by up to 90%, and safely. Here.

December:
In Montreal, a team of researchers discovered a certain protein responsible for anxiety and emotional memory disorders in humans. They then tested drugs on mice and noted a significant improvement in those suffering with certain anxiety issues. Here.

New research using gut microbes taken from the human gut was found to help reverse behavioural issues associated with autism-like symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal issues that usually accompany autism, when tested on mice. The implication being a greater understanding of autism, and potential future treatment in humans. Here.

Researchers have found the most convincing evidence so far, that Neanderthal buried their dead in Europe, 50,000 years before modern humans came to the continent. Here.

New research found that a drug not yet approved for availability on the NHS is far more effective at preventing breast cancer than any others. The drug is said to halve the likelihood of those considered most at risk, from ever developing breast cancer. Here.

——- In truth, this is all really a very small sample of a few incredible scientific advancements and additions to the library of human knowledge provided by some of the World’s most wonderful minds over the past year. The magnificent science of 2013.


Poeticising Da’wah: An Atheist Critique.

December 9, 2013

There is a video currently doing the rounds across social media platforms that appears to have great power over Muslims. The video is produced by “Talk Islam” and features a speaker poetically expressing his understanding of the universe, and his dismissal of science. Those who have commented on the video range from some who find it the most inspiring poetic expression of Islam in years, to those who it drives to tears – that’s right, I can be poetic too! – and this surprises me for something that is so poorly written.

The video in question is here:

You may think “It’s just poetry, why address it? Let it be….Whisper words of wisdom…. let it be.” I would note that this video is being touted as a video that converts people the moment they see it. It is shown to non-believers as a form of beautiful proselytizing, of da’wah and so it becomes more than just a poem. Therefore, criticism is required.

I am a big fan of poetic creativity, and the poet in this video is expressing his. On a poetically creative level, I fully appreciate his work. But the content – as a form of da’wah – I find to be woefully misleading, scientifically illiterate, and full of fallacy and ignorance. I thought I’d deal with several of the points it raises here. The video is only 6 minutes long, but contains a lot of points, which would take up several thousand words to address. So I thought I’d stick to the first half of the video here, and limit my arguments, in an attempt to show that if the first half can be dismissed as nonsense, the second half isn’t likely to produce anything better.

It is also important to note that he isn’t saying anything new. The cosmological “proof” is used, the God-of-the-gaps is used, and commenting on his own misunderstanding of science is used. These widely used religious non-arguments are simply used a little more poetically here.

So, here are the five points:

“Don’t ask any questions, just go with the flow.” “Just make as much money as you can”.

– Here, the speaker is critiquing Western values. The audio is interlaced with a video showing US dollars. The implication being, the reason we non-Muslims haven’t asked questions, and come to Islam yet, is because we’re too busy obsessed with money. That is his only explanation. We must be too distracted by the accumulation of material goods, to embrace Allah. Both the poet and I agree that the Western World has placed money as a sort of quasi-God, and that this is deeply problematic. Though I would describe an obsession with religion as just as problematic, inhumane and dangerous, as an obsession with money. The two are very similar to me.

What the speaker is doing is a tried and tested method – usually by Muslims – to deflect from the issues their own system creates (institutionalised homophobia, for example), their lack of reasonable argument, and instead seeks to amplify the worst of Western, secular values – to the very extreme – as if they are representative of the entire region and everyone in it. It is of course, deeply misinformed. Indeed, the secular World has created some of the greatest universities in the World, encouraging free thought and wonderful advancements – far more so than any religious state has ever achieved – we do not ban books or words that run contrary to prevailing wisdom, we do not threaten people if they make films or books satirising secular customs.

The very reason I am an Atheist, is because I question (and not least because I wont be arrested, or have my life threatened by the state for questioning). The very reason I reject the Qur’an is because the Qur’an seems so inadequate; is scientifically less impressive than the Greeks were 1000 years earlier; offers no proof or even a shred of evidence for its claims on divinity; is rather badly put together; incredibly inaccurate; is far better explained by its links to the early Caliph’s need to control and unify; spends far too much time on meaningless tribal squabbles and Muhammad’s love life; and anchors “morality” to a single place and single time. And this is before we’ve even started to discuss the possibility of a ‘creator’. But we’ll come to that shortly. I wrote here on where I believe Islam – as we know it – took its roots and why.

It would also appear to me that the phrase “don’t ask questions” is better placed as a description of religion. Apostasy laws, blasphemy laws, attempting to prohibit the teaching of evolution, placing “God” in the gaps of understanding as if that’s reasonable, dismissing contrary arguments as of the “kuffar”, and threats to those who question or criticise certain religions ensure uniformity of belief among those under states that are entwined with the religion. It is a very difficult venture indeed, to locate a page in the Qur’an that doesn’t threaten those who are not Muslim, with terrible pain and torture simply for asking questions. This isn’t the promotion of freedom of thought and critique, this is the business of controlling thought processes and ensuring conformity through threats. The speaker in this video casts stones that boomerang back and hit him square in the face.

“How did we get here, and who made us so perfect?” “Did you create yourself or is it someone else that fashioned you?”

– Hideously false dichotomy. The choice isn’t “either you made yourself, or God made you“. We didn’t just appear, as we are today. Our ancestors – from the single cell, to homo sapien – have weathered such incredibly tough climates and challenges, fought rival species for survival, endured close to starvation and extinction, fostered ingenuity on a wonderful level, created language and tools, adapted to conditions and threats along the way, and died of the most easily curable diseases. That is how we are here. We have our ancestors to thank. We didn’t create ourselves. We didn’t require a God. Natural selection is as close to fact as any scientific theory you will ever come across – including gravity.

The question of how the entire universe got here – well, we don’t have a definitive answer yet, just like we didn’t have a definitive answer as to the nature of a lunar eclipse, centuries ago. This gap in our knowledge did not then render the Viking explanation of two wolves chasing and trying to eat the sun, any more credible. We place myths in the gaps in knowledge, always have. But we advance because we question. A ‘creator’ of the universe, is simply another gap plugged with an ill-fitting myth.

The speaker then goes on to show a video of Dawkins and Krauss, and subtly hints that an absence of God in our lives, is by extension, an absence of purpose. I find this to be a weak point, and one made out of malice and desperation rather than thought. Oprah Winfrey – a Christian – made the overly obtuse comment that non-believers just don’t understand awe and beauty. This is of course ridiculous, and I addressed it here. It is awe and beauty that drives curiosity and scientific inquiry. The same is true of purpose. As a non-believer, I create my own purpose. My purpose – as a human, with 70 or so short years in which to cram everything in – is to love, to be happy, and to obtain knowledge to the best of my ability, to see as much of the World as I possibly can, and when my time is up, I want to die feeling fulfilled. That is my purpose. I do not require a promise of heavenly reward, or a fairy sky man for that.

“For there isn’t a camera on this Earth that can come close to the human eye. If the whole world was to come together we wouldn’t be able to create a single fly…. so many signs.”

– This is scientifically illiterate creationism, and nothing less. It is a full dismissal of evolution via natural selection. Therefore it is also a dismissal of every subject that is based on evolution; genetics, biology, medicine, zoology, and many more. I am still waiting for a thesis from any creationist that proves the basis of all of those studies to be entirely false. So far, their criticism seems to amount to nothing more than “why are there still monkeys?

The eye is a beautifully elegant product of natural selection. We know this. It isn’t a guess. From simple photoreceptor structures that could recognise basic light in unicell organisms, to the evolution of lenses that regulate light intensity, to the complex structure we now have; each step along the way has endowed the species with a genetic advantage, and so has become increasingly complex in structure. Natural selection can and does explain the evolution of the eye. And it has taken around a billion years.

The speaker weirdly compares this, to a modern camera. Photography has existed since around 1840. Less than 200 years. Which, you will perhaps note, is a little bit less than a billion years – about a billion years less – so yes, we’d expect a bit more complexity, especially with natural selection as the driving force. I’m sure in a billion years, the camera might be a little more complex too.

A predator that has a greater – even to a very small degree – perception of light and depth through mutations to a form of photoreceptor, has an evolutionary advantage and the gene will eventually pass on and slowly improve if necessary. Basic science. It is the reason bacteria become immune to vaccines. They adapt. The eye did the same thing. The eye is naturally advantageous, so of course it is complex. There are not “so many signs” for a creator. There are however vast amounts of collected evidence, and vast amounts of significant study into the evolution of the eye. The speaker here dismisses them all. He isn’t challenging the litany of thesis backed by evidence, he’s simply displaying his ignorance of it. Therefore, he is not promoting thinking, as he seems to believe he is.

“Science tries to justify that all this can come from none, when it’s a simple sum, zero plus zero plus zero can not possibly give you one.”

– Yes. I guess if you’re willing to suggest that all physics can be reduced to basic 2nd Grade maths, this is true. In reality, it’s nonsense. I also suspect he abandons that sum, the moment that the “one” in the equation is called “God”. Indeed, it isn’t science that says we “came from none”, it’s his own faith:
Qur’an 19:67:

“We created him before out of nothing.”

– What the poet is telling us then, is that whilst science is wrong to suggest “something came from nothing” (incredibly simplistic interpretation of scientific inquiry), it’s fine for religious folk to say “something came from nothing…. when eternal magic sky man does it”.

Science has never suggested something comes from nothing. It claims a singularity. The big bang was an incredible moment at which the form of energy that existed at the unfathomable singularity changed and began to expand. We know this. We don’t know how it began to expand (there doesn’t need to be a ‘why’ is began to expand). But not knowing, is not evidence for a God. It never has been. We also know that at a quantum level, virtual particles spring in and out of existence – from nothing – all the time. It is only scientifically illiterate religious folk that cannot comprehend science; they prefer the simplistic answer.

Science goes where the evidence points, not where philosophical conjecture points, and science is not here to place “God” in the gaps of understanding. It is an accumulation of knowledge, not a guess. The existence of “nothing” is of course, self defeating. There has always been something. Existence requires time. Time and space are necessary for causation to exist. Time and space sprang into existence at the singularity, therefore, there was no time or space for a cause of time and space to exist. Causation is a product of the universe and applies to the sum of its parts, it need not apply to the universe itself.

“Everything has a maker, a creator”. “We can believe in the Big Bang but I’d rather believe in He who caused it to explode.

– Again, I suspect this little equation is abandoned, the moment we ask “so who made God?”

I wrote on the idea of “before” the Big Bang here and so wont repeat myself too much, but an excerpt of my argument is important for this point:

“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, simply because not a shred of evidence is ever provided for such an extraordinary revision of all known physical laws.”

– Following from this, and in relation to the poem, the speaker uses the term “caused”, which suggests that he believes causation has no link to time or space. He of course provides no evidence for this extraordinary claim. He simply places ‘God’ in the gap in our understanding, and has decided that is a logical position to hold, despite the fact that every time the God of the gaps has been invoked throughout history, it’s always turned out to be wrong.

For a poem that is being promoted as some sort of supreme da’wah, it is inconceivably weak on absolutely every point it endeavours to make. It achieves the opposite of what it sets out to achieve, it is several minutes worth of trying to justify the dogma of the God-of-the-gaps. Whilst the poetics, and the over dramatic pronouncements make it seem attractive, the proselytizing fails the moment it begins. Though if we are to take one thing from this video, one idea that the poet makes, that is to question everything, including claims made by way of poetic da’wah.


“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.


The Cosmological Argument: “Eternal sky man used magic”.

November 14, 2013

The old cosmological argument as a classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God is apparently alive and well. It is used in practically every debate for the existence of God that I’ve come across. They sometimes rewrite it a little, believing to have strengthened its points, but the argument remains the same. The argument seems to require both supposition, and circular reasoning, whilst attempting to seem logical. William Lane Craig is always itching to use it before he even steps up to the podium. Hamza Tzortzis is under the unique impression that it still has merit especially if he uses pretentious language that is ultimately meaningless. The argument is as follows:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

– In essence… you cannot get something from nothing.

I have several criticisms of this classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God that I’ll set out below, point by point.

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
You may have noted several problems with the argument immediately, starting not with its first point, but with its overall premise that an infinite cannot possibly exist. The premise that an infinite cannot exist, in this case is negated by the idea that a creator was uncaused, and thus, infinite. On top of an infinite God, the argument presupposes that the first cause ‘created’ everything…. out of nothing. They attempt to argue that something from nothing is impossible, whilst arguing that something from nothing is possible, as long as an eternal overlord did it. They don’t in any way provide evidence for the presupposition that something – anything – is able to exist prior to time and space, or outside of time and space. And that’s a crucial point. They therefore have no logically sound base for their argument. We try to rationalise with them, debate respectfully, use grandiose philosophical terms on a level that they believe helps their cause, but I think perhaps we give the cosmological argument too much credit, when in fact its very fundamental premise is just a more eloquent rewording of: “Eternal sky man used magic“.

Secondly, the phrase “…that begins to exist” is vital to the flaw. 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. This presented problems for the believer, and so the phrase “…that begins to exist” was added. But this addition isn’t free from flaws, in fact it multiplies them. It is clearly intense circular reasoning. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t begin to exist, which suggests they’ve always existed, which exempts them from the entire argument. In turn, this means by splitting existence into two categories a) Things that begin to exist and by extension b) Things that don’t begin to exist, but exist anyway, those who use the cosmological argument defeat their own premise; that nothing can be infinite.

They are also trying to prove God, by exempting God from the argument. To put it a little more simply, it is like saying “Everything…. that is blue“. Everything encompasses itself, there is nothing excluded. But the addition of “..that is blue” suddenly changes the meaning of “everything” by exempting everything that isn’t blue. And so “…that begins to exist” exempts that which is presumed not to have a beginning, by which believers call “God”. 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.
– If an exemption for “everything” exists – and the exemption is that which you’re trying to prove – then your argument is incomplete, and so it is flawed.

Also flawed, is the premise that everything has a cause. Hume argued that we can infer from our experience of houses, that an architect and builders are required for a house to exist. We know this from experience of how houses come to exist. But we have no experience of how universes – the chain itself, rather than the constituent parts – come to exist, and so it is not possible to draw the same inference as we would do for houses. In essence, causation applies to the constituent parts of the universe, but need not apply to the universe (and so, time) itself.

2. The universe began to exist.
This is a flippant attempt to link the beginning of the universe itself, to the beginning of everything within the universe, when in fact the two are separate. Causation requires time to exist. Therefore causation is a product of the universe, the universe need not itself be a product of the laws of causation observed within the universe. The argument “the universe began to exist” places the universe (the entire set, rather than the parts of the set) within itself, subject to the law of the parts of the set that it gave birth to.

There was no “before time“, there was no prior state of being in which the universe hadn’t “begun” to exist yet, and so there was never a possibility for something to exist in order to be the cause of the universe – and therefore time – itself. The word “begun” requires time. The word “before” requires time. The word “cause” requires time. If a cause existed, then time existed, which means the universe had already begun to exist.
To argue “you cannot get something from nothing” is meaningless when discussing the universe itself, because there has never been “nothing“, there has always been “something”.

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 has no cause, without actually providing evidence for that subtly made assertion. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, it is not a rational argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. It isn’t in the slightest bit convincing.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
As noted above, this does not follow from the first two points, and therefore fails. It is a meaningless statement. Before making a case for the cosmological argument’s credibility, it seems to me that one must first produce the slightest piece of evidence that it is possible for something to exist outside of the all-encompassing confines of time and space. Which is of course both irrational, and self defeating. Existence requires time. And on that basis alone, the third point is irrational.

We non-believers simply say we do not know. Scientists are working on it. We just don’t know yet. In time, evidence will be gathered, theories formed, and conclusions drawn. It is simply not acceptable practice to notice a gap in our understanding, and place “God” without a significant amount of evidence for such an extraordinary claim, relying instead of horribly flawed philosophical talking points. The cosmological argument is one of those flawed talking points. It is nothing more than an eloquently formed synonym for “Eternal sky man used magic“.


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”.


Battle for Virginia: The Cuccinelli Plague.

July 9, 2013

Ken Cuccinelli. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Gage Skidmore.

Ken Cuccinelli.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Gage Skidmore.

By 2014 the Republican Party will have had two years following the Presidential defeat, to reposition their party as more inclusive of the demographics that voted overwhelmingly against them in 2012. As of July 2013, the Republicans have simply continued their war on immigrants, the poor, gay rights, and most notably, on women. And so it is those groups that will provide the strength to knock the Republicans from key positions in late 2013, and 2014.

My next few articles will focus on some key battlegrounds in the fight to turn America blue.

Virginia is one such place.

In November 2013, Virginia will head to the polls to elect a new Governor. Moderates have a choice, they can choose to vote for Democratic nominee, and ex DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe; a moderate himself. Or they can choose to elect the Republican nomination, current Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli.

Ken Cuccinelli is your typical Tea Party style Republican, dedicated to nothing more than rolling back gay rights, rolling back employee rights, and attempting to ensure that safe access to abortion disappears from Virginia. He has fought on this basis for quite some time.
Recently Cuccinelli worked to force abortion clinics to upgrade to hospital level, thereby threatening the existence of abortion clinics in Virginia. This is a common GOP tactic in restricting access to abortion. Cuccinelli provided support for his particular war on women, with a speech that completely rewrote history:

“Start right at the beginning – slavery. Today, abortion. History has shown us what the right position was, and those were issues that were attacked by people of faith aggressively to change the course of this country.”

– Yes. The Attorney General of Virginia compared abortion to slavery. The enslavement, vicious beatings, forced labour, abuse, rapes of a people based solely on the shade of their skin….. Cuccinelli compares to abortion. He also seems to be unaware of the split in Christendom in the US during the antebellum period on the issue of slavery. People of faith both supported, and opposed slavery. They certainly weren’t united. Maryland’s “Society of Jesus” owned slaves and heavy handedly put them to work. And despite the official anti-slavery position of the Methodist Church; Southern Methodist church’s continued to support slavery even after the civil war. Cuccinelli is entirely wrong to suggest Christianity was responsible for the end of slavery. Christian propaganda is a wonderful tool wielded by the Christian Right.

On gay rights, Cuccinelli wishes to ensure that gay people have few protections and rights as possible, stating:

“It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification, as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.”

Along with women, and gay people, Cuccinelli also isn’t too keen on reality. Ken Cuccinelli believes himself to be correct, and practically every reputable scientist on the planet to be incorrect, when it comes to climate change. So much so, that upon taking office in 2010, he filed a lawsuit requiring the Environmental Protection Agency overturn its ruling that greenhouse gases endanger public health. Of course, the case failed. He then …. and i’m not making this up…. mocked the EPA by suggesting everyone hold their breath for a minute to prevent release of carbon dioxide to please them. That is the extent of the potential Governor of Virginia’ understanding of rising Co2 levels.
He then attempted to launch a fraud investigation against a scientist at the University of Virginia. The District Court, followed by the Supreme Court threw his case out.
His one man political crusade against reality prompted the University of Virginia to state:

“His action and the potential threat of legal prosecution of scientific endeavor that has satisfied peer-review standards send a chilling message to scientists engaged in basic research involving Earth’s climate and indeed to scholars in any discipline. Such actions directly threaten academic freedom and, thus, our ability to generate the knowledge upon which informed public policy relies.”

The Washington Post stated that Cuccinelli had:

“….declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry”

– Though, Cuccinelli’s position on climate change hasn’t been completely negative for him. During the first four months of 2013, he managed to raise over $2,500,000 for his campaign, mainly from gas and oil interests. That should certainly strengthen his anti-climate change position.

Cuccinelli’s current war, is on…… again, not making this up……. oral and anal sex.
Perhaps he thinks it’ll speak to a Virginian sense of heritage given that in the founding years of the nation, the Virginia legislature decided death was the appropriate penalty for “sodomy”. (Though, Thomas Jefferson did try to commute this to the much more liberal-minded punishment of castration).
All ‘Sodomy’ laws were scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2003. In Virginia, the law broadly criminalised oral as well as anal sex. Ten years later, the potential Governor of Virginia wants the law upheld. He insists that his new idea for Sodomy laws would only involve cases of rape and minors. And yet, in 2004 when a bipartisan group of State Senators proposed a similar law, Cuccinelli voted against it. Just how far Cuccinelli can be trusted in not prosecuting consenting adults, can possibly be deduced from a 2009 speech in which he states:

“My view is that homosexual acts — not homosexuality, but homosexual acts — are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law-based country, it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that … They don’t comport with natural law

– Seems to me that Cuccinelli wishes to criminalise homosexuality. And this man is running for public office… not in 1950. But in 2013.

Cuccinelli is also a ‘Right-To-Work’ supporter; despite a recent ‘National Education Association’ study finding that:

“worker-friendly states are significantly healthier, are more productive, have less poverty, and with citizens who enjoy longer life spans. In four of the seven measures (GDP per capita, poverty, insurance and life expectancy rates) so-called “right-to-work” states come out significantly (and statistically) worse.

These findings have broad policy implications in those states where lawmakers are wrongly considering RTW measures, and should inform the good efforts of union members and allies to quell those efforts. Instead of pursuing laws that actually lower the standard of living in their states, policy makers should look for ways to elevate everyone’s standard of living. Enacting RTW laws is not only misguided, but in fact counterproductive to achieving such ends. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right to work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works’.”

– Like with climate change, Cuccinelli is ignoring the facts on what actually works to provide a better standard of living for Virginians. He ignores facts, in order to progress a far right, damaging agenda. He is not a rational man. He is an extreme ideologue.

So you can see, a typical Tea Party-esque politician that cannot be trusted with an ounce of power. He cannot be trusted with women’s health and women’s freedom issues, he cannot be trusted with gay rights issues, he cannot be trusted to stay out of your sex life, and he cannot be trusted with free inquiry and scientific advancement. For McAuliffe to win (he currently trails in the polls), those inclined to vote Democrat, or those that consider themselves moderate, must come out in force on election day. It is the only way to defeat a very right winged, very anti-women, very anti-gay rights, very anti-science Tea Party extremist straight from the 1950s. His statements and lawsuits as Attorney General are bad enough. As Governor, Ken Cuccinelli would be a disaster for Virginia.

I hope that in November 2013, Virginia turns blue.


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 science of the Koran

September 1, 2011

Science-in-hindsight, is what the Koran should be called. Very vague ‘science’ at that. It is a book that you can find obscure verses and claim scientific understanding….. after the science has already discovered something. Like when people suggested Nostradamus predicted 9/11…. but were only able to make the connection after 9/11. The Koran is similar… wait until something is known, and then claim Islam knew it all along. This isn’t science, this is absurd opportunism.

I was first introduced to Islam’s claims on scientific advancement, and forethought, when listening to the Muslim speaker, Hamza Tzortzis try to point to the Koran’s description of mountains as proof that the Holy book is divine. He claimed that there is no way Mohammad could have known that mountains act as ‘pegs’ – as claimed in the Koran – at that time. This refers to the fact that mountains extend downwards into the upper mantle of the Earth. The moment he said it, the Muslim observers in the room were taken in, as if he’d just proven the existence of God. They were awed by his vision. Sadly, they were also woefully misinformed and manipulated (which is of course, the job of the religious preacher). The Koran in this instance, states:

“Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, And the mountains as pegs?”

– Typically vague, but also wrong. Clearly Allah is asking a rhetorical question. If an answer were permitted, it would be an unequivocal ‘no’. Though Islam Guide.com thinks the answer is a definitive yes backed by modern science.

Modern earth sciences have proven that mountains have deep roots under the surface of the ground and that these roots can reach several times their elevations above the surface of the ground. So the most suitable word to describe mountains on the basis of this information is the word ‘peg,’ since most of a properly set peg is hidden under the surface of the ground. The history of science tells us that the theory of mountains having deep roots was introduced only in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

– All of the above, simply isn’t true. A mountain is not stabilising anything, it holds nothing together. It is like a human in water, part is above the surface, part is below, but you wouldn’t refer to the part of the body below the surface as a peg. It simply floats. Likewise, a mountain simply floats on the mantle.
Islam-guide.com continues its plague of ignorance, with the conclusion:

Likewise, the modern theory of plate tectonics holds that mountains work as stabilizers for the earth.

I recall my science lessons at school, my geography lessons of which I retained information from, to the abandonment of all mathematical teaching, which I quickly learned to discard through pure hatred of the subject. I recall that Volcanoes do not extend as ‘pegs’. Contractional tectonics also form mountains – the Appalachians for example, are definitely not ‘pegs’. The Sierra Navada mountain range has mountains created by what is known as fault block mountains, which are formed when rocks slide through the slopes of the Earth’s crusts. None of which act at all as stabilizers. To claim so, would get a huge roar of laughter from the scientific community.

The reason that the Koran refers to mountains as “pegs” is for it’s next claim:

And He has set firm mountains in the earth so that it would not shake with you… (Quran, 16:15)

Now, islam-guide.com again tries to, rather embarrassingly, explain this quote, and link it to modern science:

Mountains also play an important role in stabilizing the crust of the earth.4 They hinder the shaking of the earth.

– Firstly, they don’t hinder the shaking of the Earth. In fact, mountains are formed by the shaking of the Earth. Secondly, that isn’t what the Koran says. It states quite unequivocally that mountains will ensure the World that the Earth will NOT shake with you, in any way. Well, tell that to the people of Japan. An Earthquake so strong, the island of Honshu was moved eight feet eastward. If Allah had intended for mountains to prevent the Earth from shaking, he failed, miserably.

Often, I have been told by the religious faithful that their Holy Book contains advance science that humanity, at the time of writing the Holy Book, could not possibly have known.

Followers of Islam, more so than Christianity or Judaism in this instance, claim their book is filled with advanced scientific knowledge. To the believer, it’s somewhat of an assurance that their scripture is anything but a book of delusions and vicious hatreds. To the unbeliever, its poor attempt to break the increasing truths offered by science.

Every claim of scientific advancement in the Koran, is either too ambiguous to take seriously, already knowledge widely accepted at the time, or just plain wrong. It is extraordinary for Islamic scholars to claim that their Holy Book holds any sort of scientific truth. A very quick critical analysis of the Koran, and of scientific knowledge already known, long before Mohammad’s time, proves that the Koran offers nothing new. It is beyond irrational to claim it does.

For example:

“Seest thou not that Allah merges Night into Day And He merges Day into Night?” [31:29]

– This, according to Way to Allah.com is, quite bizarrely, proof that the Koran held the knowledge of the Earth’s spherical shape:

Merging here means that the night slowly and gradually changes to day and vice versa. This phenomenon can only take place if the earth is spherical. If the earth was flat, there would have been a sudden change from night to day and from day to night.

– Well, why didn’t the Koran say that the Earth is spherical, if that’s what it meant? As opposed to a deeply ambiguous suggestion? Not only that, but it is wrong. The Earth spinning on its axis is what creates the illusion of day and night, not “Allah”. I cannot imagine a reputable astronomer or physicist would phrase the day turning into night, as a God merging the two together.
If we are going to take deeply ambiguous statements and claim they are proof of scientific advancement, with respect to the Earth’s shape, then we must be consistent:

[15:19] And the earth We have spread out like a carpet; set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.

– This seems to suggest that the Earth is flat, like a carpet, and that Mountains cannot in any way move.
Not only is the idea of a flat Earth scientifically wrong, it was even known to be wrong by the time the Koran was written. It offers no new insight, it simply offers an idea that was defunct around the 3rd Century BC. About 800 years before the Koran. Aristarchus of Samos suggested the Sun was the centre of the Universe, in the 3rd Century BC; this piece of wisdom was truly way ahead of its time. Aristarchus offers us a glimpse into scientific reality on a scale that, 800 years later, the Koran hadn’t even came close to, and Aristarchus certainly didn’t claim divine revelation for his predictions. Unsurprisingly, flat Earth predictions were borne out of Ancient Mesopotamia, and so it would seem that cosmological claims in the Koran can be viewed as earlier traditions coming out of Mesopotamia thousands of years prior to the Koran. Heavens, Firmament, great deep, pillars, the concept of the Earth being flat like a carpet, all this nonsense can also found in the Bible. Educated people knew the Earth was round, as envisaged by Ptolemy and before him, Aristotle, long before the Koran; which still seems to suggest that Earth is flat.

I’m not the only one who suggests that the Koran says the Earth is flat. Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a prominent exegeses of the Koran that still holds much importance, 600 years after it was written, states quite openly:

” … and his saying sutihat makes it obvious that the earth is flat, and this is certified by Ulama’ ash-shar’a (the shari’a theologians), not a globe as it is said by ahlul-hay’a (the laymen).”

Let’s for one second accept that the Koran states that the Earth is egg shaped (this translation, is rather new), is this new to the Koran? Well, no. Let’s note that before becoming a Prophet, Muhammad was a merchant. A trader. He had contact with different cultures, and would most definitely have come into contact with ideas especially those coming out of Greece. The Greeks knew the Earth was round in the 6th Century BC. Plato taught students that the Earth was a sphere. Aristotle’s incredible evidence based in astronomy was way ahead of its time, predating Islam by a millennium. Aristotle noted that the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse, is round. Eratosthenes even attempted to work out the Earth’s circumference, 700 years before Muhammad’s time. These great Greek scientific leaders, have seemingly had their brilliance hijacked by Islam, which claims their achievements as their own.

A simple observation of Greek history, finds that by the time that the Koran sprung up, Greek cosmology and culture had spread as far as Afghanistan and even India, having penetrated Arabia centuries previous.

Much like the Nostradamus obsessives, believers in the Koran cannot predict a new scientific discovery, until after the discovery is made. They then re-translate their Holy Book, and surprise! “We were right all along!” Fans of Nostradamus will only assign a prediction of his, after an event has taken place. It is weak reasoning, and it certainly proves absolutely nothing. If the Angel Gabriel genuinely did present Mohammad with scientific knowledge written in the Koran, then the Angel Gabriel was less knowledgable in the 7th Century, than Aristotle was, 1000 years earlier. I’m not sure that’s too good an advert for Heaven.

On the subject of taking the translation too far, and just inventing their own translation from the original, to suit objections, there is one doing the rounds that amuses me greatly. The claim is that the Koran actually accurately describes the Big Bang, here:

It is We Who have built the universe with (Our creative) power, and, verily, it is We Who are steadily expanding it. (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 47)

– The problem here is, the experts claim that this isn’t actually what the original translation says. The translation, according to the the Centre for Muslim-Jewish engagement at the University of California, the verse actually reads:

Yusuf Ali: With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space.
Pickthal: We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof).
Shakir: And the heaven, We raised it high with power, and most surely We are the makers of things ample.

– This is clearly vastly different from the more modern translation. The constant use of the phrases “heavens and Earth” echoes the same offering from the Bible and other ancient sources, which considered the universe to consist pretty much entirely of the Earth and heaven, so it is unsurprising that the Koran mentions them together, all the time. The Koran, again, proves to be a product of its time. If it is divine, it is horribly lazy of its creator. The Koran is pretty conclusive with its cosmology; the Earth is flat, there are seven heavens, and it is geocentric.

Another favourite of the Muslim community, is to quote the Koran’s claims on embryology:

And indeed We created man out of an extract of clay. (12) Thereafter We made him as a Nutfah in a safe lodging. (13) Then We made the Nutfah into a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood), then We made bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We brought it forth as another creation. So Blessed is Allâh, the Best of creators.[] (14)

– This is one of those instances where the Koran is not vague. It claims that man is made from a clot of congealed blood. Whilst being entirely wrong, the moulding together of a drop of blood, with embryology already existed, is not new to the Koran, and was quite obviously stolen by Muhammad, from the Babylonian Enuma Elish tablet. When you copy something from another source, and the other source is entirely wrong, thus making your claim entirely wrong, then it is clear your book is not divine.

The quote from the Koran also claims that the bones come first. Nutfah by the way, means sperm, in the best possible translation into English. To be precise, nutfatun amshaajin means a mixed drop of sperm. It doesn’t refer to the female ovum, in any such translation (and believe me, those who believe that the Koran contains scientific truth, like to say, when questioned about the vague, ambiguous, and wrong statements in the Koran, that it can be translated differently; they only tend to play this card when their first translation is quite obviously wrong).
The word used for blood clot, is alaqa. This word has been translated into ‘blood clot’ by Maulana Muhammad Ali, in 1951, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan in 1971, the Supreme Sunni and Shii Councils of the Republic of Lebanon in 1980, Hamidullah in 1981, and Indonesian Department of Religious Affairs in 1984. It’s pretty obvious that Alaqa is best translated to mean blood clot. The problem with this is, there is no stage in human development where the fetus is a clot of blood. It is just false science.

When it comes to the joining together of male sperm, and the female egg. Perhaps the Koran is unique and shows great forethought and revelation? Well, no. The Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim, in his book Kitab al-tibyan fi aqsam al-qur’an, gives us a statement from the lips of Mohammad himself:

He is created of both, the semen of the man and the semen of the woman. The man’s semen is thick and forms the bones and the tendons. The woman’s semen is fine and forms the flesh and blood.

– Quite obviously, this is wrong. The “great” Prophet, is entirely wrong.

Dr Basim Musallam Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge says:

“Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen were as much a part of Middle Eastern Arabic culture as anything else in it…… “The stages of development which the Qur’an and Hadith established for believers agreed perfectly with Galen’s scientific account….There is no doubt that medieval thought appreciated this agreement between the Qur’an and Galen, for Arabic science employed the same Qur’anic terms to describe the Galenic stages”

– Turns out, the Koran merely states something that was known centuries earlier, alongside completely wrong ‘science’. All the Koran does here, is spend a long time catching up to scientific thought at the time.

Does the reference to sperm mean that the Koran has stumbled upon a great revelation; that sperm is partly responsible for life? Well, again……. no. Not even slightly. Aristotle had pointed to Anaxagorus, a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, around 450bc, who stated that sperm came only from the male, and that the female simply provided a place of nurture. So, the “safe lodging” which Muslims say refers to the womb, was known as that, 1000 years before the Koran.

Secondly, it is important to note that bones are not created first, and slowly fleshed out. Bones and muscle tissue are created simultaneously. For a far more eloquent explanation, whilst at the same time dismissing the Islamic claim on embryology of Hamza Tzortzis, I would strongly advise watching this video, as Hamza attempts to explain embryology and the Koran’s claims on embryological truth, to……. a leading embryologist. The result is predictable; Tortzis and whomever he is with are proven wrong, and so they resort to changing the interpretation of the text, to suit the objection. Weak, weak, weak.
Needless to say, the Koran is wrong. There is never a stage in the development of a fetus, in which bones exist alone, much like there being no stage in fetus development when the fetus is a clot of blood. It would appear that we can find more information from Wikipedia on the development of a fetus, than we can from the all knowing master of the Universe. Wikipedia > Allah?

And do we really believe that we needed a 7th century divine commentary to tell humanity that sperm creates human life? The Koran, simply stole this idea from the ancient Greeks, without giving them any credit for it.
J. Needham, an author who specialised in Embryology, in his book “A History of Embryology” states the importance of Ancient Greek, Indian and Egyptian Embryology, says that the Koran’s Embryological claims were simply:

“a seventh-century echo of Aristotle and the Ayer-veda”

– It appears more and more so, that the Koran is simply a collection of religious dogma attempting to claim the forethought of secular science as espoused by great minds like Aristotle, as its own. It is similar to when a girl in my Politics seminar tried to claim that Christianity invented Democracy. Religion trying to latch onto human advancement, and claim it as its own, should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

To summerise, the Earth is not flat, mountains do not hold the Earth down preventing it from shaking, and humans do not start out as bone, slowly fleshed out over time. A God who presents so many vague statements is bad enough, but an omniscient being presenting his creation with what seems to be drunkenly erratic commentaries on certain aspects of the World and humanity which turn out to be entirely false on the most basic of examination, is a God that not only should not be taken seriously, but should never have any sort of political power over the workings of society, and should be challenged by every free thinking human being, at every possible opportunity. That is how humanity advances beyond primitive dogma.

There is absolutely no scientific credibility laying in the pages of the Koran.


The children of the Enlightenment

June 21, 2011

About a year and a half ago, Sky News posted a story about a 21 year old Swiss Skier named Cedric Genoud being found alive after surviving for 17 hours in snow, after an avalanche. Genoud and the rescue team involved said that being found alive, was a “miracle”. The Herald Sun in Australia referred to Genoud as “Swiss miracle skier“. The word ‘miracle‘ to describe the story crops up all over the World. So it got me thinking, as an Atheist, I obviously find the notion of miracles absurd, and so how could a man survive in such hellish conditions for 17 hours without dying? It must be explainable, even though lazy journalism insists on sensationalising and promoting the simplistic idea of a ‘miracle’.

So I explored, until I came across one theory that reaffirmed my amazement at the possibilities of mankind. We do not need the premise of a God. Humanity is magnificently advanced, and the theory of what could have happened to Cedric Genoud and how we could replicate his experience for medical advancement is beyond brilliant. I will try to explain it the best I can.

In October 2006, the Sciencemag.org published a story following the findings of a group of scientists from Seattle, who had successfully managed to put mice into a state of suspended animation. All visible signs of life during the period of suspended animation are closed down, rather like a seed. The mice were then brought out of a state of suspended animation and were perfectly fine.

To achieve this, the scientists from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, placed the warm bloodied mice in a cell, but with an added measure of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) in its artificial atmosphere. An incredibly low dosage was required, as too much H2S is deadly. 50 to 100 parts per million can lead to loss of sight. One single breath of an atmosphere containing 1000 part H2S per million, will cause death. The 2006 Côte d’Ivoire toxic waste dump scandal which claimed the lives of 17 people, was attributed to dangerous levels of Hydrogen Sulfide in the dump. In short, too much is deadly. So with the mice, the researchers added 8 parts per million H2S. What they discovered was that the H2S, in the right dosage, actively seeks out and binds itself to oxygen receptors in the body of the mice. This effectively means that H2S acts as oxygen. When people are deprived of oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur in the body, due to the fact that oxygen receptors have nothing to receive. So, with the H2S acting as oxygen for some receptors, it became possible to lower the parts per million of oxygen to near deadly levels. Breathing lowered to unnoticeable levels. The mice were all but dead. On a smaller level, researchers drained oxygen from fish cells and noted that whilst growth stopped entirely, the cells were still alive. When normal oxygen levels were resumed and the H2S taken away, growth picked up where it left, as if time had stopped. A cell can live but remain inactive indefinitely. To grow and progress, a cell needs oxygen in a process called oxidative phosphorylation. It is as if you are holding a small windmill, it needs wind to keep producing what it is made to produce, but if there is no wind, it doesn’t stop being able to produce, it just waits until the wind returns. Our cells are similar. So, with nothing left to produce when H2S is attached to the receptors, our cells and organs grind down to a halt, but do not stop.

How does this relate to the skier? Well, H2S is actually in all of us; it is thought that it regulates our body temperature. Around 50% of people who are frozen for over 3 hours and then brought back to normal body temperature survive. Freezing conditions may very well kill us, but if our body is shocked into over producing, or is exposed to higher levels of H2S it is likely that the cells in the body of the skier would be brought to a halt, until normal levels of oxygen and room temperature were resumed. As The leading scientist on H2S, Mark Roth has stated:

Our work in suspended animation derives from the fact that many animals exhibit what we call “metabolic flexibility,” the ability to dial down their respiration and heartbeat and, in effect, “turn themselves off” in response to physical or environmental stress.

With mice for example, Roth found that when exposed to 80ppm of H2S, the core body temperature of the mouse (remember, warm bloodied mammal) could be reduced by 11 degrees. Absolutely deadly at any other time. What if the skier had managed to produce more H2S or was exposed somehow to more H2S than normal? The 17 hours, for his body and the cells in it, would have felt like a split second.

This is beyond brilliant. There is usually a window of opportunity between someone suffering a near fatal injury, or stroke, or heart attack, and fully healing. If, for example, the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, there will be serious damage. But, if a treatment could be devised, that prolongs that window of opportunity by decreasing the amount of oxygen needed using H2S, organs could survive serious trauma, a stroke could potentially mean no serious outcome, lives could be both saved and drastically prolonged. If a man is hit by a car for example, and may not make it to the hospital, it would be possible using H2S treatment, to essentially suspend his life for the journey to the hospital, work on him, and then bring him back, and his body will not realise that so much time has passed. The possibilities really are fascinating.

To call such a spectacular feat of human understanding and endeavor a “miracle” does our species an unforgivable injustice. Sky News would be doing the World a great favour if it worked to propagate advancements in science and medicine and spread the message to humanity, that we are far greater and more powerful than the debilitating idea of God.

Humanity does not need miracles.


God the predator

April 10, 2011

One of the greatest evolutionary qualities of any animal, is the defence mechanism of the Horned Lizard. It believes it is the top of the food chain, and is blissfully unaware of any predator, until that predator is close enough to cause such powerful distress, that the horned lizard ruptures tiny blood vessels in its own eyes, and squirts blood at the predator. The blood tastes so vile, that the canine predator will immediately run away and leave the lizard alone. The one drawback is that the blood does not affect predatory birds. So the birds will still try to eat the lizard. There has been no evolutionary development within the Phrynosomatidae genus, that can act as a defence mechanism against the predatory birds.

If the Horned Lizard is to be held up as an example of intelligent design within nature, then it would appear that the “intelligent” designer overlooked its need for protection against predatory birds. What a dreadful argument for design. In the same way as the “intelligent” designer, when designing humans, gave us a vermiform appendix whose only purpose is to randomly kill us. Thanks God! The lack of defence mechanism against predatory birds, like the appendix within a human, is a sign of the misgivings of evolution, yet at the same time, pretty strong evidence for evolution.

God, up until very recently, and still in some parts of the World, is a predatory bird that we have no defence against. We are evolving a defence every so often. Society is remarkably similar to the evolution of species. Our defence against the predatory nature of God – whom we have designated as our predator, because we seemingly cannot stand to be at the top of the food chain ourselves – is logic and reason. Christians, Jews and Muslims alike find implausible and repugnant the idea that Mesoamericans were inclined for centuries to brutally sacrifice another human being every morning to ensure that the sun would rise. Even though the logic behind Mesoamerican sacrifice was essentially identical to Christian, Jewish and Islamic worship tradition. The Aztecs believed in the legend of the five suns, whom were gods that sacrificed themselves for the sake of mankind, which sounds eerily familiar to the story of another invented character from history; Jesus. Both Christianity and Aztec Mesoamericans believed the sacrifice made by their God/s sustained humanity’s place in the universe, which God/s created in the first place. The victim of Aztec sacrifice was seen to be “nextlahualli”, which simply means, paying his debt to the Gods. One wonders what kind of God requires his creation to sacrifice each other for the sake of the upkeep of his creation. It seems a little oxymoronic. But similarly, the notion that a God that has created everything (and that everything encompasses itself) would demand prayer five times a day, or driving Pope Urban II to state that war could be not only just and necessary, but also key to the advancement of spirituality, demanding fear and obsessive worship of his “greatness” despite not giving us the opportunity to agree to be born into such a wretched system in the first place. This notion that war is a spiritual necessity is not simply a product of the Papacy of the middle ages; the Orange Volunteers in Northern Ireland are a Protestant Terrorist group. They have threatened to bomb football matches, they have bombed homes of politicians and they are still active today, having sent death threats to head of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams.

On the subject of human sacrifice, the Bible is not immune to such practices. Jephthah in the book of Judges, is keen to sacrifice his daughter, to glorify God. In return for God’s help in defeating the Ammonites, Jephthah says he will sacrifice his daughter as a “burnt offering”. His daughter seems perfectly happy with this deal, but is a little bit sad that she didn’t get the chance to get laid before her dad rightly burned her to death:

When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “My daughter!” he cried out. “My heart is breaking! What a tragedy that you came out to greet me. For I have made a vow to the LORD and cannot take it back.” And she said, “Father, you have made a promise to the LORD. You must do to me what you have promised, for the LORD has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.” “You may go,” Jephthah said. And he let her go away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. When she returned home, her father kept his vow, and she died a virgin. So it has become a custom in Israel for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.

– Notice the custom at the end. A needless custom, based on a situation that is nothing short of monstrous and predatory.

The predatory instincts of the faithful play a dark and deadly role in every part of the World. A Muslim friend of mine once told me that whilst his belief is that I am indeed condemned to burn in hell for eternity (apparently, saying that kind of thing, is not as offensive as drawing a cartoon of the Prophet), I don’t believe it so it shouldn’t bother me. What an interesting argument. To ignore the fact that a large amount of the population of the World, who have never met me, never spoken to me, never had the pleasure of eating one of my amazing roast turkey dinners, would take one look at me, and decide i’m heading to a fiery pit, is to perpetuate the awful trait of ignorance. Those people are ignorant to who I am. They have made a conclusion based on nothing but a fairy tale from their book. That is ignorant and preaches non-thinking. That, I cannot abide. Naturally, I believe their distinct form of hatred to be putrid and absurd, it should be ridiculed and philosophically attacked for the bullshit that it is. But he suggested that I shouldn’t care, because I don’t believe in it so it wont affect me. On a very thin reasonable level, this makes sense. To me, i’m not going to a fiery doom. To him, I am. To care about how he thinks of my eternal hell is irrelevant because I don’t believe it, right? Well then the Islamic world should perhaps practice what it preaches in that respect and not demand Fatwa’s be placed on non-believers simply because they drew a cartoon or wrote a book. To call for the death of another human being, because a book was written, is nonsensical and despicable. Religion doesn’t particularly enjoy free speech, because it wishes to perpetuate its nonsense through mass indoctrination, without question. In this respect, it is predatory.

Nietzsche – who incidentally is becoming the hell of my life with politics study – once noted that “God is dead”. The suggestion being that society has evolved to a stage where belief in God is irrational and unnecessary, whereas in time past, belief was essential. A social development that means we no longer need that objective base for our morality that anchored generations previous. I think Nietzsche is wrong. I don’t believe God was ever alive. The belief in God was a forced belief. It was through the threat of eternal hell, and in fact Earthly death for heretics – William Tyndale was famously strangled at the stake and then burnt for daring to translate the Bible into English – ensured that God would live on as a concept, in the minds of the fearful. A lack of belief in a God was punishable by death. A lack of belief in the God philosophically interpreted by the State, was punishable by death. The claim that religion has ever held an objective base for morality is as ludicrous as it is insulting. One only has to review the centuries that religion has had a deep hold over humanity, to note the horrific abuses over such trivial issues. The very first person to be executed for heresy under Christian law, was Priscillian, the Bishop of Avila, in the fourth century. Christianity was still incredibly young at that stage. It was only fifty years previous that Constantine had converted the Empire to Christianity, though he knew very little about the faith. The lack of worship of an Emperor in Rome – the Imperial Cult – would lead to public floggings and executions. It appears that as the Roman Empire was dying, the indoctrinated peoples needed to transfer that obsessive cult worship from the less and less powerful Emperor, to a new single identity, and Christianity provided that outlet. It is no surprise then, that the beatings, and the tortures, and the murders that followed if one chose not to accept the doctrines of the Imperial Cult, would transfer to Christianity also. Suddenly if you did not agree with the Theology of the Church, you were excommunicated at best, and put to death at worst.

Of course now, instead of using the fear of death to ensure blind acquiescence, religion tends to get to people at an early age, and reinforce religious morality as a basis for objective morality. We were told at school that Bible stories helped to teach kids right from wrong. What those teachers left out, were the stories of mass genocide and the systematic abuse of women, by a God who was apparently responsible for helping kids distinguish between right and wrong. A writer for The Sun wrote recently on the news that a primary school in Blackburn will be teaching certain Atheist principles (simple introduction to Darwinism) that:

I think that four years old is too young to be learning about atheism.

At that age they hardly know what Christianity is. I’m sure a four-year-old couldn’t comprehend it.

I am sure it is not appropriate to be teaching, say, Darwinism to infants. In primary schools it is difficult to get youngsters to understand theology and spiritual concepts. Children tend to struggle when you are making the first Holy Communion.

Why is he placing the teaching of Christianity above Darwinism? He is happy to teach kids a fairy story, but wishes to suppress facts that contradict his fairy story? He goes on:

I think it is still important to teach Christianity and other major religions in schools. Christianity is not as strong in schools as it used to be. I don’t think so many young people know the Lord’s Prayer or popular hymns any more.
There used to be a prayer every morning during school assemblies and that has gone now.

– I agree, it is important to teach Christianity and other major religions in school, but it is not right to teach it as unquestionable fact. He makes a major leap from teaching Christianity, as a subject, to then suddenly moaning that the indoctrination of students through morning prayer isn’t as strong any more. It is absolutely necessary to prevent indoctrination of children through morning prayer. To preach Christianity in primary school is to preach the absolute obedience to a heavenly dictator, and to ignore arguments to the contrary. That is wrong, on so many levels. At my primary school, we were forced to say morning prayer, on fear of being thrown out of the room and given lines to write at play time, if we didn’t. The predatory nature of religion.

As it stands, and to my dismay, humanity needs religion. I would never seek to ban anyones faith. I believe everyone has the right to believe whatever they chose to believe, and to practice the traditions and customs of that system of belief in which ever country they see fit. I have absolutely no problem with Mosques being built in the UK, or with the Christian Church bells never ending on a Sunday morning. I was happy to take my shoes off when walking in the spectacular Blue Mosque in the heart of the old city of Constantinople, now Istanbul. But I do hold out hope that one day society will evolve to a state of being in which organised religion is consigned to the bin of undesirable history.


The burden of proof

February 22, 2011

It seems apparent from early on in the history of the Church, that the existence of a Christian God was not disputed. The arguments and the philosophical debate seemed irrelevant. It simply gave many people who were already becoming suspicious of the Polytheistic system forced upon them by Rome, a chance to reassert control over their lives, and a way to escape and hide in a World of their own. A sense of individuality apart from Rome.

Doctrine became more important than spirituality and truth. Bishop Victor of Rome, around 190ad decided when Easter would be celebrated. He came up against opposition from a sect called the Quatrodecimens who insisted on celebrating Easter on Jewish passover. Victor demanded uniformity. The Catholic Church was becoming powerful very early on, and any descent from its ranks, was met with swift punishment and calls of heresy. Many gnostic groups felt the full force of the Catholic Church’s iron fist. The truth was that many different Christian sects existed. Some didn’t even acknowledge the resurrection. Many didn’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. There could only be one sect that reigned victorious; not because of any divine power, but because it had friends in very high and rich places. The Catholic Church spread its message violently and with threat of severe punishment, for centuries proceeding the early years of the Church. Islam is experiencing much the same attempts to monopolise knowledge and debate in Eastern Nations now. If you dare to question the tenets of Islam in a Nation like Iran, you better run for your life. That is the only reason organised religion is perpetuated. The existence of God and the philosophical arguments surrounding his supposed transcendental nature, were not explored pre-Enlightenment, through fear alone, not reason.

Anyway, today I had a short discussion with a Muslim guy who told me that as an Atheist, I could not disprove the existence of a God.

There were two problems I can see instantly with this statement.

Firstly, this is entering the realms of Deism. It is true, I cannot disprove a creator. But a creator has no attributes, and so it takes a rather large leap to get from a creator, to the Christian or Islamic God. A creator could be anything; an infinitely good creator, an infinitely evil creator, two creators, a creator whose final act before dying, was to create the universe, a creator that created the universe but then stepped back. This is entirely different from a God of religion. To prove a religion is worthy of public power, it must first prove a creator who is infinitely good, infinitely knowledgeable. And so we are given the old cosmological argument provided by Aquinas, and currently being used constantly by William Lane Craig in every debate he has:
1. Every thing has either been caused to exist by something else or else exists uncaused.
2. Not every thing has been caused to exist by something else.
3. Therefore, at least one thing is itself uncaused.
The problem being, that point two is conjecture, rather than truth. Aquinas’ logic is limited by time itself. If existence is infinite, then everything that exists has indeed been caused by that which came before. Fortunately for those of us who languish in unbelief; not everything that exists, has a cause. On the subatomic level, protons appear spontaneously and cease to exist just as quickly. The entire study of Quantum Mechanics backs this up. Both Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss attest to this.

Even if Aquinas’ logic is applied to the existence of a God, it is impossible to assign the logic to the existence of a God of organised religion, because Aquinas’ God could have been the first cause, but has had nothing to do with existence ever since. Perhaps it was more than one first cause. But obviously this is irrelevant because no philosopher would take the old cosmological argument seriously any more.

There is a more rounded version and a more modern version of the cosmological argument that is early Islamic in origin, though taken from earlier traditions. But even this argument, is weak. The Kalam Argument as it is known states that:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
It is weak because of how it is worded. The language is its downfall. “Everything that begins to exist has a cause“. This places a limit to “everything“. Everything…. that begins to exist. Which automatically excludes the idea of something that doesn’t begin to exist, i.e – a God. It is trying to prove God, by just presuming God already exists as something that didn’t begin to exist, and just existed any way. The Islamic Kalam argument does not point out where the evidence is for that which did not begin to exist. It is trying to persuade the reader that God is already a known. He is transcendental and so already exists. Almost clever, but not actually.

It is also limited by the constraints of time. Something cannot ‘begin’ unless time exists. Since time sprang into existence at the point of the big bang, there is no ’cause’ before. Because before doesn’t exist. The entire chain of cause and effect began at the point of the big bang. So, the premise of the Kalam argument is wrong. It follows then, that the rest of it, is wrong.

On the cosmological argument, the Muslim guy tried to suggest to me, that the Koran offers evidence that science has only just managed to discover. He quoted the Koran:

Then He turned to the sky, when it was still gas, and said to it, and to the earth, “Come into existence, willingly or unwillingly.” They said, “We come willingly.”

Quite how this relates to science is beyond me. As far as I can discern, a God looked at some Gas and said “make the Earth”. I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Stephan Hawking is trying to suggest. It is not a very persuasive argument to say the very very least. Even then, the Koran is saying nothing new. Even for the time period. The Ancient Greeks, 1000 years before the Koran, were theorising about atoms, gas particles and even evolution. The Greeks had guessed that the atom was the building block of everything, long before Islam sprang into existence. It would be wholly arrogant for Islam to take credit for knowledge that pre-dates it, by about a millennium. That being said, the Koran doesn’t mention atoms. It mentions gas (doesn’t go into much detail, unsurprisingly for a Religious text). And so, is wrong. Scientists would be ashamed to call this verse scientific in any way whatsoever.

The cosmological argument, in every way, fails.
Even if it didn’t fail, the cosmological argument does not imply a personal God of any sort. That is problem number one with the statement “Prove God doesn’t exist“.

The second problem and most important, is the burden of proof.
As an Atheist, I did not start by saying “God doesn’t exist“. I simply hear a religious person say “God does exist” and I reject the notion, based on the lack of evidence to support the assertion that the religious person has made.

The burden of proof is not on me to disprove the existence of a God, because it is logically impossible to do so. It would be equally as impossible to ask a religious 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 assertion that I have made without the use of evidence. The burden of proof is lodged firmly with me. If I am to make an extraordinary claim, and use it to justify horrendous abuses and prejudices (the appalling and frankly moronic and dangerous way religious people treat homosexuality), then they MUST provide extraordinary evidence.

Proof against an assertion with no characteristics or evidence, is logically impossible. I should not be expected to provide evidence for denying an assertion. The person making the assertion should provide the evidence.
So the burden of proof is not on Atheists, it is on the believers. And none of them can offer any proof whatsoever. It comes back round to the original cosmological argument, especially with reference to the Kalam argument. A God that cannot be seen or heard or have any kind of human attributes attached to it, and was the first cause so must exist outside of the realm that He created (if I make a cup, I am not part of the cup, I am apart from the cup), cannot be disproved as such. I cannot possibly, as an Atheist summon up enough arrogance to presume I can disprove something that according to those who make the assertion, exists beyond the realm of human knowledge. We are all subject to the limitations of time and space and we cannot transcend that. That goes for religious people also.

And so it stands, the burden of proof is not on me, it is on the religious person.
Needless to say, the Muslim guy I was speaking to briefly, didn’t answer.