September 18th, 2011

Bears

The 'Not So Amazing' Koran

As you know, I get into arguments over faith which, being an atheist and a rationalist I find destructive. Of late there's been a lot more argument with those of the Islamic faith rather than the Christian one, which is something I welcome as variety is the spice of life and my beef is with faith itself rather than any singular version thereof.

Islam has its annoyances though, chief amongst them (once we discount the obvious of it being an unreformed, brutalistic, misogynistic desert religion that inspires violence and division) is the claim by many of its followers that it is somehow unique, special, scientifically rigorous or that - unlike other religions - it has evidence in support of it.

The irony of course is that these are claims made by many religions.

Recently I was sent this pamphlet in support of the claim that Islam was supported by evidence and I called it a 'string of lies from beginning to end'.

Before I get back to writing more fun things this blog post is, then, my case for that since it's too much to throw up onto Twitter.

Page 1/60
The Amazing Koran - The meaning of 'amazing' is defined as causing great surprise or wonder. The Koran is not, then, amazing. Just about any religion you care to mention has a similar book of bad poetry, homilies and instruction. The Torah, Bible, Rig Veda, Book of Mormon, Scientology Tapes, you name it you can find the rambling scrivenings of some madman that only his followers are convinced is in any way special. Contextually, even if the Koran were the most wonderful, poetic and fabulous screed of bullshit ever written, it still wouldn't be amazing. I guess 'The Wearingly Typical Koran' wasnt such a catchy title.

Doctor Gary Miller - Doctor Miller has a doctorate in mathematics which is completely irrelevant to much of what he claims and talks about within this pamphlet. The impressionable may see 'Doctor' and assume a level of authority and relevant learning which simply isn't present. He also fails to mention with any readiness that he's a former Christian missionary and was therefore already barking before he encountered Islam. Even if we're generous and call this misrepresentation, it's still a form of lying.

Page 3/60
Not What You'd Expect - This is anecdotal but I don't think I've met a single non-Muslim who has read the Koran who has been surprised. Generally speaking it's exactly what we expected. A rambling, incoherent and self-contradicting muddle of nonsense. Certainly the only surprise it gave me was that it was even less coherent than the Bible and as much, if not more, of a chore to read. Let's notch this one up as a half-truth.

Page 4/60
Merchant Marine - The story given here is apocryphal with no evidence in support of it. It's merely claimed without support that this man, whoever he was, converted because of the description of a storm. That would have to be one very simple-minded sailor to do so and it's either a shame or a blessing that he didn't read Moby Dick first or he might be bowing down to an idol of a white whale. Is it amazing or remarkable that there should be descriptions of storms or the sea in the Koran, a desert religion book? Not at all given that there's the Arabian Sea, the Caspian, the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden all around there. This is the region the Sinbad stories come from for the love of Pete. Given the origin of the written Koran as the half-remembered and pieced together fragments of Muhammed's surviving followers, compiled by Greeks and Jews under the orders of Islamic rulers decades after his death it's even less surprising there should be such descriptions in there.

Page 5/60
The Smallest Thing - The claim is that the Koran predicted things smaller than an atom. Two problems. One, what the Greeks etc called the atom is not what we call the atom today. We adopted the name but not the concept. Atom then meant 'smallest thing there can be' so a modern equivalent might be a superstring or the Planck length. Two, this is a post-hoc interpretation of poetic language in an extremely vague language, Arabic, in order to cast it in a scientific light. These interpretations have changed over the years as scientific knowledge has advanced, therefore advantage science.

Page 6-7/60
Honey - This is a page of apologetics excuses as to why no explicit scientific knowledge is included in the Koran, which contradicts statements made elsewhere. The excuse given is that it would make the Koran outdated but the obvious foil to this is that an omniscient and omnipotent deity could easily construct a book that contained genuine evidence and that wouldn't become outdated in such a way, being of limitless intellect and power and so the Koran (or any other holy book) should do that easily... oh wait. Also the Koran DOES contradict itself, and frequently. My favourite is the discrepency in the days of creation between Sura 7:54, 10:3, 11:7 and 25:59, and Sura 41:9-12. This is just one of many and similar lists of contradictions also exist for other so-called holy books. It's also claimed on page 7 that nothing could be taken away, added or changed in the Koran. Given that it's been through at least three incarnations, all of them piecemeal, this appears manifestly untrue.

Page 8-9/60
Mohammed and the Koran - Yes, it is claimed Mohammed was likely ill, temporal lobe epilepsy. This is based on descriptions of his 'visions' from various Hadith which are held up in other circumstanes. In other words, this claim is supported by evidence. It's also known that TLE has a higher incidence amongst the very religious, so this is by no means a stretch. It's pretty fruitless going through the Koran looking for evidence one way or another on this as, as previously mentioned, it's been through several incarnations and there are other reasons why it's a rambling and incoherent mess other than it being the work of a madman, though this still seems likely.

Page 10-12/60
SCIENCE! - The Koran doesn't have falsification tests built into it. Or rather, it makes claims that DO falsify it. It is not unique in this aspect. There are testable claims in other religious books which collapse as readily as those in the Koran do under examination. So while it's not necessarily a lie to say that there are falsification tests, it IS a lie to say Islam goes about this scientifically and in the claim that it has already been proven true. I don't have a religion but the claim that other religions lack such tests is a false one. Christians, for example, would say you just have to pray to Jesus and he will reveal himself to you. The bible also makes claims about faith, such as if it's the size of a mustard seed (a common metaphor for 'the smallest thing ever' you can move mountains and trees and do anything - you can't. Religions are scattered with grandiose and testable claims and they come up short. It's also claimed here that in 1400 years nobody has found a mistake or discrepency in the Koran. This is untrue

Page 13
Ask Those Who Have Knowledge - Attempts to associate the Koran with advancement in human knowledge when, in fact, the opposite is true. Why is it that the great flowering of Arabic science and technology was so long ago and now it's so behind? Oh yeah.

Page 14-15
Embryology - This is an old saw though I really don't know why Islam keeps banging this drum. Clots, clay, leeches, this takes us all the way back to my earlier criticism of post-hoc rationalisation of poetic language. Not to mention that the Greeks had an equal or greater amount of knowledge centuries beforehand and given miscarriages and the murder of pregnant women, this knowledge is unremarkable two ways as well as, if taken literally (as literally as you can take Arabic) being inaccurate and wrong.

I think that's sufficient to establish my point and I have better things to do than to go through the remaining 45 pages. I think I've established that at least 15 pages - one quarter - of the pamphle contain lies, half truths, mistruths and misrepresentations and I submit that this is disingenuous and unacceptable given the high and mighty tone and supposed goal of the pamphlet in 'revealing truth'.
spider

Tessa Coyle: Science Police - The Obsolete Prometheus - Episode 3: End Eternity

SOOPER

The Identification Toom was dominated by the huge visiscreen that covered one wall. Tessa sat at the small operator's desk and bent the microphone to her lips while Robur slotted the appropriate information reference cards into the slot. Tessa threw the switch and fidgeted with her hands, food and drink wasn't allowed in the Identification Room, even in pill form. Without the constant supply of caffeine and glucose she was rapidly tiring, adrenalin or no.

“MONOVAC, online.”

“ONLINE.”

“Process information cards and arrange by category, psychology, sociology, anthropology.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen glowed, illuminating Robur and Tessa in its greenish cathode rays. Three lists appeared, equidistant, divided by scan lines, lists of names of those who might have been involved in the sabotage at the Aubade facility and, perhaps, the BioVat.

“Combine psychology and anthropology lists under heading 'suspects'. Search records of entries under 'sociology' and combine those with biological knowledge with list 'suspects', remove the rest.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen went blank and then reappeared, a single, long list of names. Men and women, the cream of Science City Zero's minds in the human sciences.

“Still quite a list maam,” Robur interjected, electronic eyes fixed upon the electronic screen.

“I think we can narrow it further. MONOVAC, search list and eliminate all of those without biology qualifications.”

“P-R-O-C-E-S-S-I-N-G.” The screen reset again, but it was barely shorter.

“MONOVAC, do any of those listed have a history of psychological problems or trauma?”

“PROCESSING. THREE ENTRIES HAVE TRAUMA NOTATIONS.”

“MONOVAC, create a new list and add those entries to it. Title the list 'prime suspects' and display it to the right of the current list.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen flickered briefly and divided again into two lists, one short, three names only.”

“MONOVAC, zoom in on list 'prime suspects' and expand to fill display.”

“PROCESSING.” There were three names now, prominently displayed. Doctor Taeger, Doctor Monroe and Professor Werner.

“MONOVAC, what is the current location of those displayed.”

“TAEGER IS A GUEST OF PSYCHE SERVICES. THE LOCATION OF MONROE AND WERNER IS CURRENTLY UNKNOWN.”

“Eliminate Taeger from the list.”

“PROCESSING.” That was it, down to two suspects.

“Any ideas Robur?” Tessa turned to him and scowled, the beginnings of a caffeine headache making her furrow her brow and squint in the glow of the visiscreen.

“Maam, our suspect does not act like a member of the city. They do not care what damage they bring. I do not believe either suspect would fulfil those criteria. My probability matrix still points to an outside influence, despite the evidence we have found to the contrary. I am afraid we will have to wait for another attack to be sure.”

Tessa's scowl deepened and then she leapt up to her feet, face lighting up, the headache forgotten. “Robur! You beautiful piece of precision engineering, that's it!” She turned swiftly back to the microphone and all but shouted into it. “MONOVAC, check records, have either remaining entries in the 'prime suspects' list ever been outside the dome?”

“PROCESSING. PROFESSOR WERNER HAS BEEN BEYOND THE DOME.”

“Display Werner's record in full.” The screen blackened and then filled again, Werner's image filling one side along with his finger and voice prints, blood type and other sundry data. In two other columns his biography slowly scrolled while Tessa and Robur feverishly devoured every piece of information.

“There, he was with an anthropological expedition earlier this year, investigating the wasteland townships and their people.” Tessa strode up to the screen and stabbed her finger against it, following the information line as it scrolled slowly up the screen.

Robur plugged himself directly into the terminal and he and MONOVAC ground circuits for a while as he downloaded the information on the professor to his internal memory tapes. “He was one of only two survivors from that expedition, the rest were dead from snake venom and wounds suffered at the hands of the townspeople. That township has been designated code black 3 for future expeditions. According to the trauma counsellors at Psyche he has suppressed his experiences and refuses to talk about them.”

“Bingo.” Tessa smiled in the way a cat might smile at having caught a mouse. “MONOVAC, put out an APB on Professor Werner, scan the city grid for his tell-tales and inform us immediately of any sightings.”

“COMMAND ACCEPTED.”

“And now?” Robur unplugged himself and wound the cable back into his chest cavity.

“Now I snatch a nap on the couch in the office and we wait until someone spots him.”

***

Tessa woke with a start to Robur's cold metal hand shaking her shoulder gently. “Whassafrazzit?” She blinked and straightened her glasses, running a hand back through unruly hair to get it back under some sort of control.

“Maam, we have a hit. Turing square. He was spotted by a civil spy-ray some moments ago but was lost almost immediately. He must be using countermeasures of some kind.”

“A privacy screen perhaps? Not many use those, we might be able to find him from the energy signature if we look for it, even if we can't spy-ray him. What buildings are on Turing?”

Robur clicked and whirred briefly and then rattled them off. “Museum of Mistakes, Transmetal Logistics, Curie Tower and the Elysium Compubrain Research facility.”

“Both other targets were involved in research, what do they do at Elysium?” Tessa hopped up, checking her weapons and beckoning Robur after her as she began to stride down the battleship grey corridors towards the floater bay.

“Some sort of mind-machine interface maam, based on telepathic principles gleaned from wasteland mutants.”

“That sounds like our suspect's sort of thing. Let's go bring this recidivist down shall we Robur?”

“I concur wholeheartedly maam.”

***

The floater hung over Turing Square now, spy-rays and energy detectors at full power as they drifted side to side, trying to get the maximum coverage. They didn't want to tip off Werner that they were there, that they knew, so the people below continued about their business, unmolested, unaware.

“Anything yet Robur?” Tessa hunkered down behind the windscreen, even in the dome it was cooler at this altitude and she huddled her arms around herself.

“Not yet... ah, I stand corrected. There's an energy signature consistent with a privacy screen at the back of the Elysium building.”

Tessa took the control sticks and drifted the floater into position, descending slowly at the rear of the Elysium building. A sleek, angular building in the new-futurist style. A Mondrian brought to life in white, black and primary colours. As they descended there was a bang from the delivery entrance and Tessa took the floater into a much steeper dive. “It's him, whatever he's doing it's started.”

The floater flattened out, throwing them down hard into their seats and they leapt over the sides, moving up either side of the door, ionic pistols at the ready, clasped tight in their hands.

“I'll go first.” Tessa hissed, dialling up the power on the pistol.

“Maam, regulations state that Metalmen go in first. We're tougher, more repairable, more expendable...”

“And about as stealthy as an elephant on roller skates. We need to get close.”

“As you say maam.”

“Follow me in in thirty seconds.” Tessa huddled low and ripped off her lab coat, the white would just give her away. She left it, discarded on the ground and crept inside, pistol ahead of her, scanning left and right as she moved through the shadows and the patches of coloured light that shone through the great square windows.

Werner was ahead of her, marching purposefully down the steps into the building's basement. There was nobody to stop him, little or no security to speak of. Clearly the money had been spent elsewhere. Tessa slipped her shoes off and in her stockinged feet crept after him, silent as a ghost.

Down he went, until he got to a great armoured door that sealed off whatever Elysium kept in this pit they'd dug underground. Daybulbs were here, but few. Tessa got the impression that not many people came down here, the research must take place upstairs, whatever it was. Telepathic machines? She wasn't sure what that entailed but the risks of messing with the mind were huge and whatever Werner was up to here, it couldn't be any good.

Werner had set a small charge while she was thinking and before she could stop him he'd blown the door, vanishing into the smoke. Quickly she darted after him, holding her breath so she wouldn't cough from the smoke, emerging into a massive circular chamber, a labyrinth of shoulder-high, anodised blue cases, all of them whirring and clicking, filled with memory tapes and switches going hell for leather in their calculations. It was sweltering in here, the sheer density of computational power producing a sauna-like heat. Sweat stuck her blouse to her back and trickled down her chest, fogging her glasses as she yanked them off, half blinded better than completely blinded.

Werner was winding his way through the labyrinth, up to the console for this dense mass of computational power. Tessa had never seen anything like it, the cross-linked power of at least a dozen MONOVACs, multiplied as they cross-processed, it was an unimaginable amount of power. She squinted, running her fingers along the tape stuck to one of the anodised casements. “Prof. H. Carbide, 1880-1945.” She mouthed, silently, brow furrowing as she tried to make sense of it. A grave? No. Elysium, the Greek afterlife. The Science Citizens of Zero had little time for mythology, but there was a respect for the Greeks due to their philosophy and mathematics. It clicked into place. The research here was a way to record minds for posterity. To transfer a conciousness from a biological machine to one of transistors, valves, tape and switches. Genius need never die! So what was Werner doing here?

She rounded the corner and lined up her ionic pistol on him as he bent over the console, twisting dials, throwing switches and turning a key, opening the box to the Master Erase button.

Tessa was outraged, that was mass murder, whichever way you looked at it. With a roar of anger she twisted around the corner and fired the ionic pistol, full power, a crackling beam of lightning that transfixed Werner, surrounding him with blue threads of light that leapt from surface to surface and grounded into the floor.

“SINNER!” he boomed, turning towards her, his face contorted in madness, she started back but kept her finger on the trigger, pumping an endless bolt of voltaic power into him, but it seemed to do not a thing to him.

“The bastard's wearing a faraday!” She hissed as he swept towards her, raising one meaty fist and as time slowed she saw his face was covered in scars a dozen puncture marks in pairs. Then he struck her, knocking her flying into one of the blueish cases, stunning her.

Tessa struggled to her feet, seeing stars, trying to remember her training, her pistol dropped, struggling to block his punches but he'd studied scientific boxing too and was bigger, stronger, it was all she could do to hold him off and she was worn down, punch by punch, beaten to the ground, bloodied and bruised.

As she sprawled he turned and raised his hand over the master erase, ignoring her, intent on his mission.

“In the name of the Lord I purge this false heaven of its trapped souls!” He cried out, raising his hands to the sky.

“That's quite enough.” Robur's voice cut, mechanical and even, loud even over the clattering of the computational matrix.

“He's wearing a faraday...” Tessa mumbled through swollen lips, trying to warn him.

Robur heard her and dropped his pistol, springing to the attack, metal arms stretched out towards Werner intent upon grappling him to the floor. The delay was enough though, enough for Werner. He twisted, a massive, impossibly crude firearm, tarnished and pitted, filled his hand and boomed, deafeningly. There was an almighty CLANG as the bullet struck him full in his chest and lodged there, denting the metal.

“How absurdly primitive...” There was a blinding flash and a green explosion of fire and radiation that burned Tessa's skin. Robur vanished in a ball of green fire and rained down in pieces all around the chamber, glowing fragments of shrapnel embedded into everything, his head landing with a sound like a tolling bell next to Tessa and rolling against her leg.

Werner hit the switch and the cacophony of clattering electronics stopped, abruptly.

“I was chosen for this mission. I will bring this city back to God! They shall take up serpents! It shall not hurt them!” Werner lunged down over Tessa, swimming into focus for a moment, froth at his lips, his eyes wildly staring. “Jezebel! Harlot of man's arrogance. I cast thee out!”

The last thing she saw was the sole of his boot, crashing down.
spider

Tessa Coyle: Science Police - The Obsolete Prometheus - Episode 4: Misanthropolgy


Tessa swam back to consciousness. She ached, her face felt two sizes two big for her head and she still couldn't see very well. Wherever she was, her glasses weren't and that wasn't a good sign. She tried to move and found that she was bound in place. Struggling against the cables that tied her made her feel the aches and pains in her body afresh and she let out a groan, squinting as she tried to see, one eye swollen shut, the other fuzzy.

“Ah... you're awake.” Werner's voice. This did not bode well.

“Barely,” Tessa mumbled past her swollen lips. “Why did you leave me alive?”

“I don't mean to kill if I don't have to.” She could barely see him, moving around, an indistinct blob of pink and blue, overalls she thought. Squinting harder, forcing him into focus from sheer force of will. He still wasn't clear but she could make out his mad eyes staring out of his pockmarked face. They were surrounded by old lights, incandescent bulbs on low power, casting shadows around it was they were, one or two flickering on and off with an electric buzz. Behind the madman was an offset plus symbol, bolted to the wall and there was something more in front of that.

“So what are you going to do? Dribble on me?”

He snarled and slapped her, fortunately not on her swollen cheek. “Watch your filthy mouth, sinne!.” She jerked in the seat and twisted her face back. With him that close she could make him out now and what she saw worried her. He was clearly, unutterably insane. What the hell had happened to him?

“What happened to you Werner? What happened out there?” She jerked her head, she had no idea which way was out, where they were in relation to the dome, but everyone knew that gesture.

“REVELATION!” He thundered and she rocked back on her seat, the shout was like being caught in the teeth of a gale.

“You're a scientist, you know that's no basis for anything.” She flinched as his hand raised again, but it did not fall against her face this time.

“Things have changed. God found me in the wasteland and took me to his bosom,” Werner paced restlessly as he spoke, working himself into a deeper frenzy. “Everyone else died in that church but I survived. The townsfolk didn't take to us, didn't like being studied. They made us undertake their rituals and my team died writhing in agony but I was spared! The serpent struck me again and again and I DID NOT DIE!” He was grinning now, ear to ear with ecstatic glee. “More, now I could hear the choir of angels, singing in my head!”

“Oh dear... neurotoxin. How did we miss that when you came back in?”

He didn't hear her, he was well into his rant.

“Pastor Scull helped me understand, helped me recover, explained the voices of the angels to me and what they wanted. To send me forth to bring the judgement that has fallen upon the rest of the world upon this place, this last testament to man's arrogant belief that he can defy God or his own sinful nature!”

Tessa startled slightly, something cold was creeping up the back of her leg, some sort of icy, spidery thing creeping against her skin. Werner was quoting from some ancient myth now, shouting numbers, thees and thous as though it meant anything to her, so she risked a glance down. Seeing the elbow joint of a familiar looking robotic arm vanishing up her trouser leg.

Tessa squinted hard again as Werner went on and on about seals and demons, the resurrected dead, plagues, floods, famines and fire. Across the way she saw her pistol laid out on a table, the shape familiar enough for her to make out despite her short-sightedness. The other thing that she saw was Robur's head, a grisly trophy, leaking oil and voltaic fluid, the eyes staring as blank as ever at her, but one still flickered, fitfully and each time it glowed the arm creeped higher up her leg.

She twisted her hands behind her, trying to reach her TeleBand without Werner noticing, fingers stretching, twisting in the cables, wishing she didn't bite her nails as she fumbled blindly at the controls. At the same time she set her one good eye on Werner, pretending to pay attention. If she could just humour him long enough she might have a chance.

“So!” He shouted returning to her. “I offer you a chance Miss Coyle, join my holy cause or be sent to your eternal judgement.”

“How would I join, exactly?” She grunted, fumbling again for the TeleBand. He noticed, frowning, leaning around her and then laughing.

“We're deep down here Tessa, your band won't reach the surface, so fiddle all you want. Nobody will hear you whether you scream or whether you transmit. I can see you would say anything to me, you're just humouring me.” He gripped her chin and tilted her head up, making her hiss with pain through her swollen lips. “Well then, we shall leave the decision to The Almighty.” He turned away, marching to his makeshift altar while Tessa scrambled with her fingers for the band, hoping she'd got it right as she tuned it through the frequencies.

Werner was moving differently now, slowly, reverently even. In his hands he held a great jar with a massive lid, holes bored through it. Tessa could see something coiled, green, lurking in the bottom of the jar and as he slowly paced even closer it resolved itself. A thick rope of scaled muscle, lurid green, a quivering rattle upon its tail sounding like a maraca as the snake grew agitated and worked its fangs against the side of the glass.

“What... is it?” Tessa swallowed nervously, but as her finger slipped against the dial on the TeleBand she suddenly felt the cold metal of the arm straighten and move with greater strength and purpose.

“They call them 'radlers'. They're native to the gorges around the Pastor's home town. A unique creature born of radiation and the desert and granted a gift from God, redeeming the serpent by becoming a crucible in which a man's faith can be tested and confirmed.” Werner set the jar down next to Robur's head and unscrewed the lid, thrusting his hand down inside, the radler striking and striking, sinking its fangs into his arm repeatedly, but he barely flinched, grasping it firm behind its head and drawing it forth.

“A remarkable creature Officer Coyle, a survivor. A nocturnal hunter that imitates a cicada or a cricket, that uses its glowing body to draw and hypnotise its prey. A creature so visible that it needs a venom stronger than any other to keep away even greater predators. If you survive... it awakens you to the heavens, the spirit... IF you survive.” He stepped closer still, holding the writhing serpent before him, swaying and waving it, imitating its motions.

Tessa could feel the hand yanking, pulling, scraping at the cables that bound her, she just needed another moment and she could be free. “ROBUR! NOW!” She shouted, giving it all the force and emotion she could. Werner turned, eyebrows shooting up his forehead in surprise. Robur's eyes lit up and from his damaged vox he began to emit a series of beeps, starting slow and getting faster and faster.

The cable came loose, her wrists were free, she grasped hold of Robur's disembodied arm just as Robur's bluff was detected and Werner turned back around.

Adrenalin was a good substitute for caffeine pills, she surged up out of the seat with Robur's arm raised high and brought it crashing across Werner's head as his eyes met hers. He fell like a stone, the radler spilled from his grasp, striking him three times and slithering away with a derogatory swish of its tail, vanishing into the ducts.

Tessa grabbed her belt from the table and cuffed Werner, fumbling to press her glasses back onto her swollen face, leaving him laying there, bleeding from the scalp while she picked up Robur's battered head.

“Maam,” he fizzed and crackled, sparks falling from his jagged neck stump. “I think you may have bent my arm striking the miscreant.”

Tessa laughed and then gasped, clutching her face with her free hand. “That's the least of your problems I think Officer Robur. To think they say you Metalmen don't have a sense of humour.”

“I was merely making an observation maam.”

“Let's find our way out of this hole and contact the precinct.”

“I concur maam. At least it's over.”

Tessa staggered unsteadily up the stairs, cradling Robur's head against her chest. “I'm not sure that it is.”

“Maam?”

“That town, they know all about us, they hate us, there's no telling what Werner told them. I'm betting we haven't heard the last of this 'Pastor Scull' and his merry band.”

“Ah. Well. All the more reason to get me repaired then maam. Turn left up here.”

“Have a little faith Robur, have a little faith...”