Tags: religion


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'.

The Unforgivable Sin

 I don't believe in 'sin', so for me question becomes one of 'the thing that goes against my personal code of ethics or wellbeing that I cannot forgive'  and... well, maybe I'm too easygoing but I think just about anything CAN be forgiven. People do hurt me and have upset me, sometimes very badly. I have been treated very shabbily by certain people in the past, betrayed, lied to, cheated on, spectacularly dumped. None of this is unforgivable in and of itself.

To me this sort of thing only becomes 'unforgivable sin' when it becomes a pattern of behaviour. When you forgive... and are taken for a ride again, and again, and a third time. I seem to operate an informal 'three strikes and you're out' rule. I'm pleased to discover that this sort of behaviour (being reasonably but not too forgiving) appears to be optimal, according to experiments with game theory.

Ever wish you were/weren't religious? Why/Why not?

Sometimes it's tempting to wish that I was. That level of absolute certainty about things is seductive, as is the idea of having all the answers without having to work for them. If I lived in the US I imagine there'd be a lot more social pressure brought to bear as well which might make it a lot easier with family and friends if one were religious. I don't though and there's no such pressure this side of the pond.

Alluring as all that is no... I definitely prefer the universe as it is, rather than as we might wish it would be. I place truth higher than comfort or safety and I think religion is a defiance or perversion of man's natural curiosity. It makes us settle, stop questioning and because it is founded on nothing but blind belief and the authority of its interpreters there can be no negotiated middle ground between opposing faiths.

The sheer amount of harm religion causes isn't worth the tiny amount of good it does - which can be accomplished by other means.

So no, other than in very rare moments of weakness I don't wish I were religious and even in those moments, I'm not really tempted at all.

Pure eastern philosophies often fall outside religious connotation. Which appeal to you, if any?

As has been noted previously that rather depends on your definition of religion. If it involves faith (belief without evidence) it doesn't appeal. If it invokes spirits, gods, magic or defies what is known based on fact then it doesn't appeal (save in a mythological sense). I love mythology but still, these things don't appeal as religions or philosophies.

Of the Eastern philosophies some forms of more secular Buddhism probably appeal the most, but I still have issues with the more secular versions of Buddhism. The extreme passivity, the commonality of vegetarianism and even in some of the more 'atheistic' forms the insistence of ideas about reincarnation and so forth.

I'm also not a fan of the fawning adoration for Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama when, frankly, what they had before amounted to a system of religious serfdom and there's implications in terrorism etc.

Short version, I can't think of a damn thing that is or is labelled a religion, in any sense, that appeals in any way save as a fanciful story.

30 day challenge Number 4 - Religion

I am what you might call a 'militant atheist'. I am against religion but it's important to understand that I consider religion to be a symptom of a deeper problem that goes beyond religion. The idea of faith.

Faith is, essentially, belief without evidence and this is as near to the definition of a delusion as makes no odds.* This most often pops up with reference to religion but also turns up in astrology, magic(k), ideology, homeopathy, holographic sports wristbands, magnetic bracelets, crystals, alien abduction and a whole, huge, long, host of other things that irrational, superstitious and/or stupid people go along with. Which isn't to say that everyone who succumbs to faith is an idiot, madness doesn't respect intelligence, even the smartest people make peculiar exceptions, succumb to special pleading or - while holding to a perfectly reasonable scientific view on, say, biology, still believe in a hollow earth.

The only decent, sane basis for knowledge is evidence. It may be incomplete, you may get things wrong from time to time but it's the only way that we as human beings have found of getting at genuine, practical, applicable proof.

Religion perpetuates the idea that somehow wishing really hard transcends or overrides the nature of reality in some way and that some people have some mystical tap into 'truth'. This retards human progress when it bumps up against science (cosmology, biology, medical applications), causes wars when different truths with no basis bump up against each other, directly and indirectly causes death and harm in a variety of other long term ways.**

Some might argue that religion also brings positives, community, charity, morality. We don't need religion for any of these, we can and do build them without it and the cost is simply too high to do it with religion when we can have all the positives without the negatives. As to the morality argument one need only check the prison statistics or watch the news for five minutes to see that religion doesn't lead to moral people, if anything quite the opposite.

To me religion, faith, is a primitive atavism, a leftover fragment, an 'exploit' or 'hax' of the weaknesses in human perception and psychology and one that we need to overcome by applying our conscious minds.

*A fixed false belief held without evidence or against evidence to the contrary.
**Interfering with the direct application of medical technologies, rather than just the research. Causing problems in education. Affecting abortion and other policies that harm others, etc.

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Christopher Hitchens Quote

"Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish.... Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."
— Christopher Hitchens

The Thinking Atheist over on Facebook planted this quote up on his feed the other day and I cut and pasted it out so I'd have time to think on it past the immediate reaction that I put up on Facebook when it came up. It's an interesting quote and, I think, representative of the deep self-questioning and thinking people do when they have a life threatening condition.

I think everyone's aware I've been suffering on and off with depression this last couple of years but not everyone knows it has -occasionally - reached suicidal proportions and while I'm not sick in the same way Hitchens is - I'm not facing down a likely-deadly disease of the same sort - it does cause a similar amount of introspection when you 'sober up' and take a look at yourself so, this made me think, though I'm afraid the religious are unlikely to score a victory in the introspection of either Hitchens, or myself.

"Beware the irrational, however seductive."
I can agree with this one, 100%, as it applies to real life in any case. Engaging in irrational _fantasies_ is fun, stretches the imagination, gives you new perspectives, lets you ask 'what if'. I'm all for that. When people mistake the irrational for the rational however, that's where you get problems. That's where you get homeopathy or astrology, where you get 'holographic sports wristbands', anti-abortion activists or elaborate conspiracy theories. Many of these things are seductive. We all like to think we've got secret knowledge, that we're special somehow, that we GET something nobody else does, that we're chosen and beloved of the gods or whatever... but this is a hopelessly arrogant mindset and we should learn to be a bit more humble in the face of the universe.

"Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself."
Me and The Hitch disagree on political issues and his political side is showing a little bit in this one. Maybe he's spent too long in America and bought into their insane levels of 'rugged individualism', I don't know. The first half I agree with, people talking about something 'outside', 'beyond' and so on are just making excuses for the total lack of objective reality in what they believe. Ignoring the real in favour of the unreal. I also agree that we should not annihilate selfhood or subordinate ourselves to dogma. Hitch would, likely, include socialist thought in that second half where I do not. I don't consider that a subordination or elimination of the self since any society is made up of individuals and it is in our individual interests to collectivise effort, safety and other factors.

"Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others."
Compassion is a valuable thing but often it's used as a cover for something else. I interpret this as advocating a hand up, rather than a handout, which I agree with. Too many groups use the excuse of compassion as a means to dominate, proselytise, control or cause people to become indebted. A perspective of providing/allowing for dignity may ensure a more pragmatic approach to problems.

"Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish..."
Arrogance? Well, sometimes you simply are right and that's not arrogance, it's supportable fact. This can be often mistaken for arrogance though. Selfishness? That bothers me more. Sure, often accusations of selfishness aren't true, but they are bothersome and disrupt some deep level of self-image that most humans seem to share. We should pay attention to such accusations, but examine them rationally.

"Picture all experts as if they were mammals."
Don't presume an argument from authority to be correct in other words. Experts also make mistakes and they breathe, breed, shit and piss, same as the rest of us. Look at what they do, where their information comes from.

"Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity."
Get involved, challenge stupidity and unfairness and in so doing you can educate and make the world a better place by addressing unfairness. I agree, though it's hard bloody going.

"Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."
I needed something reaffirming on this score lately as between breasts, pronouns and dickwolves, the internet ether has been full of 'teh stupids' and it has gotten very wearing. I normally seek out people of opposing points of view and I love to argue. Keeps me engaged, keeps my mind fresh, challenges my point of view and tests it. I normally relish the opportunity. Butting heads with people who don't share that point of view or who are invested in wilfully misinterpreting you is extremely tiring though and I succumbed to the temptations of the banhammer more than once lately, which always makes me feel dirty for resorting to it. I can't leave an argument alone though and it can be the only way to get some peace. Still, I should re-examine that.

"Suspect your own motives, and all excuses."

Yep, put yourself under the light as much as other people.

"Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."
I would do a lot for the people I care about so I expect a lot from the people I care about. This can lead to some... unevenness and resentment but does that mean I should rein in how much I care about other people in order to be more realistic? I'm not sure that it does...

Anyway, it was good food for thought for such a short quote and it's nice to see cancer hasn't diminished Hitch's fighting spirit.

(no subject)

As participation in 'Everybody Draw Mohammed' day (tomorrow, May 20th), in celebration of free speech in defiance of religious censorship I've done what I do and have dashed off a very slapdash and amateurish - and horribly blasphemous - card game.

You can download it HERE, ready for tomorrow.
Alternative download HERE.

Originally posted over on business/work blog apresvie 
just me

Well Burqa Me

If it has escaped your notice otherwise, the UKIP Party* came out in favour of a France-style Burqa ban, though perhaps not for the same reasons as the French since they're petty NIMBYS with enough guile to hide their racism behind a thin veneer of anything else they can come up with.

While I don't agree with their reasons I do think the burqa or veil (yes, I know the western terminology isn't accurate) is a problem for two main reasons.

1. Fairness. Hoodies are banned many places, hats have to be taken off in many shops, crash helmets have to be taken off at service stations. We don't allow people to hide their faces most of the time for reasons of crime, identity, safety and security. Just because it's your religion (which is arguable) doesn't get you a free pass to flout these rules and social conventions.

2. Despite protestations to the contrary the concept of the veil or the body covering is one of oppression and control. Values which aren't compatible with multicultural Britain's aspirations to fairness. It carries implications of property, of shame and saying that it's a woman's choice isn't entirely accurate when it can be enforced by the men of the family and when generational cultural indoctrination is at work.

I find kinky BDSM as much fun as the next guy, maybe more, but we don't see leather clad doms walking their slaves down the street on a leash for a reason, plus that's generally role-playing and consensual, which can't necessarily be said for the burqa.

The idea that the burqa is respectful of women is often bandied about as well, that it stops them being sex objects. Newsflash, it doesn't. It hypersexualises whatever you can see. Much like a flash of the ankles in the Victorian era, whatever you can see becomes immensely more meaningful and erotic, the imagination fills in the gaps, generally far more erotically and effectively than reality (especially given the higher chance of rickets).

Like anything else, we all have to compromise in the public arena, whatever we do in private is up to us but, perhaps as a bonus, living free of these things even for a little while might give people more options and a bit of an eye opener.

*A bunch of no hopers who are basically the BNP** with middle class sensibilities.
**Fascists without the uniforms or even a pretence of being intellectual.