Tags: stfu


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'.

One of these things is not like the other


A doesn't bother me at all. B does.

I have been trying to work out, since this morning, why it is that all this continual fuss about portrayals in fantasy bothers me so much, because it does bother me, quite a lot.

Portrayals in more everyday media do concern me. I'm fairly secure and confident in my own physique etc for the most part, largely because I consider my attraction to people to be my mind, but I do worry now and then when I 'pudge out' a bit who doesn't? Equally I don't want to devote myself to spending the sort of time needed to be Captain Six-Pack above and I'm OK with that, really. That's not to say the pressure isn't there so I do empathise with women who feel the social/media pressure to be the size zero model and who get complexes about that. I really do. Women aren't the only ones to suffer due to media portrayals, either in terms of looks or behaviour.

There's a massive disconnect for me, however, between making legitimate complaints about fashion portrayals and complaining about portrayals in comics, games, books etc. There's a huge difference for me between reality and fantasy. While I might feel a twinge not looking like Captain 6-Pack, he's a real person. Thor isn't. Of the two I'd much rather be Thor if it came down to it but at the same time I know Thor is entirely fictional and I can never be Thor. I don't feel even the slightest twinge of regret that I'm not Thor because he's fantastical, fictional. Fictional characters may inspire and entertain, you might aspire to some of their characteristics - a sense of justice perhaps, a level of honesty or confidence - but you surely don't aspire to BE them unless you're mentally ill in some way.
Demands to represent 'ordinary folk' in fantasy also strike me as odd. I don't really want to project MYSELF into a game because I am largely boring and ordinary and can't do anything cool. The only games I can think of that are exceptions are Silent Hill, Alan Wake, my Eclipse Phase character and the themes of a game I, myself, am working on. When I play a game I generally want to play something beyond myself, the superhero, the assassin, the secret agent, the starship ace. I want to play someone who is NOT like me. Why enter a fantasy world to just be yourself?

Heroes in fantasy and SF generally aren't normal people, they're archetypes. The word 'hero' is used for a reason. Go back to the folk stories, the Greek legends, the tales of gods and demigods and that's just what you find powerful archetypes, handsome, beautiful, strong, cruel. Sure, there's a place for the everyman hero now and then, either for comedic effect (Jack Burton), succeeding against the odds (Deeba) or for grounding the story in a more realistic way for empathy (Dagmar) but for escapist fantasy? Not so much.
In short, it jarrs, to have people want to de-hero the heroes, to remove the very thing that makes them noteworthy, larger than life, interesting, engaging characters that are fun to read about or to play. The vicarious greatness or capability that goes beyond the ordinary.
That's not it though, that's not the central nub of what bothers me about it.
Go back, mentally, in time. Think about the way horror comics were demonised and how they were defended. Think about BADD and the way D&D was treated as satanic and dangerous. Think about the campaigns against computer games. Think about the fuss over Elvis' hips or Iron Maiden's lyrics and album covers. How have we defended these hobbies in the past from the accusations made against them? How ridiculous do people's concerns about these things look now?
We've made great pains to point out that these are fantasies, that they are not real. That there are differences between reality and fantasy, that D&D doesn't involve worshipping strange gods or casting real magic. That you don't have to be a Satanist to like Heavy Metal. This has been backed up by psychological research, particular in gamers which shows that as a demographic we tend to have a heightened ability to tell reality from fantasy and treat them as separate things. I'm a big believer in this evidence and the point that reality and fantasy are distinct. Anyone who isn't a nutter can tell the difference between the two I reckon.
I think, having thought long and hard about it, that this is why people complaining about depictions in fantasy and SF (whatever the medium) bothers me so much. It's a betrayal of that defence made all the worse because it's the same nonsensical arguments but coming - this time - from within the hobbies. It's an 'admission' (and a false one) that there's no difference between reality and fantasy. It's agreeing with the Jack Chicks, Jack Thompsons, Pat Pullings and Andrea Dworkins of the world that fantasy cannot be  separated from reality and that it can corrupt and pervert people's viewpoints. It's saying a comic book can make you a murderer, that a computer game can make you a criminal, that a jazz mag can make you a rapist.
This is bullshit.
I do not accept that viewpoint and I object to the fantastical being hemmed in and neutered by people's RL hangups about this, that and the other. It's no longer escapism if you let yourself get tied down to reality. Bucking a genre conceit only works if there's a genre conceit there to buck. Cohen only works because of Conan. Nite Owl only works because of Batman. So it goes. Not everything has to be all things to all people and it's possible to innocently enjoy Twain's tales despite 'Nigger Jim' or Barsoom despite the fawning (if not entirely helpless) Martian princesses. It's possible to recreate what made the pulps great without being racist, to enjoy a pinup without being a misogynist. It bothers me to see otherwise intelligent people making the same mistakes as the aforementioned pompous arses and, even worse, to be taken seriously in so doing.


NB: I will be allowing but deleting comments. This is a place for me to reference when people go off on one. Valid points will be used to improve this post but comments will then be deleted.

OK, let's see if I can make things easier for myself by having a single reference point I can link people to when they talk nonsense.

Tiredly and predictably whenever I'm accused of anything nasty the same few things are always brought up. Not the couple of grand we raised for the Japanese Tsunami relief, not the social activism of @ctiv8, not the interesting world building of Cloak of Steel, not the wells of ideas of all sorts in the seeds books. No. Accusations of misogyny because of Quintessential Temptress, Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers, Nymphology and Hentacle/Cthentacle.
One by one then:
Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers: This is a joke at the expense of the supposed prevalent attitudes of male gamers to women in gaming. It's taking the piss out of the ludicrous representations and ideas surrounding women in games and playing off the rife idea that male gamers are all girlfriendless, socially inept dingbats. Misogynistic? No. Using humour to poke fun at misogyny and social ineptitude? Yes.
Quintessential Temptress: As above really, but more of an 'in-game' examination where Female Gamers used the medium of the game to make fun of real life. I can understand a bit more where you might be confused by this one as I was rather frustrated by the time it came to doing this one since I really wanted to write a more serious examination of sex/sexuality in a fantasy setting. This meant the book ended up a little schizophrenic (in the colloquial rather than medical sense) between the aim of satire and the aim of providing useful material. Nonetheless, it's another satirical pisstake of the stereotypes of women in fantasy. It even says so bluntly in the disclaimer.
Nymphology: This is just about sex, not men/women/whatever and again, while I'd have loved to do a more serious take on it comedy was the order of the day in the wake of The Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming. Why this one gets brought up I don't know and if you don't think magic would be used in a naughty way if it was real, I invite you to take a look at what people did with the internet.

Tentacle Porn: Producing porn doesn't make you a misogynist, nor does indulging in BDSM fantasies. There's a line between reality and fantasy that some people seem to have trouble distinguishing. I've said there's 'no excuse' for Hentacle before - it was made as the result of a drunken bet - but that's not entirely true. Much like the previous entries in this list a huge aspect of the game as it was developed was satirical (as well as making bad puns). Many westerners have a very peculiar and biased perception of the Japanese as tentacle-obsessed/borderline paedophile/suicidal/cruel perverts and playing to stereotypes is, again, a good way of sticking the knife in to those prejudices and perceptions. Cthentacle just built on the brand with worse puns and playing off the whole Alt.sex.cthulhu thing (for those of you old enough to remember Usenet).

Some people view the production of any kind of pornography as sexist and exploitative but let's just say that there's considerable disagreement on the matter and I come down on the Sex-Positive side of that particular fence. My rule is 'what the fuck ever so long as everyone consents and is compis to consent'.
There, hopefully that's all clear now and you can stop making the same mistake over and over and over and over again.
If you've got a problem with the writing, don't share the same sense of humour or what-the-fuck-ever the case is, stick to criticism on that basis. Don't sling around groundless accusations as a substitute for criticism or to shore up uninformed criticism.

And otherwise...