Monday, 22 December 2014

Why 'God' is a bad hypothesis.

Gods and goddesses have been the proposed hypothesis for many events. From the early days of thinking a god was directly responsible for throwing lightning across the sky, creating thunder with his giant hammer, or exploding a volcano unless appeased by a virgin sacrifice, some god or another has been thought to be behind many natural events. 

Without exception this hypothesis has failed. We know no one throws lightning bolts from atop Mount Olympus. We know Thor isn't banging his hammer to cause thunder and we have an explanation for why volcanoes erupt and lack of virgin sacrifice isn't one of them. 

Few, if any, people these days think a god or goddess is directly responsible for things like those listed above but the 'god of the gaps' has yet to disappear entirely. 

The god of the gaps now survives in two main areas. The first is specific personal events such as so called miracles - for example having a person survive a collapsed building or an infant surviving critical surgery within hours of its birth, as well as minor interventions like finding a set of lost keys, passing a test, or nailing a job interview. 

The other area in which the god of the gaps survives is the two remaining great unknowns - life, and the universe. 

We don't know exactly how life was started on earth - so God did it. We don't know exactly how the universe started - so God did it. Or so religion would have us believe.

What the religions keep to themselves though is that the 'god did it' response has never been successfully demonstrated. Not ever. Not once. Conversely the 'god did it' response has only ever been disproved. 

This quote from Sam Harris comes to mind: 
"I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one"
I also like this quote from Tim Minchin: 
"Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be...not magic"
This is true whether that magic is a faith healer, psychic, clairvoyant, or a 'god'. 

To expand on this it's true to say that everything that has an explanation has a natural explanation. No exception. Everything we observe has either a natural explanation or no explanation yet. There is nothing where the demonstrable, testable, observable explanation is supernatural.


Any time the supernatural is touted as the reason something happens or happened, people remain sceptical. And with good reason. 

All explanations supernatural are a cop out. They are actually not really explanations at all as they get us no closer to knowing what really happened. Saying 'god did it' explains an event no more than saying 'a wizard did it'. 'God did it' and 'it appeared out of nowhere' have identical explanatory power. Tell a rational person that a painting fell off a wall because a ghost knocked it down and their response will be something like 'what really happened?' That's because reality and the supernatural are two different things. 

There is no good reason to think the supernatural exists anywhere but in the human imagination. 

God is what people say when they don't know the actual answer, can't think of the actual answer, can't understand the actual answer, or refuse to accept the actual answer. 

The god hypothesis is a bad one. It has a zero success rate and explains nothing. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Is Pope Francis A Good Guy?

Pope Francis is gaining a lot of friends in the secular world with what seems like a 'progressive' approach to things such as atheists, the Big Bang, and Evolution. 

Back in May 2013 the pope caused a fuss when he declared that even atheists are redeemed by Christ. This was interpreted by many who thought the Pope was saying that through good deeds even atheists can get to heaven. But just hold on a minute. Redemption, and salvation aren't the same. 

There's a very informative article here by Stephen Kokx about the pope's comments. The gist - all people, including atheists, are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. All people, including atheists, are good, but, as stated by Fr. Dwight Longenecker in Stephen's article 'wounded by original sin'. The bottom line is that Pope Francis hasn't said anything new about atheists. We're still going to hell, unless saved by Jesus, for the crimes of Adam and Eve. (that Adam and Eve are fictional seems to not matter). 

So Pope Francis was lauded as being progressive and welcoming to atheists et. al.. He was, in fact, doing nothing of the sort and not changing the Catholic Church's position, but merely restating what it already was. 

More recently, in October of this year, the Pope made some comments regarding evolution and the big bang theory. 

These are the Pope's comments: 
"The big bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God. On the contrary, it requires it.
"Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of [divine] creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve."
The Catholic church doesn't have a great track record with accepting modern science as Galileo Galilei found out when he tried to tell them that Earth went around the sun. 

But people are suggesting this pope is progressive. Let's look at that. On The Origin Of Species was first published in 1859, some 155 years ago. Since that day has Darwin's work has been supported by mountains and mountains of new evidence. Accepting it in 2014 can hardly be called 'progressive'. 

Besides, evolution has been supported (kind of) by at least two of Pope Francis's predecessors as seen in the article here written by Doug Linder. Doug points out that Pope Pius XII was okay with the idea with evolution, as long as humans still got their souls from God. Pius was not 100% convinced by evolution and cautioned that people should not accept it “as though it were a certain proven doctrine.”

Pope John Paul II said: 
Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.  It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.  The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of the theory.
As Doug points out, in the 46 years between Pius XII and John Paul II evolution, as far as the Vatican is concerned, went from being a possibility, to a fact. Pope Francis getting on board with evolution is not 'progressive'. He's very, very late to the party. 

In November this year Pope Francis put a motorcycle up for sale. He had been given it as a gift (why?) and as he had no use for it, he decided to sell it and donate the money to charity. The $20,000 bike sold for some $300,000. If I was going to be looked after for the rest of my life I'd donate a fancy bike to charity too. 

I've tried to find the net worth of the Catholic church but it seems impossible. I found one estimate at between 10 - 15 billion (from a 1965 edition of Time magazine) but estimating the wealth today couldn't even be done by the church itself. This article in the National Post from Toronto confirms the impossible task of estimating the total worth of the church, but does bring some things to light: 
  • The Catholic Church owns approximately a metric tonne of gold valued in 2008 at $22.4 million. 
  • The revenue of the Vatican in 2011 was $308 million. (expenses lead to this being a $27 million surplus. 
  • The Vatican has $10 billion in investments in foreign companies. 
  • There is an estimated $655 million in Vatican coffers. 
Add to this the 700,000+ square kilometres of land, and priceless works of art and it's easy to see why the Catholic Church is regarded as one of the wealthiest institutions on earth. 

This is not to say that the Catholic church does nothing, I'm aware that they do spend millions to help people, and so they should given they are set up in the name of a man who championed the poor and who urged followers who wanted to be perfect to 'sell your possessions and give to the poor'. It wouldn't be fair to compare the charitable donations of the Catholic church to those of large companies such as Google or Walmart which are set up to make a profit, or an individual who could have a change in circumstances and suddenly not know from where their next meal is coming. 

The Catholic church operates on a different level. They see themselves as moral teachers, a guiding light on the pathway to the lord. They preach about how we should look after each other but still retain billions in wealth. When you look at what the church has compared to what it does, whilst keeping in mind its foundations, it simply does not do enough. Nowhere near it. 

The last thing I wanted to write about is the cover up within the church of child sex abuse. In 2013 Pope Francis set up a commission into the sexual abuse of minors by priests but as shown in this article in Time magazine from February this year, the U.N. has demanded the the church do more, starting with the handing over of internal case files to proper authorities. 

It's very easy to criticise someone for not being 100% idealistic and when doing so one opens oneself up to criticism for not doing enough themselves from those happy to commit the tu quoque fallacy.  I'm not asking for or suggesting Pope Francis be perfect though. I, unlike some of his followers, am aware he is 'just a man'. 

However, this man has unimaginable resources available to him. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in a nest egg, doing nothing except growing larger. He has influence over hundreds of millions of people. Is Pope Francis doing more than his predecessor? Probably. Slightly. But when your predecessor does nothing, doing more isn't very hard. When it comes to the pope being a leader in modern times, the bar is set incredibly low. 

I'm sure Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is a decent bloke. If he were my neighbour and I was going on holiday, I'm sure he'd be happy to feed my dog and I'd be happy to let him do so. 

But as Pope Francis I'm not convinced Jorge is doing enough. This is not an ordinary citizen, living in suburbia, working 9 to 5. He should be leading society, not being dragged behind it kicking and screaming. To me he was 10,000 steps from where he should be and he's taken one of those steps and people are singing his praises as though he's cured cancer. 

Be pleased, if you must, that he's taken a step in the right direction, but remember that he's got a long way to go before reaching the final destination. 


This post was inspired by the diatribe by Noah Lugeons on episode 90 of The Scathing Atheist. You can listen to that episode here. I highly recommend subscribing to The Scathing Atheist podcast through iTunes or Stitcher. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Absurdity of hell

I've said before that there are pretty much as many versions of God as there are people who think gods are real. Same goes with Christianity. How many times to you hear 'Well they're not *real* Christians*? It is, as you most likely know, called the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Hell, however, is pretty consistent in my experience. The most popular is the lake of fire, burning for eternity, torture kind of hell. The other I hear a less often, but often enough, is that hell is simply a separation from God.

When I discuss hell with Christian believers they tell me that God doesn't send me to hell, that it's my choice to go there. As though anyone would *actually* choose to spend eternity being burnt and tortured. They say the choice is this - love their god, worship it, believe in Jesus, repent, and end up in heaven or don't do these things and end up in hell. 

Of course God wants the former and not the latter, they tell me. But, and here's the catch, God can't prove himself to me, I have to believe of my own free will. It's all about 'faith'. 

They seem to forget here that this is a condition that God himself imposed. And it's a condition, given his omniscience, that he knows I cannot meet. 

You see I'm not an atheist by choice. I am incapable of believing any god exists, let alone the biblical one, because the claims do not reach a level of evidence that I can accept. I can no sooner believe a god exists than you, my reader, can believe that I'm 9 metres tall, have blue skin, 12 pairs of arms, and enjoy a weekly one-on-one meeting with US President Barrack Obama in the Oval Office. No matter how many times I asserted the above to be true you could not force yourself to believe it. (right?)

The same is true of me and the god claims I've heard. I have been told a god exists and that if I do not find salvation I will burn in hell. I have been told this with such conviction that I must, and do, accept that the person telling me believes what they are saying to be true. But no matter how they may state their position, without good evidence, *I* cannot accept it to be true. 

And God knows this. Well....if he was real, he would. 

This is where the absurdity lies. I'm expected to believe in a god which will send me to hell for not believing in him, even though he knows in advance that I can't believe in him. It's such a preposterous suggestion that I really can't understand how it has any credibility at all. Seriously, how can anyone accept this to be true? 

A being worthy of the status 'God' would know what it would take for me to avoid hell and end up in heaven with him and from what I'm told this is his major goal. Achieving this goal would be a trivial matter for anything deserving of the title God. But for reasons that he put in place himself, he refuses to do it. 

So here I am, an atheist who, according to some versions of theology, will end up in hell for the 'crime' of being unable to believe in a god who knows I am unable to believe in it. If there is a single person who genuinely believes that I deserve such 'punishment' I would be extremely surprised. The idea is horrific.

On top of this, the theists in question will tell me that this is the plan of a god who loves me. 

Yes. A god who loves me is going to allow me to spend eternity in hell. Of course this gets back to "He doesn't allow it, you send yourself." But it's an ultimatum. Believe in God/Jesus OR burn in hell. When you are unable to fulfil the first part of an ultimatum it's not a choice, you're not doing something 'yourself'. And to reiterate the god in questions KNOWS this is what's going to happen. 

When I left Christianity, Hell was one of the hardest things for me to give up. The idea of a god watching everything you do, judging you every minute of every day was so ingrained that long after I gave up the idea of 'god' the idea of hell lingered. It's a truly terrifying thing to believe and borders on child abuse to make children believe something so horrific. 

Today I am as confident that hell doesn't exist as I am that the sky is blue, grass is green and water makes things wet. Now I'm sure there's someone somewhere who can tell me something about the 'true' colours of the sky or grass, or how water affects things, but you know what I mean. 

Hell is absurd. A loving god creating conditions in which people end up in hell for eternity is absurd. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

What kind of god do you worship?

If you are a theist, you're most likely a monotheist. One of the approximately 3.8 billion people who follow the two big Abrahamic religions - either a Christian or a Muslim. 

That's over half the world's population. There are also about one billion Hindus but from what I know, which is not much, their gods don't operate the way the Abrahamic one does. 

So this post is really directed to the Abrahamic monotheists. 

What kind of god do you worship? I ask because I'm really not sure. From my experience the answer usually includes, but is not limited to, something like 'the all loving creator of the universe'. I've written before that from my experience there seems to be as many definitions of God as there are people who believe a god exits. Rarely do I find two people whose descriptions match exactly, even if those people believe in the same god, such as bible-god or Quran-god*

Say, for example, a tornado hits a small town and from the rubble a person is pulled 'miraculously' alive. Perhaps it's a mother, clutching her months old baby. Or maybe a building burns to the ground, dozens die, but from the ashes a man in his 90s walks free. He's cut, a little bruised, probably inhaled a fair bit of smoke, but by god he's alive, praise Jesus, praise Allah. 

Do you worship this god? This god who saved the mother and child, or the old man? If so, is it because he used his power to save these people? I do understand that if a super being bent what we know of the laws of physics in order to keep someone alive, that would be something to celebrate. I'm not sure I'd go as far as worship, but I can understand showing appreciation. 

It sounds great, on the surface. But it leads to me wondering the following: Do you also worship the god who sent the tornado in the first place? The god that put in motion the series of events that lead to dozens dying in the burning building? From what I'm told of Bible-god, and Quran-god, you must, because whichever one it is that you believe to be real, everything is part of his plan. He is 100% in control of all that happens. If God saved the mother and child from the tornado, surely this same god sent the tornado in the first place. 

Is a god that sends tornadoes knowing they will kill people, really worthy of worship? I wouldn't have thought so. 

One of the great quotes I've seen in the atheism/theism discussion comes from one of the hosts of The Atheist Experience, Tracie Harris. It was said in reply to a caller who was questioning the morality of atheists.

"You either have a god who sends child rapists to rape children or you have a god who simply watches and says: "When you're done I'm going to punish you"  If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That's the difference between me and your god"

The inevitable response from theists here is the cry of 'free-will'. The claim that their god cannot do anything because it interferes with the free will of the rapist. 

Yes, really. As though the free will of a child rapist is more important than a child not being raped. I have three main problems with the cry of free will as a defence of child rape. 

1: The god which is described to me knows in advance that a person will one day become a child rapist. Estimates suggest as many as 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 An all-powerful, all-loving god could ensure that any future child rapists are included in this 50% and never again would children be raped, and the free will of all those non-child raping people is unaffected. 

2: I can't think of a single monotheist that I've spoken to that doesn't think God intervenes on earth. Biblical literalists think God put Adam and Eve here. Muslims think God spoke to Mohammed. Every (surely) Abrahamic follower thinks prayer achieves something. In the examples above God is rescuing people from disaster. God helps people pass tests, get jobs, find their keys. The god that most people believe in intervenes on Earth (in their minds). If God can influence human life so an already millionaire sports person can win another trophy, then *surely* the same god can influence human life so a child is not raped. 

3: There are many things we *could* do with our free will, but don't. We could bite off the legs off strangers. Any time I walk down the street I could have to be wary that someone will attack my thighs with their teeth. People simply do not have the desire to chew on other people's legs until they come off. If we're not born with this desire, surely god could make it so we're not born with the desire to rape children? 

Going back to Tracie's quote - God could stop child rape and chooses not to. The free will argument doesn't wash. 

Do you worship a god that allows children to be raped? If do you manage that? How can you rationalise worshipping an all powerful being that allows children to be raped? Okay, you believe a god was required to create the universe, but worshipping it? I'm not sure how you can get to that. 

I could list many, many things here that people would find truly awful, and keep asking if you worship that god, but I think the point is made. 

I know this post touches on the Problem of Evil argument but I'm not saying a god can't exist because there's evil. The question is as the title asks - What kind of god do you worship? From what I can see, every person who worships bible-god or Quran-god, worships a god that allows evil. 

There is no evidence I know of that could convince me the Abrahamic god exists but even if that evidence was one day presented to me, I know one thing for sure, I could not willingly worship it.  

I've wondered if Quran-god and Bible-god are to be considered the same God. Some will say they're the same, just interpreted differently. Others will call Bible-god Yahweh, and Quran-god Allah where Allah functions as a name rather than the Arabic word for 'God' which it is. I like to think of them as different gods who, to borrow from evolution, share a common ancestor. On a side note, I once read a tweet that read 'I don't believe in Allah, I believe in God.' Literally translating to 'I don't believe in God, I believe in God.'