Monday, May 25, 2020
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Animal Treatment

One of the major issues that I see as a bad thing about religion – at least within the three main Abrahamic traditions, is the speciesism that is integral to the belief systems. Whilst it is true that there are some ‘laws’ laid down for the treatment and slaughter of animals in these belief systems, they are in many cases treated with appalling cruelty, from Josua’s crippling of horses, to horrific ritual sacrifices  designed to satisfy the whims of a god who enjoys the smell of burning flesh.

 Humans are seen as the top species on the planet with the right to do whatever we like to lesser animals. This ethos has so embedded itself in our society that many people, even scientists, deny that other species have consciousness, feel emotion, or can love and feel pain in the same way that we do.

Thus, as a species, we use animals in any way we like. There are tortuous experiments worldwide designed to inflict pain to test animal resilience, and these experiments are widely reported in respectable journals which seem to have the attitude that anything done in the name of science, no matter how cruel, is for the general good. So rats are bred to have terrible genetic diseases that give the poor creatures a lifetime of suffering. Chemicals are dropped into the eyes of rabbits to test how much damage they do to the rabbits’ eyesight, and LD 50 experiments are still carried out dispassionately to test how much of a particular toxic chemical, pesticide, or drug it takes to poison half of a group of animals to death. (The other half are killed anyway, so as to make a fresh start for the next experiment). The suffering that the animals undergo is not even a consideration. No ethical committee considers the nausea, the stomach cramps, the fear, the hopelessness, the agony, blisters, abandonment, desire for freedom, terror of the unknown, headaches, joint pains, organ failure or whatever else is experienced by the animals that we use so unthinkingly.

So much for human superiority… It only takes a little observation to realise that all animals are as capable as we are of suffering, and although all animals do not have the same level of consciousness that we do, they are undoubtedly conscious. They may not be able to think in words, but they can and do anticipate, and they show empathy for each other. Their stress hormone levels rise, like ours, when they are subjected to stressful conditions. They will move away from something that inflicts pain on them. They mourn, sometimes to death, over the loss of a companion. They enjoy play, much as we do. They clearly care for their young. I have seen blackbird parents frantically searching night and day for their lost young, taken by a cat. Dolphins and whales will strand themselves to stay with a sick friend or relative. And most animals will fight to protect their young.

So the question comes to consciousness… And it’s something about which we don’t really have a good enough definition. But common sense can tell us a lot. If an animal can make a decision, it is necessarily conscious, because consciousness is required to make decisions. So a hedgehog that decides to go to sleep rather than forage for more food is conscious. A goldfish that makes a decision to chase another rather than come up for food is conscious. Creatures of all kinds, including ourselves, consciously choose a mate from what they see as the fittest of the contenders. A lot of instinct, and perhaps pheromones are involved, but there always comes a time to make a decision.

Man’s dominion over other animals is not therefore because we have a god-given right, or because we have consciousness and they do not. Rather it is because our evolution has given us a peculiar form of intelligence combined with a dexterity that allows us to dominate other species. It could so easily been different.

In this vast universe though, where there are as many galaxies as there are grains of sand on the earth, there must be intelligences that are as far above humans as we are above fruit flies. Where then the superiority of humans? We think of ourselves as conscious, but there could easily be conscious beings in this universe who restrict their views of consciousnes, as we restrict our views in homocentric ways, to beings who can create matter at will, who have the mental power to be what we think of as gods. Only gods can thus be conscious. Ironically, such gods would likely be atheists.

The superiority of humans is therefore a very blinkered view, perpetuated by religions founded thousands of years ago, when we did not realise there were other worlds, and our imaginations were limited by daily survival as desert nomads. That this blinkered viewpoint still limits the consciousness of people, causing endless suffering to species that we think are by right, under our dominion, to kill at will, to bleed to death and eat, to torture in the name of science, is without doubt a bad thing about religion and a disgrace to any conscious human, religious or not.

God’s Sense of Humour

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I had the pleasure of being invited to a Passover meal recently and despite not understanding Hebrew, I enjoyed the experience. We were given a little pamphlet that had an English translation of the proceedings. It was basically a comic. What surprised me was that it seemed to be mostly about thanking the god of the desert for helping the Israelites by plaguing the Egyptians in various Machiavellian ways. Is it any wonder that Arabs and Jews are still in conflict?

Two Jews sat in a coffeehouse, discussing the fate of their people.
“How miserable is our history,” said one. “Pogroms, plagues, discrimination, Hitler, Neo-Nazis… Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we’d never been born.”
“Sure,” said his friend, “but who has that much luck…maybe one in fifty thousand?”

It struck me that the Jewish god has a typically Jewish sense of humour. I mean, given a god that could do anything, he instead decides to really annoy the Egyptians with the most diabolical things he could think of, in the following sequence…

1. The Nile River turns to blood
2. Frogs
3. Lice
4. Beasts
5. Livestock disease
6. Boils
7. Hail
8. Locusts
9. Darkness
10. Death of the First Born

Comments: 1. The Nile River turns to blood…

This would kill all the fish, which many Egyptians used for sustenance. Also, it would soon begin to stink. So the Egyptians have dead fish, a horrible stink, and a river turned to blood…. Black pudding anyone?

2. Frogs…

Apparently, the second plague consisted of frogs falling from the sky. This is a known phenomenon, but is very rare. Unless they could think of something to do with all the frogs, the ancient Egyptians would have been a bit overwhelmed. Had there been any French amongst them at the time, of course, there would have been no problem.

3. Lice…

Even the thought of lice makes me itchy. Can you imagine the scratching? A plague of lice would be really annoying. You’d change all your clothes for fresh ones, have a really hot soapy bath with Wild Oregano Oil; or some other lice killer of the time, be inspected all over by a close friend to make sure there were no lice left, and as soon as you got dressed you’d be covered in lice again. At least, if I were a god imposing a plague, that’s what I’d do…

4. Beasts!

Just when you had got rid of the lice, you’d open the door to bring in the milk, and lo and behold, a beast! Maybe a tiger, but at least a warthog. There’d be beasts everywhere, with a plague of beasts, and it would make life very awkward. For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to let the kids go out and play. There is nothing I can find to say how long the plague of beasts lasted, but it is certain that a lot of people would have been eaten alive, some in the most undignified of circumstances. Still, it’d give you something to talk about down at the local ale house where beast steaks would be on the menu.

5.  Livestock Disease.

You thought you’d had enough to cope with lately, but out for a pleasant walk, you’d go up to the farm and find all your cows had gone mad, your goats were climbing the roofs, and your sheep vomiting worms. Yuk!

6. Boils…

They are nasty things boils. And it depends where you get them, but if God gave you them with the purpose of annoying you as much as possible, you can bet they’d be in some awkward places. And lo and behold, as soon as you got someone to squeeze one boil, a bigger one would pop up to replace it. You’d try covering them in mud or leeches. Oops – you’ll wish you hadn’t burned the witches – they knew how to get rid of boils.

7. Hail…

I’m guessing that a plague of hail wasn’t just little lumps you could build snowmen from, they’d have been huge iceballs that’d go through your roof. Plus, your sick livestock would have nowhere to hide. You couldn’t really dodge them. If God wants to get you with a hailstone, he’ll wait until you are off your guard, and ‘Whack!’

8. Locusts…

You might be feeling a bit persecuted by this time, if you’ve survived everything so far. Well, at least you’ve managed to get the new crops planted. Surely nothing else can go wrong… Wait a minute, what’s that buzzing sound?

9. Darkness…

Who put the lights out? Is this a practical joke? Right, someone needs to invent street lights!

10. Death of the First Born

This one’s no joke. The oldest child in your family would just drop dead, killed by God. Also, your oldest ox and your oldest sheep from each ox and sheep family. Goats too! God’s given your livestock a really tough time lately. Bet you’d grown really fond of old Daisy… She still had all those boils, and was starving, because the locusts ate all her food, and broken ribs from the hail, but at least you thought she might recover and give you some milk. Wrong! Oxtail soup is on the menu tonight, after Amenhotep’s funeral.

On Fish and Faith

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It may not be immediately obvious that faith is a bad thing about religion, but some thought on the subject makes it clear. We hear of someone being called a man or woman of faith, and that brings a certain amount of respect in religious circles. They may even be given that respect in secular circles where there is often the feeling that we should not mock or test someone ‘of faith’. Faith is thus given respect, as though a person of faith possesses some special quality, and people who challenge that faith are seen at least as iconoclasts, and often as the devil.

So the beliefs of the faithful are cherished beliefs, and they generally do not like those beliefs being challenged, no matter how absurd they may seem to the person of independent mind. In some countries, challenges to faith are seen as apostasy, and still merit the death penalty. As I have mentioned in other essays, even in Europe there are challenges to freedom of speech, with religious leaders trying to have a Europe-wide blasphemy law invoked. If that were to happen, this essay would be illegal, and our restricted rights would be the beginning of a ‘sliding slope’.

Freedom of speech is something we have to defend against erosion. Nobody, no government, and no religion should beyond criticism. Freedom of speech also means we should be able to mock whoever and whatever we like. There is a lot of humour in the hypocrisy of government lies; in the stupidity of religious beliefs, and in individual buffoons, religious, royal, governmental or otherwise. Humour, in fact, is the best weapon to use against those who will not be mocked. They should be mocked at every opportunity.

But back to focus on religion. Religious faith, like faith in the word of a politician, is nothing but belief without logical reason. It is the legacy of thousands of years of superstitious belief when people had no way of explaining the world except by magic. The things that happened to our ancestors needed explanation, so they believed that spirits or gods were responsible for events, good or bad; for natural catastrophes (punishment from the gods), for good luck in harvest or hunting (favour from the gods), and for the weather.

Today, this legacy still affects people of faith. They still attribute events in their life to the favour or disfavour of a god or prophet, and they seek to influence the object of their worship with prayer or symbolic sacrifice, hoping to gain the favour of a supernatural power that may influence their life in some beneficial way.

So, some people have faith… but where is the virtue in that faith? Faith is not kindness or loyalty or love—it is simply belief. How can there be virtue in a supernatural belief system? Believing in something—having faith, cannot itself make someone virtuous, for people can have belief in all sorts of things. Personally I believe that I will not turn into a fish overnight. That belief is strong enough to be called faith. However, it does not affect my virtue, because it is simply something that I believe. An example of a religious faith could be a strongly held belief that one day we will all turn into fish. This belief system could be based on a book, or on testimonials of people who claimed to have been told by someone that someone else witnessed a friend turning into a fish.

If you think such a religion would be based upon a far-fetched story, think again—it is no more far-fetched than any of the thousands of creation or transformation myths that abound, or the stories of supernatural entities talking to prophets, revealing things that we should or should not do, or fabulous stories about what will come to pass. Had someone the inclination, there are at least a few people that they could convince of the veracity of our fish destiny. Those who believed would have to convince others, because the nature of self-doubt is such that others who believe the same thing reinforce our own beliefs.

At that point a fish prophet should die by being lost at sea. Soon, people would be wearing bejeweled fish around their necks, and sects would diverge into those who still ate fish, and those who thought that the eating of fish was an abomination. One can imagine fundamentalist believers on either side fighting with each other. Probably, only the good and the faithful of a particular denomination would turn into fish. Perhaps eighty years after the fish prophet’s death, there would be stories of people who witnessed the prophet turning into a fish.

Ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous than a talking serpent persuading Eve to eat from the tree of life. No more ridiculous than Jesus’ mum being impregnated by God; the Scientology of L Ron Hubbard, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the earth being just 6000 years old. In the words of Robert A Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”

Whatever we believe in, to have faith in that belief the thinking person needs reliable, verifiable, falsifiable evidence. We can accept as true many things until they are proven false, but to accept the tenets of a religion as true with no evidence is to be willingly self-deceived. To have faith is therefore to be willingly self-deceived, and that is a bad thing about religion.

 

The Bliss of Ignorance

The Bliss of Ignorance is directly responsible for religious reverie, and that sublime state of infuriating superiority and pity that those of religious bent take towards non-believers.

The thinking person can never have such certainty, because we realise how little we know about anything; that much of what we think we know will be revised later, and that life is a process of learning. And of course there are some things that each of us would rather forget, or not have known in the first place.

But oh, to have the bliss of ignorance… What a fine thing it must be to feel that one has the answer to everything; to sit and smile, like the ‘fool on the hill’, even if it is because of self-delusion; to think that ignorance leads to truth, wisdom and understanding, and that one is possessed of all these things.

And yet, I can’t help thinking that such bliss can ever only be temporary even in the minds of the most fervent believers. Surely the half-intelligent amongst the self-deluded must always be on the look-out for anything that could disrupt their delusions, so as to avoid those things. That means that a level of fear must be present.

The ‘many disguises’ of the devil could take any shape, from an article on astronomy that shows our minor place in the universe to a TV programme that points out an unwelcome fact about evolution. And God Forbid the books of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the remarkable A. C. Grayling, let alone that scandalous work, The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, which completely destroyed the credibility of the Bible as any kind of history book or divinely inspired work over two hundred years ago.

So all then is not quite as blissful as it may seem for the ignorant, and we should have pity on them, because it must be quite a struggle in our Age of Information to remain ignorant of the knowledge that would end their state of ‘bliss’.

Having said all that, I suspect that some of it may not be true; that for many who profess themselves to be believers, the damage has already been done and the struggle they have is not that of avoiding unwelcome knowledge, but maintaining their self-delusion despite realising that it is self-delusion.

Thus they become hypocrites, and it seems fairly clear that many such hypocrites will be preaching from pulpits, saying words they long ago ceased believing, and preaching for the most part to an audience of hypocrites who get their temporary fix of delusion-reinforcement that allows them to go out feeling less self-deluded for a little while.

The Bliss of Ignorance thus becomes the Bliss of Self-Delusion and although to the contemplative person it seems sad that people want to live like that, it is ultimately their own choice.

It is fortunate for them that at least in the western world, they can live in relative comfort with the aid of modern technology, designed by scientists and technicians who are mostly atheists, and when they get ill, be treated by atheist doctors and surgeons.

Were it not for atheists, the lifespan of the religiously self-deluded would most likely be shorter and more brutal…

Another thought occurs: that perhaps it is exactly those who are most self-deluded who are the most violent ‘defenders’ of their faith. If they don’t really believe what they delude themselves into thinking they believe, what they are really defending is their own self-delusion.

The outrage at being mocked; the self-reinforcement they get from trying to persuade others to believe the same thing; the condemnation of those who think differently; the gathering together with other deluded ones, can all be thought of as ways to hide themselves from the truth that would expose their own delusions.

Religion in that case is a system of installing self-delusion, reinforcing it, making it transferable to others through the offer of the Bliss of Ignorance, and finally defending the installed delusions through a type of self-defense that can become very aggressive when the delusions are challenged.

It is a system that has evolved over thousands of years to be very efficient, but it is a system that in the end creates far more misery than bliss. People trying to promote their own ignorant religious views to reinforce their own self-delusions is the cause of much of the trouble in this world, and that is a bad thing about religion.

Awakening from the Religious Daze

This is the beginning of the New Age of Atheism, when humans are awakening from the religious daze they have been in for aeons, and beginning to realise that they have been fooled by preachers long enough – and what they previously believed not only has no basis in reality, but is actually very funny to thinking people.

Of course there have always been atheists, but In the New Age of Atheism, we find that atheists are leading the world in every area, from arts, science and medicine, to philosophy and psychology. There is a good reason for this – when you think the answer to everything is ‘God’, you have closed your mind, and are not likely to think of new ideas or to challenge established thought. When the leading thinkers of today, people like A.C. Grayling, the late Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins, and Steven Hawking come to mind – all are atheists, and each with far more influence on current thought than the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What you get from these modern thinkers is the originality and intelligent insights that people need to help them understand the world of today and our place in it. What religious thinkers cannot supply, especially when the absurdities  of their most basic beliefs are apparent, atheist thinkers supply, and in abundance.

It is no longer legal in most places to kill atheists for pointing out the absurdities that people must accept to believe in any particular religion, and the world is beginning to be influenced by reason. Blind faith drops away as people realise that thinking is a better alternative. People have begun to realise that ‘being good’ does not involve their method, frequency, or intensity of worshipping their god, but instead, it involves their actions in this world.

Living the ‘good life’ for those who are not deists, is therefore quite different from the ‘good life’ of those of religious bent. For atheists there is no god to forgive sins — we live with what we do. There is no god to tell us what is right and wrong – we use our conscience and decide for ourselves.  There is no god to tell us that we must believe any particular book — we judge each  by its merits and the supporting evidence.

There is no god to prescribe what we eat; with whom we should have sex; what we should believe; to whom we should give praise — we use our own experience to judge what to do, and there is nothing — even our most cherished beliefs, that should not be questioned. Contemplative people realise that we learn new things all the way through our lives, and some new evidence may prove, and often does, that what we believed to be true yesterday was wrong.

The basis of atheism is skepticism and scientific enquiry, and few things in science are immutable. In fact, that is the one of the major reasons that science and religion will never be reconciled – the former acknowledges that it is always up for revision, and little by little we improve our knowledge. The latter has fixed ideas and a dogmatic approach that is never up for revision until society or science proves, bit by bit, that the dogma is wrong.

Admittedly, it is harder to think for ourselves than to just believe what we are told to believe, but the consolations of self-determination are more than enough compensation to make the effort worthwhile. To know that we are each the masters and mistresses of our own destiny is to take back our own power and with that power in our own hands we can look at what is happening around us with a critical eye and take steps to change what is wrong, contribute to what is good, and make the difference that blind followers of any particular religion can never hope to achieve.

The ethics of atheism are thus the ethics of common humanity, which all good people, religious or otherwise try to live by, with the greater good in mind, whilst respecting individual rights.

Compare this compassion of common humanity to the prescribed rights and wrongs given in the books of the monotheistic religions. The approval and disapproval of one thing or another so obviously originate from bigoted and fairly primitive human minds that any idea that an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful god could have been the originator of the ideas and opinions put forward in, say, The Bible, vanishes as one reads the absurdities, contradictions, and blatant errors about our origins and our place in the universe, and about the rituals and religious crimes and prescribed punishments.

Nevertheless there are many who have not awoken from their religious daze. Amongst them are those who take their moral stance from The Bible or The Koran. Suicide bombers are made of such stuff. The religious police in Iran and Saudi Arabia enforce the laws of the Islamic holy books. Apostasy still warrants the death penalty in these places, much as it did in Britain a few hundred years ago.

The thing is that as true believers in their god and in holy writings, those who commit torture and murder in the name of their god are simply carrying out what they believe to be their god’s will. We may be shocked by what they do, but they are adhering to The Bible and the Koran which are both held up by their preachers to be a good guide to morality.

This is the morality that is taught to them from an early age. The right and wrong are black and white, and fixed forever in our ancient history. There is little place in these books for compassion, and where there is wisdom, such as in Jesus’s reported statement, ‘ Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, it is ignored. Jewish people may have stopped stoning or beheading apostates and adulteresses, but in Islamic states it is still common, and is very much approved of.

The current religions of our world do not deserve our unearned respect any more than we should afford respect to racist political parties, or to those secular people who incite hatred and war for material gain.

Thus, the religious claims to morality and the official respect that our modern religions and their various types of preachers get as arbiters of what is right and wrong are bad things about religion.

Religion and Humour

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Religion puts itself on a pedestal against criticism and against humour, using outdated laws, self-righteous pomposity and occasionally murder, to protect itself.

Try to make a film that depicts Jesus as gay and you can still be charged with blasphemy in the UK. Criticise Mohammed in a cartoon and suicide bombers will be quickly trained and dispatched to blow you up. The Life of Brian, one of the funniest films ever made, was banned in many places for making a mockery of religion. What the simplistically religious don’t realise though, is that their views are actually very funny to most contemplative secular people. This is not to criticise the simple faith of a simple person. It is to criticise the holier than thou who have never thought about the beliefs they evangelise.

Those Who Will Not Be Mocked tend to be vague on what God is, vague on where God resides, vague on God’s omnipotence and omniscience, vague on whether or not God is currently active, vague on whether God created evil, vague on the age of our solar system and planet, and vague on the origins of the multiverse, and our place in it. Nevertheless, with all that vagueness, and with the lack of thought that shows no insight even into their own belief system, they get absurdly outraged when their religion is challenged, and since humour is the most dangerous weapon against stupidity, they get dangerous themselves, when laughed at.

So what is funny about religious belief? For one thing, the way religions split into divided sects who hate each other and then fight for centuries. It was pinned down very well in The Life of Brian, with the conflict between followers of the Gourd, and followers of the Shoe…

“Man in crowd V: He has given us…his shoe!
Man in crowd III: The shoe is the sign! Let us follow his example!
Man in crowd IV: What?
Man in crowd III: Let us like him, hold up one shoe and let the other one be upon our foot, for this is his sign that all who follow him shall do likewise!
Man in crowd III: No, no, no, the shoe is a sign that we must gather shoes together in abundance!
Woman in crowd II: Cast off the shoes! Follow the gourd!
Man in crowd V: No, let us gather shoes together! Let me!
Woman in crowd: Oh, get off!
Man in crowd IV: No, no, it is a sign that like him we must think not of the things of the body, but of the face and head!
Man in crowd V: Give me your shoe!
Man in crowd IV: Get off!
Woman in crowd II: Follow the gourd, the holy gourd of Jerusalem!”

And so it goes on until within minutes of the new religion being born, the crowd decides to kill an unbeliever.

Personally, I find it very funny that for the past 2000 years, Christians have been waiting for the end of the world, and the second coming of Jesus, the war of Armageddon, the arrival on earth of the Antichrist, the Tribulation, and the Rapture. These  events are depicted in simplistic illustrated comic-type hand-outs of the Christian press, designed to appeal to people with limited thinking ability, that show airline pilots disappearing mid-flight, truck drivers and car drivers disappearing at speed, and the resultant devastation as uncontrolled vehicles of different types career in chaos causing the death and destruction of non-believers… Can you imagine the consternation when people started disappearing? Imagine you are making love, and your partner is suddenly not there; or your waiter disappears just as he is pouring you a drink.

I also find funny the fact that Christian churches are giving out comics to explain about the coming end of the world. It shows what they think about the average intelligence of those who attend their churches.

But the end, to coin a phrase, doesn’t seem to be nigh. Nevertheless people of religion don’t like getting laughed at. Church leaders get very angry about being laughed at, and there is a good reason for that. Attendance at most places of worship is falling as rationality and common-sense spread through the population. When people laugh at the stupidity of a belief system or at an exposed hypocrisy of the church they previously supported, they are less likely to attend, and the church loses money.

It also seems funny to me that the only way to perpetuate religion is for them to try to spread irrationality faster than the age of information allows people rapid access to common sense, critical thinking, and humour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ

The churches know that knowledge is their enemy, and they frantically warn that the Devil comes in many guises. What is not funny is that in places where religious law has replaced state law, like in Iran, access to the internet is strictly limited, and people are given the death penalty for apostasy. Remind me not to go there… But that one should even have to think about that; that fear should be part of our lives because of religion, now that’s a bad thing about religion.

Proof of God’s Existence?

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The arguments that believers use to justify their beliefs are in every case that has been examined by a person able to think clearly, fundamentally flawed, and the flaws are not difficult to find. This in itself reveals a lack of critical thinking in believers, because it is self-evident that if critical thinking reveals the flaws in the arguments, and believers cannot find the flaws in the argument, they are not applying critical thinking to their beliefs. Hence, they repeat long defeated arguments as if they still have value, and have not been defeated.

For example, the five arguments of the much quoted Thomas Aquinas are still quoted today as proofs of the existence of God. If the proofs stand up to reason, God exists, because proof is evidence enough for even the most confirmed atheist. If they do not stand up, on the other hand, they merely demonstrate that even a sophisticated theological thinker cannot justify his beliefs.

Looking at his arguments:

“I answer that it can be proved in five ways that God exists.
The first and plainest is the method that proceeds from the point of view of motion. It is certain and in accord with experience, that things on earth undergo change. Now, everything that is moved is moved by something; nothing, indeed, is changed, except it is changed to something which it is in potentiality. Moreover, anything moves in accordance with something actually existing; change itself, is nothing else than to bring forth something from potentiality into actuality.

Now, nothing can be brought from potentiality to actual existence except through something actually existing: thus heat in action, as fire, makes fire-wood, which is hot in potentiality, to be hot actually, and through this process, changes itself. The same thing cannot at the same time be actually and potentially the same thing, but only in regard to different things. What is actually hot cannot be at the same time potentially hot, but it is possible for it at the same time to be potentially cold. It is impossible, then, that anything should be both mover and the thing moved, in regard to the same thing and in the same way, or that it should move itself. Everything, therefore, is moved by something else. If, then, that by which it is moved, is also moved, this must be moved by something still different, and this, again, by something else.

But this process cannot go on to infinity because there would not be any first mover, nor, because of this fact, anything else in motion, as the succeeding things would not move except because of what is moved by the first mover, just as a stick is not moved except through what is moved from the hand. Therefore it is necessary to go back to some first mover, which is itself moved by nothing, and this all men know as God.”

This is the Prime Mover argument. However, it fails to address the question of how the Prime Mover came to exist. Aquinas argues that everything is moved by something, and that something is God. He conveniently gives God the attribute of being moved by nothing. However, in that case, there being nothing to move God from permanent rest, there would continue to be nothing in existence. Since there is something in existence, either God was moved by something, or does not exist. If something moved the ‘Prime Mover’, it must be a Prime Mover Mover. But what moved the Prime Mover Mover to move the Prime Mover?

Aquines’ argument leads to an infinite regression of Movers. Hence it is in error, and does not prove the existence of God. As Bertrand Russell points out: “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.”

“The second proof is from the nature of the efficient cause. We find in our experience that there is a chain of causes: nor is it found possible for anything to be the efficient cause of itself, since it would have to exist before itself, which is impossible. Nor in the case of efficient causes can the chain go back indefinitely, because in all chains of efficient causes, the first is the cause of the middle, and these of the last, whether they be one or many. If the cause is removed, the effect is removed. Hence if there is not a first cause, there will not be a last, nor a middle. But if the chain were to go back infinitely, there would be no first cause, and thus no ultimate effect, nor middle causes, which is admittedly false. Hence we must presuppose some first efficient cause—which all call God.”

Aquines’ second argument for the existence of God is essentially similar to his first proof – that every effect has a cause, and that the ultimate regression of those causes is God. However, he makes the point that it is not found possible for anything to be the efficient cause of itself. So what caused God? He leaves this question unanswered, and here his proof fails.

“The third proof is taken from the natures of the merely possible and necessary. We find that certain things either may or may not exist, since they are found to come into being and be destroyed, and in consequence potentially, either existent or non-existent. But it is impossible for all things that are of this character to exist eternally, because what may not exist, at length will not. If, then, all things were merely possible (mere accidents), eventually nothing among things would exist. If this is true, even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist, does not take its beginning except through something that does exist. If then nothing existed, it would be impossible for anything to begin, and there would now be nothing existing, which is admittedly false. Hence not all things are mere accidents, but there must be one necessarily existing being. Now every necessary thing either has a cause of its necessary existence, or has not. In the case of necessary things that have a cause for their necessary existence, the chain of causes cannot go back infinitely, just as not in the case of efficient causes, as proved. Hence there must be presupposed something necessarily existing through its own nature, not having a cause elsewhere but being itself the cause of the necessary existence of other things—which all call God.”

The third proof of the existence of God that Aquinas provides is based on the logical assumption that nothing comes out of nothing. Modern science has shown us that in the quantum vacuum of space, particles are constantly doing exactly what Aquinas denied could happen – they are bursting into existence from the vacuum of space – in other words, nothing. It does not take something to make matter – it takes nothing at all. His third argument fails.

“The fourth proof arises from the degrees that are found in things. For there is found a greater and a less degree of goodness, truth, nobility, and the like. But more or less are terms spoken of various things as they approach in diverse ways toward something that is the greatest, just as in the case of hotter (more hot) which approaches nearer the greatest heat. There exists therefore something that is the truest, and best, and most noble, and in consequence, the greatest being. For what are the greatest truths are the greatest beings, as is said in the Metaphysics Bk. II. 2. What moreover is the greatest in its way, in another way is the cause of all things of its own kind (or genus); thus fire, which is the greatest heat, is the cause of all heat, as is said in the same book (cf. Plato and Aristotle). Therefore there exists something that is the cause of the existence of all things and of the goodness and of every perfection whatsoever—and this we call God.”

Aquines’ fourth proof is based on graduations of goodness, truth, and nobility. As these qualities tend towards perfection, he argues, they tend towards God. He assumes there must be an external cause for these qualities to exist in the world, and that the cause must be the perfect God. Essentially, he is saying that if good qualities exist, God must exist, because God is the cause of good qualities. He has entered a circular argument, which says nothing at all. It’s like saying taste is the greater cause of toffee. And so the argument fails.

“The fifth proof arises from the ordering of things for we see that some things which lack reason, such as natural bodies, are operated in accordance with a plan. It appears from this that they are operated always or the more frequently in this same way the closer they follow what is the Highest; whence it is clear that they do not arrive at the result by chance but because of a purpose. The things, moreover, that do not have intelligence do not tend toward a result unless directed by some one knowing and intelligent; just as an arrow is sent by an archer.”

This is essentially the Intelligent Design argument – that the universe has been manufactured by God and operates to a plan made by God; that the ‘ordering of things’ needs an intelligence to do the ordering. But Aquines is wrong about this. We now understand that gravitational attraction is what keeps the ‘natural bodies’ in their orbits, and that the moon for example does not require to be directed by an intelligence – it is trapped in its orbit by the gravitational field of Earth, and Earth in turn is affected by the pull of the Moon as it travels around us. We cannot prove that God did not arrange the universe how we find it, but Aquines lived long before modern scientific understanding, and we have learned not to invoke unnecessary causes for the arrangement of our natural universe. Whilst there are still many mysteries that we do not understand in the universe, all of those that we already understand have had natural causes. Thus fails the argument that proof of God’s existence arises ‘from the ordering of things’.

John Bremner
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Source of the Aquines text:
From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: The Early Medieval World, pp. 359-363.
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The Confusion between Belief and Truth

Religion provides a set of pre-formed beliefs that are not to be questioned, but if anything is clear about our world and our universe it is that  we can be certain of nothing. Whilst that allows for the possibility that the faithful of some particular religion are exactly correct in what they think, progress has shown us that every belief that is non-evidence based is going to be overturned sooner or later, as all previous beliefs that conflicted with scientific evidence have had to give way.

We no longer believe that the earth is flat; that the stars are holes in the sky where Heaven shines through; that the earth is the centre of the universe; that the world was created in six days; that crops will not grow if a virgin is not sacrificed each spring; that the sun will not rise if a man’s heart is not ripped out each sunset; that we should not suffer witches to live; that Kings are appointed by God; that a girl who has sex before marriage should be stoned to death on her father’s doorstep, or that disease is sent by God to punish us.

The point is that preformed beliefs – those based on hearsay rather than evidence, don’t ‘stand up in court’. If we believe something because we’ve been told it or read it, we have come to a premature conclusion.

There is a fairly simple test that can discover whether a belief is not justified. Given a particular belief, is it testable? If not, that belief is not justified, because if we can’t test whether a belief is right or wrong, there is no way of knowing the answer.

Of course, being testable does not necessarily make a belief justified – that depends on the results of the test. Instinct, however arrived at, is often wrong. We can think we know something, and be certain of that thing, and still be wrong. Only the facts tell the real story, and even facts are often in dispute.

This might lead to a person of religion saying that atheists could be wrong, and that is true, but unlikely. However, most atheists, given just one piece of sound evidence that a god exists, would change their opinion. This would not necessarily cause an atheist to become a worshipper of a god proven to exist, because to deserve to be worshipped is different from being a god.

And of course, there is the problem of defining what a god is. Almost everything man once thought was in the hands of gods is now in our own hands, from the creation of matter to building new life forms.

But unlike the religious who continually have to revise their morals and their belief systems, and despite atheists willingness to change their opinion in the face of any evidence that they are wrong, atheists have never had to change their position or their morality to catch up with modern advances and refinements of morality, or what it means to live the moral or good life.

Atheists tend to be thinkers with their own highly developed sense of morality and personal conscience. They know that no god is going to forgive any evil they do and as a result have done far less harm in the world than adherents of religion.

“I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single, well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system.” [Gore Vidal, American novelist, At Home, 1988, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt]

Given that the all-powerful mono god created by the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions apparently would like atheists to believe in his existence, a quick demonstration, say by instantly giving all amputees back their limbs, or just the religious ones, of a particular sect that the god favours, who undoubtedly have made that prayer, would change the view of every atheist. See http://whywontgodhealamputees.com…

But it is difficult to get to that same acceptance of evidence with the religiously inclined. They argue hopelessely against proof of evolution. They argue against our insignificant place in the universe, and against every advance of knowledge that conflicts with their religious beliefs.

No matter what god the religious believe in, whether it’s the Holy Trinity of the Catholic Church or the indivisible Allah of Islam, it’s difficult for the faithful to change their beliefs. They will ignore all evidence or any arguments that could make the change happen. They deliberately avoid the knowledge that would have the inevitable consequence of making them unbelievers, or their institutions forbid them to acquire the knowledge.

Mormon missionaries, for example, are told not to read or question their beliefs in any way.

But there is another aspect to this clinging on to old beliefs: people who are involved in religious communities or are practitioners of a religion so often define themselves by their religion.

The friends people have, their social life, their respect in the community, and their personal identities and those of their families is likely to be at least partially defined through their religion and in cases can become such a core part of their being that the option of being wrong would bring the whole edifice of their life tumbling down.

Thus the religious protect their beliefs and hold on to old ‘truths’ that are revealed by science to be ridiculous nonsense, or constructed from myth and legend.

In the modern world, where the ‘truths’ of the ancients are constantly being revised by the truths of incontrovertible scientific evidence, that’s a bad thing about religion.

Murder in the name of God

Religion has always been and still is the cause of discord, war, and destruction.

How many wars have been fought in the name of one religion or another? How many people have been burned alive, decapitated, tortured to death, martyred, shot, blown apart, or hacked to bits in its name? It didn’t start on August 10th 1096, when Pope Urban the Second ordered the first crusade, killing an estimated 100,000 men, women and children. Or in 1209, when the rather inappropriately named Pope Innocent III ordered the killing of the entire population of the captured city of Beziers, resulting in the tortuous death of around 20,000 men, women, and children.  People have always been killing other people in the name of one god or another.

The Bible is a book of horror stories, with ‘God ’ sending Moses and others to commit mass murder on numerous occasions.

And Moses said, “Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.” (Exodus 11:4-5)

Moses was the head man of his tribe with such important tasks given to him by God to perform. The majority of God’s reported communications with Moses involved sending his good man out to perform bloody murder on both adults and children.

And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.'” (Numbers 25:3-4)

But let’s assume Moses was no more in touch with God than George W. Bush.  If we accept that the Moses of the Bible was a real person, he was a demagogue of monstrous proportion. Still, like other demagogues, he was a charismatic leader, and if the Bible is any kind of history, he managed to convince other people that he had received his instructions from God.  And that’s the danger of it. All it takes is for one charismatic person to convince others that he has been inspired by God, and believers will follow that person and do his will. In the eyes of believers, God can do no wrong, and because God’s ways are mysterious, we shouldn’t even try to understand – we should do God’s will blindly, in faith, even if it means committing atrocities. Because ‘believers’ don’t have a direct line to God themselves, they follow the representative of any religion or sect who claims to have a two way dialogue with their god.

Our knowledge of human history is unfortunately very short, but as far back as we can look, in the ancient writings of all deity-based religions, we see death, torture, and destruction in the name of a deity. The Incas strangled virgins, and burned up to 200 children at a time to appease their gods. The Aztecs sacrificed more than 20,000 people a year. In India, an estimated 2,000,000 over the years were strangled by members of the Thuggee sect, as sacrifices to the god Kali, who was apparently almost as bloodthirsty as the god of the Bible.  Again, this is merely what we know about.

Historians estimate that there were around 30 million people in the world in the time of the Biblical ‘Noah’, (were such a person to exist, and if the Bible described a real history), so if you add that to the approximately 3 million that God ‘gave instructions’ to kill, taking Sodom, Gomorrah, and The Flood into account, God was responsible for the deaths of around 33 million people.

That estimate does not include the people killed in the name of the Biblical God in the last 2000 years. The Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics claimed an estimated 14 million people in Germany alone. The history of religious massacres could fill a hundred books. If we could look further back, when humans were even more brutal than we are today, (‘today’ meaning our most recent 10,000 years or so) there would have been other religions, other gods, and other wars in the name of those gods. Our latest religions breed fundamentalism and brutality today. Would it have been less brutal 100,000 years ago when one group worshipped the Sun, and another the Spirit of the local mountain, or the Anima of the Earth, or their ancestors? Or go back to 1.5 million years, when we know that hominids buried artefacts with the dead.[1]

Some may say that evil done in the name of a god is not the fault of the god, or the fault of the religion, but the fault of evil people. And it’s true that evil people will always find a way to do evil. However, it’s only when the evil is done in the name of religion that the people doing evil are considered good, because the gullible believe that anything done in their god’s name is good. Religion – despite the popular myth that it gives people a moral code to live by, messes up our sense of right and wrong. You can still, in some modern practised religions, do what you like to someone’s body if you are saving their soul. Torture them until they repent. Strangle them, burn them or drown them. Kill the unbelievers, the infidels.

It’s easy to think we have moved beyond that sort of brutality, but it is still happening today. Read a newspaper or listen to the news. The faithful, of whatever religion or sect they adhere to, feel justified in any behaviour that is done in the name of their god. If it is something repugnant to them, all the better – it is a test of their faith.

People do still hear voices in their heads telling them to do bad things. We call this illness ‘paranoid schizophrenia with phychotic and sociopathic tendencies.’ The psychotic episodes are generally caused by a combination of chemical imbalance in the brain, together with a genetic propensity and some triggering event such as physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

Such people make the headlines with stories like “Student Says god Told Him to Kill Parents”

http://crime.about.com/b/2004/12/13/god-told-him-to-kill-parents.htm

or “Father says god told him to kill his daughter”

http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/story.html?id=7e1aebea-03b8-4cb5-8edd-eb705e1c04ba&k=65800

Generally, the condition is treatable, but incurable, and will recur if they forget or otherwise omit to take their medication. In any position of power or leadership, they can then wreak havoc. It is safer for society to keep such people incarcerated, at least in a secure mental institution.

However in the ‘holy’ books of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian faiths, voice hearing, vision seeing,  and otherwise clearly delusional psychotics are held up as examples of the true faithful. Moses, the homicidal maniac who ordered rape, genocide, and infanticide, is held as a Prophet. Constantine, the mass murderer who collected and constructed the books of the Bible as we know them, is known as Constantine the Great. Abraham, who was close to cutting his son’s throat because of a ‘voice’ that told him to do it, is taught as an inspiration to us all, that we should have such faith. Thus, the religious have no choice but to believe that murder in their god’s name is justified. Otherwise, they either have not read their sacred books, or must distance themselves from the texts that they hold Holy.

Church leaders need to stand up and say, “This man depicted in this Holy Book was a homicidal maniac. If you ever get it into your head to emulate him, realise you are suffering from a mental illness, and seek help.”

But they never will. There will be other wars. There will be more bombs. Many more will die in the name of one god or another, because adherents think that the most important thing is getting other people to believe what they believe. The history of religious massacres is far from over. It might never be over. Now, that’s a bad thing about religion.


1.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WJS-45FKRCR-Y&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=ca9ab3b5f5806d3fe6b5f46ca796a02e

 

The Confusion of the Natural and the Supernatural

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The confusion of the natural and the supernatural, promoted by religion, damages the ability to think logically. Religious people are good at ignoring the evidence for scientific explanations of the things they think are supernatural.

For example, ten people can have ten different explanations for an event such as a volcanic eruption.

  1. It is a result of natural forces, pushing hot magma to the surface through cracks and weaknesses in the earth’s crust.
  2. It is an expression of God’s anger.
  3. It is a result of Mercury’s opposition to Venus, causing a period of unfortunate natural events to occur, of which this was one.
  4. The volcano is itself a God, and it overflows at random times to show us that we must respect nature.
  5. It is sheer bad luck, and it’s happening just to keep me from getting that flight home, that I can’t afford to miss.
  6. It is a result of all the negative emotion in the world filling the earth with fear and hatred until it overflows.
  7. It is erupting because we failed to sacrifice a thousand virgins to the volcano.
  8. It is happening because the old hag at the end of the village has cursed us all.
  9. It is happening because it was destined to happen.
  10. I thought about this happening, and therefore I made it happen.
  11. Gaia  is trying to rid itself of this pestilence of humanity, which is eating into its surface, and taking out the oil, gold, coal, copper, tin, and water.

As with every event that occurs, the natural explanation – ‘a’ on the list above, is supported by the evidence, and no matter how convinced you are that any of the other explanations are the reason for the volcanic eruption, they are unnecessary, given that we can prove the physics of the natural explanation, which we can.

Of course, you can argue that the natural explanation is the way God works – through physical laws. However, a similar argument can be made for luck, or Gaia, or astronomy, or the old hag at the end of the village, or any of the others. This being the case, it invalidates the argument that God works through physical laws. That is really just a way of saying, that nature rules.

The other thing is of course that the natural explanation can be used to predict future eruptions. This can’t be done with any of the other explanations. Only someone indoctrinated into not thinking, into never considering nature as the primary force in this universe, into never critically analysing all the possibilities before deciding which one is right, could believe that such natural events have supernatural origins.

For some people who can’t think critically about their beliefs or about cause and effect,  the above arguments won’t work, because if you can’t think critically, you basically can’t think. And if you can think and won’t, that’s even worse.

Religion, by eliminating the need to think, and by preventing critical thinking, encourages intellectual blind spots, and that’s a bad thing about religion.

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