Tuesday, 22 July 2014

I have a problem with the Bible

I'm an atheist tweeting to a choir, to borrow a phrase, of some 29,280 followers (at the time of writing), most of whom are fellow atheists, about my displeasure and confusion with all things religion. So a blog titled 'I have a problem with the Bible' is probably not going cause many stirs. 

But it's not the condoning of rape, the genocide, the murder, the slavery and the like that I'm going to highlight here, though yes, I have a problem with those things too. 

It's this: The bible is not convincing. 

Now some of you may want to interrupt here and say that there's some two billion Christians that will tell me (and believe me, they will tell me) that it *is* convincing. And therein lies the problem. Two billion Christians. There are 7 billion humans on this planet. That means if we did a survey and got instant results we'd find this - only 2 in 7 humans find the bible convincing. 

Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be one to say that truth is determined by the amount of people who support (or not) a claim. But when we're talking about whether or not something is convincing it's not as subjective as whether or not, say, a movie is 'good' or a cake is 'tasty'. 

Ultimately, yes, whether or not the bible is convincing is down to the individual assessing it but when looked at it on a population level if as many as 5 in 7 people are not convinced, we can safely say that overall...it's not convincing. For every 2 people that believe it, there are 5 who don't. Maybe you could say that it's not 'completely convincing', but it's 'convincing enough'. But is it? 

Really, this shouldn't matter. But this isn't the work of a movie director or cake baker. This is not a piece of art up for critique by a man wearing a jacket with elbow patches and sporting a beard sans moustache, it's not a sports person whose achievements, or lack of, are being discussed by the regulars at the local bar. This is, allegedly, the work of a god. 

A god that loves us all. A god that wants us to be saved*. It is a god that will, apparently, if we're not convinced by the bible story, allow us to be sent to a lake of fire, for eternity**.

2 in 7 is a terrible success rate when the consequences are so dire. 2 in 7 is a complete and utter failure when the author of the plan is omniscient. 

Opponents will now shout at me 'Free will'. And yeah, go for it. Tell me that this god character has allowed us to believe in him, or not, via our free will. Great. Fantastic. I don't question the free will part, I get that.

My question - why did he come up with a plan that only 2 in 7 people will accept via free will? Could god have come up with a plan that 5 in 7 people would believe? I would have thought so. How about 7 in 7? Tough, no doubt, but remember we're not talking human capabilities here, this is a GOD! My believing friends have been known to inform me that with god, all things are possible. If this is true, one must accept that coming up with a story that all people will believe whilst allowing us to keep our free will, is possible. 

So given the dire consequences combined with the claim that the bible is of omniscient origin...why doesn't it convince all people? Because it's made up, that's why. 

There are, no doubt, many people who've not been exposed to the bible so one may argue that these people are not unconvinced as such, they just haven't had the opportunity to be convinced. If you were talking about Jo Rowling trying to convince people that the magical world of the Potters, Weasleys, Grangers, and Malfoys was real then this would be an understandable allowance. How could the world's population be convinced that there was, in fact, a school of Witchcraft and Wizardry by the name of Hogwarts if they had never heard of such a place? Fair point. 

But again, we're not talking about things that are subject to human constraints. If needing to believe in Jesus as the son of bible-god is what's required to be saved then why doesn't bible-god make sure everyone knows about, and believes in, Jesus? Because it's made up, that's why. 

Keep in mind, this isn't something trivial. Believers will tell us that this is our eternal soul that's on the line here. This is not a case of leaving the milk out and it going off. It's definitely not something that you'd expect a god that loves us to leave up to chance. He wants me in heaven, he is capable of having me there. He knows exactly what it would take to have me there - reason. Yet, he provides me none, and he withholds that reason knowingly. 

There are any number of Christian apologists who will try to tell me there is reason and they will make up all sorts of new nonsense to try to justify the old nonsense that is in the bible. God created everything in 6 days you say? Well....a 'bible' day and what we call a 'day' aren't the same thing, don't you know? Back then, a day could have been an age! Ah huh. Sure. Funny how the bible didn't just say that, isn't it? 

I once asked a pastor why his god came up with a story that convinced him but not me. He said he didn't know. 

If the bible were truly the word of a god who loved us, who wanted us in heaven with him, and who made belief in this story the only criteria for getting into heaven, then it would be convincing to all people, not to only 2 in 7 people. It would be a sensible story whose plot was recognisable as truth to all people, not only 2 in 7 people. 

I can conclude nothing from this other than the bible is fiction. The condition of belief in it  for heaven is fiction. And that the god behind it who apparently loves me, but will let me burn in hell forever, is also fiction. 


*saved by Jesus from what he/God will do to us if we don't believe. Utter nonsense. 

**eternity? Seriously? 

Friday, 11 July 2014

10 questions for atheists

So I was having a look at what people were saying about atheists on twitter and I found this tweet by @ninaemily:

Being ever curious I clicked on the link to see what had got us. 

It wasn't a 'Gotcha' at all (obviously) but a list of 10 questions for every atheist. From TodayChristian.net. 

And I thought, what the hell, I'll answer them. 

1: How did you become an atheist?

Simply - I thought about it. I was raised in a Catholic household, going to a Catholic school but doubts started to creep in when I was about 12 or 13. I couldn't understand why we followed some parts of the bible but ignored others. I once cooked and ate red meat on Good Friday thinking there was a chance I would be instantaneously transported to hell. Nothing happened. I was dissatisfied with 'God works in mysterious ways' as an answer. I began to learn more about the universe and how what we knew about it didn't equate with what the bible was telling me and the more I looked into it the more I realised the idea of 'God' was made up. 

2: What happens when we die? 

No one knows. Death is final and no one has ever returned from it. Even people 'clinically dead' aren't actually dead. Dead is forever. However - I can confidently say that nothing happens. To make an obvious point, dead is the state of being 'not alive'. We've all been not alive. We were all not alive for billions of years before we were born. I have no good reason to think it'll be different when we're not alive again. 

When I say 'nothing' happens, that's not quite right. Plenty happens. The world will go on, lives will be lived. As Christopher Hitchens said:
It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you.

And he's right. What happens when we die? Pretty much everything that would have happened anyway - only you won't be involved. 

But what I love is the idea that my atoms will carry on. The billions of little pieces that make me me will carry on doing what they do. Whether they be iron, carbon, oxygen, whatever it is, those atoms will continue on, only they'll no longer be arranged as me. 

3: What if you're wrong and there is a heaven. And there is a HELL!

 A quick search of Google for 'Pascal's wager debunked' puts this question to bed pretty easily but let's take it on face value and say there IS a God who will send me (my soul?) to 'HELL!' when I die. Let's assume also that it's the 'lake of fire' type hell, not just the 'separation from God' type hell. 

If I'm wrong....I burn in hell for eternity, right? I mean, I get no choice in the matter, do I? As a non-believer, I burn in hell...so why even bother asking? 

But the idea that a God who loves me will allow me to burn in hell for eternity simply because I couldn't believe he was real? Absolutely 100% without question ridiculous. As Australian comedian Josh Thomas said:
As an Atheist, having a Christian threaten me with hell is like having a hippy threaten to punch me in my aura

4: Without God, where do you get your morality from?  

Let's understand - morality, as a thing, doesn't exist. It's the name we give to describe how we think we should act. And everyone's is different and everyone's is flexible. One might scream anti-homosexuality messages from the pulpit, for example, yet jerk off to all kinds of gay porn when the curtains are closed, the lights are off and the tissues are handy. 

What we call our morals are evolved. There are evolutionary benefits for our species to look after each other, to care for each other, share with each other, work together, and so on. 

Morals grow and evolve as society does. We no longer keep slaves, we don't force rape victims to marry rapists, couples of different skin colour can marry and in some parts couples of the same gender can marry too (in other parts we're still working on having that happen), and women are allowed to vote in all decent countries. This wasn't the case just a few generations ago. Who wants a stagnant morality? 

Morals come from discussion, debate, reason, experience, understanding and empathy. It's not hard to work out that I wouldn't like my stuff stolen, so I'm not going to steal from someone else. It's also not hard to work out that if someone is on the street starving, and they steal a loaf of bread, 19 years as a slave and parole forever after is not fair. 

5: If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

This question is ridiculously naive. I'm an atheist and I've raped and murdered exactly as many times as I've wanted to - zero. It's not the fear of God and eternal punishment that stops me from doing these things, and if that's the only thing stopping you from doing them, then I question if you are moral at all. We live in a society, we are responsible to each other and we make rules and regulations that reflect this (we call them laws). 

The other point is - believing there is a god doesn't stop people from raping and murdering. Believers do these things. It's not as though crime is the exclusive domain of non-believers. Belief in a god does not make us moral and does not keep us moral. 

As for good deeds being unrewarded. Simply not true. Acts of heroism, volunteers, people who sacrifice themselves for others. Things like this are acknowledge and rewarded regularly. But again, it's from us to us. There's no need for a god to be involved. 

6: If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

Why should it? Why do we think that because we exist...no, because we're self-aware that our lives deserve meaning? We are life forms. We exist because a series of natural process resulted, through our own unique pathway, in us. 

If you want your life to have meaning, give it to yourself. Find a pursuit that drives you to a goal, if that's what you desire. 

The thing with this question is that you could leave off the first five words, and it's still the same question. 

7:  Where did the universe come from? 

This question is strangely worded for me. As though the universe is travelling and this is its final destination. Or maybe not even final, just one in a series of many stops. It's like something you'd ask someone in the coffee shop at an airport, maybe Singapore. 'Where did you come from?' 'Oh, I'm here from Melbourne, on my way to Chennai for work'. 

But what is this question actually trying to ask? I don't think it's 'what caused the universe to exist'...not exactly, I think someone might phrase it as 'If the Big Bang happened, who* caused the Big Bang?' 

*Of course the first thing I would do here is ask them why they're limiting themselves to 'who'. 

I think the question that's at the heart of this line of thinking is this: 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' If you ask Professor Lawrence Krauss he'll tell you 'Because there had to be'. It's got to do with a zero energy universe, which means the matter and energy of the universe is countered by what they call dark-matter and dark-energy...but as far as I know no one has actually found that yet. It's still a hypothesis. And a little bit over my head.

Where did the universe come from or Why is there something rather than nothing? My friend Andrew Skegg from twitter (@askegg) has the best answer for this question and it's the one I've used ever since I saw him use it....

I don't know. How do you suggest we find out? 

I think it's a great way to put it because I'll tell you now, the answer isn't in a centuries old holy book. Whether the hypothesis of Professor Krauss becomes accepted or rejected, or a new hypothesis is formed and that becomes accepted, it is through science and the scientific method that we will gain the answer, not through reading bronze age scripture. It is through scientists that we'll get the data required. Perhaps the scientists who will do this aren't even scientists yet. Maybe the scientist who'll make the breakthrough is still a little girl spending her days finger painting or digging holes and filling them in with a scoop truck in a sand pit at the local park. Whomever it is, it's not going to be a person interpreting the words of someone who lived in extremely superstitious times thousands of years ago, and who wrote not what they knew, but what they guessed. 

And when the answer is found...it'll be natural. I guarantee it. 

8: What about miracles? What [about] all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

I don't believe them. 

I was going to leave it there, because that really is enough. But I thought might also point out  I wrote a blog about miracles here.

As for the claims of a connection with Jesus or that they've seen saints or angels...well there's many, many people who'll claim they've been abducted by aliens, experimented on, and returned to earth. We don't believe any of these people on testimony alone. Why would we drop our standards of evidence when the claim is religiously based? 

9: What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I've not met any of these gentlemen so it's not possible for me to give a personal critique. Having said that I have enjoyed reading their work and particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, listening to them speak. I don't 'follow' them as a theist would a preacher, I don't think they're always right, none of them is my pope. 

They are three people who wrote books and give/gave talks on a subject that interests me. That is all.

10: If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Like with question 6, remove the first six words and it's still the same question. Something to remember - religions are old. Really old. Sure you might bring up Mormonism (which is pretty much based on Christianity) or Scientology but ask yourself what has been the global impact of these more recent religions? Not much. The problem these two religions suffer is that they were invented in a time when big religions were already established and people already had a way of finding out answers. These religions didn't 'take' because there was no gap to fill. 

 I think the creation of religions demonstrates not that a god exists but that humans desire answers and because most religions were invented prior to the development of the scientific method supernatural answers were the best they could come up with. Why is there something rather than nothing? God did it. Why are we moral? God made us so. Why are there humans? God made Adam and Eve. Of course the 'god did it' answer is an absolute cop out. There's no explanatory power there whatsoever. If someone was to say to me 'God did it' then the next question is, How? They either won't have a how or the how will be natural and no god required. 

I think also that religions are used as a tool by the ruling classes to keep the lower classes in check. Put the fear of god, literally, into people and you might think you will have an easier time in your attempts to control them. Don't just tell them the state will punish them for wrong-doing, but that Gee Oh Dee GOD will punish them too! (and forever!) Unthinking, superstitious, intellectually lazy people will believe you without question and (try to) follow those instructions to the best of their ability. 

Of course once a population gets educated and develops a sense of equality and social justice, this is pointless, but hey...it's worth a shot, right? 

And lastly there's the fear of death. People don't want their existence to be over when they die. They want to carry on in some kind of spiritual realm, meeting again with loved ones who passed away before them. 

They want heaven and will believe pretty much anything that helps foster the idea of it. 

Originally From: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/