Archive for January, 2012


Pop-ups and Freethought Blogs

Awesome blogs - freethoughtblogs.com

Feel the awesome Freethought Blogs

Freethought blogs, I love them all. Ok, almost all of them… or something and some more than others, but you get the idea. I read many of them very often and of course it’s where PZ is found now and god (heh) knows I enjoy his writing. And let me say this right from the start, I don’t have  a problem with advertising as such. I realise hosting servers costs money; I have… a couple of my own and I realise the hardware and bandwidth one needs to run high traffic sites like freethoughtblogs.com is substantial.

While I hate banner advertising, I can live with it. I don’t want to live with it, but I can and will because I realise that those banner adverts are paying for hosting and distributing the content I like to read. But pop-ups? I freaking despise pop-ups and the evil little bastards that have found its way onto freethoughtblogs.com drives me freaking mental. Chrome doesn’t block them. Why? Because the sneaky advertising agency makes them load on a click. So only when you click on the page does the damn thing load. Mental, it drives me that.

Anyway, it seems the script that creates the pop-up adverts on freethoughtblogs.com are served from a single domain at the moment: c5.zedo.com (I have no doubt that this domain changes regularly and I might put a little script together that polls freethoughtblogs.com to check for changes).

To block it I have added the following to my hosts file:

127.0.0.1    c5.zedo.com

It seems to be working for now – at least until they change the domain the script is loaded from (or if my shoddy early morning testing missed something…).

To the awesome people at freethoughtblogs.com, I’m sorry, but pop-ups are a gigantic pain in arse of epic proportions. Use ugly banners and bland AdWords and spurious DoubleClick and stuff but please, are the pop-ups really necessary?

Everybody else should really go around and have a look at the quality blogs hosted at freethoughtblogs.com, you won’t be disappointed. Except, perhaps, by the pop-ups.

A personal relationship.

Dude, grass, clouds and sunshine.

One happy dude, grass and sunshine... does not a personal relationship make.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read or heard from Christians that they have “a personal relationship” with Jesus Christ I would probably not be writing this on account of the unimaginable wealth I would have accumulated. You see, Christians love saying it:

I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

or

Getting to know Christ.

or

Jesus is my best friend!

Yeah, OK, let’s see about that.

Right, so first stop is the dictionary to get what the words officially mean:

per·son·al [pur-suh-nl]
adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private: a personal opinion.
2. relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person: a personal favor; one’s personal life; a letter marked “Personal.”
3. intended for use by one person: a personal car.
4. referring or directed to a particular person in a disparaging or offensive sense or manner, usually involving character, behavior, appearance, etc.: personal remarks.
5. making personal remarks or attacks: to become personal in a dispute.

re·la·tion·ship [ri-ley-shuhn-ship]
noun
1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.
4. a sexual involvement; affair.

So the dictionary definition of “personal relationship” is essentially that Christians say they believe that they have “a connection, association, or involvement” with the creator of the universe that is “of, pertaining to, or coming as from a particular person; individual;”.

Some examples of personal relationships could be between:

  • a man and his wife
  • a mother and her daughter
  • two friends
  • siblings

All of the aforementioned have several things in common but one thing is crucial, without which a relationship cannot and does not exist: communication. For a relationship to be personal in nature, the communication has to be bidirectional. Both parties in the relationship must be able to take part, share ideas and convey and effect the emotional content of the communication in the relationship for it to be considered personal.

As any married man knows (or should know…), without communication a marriage disintegrates rather rapidly. If there is no (or bad) communication between a mother and a daughter, their relationship disintegrates. Can two people who do not communicate (to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.) really be considered friends? Perhaps for a time, even a really long time, after communication ceases but to become friends there had to have been communication and interaction first – you cannot become friends with a person with whom you have never communicated in any way.

There has to be bidirectional communication, discourse, the exchange of ideas, for a relationship to be considered personal.

A person could zealously read every single article that a writer publishes without the writer ever being aware of that person’s existence. While the interaction between a writer and a reader can be considered a relationship, it cannot be considered a personal relationship. I have read a great many of Christopher Hitchens’ articles and books and while I wish that I had a personal relationship with him I cannot say that I did. The man did not know I existed.

This is not to say that every person in this kind of relationship is rational about it and accepts that an admired celebrity is not a friend of theirs.

My wife has a relationship with a woman (I hesitate to call her a friend, at least, not any more) who gets obsessed with celebrities and in some cases ends up stalking them. She’s had restraining orders taken out against her; one by a well known cricket player in particular. This is a great example of a relationship that exists and is a personal relationship in the mind of one person but most certainly is not a personal relationship in the mind of the other. Any rational person looking at the situation would agree that there most certainly is no personal relationship between my wife’s acquaintance and the celebrities that she is obsessed with.

There can’t be a personal relationship without bidirectional communication, without the ability to freely share ideas, get feedback and have shared knowledge.

A relationship between two people can be considered personal if:

  • bidirectional communication occurs – both parties are transmitters as well as receivers
  • thoughts and ideas are shared – the parties have shared knowledge
  • both parties receive feedback to their transmissions

Personal relationships are fundamental to human beings. So important, in fact, that for the first several years of our lives personal relationships are the only way for us to learn anything at all. In the beginning of a person’s life, they learn from their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles. Family, through very personal relationships, teach you the things you need know to survive very early on. A little later – and any parent can relate to this – come a flood of ‘why’ questions from a child. A child wants to know something so it transmits its request to its parent or to another who is in a personal relationship with the child. Usually (ok, sometimes) the other party responds to the query by transmitting a response to the child and this back and forth continues and the child learns, gains knowledge it did not have before.

Happily, this interaction provides us with a simple but effective way to define and test if a relationship: a) exists and if it can be b) considered personal.

For example, let’s test if I have a personal relationship with my wife. To do that, I need to answer a couple of simple questions.

Does my wife communicate with me?

Why, yes, this morning she told me she was going to the shop and that she would be back in about half an hour. I went upstairs a couple of minutes after she told me this, to fetch a hot cross bun. I found that my wife was indeed not in the house. About half an hour later my wife came down-stairs. I asked her if she went to the shop and she replied that she had and told me what she bought.

My wife transmitted information to me. I transmitted information and a request for information to her. I received feedback on my request and gained knowledge.

Do I have a relationship with my wife? Clearly, yes I do.

My wife is studying linguistics. While watching television last night she commented on the way the narrator spoke in the program we were watching; she said the show had an interesting ‘register’. I did not know what ‘register’ meant in this context so I asked her to explain it to me. ‘Register’, she said, was the type of language that being used and how the language was used to convey something. For example, using ‘father’ in formal situations and not ‘dad’ which is more informal or how one could stick to prescribed grammar or not depending on the situation or the tone one was trying to convey.

I lacked the specific knowledge of what ‘register’ meant in that context and transmitted a request to my wife upon which I received feedback from her which added to or increased my knowledge. I verified this newly acquired knowledge that I gained from my wife by reading Wikipedia – it agrees.

Do I have a personal relationship with my wife? Undeniably, yes I do.

I could easily test this empirically. And, as it happens, people do sometimes have to prove, empirically, that they have a personal relationship with another person. Let’s say for argument’s sake that I wanted to convince an immigration official that I had a personal relationship with my wife. How would I go about that?

Happily, immigration officials of the United States of America (and many other countries) do this kind of thing every single day of the week. They check to make sure that when people claim that they are married, that they really do have a personal relationship with that person; that they are telling the truth. In fact, the legality of immigration by marriage rests almost entirely on this principle: being able to prove you have a personal relationship with another person.

For those who don’t know how this works, it’s pretty simple: get a bunch of photos of them together, get some legal documents, preferably financial that show their names together, some documents that show they’ve lived together and get the two people who claim to have a personal relationship in two separate rooms, ask them the same questions about each other and see if they come up with the same answers. It’s depressingly easy to test. In the end, all they are doing is checking if a reasonable amount of reasonably exclusive shared knowledge exists and that each person really knows the things they should know if the relationship is real.

So, how do we apply these widely accepted standards to test if a personal relationship exists between a Christian and the alleged super being they worship?

First, we need to define some of the properties of this super being, Jesus Christ. Happily and fortunately, Christians have done the job for us many times over. Here are the properties of Jesus Christ as described by a Christian website backed up by the Christian Bible that was allegedly written by the Christian’s creator of the universe himself:

Omniscience (all-knowing) – John 16:30 the apostle John affirms of Jesus, “Now we can see that you know all things.
Omnipresence (all-present) – Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Omnipotence (all-powerful) – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18
Eternality (no beginning or end) – John 1:1declares of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Immutability (unchanging) – Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Can’t argue with that right?

So Jesus is omniscient, he knows everything. This is excellent news! Let’s test this relationship thing!

One might have a conversation with a Christians that goes something like this…

A note for Jesus to read...

If you happen to be a Christian, please speak to this Jesus Christ, who is omniscient and all-powerful by your own admission, and ask him to tell you what the sentence is that I wrote on a folded piece of paper that is on my desk marked “For Jesus Christ 0x001″. It should be a breeze. Write the sentence in the comments below.

Ah, but it doesn’t work like that, I hear a Christian snort. Why not? Can’t test the almighty like that, even to save the soul of an atheist? Ok. Fine.

How about asking Jesus Christ, omniscient son of the almighty creator of the universe how to cure cancer and save millions from dying unimaginably horrible deaths? No?

Then, ask Jesus Christ for a way we can get rid of Malaria without irreversibly damaging the environment? No? Cure for HIV? No?

How about asking Jesus Christ how to fit gravity into the Standard Model of Particle Physics? No? The solution to Goldbach’s conjecture perhaps? No?

But you have a personal relationship with this omniscience being? If you can’t get this being who, by your own definition knows the answers to these questions, to answer any of them, how do you know you have a relationship with it? How do you know? Something other than gaining useful knowledge that you didn’t have before must have convinced you then? What is that thing? You speak to Jesus Christ and he speaks back to you (except he can’t actually answer any useful questions)? Fine, I’ll go with that.

What does Jesus Christ sound like? What accent does he have? What is the tone of his voice? He spoke English to you? American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, British English, which one? What were the exact words he used when he spoke to you, quote them, verbatim.

Oh, I see, it doesn’t work like that either. Fine, I have one last test, one that no Christian can possibly deny is appropriate since it’s what they do every day of their lives and go to church for.

Speak to Jesus and ask him what he wants. Simple right? Surely he can communicate to you what he actually wants you to do? I mean, that’s pretty basic right? Jesus surely is able to let you, his follower and friend know what it is that he wants you do to?

I ask because not so long ago there were some inter-Christian issues at a church in Auckland city. One Christian sect put up a Christmas poster showing Mary with a pregnancy test. Another Christian sect thought this was terrible blasphemy and tore the poster down. Once sect didn’t believe it was blasphemy, the other did believe it most definitely was blasphemy. Both sects claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Pray to Jesus now and get him to tell you which sect what right and which sect was wrong. Write the answer in the comments below. Preferably quote the actual words used by Jesus Christ to tell you this.

No?

Ok, take three Christians (hell, take three from the same Church) and put them in three separate rooms and ask each of them the same set of questions to ask Jesus Christ with whom all three have ‘a personal relationship’ and see if the answers match.

They won’t. Do you know why? Because Christians do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, whether he exists or not. They do not have shared knowledge. Not even a functionally retarded immigration official would be convinced.

You can’t get knowledge you didn’t have from Jesus Christ by asking him a specific question with a specific answer, you can’t say what he sounds like, which words he uses in which context and two Christians asking the same vague question don’t even get the same vague answer.

Even when the alleged communication is about a fundamental part of Christianity and the answer only has to be a vague guidance feeling, an internal yes or no feeling, a completely unprovable hunch or an urge, it is still inconsistent and different even between a small group of similar Christians. How, after all, can there be 38,000 denominations of Christianity if they all speak to the same deity and have the same manual as reference? Does Jesus have the worst case of split personality the universe has ever seen? A terrible memory perhaps?

‘But the Bible’ one might say.

No, even if Jesus exists and the Bible happens to be true, one does not have a personal relationship with somebody from a one way transmission, especially a single book at least a thousand seven hundred years old. I don’t think I have a personal relationship with William Shakespeare, do you? I don’t believe I have a personal relationship with any author that I’ve never met, at all. Who does? The insane? Those who are on drugs? Does any normal, well-adjusted person think they have a relationship with another person who does not take part in any communication what so ever, aside from a single book written nigh on two millennia ago (that contradicts itself hundreds of times, has fabrications, provably so and isn’t supported by modern archeology performed by people who have a vested interest in proving the book true with empirical evidence)?

I have bad news for those who believe they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Science, reason and empirical evidence say no.

They, empirically, do not.


(This post was remorselessly pillaged from Pharyngula… just saying…)

It’s a really nice video of some really nice authors talking about god… or the lack of one. Well worth the time to watch.

This list of authors in the video was, too, remorselessly pillaged from Pharyngula:

1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
2. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate in Literature
3. Professor Isaac Asimov, Author and Biochemist
4. Arthur Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright
5. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature
6. Gore Vidal, Award-Winning Novelist and Political Activist
7. Douglas Adams, Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer
8. Professor Germaine Greer, Writer and Feminist
9. Iain Banks, Best-Selling Fiction Writer
10. José Saramago, Nobel Laureate in Literature
11. Sir Terry Pratchett, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
12. Ken Follett, NYT Best-Selling Author
13. Ian McEwan, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
14. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009)
15. Professor Martin Amis, Award-Winning Novelist
16. Michel Houellebecq, Goncourt Prize-Winning French Novelist
17. Philip Roth, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
18. Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize-Winning Author and Poet
19. Sir Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
20. Norman MacCaig, Renowned Scottish Poet
21. Phillip Pullman, Best-Selling British Author
22. Dr Matt Ridley, Award-Winning Science Writer
23. Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature
24. Howard Brenton, Award-Winning English Playwright
25. Tariq Ali, Award-Winning Writer and Filmmaker
26. Theodore Dalrymple, English Writer and Psychiatrist
27. Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
28. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, British Writer and Scholar
29. Diana Athill, Award-Winning Author and Literary Editor
30. Christopher Hitchens, Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Columnist

The prayer before a meal

Praying. And thinking hard about it.

While speaking to an atheist friend of mine at work he asked me if I ever had a meal at the house of a mutual Christian friend. I said that I had not and he asked if it was because the Christian friend prayed before eating a meal. While the prayer before the meal thing is not necessarily the reason it certainly is a contributing reason. While at work, I strictly stay away from the subject of religion and I expect everybody else to do the same. In my private time, however, I will not shy away from expressing my opinion loudly,  so I don’t actively pursue situations where my complete and utter lack of respect for religious beliefs will cause conflict.

The conversation got me thinking about the praying before a meal thing that Christians are so fond of doing. The more religious a person is the more pious and intense the meal time prayer is likely to be. I know this since I come from a family where at family gatherings, there most certainly was going to be a bit of pre-meal praying. One uncle in particular always delivered fantastic and pious oration, bless his racist soul.

The prayer always followed a reasonably similar script, regardless of which side of the family was gathering. By ‘which side’ I mean: the Methodist side, the Methodist side that included the Jehovah’s witnesses or the Dutch Reformed side. Considering the seemingly scripted nature of the pre-meal prayers, I suspect that, mostly, Christians don’t sit down and think about what it is that they are babbling. Here are some examples of the pre-meal prayer one might experience:

For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us truly thankful. Amen

That one is the most common in my experience. I think people uncomfortable with the public spectacle of the thing opt for this version to get it over quickly. The extended version might go more like this:

For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us truly thankful. And may we always be mindful of the needs of others, for Jesus sake, Amen.

I’ve heard this one a couple of times:

Dear Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us to thy service. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

I find this one quite interesting:

Bless us, O Lord, for these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Help us to be mindful of all our blessings, and the needs of those who have less. Amen.

On the surface I guess they seem sufficiently pious, nice even. Being thankful to your Lord Jesus for the food he’s given you to eat. Remember all the good things you have and remember those who don’t have as much. Isn’t that nice?

I have composed an altogether different prayer I would like to propose. I might even try to memorize it so that if the opportunity arose I’d be ready with a nice thought-provoking appeal to the almighty creator of the universe for everybody to ponder over while consuming a nice meal. It might go something like this:

For what we are about to receive dear Lord Jesus, make us truly thankful. To help us be truly thankful, please will you also open our minds so that we may understand why you have deemed us, who are able to afford to grow and purchase our own food, worthy of this bounty while allowing millions of children to starve to death every day. We are thankful, oh Lord, that you have deemed us worthy of living in a first world country which guarantees us food and shelter but to properly appreciate this oh Lord, open our minds to understand your plan that involves the mutilation and torture of millions of people, including children and babies, who are not deemed worthy of this bounty. Dear Lord, we are thankful for the first world medicine which is provided to us, essentially free of charge, through the toil of secular scientists, sometimes in the face of great adversity from your holy church and funded from taxes paid by those who are not of our faith and who do not believe you exist, but allow us to understand oh Lord, why millions are not deemed fit for this privilege and die horribly in the most disgusting ways imaginable even though they are far more religious than we are, obey your commandments with much more zeal and believe in you much more fervently. As we consume this bounty you have provided us who do not really need assistance oh Lord, help us to understand why so many little children who are unable to help themselves deserve to die of hunger, thirst and torture. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

I can’t help but wonder why Jesus Christ, who allegedly provides food to (some) Christians, also provides food to Muslims, Hindus and Atheists among others while at the same time not providing food to literally millions of other Christians who are left to starve to death. Among them very many little ‘Christian’ Children.

How do you rationalise that? I guess you don’t. I guess you just ignore it. I guess you just put it down to God’s mysterious but good plan… that involves the most horrible deaths imaginable for millions of people.

Praying to a deity before a meal to thank him (funny how it’s always a ‘him’) for the food he demonstrably had no part in providing? Yes, I find it offensive.

Oh, and Christian, ye who would pray when thy knowest that in thy presence are those who do not believe, or, in fact, anybody at all, should probably have another look at thy Bible, lest thy eternal soul be damned or some such:

Matthew 6
6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
6:8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Video: Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0

An excellent, insightful talk by Alain de Botton that covers some things that Atheism/Secularism can learn (and steal) from religion; useful things that religions do (no really, they do some actually useful things, strange as that may sound…) very well that secular society seems not to.

He makes several outstanding points and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. So I will. Think about it. And then, hopefully, remember what it was that I thought so I can write about it.

But seriously. Watch the video.

I love the Symphony of Science video’s. They are the most awesome and they keep getting better. This one is about Evolution, The Greatest Show On Earth and it features Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough (and Bill Nye).

Most awesome indeed.

Check out Melodysheep’s YouTube channel for the other most awesome video’s: http://www.youtube.com/user/melodysheep?feature=watch

A reader sent me this link:

Girl at the Center of the Cranston “Prayer Banner” Case targeted by Cyber-Bullies

The summary is: School breaks US constitution by promoting Christianity, school girl sue’s school, school girl wins, Christians threaten to assault her, murder her or express how delighted they will be if she had to be harmed.

Jessica Ahlquist - The winner.

Read the whole post at that link, it seems to be by her uncle and it lays out the Christian love she’s experiencing nicely.

I guess it’s only Christians who can’t see the problems with their behaviour. It is, after all, only Christians who seem to be unable to read the Bible, the manual they allege to live their lives by.

To be a Christian is to be a hypocrite. That’s all there is to it. “Not all Christians are hypocrites!”, I hear some people scream. Well, actually, all Christians ARE hypocrites on some level; some more so than others I’ll grant, but fundamentally there are some pretty clear instructions in the Bible from their god that not a single one of them follow or even attempt to follow. I go over one or two of the blindingly obvious ones in this post:  I hate religion but love I god and a couple in this one: Christianity: conveniently forgetting the inconvenient

Am I surprised Christians act like this? No. But I am very happy that a teenager and the US justice system can at least see what millions of supposedly neighbour loving, adult Christians can not.

Jessica Ahlquist for the win!

Some related sites:

My wife showed me this video (Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus | http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY) last night. My brother posted the link to it on Facebook. Now, that was a bit of a surprise to me I have to admit, since I didn’t realise my brother was a hard-core Jesusianismist. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that he was, at the very least, agnostic. Not, it seems. I have tried to remember how it is that I came to have the incorrect impression of him and it’s quite strange really since we’ve spoken about religion a number of times. He never said he was a Jesusianismist. He never took issue with my (rampant, unrestrained) anti-theism.

Anyway, I watched the video, I had many issues, I toyed with writing a post about it. Then I saw The Amazing Atheist (bless his brilliant banana loving ass) had already made a video that takes it apart, in style. So I now happily post it here since it says just about everything that  needs to be said.

Take it away TJ:

Yea. Christians doing what Christians do: bend ‘your beliefs’ until they fit what you want to believe. The entire video is empty, contradictory and filled with marketing speak. It’s a sales job that sells nothing new. It’s controversy stirring where there is none. It is par for the course as far as Christians are concerned.

On top of that, it’s not new either, I’ve blogged on that particular statement of idiocy before: I hate religion but love I god. Silly Christians are silly.

If it wasn’t for the stupid subject, the poem and video would have been quite nice though. Quite nice.

Those who argue that evolution has no evidence are ignorant. There is no other word. Those that believe ‘intelligent design’ are ignorant since it has no evidence. Wilfully ignorant possibly. Unwittingly ignorant perhaps but certainly ignorant.

Anybody who looks objectively at the imaginary ‘debate’ intelligent design proponents insist exists between evolution and intelligent design cannot help but arrive at the simple and obvious conclusion that… well… there is no debate. Evolution explains what needs to be explained and it has large mountains of empirical evidence. Intelligent design does not. End of story. There is nothing more to it than that.

It’s not hard to see the truth. Why do people make it seem so hard? How can one look at that mountain of evidence for evolution and conclude that a tricky, deceptive deity must have put the world together in exactly the right way to make it look like evolution is true or indeed that the mountain of evidence doesn’t exist. It’s like standing in front of the Himalayas in Janakpur with every intention of hiking to Shigatse and insisting that the road is flat, the Himalayas don’t actually exist and that the walk will be as if it were in a park, as it were.

How is it possible that one can insist on things ‘making sense’ in every single aspect of one’s life except that one? What, precisely, do they think drives the incredulous stares and the questions about their sanity (from 99.9% of the scientists in the world…)?

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