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Stardate 11.018

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team

Skeptic

Ken Ring and the making of a myth
We've already commented here on the fact that failed weather and earthquake predictor Ken Ring is in hiding, fearing for his life, but it seems that from his cave he is busy beavering away at rewriting history and rebuilding his damaged reputation. And unlike Osama bin Laden Ring has kept his internet connection. We know this since Ring keeps altering an article on his website that he's using to change the public's perception of what really happened surrounding his failed earthquake predictions.

The article is called 'Reflections after 20 March'.

We don't know how many times Ring has changed this article, but we have read three different versions, all dated April 02, suggesting that there have been no changes. Initially Ring said that he was giving up earthquake predictions (and the world did rejoice), stating that:

'However from now onwards, to find out suggested at-risk days, readers may wish to go to offshore sites that are still predicting the likelihoods of earthquake events for NZ, run by scientists who are also using astrological/lunar indicators...'
However he obviously had a rethink, perhaps he spoke to his life coach, and he deleted that sentence and reworked the text to this:
'What have I learned? I have learned that... A way must be found to speak only to those who wish to know... Of course we must stop talking to media about potential earthquake timings. [but] It will not prevent us talking about the lunar theory... Neither will it stop postings to our own website...'
You can imagine a pedophile group trading pornographic images of children saying the same thing: 'What have I learned?... A way must be found to speak only to those who wish to know.' So Ring is going to continue predicting earthquakes to those that see the world as he does, so what has he really learned? Nothing!

Rather than now referring readers to other websites, he now simply notes that others do exist:

'...run by scientists who are also using astrological/lunar indicators... There is the 'thebarcaroller' website, Amit the Indian scientist, Richard Nolle, Piers Corbyn of the UK's WeatherAction, and various psychics.'
Also differing from the original version of the article, Ring has now deliberately and intentionally added those revealing three words to the end of his sentence: 'and various psychics'. This once again proves that Ring does indeed believe in psychics and what they claim to be able to do. He obviously had the late realisation that psychics are reliably predicting earthquakes and felt he needed to add them to his list. This silly belief in psychics further discredits Ring's credibility, and again shows he was very serious when he wrote 'Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat's Paws'. He also claims that the websites are run by scientists, which again shows his claims can not be trusted. And no, Ring is not confusing psychics with physicists.

When mentioning these offshore websites Ring expresses confusion as to why they too are 'not labelled scaremongers'. Well of course they aren't being labelled scaremongers Ken because they're not advising people to flee Christchurch for no good reason. Apart from you, no one has even heard of them. Trust us when we say that if these turkeys had your notoriety and were peddling their nonsense within NZ they would now be in hiding with you.

Although he doesn't mention or explain why he deleted most all of the files that dealt with his earthquake predictions from his website, he does try to explain why he hasn't defended himself or his method in the media. Seemingly he fears being caught up in a witch-hunt or a 'Nostradamian inquisition' (we think he invented this one but we get his meaning). Only someone with Ring's ancient beliefs could feel that false persecution could be the reason for his woes. He states that:

'I have not spoken to any media since 28 February. That has not stopped media from inventing stories that carry my name and mock-up TV shows with old footage in my absence.'
With claims that the media have been 'inventing stories that carry my name and mock-up TV shows' Ring suggests that a devious TV media have been using a sock puppet resembling Ring to attribute false claims to him. But this is false and Ring knows it. Certainly there have been some in the media that have made jokes at Ring's expense, but those that quote Ring have generally done so accurately. As March 20th approached Ring distanced himself from his predictions of a major quake for Canterbury, and yet 'Campbell Live' showed video of Ring speaking on Australian TV (around March 2nd) and this is what he said:
'If you're planning to come to NZ around about the 19th to the 21st March, I would just suggest you avoided the Canterbury area, but the rest of NZ is fine, pristine, nothing is going to happen around the rest of the place.'
This was no invention, no mock-up TV show, this was real and of course this interview is now a major embarrassment to Ring. To tell his readers and supporters that what they are seeing is an invention by the media is utterly dishonest and would fool no one that had actually viewed the footage. But again in his article he claims that:
'I undertook not to speak to any media from 28 February onward and I have remained true to this'.
So how does he explain the video footage, does he not consider Australian TV as the media? And as we've pointed out, the recent article in the Wairarapa Times-Age detailing him fleeing into hiding over death threats came about only because he gave them an interview. Only charlatans like Ring are comfortable with placing blatant lies in their articles.

But why is Ring avoiding the media like a vampire avoids sunlight? In his article he tells us that:

'TV3 had received 1500 requests for me to come on the show, from Christchurch residents anxious for information... Accordingly, I had information intended only for their ears.'
And remember that this is information that Ring desperately wanted to give the NZ public, not just Christchurch residents. Why he's now claiming that he didn't want the rest of us to know about the risk to Christchurch and his astrological method for predicting earthquakes is typical Ring nonsense. We now know that the Campbell Live interview did not go as planned, with both Ring and Campbell performing poorly, but with Ring gaining the sympathy vote. No doubt knowing that his credibility suffered, even though some felt sorry for him, Ring refused any more interviews, even though:
'I had the producers of both TV major channels ringing me every day, pleading with me to change my mind'.

'After the Campbell Live interview... I, too, felt unhappy and frustrated that an opportunity was missed to give Christchurch people some information... I would have liked to lay out what I thought was important information...'

So even though numerous major media were begging Ring for interviews, promising unedited time on TV and unedited articles, Ring refused them all. One minute he claims that he is 'unhappy and frustrated' that he can't get his message out, but then he says he turned down free, unedited opportunities to do just that in the country's major media. Why would you be so stupid to refuse to prove to your critics that you weren't some crackpot and also inform those that believed in you? Supposedly this desire to help others was Ring's true motivation. Now Ring is trying to tell his side of the story in this morphing article on his website that few (hopefully) will ever read. It is quite clear that fear drives Ring into refusing interviews with the media. He knows, or no doubt has been told by someone wiser, that informed journalists would soon expose him as a charlatan dealing in pseudoscience. He can not win in a fair debate with people who think critically and have a modicum of scientific literacy. He can only influence the gullible on his terms, within the security of his own website where he can control what people get to hear. As for the media, he quite correctly acknowledges that for him 'it is too dangerous to be available to them in any capacity'.

But in the safety of his website, updated from his cave or where ever he is hiding, he can begin to promote the myth that not only was he right about an earthquake on March 20th, he also predicted the catastrophic M9 Japanese earthquake on March 11th. I have a vision of an unkempt Ring huddled under a blanket like recent video of Osama bin Laden, feverishly tapping away on his computer.

Ring claims that 'I have never in any interview said some earthquake on 20 March will be one for the history books. That is media invention'. Ring clearly implies that this quote about the history books is a false and malicious lie invented by the media, and yet he then immediately admits that he did indeed say it, not in an interview but in an article that he wrote. The public don't care where Ring made this claim, all they want to know is did he make it. And he admits he did. He then adds to his prediction with this statement:

'A few days before, Japan had its biggest tsunami in all its history. The date was always going to be destined for the history books.'
Here Ring is trying to sow the seed that his prediction foresaw the Japanese quake, if only we had listened. But let's recall that the quake happened on March 11th, not March 20th, during a period that Ring claims earthquakes don't happen. Note that Ring deliberately doesn't name the date that the quake happened, wanting readers to assume that it was very close to the 20th. Yet 9 days difference, one week and two days, is not 'a few days before'. Let's also remember that Japan is NOT in Canterbury, or even close to it to our knowledge. Ring did not by any stretch of the imagination, except his, predict the Japanese earthquake. He then goes on to try and claim that he was right about Christchurch and March 20th:
'Perhaps future science history books might note the 4+ earthquakes that occurred artound lunchtime in Twizel... and possibly close enough to Christchurch to be considered a correct prediction.'
Ring is really clutching at straws here, but we suppose if Japan is close enough to Christchurch to count as a correct prediction then surely Twizel is. The problem with Ring is, and this shows up all the time with his weather predictions, is that he just refuses to admit that he is ever wrong. He must twist and manipulate and edit every prediction so that it matches what actually happened. This talk of 'future science history books' also demonstrates his arrogance, this vain hope that future society will finally recognise Ring for the revolutionary thinker and intellectual giant that he was. Stop planning what your tombstone will say Ken and start fronting up with the evidence that your claims are more than just superstitious nonsense.

He continues with his myth building that his prediction was correct:

'...when suggestions made 6 months ago about what might occur, actually occur, it may be something more than coincidental. This is the real prediction process...'
Here Ring implies that events that 'might occur, actually occur'. But did they, did his predictions bear fruit? Was there a major earthquake in Christchurch on March 20th? No. Near March 20th perhaps? No. Somewhere in Canterbury perhaps? No. Was any part of his prediction correct? No. Referring to the perigee of the Moon on March 20th Ring states that 'Christchurch and Japan have shown what can happen when this occurs'. But nothing happened when the perigee occurred. The Japanese quake was not at perigee and there was no quake at all in Christchurch.

This is why some people think Ring predicted both the first and second Canterbury earthquakes, simply because Ring makes bogus claims to have done so. The facts show that Ring has not predicted a single earthquake in his life, he has only lied about doing so. To further demonstrate Ring's duplicity, we'll finish with the following two claims, the first from his article and the second from the interview that 'he never made' with the Wairarapa Times-Age:

'I have concerns about continuing earthquake activity in this small region, as others should'.

'Scientists are now saying it'll be February 2013 before it stops but they're just making it up. After this month [April]... it'll be the end of the main part of the earthquake sequence. Things will die down then.'

So here we have Ring making contradictory predictions, one where he insists that the earthquake risk has now died down and another where he says he still has 'concerns about continuing earthquake activity'. As they say, once you start making up things up it is extremely difficult to keep track of who you've told what.

NOTE: For a more wide-ranging look at this scam, see our article: Ken Ring — Weather Forecasting by the Moon

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 09 May, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Keri, 09 May, 2011

    Kia ora — since Ken Ring made his ludicrous statement (on April 24th) that

    "For us though, it'll die down. The (earthquake) timeline has always been until the end of April... Scientists are now saying it'll be February 2013 before it stops but they're just making it up."
    I've been keeping a wee record of the earthquakes hitting Canterbury in May... 25 to date, including 4 4.0s

    Silly scientists eh?

    And narcisstic media manipulator and all-round pyschic failure 'Mr Moon'

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 09 May, 2011

    Thanks for the update Keri. And that reminds me of a comment an acquaintance once made when I mentioned a scientific claim:

    'Scientists, what do they know?!'
  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 May, 2011

    A M5.3 aftershock hit Christchurch this morning, the largest since the Feb quake, and yet more evidence (as if we needed more) that proves Ring doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. It seems the moon, stars and planets have been lying to him. It really is sad that in these modern times many people still think that astrologers and psychics are people they can trust.

  4. Comment by Anonymous, 10 May, 2011

    But the scientists did get it right:

    GNS Science seismologist Caroline Ashenden said it was definitely one of the bigger aftershocks, but was not unexpected. "We forecasted between zero and two aftershocks greater than 5 in the month between the 19th of April and 19th of May and this is the second one we've had," she said.
    NZ Herald May 10 2011 , 10am
    Fantastically accurate prediction. Real science in action.
  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 May, 2011

    It seems Christchurch is not the only place on the planet plagued by bogus earthquake predictions. Yesterday Graeme sent us the following comment and link:

    Here's a rich combo... a Catholic Ken Ring Dead Priest Prophet Astrologer... it seems a classic case of public hysteria emerging from a widespread urban myth.

    Rome braces for 'prophet-predicted quake'

    Tonight's TV3 news informed us that thousands left Rome for the day following a prediction that the city would be destroyed by an earthquake, today. Unlike Ring's predictions this one was evidently made decades ago by a self taught seismologist Raffaele Bendandi, but like Ring, he 'used his theory that the movement of the planets caused seismic activity' and obviously thought he could predict earthquakes well in advance of them happening. And also like Ken Ring, his prediction failed miserably. Since he died in 1979 he won't need to go into hiding. It's both pleasing and depressing to discover that NZ is not the only country with gullible citizens. Skeptics everywhere still have a lot of work to do.
  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 07 Jun, 2011

    A M5.5 aftershock hit Canterbury at 9:09 yesterday morning, centred near Rolleston. Yet again more evidence that the quakes have not stopped in April as Ring claimed they would. Much to the annoyance of Cantabrians, it's almost as if the quakes are continuing just to spite Ken Ring, that Mother Nature is not going to let a silly astrologer run the show.

I'm one of God's favourite people
The recent destructive tornadoes that have plagued southern states of the US, literally wiping some suburbs from existence and killing over 200 people, have once again brought to the fore tearful TV interviews with survivors. And the US being the religious nation that it is, especially the south, we are confronted with people surrounded by death and devastation who explain why they are alive and their neighbours are dead. On one news item last week a middle aged woman admitted that she thought she was going to die, but that she prayed to God and he spared her. This theme comes up time and time again, that their survival is thanks only to their prayers and the subsequent direct intervention by God.

And of course we see the same thing in NZ but not on the same scale, many Kiwis know that even though natural disasters are sometimes called Acts of God that they aren't really.

Last night I read 'Letter to a Christian Nation' by Sam Harris, author of 'The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason'. It's a very short book, only 28 pages, but well worth reading. You can download a free PDF copy here. I mention it because he commented on that same arrogance that the religious express when they survive an event and friends, family or neighbours don't.

Harris was commenting on the thousand innocent people who drowned in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina and the views of those who survived: 'It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. It is time we acknowledged how disgraceful it is for the survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs'. He reckoned that following these types of disasters 'It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God's grace', and noted that 'a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80 percent of Katrina's survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God'.

To us, the way the religious view the outcomes of these disasters merely shows that they don't think in any deep way about what might have happened, and if their god existed, his role in it. For a start, if a disaster was to occur and god decreed that Joe Bloggs was to perish in it, then no amount of praying on Bloggs' part — or begging as it really is — will change the outcome. Humans only beg or enter into discussion with other humans in the hope that they can change the others mind or intention, to show that they have made an error or that there is a better solution. But you can't do this with God, or else God isn't God. God is all-knowing, so he already knows the best solution, not Joe Bloggs. God can not be wrong or mistaken. Also God is unchanging, immutable, so he can't change his mind even if Bloggs begs him to, and even if he wanted to. There is no way that Bloggs can present an argument to God and have God reply: 'You're right, I hadn't thought of that!' Furthermore God knows everything, he knows Bloggs is in danger and needs help, God doesn't need a wake up call. So even if God exists, praying during a disaster is a waste of time, if you're meant to survive it was already decided eons ago. And as Harris implies, what sort of God would deliberately save some despicable types while drowning innocent babies? Were your prayers answered by a god or a demon?

Then we have the problem that disasters, well everything actually, are all part of God's plan. Everyone that is to die a horrible death in disasters and everyone that lives to suffer and mourn the death of loved ones was decided before hand by God. So again, praying is futile, you are just an actor playing a role and following a script written by God. And how heinous must this plan be that God is content not only to let untold innocent lives be lost, but that he couldn't think of a plan where only the guilty suffered.

Of course some religious types, contrary to their religious texts, have moved away from the belief that God causes disasters and punishes those that fail to live up to his commandments. But they are then presented with the problem of why their all-powerful and all-knowing God doesn't still offer them protection when natural disasters strike, or offers it only to some. Rather than challenge a God that would let a loved one die a long and painful death or let a baby burn to death in a fire, they praise a God that ignores the cries of a burning baby and instead saves them. Their ignorance of reality combined with their conceit and their view of their own importance in the eyes of God must be enormous.

We think of praying to gods as a little like paying insurance premiums. Until disaster strikes you don't really know if they'll be there for you, but you hope they will be. But if disaster does strike and your insurance company not only refuses to answer your phone calls, you discover that their office building doesn't even exist, wouldn't you suspect that you'd been scammed? Would you continue to send off premium payments on your other policies? We hope not. Yet religious people worship their God in the belief that if disaster strikes he will protect them in their hour of need. But if that disaster does strike and lives are lost and valuable possessions destroyed, the religious don't ask where was my protection, why is my child dead and house demolished, why am I homeless and living on the street, what was so important that you didn't show? They never wonder, perhaps I was wrong to put my trust in someone that I have never met, never spoken to, never even seen on TV? Someone in fact that no one has ever met! And yet even though they have been neglected and utterly ignored, even though they don't even get an email apologising for not showing up and promising to do better next time, these people continue to put their faith in a God that failed them monumentally. We don't understand how people can be presented with such convincing evidence that their God either doesn't exist or at the very least doesn't care about them, and yet still go on to worship him. And blindly assert that his failures are behind him and they're sure he will be there for them next time. Yeah right, sure he will. He'll be there as long as he's not busy playing pool with the Tooth Fairy or looking for leprechaun gold at the end of rainbows.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 May, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 04 May, 2011

    I think the answer to your question is that each individual sees the world only from their own small perspective. They just don't see the big picture. It's the same with psychic claims. If you can make them see that God is erratic in who he helps and who he doesn't it's because God works in mysterious ways. It boils down to what they want to believe rather than accepting the logic that everything that happens is really random.

  2. Comment by Ted, 05 May, 2011

    Thank you for the link to Sam Harris's essay, which I had not read. I find he has a certain direct clarity less obvious in the writing of Dawkins and Hitchens. In particular, he appears to be one of the very few who take reduction of suffering, human, animal or anything with consciousness capable of perceiving pain, as a crucial, if not the most fundamental moral principle. I have always thought this rather obvious, but am increasingly horrified at the number of intelligent people I come across, nearly always religious to some degree, who assert that all suffering is necessary and often good. Some of it may well be inescapable of course, Huxley thought around a third, with the rest being caused by our own cruelty and ignorance. But surely this truth, if truth it is, does not mean we should not, individually and collectively, make every endeavour to reduce suffering.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 06 May, 2011

    Yes, we couldn't agree more Ted, with all your points.

Quench your thirst with homeopathy
That medical nonsense know as homeopathy was in the news recently — 'Doctors urged not to practise homeopathy' — when it was revealed that Professor Shaun Holt (a Victoria University medical researcher), and other senior researchers from NZ and the UK, had written a letter to the NZ Medical Journal saying that 'practising homeopathy or endorsing it by referring patients is not consistent with the ethical or regulatory requirements of practising medicine'. In other words, it's unethical to suggest homeopathy on the pretence that it works.

H2O Homeopathy as you'll know is where patients are sold small, expensive bottles of water and/or sugar pills along with the bogus claim that these will cure all manner of ills. Even homeopaths admit that their concoctions have been diluted to such an extent that they contain no active ingredients, and yet they still insist that some unknown magical component of this expensive water will cure what conventional medicine cannot. Some insist that water has a memory of all the substances that have been in it previously, so even though the active ingredients they placed in it to target a specific illness have now disappeared completely, it still has a memory of what was once there. If this were true this would mean that water has a memory of millions or billions of substances. This is because all water on the planet is recycled water, there will be molecules in the water making up your coffee that were once in water drunk by the dinosaurs, and excreted as dinosaur urine. Even if water did have a memory of a single chemical that might actively alleviate some medical condition you now have, it would also have memories of untold harmful chemicals that would cause serious and potentially fatal side effects. Any potentially curative properties would be swamped by toxic ones. There is no good reason why one single chemical memory would activate and cure you and billions would remain inactive and suppressed and cause you no harm. If homeopaths were correct and water did remember every substance it had ever been in contact with, then drinking even pure tap water would be hazardous to our health. But from a scientific point of view, this notion of 'memory' is nonsense so we need not worrying about being poisoned when we have our next latte. There is no evidence whatsoever that water retains a memory, or any theory on how it could even do so.

But not every homeopath agrees with the memory idea anyway, a great many reluctantly admit that they have no idea how their method might work, they merely insist that it does. This is like a witch saying she doesn't know how her love potions work but her clients swear by them, especially the one with extra bat wings. Homeopaths claim that science and western medicine simply don't understand homeopathy, when in fact they understand it only too well. They know it's not effective, they know why it doesn't work and why it can't work, and they know why some people swear by it nevertheless — the placebo effect. There was an interesting BBC TV documentary series on recently called 'Can We Believe The Science?' presented by Professor Lesley Regan. One of the products and services that she demonstrated that people make unwarranted scientific claims for was homeopathy. It really was quite laughable watching homeopaths dressed in white lab coats banging small vials of water against thick old books to shake up the water. They insisted that some trials had shown that homeopathy worked, but a statistician explained that this was only because the trials were far too small. All the large trials found that any positive effect disappeared. Homeopathy got the thumbs down from Prof Regan as a product that worked. And when you read of some of the truly ridiculous claims for homeopathic remedies, it's not hard to see why. In the above article Prof Holt gave these examples of homeopathic products:

"Berlin Wall" — consists of dust from the Berlin Wall, diluted until none remains, sold to people to help them stop feeling repressed;

"Saturn" — light from a telescope aimed at the planet Saturn is focused on sugar, which is then diluted many times and given to people for allergies, amongst other things;

Surprisingly, according to the article, 'One in eight New Zealand GPs practise homeopathy or refer patients to homeopaths'. It just goes to show that higher education does not insulate people from woolly thinking, and demonstrates that high schools and universities need to start including classes on critical thinking. Two days after that article there was a response: 'Lecturer supports homeopathy'. Dr Monika Clark-Grill, a former GP and homeopath lectures at the Dunedin School of Medicine, teaching 'a postgraduate course in the department of general practice, which gives an overview of non-conventional treatments. She also lectured postgraduate medical ethics, and taught undergraduates community health care'.

The reasons she gave for using homeopathy were typical of the sort that people use to support pseudoscience. She said that 'the controversial therapy addressed "effectiveness gaps" in mainstream medicine'. In other words, for those diseases and disorders that conventional medicine can't yet effectively treat, it is acceptable to resort to magic and primitive superstition in the vague hope that they might work. If homeopathy worked, why wouldn't it cure everything, not just the afflictions that conventional medicine was struggling with? Why does it only work in the 'gaps'? She claimed that 'medical students from Asian backgrounds seemed to be more open to alternative medicine, probably because they had been exposed to cultural medicines, such as those in China and India'. Yet why do Asians flock to western medicines and practices as soon as they are financially able to, if a bit of lawn clippings diluted in water does the trick? She is no doubt right that some Asian students are more open to alternative medicine because of their culture, but this is only because they have not yet weaned themselves off the primitive superstitions passed down by their ancestors. She also used that old favourite: 'it has been used worldwide now for over 200 years'. If the longevity of a belief demonstrated it's truthfulness then we should throw out all our modern and recent medicine and return to blood-letting and leeches and drilling holes in the skull to relieve headaches. Dictatorships and kings ruling by divine right have been used worldwide far, far longer than democracy, so should we revert to that as well? As to how her magic worked, Clark-Grill claims her potions were 'charged with energy, the type and role of which worked in ways not understood'. This of course is a contradiction and is really an admission of ignorance. If you had shown that your potions were 'charged with energy' then you would know what this 'energy' was or at least how this energy charge revealed itself in your experiments. In fact she appears to be using the term 'energy' in a sense foreign to science and familiar only to the likes of Reiki therapists and Harry Potter fans.

Thankfully the article finished with a quote from Dr John Adams, the Dunedin School of Medicine dean and Medical Council chairman. Asked his opinion, he said 'he would not refer a patient for homeopathy because it was not evidence-based'.

While reading those articles we also came across this one from last year, which states that an embarrassed 'Victoria University is distancing itself from a course it is offering in the controversial alternative medicine homeopathy'. Professor Deborah Willis stated that the 'lecture was not an approved course'. The two-hour lecture was entitled 'Homoeopathy: increasing your health awareness' and claimed it would 'teach participants about the "internationally recognised, scientific medical system" '. How could anyone honestly claim that homeopathy was a 'scientific medical system' that was 'internationally recognised'? Perhaps if you're truly out of your depth and lecturing on a topic that you have no real knowledge of? And who was the lecturer?, someone called Art Buehler, a senior religious studies lecturer. Perhaps he does have the qualifications to lecture on myth and superstition and how people are sucked into these silly beliefs, but to claim that homeopathy is a 'scientific medical system' shows that he should be lecturing in a church or at a witches' coven, not a university.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 May, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by LR, 16 May, 2011

    Re: water having memory. I believe the water used in the production of homeopathic remedies is distilled therefore it has all toxins, chemicals and other memories removed.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 May, 2011

    Distilled water does have many of its impurities removed, but there is no evidence whatsoever that water has a memory. With no idea of how water could even store memories, let alone that it does, there is reason to suggest that distillation would have any affect on them. Let's also remember that water is a chemical, so if distillation removes all chemicals, it should remove the water molecules as well, leaving an empty container.

DNA testing to see if your toes wriggle
Have you ever thought of having a DNA or genetic test performed to determine your child's true potential? Recently Adam sent us the following email highlighting a medieval scam packaged around 21st century science:
If you haven't already seen this new dress-up of pseudoscience take a look at AlphaGenics.

The company offers testing for specific genes that supposedly govern traits from 'learning from mistakes' through 'voting/religious attendance' (somehow they missed my favourites of 'neglects Christmas cards' and 'fails to pick up dog poo' traits...). If you read their FAQ it is pretty clear the interpretation of their gene results (if they even perform a gene screen test at all) is simply horoscopes and palm reading dressed up pretending once again to be science. It is interesting that the 'Wellness Genetics' charity targeting young mothers and soliciting donations at FreshStartScience is run by the same guy who owns the AlphaGenics company above that does the tests for the charity.

On their website we read that:
Wellness Genetics targets the impact your heredity has on normal everyday functions. Instead of identifying the risk of medical problems and disease, Wellness Genetics gives us insight into how genes relate to behavior, personality, weight loss, sex, mental acuity and athletics. Knowing our heredity opens new opportunities to change and adjust our environment. Less guessing about what might work means more control and happiness.

Some of the gene traits that are being tested:

Agreeableness
Altruism and social orientation
Amorous/Love
Caffeine metabolism
Cognitive Function
Dance creativity
Delayed sleep
Evening person
Earwax Type
Learning from Mistakes
Friendship and political ideology
Higher BMI
Impulsive behavior
Intelligence
Knee Strength
Memory
Morning person
Muscle strength
Obesity
Partisanship voting
Physical Performance/Endurance
Resiliency to stress
Sexual behavior
Sugar intake
Voting and Religious attendance
Weight control
Worry

AlphaGenics, Wellness Genetics, FreshStartScience and what other names they market under appears to be a company that is simply taking advantage of the public's awe and fascination over the mapping of the human genome and the real potential of genetics to cure disease. They rely on a general ignorance of what DNA and genes are and how they work that doesn't go beyond the simplistic soundbites provided by the media, such as: scientists have mapped the human genome, and a scientist has also discovered the God gene, or the gene for homosexuality.

They target a public that has sensibly but reluctantly rejected astrology, palm reading, numerology, tea-leaf readings and other silly methods as ways of gaining an insight into themselves and their destiny and that of their children. But many are still desperate to obtain this insight, and genetic testing is touted as a modern, scientific and reliable method to give them this window into their future and that of their children.

They tell you that they are not going to warn you about potential medical problems and disease that your genes might reveal. They're only interested, and their clients too it seems, in the minor and unimportant stuff, like how your genetics influences ear wax formation, tongue curling and toe wriggling. Does anyone really need to pay money to find out if they have a gene that allows them to wriggle their toes? Why not just try wriggling your toes? Are relationships and careers won and lost over what we can do with our toes? Certainly they do include a few important traits in their list, such as intelligence, memory, altruism and sexual behaviour, but again, do you need to be told if you're intelligent, have a good memory, are kind to others and find the opposite sex attractive? If your sexual behaviour was opposite to what one of your genes indicated it should be, would you change it?

But can looking at one or two genes or genetic markers determine your behaviour and personality? We've all heard that a particular faulty gene has been identified as causing a certain disease or illness, but does this mean that a single gene can also 'cause' intelligence, memory and sexual behaviour?

For a start, there are no genes for disease, but there are certainly genes whose failure to be constructed 'properly' can cause disease. A single faulty gene can certainly cause disease and death. Think of an analogy. A huge number of individual components are all required for a car to work efficiently, eg a chassis, wheels, a carburettor, a fuel supply, a crankshaft, a gearbox, a steering wheel, brakes etc. Many parts working in tandem lead to a correctly functioning car, and yet one part, say a faulty carburettor or a missing wheel, can bring it to a halt. It's often easy to say what single failure crippled a car but no single part can be claimed to be the sole part that makes it go. It's the same with genes and humans. One faulty gene can kill you, but when it comes to behaviour, there are numerous genes all working together in a very complex manner to determine the behaviour that different people exhibit. There is no single gene for the important traits that AlphaGenics examine, such as a gene for memory, sexual behaviour, intelligence or worry. And contrary to what the media have implied, there is no God gene or gene for homosexuality either. If it was just one gene, as AlphaGenics imply, and we all either have that gene or not, then there would only be two possible behaviours. We either have memory or intelligence or heterosexuality or we don't. And yet it is obvious that we all exhibit memory, intelligence and sexual behaviour to varying degrees. One gene for memory would mean that we should know people that have no memory whatsoever, and everyone lucky enough to have the memory gene would have the same level of memory. Of course we all know people that have a memory and intelligence and even dance creativity that is greater or worse than ours. But this is because many genes influence these traits, and on top of this the environment, as AlphaGenics also acknowledge, also plays a huge part in how individuals behave. It's the old debate about nature versus nurture, genes versus environment, which determines who we are? But as many have pointed out, it isn't a competition but a partnership, a dance where both work together to create a unique individual.

There is no way that AlphaGenics can look for the presence of a few DNA markers and then accurately predict our behaviour or personality or religious attendance. Their ploy is no different to that offered by astrologers, numerologists, palm readers and numerous other bogus practitioners who claim to be able to discern your true being, your true potential, your true destiny. Only the tool used is different, they claim to use knowledge of our genes, rather than knowledge of the movement of the planets or numbers or the lines on our palms. In the same way that an astronomer would never use astrology or a mathematician would never consult numerology, a geneticist would never look to a childishly simple gene test to discover his or her sexuality or political ideology. As Adam said, these tests are just palm reading hiding behind pseudoscience. Ancient practices that sensible people now giggle at have simply been rewritten to include a reference to real things accepted by science: genes, DNA, genome, intelligence, altruism, memory etc.

Under a short section labelled 'Science', AlphaGenics gives us this bold claim:

Every food contains hundreds of chemicals, many of which interact with a person's genes to shape that person's health. For example, the ordinary tomato has 359 different chemicals. Each chemical can potentially influence one or more genes in a person, depending on which genes that person has and what those genes are doing...
AlphaGenics uses systems biology methods built to understand diet-genome interactions... [and] Advances in genomics such as the gene-on-a-chip technology that can actually measure what each of your 30,000 genes is doing allow AlphaGenics to track a person's genes and calculate their trajectory, or glide path.
But to calculate how each of those 359 chemicals from a tomato might influence every one of 30,000 genes would be astronomically difficult, not to mention how any combination of those chemicals might influence the genes. And that's just for a tomato, we then would have to factor in the influence from chemicals from all our other foods and substances that enter our bodies. For AlphaGenics to claim that they 'can actually measure what each of your 30,000 genes is doing' is nothing but a blatant lie. Geneticists aren't even yet sure how many genes humans have, the recent count of around 34,000 is just an estimate. And when they say that the human genome has been mapped, what the mean is that the sequence of DNA base pairs (around 3 billion) has been determined. From this they must still determine which of these are true genes, since amazingly only about 3% of our genome are genes. Once a gene is identified they must then decide what it codes for, what it does, when it does it and under what conditions. As an analogy, they are like city planners that have basically mapped out an entire city and drawn where every house and building is. However, apart from a few, they don't yet have any idea who lives and works in most of the buildings. Geneticists are making great advances, but for AlphaGenics to claim that there is off-the-shelf computer technology that can do this, and that they are using it, is completely bogus. Again, this is pure pseudoscience, using the language of science to promote a method and a test that doesn't exist.

And what might be AlphaGenics true motivation? Money! In at least two places they openly admit that for their products 'The target markets are global and large, exceeding a billion dollars in annual potential revenue...', especially since their products 'do not require regulatory approval...' Like most scammers they market their service in such a way that, unlike real drugs and medical tests, they don't have to prove their services work or are safe or are value for money.

At one point they do let their guard down and honestly describe their scam in words that would be familiar in any past century: 'AlphaGenics' products... provide people with their own personal road map for areas of their soul they want to explore'. An admission that their nonsense is all about their clients desire to enter the world of fantasy, exploring a mythical soul in search of magical cures.

And AlphaGenics spin the same excuses that all fortune-tellers weave. When someone visits one of those ancient soothsayers and hears of a future that depresses or upsets them, they are often quickly told that the future is not set, that they have the potential to change it. With the foreknowledge of a potential negative future, they can now work at creating a better future for themselves. And in their FAQ section AlphaGenics explain why their results for your DNA should not be taken too seriously either:

IF MY DNA RESULTS ARE NEGATIVE FOR A CERTAIN DESIRABLE TRAIT, DOES THIS MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER DEVELOP THAT TRAIT?
No, not having DNA for any trait doesn't mean that you cannot become, develop, or become good...

MY DNA WAS POSITIVE FOR A TRAIT, BUT I DON'T SEEM TO SHOW IT OR BE GOOD AT IT. DOES THIS MEAN IT IS A MISTAKE?
No! Having DNA for something doesn't automatically mean that you will show it or be good at it...

MY CHILD DOESN'T HAVE THE DNA THAT DANCERS HAVE. SHOULD WE DISCOURAGE HER FROM DANCING?
Do not discourage her because of her DNA!...

So what's the point then? You can be good at something even though you don't have the gene that gives you proficiency, and you can be bad at something even though you have the gene for being good at it. If this were true, then that again clearly means that these single genes don't actually determine the trait they are being claimed for.

This service is clearly designed to allow people to plot a life and a future based on their genes, to channel themselves and their children towards goals that they are genetically equipped to handle and away from those that they are ill equipped for. As they say, to 'figure out specific lifestyle adjustments that can enhance our strengths and offset or negate our weaknesses'. And yet those comments in their FAQ clearly say that we should not try and change peoples' desires based on their gene test. So should parents say to their child, 'We'll support your wish to learn ballet, but you know that your genes say that you'll be crap at it unless you practice it every waking hour, and even then you might still fail?' Or should they hide the test results from her and merely nod knowingly to themselves as she fails to make the grade? And what about the opposite question, what if your child DOES have the gene for dancing, should you encourage her to take it up? To be consistent they would have to answer no. But surely the test was taken so they could find out what direction to push their child in? Encourage her in her strengths and discourage her in her weaknesses. If you're going to let the child do whatever they wish, as their FAQ says you should, contrary to whatever their gene test said, then what's the point of wasting all that money on genetic testing just to ignore it? Who's in charge, the parents or the child?

AlphaGenics are selling a service on the claim that your genes, in a very simple way, dictate your behaviour, and on knowing what your genes have set you up for you can better organise your life. By knowing what you are good at, of what you will enjoy, of whose company you will cherish, of how you should vote and who you should find sexually attractive, you can let your genes map out your future for you, or the future of your child. Don't wait for your child to tell you that they are homosexual or a morning person or an atheist or that they want to donate to charities, you tell them. It's in their genes, you don't need to risk them making the wrong decision.

The fact is that these companies focus on these traits because they are in the grand scheme of things insignificant and subjective and according to them, able to be overridden with physical and mental effort. Compared to faulty genes that increase our susceptibility to breast cancer or Alzheimer's or heart disease, learning about genes that reveal our earwax type or agreeableness or dance creativity seems rather childish and futile. If I want to know if I'm likely to have the 'obesity gene', I'll save my money and just look in the mirror. We recommend you do the same. If you don't know whether you are agreeable or altruistic, simply ask your friends. If you wonder about your political ideology and religious attendance, just recall whom you normally vote for and when you last went to church. If you don't know whether you're a morning or night person or what sex you're attracted to, if you worry about what your earwax type might be and think it is worthwhile to pay for this gene test, then we can tell you right now, you don't have the gene for intelligence.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Apr, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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The movie that hijacked Easter
It's Easter again, that special time every year for overindulging in chocolate eggs handled out by fluffy bunnies. An ancient festival designed to celebrate the return of spring, the rebirth of life, as nature blooms once again after the sterility of winter. Eggs signify new life and rabbits suggest fertility and abundant offspring. In modern times the eggs and bunnies are chocolate simply because chocolate is delicious. All our festivals should be based around chocolate. Of course we're talking about a festival originating in the Northern Hemisphere, and in NZ Easter actually signals autumn and the approach of winter. But for chocolate and two days off work, we have happily perpetuated this meaningless festival, and look forward to a long enjoyable weekend and chocolate highs.

We know what you're thinking, someone once told you that Easter was actually about Mel Gibson's horror movie 'The Passion of the Christ', where people are expected to emotionally, and sometimes even physically, relive the torture and execution of its protagonist, an ex-carpenter and itinerant preacher. Well yes, there is a group of seriously disturbed people, of all ages, who live their lives according to the events in this cult movie. They look forward each year to re-watching this movie on their big screen TVs with surround sound and their finger hovering over the remote's slow motion button to catch all the gruesome detail.

For this weird group called Christians there are no eggs, no cute bunnies and certainly no chocolate. For them, if you're enjoying Easter then you're not doing it right. If you must think of cute bunnies, think of them being mercilessly beaten with a cat-o'-nine-tails whip, screaming in pain as blood, fur and flesh splatters the walls. Think of their powerful father and protector watching this horrific spectacle and lifting not a furry paw to stop it. Disturbingly, they immerse themselves in this fantasy hell, going on to worship this sadistic and impotent protector as if he were real and pray that he will offer them the same love and protection in their hour of need. Some mobs of Christians even wander the streets dragging the execution device featured in the movie behind them, desperate to highlight the ignominious death of their ineffectual hero.

To outsiders, this group now even arrogantly insists that the true meaning of Easter involves their movie character and his fantasy god father, obscuring the fact that they have merely hijacked an already existing ancient — and joyful — festival. Many are oblivious to this deception, and don't even realise that their festival — Easter — is named after a pagan goddess called Eostre, rather than something more appropriate to their Jesus debacle, like 'Nightmare in Jerusalem'.

Many have tried to tell them, it's fiction, it's just a movie, like James Bond, Indiana Jones and Batman, that Jesus Christ has never existed in the real world, but to no avail. And strangely, unlike James Bond etc, the critical difference with the Christian movie is that their 'hero' loses all his fights, doesn't get the girl or get laid, no one understands him, his friends desert him and he actually dies a miserable, meaningless death at the end. I know, what were the producers thinking? Why did they think that this type of loser would endear himself with moviegoers? Especially since killing off the character means that there is no chance of redeeming himself in a sequel. Note that Mel never gave us 'The Passion of the Christ 2: The Second Coming'. Remember also that his story was set in the Bronze Age so they can't clone the hero like they did for Alien 4 after killing her off in Alien 3. They didn't have the technology back then, no one would believe it.

But each year these simple Christians follow the exploits of their hero to save the world, and they aren't depressed in the slightest when he fails every single time. In the movie their hero paraphrases a famous quote from a far more famous movie character who actually told the truth — 'I'll be back' — and yet these Christians aren't at all perturbed that their hero never did come back, no sequel was ever made, not even a cheap prequel.

For a while this cult based on a horror movie was gaining converts but thankfully the tide has turned. Rational, caring people have rejected this long weekend of wallowing in a message of punishment, suffering and death, of nailing humans to pieces of wood, of decorating their homes with this gruesome image, and of forcing their children to watch this sadistic torture year after year. Modern society has freed Easter from its Christian captivity, allowing it to return to its true origins. A time of relaxation spent with family and friends, of looking forward to the year to come, of watching movies with characters and storylines that are actually enjoyable to watch, and of course chocolate. Now there is something that truly could have come from the gods.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Apr, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Scam Awareness Week
Did you know that this week in NZ was Scam Awareness Week? It probably missed getting your attention, as it seems these days nearly every other week is allocated to some cause or other. It was evidently organised by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, whose website is www.scamwatch.govt.nz.

According to a brief item on the TV3 news, 1 in 20 New Zealanders are targeted by scammers every year and lose an enormous amount on scams, the Consumer Affairs Ministry says it's around 450 million dollars a year, the police Cyber Crime Centre say 52 million a year. That's quite a difference and no effort was made to understand why they didn't agree, but even if we take the lower value, that's still a lot of money being stolen from Kiwis. And it is theft, even though guns aren't involved, threats aren't made and houses or banks aren't broken in to. My dictionary defines a scam as 'a fraudulent business scheme, a swindle'. The scams that the public and the Scamwatch website focus on are the likes of Nigerian bank scams, lottery scams and scams to obtain your credit card and bank account PIN details. These are the ones that can cause people to lose large amounts of money very quickly. To work they all require naivety and gullibility on the part of the person targeted, but the Nigerian bank and lottery scams also require the desire of greed to kick in. These are the scams that tell you that millions of dollars can be yours, all you need do is pay a few meagre administration costs to ensure the release of the funds. Kiwis lose more money to the lottery scams than any other scam according to Consumer Affairs, which is astounding. How can people believe they have won a lottery in a country they have never been to and in a lottery that they never bought a ticket in? They no doubt perform all manner of mental gymnastics to explain how they could have won without ever buying a ticket, since greed is now in control, and the dreams of what they're going to do with that 50 million dollars pushes reason into a closet and locks the door.

But are the scams that the public generally focuses on the whole picture? People can shake their heads in disbelief when someone says they took a lottery scam seriously, but are the same people turning a blind eye to other ubiquitous scams that are stealing millions from Kiwis? Talking to a guy at a social event on Monday, he mentioned email scams, expressing amazement that at least two of his friends had told him of emails they had received promising them millions and that they believed them to be genuine. He was surprised at their ignorance of these scams and wondered if they had been living in a cave for the last couple of decades. But two minutes later he was praising Ken Ring's astrology-based weather forecasts, supporting his earthquake predictions and ridiculing the idea of humans influencing climate change.

Yesterday my uncle asked me if I could look up a website that offered natural remedies for a common, incurable skin condition. The minimum cost if he bought their snake oil would have been $360~$450, and that was just for the first bottle. They offered no evidence that their product worked, providing only worthless testimonials. I convinced him to go and see his doctor instead, at a tenth of the cost, and only if he recommended this remedy should he even consider trying it.

How much money is scammed each year from people by the likes of naturopaths, Reiki therapists, telephone psychics, the travelling stage shows of TV mediums, horoscope books, astrologer Ken Ring's Weather Almanac and seminars on contacting angels? We noticed in a bookshop yesterday that medium Kelvin Cruickshank has a new book out, his third. How is this not a scam, taking money from gullible people in return for childish fiction masquerading as fact? And what about that biggest scam of all, religion? How much money do they scam off the rich and the poor and desperate each year? If we are going to criticise someone for believing that they may have won a lottery that they never had a ticket in, we should certainly criticise them for believing that a long dead carpenter turned itinerant preacher is up above the clouds somewhere, preparing a free five-star apartment for them when they die. There are at least rational reasons why you could win a lottery although you bought no ticket, eg your friend bought a ticket in your name, but there are no rational reasons to believe in the nonsense that all your dreams will come true when you die.

We believe that the existence of these scams — bogus natural therapies, mediums, psychics, astrologers, evangelists etc — are probably stealing far more from us than banking and lottery scams. As long as we say that these lottery emails are scams but that your priest asking for a donation is legitimate and acceptable, then people are merely being encouraged to reject one scam and accept another. And a society that tolerates sociably acceptable scams, eg religion, mediums etc, is preparing its citizens to be susceptible to similar scams that also promise unlikely and irrational things.

We need to get people to think critically about all these claims, not just those on the Consumer Affairs website, and to ask where the evidence is to support them. Not just about bank accounts and lotteries, but about energy healing therapists, people talking to the dead and astrologer's predicting earthquakes. If you are taking money under false pretences, whether you are a Reiki therapist or a thief in Nigeria sending out emails, you are scamming people.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Apr, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Phill, 12 Apr, 2011

    Couldn't agree more. I had my first cold call scam a few days ago with a gentleman trying to explain to me that I as a registered Windows user (really, mine came with the computer) had some bad files and if I took two minutes of my time ... Well at least that's what I thought he said, his English was so bad and the line was so crappy I found myself wondering why he had bothered and ended the call. Though I read in a recent article (possibly on Stuff) that we can expect a lot more of this kind of cold calling as the emails don't cut it any more and many people find it difficult saying no over the phone (when they can understand the scammer).

    I suspect that we are faced with two fundamental problems, first the art of critical thinking is just not taught (I suppose I can see the point the powers that be really don't want people questioning everything they do) and two, a large majority of people want simple answers to the complex and difficult questions. I've got cancer and the doctors prognosis is not good — well drink this distilled water that contains the memory of a grass clipping and say these prayers and you will live forever. I've just listened to five hundred professional specialist climate scientists tell me that running my six SUVs is probably screwing up the planets climate, but I'd rather believe these two guys in white coats employed by the Oil industry who tell me that climate change is all poppycock.

    Admittedly as I get older I become more cynical and retreat into Darwinism. If you really believe that drinking holy water will cure your disease rather than science based medicine then please go ahead and remove yourself from the gene pool. Of course the problem arises when these people try to include the rest of us. How many times have you heard of someone defrauding their company, friends, and family because they got suckered into a Nigerian Email scam? How many children have died because mummy and daddy were convinced the god would save them and not modern medical science? Sometimes thinking about this can make you damned depressed.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Comment by Ted, 16 Apr, 2011

    I had my first scam phone call two weeks ago. A foreign sounding gentleman told me that the "terrible Christchurch earthquake had released many computer viruses". But there was no need to worry because he was working for Microsoft and the government, assigned to help everybody get rid of viruses. He said that if I had a computer I was to switch it on right away and he would give me simple instructions to solve the problem. I said I would, sat down and continued my lunch, during which I was rather naughty and strung him along for ten minutes, putting the phone up and down, saying I had pushed various keys and seen peculiar screens and asking "naive" questions about whether playing a lot of games involving zombies had anything to do with it, and if my CDs in the desk drawer could have caught the virus too. Eventually he must have twigged, became bad tempered and hung up.

    I was astonished to find out many people had lost hundreds through seriously responding to similar scams.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Apr, 2011

    Well done Ted. We too enjoy baiting these scammers, although unlike you and Phill, we haven't had one for our computer regarding Windows yet. A friend (who is a computer tech) did get a call about fixing Windows, and he recorded it and played it back to me. My friend kept asking questions and eventually that person got annoyed too and hung up, but they obviously rely on people being computer illiterate and very trusting. But again, a little knowledge and critical thinking should ring alarm bells. How can they have details of your Windows registration if you never actually registered it (ie it came installed on your PC) and they can't tell you what version of Windows you actually have, or when you bought it, or how many computers you own? Also, since when did Microsoft employees start working with the government to check personal computers? People need to start thinking, and if they don't know much about a specific topic, then they need to make enquires from knowledgable people that they trust before they hand over money or give strangers access to personal and private information and/or resources.

  4. Comment by Chris, 18 Apr, 2011

    The anomaly in the scam estimates — $450M vs $52M — is curious — I'd guess they're derived from different assumptions (and obviously nobody knows the real answer). As for 1 in 20 people targeted, I'd have thought it was more like 19 out of 20, there can hardly be anyone who hasn't had some phishing/trojan/419 emails. Maybe the 1 in 20 represent the people who are taken in to some degree.

    I haven't had the virus phone call yet, though I was helping a friend with her computer today and she told me she'd had one — fortunately, though she knows almost nothing of computers, she has plenty of common sense and smelt a rat, she thanked the caller and said she'd be sure to ask her computer expert to look into it right away. I've had plenty of emails myself from 'Microsoft' who have detected a virus on my Windows which is pretty good going since I don't run Windows. But they pale into insignificance compared with the dozens of banks who have notified me of urgent problems with accounts I didn't know I had, please click on this link yadda yadda (First National Bank of Boston?).

    And there's an interesting local variant of the Nigerian 419 scam going around, 'you are entitled to a tax refund of $850' — cheapskates, I don't click on those links for less than $20 million these days. ;)

    While you mention snake oil, there's a huge industry in heavily promoted semi-snake-oil health / fitness / beauty products out there — bee pollen, sports drinks, multivitamins, water filters, 'good' bacteria — all of which possibly have a use for a small percentage of the population but are just a waste of money for the 90% of us who don't have specific medical conditions. And invariably promoted on TV by some 'Doctor' wearing a white coat. I believe, if they claim to be a medicine (like aspirin, say) they're legally regulated and have to meet all the drug tests for safety and efficacy, but if they claim to be a 'dietary supplement' then they don't have to meet a thing. The best you can say for most of those things is they're probably not going to do anyone much harm.

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Apr, 2011

    Yes, we suspect you're right Chris, no one really knows how much is lost through scams, especially since many will be too embarrassed to even admit that they have been conned. And many banks and businesses admit that they won't make public any scams they've fallen for, fearful that it would erode client confidence in them.

    We get on average a dozen emails every day offering us amazing deals, the latest advertising 'golden opportunities in Libya'. And many advise us of problems with accounts we don't have, and this is the power of the internet. Scammers can send out millions of emails and by chance alone a few will reach people who do have that account and are naive, gullible and/or greedy. You mentioned the tax refund scam. We read of a woman in Southland who lost $32,000 before her family caught on and froze her accounts. She should have been suspicious when the caller said he was with the Justice Department and not the IRD, that you shouldn't send money overseas via Western Union, and that you don't have to pay to get your own money back.

    As for the 'huge industry in heavily promoted semi-snake-oil health / fitness / beauty products out there', they charge ridiculous prices for what is often worthless, untested products, and as you say, they aren't required to spend anything on tests for safety and efficacy. The harm, not to mention the money wasted, comes from people ignoring conventional treatments that work, from dangerous, unknown side effects and from the potential harmful effects when combined with conventional treatments. People that take natural remedies are often reluctant to tell their doctor what snake oil they're also on. if you want to make money and maybe help people at the same time, then you become a natural therapist rather than a doctor.

God and the Christchurch earthquake
Throughout history following natural disasters religious fundamentalists have been tormented as to why their god or gods either visited death and destruction upon them or at the very least stood by and did nothing while untold numbers suffered and died. In recent years both Christians and Muslims have proffered various reasons why disasters have struck, everything from offending their god by allowing homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion to bare boobs and drawing cartoons of terrorists.

Ross has sent us his comments to an article on the Christchurch earthquake that looks at whether 'acts of god' truly are believed to be acts of god by the local religious leaders. We would love to know what Bishop Brian Tamaki is telling his flock, as in the past he has detected god's signature in these disasters. But on to what Ross had to say:

Hi guys, wonder if any of you would care to comment on this wee number..??...

www.stuff.co.nz — Christchurch earthquake: act of God?

I especially like the following...

"...Stewart runs a weblog as "Mart the Rev" and talks up his fondness for the music of U2 and David Gilmour, meaning that he can seem like the archetypal hip priest: worldly, a little feisty and a little suspicious of the musty baggage of organised religion. He was aghast when he encountered German missionaries in Christchurch who were trying to push a line that the earthquake was a response to sinfulness. "How to kick people when they're down, but also, what kind of God are they talking about?" he says. "How dare they? We know that God is love. You turn God into an ogre when you promulgate the idea that He caused this as a judgment on us."

The idea that this was an act of God - "a shocker" of a phrase, he says - could only come from those with an undeveloped Sunday school faith."

And here was me thinking that it WAS all about towing the line until god passes judgement on us... apparently it's not (well... not yet anyway)
"We know that god is love"
... apparently you can choose whatever you want god to be to suit any given situation you're in at the time. This bit is quite good too...
"...Lynda Patterson heard the same kind of thing. She got emails asking if God was angry about the prostitutes in Latimer Square, the presence of the Wizard or even the floral carpet in the Cathedral.

'You can see people desperately struggling to understand,' she says.

There must be something we did wrong. I want to lose the idea of a God who slaps us with a big stick. We believe in a God who is in among the rubble suffering with us, not at a great distance pulling the strings."

If he was the all-powerful being they claim... why don't they ask the question, Why are you in among the rubble suffering with us, why didn't you just stop the quake before things got this bad and created all the suffering you dipsh*t? Don't you have the nads after all??? I mean, you did set this whole place up didn't you... earth, sky, light blah blah..? but can't stop an earthquake? You really must be a sick bastard, creating bad stuff just so you can get your jollies by "being there" to comfort the injured and suffering.

Desperately struggling to understand??... you bettcha we are! Trying to understand how you people can stand up there and spout this 'magic sky-fairy bollocks' to people who need real help.

As an aside I recently watched the movie "Zeitgeist" The first chapter on religion has a lot of good stuff in it. The sort of stuff I'd like to remember and recall at those opportune moments when answering the door to suits on a Sunday. Have you seen the movie? Bit of 'conspiracy-theory' type stuff in there later as well... but definitely thought-provoking.

Ross is quite right, the story we hear from Christians is that it's all about towing the line [See comment #1] until god passes judgement on us. For Rev Stewart to claim that his god doesn't punish humans for transgressions is to show utter ignorance of his bible, which is full of the horrors of god's judgement and deliberate 'acts of god' on humans, and worse is yet to come: Judgement Day. Or is Stewart saying that what we read in the bible and learnt at Sunday School was all lies?

It's that old religious ability to pick and choose. When good things happen it was god that made it possible, when bad things happen it's just nature and chance and god was unfortunately away on vacation.

OK, so these Christians leaders insist that their god didn't cause the earthquake, but as Ross says, why didn't he stop it? How does an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving god justify a 'hands off' laissez faire stance? What use is submitting your independence and intellect to a benevolent master if when in your hour of need he fails to lift a wispy tentacle to help? This is like paying an insurance premium all your life and when you need to collect the company refuses to pay out. You've effectively wasted a fortune over the years and now you're on your own sucker.

And don't give us this bullshit that god is in the rubble helping. We've all seen the footage on TV, not once did a collapsed floor or wall miraculously move to release those trapped. Every brick and piece of masonry was lifted by human hands and brave people risked their lives to crawl into damaged buildings. If god was following along, he was there as a sadistic voyeur, like an invisible teenage male strolling through the girls' changing rooms.

Bishop Jones insists that 'Our Lord was really clear about that. Bad things don't happen to people because they're bad people'. Do these idiots never read their bible, or at least understand it? Sodom and Gomorrah and their occupants were destroyed by god because he reckoned they were bad people. He even killed Lot's wife for simply looking while he slaughtered people. Hell, god drowned the entire planet (bar Noah and his tub) because he saw them as bad people. In god's world god does bad things to bad people all the time. It's how he fixes his mistakes.

God even visits bad things on good people (if the bible is to be believed), promising to punish children for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. If you're good but your father was bad then bad things will happen to you. It's how god's sick sense of justice works. And for Bishop Jones to bring up Job and claim that 'all sorts of disasters happen to him' is just deceptive. Job was a perfectly good person, but god still agreed to rain disaster after disaster upon him just to win a wager with his mate Satan. They weren't natural disasters as Jones implies, they were deliberate attacks on Job for sport, so this accusation that their god is an ogre is perfectly true (assuming the bible is true).

Rev Patterson said that she 'was dismissive of the insurance company phrase and thinks that the true acts of God have been in the community response'. She hates that people evoke god when natural disasters strike by calling them 'acts of god', implying that god wasn't involved at all, that people helping others is what is getting us through. Yet she then states that when these generous people go out of their way to help, 'it's possible to see God at work much more clearly'. Does she mean by this that these people aren't helping willingly, that god has taken control of them and is using them like automatons? It's such arrogance to insist that their god wasn't around when the earthquake happened, and yet has now rushed in and is working hard to make things right. They can clearly see god driving these people to reach out to their community but can't bring themselves to recognising god's foul stench and rumbling anger when the quake struck.

Rev Patterson also states that 'The theological question, and it is theological, is what will it take for us to change?' Forget theology, that's what it will take. These ignoramuses refuse to accept that humans can be good and caring by our own volition, with Patterson insisting that 'We were created to care and reach out'. Again she implies that people only do good because her god made us this way, we are merely running a program installed by god. We do good because we have to. But this is an insult to those that are willing to help and even risk their lives for no other reason than because they want to. We have respect and gratitude for these people but little for those that are merely helping because their god has ordered them to.

It was also interesting to note what that article about 'acts of god' and Christchurch's 'ruined or partly ruined churches' didn't mention. Why has there been no comment on how Christchurch's mosques, synagogues and temples fared? We're assuming there are places of worship for Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other faiths. Were they destroyed or even damaged? If not, why not? Might it have truly been an act of god, but not the Christian god, some other god annoyed at all these places of false worship? Even if it was a natural disaster, might we assume that if the Muslim mosque is untouched that they have better divine protection? Rather than changing power companies and telecom providers, maybe Christians should look at what competing religions offer in terms of protection? Although we can tell them now — no religion provides divine protection, only servitude and delusion. Muslims die in natural disasters in the Middle East, Hindus in India, Jews in Israel and Buddhists in Nepal. Seemingly the religious aren't safe anywhere, which is surely telling us something. But what?

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 29 Mar, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Phil, 29 Mar, 2011

    It's 'toeing' the line, not 'towing'.

  2. Comment by Keri, 29 Mar, 2011

    Two things:
    the pedant in me insists on "toeing the line" not "towing the line"
    and
    I agree with pretty well everything else brought to notice — with an additional insistence on the fact that humans evolved — in contrast to one of our nearest cousins, chimpanzees — to be neighbourly/helpful/altruistic, especially in times of tumult & disaster. Which is why we have become a successful species — just incidentally, Pan paniscus/bonobos also show the same kind of traits: if there is a homonimoid successor to us, bonobos will that successor

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Mar, 2011

    Opps! Thanks to both Phil and Keri for pointing out our error. We do like to get these little things right, but every now and then one or two slip through. I blame Microsoft's Spelling and Grammar Checkers for making me lazy! ;-) They're better than nothing, but they really are crap.

  4. Comment by Graeme, 01 Apr, 2011

    Hi John. I was waiting for this to happen. Interview on Radio Rhema this morning at approx 8:45am.

    Visiting evangelist Ellen Alexander of Interserve
    http://www.interserve.org.nz/site/interserve/files/Events/EllenAlexander%20Interserve%20Bio.pdf

    She's been giving speeches here in New Zealand, but here's a new twist... God doesn't create natural disasters... people do by turning away from Christ.

    I needn't point out the tautology there. Whichever way you slice it, it's the people of Christchurch who brought the quake upon themselves. I haven't heard any other evangelist trot out this totally sound theological theory since the lethal quake in CHCH. You? I suspect because they realise how vile it would be perceived, even if they believe it, and of course they should believe it given the screeds of precedent available in their sacred texts.

    Rhema doesn't seem to have a listen back facility sadly so I called them for her details. FYI here are the contacts for her organisation.

    Interserve 09 623 6102 and 021 462 778. I might just give them a call to see if they agree. They should if they have the courage of their convictions.

    If you're interested it looks like the interview may be up here given time. [Although to date] They haven't posted the audio, and very strangely have made no mention at all of her appearance on the programme.:
    http://www.rhema.co.nz/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=304

    A few years back I heard Bob McCoskrie reacting to the rape and torture and killing of nuns with unbridled joy, as it is the sort of thing predicted to happen upon Christ's imminent return.

    Ironically a Christian is taking me to the BSA for one particularly brilliant Pat Condell piece aired on Radio Live.

    All best... brilliant work. Keep towing the line ;-)...

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Apr, 2011

    Thanks Graeme. We commented at the time of the Feb quake that not a single church leader interviewed on the TV mentioned god. They all just spoke as ordinary, shocked citizens of Christchurch. If it wasn't for their dog collars or the title on the screen you wouldn't have known they were even religious. Not one said that they were praying for a good outcome, not one thanked god for saving anyone, not one said god would help us through. We suspect that they were either afraid that some cynical reporter shocked by the deaths would ask them why god saved this person and not that one or suggested that we needed god before the quake not after. Or perhaps they were so angry and disappointed with their god that they deliberately sidelined him.

    As you say Graeme, these people should believe that their god was involved, that's what he does, he is obsessively concerned with our behaviour, especially sexual, and is all too willing to punish those that stray from the path. But you're right, most wouldn't be stupid enough to announce this in public. But I suspect there are many, ministers and followers, that when surrounded by other believers behind church doors, openly discuss what actions of certain Cantabrians brought down god's anger. And there will be many that do look on every disaster with increasing delight, Judgement Day approaches and they can finally wipe their hands of the evil scum they share their neighbourhood with and can spend an eternity kissing the tentacles of the god that smote us.

    We saw a large advert today for a local talk by a visiting Christadelphian from Australia entitled: 'Earthquakes and Global Chaos. Does God Care?', and ending with the date for the talk followed by the proviso: 'God willing'. The ad implies that they believe God causes our woes and can also protect some of us from them.

    Fundamentalist Christians must hate that they can't scream fire and brimstone at people on the street or in public meetings as they used to centuries ago and get away with it. Or that they haven't got the guts of Islamists to just go out on the street and threaten people with death if they don't obey god.

    But they have got the BSA it seems. Why is an easily offended Christian even listening to Pat Condell? We love Pat Condell, and love you for finding him and playing him on your show. Yes, Pat no doubt offends believers, but equally the pope and Brian Tamaki and anyone that says, 'Let us pray', offends us. How, we wonder, can you be so ignorant, and probably the same thought occurred to your Christian listening to Pat Condell. But Jesus H Christ, the BSA isn't the Inquisition and having and publicly expressing differing opinions is no longer a burning offence. This arrogance from some believers that we all have to keep quiet while they continue to spread their message annoys us no end. We'll shut up when they close their churches and emigrate. Until then we'll stop attending their sermons and they can stop listening to Pat Condell.

    We're sure the BSA will see reason and won't create another Galileo incident. It's segments like Pat's that mean you have the most interesting show on radio by a country mile. It's so refreshing to listen to discussions that aren't aimed at people who struggle to program their video recorder, that think a black hole is something you'd find in Calcutta and who believe homoeopathic remedies are real medicine. Apart from the news, your show is the only one where you can actually learn things that are worth knowing. We need intelligent, skeptical people like you to speak up for the rest of us, to be our voice, to interview guests such as astronomer Grant Christie and skeptic Vicki Hyde and play brilliant and funny monologues by atheist Pat Condell. We have enough shows on radio and TV dumbing down society, surely Christians can put up with one that bucks the trend?

    So keep up the excellent work Graeme, and people, listen to Graeme Hill's weekend shows (10am to 2pm) on Radio Live.

  6. Comment by Anonymous, 10 Apr, 2011

    I find it hard enough to understand why some women insist on wearing crucifixes, but it is the epitome of hypocrisy to have women preachers, when throughout history, women have been subjected to the most hideous and barbaric treatment by all religions. I became aware of Hypatia (370-415) and her shocking end after she was mentioned by the late Carl Sagan in one of the chapters of his absolutely brilliant 'Cosmos' production.

    Also included is the link about Giordano Bruno who was again put to death in most shocking manner by the same religion some 35 years before Galileo, who was extremely lucky to have escaped the same fate for daring to challenge the power of the church. And again, much more recently, were the death threats made against Sir David Attenborough for his Darwin Documentary.

    All this goes to prove that the TRUTH REALLY DOES HURT!

    http://womenshistory.about.com/od/hypati1/a/hypatia.htm

    http://space.about.com/cs/astronomyhistory/a/giordanobruno.htm

  7. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Apr, 2011

    We agree, and in our view it's all about ignorance. Women (and Christians in general) just aren't aware how badly the Church has treated women throughout history and how lowly they view them. As much as we abhor the Catholic Church, at least they are sticking to their principles and obeying their god's commandments. Women, homosexuals, divorcees etc are only finding acceptance in certain Christian faiths because they have chosen to ignore god's true desires and invent a church and a new Christian god that actually welcomes these outcasts. God's clear instructions on bigotry, persecution and intolerance are still in their Bibles, but they are ignored.

    Women, homosexuals etc are now rightfully seen as intelligent and independent, so why they now want to fight for membership in the very organisation that has degraded and ill-treated them for so long is throwing doubt on their intelligence. It's like a club that knows their leader is a serial killer but they just don't talk about it and hope no one else will find out. But the weird thing is that others do know about it and they still want to join! As one of my fridge magnets says: 'I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a dead guy nailed to two pieces of wood'.

    And as you say, the truth really does hurt, both in damaging the church by showing how wrong they are, and by the church physically hurting those brave enough to expose them. Hypatia, Giordano Bruno and Galileo are just three in a long list of intellectuals that the church has falsely persecuted, Galileo being one of the lucky few who while found guilty, wasn't tortured and killed. And to think it took until 1992 before the Vatican admitted that Galileo was right. Hypatia, Bruno and untold others are still waiting for their apologies.

  8. Comment by Bob, 13 Apr, 2011

    One small comment regarding Hypatia. She was an early freethinker. She told her students not to accept conventional ideas but to think for themselves. This was a direct challenge to the Christian authorities and part of the reason she was executed in such a brutal manner.

Religion on dusty road to extinction
Is religion set to go the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo and the smallpox virus? According to this 'NZHerald' article, US research reckons religion is on the road to extinction, not in the US obviously, but in a few sensible countries, including good ol' NZ. To our knowledge the study didn't describe these countries as sensible, that was our description, but they may well have. We simply infer that that would surely be the obvious conclusion. And who are our mates in forward thinking? Well, our close mate across the ditch, Australia, as well as Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Some academics have applied mathematics (our teachers said it would be good for something) to census data and reckon 'The result... indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries'. Why? Well, it's not due to some counter-inquisition where secular organisations persecute and torture the religious until they see reason, nor is it by some government decree as brought in by the likes of Joseph Stalin. Religion is on the road to oblivion simply because the citizens of these countries are increasingly realising that like black and white TVs and belief in Santa Claus, its time has past. You are probably aware that in the NZ 2006 census the number of people claiming no religion increased to 34.7% of the population, and consequently (according to maths again) the number of religious followers went down. And some countries are making even better progress, the Netherlands was 40% and the Czech Republic 60%. So the future looks bright.

Of course this study is a fairly basic one based on the assumption that these trends will continue at a certain rate and we don't get invaded by either Iran or the USA, two of the most religious countries on the planet. The data is also not as clear as some believe. Some read 'no religion' as meaning atheist or complete indifference. That is, they don't care whether gods exist or not in the same way that we don't care whether Tom Cruise is gay or not. But 'no religion' to some means that they simply aren't part of a recognised church or that they don't go to church regularly. We know people that haven't been to church in decades and have nothing to do with religion, but if pushed will still say they believe in god. We know others that rubbish organised religions such as Christianity but still say they believe there must be 'something' out there that started everything off, we can't just have started by accident. While these people give no support to organised religions, and even tick 'no religion' on the census form, they are still believers rather than atheists. Even if every organised religion folded and every church in the country were closed and converted into restaurants and private homes, as many already have been, there is still going to be a large proportion of the population leading completely secular lives but still harbouring primitive, superstitious beliefs as to what created the universe and life itself. Of course this would be a vast improvement over what we've had in past centuries, but as long as there are people believing in souls rather than quarks, in creators rather than big bangs, then we run the risk that some ignorant labourer will again unite the spiritual yearnings of these forgotten believers and attempt a religious revival.

We may live in a scientific and technological age, but we're not safe from ignorance and people offering simple answers to complex questions. Look at how astrologer Ken Ring recently drew in gullible followers all willing to snub their noses at reason and scientific knowledge and naively support his superstitious nonsense, fleeing the city on his command. Getting their knowledge from modern devices, the workings of which they probably had little comprehension of, they rejected this proven technology and embraced a destiny set in the stars. Utilising modern technology they fled to the past and ignorance. When organised religion goes, what will take its place? Look at the rise in alternative healing therapies that call on gods and supernatural energies, such as Reiki, and the acceptance of witches and mediums. Will we see a rise in New Age religions? Are Jedi Knights going to become a dominant religion?

Of course this type of prediction has been made before, and look at us, we still have bible wielding nutters preaching fire and brimstone on street corners and Brian Tamaki brain washing vulnerable minds from the back of his Harley. For the last few centuries, especially since the Age of Enlightenment, great minds have predicted the demise of religion based on the rise of reason and science, and yet it's still with us, and we don't have flying cars or hotels on the moon either. What went wrong? We think one of the problems is that many people are more than willing to accept the gifts of science but are little interested in the whys of science. To understand about DNA, black holes and the radiation from microwaves and cell phone towers takes effort, but you don't have to understand about god to go to heaven. In fact they actively discourage it. Blind faith is all that's required to be religious, whereas understanding how the world really works requires putting your brain back in and actually using it. As a bumper sticker about the bible says: Simple minds require simple answers. How wonderful it must be to have a smart phone and thousands of friends on Facebook all run by some mysterious electronic stuff and still believe that all you need worry about is keeping on the right side of some sky fairy. It's the best of both worlds, the best technology can offer while you're alive, and a free room in the best holiday resort (aka paradise) when you die. One can easily see why some people want both, fancy gadgets and salvation, complicated devices and simple explanations, medical cures and miracle cures. Science in one pocket, religion in the other.

But our society is certainly becoming more secular as the census shows. Religion is taking a back seat on the bus, and is sometimes even hiding in the luggage compartment. Many people are hesitant to show their spiritually these days, reluctant to advertise their belief in gods, demons and angels. Oh sure, go to a church mass or a psychic fair and you're tripping over believers only too willing to tell you about their god, or more often their god's son, or offering to sketch your guardian angel or take a photo of your aura, but in the real world, meeting people where they work and in social situations, talk of god is rare. Unless it's about expressing horror at god's servants raping little boys or hearing of a church group of school children drowning in a flash flood and wondering out loud why the religious believe a loving god would allow this to happen. Believers these days are confronted with a media that showcases scientific advances and generally ignores religion and sometimes even ridicules it. The few TV documentaries that we do see talk about evolution and genetic engineering, not Intelligent Design or the life of Moses. Characters in movies and TV shows openly make fun of religion. An adult saying they believe in a god these days is like saying they believe witches can cure cancer, that astrologers can predict the weather and that Santa has promised to bring them that bike. Decades ago it was the atheist that keep quiet at meetings and dinner parties, now it is the believer.

We'll never rid ourselves of religion completely, there will always be people that believe in unseen beings and magical cures, just as there will always be murderers, rapists, thieves and gossip. Our goal must be to reduce this core belief to a deluded few, like the Flat Earth Society, the Hollow Earth Society and the Ken Ring Supporters Group. We know that they exist, but they're small, harmless, impotent and virtually invisible. We need to reduce the major religions such as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism to the level of the religions of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. We've all heard of gods such as Zeus, Apollo and Ra, but they are just historical curiosities that play no part in modern life. We need to reach the stage where gods such as Jehovah, Allah and Shiva are also irrelevant, and while they may continue to be evoked by a deluded few on their deathbeds, society has put them on the shelf alongside Zeus, Apollo and that plastic figurine of Homer Simpson.

And to this end we all have a part to play. We need to challenge those suggesting supernatural causes and promising eternal salvation. We need to apply reason to the question of how the universe works, and continually ask when fobbed off with god talk: What is your evidence for that claim? If people really believe that gods are involved with our creation and continued wellbeing, or not as in the case of recent earthquakes, then they need to provide reasons and evidence, not empty quotes from some holy book. If scientists can produce strong arguments, surely an all-powerful god can knock up a PowerPoint presentation outlining how it all really works. Religion, like a serial rapist in your community, will continue to attack the weak and vulnerable if we just turn a blind eye and do nothing. And the most vulnerable are children, as religions have always understood. Many adults fail to toss off religion completely due to their indoctrination while they were naive and impressionable children, having religious nonsense repeatedly fed to them by priests, parents and society at large.

We need to target the children as well, but in an ethical way, not a dictatorial way. We can't be like religious schools that push religion, creating schools that push atheism, otherwise we are no different, forcing our beliefs onto children. Unlike religion, we shouldn't tell children what to think, but teach them how to think. Secular society needs to provide young minds with the tools of reasoning and critical thinking. Religion puts many children on a train track that they can't hop off, can't change direction, whereas critical thinking puts them behind the wheel of an all-terrain vehicle, allowing them go where they wish and to explore amazing areas that can't even be seen from the train. Some may still choose to follow the train tracks, but at least that is their choice, whereas those on the train have been conned into believing there is only one destination. In countries like NZ we are obviously getting children to think for themselves. Studies show that the greatest disbelief or indifference to religion is in our youth. And when they have kids they will hopefully pass this independence of thought onto them, rather than blind obedience to a sky fairy.

So when do we think religion will become as good as extinct? Unlike certain astrologers we're not going to predict a date when this will happen, but not in our lifetime. But each day religion suffers another embarrassing setback and every year many people with supernatural beliefs toss them in the waste bin and embrace reason and freedom. The extinction of religion won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen. Perhaps not dead as a dodo, but as hard to find as a Fiordland moose.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Mar, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Ted, 27 Mar, 2011

    Can you recommend a good book or web site which can give me some advice about good ways to express myself, to make my points strongly, in discussions with religious people. I become exasperated with all the cyclic arguments, repeated mantras and deliberately meaningless statements couched in mystical language and it hampers my ability to respond. Two hours later I realise that I have been sucked in psychologically because of my understandably negative feelings about religion. I am an absolutely useless debater, and far prefer quiet searches for truth. I am getting much better at it but whenever I make a point which is difficult for them, many religious people revert to personal attack and threat, either direct or implied. My old and close religious friends do not matter so much because they just accept me and never argue, although perhaps they presumably think, at a deep, unspoken level, that I shall endure eternal torment, I don't know.

    One thing I have found prudent is to stick to one single doubtful hypothesis and resist the ruse to diversify. For instance, I might say that I cannot see how consciousness could possibly survive the death of the brain, which assumption underlies most religion. Take that away and most religions collapse like a house of cards. In fact, all of recent neuroscience is pointing to the opposite conclusion. I have also found it a good idea to ask questions whose answers must be given in plain language external to mysticism, in terms any person of reasonable intelligence should be able to understand. "How can suffering exist in a universe created by a being which is omnipotent, omniscient and good ?" Ever since I was a little boy the answer has been patently obvious - it cannot, and the simplest answer is that such a being does not exist. Asking such a question does not establish you as the aggressor, which role would leave you open to accusations of abuse.

    So that make two positive modes of discussion I have found, but I want to know others.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Mar, 2011

    Thinking about your comments Ted, it sounds as though you're just like the rest of us. Very few people are good at debating, and we all think of some killer response an hour later that we wish we had used at the time. We all get 'exasperated with all the cyclic arguments, repeated mantras and deliberately meaningless statements couched in mystical language'. Look at the odd Christian that has commented on our site. They either abuse us or quote empty passages from their bible or both (see the previous post). The odd one that tries to be a little more reasoned in their response soon gives up when we insist on more than 'meaningless statements couched in mystical language', as you put it. The fact that you can recognise these ploys as worthless suggests that you already have useful skills.

    Surprising as it may seem, we get into very few real time debates. It reflects what we see in society, many people are atheists or indifferent to religion, or religious but unwilling to advertise it. People on the street or in shops give us the thumbs up on our Born Again Atheist badges, but no one gets into a conversation about it. At a barbecue last month, someone spotted my car and shouted out to the entire gathering: Who belongs to the car with the atheist stickers? I said, That would be me. He said nothing further, and no one else brought up the topic with me either. I'm sure there were both believers and non-believers there, but no one cared enough to talk about it. The only time we get to test our debating skills is with the odd door-knocking evangelist, and even they are rare these days. Sky TV and companies concerned that I'm paying too much for toll calls call far more often than god's people do.

    And you're right Ted, confronted with a challenging statement, in the past we've found normally polite and friendly work associates have resorted to anger and abuse, and any debate is over almost before it begins. They're like a cornered beast, fleeing at the first opportunity. I have been stunned by people that I didn't even know were religious suddenly erupt in anger and storm from the room. While this response is not how debates should go, on the positive side it is a clear sign that they are unwilling and probably unable to put up an argument. You win by default. And it would be fascinating to know how these people rationalise their refusal to expound on a subject so dear to them. I was once accosted on the street by an evangelist and when I mentioned a certain embarrassing passage in the bible he denied that such a passage existed. He had a bible under his arm, and when I politely offered to show him the passage, he refused, saying it wasn't in his bible. I often wonder how people like this come to terms with their lies and mistakes. I'm sure he would have consulted his bible when I left. When the religious resort to anger, insults, distortions, vague claims or lies and I leave exasperated, they no doubt think themselves victorious, another atheist driven back. But I think they have lost the debate, offering nothing but smoke and mirrors rather than reason and evidence.

    Our experience is that the people to whom religion matters most, for whom its validity is without doubt, they are the least likely to enter into a rational debate. They are not interested in searching for the truth — they already know the truth — they just want to find a bible quote that will convince you as well. To this end, as soon as you raise a point that counters their claim, they immediately forget that argument and jump to a completely unrelated one. OK, you don't like that one, we have plenty more, how about this one? This is another sign that they are struggling to find a claim that they can support with people who have read more books than just the bible. While it can be amusing and stimulating to debate with these devout religious types, you're almost never going to shake their beliefs. It's like a parent trying to teach their child not to play with fire. They know they're right, and they just have to find a way to get through to the child. Nothing the child says or does will convince the parents that fire isn't dangerous. If you're debating with these types Ted, do it for fun, but don't expect to win.

    As with any debate and as you'll know, the real key to success is knowledge, both of your stance and that of your opponents. Many evolutionists loose public debates with creationists because while they know science intimately, they know little or nothing about religion, and most that attend these debates are religious. They are impressed by the creationist's knowledge of religion and apparent knowledge of science but dismayed by the evolutionist's insistence on talking only about science. Furthermore these debates are more spectacle than the true pursuit of truth. The creationist is often an experienced public speaker familiar with all the tricks to sway an audience while the evolutionist seldom speaks in public, and then usually only to other scientists.

    To debate with the religious you have to have a little knowledge of their religion and of the arguments that they might present. You also have to have some knowledge of science, history and philosophy. While even children can see problems with gods and ask: Well, if god made me, who made god? and everyone, as you say Ted, wonders why there is evil in the world, to really challenge the nonsense claimed by the religious you have to read up on the topic. Whether they're talking about the big bang, DNA or who wrote the Gospels, you have to have a little knowledge of these topics to detect the mistakes they make when discussing them. You give the example of consciousness surviving death and correctly use neuroscience to counter this belief. The more knowledge you have about diverse subjects that explain things that religion used to claim, the more likely you will have arguments at the ready that counter theirs. To this end reading books about atheism and religion written by atheistic scientists, philosophers and historians highlight the contradictions and absurdities in religion without you having to read and interpret all the holy books yourself. None of us have read the entire bible, but we've read enough about its flaws to flummox most Christians. It's also a good idea to understand a little about the philosophy of argument and learn to recognise the different logical fallacies that many people, not just the religious, naively use in their arguments.

    You could look at our recommended list of books and documentaries on atheism, religion, philosophy and science, although it's always difficult to recommend books until you know which ones you might have read. There are many others too but these are the ones we've read and found useful. They give you the knowledge and tools to debate the religious, but none school you in the to and fro skills of a real debate or tell you how to deal with an irate opponent. Like you we 'prefer quiet searches for truth' rather than the confrontation of a real debate in which people are only convinced of the ignorance of their opponent. Those friendly and worthwhile debates where people are interested in the truth and willing to change their mind don't require military-like debating skills, whereas debates with true believers aren't really debates at all, in their minds they are missions of conquest. They're like the Borg from 'Star Trek': 'Resistance is futile!'

    Some possibly useful links:

    The Win in the Unwinnable Debate
    A List Of Fallacious Arguments
    Scrutinizing Propaganda
    Logical Fallacies: Arguments, Reasoning, and the Fallacy
    Transcripts of some real debates

  3. Comment by MikeC, 28 Mar, 2011

    I can't actually see religion ever being "dead" until we've had a few more thousand years of evolution.

    The human psyche seems to have a need to control and if we can't control something (like the weather, sun, etc) then we invent someone who can, pretend we have some control over them (they listen to us if we're good), and voila we have the control we seek...or at least we think we do...whereas we have really just invented religion.

    And it will take a long time for people to evolve away from that need...if we ever do. IMO the number of modern conspiracy theories shows that there are still a lot of people who feel the need to be in control and to invent something to give them that control whether it be reptilian overlords, chemtrails, Planet X, NWO, earthquakes caused by the moon.....whatever....most of them take on some religious aspects after a while.

    It's going to be a long, long time before all of the human race can simply say "I don't know what that is let's find out!", without someone having to resort to an imaginary friend!!

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Mar, 2011

    Yes, you're right Mike, far too many humans have this great ability of replacing one silly belief with another. Every time they rid themselves of a religion they promptly replace it with another, and the knowledge disseminated by the media these days has given them many more things to invent silly beliefs about, as you say, chemtrials and Planet X. The trick is to gradually reduce their affect on society until they are as rare as witches and Morris dancers.

  5. Comment by Ted, 31 Mar, 2011

    Thank you very much for the links, which I shall investigate over the next few days. After reading what you have to say, I am toying with the idea that I simply do not have the right sort of mind for argument and counter argument. In fact I am probably not even typical in that I am what you might call a primitive atheist rather than a reactionary atheist. By this I mean that I had no habituated exposure at all to any sort of religion in childhood and therefore experienced none of the angst many atheists seem to go through to reach a comfortable position with themselves. As I think I mentioned somewhere else, I attempted one reading of the Bible, more or less as a bet, when very young, and I have absolutely no desire to wade my way again through that repulsive heap of nonsense and violence on the off-chance I might find the odd jewel of wisdom buried in the mud of cruelty and ignorance.

    As you say, the objective of changing minds of religious people through discussion is largely futile. If the knowledge and eloquence of Dawkins, Hitchens and dozens of others like them cannot do it then I certainly need not bother trying. I like hearing people's thoughts and beliefs on really fundamental questions though, religious or not. I think most of my frustration with discussion comes from the seeming inability of most religious people to state these thoughts in universally understandable, common language. I find myself continually saying, "No, I don't really want to hear immense detail about the Bible, mystical experience, what ministers of religion say, what the Pope says and the like, just tell me if YOU believe that one dead man sprang to life again against all inductive reasoning and exactly why you believe it. Tell me if YOU think that you will continue to perceive and experience after your death and why you think this might be true. Tell me precisely why YOU do not have a consistency problem with an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity snuffing out the lives of 80,000 innocent children in a tsunami." But they never do tell me. They lapse into nebulous circumlocution and eventually become antagonistic. That's what I find so frustrating. It isn't as if I am asking them about Ramanujan's identities in theta functions, or something they could not reasonably hold an opinion about.

    I am genuinely curious, you see, as to why large groups of people really do believe these things. I am sixty-three now and still none the wiser as to the underlying process. Why, for instance, do they not believe that the universe was created by a conspiracy of blowflies, or that the earth is actually controlled by hordes of invisible pixies ? Are all such fanciful constructions not in some trivial sense of equal merit ? I am not likely to think less of somebody as a human being in the moral sense if he or she holds a peculiar opinion, about religion or anything else. We're probably all a bit loopy in some respects after all. It is just that the whole thing seems clouded by an unnecessary aura of implied serious conflict and threat.

    Thanks again for the response.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 33 Mar, 2011

    In our view Ted you appear to have an excellent grasp of the religious state of affairs. Like most of us you may not have the encyclopedic recall and wit to go head to head in a radio debate, but you fully recognise the flaws in their arguments and their unwillingness and inability to give straight answers that make sense. Debating with these people only drives home to them that they don't know what they're talking about, and that becomes frightening to them, pushing them towards frustration and anger.

    Debating the religious would just be a fun hobby if it weren't for the seriousness of some of the true believers. As one of my fridge magnets say: Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

Repent or burn in Hell Sinner!!
We've received two emails from a reader called Zjivila, commenting on two of our blog posts criticising religion. Since both are generic cries along the lines of 'Repent or burn in Hell Sinner!!', and neither challenge the topic of the posts, we thought we would create a new post to expose how empty these types of insults are. And also to show how little these submissive Christians really think about what they're saying and what type of imaginary being they're worshipping.

Our experience has been that whether it is religion, alien abduction, psychics or astrologer's predicting earthquakes, the most devout believers in these topics can usually only respond with insults and threats that demonstrate that their belief is based on ignorance and blind faith.

Zjivila's first email commented on our post 'Jews and chicken burgers', and began with a quote from our post:

""Either reject your god, explain to him/her/it the error of torturing chickens, immigrate to Israel or build a time machine and travel back to the distant past where your ignorance and primitive ways will be accepted as normal. Our suggestion: grow up and stopping obeying the barbaric wishes of an invisible fairy with a blood lust. And enjoy your milk shake with your chicken burger, make-believe gods can't smite you."
No, but real ones can and MAN, you're in for one hellova smiting!!!!!!

While you're till at it though, why don't you put your obvious abundance of spare time into fighting abortion and saving HUMAN life?
I am a person who loves animals and hates cruelty of any kind but it seems to me that are just a 'blowhard knocker!, full of spent air and no power!"

Yes Zjivila, real gods could smite us, just as real fairy godmothers and real genies could grant wishes and real witches could turn us into frogs. The crucial point that you seem to be missing is that just like the thousands of imaginary gods that people have foolishly believed in throughout the ages, your god Jehovah is just another one. For the same reasons that they were all bogus, so is yours. Just as we would be wasting our life waiting for a fairy godmother, ditto for your god. We will not fear what is not real, nor will we beg favours from sky fairies dreamed up by superstitious desert nomads.

And why in a post about chickens do you mention fighting abortion if not to vilify us, implying that we're out killing babies in our spare time? We're not, but we do support abortion, as does your imaginary god. Your god, if he exists, has through the eons deliberately aborted far, far, far more embryos and foetuses than humans have. As we explained in this article: 'The babies that have been born are only a tiny fraction of those that God has aborted'. You confuse a collection of cells with 'HUMAN life'. What about human sperm and eggs? They're alive and have the potential to become a human, so are they 'HUMAN life'? Christians have killed untold 'living' humans through religious wars, ignorance and intolerance and yet they concern themselves with the unborn. And let's also remember, based on the make up of society, that the greater proportion of women having abortions is no doubt Christian, not atheist.

Zjivila's second comment related to our blog 'Christian faith, lies and laminin' and went thus:

"'The FOOL has said in his heart there is no God'
And I would not wish to "Cast pearls before swine' but no matter what YOU say or do, one day
'Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord'
'For we must all appear, in that day, before the judgement seat of Christ that each one receive what is due him for the things done in the body whether good or bad.'
'But the cowardly and the unbelieving, the vile (....etc) will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur'

The fight you are attempting to fight is far too big for even you, you are a fool to resist God and mock His Word. His Word is sharper than a 2 edged sword, His Word created everything that is. What has been laid down since the beginning of creation will happen and you have more chance of outrunning a Tsunami than winning any fight that you choose to pick with God and his people.

'Seek yea the Lord while He may be found, call on His name and He will answer you' if you do it in earnest

Go on 'BIG' guy, I challenge you to try it, or are you afraid you will learn that He IS God and He DOES care?"

OK Zjivila, answer these questions if you're up to the challenge. If there is a god and he truly DOES care about us, why then should we worry? As you say, god 'created everything that is', that means that god created atheists. God created us deliberately not to believe in him. Lions are created to kill antelopes, birds to build nests and atheists to be without belief in gods. It's god's plan seemingly. A just and loving god could hardly punish us for behaving exactly as he had created us to behave? Could he? Is this the type of god you believe in, a god that would do such an evil thing?

If you answer that god didn't make atheists, then who did? And don't simply say that god gave us all free will, to believe as we wish. This would mean that your god says: 'You can believe what you wish, BUT, if you don't believe in me, I will torture you for all eternity, for I am a loving god. I will hide from you, I will ignore your pleas, I will create science to explain why I don't need to exist, I will plant fossils in the earth to confuse you, I will create other religions and other gods to distract you, I will allow my followers to torture and slaughter the innocent and rape small children. All these things I will do to set you against any belief in me. I will, as my bible says, place I lie in your heart, and being an all-powerful god you will not be able to see past this lie. And I will then torture you for all eternity because you, a mere human, could not defeat what I had put in place'.

Is this the god you believe in? A god that desperately wants us to love him but deliberately sets out to mislead us?

But let's say that we did believe that your god exists. Do we really have a choice in worshiping him? This is like a father saying to their child: 'You have a choice. Go to bed as I ask and all will be well, or stay up against my wishes and I will beat you mercilessly to within an inch of your life. And when your health recovers, I will repeat the beating, day in and day out, for the rest of your life'. This is not a true choice. Any child that understood that the threat was very real and believed it would be carried out would naturally go to bed as requested. Not because they wanted to, but because of fear. Fear of a monster that claims to be a loving father.

You also say that 'no matter what YOU say or do, one day, 'Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord'. This is no different to an evil dictator saying: 'One day every one of my subjects will bow before me and call me 'Wonderful Leader'. Or else they will suffer my wrath!' Again, is this how your god will rule, by force and fear?

And are you not familiar with the entire quote regarding: 'The FOOL has said in his heart there is no God'? Probably not, since you Christians always misquote it. It continues: 'They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good'. Perhaps you should read our post on just this topic. Then you can please tell us what vile, corrupt deeds we have done. What cowardly acts have we performed, what magic arts do we practice, what lies have we told that will place us in your god's lake of burning sulfur for all eternity? You accuse of these acts so you must know! What have we done that is so foul? Would you call us vile and corrupt to our faces? Can you truly say that, our disbelief aside, we have done no good?

We put it to you that you are the vile and corrupt person, or at least you should be in our view if you are a true follower of your god as you claim to be. You serve a god that punishes innocent children for the mistakes of their fathers, and you obey a god that demands you kill atheists, homosexuals, psychic mediums, witches and disobedient children, just to name a few. As your god will persecute us in death, you should be persecuting us in life. Have you killed any atheists or homosexuals? If not, why not? And don't say that human law doesn't allow you to, surely you should be obeying your god's law? What do you fear more, a few measly years in jail or an eternity in your god's sulfur lake? If you haven't killed any unbelievers or persecuted your local psychic then you are just as disobedient of god's commandments as we are. Have you ever eaten shellfish or worn clothing made of two different materials? We'll see you in Hell.

And don't say you follow the words of Jesus and the New Testament, not the despotic god from the Old Testament. They're the same god remember. The quote you started with is from the Old Testament, and if this quote from your god is to be believed, then surely so are the others. If these other quotes are no longer valid, then the very foundation of the New Testament collapses into the waste bucket of myths alongside Zeus, Osiris and Apollo.

You also said in your first comment that, 'I am a person who loves animals and hates cruelty of any kind', and yet here you admit that you worship a god that is visiting unimaginable cruelty on untold innocent humans. And yes, there is such a thing as innocent humans, even in your primitive worldview. They are the babies and humans that were never given the opportunity to hear of your god and thus could never chose to accept him. They are destined for your god's lake of burning sulfur, and torture at his hands. You have the hypocrisy and arrogance to say you abhor cruelty while kissing the feet of this monster.

Can you explain why you are so incensed at our blasphemy and why it is you emailing us and not your god? Why do you care what we say and not him? Why is he granting us free will, free speech and freedom from threats and insults, and yet you want us cowering in fear? Are you working for god or Satan?

You say we are in a fight with god, but we have never seen this imaginary opponent you speak of. We have been visited by some of his representatives, his people as you call them, and none can explain why he won't front for this fight. In fact they're a little embarrassed to admit that even they haven't seen him for thousands of years. Jesus the carpenter told his disciples that this god would appear in their lifetime, but no show. No phone calls, no email, not even a text. Nothing. Perhaps you can explain what's keeping him? What could possibly stop an all-powerful god from keeping an appointment?

You say that we should 'call on His name and He will answer you'. Evidence says otherwise, it seems he is always too busy, even to answer Christians. God's people say he is everywhere, and yet NO ONE ever sees or hears him. Many people talk to god, but the only people that say he talks back are in mental institutions or prisons. Christians die in horrible accidents at the same rate as atheists. Christians apparently have no invisible protector. When I was child and (presumably) believed in god, he never made his presence known. He took my belief for granted it seems. When I was growing up and began expressing doubt, he never called to bolster my belief and reassure me. When I rejected belief in gods completely he never called to ask why. His failure to call was as noticeable as the absence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and for the same reason. Imaginary beings can't make house calls.

You finish by telling us that your god DOES care. So again, if he cares about us, why doesn't he call, and why is he hiding in some dank cavern with Satan planning our eternal torture instead? A simple phone call could turn things around. We're waiting. He knows our numbers.

We're sorry Zjivila, but calling us pigs, accusing us of being cowardly, vile and corrupt and advising us that we are destined to be 'thrown into the lake of burning sulphur' by your evil master is actually not the best way to make us like you or want to be like you. Even though your submissive, intolerant Jehovah fan club is very real, like receiving an invite from Hitler's SS or a dictator's death squad, we would rather not join thankyou very much.

Your god gave us the freedom and intellect to not believe in him, and we will respect his wishes.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Mar, 2011 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Zjivila, 15 Mar, 2011

    Dear John,

    Did you know that John is a biblical name? It means 'Beloved of God.'
    On that basis I'm surprised that you haven't changed it since you obviously hold such a hatred for everything Divine, or is it just a simpletons scorn of everything!
    The amazing thing is that no-matter what you say, He loves you! He has placed His truths before you and if you continue to reject him your eternal torment will be even more painful wishing you hadn't.

    I've made my statement, I'm not interested in fighting with you or 'casting pearls before swine'. Nor am I interested in giving anymore time to your SILLY BELIEFS or your silly website.
    I get a lot more out of reading the Bible that reading the trollop you've written so don't waste your time and bait on me.

    God will have the last word and you'll find out!

    Goodbye, Zjivila

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 16 Mar, 2011

    So now we can all truly see how easy it is to confound a Christian. This from the person who approached us proudly proclaiming that 'The fight you are attempting to fight is far too big for even you... and you have more chance of outrunning a Tsunami than winning any fight that you choose to pick with God and his people'. For Christ's sake Zjivila, you're one of god's people, you have god on your side, supposedly the most powerful and knowledgable being in and outside the universe. And yet when we challenge your nonsense you immediately throw up your hands in defeat and do a Monty Python impression from their 'Holy Grail' movie: 'Run away! Run away!'

    This is the third post you have responded to and yet you haven't made a single criticism of our observations, not one. Beyond insulting us and smugly stating that the monster you believe in is going to torture us, you have not offered one argument in your god's defence. Maybe we couldn't win a debate with your god, but since he's a no show, 'his people' — Christians like you — are all we have to judge the validity of Christianity by. And yet not only do you offer no debate, after throwing some intolerant taunts you immediately flee the scene. You say what we write is 'trollop' (?) and written by simpletons, and yet you obviously struggle, even with your god on your defence team, to expose our reasoning as flawed.

    One minute your god cares deeply for us and our fate and the next we're just ignorant pigs that you won't lower yourself to communicate with, insisting that your god's message of love is not meant for worthless scum like us. Make up your mind Zjivila. Is that the stance that Jesus would have taken? We suspect he would be terribly embarrassed and ashamed of intolerant doomsayers like you.

    Perhaps your inability to find answers to our questions is due to your preference to restrict your reading to one book, and a work of fiction at that, written before the world even crawled into the dark ages. You say that your god will have the last word. Why can't you understand that he hasn't even had the first word? Your cowardly god refuses to talk to anyone, refuses to put his case, and his people whom he hopes will argue his case in his absence soon turn tail and run. It's easy to convince small children that there are invisible sky fairies and angels and demons spying on them from the clouds, but these silly beliefs soon fall apart when pushed at intelligent, rational adults. And the true believers like you beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the pews to be consoled and comforted by other childlike minds.

    We don't 'hold such a hatred for everything Divine', we don't hate Zeus or Ra or Thor, we don't hate angels or demons, and we don't hate long dead carpenters. Do you hate the Tooth Fairy or Peter Rabbit or Peter Pan? What we hate is that primitive myths have caused untold death and suffering throughout history, and that this persecution, intolerance and bloodshed still continues today. We don't hate the imaginary god that child-raping priests claim to follow, we hate the priests themselves and their supporters. We hate that in this era of knowledge and enlightenment there are still people believing in Bronze Age myths and trolling the internet preaching fire and brimstone.

    And you again insist that your god loves me, and that my name means 'Beloved of God'. So again, I have nothing to fear, I am beloved by your master. Regardless of what I think of him, he thinks the world of me.

    And so Zjivila, retreat into your one primitive book of myths, secretly depressed over nagging doubt and that troubling question: 'I know why god won't speak to heathens, but why won't he speak to me?' Your unwillingness — and no doubt inability — to defend your god, only increases our confidence that atheism is the correct choice for the 21st century and the future of humankind.

  3. Comment by Paul, 23 Mar, 2011

    Hi John, very pleased to see your site, sometimes it feels very lonely out here nice to know others think along the same lines as me. I too love the game of pulling apart the ideas of people like Ring-a-ding-a-ling, but it only gives us amusement because there are plenty of shit for brains fools who are right on board with Rings ideas and they can't see the wood for the trees.

    Now I have taken a deeper look into your site and see you pick on religo-nuts as well, good for you. One could get depressed about the sheer numbers of fools out here, after all they get a vote and I am not allowed to remove them from the gene pool. But on the bright side I do get to pick on them and this has always been a source of pleasure.

    My pet project is UFO believers, I like to ask them — why would a race of beings fly across the heavens to earth, fly across the cities, the schools and universities, the seats of power and on out into the hay fields and abduct a hay seed from a field and do an anal probe on them? As these fools can't answer this question I have come up with one for them — because the beings know the hayseed has no brains in the head, so they do an anal probe to see if the brain in this sub species is stored up their jacksee.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Mar, 2011

    Thanks Paul, we also are buoyed to encounter like minds. Like you we enjoy the challenge of analysing some of these weird claims, and they say we all need a hobby. And we also have an interest in challenging UFO believers, although they're not as common as religious nutters. You might be interested in our article on 'UFOs and Aliens'. Like the religious believers, we find that most know little about their belief, they simply believe. On the plus side, it's easier to convince run-of-the mill UFO believers that we're not being abducted from our beds than it is to convince the religious that Satan isn't watching them in the shower.

  5. Comment by Archie, 24 Mar, 2011

    nice article! your very right, god is just another way of trying to explain how us humans came to be, as did many other civilizations. They just pushed it much further (almost got me as a kid, splash a little water on my head and im saved?...) I just dont understand WHY and how they pushed it so far?

    keep up the good work!!

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Mar, 2011

    I guess Archie that your observation would be correct no matter which civilisation you found yourself in throughout history. You would be enveloped in a dominant religion and wondering why everyone was worshiping a hawk headed god or sacrificing good virgins atop the local pyramid or whatever. Why were you surrounded by gullible idiots following obvious nonsense? The only thing that has changed is the names of the gods.

  7. Comment by mikey, 19 Aug, 2011

    I remember being a kid and my parents filling my head with nonsense, like Santa, the Easter bunny and the Tooth fairy etc.

    Well now that I'm older I don't fall for that garbage anymore, thank God.

  8. Comment by Bob, 20 Aug, 2011

    Since I have made it known to my family I want to be cremated I don't see how I can be burned twice. I burnt my toast this morning. There was no way I could burn it twice since it was utterly wrecked the first time.

    This burn in hell business comes from old ideas as does all religion. The best explanation I have heard was the threat to throw people on burning rubbish dumps located outside of towns in ancient Israel. These dumps were smoky and stank to high heaven. It was quite likely dead animals were thrown on them. As stories and ideas became embellished the rubbish dump became hell after death.

    Throughout history every culture has had weird religious ideas, some cruel and making no sense. It is only in recent times we have started to think logically and scientifically. We as individuals are lucky to live in this era and not several hundred years ago. Religion is declining because it has nothing new to say. On the other hand modern scientifically based ideas are going from strength to strength. I feel the scientific future will be a case of "you haven't seen anything yet". The manipulation of DNA will undermine God's perceived control of human life. Even democracy owes little to religion. Religion emphasises control of ordinary people by leaders with God given rights. Democracy owes it's existence to ideas of secular equality.

    The kind of response you get from people like Zjivila is one of ignorance.

  9. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 21 Aug, 2011

    Yes Bob, I think you're probably right with your origin of Hell. There was a valley outside Jerusalem where rubbish was burned, and in Greek this place was called Gehenna, which is evidently where this concept of Hell comes from. The belief was that sinners would end up there to suffer the attack of fire and maggots.

Scientology and inappropriate touching
We saw on last night's TV3 news that astrologers are not the only pseudoscientific nutters that have, like moths to a flame, been drawn to the Christchurch earthquake. Unlike astrologer Ken Ring they're brave enough to actually go there and lend a hand. The nutters we refer to are scientologists who have turned up en masse in their monogrammed yellow t-shirts to supposedly perform stress releasing massages on all and sundry.

Of course many people respond positively to a relaxing massage and a comforting word, so many people might be fooled into thinking that these scientologists might be on to something, some mystical healing method that conventional wisdom is ignorant of. Just as others think, thanks to Ken Ring, that maybe astrology does have something to offer us after all. But they are both wrong. They are pushing nonsense that may well comfort the gullible (or terrify in the case of Ring), but the reasons scientologists give to explain stress and recovery are bogus. Like silly Reiki and therapeutic touch practitioners, they talk about negative energy and energy blockages within the body, and claim that by groping your body they can detect these blockages and magically clear them away. If only recovery from traumatic events was that easy.

Scientologists call Scientology a religion, but that's only so that they can receive massive tax savings in countries that are stupid enough to allow it. Sure, just like Christians have Jesus, Buddhists have Buddha and Muslims have Mohamed, scientologists have Xenu the alien galactic ruler. But as the words alien and galactic might suggest, Scientology is closer to a pseudoscience than it is to a religion, invented as it was by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Scientologists are closer to astrologers — stars, planets and mysterious galactic forces affecting humans — than they are to religions threatening hell and damnation.

But like Ken Ring himself, one has to question the motivation of these scientologists. Is it, like for Ring, just a PR exercise, designed to raise their profile with distressed and vulnerable victims of the quake? We've seen them at other disasters and they're now planning to rush off to Japan to comfort them following their quake and tsunami. Many will be saying: before this we hadn't even heard of Ken Ring and/or scientologists. Like Ring, the scientologists are offering their services for free, but they are obviously hoping that people will remember who helped in a time of need and when things return to normal, hope that these people might be tempted to look more into the claims of Scientology (ditto Ken Ring). Then these people will discover that to go further into Scientology will cost money, lots and lots of money. And the money will only be buying nonsense. The same with Ken Ring, suddenly they find that to get his predictions — which are mainly on weather and short on earthquakes — they need to buy his almanac every year. Suddenly these caring people that are desperately trying to help others start moaning about overheads and mortgages and families to feed. Suddenly their helpful advice has a fee attached.

It's the same as some of those Christian soup kitchens etc that won't give you your soup until you've listened to a sermon from their bible. Converting you is their true mission, feeding you is just the bait. Come on... just a little bit closer.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Mar, 2010 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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