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

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Paying for their parents' sins
Recently Patrick sent us the following observation, and it once again highlights how some arrogant religious-minded people push beliefs that, if they were true, would actually be quite immoral.
'I don't know if it's the case in New Zealand, but in my country many people say that when something bad happens to someone he or she is paying for their parents' sins. And I say to myself that if people reason like that in my country, it must also be the case in several other countries. I think that it's an excellent example of "silly belief".

There's sometimes a hint of truth in peoples' silly beliefs, but this drop of truth gets dissolved in an ocean of absurdity. Let's say that one or both of Hector's parents are compulsive gamblers. It's therefore very likely that Hector will be living in poverty (at least during his youth). Yes, that's because of his parents mistake. But to proclaim (and many people do, at least where I live) that everything bad that happens to people is because they are paying for their parents' sins is simply grotesque. It's not only intellectually absurd but it's also offensive for the parents.

In fact there is probably a correlation between this way of thinking and the famous "Original Sin". Humanity is paying for Adam and Eve's original sin. We must be really lucky that God loves us and is sinless.

Oh, really?'

We're certainly familiar with the belief that problems in life can be blamed on the sins of the parents, and it is indeed a silly belief. Of course there are real physical examples, such as gambler parents, where their mistakes in life would likely impact on their children's wellbeing, but when we hear this claim most often it normally refers to a supernatural cause, where children are being targeted and punished specifically because of something their parents did. It's not the parents directly harming their children, even unintentionally, but some god judging their parents and deciding for some obscene reason to punish the children for the actions of their parents. Thankfully this accusation is seldom expressed publicly in NZ these days, although I'm sure there are still religious fundamentalists that express it privately. In the USA when bad things happen to innocent people you still hear many fundamentalists attributing this suffering as indirect punishment from God. And with reincarnation, people such as Hindus claim that suffering in a present life is caused by bad actions in a previous life. The present innocent person is being punished even though someone else, a person they are utterly unaware of, performed the wrongful action, and escaped punishment. Many people from past times believed that disasters and disease were a punishment from the gods for some wrongdoing committed by someone. If you got the plague it was deliberate punishment for some past action on somebody's part, not necessarily the person who actually ends up suffering.

According to a character in a TV episode of the animated comedy 'South Park', and remembering that they are usually commenting on real issues that concern Americans, if someone is born with a deformity it was because their parents had laughed at a handicapped person before they were born, or, according to the Catholic Church, your parents simply had sex in a position other than the missionary position.

But why would people think that innocent children are punished by a god because of what their parents might have done? Is there any reason to believe this horrendous sounding claim could be true? Well, if you're not too bright and religious, then yes there is. The Bible clearly states, many times (and these passages apply to Jews, Christians and Muslims), that completely innocent children will be punished by God for 'the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation', and in some cases right through to the tenth generation. Here are some examples of children that will be punished because of what their parents did (or didn't do):

'And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God... does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."' EX 34:6-7

'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' NU 14:18

'...for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me...' DT 5:9

'No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.' DT 23:2

'Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.' DT 23:7-8

And look at how the innocent children and wife of a man who sinned are to be treated:
'May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes... May no one... take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.' PS 109:9-15
It disgusts me that Christians go on about 'family first' and yet this is how they expect their God and you and I to treat an innocent family. And Jesus later continues this hatred of families with statements such as,
'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple'. LK 14:26
Conversely there are also promises from God that later generations will receive rewards and protection from God, even if they aren't deserving of this:
'The LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation."' 2KI 10:30
As stupid as the belief is, people that are true believers certainly have good reasons to see God's handiwork in anything bad that happens. If the Bible is telling the truth, then without doubt bad things happen to good people because of the sins that their parents (or grandparents, greatgrandparents etc) committed.

But as Patrick says, this notion is both grotesque and offensive. Where is the justice in punishing a child for a wrongful act committed by a parent before they were even born? Is it just and right to punish a person who is without any doubt completely innocent of the crime they are being punished for? Surely true justice should punish the guilty party, and only the guilty party?

Clearly God is attempting to get people to follow his rules by instilling fear into his followers, and he does this by threatening innocent children. No doubt then as now some people were prepared to commit wrongful acts and suffer the consequences if they were caught. But how many of them would have committed illegal acts if they believed their own innocent children and grandchildren would be the ones that would be mistreated, imprisoned, tortured and/or killed in their stead? And who but a monster would deliberately torture and kill a child for a crime committed by his dead grandfather? Why do Christians (and Jews and Muslims) freely worship a being that not only threatens innocent children, but makes good on his threats, blowing them up in wars, drowning them in floods, burning them in fires, afflicting them with disease and targeting them for rape by his priests? Imagine if a human dictator behaved like this. A man robs a bank and escapes justice, so the dictator simply arrests his young children and has them executed. A man rapes a woman but dies of a heart attack when he is arrested, so his 6 month-old baby girl is arrested in his place and given life imprisonment. Imagine if this dictator's police were to knock on your door right now and arrest you for something your great grandfather did a hundred years ago. It's no good saying you didn't do it, that you're innocent. They know only too well that you didn't commit the crime, you're being punished for something someone else did. And what defence is there against a charge such as that? You could say it's not just or fair, that it's immoral, but you'd be reminded that what is just and moral is whatever the person in charge says it is. How long would it take before a popular revolt happened and the dictator was dragged from power and found himself imprisoned or executed? Name one society from history where people willingly supported such blatant injustice?

Of course you might be tempted to name some Jewish, Christian or Muslim societies. But the reality is that I've never encountered a Jew, Christian or Muslim that for one moment would willingly support such injustice and blatant cruelty. If confronted with the suffering of one of their children, they would all plead with God that he can't torture their child because of something they did, and they would angrily argue with an atheist like me that he would never do such a disgusting thing. They would in fact essentially deny the passages in their holy book that categorically asserts that their god is a right vicious bastard. Decent Jews, Christians and Muslims can only worship their god by denying the many embarrassing and offensive passages that clearly depict him as a sadistic demon rather than a loving god.

But let's assume that some ignorant believers truly accept that bad things happen to them, their children or their community because of some wrongdoing committed by others, perhaps by others that are long dead. A lot of people are clearly stupid enough to believe this, but are they stupid enough to accept this as fair? My experience is that even stupid, uneducated people are generally very quick to complain when they believe they are being treated unfairly. If they are fired from their job or refused access to a bar or sense discrimination or are denied some benefit etc then they quickly, and perhaps rightly, seek legal redress. In the world controlled by humans they don't stand for injustice. So they clearly recognise human injustice, so I can't accept that they can't see the gross injustice involved in their God punishing innocent children. So how do they balance the contradictory Biblical beliefs that their god is a loving, just god and also a vicious, unjust god stalking the world killing children? Of course they can't explain this example of cognitive dissonance. They start mumbling and usually deny that God would punish the innocent, which means that they're now again arguing that the Bible is wrong in places. When I point this out they usually end up explaining, in essence, that they don't accept the passages in the Bible that they don't like or agree with. I didn't realise that we had a choice, that we could pick and choose what sort of god we wanted. I'm forever amazed that Christians aren't troubled by the realisation that they are as disbelieving about many Biblical claims about God as are atheists.

Of course a few fundamentalists do openly accept that God is causing the deaths of the innocent, but insist that this is forced on him by people that sin, that break his commandments. We are warned in the Bible so we only have ourselves to blame. They realise that it is unjust in human terms of justice, but God works in mysterious ways we're told, and we can't apparently comprehend his level of divine justice. They accept that if a human leader acted as God does then he should be arrested and punished, but that we can't judge God's behaviour the way we judge our fellow humans. But this raises a problem. If we can't understand and judge God's behaviour, then how do we know that what he does is indeed right, good and just? If we don't know or understand God, how can we judge him? Let's say I know someone called Bob who has just travelled to Australia, and I asked you whether he could be trusted in what he's doing in Australia. Of course you would answer that you can't judge Bob as a good person since you know nothing about him. If I then revealed some of his activities you would then likely judge him on how he compared with what you considered moral behaviour.

Generally we can all agreed on what we consider is right, good and just behaviour for a human, who we accept isn't perfect, so shouldn't God's behaviour run in the same direction as ideal human behaviour, just at a much higher level? While we may not understand God's reasoning, we can certainly see how God behaves. He punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers, and this behaviour if committed by a human would be judged as abhorrent. So why do true believers condemn humans for harming innocent children but at the same time worship God for doing the same thing? If humans are only capable of judging human behaviour, if that is our only yardstick and if God's actions are beyond us, shouldn't our logic argue that based on all we know about justice, then God's behaviour with innocent children, being so different from what we aspire to, is likely very wrong? After all, what alternative arguments do we have that punishing the innocent might sometimes work better?

And it's not just God punishing children for the sins of the father, God is infamous, if the Bible is to be believed, for wiping out entire communities, cities and even life on the entire planet because of the sins of one or a few. Men, women and children, God had no problem with slaughtering untold innocent folk as punishment for a sin or moral transgression committed by others that they had likely never even heard of. In the Flood of Noah, because of the behaviour of some in the Middle East, God also killed every innocent man, woman and child in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas even though they had never heard of God or knew that they might be breaking some of his commandments. In modern times we have fundamentalists insisting that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans or the earthquakes that hit Christchurch were actually caused by God as punishment for many in society becoming accepting or tolerant of homosexuality or abortion or prostitution or ... well, the list is endless of the things that true believers and their god are offended by. While some homosexuals or prostitutes no doubt suffered in these disasters, many people that were punished most likely weren't at all tolerant of homosexuality and prostitution, and yet they were made to suffer like everyone else. Being innocent won't save you from God's anger at others, so what advantage does being a believer bring in this life? And it's not just Christians who have no problem with their god punishing innocent people. Do you remember the Islamic cleric who argued that women in revealing clothing cause Allah to punish us with earthquakes, or the Malaysian locals that claimed that some naked tourists offended their invisible mountain spirits, and these spirits went on to punish some innocent tourists some days later? If some human leader, official or government targeted and punished the innocent and ignored the real guilty party, all these human believers in gods would demand justice while calling for the leader or official to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. And yet when their god does the same but on a far greater scale, they drop to their knees and praise him for punishing the innocent rather than the guilty, and implore that we do the same.

OK, so it's easy to assert, but is there any good evidence that 'problems in life can be blamed on the sins of the parents'? We would argue that there is not. We all know of people, both from history and from our own lives, who have suffered some misfortune apparently through no fault of their own, and while you could argue that they are being punished by God for the sins of their fathers, you could equally argue that they are being attacked by evil fairies or trans-dimensional aliens or a witch's curse. There is no evidence that any of these beings are the cause of the innocent suffering. We laugh at people when they blame gremlins for their bad luck, we should do likewise when they blame some god.

The problem is that if someone insists on 'the sins of the parents' argument, there is no way of proving that this is bogus as there is no way of proving that our long dead ancestors didn't commit some sin that we don't know of. We can argue that our ancestors were decent, good, god-fearing people, but of course we can't really know this with any certainty. We may 'know' that they weren't murderers, rapists or criminals of any stripe, but let's remember that there are some 613 commandments in the Bible that most people break on a regular basis and numerous other ways that one can sin in the eyes of God. Your ancestors may have been decent people in human ethical terms, but flagrant sinners in God's eyes. For example, working on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, not Sunday, is a serious sin, it's one of the Ten Commandments, wearing clothing made of two different fabrics is a sin, and then there's the one about sexual thoughts and cute women in mini skirts:

'"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' MT 5:27-28
OK, so it doesn't mention mini skirts, or even that the women have to be of a certain cuteness, but I'm still screwed. While people that know me would say that I'm a decent person, in God's eyes I have committed virtual adultery untold times, and worse still, I show no signs of reforming. And as I write this Xmas approaches, so did your parents or grandparents ever erect and decorate a Xmas tree? Are you familiar with this Biblical passage?:
'This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations ... For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.' JER 10:2-4
Clearly God will not be pleased with your Xmas tree, even if you do stick an angel on top. So no matter how upright you think you are or your ancestors were, the reality is that everyone sins in God's eyes, so Christians can always argue that bad things happen because of something your ancestors did. You can't deny that your ancestors sinned, because clearly they would have, even if it was something that you might consider as utterly innocuous and hardly worthy of real punishment. So every fundamentalist can argue that bad things happen to good people because their ancestors will have definitely sinned in some way, and we skeptics can't deny this, but at the same time neither the believer nor the skeptic can show a real connection between the present bad event or the unknown sin that is claimed to have caused it. We know bad things happen to innocent people, but we can't prove that some ancient sin did or didn't cause it. But we can prove the opposite.

By this I mean we know that some people have had really great lives with nothing bad happening to them, but at the same time we know that their father or grandfather etc most definitely sinned in the eyes of God, and not just a bit of lusting, but murder, rape, torture, slavery and other heinous crimes. From history and from our own communities we know of people that haven't been punished because of the sins of the father. Children of murderers or rapists or atheists often lead good lives sans the punishment that the Bible promises. Even though we may not know why most innocent people are being punished by God since we don't know what their fathers did, we know exactly what murderers and rapists did and so we should see without exception predictable suffering in the lives of every one of their children. And yet we don't. Every child and grandchild of a man guilty of some serious crime should have real suffering visited upon them, no matter how much they strive to distance themselves from their ancestor's deeds and try to lead good lives. Suffering is what God has promised, and surely we must believe that God can be trusted to do what he promised. But again, clearly there is no connection with the present suffering of children and the blatant evil deeds of their dead ancestors. Likewise we see cities where crime is rampant, where prostitution is widespread, where homosexuality is anything but hidden and where abortion clinics are legal. We know of popular beaches where nudity is common and countries where atheism has overtaken religion. But these cities and countries which we're told are offensive to God don't suffer from disasters, or God's wrath, any more often than do cities and countries that go out of their way to please God. In fact, the more irreligious a city or country is, generally the safer it is to live there. There is without doubt more suffering from disasters, disease, poverty, famine, warfare and religious hatred in countries where religion controls the minds of the population. It's almost as if God can only punish you, or your kids, if you choose to believe in him.

And Patrick is correct, there is correlation between 'Adam and Eve's original sin' and God choosing to punish the innocent rather than the guilty. Unfamiliar with social niceties, God's utter confusion on how to deal fairly with the carefree nudist couple in the newly established Eden resort was where it all started. When they ate the forbidden fruit that God had foolishly placed in the fruit section of their supermarket, God made terrible choices that would forever damage his claim of being a wise, loving and just god. We all know the story, but the true believers gloss over how naïve and childlike Adam and Eve must have been. They weren't like your typical nudist couple that you might meet today, well yes they were totally naked, but appearances (and lusting) aside, if you got to chatting you would have found that they were the most ignorant people you'd ever met, knowing little more about the world and life than does a crash test dummy. It's not that they weren't intelligent, it's just that they were very young, probably less than a year old, very inexperienced and with no access to education. Then along comes a talking serpent, I mean you and I would be suspicious right there and then, but not Eve. But in Eve's defence, she apparently knew enough to know that God was keeping them ignorant, so she ate from 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' because, according to the Bible, she was 'desirable for gaining wisdom'. But as we know, God was extremely pissed by this turn of events, even though being all-knowing he already knew this was going to happen even before he created her. I guess this is like pretending to act surprised at a surprise party that you knew about in advance. So anyway, then God punishes Adam and Eve for making the wrong choices, but let's recall that before they ate the fruit neither Adam or Eve knew what the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil were. They only gained this wisdom after the fact, by eating the fruit, and yet God punished them as if they already possessed the 'knowledge of good and evil' when they made the uninformed choice to take a bite. This is like a parent punishing a two-year-old toddler for trying to drink alcohol, even though it will be many years before the child will understand how alcohol differs from other drinks. All a responsible parent should do is keep the alcohol away from little hands, he shouldn't pour it into a glass and put it the toddler's crib next to some fizzy drink. So right here God makes a very unjust, totally unfair and frankly irrational decision to punish Adam and Eve as if they were knowledgeable and rational adults, rather than as the naïve children they really were, albeit in adult bodies. Clearly God doesn't have the knowledge or ability to fairly judge anyone. His treatment of Adam and Eve is a gross injustice, but unfortunately his ineptitude doesn't end there. God decides that not only will he punish Adam and Eve for disobeying him, he will also punish billions and billions of people that haven't even been born yet for a sin that they had no part in. What could be fairer than that, condemning everyone that will ever live to unnecessary suffering, and not because they did something wrong, but because they did nothing wrong? This is like a judge sentencing a rapist to life imprisonment, then going on to sentence his tearful victim to life imprisonment too, but he doesn't stop there, he then sentences everyone in the courtroom to life imprisonment; family members, lawyers, police officers and those in the public gallery, everyone. We would consider a judge that did this insane and remove him from any position of authority, and yet true believers willingly throw their full support behind their heavenly judge when he falsely condemns not just a single courtroom, but an entire species.

That silly religious folk in this modern age can still believe that some god is poking around in our lives, putting rainbows in the sky, causing disasters and stuffing souls into babies is bad enough, but that they also support this god when he kills innocent children because of something someone else did, often something quite piddling, then that is a belief that is obscene, monstrous, shameful and reprehensible. I truly don't know how they can openly admit to belief in such a fiend.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Dec, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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How to fake a haunted house
With Halloween nearly upon us, last night the producers of TV3's 'Story' decided to use their investigative skills to run a story about ghosts that apparently frequent a haunted house in little old NZ. Recent investigations on the program have been into the laws around purchasing firearms and whether bacon and processed meat is carcinogenic, so viewers surely view their stories as important, serious and well researched, and not just some silly bullshit that we would find in the tabloids, as told to them by a friend of Kim Kardashian.

But of course viewers were mislead, the piece was apparently nothing more than a cheap promo for a NZ-made horror movie that is due for release on Halloween. I have no problem with movie promos, the problem I have is that the 'Story' item tried to convince us that the haunted house that was the inspiration for the movie was real and they were going to give us an exclusive look at it. So secret was the location of this haunted house that, mirroring something from international espionage, the investigative reporter and cameraman had to submit to being blindfolded so they couldn't see where they were being taken. All they knew is that the 'historic rural farmhouse' was somewhere in Central Otago. On TV3's website it reads that:

'In the backblocks of Otago lies a house so haunted the owner does not want anyone to know where it is. But Story found it.
Two filmmakers were so inspired by the house they decided to make a film about it...
Story went to investigate the house which has been captured on the big screen and so scary... '
OK, so according to this article — 'Central Otago haunted house legend captured on film' — the movie called 'The Dead Room', directed by Jason Stutter and co-written by Stutter and Kevin Stevens, is based on the urban legend of two science teachers who in the early 1970s visit the historic rural farmhouse to debunk claims the house is haunted. They reportedly flee because of some terrifying and unexplained events'. So it's actually just a silly urban legend involving two people and no real details. Clearly the writers sensed that there wasn't a movie in that skimpy urban legend, so we're told that 'when they put pen to paper in 2012, the story turned into a classic horror about two paranormal investigators who hire the services of a reluctant spirit medium who goes with them to the house where a powerful spirit resides, protecting the house's secrets at all costs'. In other words, the movie plot is fictional, and merely inspired by the fact that people sometimes get scared in what they naively believe is a haunted house. But the movie's promoters clearly thought that the movie could profit by having a real house that it was all based on, so we're told that,
'During the pair's research they tracked down the house's location and its owner.
"We asked if we could check it out and he didn't initially want us to. He was worried about people knowing where it was. But he let us go down there and checked out the house. It was really creepy."
There were some unexplained occurrences while the crew was on location to decide if it was feasible to film there, including locked doors opening and camera equipment not working, he said.
"I would not want to stay there."
They decided to rebuild the house in a Wellington studio.'
In another article, it's reaffirmed that the house shown in the 'Story' program is the real haunted house that the movie is based on,
'Intrigued enough to begin researching the project, through a contact, Stutter, to his surprise, managed to track down the actual house.'
We're also again told that 'the owner... gradually... opened up a bit and let us come down to measure it up and shoot some footage, so we could recreate it at Avalon Studios'.

But anyone seeing the 'Story' program should quickly see a problem with this claim, that the actual haunted house was measured and recreated at Avalon Studios. This is because the 'real' haunted house is a quite small mud brick house, and the house in the movie is a much larger wooden house, possibly even a two-storied house. Apart from the fact that they both have a door and two windows at the front, there is no similarity. Clearly they didn't recreate the original house because it was far too small to hide in and any fleeing ghost hunter could run through the front door and out the back door in just a few strides. Not much room for scary tension there.

'Story' reporter Julian Lee meets movie makers Jason Stutter and Kevin Stevens at an undisclosed Central Otago location, and Sutter describes the haunted house they are about to drive to:

'You know when you go into a place and you can cut through the atmosphere ... it has this awful feeling about it.'
Around 90 minutes later, or so we're told, they arrive at the haunted house and the front door that should have been locked is found to be ajar. Ghosts? Apparently these ghosts can't walk through walls, but they can open locked doors. With clearly faked shots of doors slamming shut, Stutter states that 'I just always feel that it's got a really weird kind of feeling about this place', and in one article it's revealed that when they were there previously,
'strange things began to happen at the house. "I don't know if it was just because somebody told us. I don't believe in ghosts, but I just felt the vibe of this place and felt something was really amiss".'
We're shown some fleeting and carefully selected images of the house, presumably so that people can't identify it and visit, and then Lee begins to wrap up the visit by saying, 'Jason and Kevin admit to be cynics about the whole story, but cynicism has a limit'. Cut to Sutter who explains, 'Things being moved out of place. People have said they've heard the ghost walking down here', and then the reporter interrupts when he 'finds' a scribbled note on a pad that says: 'STAY AWAY'. Lee then finishes with, 'It doesn't really matter how skeptical you are though, this place will make you reflect on everything you think you know'. The item then fades out to the sound of a woman screaming for help.

Seriously, how could the moronic reporter, with the little that he saw, conclude that there was indeed good reason for an informed skeptic to rethink his view of ghosts? One could suspect that he has no understanding of what skepticism means, but the reality is more likely that he was simply making up nonsense to charm the viewers who are believers in this spooky stuff. Clearly the old mud brick house is not the house in the movie, but might it still be the haunted house of the urban legend, were they right when they said 'It was really creepy' and 'I would not want to stay there'?

No. They were either lying outright or are the most gullible and easily frightened people on the planet. The historic house simply fitted the profile of what people expect a haunted place to look like. Find a spooky house and connect an invented ghost story to it. Of course I know what you're thinking, I'm only assuming that the place wasn't really creepy, and would I spend the night there? It's easy to be brave about haunted houses when you're somewhere else with the lights on.

But here's the thing. Unlike the blindfolded reporter I do know where the haunted house is, and I have actually spent many an enjoyable night under its roof. It's a mud brick house built by one of the first European settlers to the area and owned by a friend of a friend (or at least it was). Just four small rooms with no electricity or running water, and when I stayed there some years ago just a large open fire, although I note there is now a modern firebox installed. Staying there one got a feeling of how the early pioneers lived, but the one thing I didn't feel was the presence of any ghost, and neither did any of my friends. Nothing spooky ever happened, the doors never unlocked themselves, and there was never an atmosphere of dread. It was a great place to relax. There was no running and screaming. Except on bath day, the bath being out under the trees and the water not always as hot as it could be.

In case you doubt my story, the picture on the left is a screen shot from the 'Story' video, and the one on the right is as it looked on one of my stays. A few changes since I was there, but clearly it's the same place.

Haunted house

It's no wonder that many unsophisticated folk still believe in ghosts, haunted houses and things that go bump in the night when TV shows pretending to be staffed by investigative journalists produce serious items that appear to lend support to these silly beliefs. Likewise the movie makers who tell us that they 'don't believe in ghosts, but... ', then go on to imply that they might soon change their minds. Why do these wankers feel they have to be open to the possibly of ghosts to promote their movie? Probably so they won't appear arrogant in the eyes of the ghost-believing theatre goers that they want to attract to their movie. And yet you don't see the makers of hobbit or superhero movies having to pretend to believe in hobbits or superheroes to promote their movies. But it's the producers and presenters of programs like 'Story' that really astound me. They desperately want to be respected and taken seriously in their reporting, and they are often highly educated, well qualified and in a position to make a real difference in educating their viewers, but they will happily sit there and tell blatant lies supported by faked video, all in the name of ratings. They probably think they're merely giving the ignorant masses what they want, and if they're silly enough to believe in ghosts in this day and age, well there's probably no helping them anyway. Some silly fluff pieces keep their gullible viewers happy and the presenters well paid. They don't care that they're responsible for all those movie goers that will see this latest horror movie and argue, 'It's based on a real story you know, a real haunted house in Central Otago, no honestly, I saw it on that TV current affairs program that follows the News'.

It's perhaps easy to understand why some believe there's a conspiracy to keep the masses superstitious and mired in ignorance. However I don't believe this, it's merely far easier and more profitable to make, promote and sell nonsense. And the trouble is that if you're willing to pander to ghost believers, perhaps even giggling under your breath as you make a serious delivery, then why might you not also pander to promoters of organic food or homeopathy or those that deny climate change or the moon landing? As soon as an investigative TV program demonstrates that ratings easily trump doing the right thing, refusing to tell an inconvenient truth, how can viewers have any confidence in the integrity of their next story?

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Oct, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Graeme Hill, 30 Oct, 2015

    Aptly enough I have Joe Nickell, paranormal investigator extraordinaire on the Weekend Variety Wireless this Sunday from 10pm. You may take this as shameless marketing or a decent heads-up of interest and relevance.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Oct, 2015

    Oh excellent Graeme. I've been a fan of Joe Nickell's work for years as he's exposed the nonsense behind everything from ghosts and UFOs to the Shroud of Turin. Your interviews, as opposed to much of the media, give me reason to hope that there might yet be a chance to open the minds of some to the reality of the universe.

  3. Comment by Mira, 31 Oct, 2015

    Hello John, my friend Sue lives on Albert Road opposite Albert Park Lake Victoria.
    Up the stairs & across the landing, half way across the landing, one is filled with a feeling of trepidation, just that one spot, many have felt it & without being previously told. Sue's cat will not cross that particular spot by itself in either direction, Sue carries it across coming & going.
    It is a newly built 2 story town house.
    Go figure.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Oct, 2015

    Hi Mira. Naturally I don't think a ghost or anything paranormal is the cause of that 'feeling of trepidation', although I accept that the feeling is no doubt real to some. But there are many invisible but entirely natural things that can cause us to get weird feelings. One that has been put forward is infrasound, and the movie makers that I wrote about even incorporated infrasound into their soundtrack in an attempt to give their audience spooky feelings at appropriate times in the movie. You'd have to experience the movie in a theatre to see if you felt anything, but if you did, remember that it was the speakers causing it, not the ghosts on the screen.

    Spook In her book 'Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife', Mary Roach writes that infrasound is inaudible, low-frequency sound waves that run from zero to twenty hertz, and that 'If the source is powerful enough, infrasound can... engender all manner of mysterious-seeming phenomena'. Some other points were that infrasound can

    'cause vision irregularities: sometimes blurring, sometimes a vibrating visual field'.

    'infrasound can, in a small percentage of the population, set off vibrations in the liquid inside the cochlea. These vibrations — which happen because of an uncommon anatomical weakness in the bone structure of the ear — could create a sudden, inexplicable feeling of motion, which could lead to the unease that some of the cellar visitors reported.'

    'What if the feelings people report when they think they've been in the presence of spirits are in fact the effects of infrasound? The more [Tandy] thought about it, the more sense it made. Old buildings have thicker, more solid walls, which resonate better. And old abandoned castles and cellars often have no furniture or curtains to absorb sound waves. Infrasound would also help explain why reports of ghosts are often localized — why people sense a presence in just one part of a room. Infrasound tends to "pool" — it registers strongly in the spots where the peaks and troughs of sound waves overlap, and disappears where peak and trough cancel each other out. Tandy even has an infrasound-based explanation for why people sometimes feel cold in the presence of what they take to be a ghost. Infrasound can activate the fight-or-flight response, and part of that response is a curtailing of blood to the extremities. Hence the chills (and the racing heart and thus, it stands to reason, the unease).'

    It was also noted that 'It is thought that only a small portion of the population is sensitive to infrasound', and that apparently 'tigers use infrasound to ward off potential rivals'.

    In our modern technological world there could be many devices that are emitting inaudible infrasound, from a faulty air conditioning fan on a nearby building to an annoying neighbour's stereo. Of course infrasound may not be the cause of your friend's mystery spot Mira, but I mention it to show that there are natural, non-spooky causes that most people have never heard of, and they all need to be eliminated before we can honestly say that a strange feeling is truly mysterious.

  5. Comment by David, 31 Oct, 2015

    'or those that deny climate change or the moon landing?'
    Not many people actually deny climate change, but there is good reason to question the case being made that CO2 emissions are causing catastrophic global warming and that so far at least, the effects of increased CO2 are largely positive. I would have thought that a blog that supports scientific thought and reason would be just a little concerned by climate activists who claim that the "science is settled" and want to prosecute people expressing contrary views. Even denying the moon landing has some logic, this was at the height of the cold war and neither side was above using tricks and deception to get psychological advantage. Subsequent space exploration seems to show that in that case the doubts were unfounded.
  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Nov, 2015

    Sorry David, but I must disagree, many people do deny climate change, and specifically that humans are contributing to it. I've met far more people that express doubts about climate change than the likes of the moon landing. You only have to look at the media and politicians worldwide. Debates about climate change are widespread, yet no media or politicians are arguing about the moon landing.

    I'm not a fan of talking specifically about 'global warming' rather than 'climate change', since many people then argue that a temperature drop somewhere means the planet isn't warming, or that an increase in destructive storms has no connection to warming, whereas in reality global warming causes many complex changes in our climate, not just a simple increase in temperature, which many people think would be a good thing anyway, nice summer temperatures all year round!

    When I talk about people denying climate change, I refer to the germ of the idea, that the climate is changing due to increasing global temperatures and that humans are likely contributing to that increase. Get into a debate with anyone and that is the point that drives the conflict. I think that most people, apart from some religious fundamentalists, accept that climate can change and has changed in the past, for example they accept that the ice ages happened, and that it could be changing at the moment. The real arguments, at least in the public sphere, revolve around whether humans are contributing to any change, and what we could or should do about it.

    A Wikipedia article — Climate change opinion by country — (which admits it could be a little out-of-date), lists that roughly half of the populations in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA question whether global warming or climate change is 'caused by human activity', and apparently this is your stance too. So yes, when anything like 50% of the public disagrees with the other half, I think we can say without exaggeration that many people deny climate change.

    Here is a typical and recent article about views in the USA, not exactly a small, uninfluential country, which I think gives a good summary of the debate. In contrast to past years, the majority of Americans seem to have got on board with 'global warming', but it quickly goes down hill from there:

    'Poll: Americans Don't Think Climate Change Will Affect Them Personally'

    First, Americans overwhelmingly agree that global warming is happening...

    But the basic fact of rising temperatures is about the only point where public opinion matches the science. The new data also show that a majority of U.S. counties remain unconvinced that global warming is caused "mostly by human activities." ... (nearly 80 percent) disagree with that sentiment...

    The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's most highly regarded body of climate scientists, was emphatic on this point, saying it is now "extremely likely" that humanity is the dominant cause of global warming. The new polling data show Americans seem unconvinced by scientists in general, with ... more than 97 percent ... disagreeing with the statement that "most scientists think global warming is happening." In fact, 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real.

    A lot of this disconnect between public opinion and scientific consensus can probably be traced back to the intense politicization of climate science in recent years, funded largely by interests within the fossil fuel industry. Climate change is now the single most polarizing issue in America.

    That's clearly shown in the new poll's assessment of how Americans feel about the risks associated with global warming: Residents of more than half of U.S. counties aren't worried about climate change ... or about 62 percent ... Worse: There wasn't even one county in which a majority of respondents believe global warming will harm them personally. In sharp contrast ... (more than 99 percent) do agree that future generations are at risk...'

    So 'global warming is happening', but there's no way that it's our fault, and it's certainly not a problem anyway. But then strangely, at the same time 'more than 99 percent' of Americans 'do agree that future generations are at risk'. There seems be no thought that even if it's not directly our fault, could there be anything we might do that could reduce the problem for our grandchildren?

    You go on to say that you 'would have thought that a blog that supports scientific thought and reason would be just a little concerned by climate activists who claim that the "science is settled" and want to prosecute people expressing contrary views'. For a start, I take little notice of what 'climate activists', from either side of the debate, go on about. As believers in free speech, of course we would never support prosecuting people for expressing contrary views, and only true conspiracy theorists would believe that this is what scientists and governments backed by teams of lawyers are arguing for.

    But you're right that we are 'a blog that supports scientific thought and reason', and as such we use reason to side with scientific consensus. We support evolution over creationism since nearly all scientists side with evolution, plus their evidence and reasoning is far more convincing, and it can be shown that the few opposing scientists are usually motivated in their views by religion, not science. We support the big bang theory over creationism for the same reasons. Ditto with ghosts, psychics, homeopathy and aliens abducting us from our beds, we side with the scientists and their convincing arguments. Could the scientists be wrong? Of course they could, and psychics, homeopaths and alien abductees are continually reminding us that scientists don't know everything and have got it wrong in the past. But the scientific unknowns in the 21st century are extremely complex, and without several scientific degrees and years of research experience, I am never going to be able to truly debate with scientists, with the experts. All I can do is accept what the scientific consensus is and try and understand on a simple level why scientists have adopted a certain view. Again, they might be wrong, but I can't realistically argue that they are wrong until they produce the evidence to show they were wrong. Certainly a few scientists have argued that they have this contrary evidence, but their evidence is not compelling to the majority of their fellow experts, and many damage their credibility by having links to industries that, because of financial reasons, wish to deny human-caused climate change at all costs.

    You may have noticed that in the above quotes, one said that '97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real'. You say that 'there is good reason to question' this view, but I wonder why the majority of the world's experts can't see this, when you can. You might find this article on the 'Scientific American' website interesting: 'Big Gap between What Scientists Say and Americans Think about Climate Change'. It begins by saying that,

    'There is good and bad news for climate scientists. The good news: Most Americans (79 percent) say that science and scientists are invaluable.

    The bad news: On controversial topics such as climate change, a significant number of Americans do not use science to inform their views. Instead, they use political orientation and ideology, which are reflected in their level of education, to decide whether humans are driving planetary warming.'

    Scientists are valued for their expertise it seems, but half the population believe they're not needed to explain something as obvious as what the weather is doing, and when the silly scientists do try, they get it wrong! The article states that,
    'In 2014, the vast majority (87 percent) of scientists said that human activity is driving global warming, and yet only half the American public ascribed to that view. And 77 percent of scientists said climate change is a very serious problem. In comparison, only 33 percent of the general public said it was a very serious problem in a 2013 poll.'
    The article also gives other examples of 'Opinion Differences Between Public and Scientists', and while everyone, including the unqualified layperson, is entitled to disagree with the experts, I can't really see how they can think that this disagreement is equal when expertise and evidence is taken into account. So David, since this blog does indeed support scientific thought and reason, we will continue to express that thought, which overwhelming says that it's 'now "extremely likely" that humanity is the dominant cause of global warming'.

    And in case you see a suspicious difference between '97 percent of climate scientists...' in the first article and '87 percent) of scientists...' in the next one, a comment following the second article noted:

    'The 87% was scientists in general. Of climate scientists who have published at least 10 peer reviewed research papers in the last 30 years, 97% agree. In fact, the more expertise and experience a scientist has in this field, the more likely that he or she agrees withy AGW.
    A study of peer reviewed climate papers between 1991 and 2012 found that out of over 13,000 papers, only 24 rejected AGW
    Of over 2,000 peer reviewed papers published in 2013, with over 9,000 individual authors, ONLY ONE author rejects AGW'
    And you're right that denying the moon landing has some logic, as do most conspiracies, they only flourish because a superficial glance at them seems to suggest that they have some good points. But it's not a question of whether there was a reason to have faked the moon landing, or if the American government might be hiding aliens in Area 51 or shot JFK, the question is whether these things did actually happen, not that they logically could have. People can and do argue that the moon landing never happened and that climate change isn't our problem, and while the arguments do have logical validity — they could be true — they simply don't have the supporting evidence to take them beyond a hypothetical argument.

    And regarding doubt about the moon landing, I'm not sure that 'Subsequent space exploration seems to show that... the doubts were unfounded'. The conspiracy is not just that we never had the technology to go to the moon, but that humans could not survive the trip even we did. And since the Apollo landings no human has dared venture further than Earth orbit. Worse still, many astronauts have been killed since and the shuttle program has been cancelled, leaving NASA grounded as far as manned space flight is concerned. There is no real program for a Mars landing or even a return to the moon. If I thought like a conspiracy theorist, then if anything, 'Subsequent space exploration seems to show that' there might be technological and/or human survivability problems after all.

    That's what a simplistic look at the space program might indicate to someone suspecting a conspiracy, but if they looked deeper and consulted the experts, they would learn that we likely did land on the moon and other factors influence the present space program. It's the same with climate change, forget the beguiling websites and what 'experts' like Moon Man Ken Ring and author Ian Wishart write, put your trust in what the scientific consensus says. What's it saying when NZ's most outspoken climate activists against AGW are an astrologer and a Christian fundamentalist? Oblivious to the flaws in their own core silly beliefs of astrology and creationism, I struggle to believe they've somehow grasped a problem with the complex scientific evidence that the experts have missed. If thousands of scientists were to disagree with me, and since I'm not an expert, I think I'd be questioning my own reasoning, not theirs.

  7. Comment by David, 01 Nov, 2015

    sigh

    John, my original intention was to object to your putting climate change 'deniers' in with moon landing deniers but then when I thought about it, I do think that initially at least, there might have been a cause for scepticism about the moon landing. But let's not talk about the moon landing, that was an aside.

    I am not well qualified in the subject of climate change so I do rely on the views of others. The number of people speaking out against 'the consensus' seems to be more than you would expect if it were only three percent, and when I see people trying to shut down debate I get suspicious. When you read articles by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowski and others they set out quite openly the method they are using to influence public opinion - but they ascribe the tricks they describe to the opposition. I am inclined to believe Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace http://www.thegwpf.com/28155/ when he says that the debate has been taken over by people with an agenda and no understanding of science.

    As for "Of climate scientists who have published at least 10 peer reviewed research papers in the last 30 years, 97% agree". This is the result of a study by John Cook, not a totally unbiased observer, who undertook a subjective analysis of published papers and concluded that "Among abstracts that expressed a position on AGW [Anthropogenic, or human-cause, Global Warming], 97.1% endorsed the scientific consensus. Among scientists who expressed a position on AGW in their abstract, 98.4% endorsed the consensus. It turns out that the 97% represent only a very small percentage of the papers studied so the figure is a little misleading. Similarly when you say Of over 2,000 peer reviewed papers published in 2013, with over 9,000 individual authors, ONLY ONE author rejects AGW' it is not clear that the 9000 authors were writing papers where denying AGW or not was actually an issue. Many papers have been written that discuss the effects of AGW without actually voicing an opinion on its validity. Very few scientists would be prepared to dogmatically assert that there is no AGW, but that is not the same as saying that they believe it is a problem demanding urgent attention. I am very sceptical about many of the claims for AGW and would no doubt be labelled a denier, but that doesn't mean I outright reject AGW. In fact I would not be surprised if it were shown that mankind had had some effect. But that is not the same thing as demanding that the world economy be put into reverse and that CO2 be treated as a pollutant.

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Nov, 2015

    Actually I think the linking of AGW denial with the moon landing hoax is instructive. Most everyone that identifies with a pet conspiracy theory, be it AGW, the moon landing, 9/11, aliens and Area 51, the deaths of JFK and Princess Diana, the suppression of medical cures, Jews running the world etc, can see a wealth of evidence supporting their theory, but often struggle to understand why people believe those other cranky claims. The reasons they readily dismiss other theories usually don't apply to their pet theory for some reason. Clearly scientists that work for tobacco companies are biased when it comes to denying that smoking is harmful. Can we believe scientists that work for the government when we ask them about captured alien spacecraft? But for some reason we're expected to accept that scientists that work for the fossil fuel companies aren't biased and can be trusted when it comes to AGW. No matter the topic, there is always vocal denial by some fringe groups, but when the vast majority of scientists believe in something, be it evolution, the big bang or the moon landing, most of the informed public accept these views. It's inevitable that some will always argue with the science, but most see this as illogical, unless the science is challenging one of their pet beliefs.

    Re AGW, you say that 'The number of people speaking out against 'the consensus' seems to be more than you would expect if it were only three percent, and when I see people trying to shut down debate I get suspicious', and yet I could say the same thing about creationism and Intelligent Design. From the powerful US 'Discovery' organisation to the Vatican and thousands of churches in between, we have 'people speaking out against 'the consensus'', arguing that the world isn't natural, that God did it. Even many of my local schools run classes pointing out how the scientific consensus is wrong and people are knocking on my door with free DVDs and books. Our universities have 'shut down debate' and simply refuse to teach creationism and Intelligent Design. So should I be suspicious, are our universities hiding something, or has the debate already happened and they simply teach the winner? Do the religious people that are still 'speaking out against 'the consensus'' and complaining that people won't debate with them really have a case, or does their blind belief mean they will continue no matter what the science says? I've heard of many scientists that won't debate people over the likes of evolution, UFOs, mediums or the moon landing hoax, not because they think the evidence is lacking, but because they think it's an utter waste of their time to debate things they believe have already been decided. I think it's a red herring to look at how many activists are trying to get a debate going or how many laypeople believe something is fishy. If I went by the numbers I'd be a god believer, not an atheist, and if I ignored the scientific consensus and simply looked out the window I'd believe the world is flat. I hear the same complaints from everyone that has a problem with scientific consensus, be it AGW, evolution or the moon landing, that a handful of brave scientists and/or officials are indeed speaking out, but that powerful forces are suppressing debate and evidence, and that the vast majority of scientists and officials are conspiring to hide the truth.

    You say that 'Many papers have been written that discuss the effects of AGW without actually voicing an opinion on its validity. Very few scientists would be prepared to dogmatically assert that there is no AGW, but that is not the same as saying that they believe it is a problem demanding urgent attention.'

    I seriously can't believe that the vast majority of the world's scientists that are writing on AGW have no opinion, or worse still, doubt that it is real but still keep quiet. You and I have no expertise and no influence but we still have firm opinions that we are willing to discuss, and yet I'm asked to believe that scientists that spend every working day researching AGW, it's what they live for, have no interest in voicing an opinion, no interest in passing on their expertise. Worse still, they know that very expensive and disruptive plans and policies are being devised, and if they are based on what they know to be bogus or at least very suspect scientific evidence, I again can't believe that the vast majority of the world's scientists ignore what others are doing with their data and just remain silent. They may not mention it in their scientific papers, but there are many other forums in which to voice their views. Climate scientists in general must be the most uncaring, reckless, irresponsible, selfish and apathetic group of people on the planet. What might it take for them to find their morality and their voice?

    But that problem, their inexplicable silence, is typical of all conspiracy theories. We are asked to believe that a huge number of unrelated, ordinary people the world over are all prepared to hide an injustice so that some unknown person or persons can benefit. Even seeing that their silence may wreak worldwide havoc, including on their own family and community, isn't enough for them to expose the lies of others. Only two people saw President Bill Clinton get a blowjob and they couldn't even keep that quiet, so I simply can't believe conspiracies that depend on huge groups of people that are all prepared to keep secrets they don't even care about.

    Evolutionists publicly and openly reject gods as driving evolution, cosmologists argue for the big bang, astronauts and astronomers ridicule the moon landing hoax, and the majority of top scientists even identify as atheists, and I see no evidence that climatologists are somehow different, that en masse they don't give a damn what others are doing with their research.

  9. Comment by Zafir, 11 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. I've been busy recently and haven't contributed anything for a while.

    I can't resist commenting on climate change as it demonstrates (at least to me) how many people refuse to think for themselves, or seriously consider an idea outside of their ideology.

    Perhaps where most people get confused over the whole global warming and climate change thing is they fail to realise that it is really just about energy. Is there more energy coming into the system (the earth and its atmosphere) than leaving it?

    It's actually very straight forward and measurable. One of the simplest concepts I can think of; change in balance = sum of the incoming - sum of the outgoing.

    No need to be an expert. It doesn't matter who believes what when there is so much data freely available, we can make up our own minds directly from the evidence.

    The data is freely available and easy to find. I have charted.

    Full flowering dates of Japanese Cherry in Kyoto (records date back to 890 CE)

    650 years of Western Europe grape harvest dates

    Ocean Heat content

    Sea Level changes

    Global Ocean and land surface temperature changes

    Total solar irradiance

    Sun spot numbers (dating back to 1749 CE)

    Winter min temperatures vs summer min temperatures

    C13 to c12 ratios

    Artic sea ice

    Atmospheric CO2 and Methane levels

    I give you and in particular David no conclusions, just look and the data, and try not to be immune to evidence.
  10. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Nov, 2015

    For someone wishing to understand the science around climate change and the consensus view I fully encourage them to delve into the data you mention Zafir.

    However, if hundreds and perhaps thousands of highly qualified and experienced scientists look at the data that you've listed, plus data you haven't, such as the seeding of clouds by cosmic rays, and nearly all conclude that AGW is likely real, and a plumber with no scientific training whatsoever looks at the listed data and concludes that AGW is not happening, is it rational and reasonable for me as a layperson to side with the plumber? Or is it likely that the plumber might have missed something?

    Re AGW happening the data can say one of three things; yes, no, or inconclusive. Clearly the majority of scientists believe it says yes. Any layperson that disagrees must surely question their expertise at interpreting complicated science. If it's just a matter of tallying up the data, if it's really that simple, then why didn't the scientists get the same answer as our plumber?

    As I've said, I'm all for people trying to understand why scientists reach the conclusions they do, whether it's to do with climate change, evolution, the big bang or homeopathy, but if unqualified people read a popular science book or scientific article and find themselves disagreeing with the science, I suspect that it is they that have misunderstood the science rather than the scientists. Offhand I can't think of any 'plumber' (or astrologer) that has shown the scientific community to be in error. I know some people will mention names like Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and patent clerk Albert Einstein, but these weren't laypeople, these were in essence 'scientists' debating with other 'scientists'. Of course it's possible that our plumber might be right and the scientists wrong, but if so, I struggle to understand why nearly all of these very bright scientists can't understand and accept the plumber's argument.

    Like you Zafir, I like to be swayed by the evidence rather than desire, and while I do have some strong minority views, for example I don't believe in gods, ghosts or visiting aliens, the minority that I agree with are scientists that use the only reliable method for discerning the truth. I guess I'm lucky that when people question my view and ask, 'Then why don't most scientists agree with you?', I can reply, 'Actually they do!' If I couldn't say that, then I wouldn't be so confident in expressing an opinion. But clearly it doesn't stop many others.

  11. Comment by Zafir, 13 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. I haven't looked at the data relating to cosmic rays and cloud formation, I suppose I should.

    There are various reasons for increasing confidence in a hypothesis. Taking the word of 97% of publishing climate scientists might seems like a fairly good one. If someone thought that AGW was false the climate scientist consensus should give them pause for thought.
    But still it is an act of faith to believe something because someone or even some group of people say so.
    That is not science, science is about inquiry into how and why. Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma.

    Interesting that you use a plumber in your example. Plumbers have a working knowledge of thermal expansion and displacement of water and latent heat. I would have a reasonable level of confidence that if a plumber was to look at data relating to water (frozen and liquid), they could correctly identify if the oceans heat content is increasing or not. I would say that the average plumber knows more about water than the average scientist.

    Perhaps you should have used a politician in your example instead.

    Even though there are many complicated climate interactions, the overall concept is very simple.
    Is there an increase of energy in the system?
    If yes, is it due to more energy coming in or less energy going out?
    If it is from less energy going out what is the data on the potential causes?

    Many people don't trust science, I suggest that science is more a set of thinking tools with a few checks and balances, than a body of people with a degree and some institutions.

    You don't have to be a certified plumber to find a leak and you don't need to be a qualified scientist to examine evidence.

    "If it's just a matter of tallying up the data, if it's really that simple, then why didn't the scientists get the same answer as our plumber?"
    The data is so compelling that I think they would get the same answer, unless there was a lack of critical thinking and or dishonesty.
  12. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Nov, 2015

    Hi Zafir. I do applaud your dedication. You've noted in the past that you shun books on popular science and instead seek out and read the actual scientific papers written by the research scientists. However the typical layperson that I'm familiar with that expresses doubt over AGW (or evolution or homeopathy etc) would normally never consider reading even a lengthy newspaper article, let alone an entire book, let alone try and find scientific papers. While I lament that they won't delve a little further, for most, including myself, I do think the scientific papers generally are a step too far. They are written by experts for experts and they assume a certain level of scientific expertise. The layperson must already possess some scientific knowledge of the topic to even know what research papers to look for, and then to understand them when he finds them. For example, re AGW you suggest that people look into 'Sun spot numbers' and 'C13 to c12 ratios'. But to seek this data people would first have to understand how sun spots and different carbon isotopes might contribute to climate change, likewise when you suggest looking at the 'Full flowering dates of Japanese Cherry in Kyoto'. But you made no suggestion to look at data from ice cores or tree rings or to track changes in volcanic activity, glaciers, the ozone layer or the movement of the jet stream. Nor did you look at the effect of solar flares, coronal mass ejections, the solar wind and cosmic rays on our atmosphere. My point is that people have to already have a good grasp of the science to be able to know what data to look at and what can be ignored. Sure I can look at a scientific paper that say glaciers in Greenland are retreating (or whatever), but it will make no mention of how this might tie in with a myriad of other factors that might affect the climate. Only the real experts that have spent their lives researching these things know how these different factors might interrelate, and rather than have them explain in great detail how they gained their specific data, say on Japanese Cherry trees, I'd rather read a broad overview of how these myriad complex factors might affect climate change. I'd always be afraid that no matter how many scientific papers I thought of reading I might still have missed a crucial one, one whose affect greatly altered the effect from all the others. For example, while you may have looked at the Japanese Cherry trees, did you look at the migration patterns of the Norwegian tufted titmouse? OK, I just made that up, but how can the layperson know all the many things that might be an indicator or cause of climate change? You mentioned sun spots, but I suspect that most people wouldn't know what a sun spot really is, or what affect it might have on us. I recently read in astronomer Philip Plait's book 'Death From the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End', that 'The stock market, baseball scores, even personality traits have been (dubiously at best) linked to sunspot numbers'. I didn't go looking for the actual research papers.

    You say that,

    '...it is an act of faith to believe something because someone or even some group of people say so. That is not science, science is about inquiry into how and why. Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma.'
    But when you use the data in some scientific paper you are actually believing 'something because someone or even some group of people say so'. If you won't believe a scientist when he says in a newspaper article or a book for the layperson that he has done the research and has concluded that glaciers are retreating, for example, why should you believe him in his scientific paper just because he provides numerous tables and graphs before he expresses the same conclusion, albeit in more technical language? Certainly you may want to work through the tables and graphs to see if you reach the same conclusion, but you have no idea whether the scientist accidentally omitted some crucial step or used faulty instruments that invalidates his data. Likewise you can't be sure the data provided is even genuine, it could all be manipulated to support the desired conclusion. But if you accept the data as valid then you are taking 'something on authority and not challenging it'. I'm assuming you don't challenge the scientific papers themselves?

    If you are reluctant to accept a scientist's conclusion as expressed to the media or in a popular science book and insist on looking over the original research papers, I don't see why you shouldn't also be reluctant to accept his research and insist on performing the actual research yourself. If taking something on authority is dogma, then the only answer is to run every experiment yourself and prove every scientific claim yourself. But clearly this is impractical if not impossible. At some stage it makes sense to generally accept what certain authorities tell us. If a scientist is trusted to tell the truth in his scientific papers, I can't see why he can't be trusted when giving a summery of those papers in the media.

    You say that 'it is an act of faith to believe something because someone' — in this case a scientist — says so, and that 'sounds more like dogma'. When 'faith' supports dogma I suspect the reference is to the religious version of 'faith', where faith means 'A belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, and may exist even contrary to the evidence'. One simply believes someone, eg a priest, without questioning the claims made. However the faith I have in the scientific worldview is a different beast, and means a 'Confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of a person, an idea, or a thing'. Science has evidence to support its claims. We respect it because when it says something will happen, it does. Unlike religion, it doesn't just say we should blindly trust its conclusions, it predicts what we should observe if its claims are true, and it has an outstanding success rate.

    You speak of 'Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma', but I feel science supports its claims, that most of us don't have the time or training to challenge it, and that it is one authority that we can have considerable confidence in. You've probably heard some people dismissing a claim by insisting that it is merely an 'appeal to authority', where they usually argue that we shouldn't automatically believe something just because some authority figure or authoritative group such as a government makes the claim. But there is more to it than this. As Jill LeBlanc points out in her book 'Thinking Clearly: A Guide to Critical Reasoning', no one can know everything about everything, and so what is meant by 'an authority is someone who possesses expert knowledge on a particular subject'. In this case it does not mean someone that we are compelled to obey or believe, like a policeman ordering you to stop or the government making you pay your taxes. We must all make an 'appeal to authority' when we are dealing with the likes of scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers and even plumbers, any professional that possesses specialist knowledge that most of us lack. But this doesn't mean that we should automatically accept whatever someone with a qualification claims. LeBlanc lists the following 'Criteria for judging acceptability for authority:'

    The authority must be identified
    The authority must be respectable
    The matter must be in this authority's field of expertise
    The matter must be one on which there is a consensus of experts
    She notes that 'An appeal to authority that contravenes one of these conditions is a fallacious appeal to authority'. So it's not the appeal to authority that we should be watching out for, but the 'fallacious' appeal to authority.

    I trust the scientific method, and believe that scientists are slowly but surely improving our knowledge of the world, and that all knowledge is provisional. I generally judge a consensus of scientists as an authority whose views I can accept as the best available at the time.

    I agree Zafir when you say that 'Even though there are many complicated climate interactions, the overall concept is very simple', I just don't think that most laypeople are qualified to discern, understand and tally up all the 'many complicated climate interactions' and be confident that they have reached the right answer. I also agree that 'Many people don't trust science', but I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that them looking at research papers will change that. They don't trust science because they don't understand science even on the simplest of terms, and making it more complicated merely makes things worse. You say that 'you don't need to be a qualified scientist to examine evidence', but I disagree. We can all understand basic scientific ideas, and I understand talk about the big bang, relativity, quantum mechanics, high energy particle physics and other dimensions on a basic level, but I am completely lost when I look at the high order mathematics and complex physics that make up the real evidence for these ideas. As much as I might want to, I will never truly understand the evidence that supports these ideas, I have to make do with explanations that are a dumbed-down version along with analogies and their inherent flaws. I can ask questions of scientists but I will never be able to truly challenge the raw evidence since I'm not a qualified scientist. Long gone are the days when even scientists could understand all that was then known in science, so I don't believe that a mere plumber or a politician can confidently say, 'Here, let me have a look at those scientific papers. I'll sort it out for you'.

    I agree Zafir that one should seek to understand these scientific issues as deeply as one's abilities (and interests) allow, but I simply don't think that the recommendation to consult scientific papers will resolve the AGW debate that one encounters at the pub. Arguments need to be kept simple, and a scientist's summary of his or her research will be more effective than reading the actual research paper out loud, combined with a Powerpoint presentation for the tables and graphs.

  13. Comment by Zafir, 15 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. Thanks as always for your well thought out and comprehensive reply.

    I do read popular science books but I actively avoid reading them while I'm trying to form a position on something. I do this in a attempt to avoid bias creeping into my reasoning process.

    I never take science reported in the media at face value and try to check references when the story is of interest.

    I go to research papers as a second option.
    My first preference and what I'm on about here is actual data. With a lot of research it is hard to get your hands on actual measurements of real world phenomena. But with factors that may contribute to climate change there is quite a lot.
    So yes there is a level of trust in that I am forced to assume that the data was accurately recorded by meticulous people with well calibrated equipment. The effects of measuring errors are lessened by larger data sets taken over longer periods from multiple sources.
    But by going to the actual data I don't have to rely on any bias, be it funding or ideological that the author of a paper or book may have.

    I would say that most science papers do have a much higher reading age than say a news paper but they are not impossible to read. Often I have to look up terms. Probably the biggest impediment is that they are usually so dry and sleep inducing.

    The list I gave is by no means conclusive as to all the factors that might contribute to climate change. It was a list of some of the data that I accessed and applied a couple of simple calculations to. I mean simple as in dead simple, such as adding the daily averages and dividing by the number of days in the month to get a monthly average. (Organising and charting data is so simple with excel, but I used to do this manually).

    For example I spent a couple of hours last night collecting data on cosmic rays and then charted it to see if I could see a correlation with sunspot numbers, next time I have a chance I'll see if I can find good data on clouds.

    Sure some of the things I have charted such as carbon isotope ratios were due to something I read, but mostly it has been from entering "climate change data" into Google and sifting through the dross looking for reputable organisations with long data sets.

    The cherry tree data set is interesting in that for hundreds of years the flowering dates were fairly constant and for some reason in the last few decades they start flowering progressively earlier.
    I know next to nothing about cherry trees and that one data set might mean nothing on its own. There could be plenty of reasons that cherry trees flower when they do. When looked at with other data sets, a clear pattern emerges.

    The reason that I jumped into this thread was not really to comment on climate change. I was trying to point out that we don't have to sit on the sidelines and applaud the bits we like from people that we already agree with.

    When I first starting thinking about AGW I didn't really have a position other than it sounded plausible but unlikely due to the small concentration of the greenhouse gases. By looking at the data I had to change my position to match the evidence.

    I grew up being told things that weren't true by people I trusted. Latter I told other people the same untruths.

    I guess now I am a little unusual in my approach to acquiring information.
    I think faith and to some degree trust should be inversely proportional to evidence.
    So when Yasuyuki Aono says that flowering cherries can be used as a proxy to reconstruct Japanese spring time temperatures. I don't know for sure if it's true but I can say the data set is impressive and shows a clear trend.

    I apologise and retract the bit about science and dogma. When I read it now it looks like a dig.
    I just mean to say nothing should be above scrutiny, not even the tools we use to scrutinise.

    I went to hear a professor emeritus give a talk a couple years ago. He made a few extreme claims and I asked him during the question section for some kind of references to back the claims up. When I latter checked the reference out it turned out to be an opinion piece in a non peer reviewed publication. Almost everyone else in the room appeared to be lapping up his every word. At one point he pointed his elbow patches around the room and said something like 'see these, I'm a professor.'
    He was an extreme case but I've seen the behaviour often in religious people.

    I think I've mentioned my old aged companions down at the local pub. One has a hard core position that AGW is bullshit. I brought my note book along a while back and took him page by page through the data and charts, he went strangely quite. He really hates being wrong.
    Now if the subject of climate change comes up he'll change topic instantly.
    I'll look for that Jill LeBlanc book, it sounds good.

    Have you seen the movie Memento? It's my favourite, the lead character prides himself on being a good investigator who is obsessed with systems and facts. The twist is he deliberately deceives himself to get the results he wants and jumps to quite a few wrong conclusions along the way.

    I think one of the most important aspects of science is the peer review process, where no expert or even idea is beyond scrutiny. I am no expert, but I can see trends in data and can do basic maths. For a lot of this stuff, that's all you need.

  14. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Nov, 2015

    Hi Zafir. Again I must say I'm impressed with your commitment to research. And what can I say, I agree with your comments. I guess I'm just too lazy, plus as you say those papers are often 'dry and sleep inducing'. It's easy to see why most scientists fail at communicating their ideas to the public.

    You're right that you can 'never take science reported in the media at face value'. The little I know certainly wasn't gained from the media. The other night on the TV News they had a piece where it was revealed that NASA astronomers have just discovered that the solar wind is largely responsible for stripping Mars of most of its atmosphere. While the science is correct, astronomers have actually known this for some time. For example, astronomer Philip Plait wrote about it in that book I mentioned, 'Death From the Skies!'. It was published in 2008, so why is the media just telling us about it now, and saying it's all new?

    And just in passing, I don't think you'll see a correlation with sunspot numbers and cosmic rays, since cosmic rays come from interstellar and intergalactic space rather than the Sun, and are caused by the likes of supernova. I think.

    You also say that 'by going to the actual data I don't have to rely on any bias, be it funding or ideological that the author of a paper or book may have'. I agree, but conspiracy theorists wouldn't, they would argue (without evidence) that the author has already been bribed to falsify the data. Hell, he or she probably didn't even get off the sofa, let alone go into the field and probe something. Or so they would argue.

    You're so right when you say that 'nothing should be above scrutiny' and 'we don't have to sit on the sidelines and applaud the bits we like from people that we already agree with'. Not many people get that. Like-minded people confirm their beliefs with each other but seldom bother or are prevented from discussing their concerns with those who think differently. Religion is a perfect example, most consider it rude for an atheist to ask a true believer as to why they think as they do. But it's the same with the likes of astrology, homeopathy, the Israel/Palestine conflict or climate change. When in a group no one wants these topics raised if it is known that there is a difference of opinion. To keep the peace we're asked to stick to topics we can all agree on. What about that rugby eh? But if you never let your beliefs be challenged then how can you ever be sure they would survive a real debate? Don't just chat to those that agree with you, talk with those that don't agree and find out why. Maybe their reasoning is better than yours. You'll never know if you stay in your own little bubble. Unfortunately it's not just the hosts of social events that try and keep conversation on non-controversial topics, the holders of what I might call silly beliefs are also quite reluctant to defend their beliefs. They say something like, 'Look, that's what I believe, but let's just leave it at that OK? I don't want to get into a debate about it since I know you think differently'. Well surely I would be the best person to chat with, since they could test their reasoning and maybe even convert me to their view? Regarding important topics, such as should I devote my life to Jesus or will climate change screw up my grandkids' future, if someone confines their discussions to only those that think as they do, effectively surrounding themselves with 'yes men', then they can never be truly confident that they've chosen the right path. If an opinion isn't worth debating, then I don't think it's even worth holding.

    But I suspect that many, especially concerning religion, hold specific beliefs based on desire, on what they want to be true, and know that frank discussion as to the validity of those beliefs could well see them tumbling down, so let's just talk with those that think as we do. And scientists and skeptics who argue that we follow the evidence are not immune. While it may be easier for us to change our views and reject disproved ideas, we still need to discuss our views with our opponents to see if they truly are more reasonable.

    To that end, by coincidence earlier today I met a creationist in a local square that had set up a model of Noah's Ark for public display. We actually had a fascinating and friendly conversation for an hour or so. It was rare to discuss religion with a believer who didn't just want to quickly lecture me and then flee. He said nothing that shook my worldview, and I'd like to think that I gave him some reasons to doubt his, but then he probably felt the same way. While minds might not have been swayed, at least we openly considered each other's viewpoint, which is all too rare these days, even on topics we apparently deem important.

    And no, I haven't heard of the movie Memento. It sounds interesting though, so I'll have to look out for it. Does he have some of those cute minions working for him?

  15. Comment by Anonymous, 17 Nov, 2015

    44 days to Xmas ........... what ! - no - no spooky stories .../? - gee man ... that sucks.

  16. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Nov, 2015

    Some might argue that Xmas itself is an ongoing spooky story, with Jesus being one of the undead, a zombie endlessly seeking sinners to populate Hell and secretly watching you in the shower. That would scare me if I was a believer.

  17. Comment by David, 03 Dec, 2015

    John, I think this is a good honest source. I don't think he would quote numbers without being sure he can back them up. The fact that Scientific American is prepared to publish what he says is telling. Most of his argument is based on IPCC papers.

    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/paris-climate-conference/

    To quote from his Scientific American article

    The climate change debate has been polarized into a simple dichotomy. Either global warming is "real, man-made and dangerous," as Pres. Barack Obama thinks, or it's a "hoax," as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe thinks. But there is a third possibility: that it is real, man-made and not dangerous, at least not for a long time
    It is the extremes that could be characterised as 'silly beliefs'
  18. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Dec, 2015

    Thanks David. Some very interesting articles there by Matt Ridley. I can see much sense in what he writes, and I'd like to think that reason will win out in the end, especially as science learns more about what's really going on, economics explains the costs and ethics sets out our options. However I'm not sure that 'It is the extremes that could be characterised as 'silly beliefs''. To me it's not about whether a claim is ultimately right or wrong, but whether it can at present be supported by evidence and good arguments. I don't think there is any good evidence that AGW is an outright hoax, so I see that claim as a silly belief, whereas there is much better evidence for AGW, so this is a rational claim. This may of course change as time goes on and more evidence comes in, as Ridley argues, and frankly, regardless of what I suspect, I hope he's right. No sane person wants to be responsible for screwing up the climate or to be forced to pay a fortune to try and combat it. But I also don't want to be irresponsible, and learn that AGW will be dangerous, but 'not for a long time', and so I'll just ignore it and let them worry about it in the future. Where's a good crystal ball when you need one?

  19. Comment by Zafir, 14 Dec, 2015

    Hi John, I wonder why David thinks that Matt Ridley is both a "good" and "honest source" on climate change?
    Is it because Matt Ridley is a member of the House of Lords?
    Perhaps it is because he is a zoologist?
    Maybe it is because he had an opinion piece published in a well known science journal?
    I suspect it is because David likes what Matt has to say on the matter.

    Is David saying that the position that global warming is "real, man-made and dangerous" is extreme and silly?

    Many of the references that Matt Ridley supplies are weak and or suspect.

    Based on the data; To say climate change is real is not silly. To say that it is man made is far from extreme. Also I fail to see how changes in climate that billions of people have adapted to for their food, dwellings and livelihoods could not be dangerous to a least some. Slight changes in weather patterns can cause crops to fail which could lead to famine and conflict.

    I know you can't answer for David so perhaps you can prod David with an email.

  20. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Dec, 2015

    I've read a couple of Matt Ridley's books on genetics and evolution and I enjoyed them, but you're right Zafir that he is not an expert on climate change. As usual, I can't understand how real climate scientists can't look at Ridley's arguments and come around to his way of thinking, so clearly they must be able to find considerable flaws in them. So again, until the real experts en masse start to dismiss AGW, I'll side with the view that's it's likely a problem.

    And like you I have a problem with people who argue that changes in climate for some regions would actually be welcome, eg warmer temperatures mean they can grow new crops. But they forget that other regions that used to grow those crops may now be too hot and dry to do so, meaning their economy will collapse and the population will migrate, causing a worldwide flood of refugees. Likewise diseases like mosquito-borne malaria will also migrate to regions where previously it was too cold to exist. As you say, famine and conflict caused by regional changes in climate could be a huge problem. It pisses me off when people argue that even if AGW is real, all it will mean is that they will be able to wear just a T-shirt and shorts more often. What's the problem with that? It's almost as if they think some god is in control and while he makes their local climate more pleasant with a little warming, he will likewise cool the climate in hot, dry desert regions, and leave the likes of Hawaii just as it is. And the world did rejoice. Yeah right, that's how climate change works.

  21. Comment by Zafir, 14 Dec, 2015

    Hi John. Just re-read your reply to David. There was something very strange about it. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was; I found myself completely agreeing with you. Not a common experience for me.

  22. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Dec, 2015

    You're agreeing with me? I suppose this is where you ask for money? ;-)

    Or perhaps that consciousness shift — remember the Mayan Calendar — that was supposed to have happened in Dec 2012 has finally kicked in for you, where humans shift to a higher vibration and level of consciousness?

    But seriously, I thought I was going to see the year out with not a single person ever agreeing with me. But finally someone concurs with my view on something. And to think, people said that Hell would have to freeze over first.

  23. Comment by David, 15 Dec, 2015

    So Matt Ridley is not an expert on Climate Change? Well not a real expert. What expertise do you need to have?

    How about John Christie? https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BhFqgflaQVQ

    I don't think the principles behind climate science are difficult to understand. There are many papers in the literature about the potential impacts of global temperature change on sea levels, coral blanching, butterfly habitat and the like. Very few of these are counterintuitive in any way. Nor is there any debate about the first order effect of CO2 concentration. Everyone seems to agree that human activity has led to an increase in CO2 concentrations, and that the theoretical effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about a 1 degree increase in temperature. The issue comes down to whether there are positive or negative feedbacks. The climate models rely on an assumption that the feedback is positive. The models were calibrated during a period of rapid rise in temperatures in the later part of last century, and to make the models fit observations one had to assume quite high positive feedbacks. The divergence between the model predictions and observation since then seem to suggest that either the basic assumption or the calibrated strength of the feedback was wrong. On the other hand I predicted, quite early in this debate, that plant growth would increase (based on Le Châtelier's principle) and it was several years before there was general acceptance that this has in fact happened. A positive benefit of CO2 that many studies chose to ignore.

    I am not a climate scientist. I do have more than a passing knowledge of science. I also have experience in calibrating large complex mathematical forecasting models. If temperatures has continued to rise as predicted by the models, I would have had no hesitation in believing their underlying assumptions. But they haven't and I don't. You only have to disprove a hypothesis once.

    It is quite possible that the basic assumptions in the models are correct, but that because the period in which the models were calibrated had, by chance, an unusually high rate of temperature growth, the model coefficients have been miss-specified. Normally what would happen is that the authors would go back and re-calibrate the models and that would be that. Unfortunately global warming has become a huge industry on which many reputations have been staked. They are not letting go easily.

  24. Comment by Zafir, 16 Dec, 2015

    Hi David.

    "So Matt Ridley is not an expert on Climate Change?"
    I don't know if Matt Ridley is an expert on Climate Change. The only thing of his I have read is the link you provided John. Although I was unimpressed with many of his references.
    I was musing to John on why you would think he was good and honest.
    So why do you think Matt Ridley is a good and honest source?

    My speculation is, it could be because you like what he has to say on the matter.
    Am I incorrect?
    No problem if I am, just let me know why.

    Do you think that we should not have to worry about climate change because Matt says it won't be dangerous for a long time?

    Do you think that we should trust him because he had an opinion piece published in a well know science mag?

    I agree that the principles of climate science are not hard to understand. Although I wouldn't call them principles and the items that you list are far from well understood by the average non expert.

    "What expertise do you need to have?"
    Some aspects of climate science are very specific, expertise in their very narrow field is what they would require. But even then I would rather see the data for myself and try to understand what is going on.
    "How about John Christie?"
    I had only heard about John Christy in relation to the UAH data sets.

    Basically I try to separate the person from the ideas they are trying to get across. A person can be right or wrong depending on what they are talking about and when they were talking about it. e.g. I don't discount John Christy's point of view just because he has been both a missionary and a pastor.
    http://nsstc.uah.edu/users/john.christy/about.html

    I think an idea, statement or hypothesis can and should be tested and examined on it's own merits and not by who said them.

    I am interested in if you think the statement — climate change is real, man made and dangerous, is extreme and or silly?

  25. Comment by David, 17 Dec, 2015

    In reply to Zafir, who says

    So why do you think Matt Ridley is a good and honest source? My speculation is, it could be because you like what he has to say on the matter. Am I incorrect?
    I am sure I am affected by confirmation bias like the rest of us. I might ask a similar question — You say "Although I was unimpressed with many of his references" — perhaps because you don't like what they say.

    I have read Matt's writing on a number of subjects and have always found his arguments to be well researched and presented — even when I don't agree with them — so my expectation would be that his arguments on climate change would also be well founded. But of course I selected that particular piece to quote in this forum precisely because for the most part I agreed with it.

    My inclination, which you clearly share, is to discount the arguments of missionaries and pastors. I don't understand how intelligent people can believe in sky fairies. But I accept that some do. And I congratulate you for the clever way you present an ad hominem attack as the opposite.

    For the record, I actually disagree with Matt as regards that statement. I think global warming is real and probably mostly natural. Whether it is dangerous or not, (or man-made or not) it is not going to be significantly reduced by reducing the use of fossil fuels, so the best response is adaption rather than prevention.

    If you want to know what I base this on, it is this:

    1) The theory behind the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 seems to be robust (I can understand it!) Without CO2 the world would be a whole lot cooler. Based on the theory doubling the CO2 concentration would lead to a 1 degree temperature increase.

    2) The climate model predictions rely on the assumption that there is a positive feedback. The feedback coefficient was calibrated during a period of high temperature growth

    3) As a rule, I would be suspicious of a positive feedback mechanism. Systems with positive feedbacks are unstable. While climate has fluctuated over the last few million years, it has in fact been remarkably stable.

    4) Increased heat and CO2 concentrations increase photosynthesis. So the natural world has a feedback mechanism that is negative (ie stabilising)

    5) The climate models predicted continued rapid warming into this century and that has not happened. Even with adjusted data sets the rate of increase falls far short of the predictions

    6) The most likely explanation is that the high growth in temperatures in the latter part of last century was due to the compounding effect of some other cause rather than a positive feedback mechanism.

    Now there are other possible explanations that might be made to fit the alarmist creed. But I would trust Occam's razor and go for the simple one.
  26. Comment by Zafir, 19 Dec, 2015

    Hi John. I suspect that you don't want silly beliefs to become another climate change forum. but here's my response to David anyway.

    Hi David.

    "I am sure I am affected by confirmation bias like the rest of us. I might ask a similar question — You say "Although I was unimpressed with many of hiis references" — perhaps because you don't like what they say."
    Well it doesn't appear to be a question but I will bite anyway. Yes I am susceptible to the halo effect, horn effect, expectation, conformation and various other biases. I care more about the truth than about being right so I strive to minimise biases in my reasoning process.

    The reason that I think many of the reference that Matt supplies are weak is because I like factual statements to be backed up by facts, not other people's blogs.

    "I think global warming is real and probably mostly natural."

    "1) The theory behind the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 seems to be robust (I can understand it!) Without CO2 the world would be a whole lot cooler. Based on the theory doubling the CO2 concentration would lead to a 1 degree temperature increase."

    I do not understanding your reasoning. You acknowledge the greenhouse effect and seem to be aware that greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing.
    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/data/

    Do you think that these gases are increasing in the atmosphere only by natural phenomena?

    Do you not think that burning hydrocarbons or the manufacture of cement do not give off CO2 as a by-product?
    http://nzic.org.nz/ChemProcesses/inorganic/9B.pdf

    Does land use change and deforestation not have any effect?

    Is your main beef with modelling?
    Fair enough, there are variables that are so difficult to predict that they might as well be random. I am always cautious when somebody makes a statement about the future.

    "4) Increased heat and CO2 concentrations increase photosynthesis. So the natural world has a feedback mechanism that is negative (ie stabilising)"
    Do you think this mechanism will be enough? Do you have any data or references that suggest it will be?
    "Now there are other possible explanations that might be made to fit the alarmist creed. But I would trust Occam's razor and go for the simple one."
    Sorry I missed it, I might not have been reading carefully enough. What was the simple one?
  27. Comment by David, 19 Dec, 2015

    I seem to be having a discussion with Zafir

    Matt Ridley's analysis is not based on blogs, but even if it was, I would have thought the strength of the argument was more important than the source.

    The theory behind CO2 being a greenhouse gas is based on it absorbing particular wavelengths. That is a simple verifiable fact. I haven't done the experiment myself but I am happy to accept it is true. If it is true, then you can calculate the effect of increasing the concentration. I have seen a mathematical proof that doubling the concentration should increase the temperature about one degree. I regret I didn't go through the workings, but it sounds plausible. If Zafir can give us a reference that proves the effect is greater I will be happy to look at it. Note that if doubling the CO2 concentration increases the temperature one degree this is a logarithmic response — the impact of each additional ton of CO2 is reducing.

    So if we accept that it is human actions that are leading to an increase in CO2 — and I know some people with more knowledge of the subject than I think that this is an oversimplification, but let us assume it is true for the moment — we might expect to see an increase in temperature resulting over time as a direct consequence of increasing emissions. But it would not be the dangerous increase that Paris was all about preventing. To get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration. Keeping below 1.5 degrees would not be a big challenge. To get the dire predictions for future temperature increases of over 2 degrees, you have to assume that the CO2 effect is amplified due to positive feedbacks.

    So yes I am aware that the concentration of CO2 is increasing. I am prepared to accept for the sake of argument that the increase is caused by humans. What I am sceptical about is the claim that the feedback is positive. As I said, if the feedback truly was positive we would have an unstable system. Zafir must be aware that burning hydrocarbons and making cement are not the only sources of CO2 in the atmosphere and I am not aware of any claim that only human-generated CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas. If there really was a positive feedback the world would already have headed for one extreme or the other. It is more likely that feedback is negative. Photosynthesis is one negative feedback. It clearly is insufficient by itself otherwise the CO2 concentration would not have risen, but it is entirely consistent with the observation that over time the increase in temperature has been less than one degree for each doubling of C02 concentration.

    So how did we get these alarmist models? Again let us assume that the structure of the models is correct (even the owners would agree that is generous). If you have read the literature you would know that the degree of feedback is a parameter that is estimated by calibrating the model. Since the models were calibrated over a period when there happened to be a high rate of global warming, the feedback coefficients in the models are strongly positive. If the same models were to be calibrated to fit the period from 2000 to the present, the feedback coefficient would be negative.

    So given that the long term relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature has seen the temperature rising at less than one degree per doubling of the concentration, what is more likely? That the late 20th century rapid warming is the real thing, the feedback really is positive and that the failure of the temperature to keep pace with predictions is because the heat has been trapped in the oceans, or the early 20 century temperature readings were all mistakenly too high — or that the feedback is in fact negative and the late 20th century increase was compounded by some other influence?

    My hypothesis is that the feedback is negative.
    If it is negative, then global warming could well be real, man made, but would not be dangerous.

    I believe it is possible to mount a credible argument that global warming is primarily a natural phenomenon and the feedback almost eliminates the human contribution, but to do that relies on disputed 'facts'. Leave it at real man made and not dangerous for now.

  28. Comment by Zafir, 20 Dec, 2015

    Hi David

    "Matt Ridley's analysis is not based on blogs, but even if it was, I would have thought the strength of the argument was more important than the source."
    And I would have thought that reliability of facts was the back bone of a sound argument.
    I have done a quick tally of the links that Matt used to back up his articles that you provided.
    Blogs 7
    iPCC policy summary 2
    organisations set up to sway policy 5
    testimony statement 1
    Government research organisation 1
    Data or data access site 2
    Academic papers 3
    Not found or can't access 2
    Industry stats 2
    IEA 1
    Newspaper article 2
    netweather tv ? 1
    Overall I thought the references were weak, with a few instances of cherry picking thrown in for good measure.

    I played with a few figures today out of interest. I took four decades of direct measurements of C02 (ppm) from ftp://.noaa.gov/ and compared them with the same four decades of surface temperature anomaly from http://.nasa.gov/ this data set is an index in 0.01 degree C based on variance from the 1951 — 1980 average
    Here's what I found.
    1975 to 1984, ave CO2 337.7, ave temp var 19.4
    1985 to 1994, ave CO2 352.9, ave temp var 36.3 (warming of 0.17 C on previous decade)
    1995 to 2004, ave CO2 368.9, ave temp var 65.3 (warming of 0.29 C on previous decade)
    2005 to 2014, ave CO2 388.6, ave temp var 82 (warming of 0.17 C on previous decade)

    Now this is very crude, in fact I crunched the numbers while trying out some of my home brew. Also correlation is not the same thing as causation. But the implied sensitivity of this is somewhere between 2.3 and 5.8 C per doubling of CO2. No fancy modelling here. Interestingly when I check this against papers written on climate sensitivity I found my crude workings were within the bounds of the experts, (I must have gotten lucky.)
    Hansen et al 1993 3 +/-1
    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1993/1993_Hansen_etal_1.pdf
    Bender et al 2010 1.7 to 4.1 C
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00382-010-0777-3

    "To get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration. Keeping below 1.5 degrees would not be a big challenge. To get the dire predictions for future temperature increases of over 2 degrees, you have to assume that the CO2 effect is amplified due to positive feedbacks."
    The first part of your statement is clearly wrong. There has already been around 1 degree warming and we are nowhere near doubling CO2 levels yet. Are you aware that it is 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels they are talking about?
    http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

    You have now acknowledged — that CO2 abssorbs certain wavelengths "That is a simple verifiable fact."
    — that "the concentration of CO2 is increasing."
    — you are even "prepared to accept for the sake of argument that the increase is caused by humans"
    Of course human activity is not the only source of greenhouse gases, they were around a little while longer than us.

    "Photosynthesis is one negative feedback. It clearly is insufficient by itself otherwise the CO2 concentration would not have risen, but it is entirely consistent with the observation that over time the increase in temperature has been less than one degree for each doubling of C02 concentration."
    Seriously where are you getting this stuff from? How many doublings of CO2 have we had?
    I am probably coming across as insulting now, and I don't mean to. It is just the second part of that statement is so obviously false that I hope it was a typo.

    Think about it. Is there an ongoing increase in the energy balance? You know melting ice, higher temperatures, thermal expansion, that kind of thing. If there is an overall increase, then there is an overall nett positive forcing.
    Suppose you will either have to dispute the data or argue semantics over what the word dangerous means.

    "So given that the long term relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature has seen the temperature rising at less than one degree per doubling of the concentration, what is more likely?"
    Please supply data! What is more likely, is that you are relying on faulty sources.
    "My hypothesis is that the feedback is negative."
    Good, o.k. cool, now find some data and test your hypothesis. Multiple sources of data will allow you to have an ever increasing level of confidence in your hypothesis. Who knows you might even start being able to accurately and reliably predict data and then you will have a fully blown theory on your hands.
    "If it is negative, then global warming could well be real, man made, but would not be dangerous."
    Sorry what? If it were negative would we not have global cooling?
    "I believe it is possible to mount a credible argument that global warming is primarily a natural phenomenon and the feedback almost eliminates the human contribution,"
    Try to leave belief out of it. Belief gets in the way of critically examining a hypothesis.

    The overall tone of this reply seems hostile. I apologise for that. I don't mean to wind you up. What I want is for you to start thinking outside of ideology and start focusing on the evidence and see where it leads.
    Give me some facts, I will consider them and might even change my point of view.

  29. Comment by Zafir, 22 Dec, 2015

    Hi John, glaring error in my latest response to David.

    "Sorry what? If it were negative would we not have global cooling?"
    David was referring to feedback and I went off on a tangent of forcing.
    A negative feedback does have a stabilising effect.
    Positive feedback has an amplifying effect.

    Whereas a forcing is a factor that has either a positive or negative effect.
    So total negative forcing would lead to cooling.
    But a negative feedback would slow warming.
    Of course there are more than one type of feedback. So total feedback may be positive.
    Which appears to be the case as warming is greater than 1.2 C per doubling, that CO2 alone should give.

  30. Comment by David, 22 Dec, 2015

    Zafir my friend I am glad you have a lot more time to devote to this than I have, and can crunch some numbers

    You are absolutely right that if you look at the latter half of the last century, you would conclude that the sensitivity is, as you say, between 2.3 and 5.8. I don't have time to check your calculations but I believe you — they sound right. That is the sort of figures that the climate modellers got. That is precisely my point. If you use the figures from the second half of last century you would conclude that the sensitivity is greater than 1.0. You didn't get lucky, you probably got the maths right.

    When you say the first part of my statement is clearly wrong, ("To get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration") I am sorry, I may not have made myself clear. There was an assumption implicit in that statement — let me restate it "if you assume that the sensitivity is 1.0 then to get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration" The point I was trying to make was that the high temperature forecasts have to assume that the sensitivity is greater than 1.0. I think if you re-read that extract now, you will see what I was trying to say.

    You go on to say "Seriously where are you getting this stuff from? How many doublings of CO2 have we had?". Zafir I haven't done the maths, I was relying on what other people have said, and that can be a mistake so you may well be able to prove me wrong. If you have time, would you mind doing the same calculation as you did for this post, but from 1900 to 1950 and from 1900 to 2015? By the way we should also track down the 'proof' of the effect of doubling the CO2 concentration — I was going from memory.

    While what you then go on to say is a little over the top, I am happy to accept the thrust of what you are saying. We should establish a hypothesis and set up a test to see if it can be disproven. I am not arguing from ideology, I am arguing from logic. If there is positive feedback you would expect the system to be unstable. A negative feedback would be stable. The evidence is that certainly over time the system is stable. I would expect the numbers to back that up, and if they don't it calls the hypothesis into doubt. It doesn't disprove my hypothesis because we may have correlation rather than causation. I am interested in the subject and delighted that you have time to work on the numbers. Maybe between us we can postulate some tests that do have a chance of disproving the hypothesis.

    Of course it does depend on the time scale. Maybe we do in fact have a temporarily unstable system. Lets assume for the moment that the warmists are right and the temperature is driven by the CO2 concentration (and/or the rate of change in CO2 concentration as some aver) and that at current concentrations there is positive feedback. This means that if the temperature is rising it will continue to rise at an increasingly rapid rate and if it is falling it will continue to fall. Then how do we explain the cycle of ice ages and warm periods in the earth's history. With this hypothesis we can explain the swings but how does the world recover? One explanation might be that aerobic life sequesters CO2. As temperatures and CO2 rise, life blossoms. (yes some life may blossom more than others but in general it should be true). More trees, more animals, more insects more phytoplankton means more CO2 sequestered. Some of the sequestering is in the form of calcium carbonate which doesn't get returned to the atmosphere — especially in the oceans. So maybe over time the CO2 concentration starts to fall again and over we go and start accelerating towards the ice age. When we get into the ice age we have very little life. I don't have an explanation of how we get out. Maybe this is where anaerobic life takes over feeding on the remains on the sea floor and generating methane — another GG which kicks the cycle off again.

    A few things to note there — first the human race is more likely to survive a maximum than a minimum. Second if you accept that hypothesis, then we are already on an upswing from the little ice age and while AGW might have given us a hurry along the world is going to warm anyway.

    I am sure you are going to enjoy demolishing all that. Good. Give us a hypothesis that explains the billions of years that the world has existed as well as 1950 — 2000.

  31. Comment by Zafir, 24 Dec, 2015

    Hi David. I don't have a huge amount of time, just no t.v.
    Not sure that Silly Beliefs is the right forum.
    My position is that I have a high degree of confidence that there is an energy imbalance and that human activity is at least partially responsible. Also there are plenty of reason to think that this might be dangerous.

    This is not a belief in the tradition sense because as I examine data or read about evidence my level of confidence is altered. My position is based on evidence, data and logic. Nothing too silly about that.

    You seem like a reasonable enough person and I am happy to continue this discussion. I'm happy for John to give you my email address if you request it.

    It seems that we are talking past each other. I think we have to define terms and go back to the very basics before going into the finer points.

    This might not be very entertaining reading for people who just want to have a chuckle at the latest silly thing Ken has said.

God's a no-show over gay marriage
Kim Davis Like many we've been following the recent shameful episode in the USA where born-again-Christian Kim Davis, the local county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, has continually refused to issue marriage licences to homosexual couples. A recent law change in the US has given homosexuals this right, but Davis insists that God's law overrides laws made by man. The charade of homosexual couples being sent away by a righteous Davis played out long enough for news to spread around the world, and once millions were shaking their heads at the ignorant antics of these backward Christians, the justice system finally stepped in, Davis was arrested, charged with contempt and jailed. Evidently 13 counties in the US have refused to issue licences. And just think, some of these backward Christians work not just in their county offices, but also in the military facilities that control their nuclear missiles!

Spencer, one of Davis' supporters standing outside with a silly sign confidently told a reporter that they were on the winning side and that 'Lord Jesus Christ will come and straighten all this out really quickly'. Clearly this Jesus person he talks of is busy elsewhere since he has failed to make an appearance, or even send a text, to sort things out. Davis remains in jail, and the county office has begun issuing the licences she wouldn't.

But why did Davis and others take this stand? Where in the Bible does it say that homosexuals aren't to be issued a marriage licence? I'm not suggesting that God supports gay marriage, of course he doesn't, he hates them with a passion, I'm merely pointing out that God would have thought adding a commandment banning homosexual marriage as utterly superfluous. Because of commandments that God most definitely did spell out in the Bible, the idea that homosexuals would boldly approach authorities and publicly demand a marriage licence would have been unthinkable.

For example, in Leviticus 20:13 God clearly states that,

'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.'
So if all these good Christians are simply God's blindly obedient servants slavishly obeying his demands, how is it that these open homosexuals are in any position to calmly stroll in and request a licence? To put it plainly, they should already be dead, executed by God's followers, or at the very least fearfully hiding their sexuality from mobs of stone carrying Christians.

This is what I don't understand about these devout Christians, why they think they can pick and choose which of God's commandments that they will follow. They ignore God's commandment that they don't work on the Sabbath, likewise they wear clothes made of two different materials and they eat shellfish, both forbidden by God. They don't kill their disobedient children, witches, psychic mediums or (thankfully) atheists, who their God clearly says should all be killed in addition to homosexuals.

Of course I'm pleased — overjoyed in fact — that these annoying, arrogant hypocrites do ignore nearly every one of the 613 commandments that God set forth in the Bible, but why to they even bother making a pathetic show at pretending to be a true believer and follower of God? Who do they think they're fooling by saying, 'Well I'm not going to kill homosexuals as God demands, or even go out of my way to persecute them. If they stay in the shadows I will pretend I don't see them, I will sell them groceries, cars and houses, but if they ask for a marriage licence, I will... finally... take a stand and ... no, no, I won't kill them, I'll simply refuse to supply one. I will have done my duty to God'. No, you won't have you moron. They think that if they do the barest minimum, something that won't inconvenience them too much, then that token effort should be enough to get them into heaven. They certainly wouldn't kill anyone, they don't want to spend the rest of their life in prison, or worse, be shot dead by the police. Even though they claim to be true believers, inexplicably they fear human justice far more than they fear divine justice. So they take a symbolic stand of refusing a licence, as if that will somehow eradicate homosexuality, thinking that their religiously biased society will protect them. But just as Spencer was mistaken to have expected Jesus at any moment, Davis was foolish to think that this childish act of defiance would work in her favour. And do the likes of Davis really think God, if he has the superpowers they claim he has, hasn't already seen all the commandments they have ignored? He'll be screaming, 'You're not supposed to be refusing them a silly marriage licence you fool, you're supposed to be killing them, removing them from my sight! What part of "They must be put to death" do you not understand?'

Of course God screaming his displeasure at their failures raises another problem. Why don't we hear and see his displeasure play out in the real world? Why aren't these Christian hypocrites, at the very least, cowering tearfully under the counter when God's angry voice starts thundering in their heads, or more spectacularly, why aren't they getting struck down by unexpected bolts of lightning or turned into pillars of salt? We all know, both believers and non-believers, that if the Bible is to believed then their God is a vindictive, vicious, barbaric, sadistic bastard that is not slow in slaughtering those that disobey or displease him, even if they're innocent babies. Why is it that the various homosexual couples got to leave the county office and go home for a nice meal, albeit sans their licence on the first few attempts, and the proud Christian eventually gets carted off to jail? I'm thinking that's not how the Bible story should play out. It doesn't have the bones for a Hollywood epic. Not a single miracle, angel or angry burning bush to be seen. So where is God in all of this, why hasn't he or one of his reps put in an appearance? Does he not realise (well of course he does, he's God after all) that the masses are fast losing faith in him, and turning away in droves? Even in America, one of the most religious countries on the planet, atheism is on the increase, so recalling that Spencer was outside the county office and expecting Jesus at any moment, why hasn't he made an appearance and made an attempt to turn the tide? His deafening silence, his embarrassing absence, it's almost as if he doesn't exist.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Sep, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Ron, 09 Sep, 2015

    Hi John. Read your latest article re. gay marriage and god non intervention and wish to make a few brief simple comments that you will surely make some comment in response.

    I'm unsure how much is serious, most I would say, how much you write tongue in cheek and of course you usually inject a bit of humour that I always enjoy. As you know I was on the Christian side of the fence but jumped over some time back. But based on memory plus looking at some old notes, here are a few words. We cannot put god in a box. We cannot demand that he does what we want when we want as per our expectations. It simply doesn't and can't work that way. We live in a universe governed by laws like the law of cause and effect. We have to accept the consequences of this. We are all given a free will to choose how we will act. We can use this for good or for ill. If God was to respond by giving us what we expect from him he would lose his glory. He would no longer be god but little different to you and I. This is common teaching in Christian circles everywhere. In 2 Corinthians 5:7 it says "For we walk by faith, not by sight". In John 20:29 Jesus replied to doubting Thomas, "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed, blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed". Christians are taught, maybe rather conveniently, that it is not important for any of us to see god's activities with our physical eyes.

    Many Christians say undeniable examples of gods intervention exist such as the existence of modern Israel. I find that there is little outside of biblical origin. As you know we can all see things we want to see. Many believers see intervention in almost everything even the local cloud patterns. On the other side atheists and agnostics have an explanation for everything. Round and round it goes.

    Christians believe nothing happens that god does not ordain, cause or allow. That, of course, opens a mighty can of worms, one that would spark strong emotions and logic in yourself John, and many other thinking people. Many see an apparent random event which supposedly directs one to go the way god wants as divine intervention. A real hot potato for discussion, and is still hot, is the parting of the red sea. Exodus, chapter 14. Science has proffered a number of plausible theories but there remains no explanation on how it allowed the Israelites to cross but when the Egyptians tried to follow they were destroyed. Of course, there remains one obvious answer, maybe, that it never actually happened!!

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Sep, 2015

    Hi Ron. Thanks for your comments. I enjoy getting an insight into how someone with a Christian past might view my take on the world. And yes, it's all completely serious, in that all the accusations I make towards the Bible are true. I don't need to make silly stuff up when religion is the subject. Of course many people, including most Christians, may think I'm joking by saying that they're not allowed to wear clothes made of two different materials, eat shellfish, get a tattoo or visit a medium, but these things are all true, silly, but true. If only they would read their holy book, and not just accept the sanitised and ultra-condensed 'Reader's Digest' version from their minister, pastor or priest on Sunday.

    My post was only incidentally about gay marriage and God's non-intervention. It was first and foremost about hypocritical Christians who claim to be devout and to be following God's commandments, and yet are ignoring most of them and simply following a few that don't really impact on their essentially secular lifestyle. I've found that most Christians can't even list all of the Ten Commandments, so how can they know they're following them all? I saw a promo for a TV drama the other night where a minister or priest asks a young woman, 'Do you know the Ten Commandments?', and when she replies, 'I should hope so', he asks, 'What do they say about lying?' We weren't shown her reply, but contrary to what many think, there is no commandment against lying. Commandments against murder, stealing, adultery and coveting your neighbour's donkey, yes, they're in there, but not lying. There is one that says 'You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor', but this doesn't stop you from lying to your neighbour or to others when the lies don't involve your neighbour. Also missing from the Ten Commandments are prohibitions against sex with children or slavery or racism or genocide. But don't look sideways at that donkey! And as I said, there's actually 613 commandments in the Bible, not just the famous 10. And why did God think it vitally important to have a commandment prohibiting sex with goats but nothing prohibiting sex with children? To repeat what I've written elsewhere, many Christians now argue that Jesus gave them permission to disobey much of what God told the Hebrews. But this is false, since Jesus, if the Bible is to be believed, quite clearly said:

    'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.' MT 5:17-20
    Neither Jesus nor any of his disciples would recognise modern Christians as following his teaching. For a start they aren't Jewish and don't follow the law handed down by God. Christians are deluding themselves into believing they are following God's commandments, when nothing could be further from the truth. They are following a humanistic philosophy that has rejected God's barbaric, unjust and/or silly commandments, but they continue to falsely say that their moral code comes from the Bible.

    Christians say they don't have to kill homosexuals or atheists or avoid eating shellfish because that is Old Testament stuff, and they follow the New Testament. But if that were the case then they wouldn't persecute homosexuals or refuse them marriage licences either, since that's all Old Testament stuff too. Marriage and original sin, it's all Old Testament stuff, but they cunningly embrace those passages while dismissing all the passages where God communes with other gods and bashes babies against rocks. These Christian hypocrites like Kim Davis think that they can claim to be good Christians by simply not killing or stealing, and by loving their family, without grasping that this is how all decent people live, be they religious or atheistic. If Christians are going to obey God then they must obey all his demands, not just the ones they can live with. They are lying to me and to themselves if they pick and choose which morals they will accept and yet still insist they are obedient Christians. Would a slave be seen as totally obedient if he only obeyed a handful of his master's commands and ignored the rest?

    As for God's non-intervention in the world, this is another topic that Christians can't agree on. We have some famous, important Christians claiming that God has caused numerous modern disasters to punish us for our sins, such as hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and the earthquakes in Christchurch, as well as God actively curing people of cancer and rescuing babies from tornados — 'It's a miracle. Thankyou God!' Then we have other equally famous and important Christians claiming that God played no part in these disasters or miracles. The reality is that there is no evidence whatsoever that any disaster or survival was caused by a supernatural event, they can all be better explained by natural means. Long gone are the days when God did apparently perform true miracles, events that modern science would deem as impossible. In the Bible, especially in the beginning of the Old Testament, God was popping up everywhere and chatting to untold people. He was continually interfering in everyone's life, even killing every human and animal on the entire planet at one stage except for Noah and his little boat. God had a plan for the world, and by God people were going to follow it, even if he had to continually push them in the right direction. But then following the times recounted in the gospels, things went quiet, with miracles and the clear hand of God disappearing from the world.

    So it is clearly nonsense to argue that God doesn't intervene in the world, since most of the Bible, depicting thousands of years of history, has him annoyingly pushing people around all the time, the question now is why has he stopped? Where has God gone, why doesn't he intervene anymore as he did originally? Whatever the reason, Christians have realised that they need an excuse for God's embarrassing absence. All the old Christian excuses you mentioned Ron, 'We cannot put god in a box. We cannot demand that he does what we want when we want as per our expectations. It simply doesn't and can't work that way' etc., would only make sense if God had never intervened, when clearly he has for most of his history. So these excuses are mere distractions, designed to make us think that God is naturally the silent type, and that we would be fools to think that he would suddenly change his ways just for us.

    Turning to the old doubting Thomas story and the push to believe on faith, here are some quotes from the Bible, including your two Ron, which encourage blind faith over reason and evidence:

    'For we walk by faith, not by sight' (II Corinthians 5:7)
    'Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.' (John 20:29)
    'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' (Hebrews 11:1)
    'I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' (Mk 10:15)
    As George H. Smith said, 'Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason'. To me, being asked to believe something on blind faith is the epitome of a scam, where the smarmy scammer insists that we don't need to see the evidence that the promised lottery funds really exist, that psychic healing really works or that astrology can accurately predict the weather — 'You don't need to see the evidence, and our explanation doesn't need to make sense, just trust us'. No informed, intelligent person would accept these claims on faith, so why do people trust Christians when they pull the same scam?

    As you say Ron, 'Christians are taught, maybe rather conveniently, that it is not important for any of us to see god's activities with our physical eyes'. But if, contrary to the past, no one can see God at work in the world anymore, doesn't this suggest that God isn't active in the world anymore? If even Christians accept that 'We live in a universe governed by laws like the law of cause and effect. We have to accept the consequences of this', then what need do we even have for God? If I were to claim that leprechauns, rather than God, were working behind the scenes, but they don't think it's important that we see them, would you believe me? I would hope not, but how is my argument any different to that of Christians? Also, if 'it is not important for any of us to see god's activities with our physical eyes', then that means that prayer will never work, since if we pray for something that's unlikely to happen, and it happens, then God's activity will be revealed. Also if God can't do anything that we can't attribute to natural causes, since it would show his hand, then there is no good reason to suspect that, like the leprechauns, he is even hiding back there. Why, in modern times, has God gone to such lengths to make it appear that the world is entirely natural, governed by natural laws, and he doesn't exist? In the past he was desperate to prove to people he was real, with miracles and retribution left, right and centre, so why is he now trying to undo all that good work? What's changed?

    If 'We are all given a free will to choose how we will act. We can use this for good or for ill', then by definition God won't interfere in human lives, so again, God is no longer needed and might as well not exist. But to return to my earlier point, it is well documented that God denied untold people the right to exercise their free will in the past, so clearly the modern Christian claim that God will never impinge on human free will is utterly bogus. It is merely a transparent excuse to explain his non-intervention in modern times. And it can't be argued that perhaps God has changed his ways, and is trying a hands-off approach since micromanaging everyone clearly didn't work. God is described as someone who is perfect, and a perfect being can't change, since if you have something that is perfect and you change it, it can only become less perfect, which is impossible for God. So if God's perfection meant intervening in human lives, which the Bible says he did to an irritating degree, then God must always intervene, free will be damned.

    As for the claim that, 'If God was to respond by giving us what we expect from him he would lose his glory. He would no longer be god but little different to you and I', the major problem I see with this, for Christians, is that none of them are going to heaven, but maybe I am. By this I mean that Christians expect God to keep his promise and take them to heaven, but since this would be giving them what they expect, he must refuse so as not to lose his glory. I honestly don't expect to go to heaven, so if God exists he'll send me there, again just to keep his glory. Heaven will be full of surprised atheists.

    And to be honest, I would rather that God was little different to you and me, and many other people I know. Christians say I have two fathers, my biological father and my heavenly father. My biological father loved me and supported me throughout his life. If I needed help he was always there for me, if I was overseas he was only a phone call away. And yet my heavenly father, whom I'm told loves me infinitely more than my biological father did, has never once turned up to help me or offer advice. Not even a cheap card on my birthday. I have no photos of him, I've never heard his voice, and even though I've been assured that he's been stalking me all my life, even perving at me in the shower, he continues to hide from me. Why? Well OK, I know why, I've read the Bible. I've read of the horrific crimes against humanity he committed, so I'd be ashamed to show my face as well. No doubt he expects I'd reject such a monster. And being omniscient, he is of course right.

    Regarding the claim that 'Many Christians say undeniable examples of gods intervention exist such as the existence of modern Israel', they really are grasping at straws. It took over 2,000 years for modern Israel to be created, and there is no evidence that God was involved. Israel has been at war or on a war footing since its creation, so God's plan has been a poorly thought out one. Think about it, God is all-powerful and all-knowing so he could easily have devised the creation of Israel that saw it immediately reach peaceful and prosperous relations with its neighbours. In Exodus he screwed with the Pharaoh's mind to force his hand, so he could easily have done likewise with Israel's neighbours. If he was going to intervene, as Christians claim he did, then surely he would have done so over 2,000 years ago with a perfect plan and a perfect execution, whereas history suggests he created an utter shambles that has caused much misery and loss of life.

    You're right Ron that 'Many believers see intervention in almost everything even the local cloud patterns. On the other side atheists and agnostics have an explanation for everything. Round and round it goes'. Let's not forget the face of Jesus on that taco. God's powers have certainly waned over the millennia, from creating a universe, and insisting we worship him for it on pain of eternal torture, he now struggles to perform cheap party tricks and refuses to take credit for them. What's happened? Do god's get dementia? Also I must disagree with the perception that 'atheists and agnostics have an explanation for everything'. For a start, agnostics have no explanations at all, that's why they agnostics, they claim they don't know. And informed atheists certainly don't claim to have an explanation for everything, or perhaps even anything. All atheists like myself assert is that we don't see any evidence of gods or need for gods. We certainly can't explain why the big bang happened or how life began or why Kim Kardashian is famous. If atheists offer possible explanations for some things, they're usually borrowed from scientists, philosophers, historians and skeptics. Speaking personally, I look at the arguments put forward by both the Christian and the scientist et al. and side with the one that has the best rational and evidential support. Science certainly doesn't explain everything by a long shot, but it is light years ahead of a really old book that says the universe was created in six days, that the earth rests on pillars, that unicorns used to exist, that a virgin gave birth to a man that walked on water and who was then set up to be tortured and murdered by his own father, but was then resurrected from the dead. All because two naïve, trusting nudists ate some forbidden fruit that God tempted them with in the first place. And even after the blame was squarely placed on the two nudists and God's son was then killed to make things right, bloody God still places the stain of original sin on me and says it's me that must repent. Say what?? I wasn't even there! As an atheist I certainly have no explanation as to how Christians can believe all that shit.

    As for the explanations offered by Christians and atheists, I don't think that 'Round and round it goes' accurately describes the debate. That phrase suggests that opposing arguments balance or cancel out, that a stalemate is reached and it's back to the drawing board for both sides. The reality is that religion long ago lost the war with science, our world runs on scientific knowledge and not religious myths. Any Christian that thinks he is holding his ground with science is greatly deluded. Evolution is taught in our universities, not creationism. Scientists, not priests, flew a probe to Pluto. Dinosaurs walked with other dinosaurs, not Adam and Eve.

    You also say that 'Christians believe nothing happens that god does not ordain, cause or allow' and that 'Many see an apparent random event which supposedly directs one to go the way god wants as divine intervention'. That of course means that if God is running the show then we don't have free will, which contradicts the Christian claim that we do. and if we don't have free will, if we are merely puppets following God's script, then we can't be judged and punished, or rewarded, for choices that we didn't freely make. Is there anything that Christians say that they don't contradict elsewhere? And again, it's useless for some moron to pray that his sports team will win if God is following a mysterious plan to bring about a certain future, which the Bible clearly says is the case. God has already decided what will happen and what part each of us must play. And because God is immutable, not subject to change, then the plan can't change. The weird thing is that the plan — creation, humans, the flood, Armageddon, Judgement Day etc — must have existed from the very beginning. When I say God decided something concerning his plan, this can't actually have happened, it's impossible for God to make a decision. To make a decision is to consider some issue and reach a conclusion, which means you didn't know the answer or the stance you would take before you reached your conclusion. This is simple stuff for humans, but for a God that is all-knowing, perfect and immutable, it's impossible. For him to consider some issue and reach a decision means that previously he didn't know the answer or what course of action to take. But this would mean that prior to reaching his decision he didn't know everything, and by reaching some new conclusion he has changed, since he now knows something new. But God already knows everything and can't change, so clearly the entire plan was fully formed and set in stone the moment God popped into existence, or perhaps, God and the plan have always existed. Either way, God is no different from a machine, an automaton. His actions are utterly constrained by his programming, by the plan that can't be changed. Not only do humans not have free will, neither does God!

    Think about it, God, being omniscient, knew that Adam and Eve were going to screw things up, and he knew that after creating humans he was going to slaughter most of them in the flood, but he took no steps to put better security around that forbidden tree or make other simple changes that would have saved him a lot of grief. Why? Because like you and me, God has a role to play, and even though he knows things are going to go badly, he has to play his part and act surprised when things go awry. Although in reality God can no more be surprised than a toaster can, since God can't think and suddenly discover something that he finds surprising. Again this is because God knows everything, so he can't by definition be surprised by some new information. When humans think, say to plan our futures, we form new connections in our brains and amass new information, but God can't do this, so clearly God can't even think!

    This is what happens when you seriously consider the claims that God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), present everywhere at once (omnipresent), unchangeable (immutable), perfect, all-good and all-loving etc. and is working to a plan and a future that can't change. Suddenly you realise that a god with these attributes is impossible. If any god or gods exist, it certainly can't be the one that Christians describe. But of course your typical Christian doesn't think deeply (or even superficially) about what sort of God their Bible describes. And in fact they're actively encouraged not to. As Christians know, belief in God comes through faith and not reason. Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation in the 16th century, described reason as 'the devil's bride' and 'God's worst enemy' and wrote that 'Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason'.

    As for the 'parting of the red sea' story, of course the short answer is that no, it never actually happened. It may be a 'real hot potato for discussion' in Christian circles, but scientists and historians lost interest centuries ago. I mean it's just silly, Christians seriously argue that God parted the sea with his superpowers, so expect atheists to explain how it might have happened naturally, and yet when you ask them if they believe all the bits in the lead up to this event, they say no. They don't believe the Bible when it says the Pharaoh's magicians turned their staffs into snakes and they don't ask us to explain how God disguised himself as a pillar of fire to lead the Hebrews to the Red Sea. Why should we believe the parting of the Red Sea actually happened if the snake thing didn't happen? If even Christians can detect that the story clearly contains lies and fantasies, why don't they worry that the entire story might be fantasy? After all, how can you trust an author that places falsehoods in a story he claims is true? Of course this describes the entire Bible. Also with the Exodus story, the Pharaoh repeatedly refused to let them go only because God kept brainwashing him and forcing him to say no. A vindictive god squashed the Pharaoh's free will solely so that he could unleash yet another plague on him and his people. Why don't Christians try and explain why God was such a bastard as to inflict such suffering on the innocent Egyptians?

    But why are we even considering a miracle that supposedly happened thousands of years ago, why aren't we investigating apparent miracles that happened yesterday or last year? We come back to the problem that signs from God have long ago ceased. In Biblical times people knew God was real because he walked with them in the Garden of Eden, fought with them in battle, parted the seas and made the sun stop in the sky, appeared as a talking burning bush and was noticeably quick to smite those he was pissed at. But today people say they know God is real because he hides from them and refuses to help in their time of need. I mean, really? That's the best argument Christians can come up with? They know God is real because they never see any evidence of him? If I said I know that the Hindu gods must be real simply because I've never seen them, would you believe me? Of course not, so why do Christians delude themselves with such a silly argument?

    Why do Christians blindly believe primitive, superstitious peasants whose ignorance of the world and how it worked was monumental, and disbelieve modern scientists who have explained how things really work, and back it up with physical demonstrations and evidence? And then Christians come up with the childish explanation that God has cunningly made the world to appear natural rather than supernatural because he wants us to believe he exists based only on the clear evidence that says he doesn't.

    The reason we don't see God intervening in the world today is that he doesn't exist, and the Bible writers mistakenly thought they saw god at work for the same reason that children think they see monsters in the closet.

  3. Comment by Bob, 10 Sep, 2015

    This woman is grandstanding. She had two other options. She could have gone to her employers explained her objections and asked to be transferred to another position. If that didn't work she could have quit and taken another job elsewhere. Neither course would have allowed her to crow openly and display her Christian principles. She can't expect a large government organisation to put up with open rebellion by one employee.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Sep, 2015

    I agree completely Bob, but we're both talking as people that don't see God as our lord and master. We must remember that the US is a very religious country and these deluded Christians sincerely believe that not only will other Christians in powerful positions come to their aid, but that Jesus himself will likely make an appearance. I quoted a supporter who confidently told us that 'Lord Jesus Christ will come and straighten all this out really quickly'. How deluded do you have to be to expect that to happen? The likes of Kim Davis doesn't just believe that she personally shouldn't be issuing gay marriage licences, she believes no one should be, and she naively believes that her scary boss — God — wants her to take a stand.

    I mean sure, she should have realised that to find religion triumphing over human justice we have to go back into the last century, and that in the US today the state wins over the church, but if Christians could think rationally then Christianity would have disappeared and the problem wouldn't exist. The reality is that deluded people will always behave in ways the rest of us view as totally silly.

  5. Comment by Ron, 13 Sep, 2015

    Hi there John. Appreciate your long reply. I laugh sometimes at your replies, not mockingly or taking the mickey. It is just your sometimes colourful language and the way you say things. On the topic of god and religion I don't think I've ever known anyone so passionate and emotionally charged up. Full of hard to deny logic. Much of what you express is precisely what motivated me to change what side of the fence I want to be some yrs ago. You also usually add a few more insights I had never addressed. You started 2 paragraphs with "think about it" and I do.

    In an earlier response you touched on the fall in numbers, in the USA, of those with religious affiliations. In 7 yrs it dropped 8% from 78.4% to 70.6 in 2014. Still high. The US remains the country with the highest number of Christians. Largest drop were younger but it crossed all ages and groups. Mainline Catholic and Protestant the most.

    It is quite surprising, but many believe completely the parting of the red sea story, with those who say it is the most exciting story in the old testament. You may know some yrs ago Christian divers found remains of Egyptian chariots, other army stuff and horse and human remains at the bottom of the red sea. It was verified and hailed as "irrefutable evidence" and it shook the religious and scientific worlds.

    I totally agree about the lack of miracles and silence of god really can only point to the inevitable. That he surely cannot exist and all those OT stories are not real. Over time it made me think that way and, no doubt, for many others. There are Christians who actually do not accept those stories as proof or fact, which means, to them, that nothing has changed to the present. I don't think miracles necessarily cause people to believe in god long term, even if they happened today. They likely would cause a seeking for explanations but would not lead to faith. Only gods word is supposed to do that. Psalm 78:32 says "they still sinned despite his wonders, they did not believe".

    In response to an earlier post of mine you rubbished how the Trumpet mag. regarded USA race riots as a fulfilled prophecy re. Isaiah 1:7. Well, that was in the July issue. In early Aug. I emailed them asking how they figured that was a prophecy come to pass along with another query. You guessed it. 5 weeks later and not even the courtesy of a reply.

    Going back to miracles. You would be told from many Christians that modern day miracles happen all the time. That is in conversions. That is a sinner who sees their sin and changes their heart and recognizes their need for a saviour in JC. These are seen as greater than healings, which are claimed to be very common, at the discretion of god on who gets healed and who does not. Healings are temporary as that person will die but the born again inherits eternal life to live with god forever.

    Hey, John, did you ever get anything positive from the bible? How did you find Proverbs and the wisdom therein. Many are a bit obscure and rather cryptic but I think there is some terrific stuff there that is still just as relevant today. So many translate to sayings used today all the time.

    Preachers rarely touch on Proverbs in their sermons, instead often dissecting some oddly worded verses and causing some of the congregation to nod off. Bit like those silly boring old bible discussion groups I used to be involved in. Nice people, but little achieved. Just a social thing really but they happen all over the country every night.

    I heard a story of an atheist easily as passionate as you who met a woman who was a church attending Christian at a Pentecostal church. He knew that was the woman for him but only if he made certain decisions. To cut it short he is now married to her and is a leader at that same church. So watch out John gods pursuit can snare the most unsuspecting!!! Backsliders like me have a fair bit to fear according to various bible verses but equally there are those verses that guide one back to the fold if one chooses to do that. I am told that those like me that were on that side of the fence are pursued relentlessly. Gets a bit confusing. I'm seen as letting my wife down. When we married we were both believers, my wife would not have gone ahead otherwise. God commands me to lead her in our walk and to build her up and strengthen her as a Christian but I chose the opposite. After a period of time my wife accepted my choice. She is still the wonderful lady I married and I continue to be a loving, decent, law-abiding person and husband.

    Back to your recent response/comment. I wonder if you missed the point a little in a paragraph you wrote responding to my words on expectations from god and god losing his glory and your quip about heaven being full of surprised atheists. I don't think so.

    What I meant was god made promises that heaven and eternal life was there for those who take the requisite steps. It is believed usually that god does not go back on his promises. Those Christians can expect to go to heaven, etc as promised. The difference is god did not promise you, John, or me or my neighbour that he would text, email, send a card, phone, send a photo of himself or talk in a human way or stop gay marriages from going ahead or prevent countless large or small personal disasters from occurring because we said he should do. We were taught that he loves us all, atheists, whatever. He is impartial. If, say, a tornado cuts a devastating path of destruction through an area, Christian and non Christian persons houses are all destroyed.

    John, don't worry about god perving at you in the shower. He supposedly made us in his own image and was pleased with his work so I feel sure he is OK with what he sees there. Besides, should he not have better things to do anyway?

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Sep, 2015

    Hi Ron. Thanks for your response, so buckle up for another lengthy reply. And yes, this is what I do for fun.

    I'm sure many Christians, especially the fundamentalists, do believe that God parted the Red Sea for Moses, just as they believe in a six day creation, Adam and Eve and the flood of Noah, but most Christians don't believe these stories. Most Christians, the pope and his flock for example, believe in evolution and that the world is billions of years old, not thousands. Many Christians accept that Adam and Eve were just a myth, and yet they still believe in original sin and that Jesus needed to die to remove it. But if Adam and Eve weren't real then there was no original sin and so Jesus wasn't needed! Bible stories suffer the same problem as Bible commandments (morals), why do Christians get to pick and choose which stories they believe and which are just... well, stories? Why do some Christians believe in the Red Sea story but not, as I said, that the Pharaoh's magicians turned their staffs into snakes? Likewise not many believe in the stories of the talking donkey or the bit about unicorns. And even worse, not many believe all the stories where God did truly horrible things. They seek evidence for where God did amazing things, but refuse to look for proof for where he wiped out entire civilisations; men, women and children, and even their animals! As for the bit about where 'Christian divers found remains of Egyptian chariots... at the bottom of the red sea', no, I've never heard of that, which is surprising if it were true. After all I've read, by believers and non-believers, not once have I heard this evidence mentioned, so I sincerely doubt it 'shook the religious and scientific worlds'. I've heard evangelists claim many times that some historical find 'was verified and hailed as "irrefutable evidence"', but not once have I ever seen them justify their claims, except to other gullible Christians. Without exception they were always talking bullshit. I remember a number of years ago they found evidence of a 1st century boat near Galilee (nothing unusual there), but some silly Christians were claiming that it must have been the one that Jesus used! That's generally what Christians refer to as 'irrefutable evidence'. Concerning the discussions I've had with Christians over the years, I've discovered that they are woefully ignorant of what scientists and historians have learnt about the universe, and equally ignorant about much of what their Bible says about their God. (Update: Since writing the above passage, I've since discovered that according to the hoax and urban myth website Snopes (and others), the reports that 'Christian divers found remains of Egyptian chariots... at the bottom of the red sea' are all false and have been circulating in Christian circles for some years now.)

    Regarding miracles, you note that 'There are Christians who actually do not accept those stories as proof or fact', but again, this means that they are essentially saying, 'I don't believe many if not most of the stories about God in the Bible, but I do believe in God because of the Bible stories'. But if you deny the miracle stories — that a god created the universe, life and everything in six days, that he parted the Red Sea, flooded the entire planet, turned water into wine, walked on water and raised people from the dead — then what are you left with? Stories of a vicious, racist, murderous group of desert nomads that slaughtered everyone they met in order to claim a bit more desert, which in their ignorance, having never heard of Hawaii, they thought was prime real estate — the promised land of milk and honey. Without the miracles, stories about God are no different than stories about Hitler.

    You go on to say that you 'don't think miracles necessarily cause people to believe in god long term, even if they happened today'. Quoting Psalm 78:32 you explain that even in Biblical times when miracles were common place, the people that witnessed them first hand still didn't think a god was involved: 'they still sinned despite his wonders, they did not believe'. This is something I've long struggled with, believing that ignorant, superstitious people that undoubtedly believed in the reality of vengeful gods would see them in action slaughtering their enemies and their friends with lightning bolts and performing scary magic, and then the next day, or the next minute, they would simply dismiss what they had witnessed and return to forbidden behaviour that they know this god kills people for. I can see only one explanation for this reaction. Contrary to what the Bible claims, nobody actually saw anything miraculous happen, all the so-called miracles were merely hearsay, something a stranger from another tribe says his cousin heard about. Like urban myths today, the stories weren't believed and people went about their lives ignoring God because they sounded too silly to be true. It is totally unbelievable, matching the stories themselves, that ignorant, superstitious people could truly witness what they naively accepted were amazing and sometimes terrifying god-delivered miracles and for them to then simply ignore them. As you say Ron, certainly today scientifically minded people would first seek non-supernatural explanations, rather than gods at work, but thousands of years of history have shown that nearly everyone else immediately, uncritically and fearfully assumed that they were witnessing the power of the gods. I think that it is nonsense for the Bible to claim that the Hebrews witnessed miracles and then refused to believe. It is merely a literary trick to move the story along and justify God's wrath.

    As for conversions, these events that Christians call 'modern day miracles', they can't possibly be miracles. A miracle must by definition be the work of a god where he breaks or suspends natural laws to bring about some miraculous and apparently impossible result, such as the Sun stopping in the sky, water turning into wine, men walking on water and rising from the dead, and snakes and donkeys talking. I can see how Christians think a miracle must have occurred for people to suddenly believe such crap, but if a conversion occurs, all that has happened is that an unsophisticated person has been swayed by the evangelist's argument. But there is nothing miraculous in convincing someone to change their mind. It's a perfectly natural event. A few years ago I convinced a friend of a friend to reject her belief that aliens were visiting us, however I honestly don't think I performed a modern day miracle. I didn't break the laws of physics, so clearly it wasn't a miracle, so why do silly Christians say that when they win an argument a miracle has occurred? To be a miracle God must have helped them make the conversion, either upfront or behind the scenes. However a conversion where someone honestly and freely realises God is real can't have God pulling strings, either openly or otherwise. God can't be involved in the conversion, he can't manipulate a person's thoughts, he can't perform tricks to prove his existence, since if he does then the person has not been converted due to faith (or even reason). He wouldn't have freely converted, he would have simply converted because God's actions gave him no real choice. A conversion forced by God would certainly be a miracle, but I doubt if you'll find a single Christian that argues that God gains all his conversions by force. So to repeat, if God hasn't got his sticky fingers in the conversion process, and to be fair he must be hands-off, then it can't be a miracle. People have asked why God doesn't perform some worldwide miracle, such as moving all the stars to spell out: 'I AM GOD!', and for everyone to read it in their native language, but Christians repeatedly answer that God refuses to put people in the position where they have no choice but to believe in him. They must come to him through faith in their own time. So again, God is not working miracles to convert people, either individually or en masse.

    And how could a conversion be greater than healing? How could any Christian say healings are common, especially compared to conversions? Go to any prison or church and you'll see many conversions but not one person being healed of a terminal illness. Inexplicable healings, if they really happened, would be true miracles, but conversions, ie people changing their mind, are commonplace and perfectly natural, and yet Christians childishly argue that changing your mind is more of a miracle than being cured of cancer or AIDS. The reality is that they claim conversions as God's real miracles because they can't find any miraculous examples of healing to highlight.

    Regarding the belief that 'the born again inherits eternal life to live with god forever', I can't seriously understand how anyone could believe this. With a mere 7 billion or so people on the planet, God can't seemingly find the time to spend a single second with anyone, let alone have a decent conversation, and yet we're asked to believe that in heaven where there might be up to 100 billion souls, God will apparently have plenty of time to hang out with all of us for all eternity, in a manner in which we can honestly say we are living with God in the same sense that we live with our family now. Christians truly don't grasp what heaven would be like if real.

    You ask Ron if I ever got anything positive from the Bible. Nope. Although Solomon's erotic songs are interesting, especially when someone explains what they really said before the Christian prudes cleaned them up. I agree that Proverbs does contain some wisdom still relevant today, but this in no way redeems the rest of the Bible. To me this is a little like someone asking, did I get anything positive from Hitler and the Nazis? They too had some wisdom, for example they discovered in the 1930s that smoking causes lung cancer and the Nazi government ran extensive anti-smoking campaigns. Hitler forbade people to smoke in his presence. But the evil that permeates the Bible (and Hitler's reign) far outweighs a few positive aspects. And even Proverbs isn't entirely positive, for example in the way it portrays women as evil temptresses:

    'For the lips of an adulteress drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a doubled edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.' (Proverbs 5:3-6)
    Proverbs also recommends one spends a loaf of bread on a prostitute rather than mess around with another man's woman, which is sensible advice, but it also means that God and the Bible support prostitution, which of course is not something Christians do. Proverbs was supposedly written mainly by King Solomon, who had 700 wives as well as 300 concubines, and so it's perhaps not surprising if he thought women were sometimes less than faithful. He was in a sense encouraging his wives and sex slaves to cheat on him. If we assume he was fair and had sex with a different woman each night, that means that each woman would only have sex roughly once every three years. So of course they would seek satisfaction elsewhere. But since God had no problem with men having multiple wives and concubines, he clearly had no conception that women might not like being treated as sex toys, or if he did, he didn't care how they felt.

    Of course the true problem with the Bible is one of utter confusion. Even if there is some true wisdom and ethical advice mixed in among the truly evil and immoral advice, the reader is never told which bits they should follow and which today will get them arrested. Should we stone some victims of rape to death or not? According to the Bible, it's all pure wisdom from cover to cover, but the reality is that if our society, including Christians, still followed it we would never have put the likes of slavery, inquisitions, pogroms, crusades and witch burning behind us. For people wanting to understand how to lead a good life, I would never recommend they read the Bible. Or the Koran. There is just too high a risk that they would naively accept the bullshit stories and immoral advice and completely miss the odd piece of genuine wisdom and true history.

    I'm sorry, but I don't believe the story of the passionate atheist who married a believer and is now a church leader. These silly stories of atheists who have seen the light are almost always made up. As I've said, if he was an informed atheist, as opposed to a passionate atheist, since passion doesn't mean knowledge, then he's still an atheist and a hypocrite, lying to his wife and church just to get the woman. If he is now a devout believer, then he wasn't an informed atheist in the first place. The reality is that some people that call themselves atheists hold that position for reasons that are often just as poorly thought out as the reasons that people give for believing. They may have picked the correct stance, but for flimsy reasons that can be easily demolished by a more knowledgeable evangelist. Also, I have some close friends that are believers, and none of us have had to sacrifice our integrity to remain friends. I don't have to pretend to be a believer for them to like me.

    You say Ron that 'Backsliders like me have a fair bit to fear according to various bible verses... I am told that those like me that were on that side of the fence are pursued relentlessly'. If God is real you have nothing more to fear than any of us. Eternal torment for a backslider can be no worse than eternal torment for an outspoken atheist. And since I was unknowingly baptised a Christian as a child, and I've never managed to get that revoked, plus sent to Sunday School, then I will be viewed as a backslider too and 'pursued relentlessly'. But regarding this relentless pursuit, fundamentalist Ian Wishart has said that God puts 'people in your life who could help you understand if you allowed them'. My reply was that when I think of the many that have preached to me from street corners or knocked on my door over the years, I have to ask, why does he send such morons? God knows my beliefs and the arguments he has to counter, so why do 'his people' come so ill-prepared?

    As for Christians thinking that you've let your wife down, why should you be worried what they think? Are you worried that Muslims and Scientologists also think that you've let your wife, and yourself, down by not following their nonsense? It's a sorry world when people let irrational and false guilt force them to say they believe something when they don't. And regarding the belief that 'God commands me to lead her in our walk and to build her up and strengthen her as a Christian', I was astounded at how arrogant and sexist this Christian crap is. Of course it's pure Biblical ideology, that women are inferior to men and must be educated and instructed, like a child, slave or pet, to bring them up to a minimal level where their master is satisfied that they might be useful. It reminds me of the following Bible passages which insist that women, like slaves, must be completely submissive:

    'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.' (1TI 2:11)

    '...women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.' (1CO 14:34-35)

    I have no respect for men that see themselves as superior to women, and I feel sorry for women that have been mentally and perhaps physically forced into accepting that false belief. Of course first and foremost I believe Christianity is false simply because there is no evidence for their god, but secondly I honestly wouldn't wish it to be true either, to live in a world where I was forced to treat women as inferior beings.

    As concerns your previous comment — 'If God was to respond by giving us what we expect from him he would lose his glory. He would no longer be god but little different to you and I' — I possibly did miss its true meaning, since to be honest a lot of these sort of Christian explanations are nonsensical to me. Thus I took it literally and gave a glib response. I agree that God never promised specifically that he would form a relationship with me or enter into any sort of loving or even friendly communication, indeed the Bible tells us numerous times that we should fear God. For example, 'Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.' (ECC 12:13) I also agree that God never said he would personally step in and stop gay marriages for example. He wouldn't have expected that he would need to, his fearful followers should be doing that. Likewise I don't expect him to prevent personal disasters, because based on the Bible those personal disasters are all part of God's plan. However your typical Christian does think that God can be implored to help them, that's why they're always praying, and they try to win me over by telling me what a loving relationship I could have with Jesus and/or God. However the legal fine print tells me I should never expect to ever meet or hear from Jesus and/or God and that 'loving relationship' means something completely different in supernatural speak.

    So who's right? Is there any Biblical evidence that God can be implored to help and does he ever intervene, peeved that we've gone off track? Is there evidence that he doesn't just hide while shaking his head disapprovingly? The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is actually full of stories where God steps in and punishes people for not following his commandments. As punishment the Bible says God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he turned Lot's wife into a pillar salt and he allowed Job's family to be murdered. Psalm 94 in part says that,

    'The Lord is a God who punishes people...
    The Lord will not leave his people.
    He will not leave them without help.
    Justice will return and bring fairness.
    And those who want to do right will be there to see it...
    And if the Lord had not helped me,
    I would have been silenced by death...
    He will punish those evil judges for the bad things they did.
    He will destroy them because they sinned.
    The Lord our God will destroy them.'
    So why was Kim Davis not helped, why were those 'evil judges' not punished, as the Christians clearly expected? Punishment wise the Bible also promises that,
    'For the LORD will execute judgment by fire And by His sword on all flesh, And those slain by the LORD will be many.' (Isaiah 66:16)

    'Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.' (Ephesians 5:6)

    Also God will not hide from us, he is not opposed to revealing his presence,
    'Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.' (Deuteronomy 4:36)
    Furthermore we can expect God to act, to help or punish humans,
    'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:19)

    'I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men.' (2 Samuel 7:14)

    'The LORD has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.' (Psalms 118:18)

    And if someone angers God, even for the most trivial things, even if trying to help, God will immediately punish that person,
    'But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.' (2 Samuel 6:6-8)
    All these passages clearly show that God can most definitely be expected to immediately punish those that annoy him, that he will not hide from us and that he will help those that believe in him. As an atheist I can't now expect help, but I should have felt the wrath of God long ago, even if it was just an abusive email. Likewise believers like Kim Davis were right to expect help with those 'evil judges' that sent her to jail. While we can't expect God to act as we wish (although why then do people pray?), according to the Bible we should clearly and unambiguously see God at work in the world following his own plan. He certainly was very obvious in Biblical times. The modern Christian explanation that, because of free will, God has left us to our own devices and won't be seen interfering is just a pathetic excuse to hide the fact that there is no evidence for God. Of course God's new found apathy and indifference does explain why in a disaster that 'Christian and non Christian persons houses are all destroyed', but a much simpler and far more rational explanation is that there is no God to intervene and help his followers.

    As for the Christian statement that 'We were taught that he loves us all, atheists, whatever. He is impartial', any person that swallows that clearly hasn't read the Bible. Let's recall that the Old Testament has God wiping out untold civilisations one after another, and also all at once with the flood of Noah. He says that the Jews are his chosen people, not the Egyptians or the Hawaiians. He insists that his followers slaughter atheists, mediums, homosexuals and disobedient children. Even Jesus says that anyone who doesn't hate his own family can't be one of his followers, as well as telling them that anyone who won't accept him as their king must be killed. Anyone that thinks that God and Jesus love everyone equally is obviously reading a bastardised, and thus false, version of the Bible. Remember that only a few of us are going to Heaven, most of us are going to Hell for eternal torture, hardly the sign of a loving god, so for Christians to argue that God loves us all is simply bullshit. God is impartial? Impartial my arse!

    But before we leave this, what might the statement 'he loves us' be expected to mean? We all understand what people mean when they say their parents or their partner or their child loves them, and our relationships that are obvious to everyone demonstrates this love. But what would it mean to say that someone that we don't know and have never met says they love us? Let's imagine that some stranger says to me that actress Julia Roberts loves me deeply? I learn that this stranger has never met Julia Roberts either, but they read somewhere that she does indeed love me. Can I honestly believe that Julia loves me if we have never met or even communicated by email? Harbouring this great love for me she nevertheless lives her life as if I didn't exist, although wealthy she makes no attempt to visit me. Should I interpret Julia's deliberate efforts at shunning me as actually signally her great love for me, or should I instead assume she doesn't know I exist, and if by some fluke she does know of me, that she still doesn't love me? Let's make things worse, and more accurate, and assume I've been told it is actually FBI Agent Dana Scully that loves me. Again we have never met, and of course never will meet as Dana Scully is a fictitious character from 'The X-Files' TV show. How could I ever believe an imaginary character could love me, whether I'm thinking of Scully or God? Surely the belief that I am loved by someone that reason argues doesn't exist is nothing but a delusion? I simply can't understand Christians who claim that the more God hides from them and ignores them, the more they know he loves them. Yeah right! They're seriously screwed up with no understanding of how real, genuine loving relationships work. Hell, based on the number of people that ignore me, I must be one of the most loved people on the planet!

    You finish Ron by saying, 'don't worry about god perving at you in the shower. He supposedly made us in his own image and was pleased with his work so I feel sure he is OK with what he sees there. Besides, should he not have better things to do anyway?'

    Well, like many people I've never understood how God making us in his image works. Even though the Bible often describes God as having a human-like appearance, modern Christians insist that God doesn't have a body at all, so he can hardly look like us then. But assuming that the Bible is correct, rather than modern Christians who have never seen God, unlike some Biblical characters who have, if I'm made as a human male in God's image, then how do we explain women, they can't be made in God's image since they have different bits? Actually if read correctly the Bible might explain how male and female humans can be different. In Genesis 1:26 we read,

    'Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness"'
    Note that God said 'Let us', meaning he is conferring with others, and talks of 'our image... our likeness'. At the beginning of the Bible there were many gods, only much later was the story changed to hide this fact and argue that there was only a single god called God. So one assumes that human males were made in the image of a male god and human females were made in the image of a goddess. The Bible also informs us that since God is perfect he is only capable of perfection when he makes something, thus the male body as created must have been perfect, and God was naturally pleased with it. But then he went and ruined it by demanding that it be mutilated. He said to his chosen people,
    'Every male among you must be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and you.' (GE 17:10-11)
    Also the reality is that God will be in the shower with me since God is everywhere and wants to know everything:
    'Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.' (Jeremiah 23: 23-24)
    To ask, should God 'not have better things to do anyway?' is to think of God as a human rather than a god. Humans do have to prioritize what they do and will utterly neglect some tasks that are unnecessary, but an all-knowing and all-present god has no choice in the matter. He must watch me in the shower, and thus I know he is displeased as he is continually reminded that my body is of the original, perfect design and I don't display the sign of the covenant.

    Ever since I heard that male circumcision was God's sign of the covenant between him and the Hebrews, I always thought it didn't make sense. Humans that don't know everything do need to insist that we carry forms of ID or wear identifying uniforms, but an all-knowing god shouldn't have to look closely at a penis to determine if we're one of the people that he loves. And of course it doesn't work for women, so clearly God has no idea who the Hebrew women are, but going by the theme of the Bible, God doesn't really care about women, if need be they can be identified as being the property of those with a mutilated penis. But couldn't God have come up with a better sign, a secret nod perhaps? Evidently I'm not anywhere near as intelligent as God, and yet I can easily identify my male friends without putting my hands down their pants — 'I'm sorry, do I know you? ... (fumble, fumble) ... Oh Bruce, it's you my old friend!'

    It was the same with one of the plagues that God visited on Egypt, the Hebrews had to mark their doors with blood so that God could recognise them and not kill their first born child — 'No seriously, I do truly love you,' says God to the Hebrews, 'I just wouldn't recognise you in the street that's all'. But getting back to a mutilated penis being used by God as a reliable means of identification, it might make sense (if God wasn't all-knowing) in that surely men wouldn't willingly chop off part of their penis, and it would be a hidden form of ID, so anyone that had gone through the risk and great pain of circumcision must surely be committed to the Hebrew cause. It's certainly extreme but it might work, only I later discovered that it doesn't, and God knew that right from the start. For some mark on the body to be used as a unique form of ID, then that mark must be rare. For example if God had said, 'My Hebrew followers will be identified as the ones with black hair', someone would have replied, 'umm... but most everyone has black hair, most of whom are not Hebrew'. So clearly circumcision would only work as a badge of identity if no other civilisation in Biblical times practiced circumcision. But clearly God knew this wasn't the case:

    'A time is coming, says the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised in body but not in spirit — the Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Arabs, and yes, even you people of Judah. For all these pagan nations also circumcise themselves. Unless you circumcise your hearts by loving me, your circumcision is only a heathen rite like theirs, and nothing more.' (Jeremiah 9:25-26)
    So if God encounters some stranger on the road to Bethlehem, and feels them up under their robe and determines they are circumcised, he still can't be sure they are one of his beloved Hebrews, they could be an Egyptian or Ammonite, and in modern times, even a Christian. Coming from an all-powerful and all-knowing god, circumcision seems to have been a stupid idea from the very beginning. And to think people worship this God when this was evidently the best idea he could come up with. Even Hitler ditched the foreskin form of ID and went for a simpler and more effective 'Star of David' emblem to identify the Jews on the streets.

    Of course the Bible was written by ignorant, primitive and superstitious people trying to explain the world and the origin of their culture, so it's not surprising that most of their stories are childish, contradictory and totally wrong. In this they are no different from the stories told by the likes of the ancient Egyptians, Celts and Maya to explain their origin. But what is truly surprising is that while modern Christians can effortlessly see the clear flaws in the ancient creation stories of the Egyptians, Celts and Maya, they stubbornly refuse to recognise the same flaws in the ancient Hebrew stories. I never fail to be utterly amazed that they can be so blind. They're like educated adults saying they still believe in Santa Claus. I'm stunned that a supposedly normal human mind can maintain this delusion, although clearly the high wall of ignorance erected and maintained by the church helps.

  7. Comment by Mira, 11 Sep, 2015

    Hello John, I have expressed my views & even on Roman Catholic blogs. The Curt Jester - I am R.C. & they know me from their blog - The End Days Elizabeth Prata's website, among others.
    Kim Davis was an employee of the state - the public service - she was paid with taxpayer $$$ to provide a / that service - she did not - hers is not to make the law - but to abide by it.

    1. in failing to do perform that which she was paid to do - to deliver a service to the community at large - Kim Davis should have been issued with a warning - upon failure to comply with her job description & according to the criteria of that contract - Kim Davis should have been sacked.
    2. CURIOUSLY .... She Was Not !
    3. Instead Kim Davis was arrested, duly processed & subsequently sent to prison.
    4. Wasting Taxpayer $$$
    5. This begs the question - was this a stunt ? - upon who's design / request - to what outcome ?
    6. Most obvious to me is that Kim Davis is an attention seeker, seeking her 15 minutes of fame & all billed to the taxpayer, like they have all the money in the world to throw in all directions - ALAS.
    7. I read that Pope Francis had a secret meeting with Kim Davis - I despair at the miss-direction of His Holiness.

    P.S. God does not serve to wipe our dribbling chin, nor to do our dirty work for us, at some point we the people of planet earth need to get it together & step up .

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Sep, 2015

    This wasn't a conflict between private citizens, but with the government. Davis was the local county clerk at the courthouse, and she was rightly charged with contempt of court, which in law means 'interference with the functioning of a court'. I doubt if she could have been sacked without first going through the proper legal channels.

    You say that 'God does not serve to wipe our dribbling chin', but shouldn't a loving father do exactly that for his beloved child? It appears that God doesn't do much of anything these days to help. Annoyed at our reluctance to follow his commandments, has he once again angrily stormed off, shouting, 'That's it, you're dead to me!'?

Scams from the Angelic Realm
Wherever you are right now, look around and count how many angels there are near you. Did you get into double figures, or does your life not rank very highly on the angel voyeur scale? What... you couldn't detect any angels at all? Oh dear, what does it say when even dead people aren't interested in you? But fear not, there are people out there, real people, that can act as intermediaries for you, think of pimps for angels, and they can put you touch with angels that will be willing to go home with you and watch everything you do. It's apparently as easy as buying a pet, or a prostitute, and yes, money will need to change hands.

I know, you're thinking, WTF? Angels can't be bought can they? Well no, since clearly you can't buy something that doesn't exist. What you'd be buying is the services of the person who is pimping said angels. I know it's little different from buying some powdered unicorn horn or a gram of fairy dust, but that's how scams work. If unsophisticated, gullible people can be convinced that some fantasy being is actually real then they will happily part with good money to secure something, be it information or an artefact, that connects them to that fantasy being.

What brought this seedy trade in the services of angels to our attention was an advert for a recent talk:

Whispers from the Angelic Realm Angel

An Evening with Angels and Maree Gifkins

  • Who/what are Angels?
  • Why are they around and do they help us?
  • Do they care about me?
  • Can I become aware of them?
  • How do I sense and communicate with Angels?
  • How do I know I'm talking to an Angel?
The evening finishes with a inspirational meditation with Angels. Pre-purchased tickets only $25 pp, Door sales $30pp. Why not have dinner with your friends, followed by a relaxing and up lifting talk on Angels
  • At the closing of the evening the Angels will go home with you.
  • Learn how to connect with angels to receive and feel love and healing.
  • To be uplifted, inspire and to carry this into your life.
So in this case, the angels' pimp takes your $25 or $30 and in return explains how you can locate and then communicate with invisible angels, in the same manner that other pimps might tell you to go to Lower Smith Street and look for people standing around wearing mini skirts and fishnet stockings. The only difference is that you can actually see and touch (for a price) those wearing mini skirts, and you will definitely sense them communicating if you ask what a $10 PAK'nSAVE voucher will get you. But with the angels you see, hear and feel nothing, you have to rely on their pimp to relay what they look like and what they're saying, and whether they're even there at all. You have to accept the pimp's explanation as to why some angel cares about you, when most real people don't, and why they would give up a luxury apartment in Heaven to go home with you, and what ... sleep on your old sofa? It's amazing that some people think that a superior being with superpowers would want to hang out with them, interested in everything they say and do, from watching hours of reality TV and soap operas to discussing the sad reality that Princess Diana died too young. And of course the angel could only watch and listen, they couldn't contribute to the conversation or pick what TV show they watched for a change. If angels were real, why would they choose to spend every hour of the day spying on someone who they can't even offer advice to when needed? What would be the point? Consider that you could watch someone working for a month and then offer advice on possible improvements they might make. Now consider that you must choose between watching your neighbour and a sparrow in your neighbour's backyard. Who would you watch? Clearly a sane person would choose the neighbour over the sparrow, since while you may see improvements the sparrow could make, you know that you'll never be able to communicate and thus your advice would be ignored and your time wasted. And to the angel we are like the sparrow, completely oblivious to any help they may be trying to offer. So why spend days on our sofa watching us when it will all be for naught?

One of the questions to be covered at the talk was: 'How do I sense and communicate with Angels?' Well, we can save you $30 and answer that. The belief that one can sense angels probably requires some sort of brain injury, disease or disorder that causes delusions. At the very least one might have a psychological condition known as a 'fantasy prone personality'. Of course in one sense it's very easy to communicate with angels, just as easy as talking to the dead, the trick is to get them to talk back. But if someone can easily convince themselves that an unseen God created sunsets and a baby's smile (but not malaria and tsunamis), then it takes almost negligible effort to also accept that an invisible God would have a workforce of invisible minions.

There was also the worrying question: 'How do I know I'm talking to an Angel?' The rational take on this question would be: If I think I'm talking to an angel, doesn't this suggest I'm developing dementia? Yes, yes it does. But I suspect that question is actually asking how to tell the difference between the voice of an angel and the voice of Satan? Apparently these people believe that Satan is not above lying to get people to do his bidding. And of course some would argue that they could be channelling some alien from another galaxy. No, no, don't giggle, some people do believe that this is where that little voice in their head comes from. So, how to tell between angels, Satan and aliens? Actually it's quite simple. If you can hear a voice in your head, that no one else can hear, it's yours. Not angels, devils or aliens but yours alone. If your voice is arguing with you, telling you otherwise, then seek help, and from a psychiatrist not a priest.

The angels' pimp says that these invisible angels deliver healing to those that they hang out with. So apparently you have to belong to the angel club before these angels will heal the ill. We can but assume that it's actually God that's healing through these angels, rather than these angels working independently from God's master plan. The argument seems to be that you must develop a relationship with angels before healing will occur, meaning paying the angel pimp to arrange this meeting. So what's this implying, that God isn't as all-knowing as we've been led to believe? That he needs to get feet on the ground — or at least wings in the air — to observe people in their homes before he knows who is in need of healing and who isn't? And rather than invade our privacy, does God insist that we must knowingly invite his angels into our homes for him to gather intel on our health? But is there any evidence that those with a paid-up membership to the angel club are amazingly healthy and wondrously happy and content? Not in the least, those that believe there is an invisible angel on the sofa next to them generally have no better or worse health than those people who don't have invisible friends.

We're also informed that from angels these people can 'receive and feel love', but how can you 'receive and feel love' from a being that you can't see, hear or feel? A being that you can't see, hear or feel is no different to a being that isn't even there. Think about it, what would you feel closer to, a real friendly, cute little kitten in your lap, or an imaginary kitten? A real lover or an imaginary one? A caring family or an imaginary one?

Who are these despicable angel pimps appealing to if not lonely, sad, desperate people who will willingly pay for invisible friends over no friends at all? To suck people in with the promise of help, love and healing and then do nothing but relieve them of $25-$30 and deliver false hope is simply nothing but contemptible, uncaring, greedy people ripping off the vulnerable in society.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Aug, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Euthanasia surveys and Christians
A week or so ago I was sent a link to an online survey seeking to find out what NZers 'consider to be a 'good' death'; what we think is 'important around the end-of-life experience'. The study, run by researchers from the University of Auckland, informs us that 'Numerous factors are involved in what constitutes a 'good' death and this in turn has an impact on how individuals are treated and cared for at the end of life'.

I completed the survey, thinking that it had a connection with the current voluntary euthanasia debate, but by the end I was left with the feeling that I wasn't really sure what it was designed to reveal. So I now wonder what stance my answers have lent some support to. Usually one can discern what a survey is trying to measure by the questions, but I felt many of the questions wouldn't have revealed anything unexpected. Image a survey asking whether you would prefer to be rich or poor, employed or unemployed, well or unwell. This would deliver nothing but predictable answers.

Maybe I missed something, but I found the questions quite innocuous and I fail to see what light they might shine on the euthanasia debate, assuming that this debate is somehow connected to the survey, or if it's not, even inform healthcare providers as to how they might improve their care of the dying.

Further on I'll give my take on the various survey questions, but the question I had the biggest problem with is the following. In the survey we're asked to "consider what YOU believe to contribute to a 'good' death", and the troublesome question was this: how important is 'Not being a burden on family'? Surely the answer is blatantly obvious, so why even ask? What normal person wants to be a burden on their family, or anyone for that matter, whether they're in good health or whether they're dying? Most people would wish to avoid becoming a burden on others for their needs. But the reality is that a drawn-out death will be burdensome to a caring family, meaning that they can't help but endure some mental and physical hardship. It will be a worrying, stressful and emotional time, coupled with physical tasks that must be performed. A burden will always exist to some degree.

So why the burden question? An argument I've often heard against voluntary euthanasia is that vulnerable people, especially the elderly, will feel that they are a burden to their families, and if voluntary euthanasia is available they will likely feel compelled to use it. Give people the option and widespread guilt-induced voluntary euthanasia will ensue, or so we're told.

Let's assume that most people answer that it's important to them not to be a burden on their family, can we infer from this that these people would likely choose voluntary euthanasia, not because they personally wanted it, but merely to save their family? I don't think we can, since surely people strongly opposed to voluntary euthanasia will also claim that it's 'extremely important' to them that they're not a burden on their family, and yet it will be a burden, it can't be otherwise. Yet even with this known burden on their family, they would argue that they would never opt for voluntary euthanasia. Never! Thus merely knowing you're a burden is not in itself enough to force your hand. Again, this is a misleading question since a burden will always exist, even if voluntary euthanasia were utilised. The person still dies, a funeral still happens, loss still has to be dealt with, possessions still have to distributed etc, the only thing that really changes is that the time of death is known. This knowledge would perhaps reduce the burden on the family, eg goodbyes can be said and they can be comforted knowing that suffering has been reduced, but the burden doesn't completely disappear.

I'm not sure how this question is useful as regards a 'good' death. The survey may reveal that we all hate the thought of being a burden on our family, but it can't derive from that as to what I might or might not do about it. Teenagers that laze around the house and push up the food bill etc know that they're a burden on their parents, but how often do you see them running away from home to remove that burden? Never. And let's remember that even though voluntary euthanasia is illegal for people who are dying, there is and always has been an available option to end their life and remove that onerous burden, it's called suicide. So are the elderly as a group committing suicide in greater numbers than other age groups? Well yes, apparently they are. We hear a lot about how youth in NZ has a record rate of suicide, and yet most everyone ignores the group that is worse. ("Elderly suicide rate 'higher than others'"'Elderly top risk group for suicide') Why is this? Even though voluntary euthanasia is illegal that hasn't stopped people that are suffering from legally ending their life. Only the method has changed. Rather than a peaceful exit surrounded by their family, they are forced to blow their brains out with a shotgun, the grisly scene to be found by the family, or to walk in front of a passing truck, traumatising the driver for life. And since a worrying number of elderly people have chosen to end their own lives, the authorities should have some understanding of why they chose that course. And yet I'm not aware of people arguing that there is real data that shows that people are already killing themselves because they hate being a burden on their family. Again, elderly people definitely are committing suicide, but it's not apparently all due to a fear of being a burden on others. And if the burden fear is not a primary, motivating factor for suicide now, why should it become one when voluntary euthanasia is introduced?

And yes, I did say 'when' and not 'if', since eventually society will wake up and legalise voluntary euthanasia. Just as we finally stopped listening to priests and made suicide legal, enlightened citizens will eventually realise that liberty means not just the right to control our own lives, but also our own deaths.

And of course the bulk of the opposition to voluntary euthanasia comes from those bloody Christians, and it's reprehensible the number of things that they've denied people over the centuries, from personal freedom (ie slavery), deciding what days we work, denying the vote to women and most men, sex outside marriage, contraception, abortion, divorce and masturbation to even denying women painkillers during childbirth. I learnt the following from Erik Sass and Steve Wiegandin's book, 'The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits':

'In the Christian era, European women weren't allowed to take pain killers or anesthesia to dull the pain of childbirth, because the pain was considered God's punishment for Eve's sin. Public opinion shifted, however, when it became known that Queen Victoria asked for chloroform anesthetic during the birth of Prince Arthur in 1850. Victoria's endorsement made it acceptable for ordinary women'.
Even worse than this was another Church view on mothers and childbirth. St Augustine was convinced that babies that died before they could be baptised — a great many in those days — would suffer for all eternity in the fires of Hell. To limit the number of babies going to hell, the church came up with a barbaric solution. During the birth process, if it's found that the mother and baby will both die if nature takes its course, the Church said no action must be taken to save the mother by terminating the baby. Even if it's believed that the baby will die within minutes after birth, the mother must not be saved instead. It is preferred that the mother is cut open, killing her in the process, just to get the baby out before it dies. This is so it can baptised before it dies and thus won't go to Hell. This baptising of a baby that will only live minutes is far more important to the Church than saving the mother's life. One of his contemporaries and critics, Bishop Julian of Eclanum, took my view of Augustine's disgusting stance, 'Augustine, you are far removed from religious feelings, from civilized thinking, indeed from healthy common sense, if you think that your God is capable of committing crimes against justice that are scarcely imaginable even for the barbarians'. As late as 1930 the Vatican stated 'What could ever be a sufficient reason to justify the direct killing of an innocent being?' Certainly not saving the mother's life, the mere tool that God is using to bring forth new life. Thankfully most Catholic hospitals now let the doctors decide whom they save, but this is still the way the Church would prefer it went. Inhuman bastards! What arrogance to think that they have control over the bodies and lives of others.

And then we have the Church view of suicide, which as far as they're concerned is what voluntary euthanasia is. You've no doubt heard that in one fantasy world a wooden stake driven through the heart is the way to stop vampires, but long before it was used on them it was employed by Christians in their fantasy world on those who committed suicide. Justin Pollard writes in his book, 'The Interesting Bits: The History You Might Have Missed' that:

'The Christian view of suicide as a crime against the self dates back to at least St Augustine of Hippo but the rather harsh treatment of suicides in Britain goes right back to the Anglo-Saxon period ... Those who had ... killed themselves ... were guilty of a felo de se — a crime against the self, or self murder — and this deserved punishment. Obviously it's quite difficult to punish someone who's dead but you could punish their family, desecrate their memory and, assuming they were Christian, destroy their hopes of salvation. Those found guilty of felo de se were to have an ignominious burial. Their bodies were often dragged through the town and then buried without Christian rites in an unconsecrated place, usually a rural crossroads. For good measure a stake was then driven through their hearts ... Things were pretty bad for the family of the suicide as well. They were still around, and therefore could be punished. So they were. Someone guilty of a felo de se could have their entire estate confiscated and handed to the Crown, effectively disinheriting any heir'.
This abhorrent practice went on for centuries, throwing lime over the body, a stake through the heart, and punishing innocent families. It wasn't until the 17th century that English 'law was changed to confiscate only the suicide's personal property and leaving their land to their heirs, but crossroads burials were abolished by act of Parliament only in 1823 ... The forfeiture of personal property remained on the statute book until 1870, however. Suicide technically continued to be a crime in the UK up to 1961 ... Ireland repealed its suicide laws only in 1993'.

It's perhaps understandable that primitive, ignorant, superstitious Christians of centuries past fell for such nonsense and treated their fellow humans so inhumanly, but that so many still believe the same stupid fairy tales and argue stridently that their invisible sky fairy is the creator and master of us all beggars belief. Their childish insistence that my body and my life belongs to someone I've never seen would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. And it is deadly serious since their silly beliefs have formed the laws of the land that say that my death belongs to a stranger, meaning God, who acts through his intermediaries, the doctor, the lawyer, the policeman and the priest. Everyone, Christians included, argue that we all have a right to life, and a freedom to live this life as we choose, with no one able to deny us this right, and yet at the same time Christians insist that none of us have a right to death. Of course this isn't true anymore since only very recently the law was changed and Christianity was pushed out of the law courts and back into the churches. Making suicide legal effectively granted us the right to death, at least in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately they failed to repeal the law that still makes it illegal to assist someone to commit suicide. So we're left in the ridiculous position where someone can be arrested for helping a friend do something that is perfectly legal. Of course we all know that if you knowingly provide some assistance to someone committing a crime then you can be charged as an accessory to the crime. That makes reasonable sense since you have conspired with someone to commit a crime, you have abetted an illegal act and so must take some responsibility for that illegal act. But with regards to suicide, you will have only conspired with someone to commit a legal act, something they're allowed to do, and yet you'll be charged, quite irrationally, for abetting that legal act as if it were an illegal act.

So at the moment you are perfectly in your right to commit suicide, but you must die alone and in secret. And with the law as it stands, the methods legally available to you, like guns, hanging, drowning and jumping from tall buildings, are ones that create huge psychological problems for those that must view the aftermath. And if they don't actually kill outright, they only make things much worse for the person who attempted suicide. Of course there is a better alternative, drugs that allow you to essentially die peacefully in your sleep, surrounded by loved ones. But of all the many ways you can end your life, legally, this humane way is the one denied people. This is the method we force people by law to apply to their animals, charging them with cruelty if they make animals suffer a drawn-out death, for example by allowing them to starve to death or bear untreatable pain. Why do we treat our animals more humanely then we do our fellow humans, especially the ones we love most in the world, insisting that humans must die naturally by starving to death and bearing the clear suffering that goes with it? Frankly this attitude sickens me and it needs to change, and soon. That our government is spending tens of millions on merely 'thinking' about changing our flag and yet no political party will even consider touching the euthanasia debate shows a true lack of courage. Especially when unlike the debates over prostitution, homosexuality and civil unions, death is the one thing that everybody, politician or citizen, will eventually have to face. Just as decent people would now be shocked and appalled to learn that good Christians once drove stakes into the hearts of friends that committed suicide, how long will it be before people are equally shocked and appalled that we once allowed, nay forced, our loved ones to die horrible deaths, denying them the succour and merciful release that we saved for our pets.

OK... calm down... breathe... breathe...

So you've done the survey and indicated that the time, place and manner of your death, plus wanting to be surrounded by loved ones is important to you. Does this suggest that you might perhaps agree with voluntary euthanasia? It might, but again it might not. A person strongly opposed to voluntary euthanasia would probably tick the same boxes in this survey as someone for it; we all want to control our pain, be prepared for death, say our goodbyes, be treated with dignity and die on our own terms. By not mentioning euthanasia even once I'm not sure that everyone would complete the survey with the understanding that euthanasia was part of the discussion. And I assume it was part of the discussion because the word 'euthanasia' actually means 'good death', in Greek. How could someone design a survey called 'What is a 'Good' Death? and not expect a knowledgable person to infer this?

The designers of this survey might well say that the questions have been cunningly phrased to reveal our deepest thoughts and concerns regarding a 'good' death. Perhaps we aren't supposed to understand what our answers reveal, that requires sophisticated analysis using complicated statistical techniques. Like those ink blot tests we're just expected to give quick answers and the experts will later explain what they think we think. Perhaps. But I'm of the opinion that if you really want to know how someone feels about a specific topic, ask them upfront, and in a way that you can reasonably expect honest, considered answers. So why didn't they mention voluntary euthanasia, explain what it was and then ask if we would support it? Of course the survey designers may say it wasn't about euthanasia at all, so then what was it about? We weren't asked anything about our experiences with doctors, hospitals or rest homes that might judge their performances.

I did the survey because I thought I might be contributing to the voluntary euthanasia debate, and perhaps I was, but I can't see how. I honestly can't see how the combined answers are going to reveal anything unexpected or that isn't ambiguous, offering neither support for or opposition to voluntary euthanasia. If that's how we're going to get people thinking about and discussing voluntary euthanasia, then it will be generations before change will occur. We need to stop pretending that horrible deaths only happen to other people and that we will die a glorious Hollywood death. We need to stop labelling our dying years as our 'Golden Years' and stop promoting the places we go to die, the rest homes, as if they are luxury spas where we will have the best years of our life. Nothing could be further from the truth, they will likely be your worst years where you'll slowly lose your independence, your dignity, your senses, and where you regress to an infantile state, once again relying on others for all your needs, even down to the spoon-feeding and changing of diapers.

I don't fear death in the slightest, but I truly do fear the drawn-out process of dying. Long before the world was lumbered with Christianity the Greek philosopher Epicurus had already reasoned that fear of death was irrational:

'Why should I fear death?
If I am, then death is not.
If death is, then I am not.
Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?'

            Epicurus, 341-270 B.C.E, Greek philosopher

So clearly death can't hurt us, the time and memories we experience after our death will be identical to the time and memories we experienced before our birth, but unfortunately the processes that the body goes through to meet death can hurt us a great deal, both physically and psychologically. And if Christians have their way, and I can't reach my phaser, I'll likely be forced to experience the dying process in excruciating detail, waiting, waiting, waiting as their God slowly works through a huge list of people he has to kill. Just as Christians shamefully used to deny women relief during childbirth, they are still denying all of us relief as we die. Evidently it's punishment for some sin their imaginary ancestors, that nudist couple, committed some 6,000 years ago.

I guess Christians don't really understand free choice and liberty since they have never known true freedom. For their entire life they have known that they are but their master's servant, created by him to do his bidding. Disobeying him and making their own life and death choices is unthinkable. So to the Christians I say, if your God wants to stop me from supporting voluntary euthanasia then let him stop me, not you. Let him, not you, tell me I'm making a mistake. Have you lot never wondered why your god is silent on the matters you find so important? Surely you have, so why doesn't it worry you that you're left to push on alone without even a supportive text? Until I hear first hand from your publicity-shy god, and who better have a good argument, then I'll continue to assume that you guys just made up all this nonsense that it's God's job to kill me when he's good and ready, not mine.

Of course if this were all true, it must be quite depressing being God, murdering untold people that he loves, every hour of every day, year in year out. And as our population increases wildly, the numbers he must kill are likewise increasing astronomically. God, history's most prolific serial killer!

OK, you've got the message I'm sure, we fully support the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia forthwith and see the main opposition as being based on nothing but primitive superstition. For those that are interested, the remainder of this post will simply look at how we viewed the other less contentious survey questions.

The survey began typically enough with 'Section A: Demographics', asking about gender, age, ethnicity, occupation etc, including these two questions:

What is your religion?
No religion
Christian — (choice of seven)
Buddhist
Hindu
Muslim
Jewish
Other (please specify)
Please indicate the strength of you religious belief:
Extremely religious
Moderately religious
Slightly religious
Not at all religious
It annoys me that the survey designers apparently recognise seven different sorts of Christian (even though there are actually thousands), and yet they still don't offer 'Atheist' and don't realise that 'No religion' doesn't necessarily mean 'Atheist'. Just as they now know that they need to include 'Muslim' and 'Christian Ringatu', even though I've never heard of the latter, when will they start offering 'Atheist', especially since atheists probably outnumber many of the religions combined? As for the strength of religious belief, I've never understood religious folk who claim to believe in a god, usually a jealous and vindictive god, but then tick that they aren't fully committed to that belief. Clearly they don't really understand their belief and what their god demands.

But let's move on to the main questions, and why I was left confused. In Section B we're asked to "consider what YOU believe to contribute to a 'good' death".

Under 'Pain and Symptom management' we're asked how important to a 'good' death would it be to not feel physical pain and/or psychological pain, and that your symptoms were controlled as you die. The options for all the questions were: Not at all important, slightly important, quite important, very important, extremely important. Frankly I can't imagine anyone not ticking 'Extremely important'. Apart from a masochist, and perhaps not even then, who would consider that some level of pain would make their death better? Even if you said that you could put up with a slight headache, wouldn't you still agree that no headache at all would make your death better? Of course we must remember that while we may all wish to be pain free as we pass on those final words of wisdom to our loved ones, the reality is that we will have no real choice in the matter. In real life people do not die the way our heroes die in the movies. There are no drugs or magical herbs that are guaranteed to banish physical or psychological pain. Some drugs may alleviate pain, sometimes completely in a lucky few, but for many people, if they die pain free it's only because they have been administered such a high dose that they are essentially comatose. While you may have relieved someone's suffering by knocking them unconscious, and this may deliver them a 'good' death in one sense, the days leading up till that death is hardly what could be called a 'good' life. Also it negates some other factors that people consider for a 'good' death, eg an unconscious person can't say goodbye to loved ones.

We're also asked if it's important to die in one's sleep and to die quickly, eg heart attack. While many people might agree that this would be a good way to go, alive one minute, dead the next, with no period of suffering, again none of us have a choice in the matter. It's a bit like asking if your death would be a 'good' death if you had won a huge Lotto prize during your life? The only thing that these question might shine light on is that it signals that you, if you could choose, would likely choose a quick death in your sleep, which is exactly what voluntary euthanasia could deliver. And really, who would turn down a quick death, saying, No, I'd rather drag it out a bit! I like the suffering. Likewise the only way that someone can absolutely manage pain and symptoms for the entirety of the dying process is to opt for voluntary euthanasia when that management eventually fails to deliver, as it almost always does.

Under 'Preparation for Death' we're asked how important it is to know what psychological and physical changes we should expect from our fatal illness. As they say, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Would it give me a 'good' death if my doctor told me that I could expect unremitting pain or the loss of the ability to communicate or that I would forget who my loved ones were? I would want to be told the truth, but I can't say that my knowledge would somehow deliver a 'good' death. Not so many decades ago doctors did hide the truth from their patients, believing that the family deserved to know, but not the poor patient. Thankfully that has now reversed with doctors realising that if anyone deserves to know it is the patient, after all it is his or her body that is actually suffering, not the family.

We were also asked if we think it important to have communicated such desires as how or where we want to die, but again I think these are things generally outside our control. If asked most will say they want to die at home peacefully in their sleep. Who says they want to die alone, in pain, in an uncaring rest home? Also asked, to have a 'good' death do I need to feel personally prepared for death and have accepted that death will occur, and do I need my loved ones to have also accepted that I'm dying? Well I guess if you and your family can come to terms with your impending death then that's one less thing to worry about. Might all this, your desire as to how and where you die and your reasoned acceptance of your inevitable death, also say that you might perhaps agree with voluntary euthanasia?

Next we have questions on 'Communicaton/Decision Making'. How important is it to participate in treatment decisions and that treatment options are clear? Pretty damm important I would have thought, although knowing that available treatment options would likely be ineffectual wouldn't give me a 'good' death. Asking about 'Open and honest communication between oneself, family members and healthcare providers', for me personally this would be important and would certainly make my final days less stressful. But as I've said, a drawn-out death involving physical and/or psychological suffering, even with 'Open and honest communication', wouldn't be a 'good' death. So if open and honest communication revealed that my prognosis was bleak in the extreme and that severe suffering and a loss of dignity was the only certainty, this would definitely make voluntary euthanasia look very attractive.

Under 'Controllability', we're first asked about the importance of having control over the timing, place and nature of our death (eg not an accident). I'm not sure if there would be many people that would say that when, where and how they die was 'Not at all important' to them. People often micro-manage much of their life, from the colour of their hair and kitchen to where they live and dine out, why would they not wish to have the same control over their death? But as it sits at the moment, regardless of want people might desire, we all have little control over our death. But what might these particular survey questions reveal? They may determine that most people would in some ideal world like control over their death, and of course if voluntary euthanasia were legalised, then this would give people a degree of control, however I don't think we can infer that a desire for control necessarily equates to support for voluntary euthanasia. For example, in a somewhat similar case there are no doubt many people that want control over when they or their partner gets pregnant, but who at the same time wouldn't support abortion. So do the questions reveal anything that humans haven't felt throughout history? You can't assume that people wanting control means that these people also want voluntary euthanasia, although for many, myself included, this could be exactly what it means.

Also under 'Controllability', we were questioned about the importance of 'having religious, spiritual and/or cultural needs met' and of 'remaining independent during the dying process'. Since they grouped 'religious, spiritual and/or cultural' together, I can't see how they could learn anything except that people naturally want their needs met. But this could be as different as a Catholic wanting a priest at their deathbed and me wanting a doctor to prescribe some deadly drugs. As for wishing to remain independent, this is no more under our control than is controlling when we die. The question is as worthless as asking, Would you like to be rich? What we might hope for and what is within our grasp is often vastly different. But again, wanting to remain 'independent during the dying process' is something that voluntary euthanasia offers. Although we aren't asked this, is this what our answer will be taken to mean, that we might opt for voluntary euthanasia if it were available?

Then we were asked how important 'Care of the whole person' is. The first concerned 'Being treated with dignity', then they asked how we felt about being heard and listened to, being treated compassionately, being physically comforted and 'treated as a person rather than a condition'. Again these are no-brainers. How many people don't insist on being treated with dignity when they're alive, so why would this change as they die? Ditto for the other questions, who wouldn't be upset at being ignored and disrespected as they lay dying? I don't know why any healthcare provider or family member would think that these questions even need asking! Treating people, dying or not, with respect and concern for their wishes and working so that they don't lose their dignity should be automatic. Life isn't a fast food restaurant, we shouldn't be asking, Would you like some dignity with your death? So how might these questions relate to voluntary euthanasia? Experience I wish I didn't have has shown me that many healthcare providers fail abysmally to treat those in their care with compassion, respect and dignity, and I don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that when my time comes, the care I'll receive could be even worse, as profit dominates. Of course there are some truly wonderful healthcare providers as well, but being mistreated has a much more powerful impact on our psyche than does a kind word and cheerful wave. My uncle now refuses to even visit friends in rest homes because of the distress it causes him, but one day he will likely have little choice, but as a resident not a visitor. Knowing that our final days are not at all likely to end well, might our answers reveal that we might indeed be interested in voluntary euthanasia? Do you have a pamphlet I could read?

Next was a section called 'Contribution'. Did we think achieving a 'good' death meant 'Sharing knowledge/experience with others before death'? I'm not sure I understand the question. People don't want to hear my stories and sure-fire ways to fix the world now, why would I expect them to gather around my deathbed for a lengthy Powerpoint presentation? People may die with regrets, remembering things that they failed to do and despondent even that a lifetime of knowledge and experience was going to be lost, but I think we're fooling ourselves if we think we can somehow pass this on. The most we can do is provide a good example of how to lead a good life, and let the living have their own experiences. If you haven't been a positive influence on others during your life, it's too late to make much of a difference on your deathbed. Was 'Sharing time with others before death' important, as well as sharing personal possessions? I can see how spending time with close friends would be important, but who wouldn't want this? And let's say we all want this, what can the purpose of the question be? Is some government body going to be created that will compel people to maintain close contact with their dying friends? We'd all like to think our friends would visit us if we were dying, but if they don't, what can be done about it? Nothing, and the reality is that many people go to funerals to assuage their guilt over years of neglect. Many will travel just across town or even great distances to attend the funeral of a 'friend' or relative they haven't seen in decades, simply to stare at a closed coffin, but apparently couldn't be bothered to make the same journey to visit the person when they were alive. At one funeral recently a person said to me that they felt they just had to attend the funeral because they'd been such great friends. Yet even though they lived in the same town, they hadn't seen each other for many years. After hearing this pathetic story at far too many funerals, I threw out decorum and said I think the deceased would have appreciated your visit more when she was alive. It annoys me to see all these hypocrites at funerals, publicly lamenting how the person will be sadly missed, and yet they couldn't make the same effort to visit the living person.

Of course the advantage with voluntary euthanasia, if it were allowed, is that you're far more likely to be in a position to share valuable time with others before your death, to actually contribute to the conversation rather than just being the unconscious body in the bed from whom life is slowly retreating.

As for sharing personal possessions with others, isn't this the purpose of a will? They also ask how important it is that we plan for events that will take place after our death. I assume that they're talking about our funeral, burial or cremation and whether we want some priest waving incense about and making false promises or whether we want our ashes sent into space. Again this should be part of your will, so if you haven't bothered then I guess your death won't be a 'good' as it could be as you realise your possessions won't be distributed as you would have liked and you won't be going into space after all.

The next set of questions involved 'Completion'. How important was 'having the opportunity to say good-bye to loved ones', 'Resoving conflicts before death', 'Feeling satisfied with one's life', 'Feeling at peace with oneself' and 'Spending final hours/days with loved ones'? Again I'm not sure it requires a survey to learn how most people would feel about these things. In both life and death, normal people like to be able to say a farewell to those they care about and most like conflicts to be resolved. And like wanting to be healthy, rich, good looking, well liked, intelligent etc, what normal person doesn't want to feel satisfied with their life and at peace? Who would tick that it's 'Not at all important' that they're leading or have led a satisfying life? But the reality is that when your death arrives it is far too late to change anything if you suddenly realise you're not satisfied with how your life went. You may realise you've wasted your life or alternatively that there's nothing you would have changed, and this realisation will impact on your emotions as you die, but there is nothing anyone — family, doctors, or you — can do to change this. Those questions are about life not death. Of course some people could argue that spending your final hours with loved ones might give you the opportunity to resolve some family conflicts (or potentially make them worse). But if this survey is about a natural death versus voluntary euthanasia, how you die won't impact on how satisfied you were with your life, so your answers add nothing to the debate. But if spending your final hours with loved ones, resolving conflicts, saying goodbye and feeling at peace is definitely important, then this desire should see you opting for voluntary euthanasia. Why? Well most people don't die the way they do on TV shows, pain free, lucid and able to speak those well-scripted last words that touch people's hearts. My experience with the deaths of several elderly family members is that their last hours, and sometimes days, were spent comatose. And for the days before that, they often couldn't tell the difference between a nurse and family member so there was no goodbyes, resolving of conflicts or reminiscing about their life. Even when they were lucid the talk almost always revolved around how much pain they were in and how much longer must they suffer. With voluntary euthanasia, people facing an inevitable death could actually spend their final days and hours really connecting with their loved ones, and avoiding unnecessary pain and suffering. The alternative is a natural death, where your loved ones watch you literally starve to death over a week or so, and you'll be so drugged up that you won't even know they're there. Would you feel satisfied with that, with how your life ended?

Of course some might argue that it's not always drawn out suffering, some people facing death die suddenly from the likes of a heart attack. Of course a lucky few do, but if that's the case it's totally unexpected, meaning that there was no chance of spending the final hours with loved ones resolving conflicts and saying goodbyes. So if people tick that it's important that they do get to do these things to have a 'good' death, then they must hope that they don't have a sudden unexpected death, and as the situation now stands, this resigns them to a death that will likely involve considerable physical and psychological suffering and where they're still unlikely to be in any state to experience a pleasant farewell.

The final of the multi-choice questions asked about 'Location/Enviroment'. How important to a 'good' death is dying at home, in hospital, in a hospice, in the presence of loved ones rather than dying alone, and having a private space to die? Most people usually answer that they'd like to die at home, peacefully in their sleep, but this is just wishful thinking, like wanting to win Lotto. This survey is clearly about people that are approaching death through an illness or old age, and these people often have little choice where their death will occur. The level of care they require normally dictates where they must be and where their death will likely occur. Of course if people say it's extremely important that they die at home, surrounded by loved ones in a private space rather than a public space fill of strangers, then clearly they might be more open to voluntary euthanasia since only it offers that option. If voluntary euthanasia isn't available, then barring a heart attack etc, you will likely die alone in a public hospital, hospice or rest home.

The survey also asks you to rank all your answers, for example, which is more important, not feeling physical pain or not feeling psychological pain? Like that's an easy choice?! Then finally you're asked 'if there are any 'other' factors that you think may contribute toward a 'good' death?', along with listing three factors that would contribute most to a bad death. For me, and for many I know that have experienced the death of loved ones, an unmentioned factor contributing towards a 'good' death would of course be the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

And what I didn't write was that the naysayers need to take special note of the word 'voluntary'. If made legal there would be no compulsion that everyone takes up the option. Let's remember that prostitution, gay marriage and divorce are now legal, much to the annoyance of Christians, and yet there's no evidence that people that were previously opposed to these things now feel compelled to take advantage of these new rights, simply because they're there. Homosexuality is now legal, and yet strangely I still don't feel the urge to partake. So surely you high-minded Christians could likewise resist utilising voluntary euthanasia, or are you afraid that you simply couldn't pass up a tempting offer? Of course you may reply that you're not worried about yourself, it's others with weak wills that you're concerned about. To which I reply, mind your own bloody business! Stop thinking that you're God's secret police authorised to spy on the rest of us and empowered to put controls on our life, and our death.

As for factors that would contribute to a 'bad' death, that would be where ignorant, superstitious strangers were controlling my final days and hours of life, where I'm forced to endure a loss of dignity, and where I'm punished with a drawn-out death involving pain and suffering, physically and/or psychologically.

Regardless of what this survey achieves, let's bring on the voluntary euthanasia debate. We've reclaimed so many personal and private aspects of our lives from sanctimonious Christians, it's high time we reclaimed access to our death as well.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 19 Jul, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Zafir, 20 Jul, 2015

    Hi John. I just took the survey.

    Just a few (poorly thought out) thoughts.

    Your article is unusually emotive, with impassioned arguments. I liked that you drew attention to this

    "OK... calm down... breathe... breathe..."
    It wasn't a perfect survey but I thought it was one of the better ones that I have seen.

    I found that it got me thinking about a subject that I hadn't really committed much thought to before.

    Sometimes a survey is constructed in a way so it can gather support for a position. Sometimes it is just to gather data. Seeing as it is a University project I would like to think it's data they are after.

    I think the burden question is a valid consideration. Let's assume nothing. There are many considerations around what would make a death less unpleasant. Not everyone will give the same weight to being a burden.

    I thought the survey was trying to tease out what was more important to respondents. To some people, being a burden to family might be the most important thing. To me knowing what is going on and having autonomy would be most important.

    Every decision has consequences, most don't matter much, and many poor choices can be undone. Death is hard to undo.

    "Everyone, Christians included, argue that we all have a right to life, and a freedom to live this life as we choose, with no one able to deny us this right,"
    In reality we have no rights. Any natural disaster removes delusions about rights. Try reasoning with a tsunami, a forrest fire, earthquake or comet, by saying "you can't kill me, I know my rights".

    What is written in law, be it religious or legal is just a way of organising communities. That said I agree that religions ever decreasing influence on legislation is positive development.

    Legislation on euthanasia needs very careful consideration as the people closest to you are likely to have the most obvious motive for killing you. Be it financial gain, not wanting to see you suffer or even just anger.

    There is an extra consideration with euthanasia. Most people don't think rationally at the best of times. Ending life is an action that can't be undone, therefore requires careful consideration. Are they thinking clearly and rationally when under possible effects of medication, depressed emotional state, or declining mental faculties?

    Actually the more I think about this the more I realise it's a thorny issue.

    I didn't know that euthanasia meant good death in Greek. I was thinking the term "good death" was a little awkward, makes sense now, thanks.

    I think euthanasia should be legal but the legislation should include numerous checks and balances.

    I disagree with your statement

    "But I'm of the opinion that if you really want to know how someone feels about a specific topic, ask them upfront, and in a way that you can reasonably expect honest, considered answers."
    It was probably a deliberate decision not to mention euthanasia in the survey due to the priming and anchoring effects.

    By asking an absolute question upfront, (such as do you support euthanasia?) you affect how they respond to the questions that follow. This is not psychobabble, it is called the anchoring effect and has been demonstrated in many times.

    "The designers of this survey might well say that the questions have been cunningly phrased to reveal our deepest thoughts and concerns regarding a 'good' death."

    "So why didn't they mention voluntary euthanasia, explain what it was and then ask if we would support it? Of course the survey designers may say it wasn't about euthanasia at all, so then what was it about? We weren't asked anything about our experiences with doctors, hospitals or rest homes that might judge their performances.

    I did the survey because I thought I might be contributing to the voluntary euthanasia debate, and perhaps I was, but I can't see how."

    Her email address is displayed on the survey. You could ask her what she was trying to achieve.

    Seeing as the researcher, Nina Pecheva is doing a Masters in Health Psychology then it is plausible that she is less interested in what your stance on euthanasia is and more interested in the factors that contribute to how you think about the process of dying.

    Common ground we can find is that religion should not be a consideration in euthanasia, unless the person in question wants it to be.

    I agree with your closing statement.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 21 Jul, 2015

    Hi Zafir, thanks for your thoughts.

    Yes my comments were emotive and impassioned since our death is more than merely academic. If superstitious people want to impress on me that gods and fairies are real, generally all they can cause are thoughts of amazement and perhaps fleeting frustration. I can easily ignore their fantasies and lead a happy life. But if these same superstitious people can effectively take control of the time and manner of my death, they could well be condemning me to real suffering. And as I said, I don't fear unspeakable suffering in some imaginary Hell, but I certainly do fear real suffering in a potential hell on Earth effectively forced on me by these superstitious people. This hell on Earth is something that I know that I have a good chance of being forced to endure. Over the last decade I have been an unwilling witness to family and friends dying horribly from everything from painful cancers and motor neuron disease to dementia and literally starving to death in old age. I have had some of these people impress on me that no way do they support euthanasia if their condition worsens, that they most definitely wanted to be resuscitated if possible, and yet without exception they all later regretted this stance, screaming to be put out of their misery when the reality of the painful nature of death hit home. Even though they had nearly all watched their own parents and friends die traumatising deaths, they somehow naively convinced themselves that they would be different and would die a peaceful death surrounded by loved ones. At funerals family members raged over the fact their loved one had to suffer so terribly, crying that it's not right or just that we force people to painfully starve to death when we wouldn't do that to our pets, legally can't do that to our pets. I've asked what they intend to do to rectify that injustice, and they all just shrug, saying that it's too late for them to make changes, hopefully the next generation will wake up. And yet parents shield their children from the reality of how people suffer as they die. They're told that a grandparent died, but they're not told that he died lying naked on the floor, cringing in the corner covered in faeces and screaming in pain. No, they're simply told he's passed on, gone to a better place. And Hollywood generally reinforces this view of how we will all end our lives. Younger generations will never give humans the same rights as pets if they don't understand the utterly miserable reality of, not death, but dying.

    Through ignorance the young don't think changes are needed, or most likely haven't thought about it at all, and for those that death has scarred psychologically, many try to suppress the memories — time heals all wounds — and by the time reality returns to stalk them, they're already too far gone to push for change. If we all leave it to someone else to start the debate and force through some long needed changes, then it all stays the same. Being homosexual would still be illegal if homosexuals had left it to heterosexuals to seek reforms. Women still wouldn't have the vote if they had left it up to men to make the right changes. I'm reasonably confident that I'm not immortal and that I will die, and if I want to have a death that I'm not going to approach with increasing fear, then it's up to me to stand up for what I want. No one else cares about how I might suffer as I die as much as I do. The only people that care remotely about my death are the bloody Christians who apparently want to wring every drop of suffering from me before their God kills me. If a government or some other group did this we'd all call it torture.

    So while I'm far more interested in discussing the likes of gods, aliens, ghosts and cheesecake, I know that it's only the process leading up to my death that is likely to cause me real physical and emotional grief. I hate dealing with thoughts of death as much as I hate dealing with insurance, dentists and lawyers, but it's a necessary evil, something we should all confront now while we might be in a position to bring about some change for the better. So yes, tell me that I'm going to burn in Hell after I die and I'll giggle at your stupidity, tell me that I'm going to suffer greatly before I die and you've got my attention.

    As you said Zafir, 'I found that [the survey] got me thinking about a subject that I hadn't really committed much thought to before'. In centuries gone by people likewise didn't think much about gender or sexual equality, or whether it was appropriate to own slaves and burn witches. They blindly obeyed their Bible. We've rejected much of what the Bible once insisted upon, being in control of our own death is just one more thing that we need to wrestle from the priests.

    As for my mention of the burden question, this was because those opposed to voluntary euthanasia specifically argue that it MUST remain illegal since the elderly will en masse be emotionally plagued by the feeling that they are a selfish burden on their family and would all opt for voluntary euthanasia if it were available. I attended a Church talk a few months ago called 'The case against euthanasia', delivered by university law professor, where this argument was expressed and everyone nodded knowingly. This I feel is a bogus argument that needs to be exposed. My belief is that there will always be burdens on families, and as you say, 'Not everyone will give the same weight to being a burden'. I don't think it can be argued, and it certainly hasn't been demonstrated, that a burden would drive most people to voluntary euthanasia. From what I've read most people today choose to end their lives due to one or more of the following: unbearable pain and suffering, feelings of frustration, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness. I think it could be argued that people who have families that put in a lot of effort supporting an elderly person, and thus potentially create a huge feeling of burden, these people commit suicide in far lesser numbers than people who have no family, and thus no burden at all, but who are consequently very lonely, isolated and depressed. And suicidal.

    Of course you are right when you say that 'In reality we have no rights'. I've often argued this too. People only have the rights their society chooses to give them under its current laws. If humans really had a right to life then no one would have, could have, ever died. And history has shown us that humans have had their life taken from them in depressing numbers. Ditto for our right to the likes of free speech, that human right strangely only exists in certain countries, and even in those countries it still doesn't allow people to shout 'Fire' in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. Of course when I spoke of our right to life, you will have realised that I spoke in the context of the liberty that our society grants its citizens, that no other person has a legal right, as long as I act legally, to constrain how I live.

    And you're also correct when you write that 'Legislation on euthanasia needs very careful consideration as the people closest to you are likely to have the most obvious motive for killing you'. But I also wrote that people need to take special note of the word 'voluntary' in the phrase 'voluntary euthanasia', and it is voluntary euthanasia I am at present arguing for. Euthanasia without the prefix voluntary is quite different. To quote from one of my books: 'Euthanasia is a broad term for mercy killing — taking the life of a hopelessly ill or injured individual in order to end his or her suffering'. There are two types of euthanasia; active or positive euthanasia where a person is painlessly put to death, and passive or negative euthanasia where the means keeping a terminally ill person alive is withdrawn, such as respirators or feeding tubes, with the knowledge that this will cause the person's death. The infamous 'pulling the plug'. Neither active nor passive euthanasia require the permission of the person involved. Active euthanasia is illegal nearly everywhere, whereas passive euthanasia happens often. This is a relatively new thing, since before the rise of modern medical technology most people did die at home, only now are family members and doctors forced to pull the plug to let nature take its course. Also a type of active euthanasia occurs in our hospitals and rest homes every day where doctors prescribe powerful drugs that they know will shorten a patient's life. However as long as the drug is given primarily to reduce pain and suffering, even though its secondary effect is to slowly kill, then this is perfectly legal, and I would argue, ethical. It's called 'double effect', where relieving pain has the 'unfortunate' effect of also being lethal. But these people are dying earlier than what God intended, so it is euthanasia, albeit slow acting euthanasia. So should Christians demand that strong painkillers be withheld?

    However voluntary euthanasia is different, it is not family members or doctors deciding to end a person's life, the request to be put painlessly to death must come from the person who wants to die. If the dying person doesn't want their death hastened by drugs, then regardless of what family members or doctors think would be best, euthanasia is off the table. The person dies naturally, end of story. There is no risk that some conniving nephew desperate for money or whatever can convince the doctors to administer a lethal drug and kill you against your wishes. The request to die must come from the dying and no one else. And in the growing numbers of places where voluntary euthanasia is legal, the law does indeed 'include numerous checks and balances' to ensure that this is precisely what the person wants, that they are not being coerced. Unfortunately many people dismiss voluntary euthanasia without knowing exactly what it means.

    You wrote that 'It was probably a deliberate decision not to mention euthanasia in the survey due to the priming and anchoring effects. By asking an absolute question upfront, (such as do you support euthanasia?) you affect how they respond to the questions that follow. This is not psychobabble, it is called the anchoring effect and has been demonstrated in many times'.

    Yes I understand the pitfalls of priming and anchoring effects, but to a degree this can't be avoided, merely accounted for. To anyone that has read about euthanasia, a 'good' death is synonymous with the euthanasia debate, so a survey continually questioning about a good death has already planted the topic in our minds, whether it's really about euthanasia or not. They were perfectly happy to be upfront and ask absolute questions about death, our religiosity, about pain levels and feelings of being a burden, rather than simply ask what factors we thought were important. If the survey wanted to know if being a burden is a real problem in society, then they shouldn't have mentioned it and instead should have waited to see how many brought it up. Their questions lead us quite deliberately down chosen paths to consider factors they wanted us to consider, only at the end were we asked our opinions, and by that time our thinking on death had been quite clearly focused by their questions.

    I remember years ago a phone survey asked if I would buy diamonds from country A or country B. I replied I wouldn't buy diamonds from any country and was told that wasn't the question, I had to choose one of the countries. So my survey results conveyed, quite falsely, that I would buy diamonds from a specific country. Then I had to reveal what price range I was interested in! They may have felt they shouldn't ask an absolute question upfront, but if they had they would have got the truth rather than forced lies. Some poor sucker probably imported diamonds thinking that I would be lining up to buy them. In another university survey on the paranormal, the question was asked if I had ever read a horoscope. And of course I had. From that single question was derived the proportion of people in NZ who believed in astrology! Of course they should have asked upfront if I believed in astrology. My point is that I've felt that many of the surveys I've done over the years will have reached false conclusions because of poorly phrased questions. The designers may know what they're trying to ask, but the respondents may be thinking of something completely different. I agree that a well designed survey and census are good ways of gauging public views, but as I said, if I really want to know how someone feels about a specific topic, I'd ask them upfront, in a way that I could reasonably expect honest, considered answers. I'd probe their answers to ensure they understood the topic. Regarding a good death, if my questions were designed to reveal their view of voluntary euthanasia, I wouldn't hide this fact from them. I'd ask what they knew about euthanasia, how they felt about doctors and 'double effect', and if they said that the Bible demands that 'Thou shalt not kill', I'd ask what justifies Christians going to war then? Christians are willingly to take the life of someone in perfect health that doesn't want to die, yet won't allow a person that is suffering to take their own life.

    'Death is not the worst evil, but rather when we wish to die and cannot.'
                Sophocles (496-406 B.C.E.)
  3. Comment by Zafir, 22 Jul, 2015

    Hi John, as indicated, this is a subject that I have given little thought to.
    So thanks for the reply, there is plenty for consideration in it.
    I know how I'd like to die. I realise that there is a fair chance it won't be the way I do die.

    Given your experiences I can fully understand your impassioned stance.
    Deaths of people that I have known have been quick, drowning, heart attacks etc. One probably was long and unpleasant, but I wasn't there to witness the decline.

    I can only relate to suffering before death of other animals. I've been around non-human animals most of my life. Most did not die of natural causes. My experience of their deaths shows some of the most obvious reasons that the analogy of how we treat our pets is a stretch.

    • Other animals cannot communicate to me how they want to die.
    • I suspect that it requires a large prefrontal cortex to seriously consider how you want to die.
    • I have killed some animals that had treatable conditions, but I considered it was too expensive and or they wouldn't have the same quality of life after treatment.
    • I killed one animal just because it was getting too aggressive.
    • I have seen more than a few animals, that were close to dying anyway, display fear and try to get away.
    • And of course the majority I've killed to eat. This would not translate well to humans.

    I do think that forcing a person to suffer when the outcome is a slow decline into an unpleasant death is cruel, and if it was legal I could perhaps offer my services.

    On the wider issue of euthanasia my opinion is uninformed.
    So some questions (more so considerations), to better inform me.

    1. Should there be an assessment of the patient's mental state to see if they are capable of the decision?
    2. What to do with someone who has an impaired cognitive state who is suicidal?
    3. Should medical practitioners be forced to carry out the patient's wishes?
    4. Would we have to have licenced practitioners that specialize in this service, making it illegal for others?
    5. Should it only be an option for conditions that are untreatable?
    6. Should there be a cooling off period, as one day someone might feel overly depressed?
    7. Should it only be an option to people that can clearly communicate?
    8. Should it apply to non-terminal conditions?
    9. If you were smart enough to call emergency services and report finding a body at a certain address before offing yourself, to prevent your family finding you, do you even require a change to the status quo?
    10. Can euthanasia become infectious? As in a depressed elderly person in poor health requests euthanasia after a friend is euthanased.
    11. To avoid the rush of willing candidates to take up a new right, is it an issue that would be better dealt with by softening the law, rather than an out-right legalization?
    12. Is there any chance that people are coerced? 'Look you are not going to get better and you are using valuable bed space, perhaps we could harvest your organs, have you considered ...'
    13. Is there a chance that a person is coerced so that the family doesn't have to watch their loved one change from how they want to remember them?

    I don't expect you to answer all these questions, mostly just sharing some thoughts.

    So my thinking at the moment is, this is not a black or white issue and would be best dealt with case by case. It should be legalised but legislation is not at all good at dealing with case by case. In this way it differs from homosexuality and Woman Suffrage.

    This is straying way outside my comfort zone. I usually like to think in terms of data that can support or falsify a hypothesis. I am always concerned when emotions are involved in decision making.

    There is little point in speculating what is right or wrong with the survey without knowing what they were trying to find out. I will email the researcher and ask a couple of questions.

  4. Comment by Zafir, 23 Jul, 2015

    Hi John, below is a NZ Herald story and a few survey results. Of course results are altered by what questions are asked. Still it appears that most people support euthanasia.

    The Australian Institute survey shows that even those that consider themselves Christians are more likely than not to support euthanasia. Given that most people support euthanasia, it is surprising that most attempts to legalize it are unsuccessful.

    Perhaps it's a thornier issue than I first thought.

    An inquiry into voluntary euthanasia is to be carried out by Parliament

    Massey survey shows support for euthanasia

    Should euthanasia be legalised in New Zealand? Survey

    7 in 10 (USA) support euthanasia

    British Doctors differ from general public

    Public Opinion - Christian opposition a tiny minority

    Australian Institute Survey results - attitudes to voluntary euthanasia

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Jul, 2015

    Hi Zafir. Thanks again for your response and thought provoking questions, also the survey links.

    Growing up on a farm I've had some experience of animal death. Like you, I don't think it likely that animals (with the possible exception of the odd intelligent species that we don't typically see in NZ) have any real concept of death. I have no doubt though that they can feel pain and can suffer both physically and psychologically.

    I didn't mean to imply that how we treat our animals and our fellow humans should be the same, but that we should treat humans far better than animals. As philosophers would say, all intelligent animal life, from chickens to humans, is morally considerable, and as such it is wrong to inflict pain and suffering unnecessarily. However a human — a person — is clearly more morally significant than a chicken, thus we should extend more moral consideration to humans than we do to animals. So morally speaking, whatever minimal treatment and consideration we feel we must offer to animals for their wellbeing should at the very least be offered to humans. Why is a chicken deserving of a mercy killing but not a human?

    People have argued, correctly I believe, that we should treat animals humanely, that we shouldn't allow unnecessary suffering or cruel treatment, that we should give them a good life, and if they are farmed for food, give them a good death when the time comes. And laws have been enacted to this effect. Euthanasia for animals is not just legal, it is enforceable to prevent the ongoing suffering 'of a hopelessly ill or injured individual'. I just don't understand why we don't at least offer this option to humans. Is our suffering somehow more noble, something it is our destiny to endure, does it built character? How does the world benefit by an old man screaming as he dies?

    The only other comment I might make regarding animal deaths is that dying animals do often display fear and try to flee, but they often behave exactly the same way when you are trying to help them, since they have no understanding of what our intentions are. Their survival instinct drives them, not some conscious realisation that we are about to euthanize them and they're morally opposed to that.

    OK, so here's my take on your questions.

    1. Should there be an assessment of the patient's mental state to see if they are capable of the decision?
    Yes there should be, and that goes on even now without euthanasia being legal. That's why people should specify someone to act on their behalf — known as 'Enduring Powers of Attorney' — if they become mentally unfit to make decisions regarding their medical care. If deemed unfit then decisions are made by others. And for places that do allow voluntary euthanasia there are many checks that gauge the patient's mental state. A relatively new thing, and very important thing I believe, is what is known as a 'Living Will' or 'Advance Directive'. Just as a normal will dictates well before your death how you want your assets distributed and do you want to be buried or cremated etc, a 'living will' dictates well before it is needed what medical treatment you want to receive should you be unable to express your direct wishes following an accident or illness. For example, should you be in persistent vegetative state or suffer dementia. You would spell out whether you wanted feeding tubes and resuscitators to be employed and kept 'alive' for years, or if the prognosis was one where recovery was extremely remote, would you want all medical intervention to cease and be allowed to die a natural death. Unfortunately these living wills don't yet carry the same legal weight as a normal will, but doctors are beginning to treat them seriously and family can't argue that you would have wanted a specific treatment when you have clearly written what you would want.
    2. What to do with someone who has an impaired cognitive state who is suicidal?
    Well perhaps we should ask what we'd do when someone in an impaired cognitive state wants to drive a car or perform surgery or teach. We would stop them. Of course if said person is suffering greatly with no hope of recovery, and even if they think invisible demons are causing their pain rather than terminal cancer, their situation would be very difficult. While the person isn't competent to request voluntary euthanasia and the law doesn't permit active euthanasia, if it did I personally would consider euthanasia for them.
    3. Should medical practitioners be forced to carry out the patient's wishes?
    No, there can be no compulsion. There are doctors now that refuse to prescribe their female patients contraceptives, let alone abortions. And in most cases of legal voluntary euthanasia it is not the doctor that actually ends the person's life. They merely prescribe the drugs and the patient administers them personally, although there are cases of assisted euthanasia where the patient becomes incapacitated and a doctor does administer the drugs. Of course some view the mere act of providing the drugs as the same as being the killer. Strangely they don't feel the way about people that provide guns, alcohol, fast cars, cigarettes and artery-clogging junk food to a willing public, even though these examples kill far more people than voluntary euthanasia ever would.
    4. Would we have to have licenced practitioners that specialize in this service, making it illegal for others?
    From memory I think where voluntary euthanasia is legal this is kind of the case. There are many legal hoops that must be jumped through, plus some doctors don't want to participate, so like abortions a select group of doctors will likely provide the service.
    5. Should it only be an option for conditions that are untreatable?
    All things being equal, I don't think sane people would ever consider voluntary euthanasia if they knew their condition could be treated — Oh dear, I see you've broken your leg Mr Smith. Nurse, go get my gun. Of course I've heard of physically healthy people requesting voluntary euthanasia because they were suffering terribly psychologically. Others have then argued that since they could live for decades in physically good health then they shouldn't be allowed to end their life just because they don't want to live. While some of us are more empathetic than others, personally I think it is impossible to grasp the degree of suffering that someone else may be experiencing. What may give me purpose in life may be utter torture to someone else. And let's remember that in a real sense we can't take the option of voluntary euthanasia away from people even if we think they might misuse it. Essentially voluntary euthanasia is just another word for suicide, and we can never remove that option. All we can control is if they decide to end their life, whether it is done peacefully or violently.
    6. Should there be a cooling off period, as one day someone might feel overly depressed?
    Yes of course. As I've said, where voluntary euthanasia is legal many legal hoops must be jumped through, it's not as easy as buying a gun or a length of rope.
    7. Should it only be an option to people that can clearly communicate?
    Now we're differentiating between active and passive euthanasia and voluntary euthanasia. With active and passive euthanasia the decision is made by others, when the patient can't communicate, perhaps due to being in a persistent vegetative state, whereas with voluntary euthanasia the patient must make the decision. If they can't communicate this is where a living will or advance directive would now speak for them. Even without clear direction from a living will, passive euthanasia happens all the time, with doctors and family withdrawing treatment that is only prolonging suffering. Personally, I would support assisted euthanasia where a person couldn't communicate and if a living will clearly expressed this desire.
    8. Should it apply to non-terminal conditions?
    Yes. There are many horrible conditions that don't kill us, or do so only very slowly, but pain and suffering is not about whether it will lead to death, it's about, well... pain and suffering. I believe that torturers can inflict unspeakable suffering without killing their victims, but the fact that they're not going to die won't lift the spirits of the victims one iota, in fact knowing that there won't be an imminent end probably only makes their suffering worse. We can't think of offering voluntary euthanasia only to people with a terminal condition since clearly some non-terminal conditions can still cause unbearable pain and suffering as well.
    9. If you were smart enough to call emergency services and report finding a body at a certain address before offing yourself, to prevent your family finding you, do you even require a change to the status quo?
    Most definitely we need a change. At present the status quo says, You can kill yourself, but only in a violent way. We'll sell you a gun, no questions asked, but not a deadly drug. You can die alone, but you can't die comforted by loved ones. We can't stop you committing suicide, but we can stop you having a humane suicide. And even though you may have spared your family, you've clearly given little thought for the emergency services that will be confronted with an horrific scene. They may not be family, but they're still innocent humans that don't deserve to be traumatised. That's the status quo. And while suicide is already legal, the available methods mean that many can't get a gun etc, can't bear the thought that some poor unfortunate person must find them, can't bring themselves to commit to such physical methods or are fearful that their suicide attempt will fail and they'll be in an even worse condition, mentally and physically. I think people need to confront the existing situation which is presently the only alternative to voluntary euthanasia. Which is worse, allowing people to access euthanasia drugs for a peaceful, humane death or allowing them do access guns and ropes for a violent death?
    10. Can euthanasia become infectious? As in a depressed elderly person in poor health requests euthanasia after a friend is euthanased.
    Can euthanasia, as an idea, become infectious? Perhaps, in the same way that democracy, freedom of speech and gender equality can become infectious. People can use reason and can come to accept democracy or voluntary euthanasia as actually something they now agree with. There could indeed be an increase in voluntary euthanasia among the elderly when they understand it better. But I don't see it as blind acceptance, like contracting a virus. We already have suicide. Has it become infectious?
    11. To avoid the rush of willing candidates to take up a new right, is it an issue that would be better dealt with by softening the law, rather than an out-right legalization?
    If there were to be a rush this would only mean that there was a real need for voluntary euthanasia, that people are being denied what they want. To deliberately limit the number who could take advantage of this new right would punish those that missed out, that had to die in pain while they waited. Imagine in the slavery days in the USA if the government had declared that slavery was immoral and illegal, but to avoid the rush from those wanting to take up this new right, they would slowly grant freedom, state by state over the next 30 years. It shouldn't be the job of the authorities to drip feed our access to a new right to which we are ethically entitled.
    12. Is there any chance that people are coerced? 'Look you are not going to get better and you are using valuable bed space, perhaps we could harvest your organs, have you considered ...'
    Yes I'm sure there is a risk that some people might be coerced, but this risk applies across the board. The fact that we offer the elderly access to rest homes and hospices means that some devious family members might coerce them to enter these places before they need to, meaning their house, car and assets can be sold off. But again, this is why there are many legal hoops that must be jumped through to ensure that people are not being coerced into voluntary euthanasia.
    13. Is there a chance that a person is coerced so that the family doesn't have to watch their loved one change from how they want to remember them?
    Yes again, possibly, but the same argument already exists for suicide, and yet how many people commit suicide to keep their family happy? A devious son could say to his parents, Look, you're in your forties now and you're only going to get less attractive as the years go by, plus I could really use your money now to buy a house rather than in forty years when you die, so why don't you... you know... do the right thing?

    I suspect that a lot of 'young' healthy people enjoying life and with everything to live for hear an ill person, elderly or otherwise, say that they wish they were dead, and they can't believe that could be a real desire, and they think that they must have been coerced. Someone with friends can't understand what it's like to have lost all yours, can't grasp what it's like to be trapped in a bed or a room, can't imagine bleak isolation caused by a failure of sight, hearing and mobility, can't imagine unremitting pain, can't imagine having no purpose and nothing to look forward, can't imagine what's it's like to be treated like a barely tolerated pet. They apparently think that these elderly folk are experiencing the world as they are, albeit with wrinkly skin. Why would they want to die, there's so much to live for!? Hmmm... no there's not.

  6. Comment by Zafir, 24 Jul, 2015

    Hi John. Given that most people support euthanasia, why is it not legal?

    The Catholic Church is opposed to euthanasia, but people that identified themselves as Catholic polled similar to the general public on the issue. Religion is probably not a major factor.

    Young people might have an unrealistic view of aging and death. They might struggle with seeing themselves as being old or dying. I don't think this is a serious impediment to legalising euthanasia.

    There is already model legislation in a few countries, which would make the writing our legislation easier. Legislative difficulties might not be the answer.

    I suspect it is the fear that backing euthanasia could be political suicide for a government. The roughly 30% that oppose, might feel more strongly on the issue, than the 70% that support. When the difference in forming a government comes down to just a couple of seats, it might be politically savvy to avoid contentious issues.

    Generally speaking I think legislation is better when backed by evidence than popular opinion.

    You made of good job of answering the questions, which would likely be some of the arguments put forward by opponents to such legalisation.

    Although I have to point out that your views seem to be those of a strong advocate. Is that because there are no negative effects of euthanasia?

    Your answer to question 10, (which I did not phrase well) was.

    "Can euthanasia, as an idea, become infectious? Perhaps, in the same way that democracy, freedom of speech and gender equality can become infectious. People can use reason and can come to accept democracy or voluntary euthanasia as actually something they now agree with. There could indeed be an increase in voluntary euthanasia among the elderly when they understand it better. But I don't see it as blind acceptance, like contracting a virus. We already have suicide. Has it become infectious?"
    Has suicide become infectious? Unfortunately it can. I haven't checked the data but it seems that a suicide contagion and suicide cluster can happen.

    Also you link euthanasia to ideals that are socially unacceptable to question. I might mean infectious like xenophobia, ideology of ISIS or twerking. I actually meant it in the context of, I'll have what she's having.

    There is empirical data as euthanasia is legal in several nations. That's good because it brings me closer to my comfort zone. I'm almost sorry I commented on your post. I have to now invest some time in examining my stance now.

  7. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Jul, 2015

    'Given that most people support euthanasia, why is it not legal?'
    Ahhhh... that's the million dollar question, Zafir. (Can you remember when the big questions were only sixty-four thousand dollar questions?) Like you I put much of the blame on weak-willed politicians. Over 26 million dollars spent so far on merely thinking about the flag, but too afraid to even discuss euthanasia. I think you're right too that a small vocal, engaged group that is passionate about something can easily distort what the real public feeling is. Small committed groups from both ends of the spectrum give lectures, hold protests and get their views on the news, but the great majority of the public ignore them both and just get on with their lives. The main reason I think the euthanasia debate isn't gaining any real traction is that most people are apathetic. It's not just the young that struggle with seeing themselves as being old or dying. Most people try and delude themselves into believing that they'll die peacefully in their beds at a healthy old age, and even though they know that might not be the case, they're uncomfortable thinking about dying when it might involve suffering, their suffering. Look at the legalisation of prostitution and homosexuality, the core people that fought for reforms were those that were prostitutes or homosexual, plus their family and friends. For the rest of us, even though we might have quietly supported the moves, we weren't attending the rallies or involving ourselves in the debates, we all believed we had bigger concerns to deal with. Ditto with euthanasia, it is largely those that have personally experienced the process of dying that are arguing for reforms. And unfortunately those that understand the problem best are, well, dead.

    As you say, the Catholic Church is opposed to euthanasia, but many Catholics aren't. It's the same with contraception, divorce and abortion; opposed by the Church but not so much by Catholics on the street. But the groups that hold talks and protests and turn up to make submissions to investigating committees are representatives of the Catholic Church and diehard believers, not your typical Catholic who isn't going to turn up and argue with his priest. But based on those that bother to vocalise their strong views, politicians no doubt get the (false) impression that religion is deeply opposed. In a sense it is, but the religious generally aren't.

    As for the youth, they often think that someone in their thirties is old, but I think they are far less committed to traditional views than their parents were. Look at how many have rejected religion and easily accepted homosexuality law changes. They're far less likely to accept that mercy killing is wrong because some old god says it is. And as you say, euthanasia is already working in other countries so we wouldn't be venturing into unexplored territory. We have plenty of templates to work from. And of course changes must be made based on evidence and not popular opinion. But it seems that it will take popular opinion to force authorities to start considering the evidence. We mustn't legalise voluntary euthanasia just because the majority want it, we must legalise it because it's the ethical thing to do. And that will take education. Just as women had to convince men that they were intelligent enough understand politics, and that voting wouldn't harm them, we now have to convince the public that free individuals should control the nature of their own death, not a priest working through a doctor. And we need to be honest here, our deaths are definitely being controlled, just not by those that actually possess the body and will experience the death. A survey in the USA revealed that 65% of doctors would ignore the wishes of their patient if they conflicted with their own views. Regardless of what the patient wanted, the doctor would prolong, or shorten, the dying process based on his or her own views, the patient be damned. You are essentially the doctor's pet, and he or she will do what they think is right, screw your wishes. Apparently we're not as free as we're led to believe.

    I certainly do speak as a strong advocate for voluntary euthanasia, and I see nothing wrong with this, just as I'm a strong advocate for the likes of sexual and racial equality and atheism. Of course there are people that present arguments against all of these things, but I generally don't repeat them since I don't see them as valid. I'm sure there will be one or more negative effects of euthanasia, since no laws are ever perfect. Take our justice system for example, there will always be the risk of incarcerating innocent people through some accidental, incompetent or even deliberate action on the part of people involved. But having an imperfect justice system far outweighs the alternative, no justice at all. Look also at the negative effects of motor vehicles, therapeutic drugs, surgery and bathtubs. All these things accidentally kill huge numbers of innocent people every year, yes even bathtubs, and yet no sane person would argue that we do away with these things, since their positive effects far outweigh the very real risk of accidental deaths. I'm thinking that the obvious risk with voluntary euthanasia is that someone will be pressured into dying against their wishes, but like our justice system, we'll have to make it robust enough to ensure this is a very rare thing. I'm of the opinion that the humane value of voluntary euthanasia is vastly greater than the fear that there might be a rare wrongful death. I'm not sure what other negative effects could be tagged to voluntary euthanasia. No doubt Christians would say that going to Hell is a negative, but not for an atheist. And again, like homosexuality, if you don't want to partake in voluntary euthanasia, you don't have to. Others might say that doctors assisting in voluntary euthanasia could be psychologically harmed, but like abortions, only those that supported the practice would be involved so they would see themselves as helping people, not harming them.

    You say, 'Has suicide become infectious? Unfortunately it can. I haven't checked the data but it seems that a suicide contagion and suicide cluster can happen. Also you link euthanasia to ideals that are socially unacceptable to question. I might mean infectious like xenophobia, ideology of ISIS or twerking. I actually meant it in the context of, I'll have what she's having'.

    I've actually met people that do question democracy and freedom of speech, mainly Muslims, and a guy I know openly denounces gender equality. Also I don't think anyone adopts 'xenophobia, ideology of ISIS or twerking' without some real deliberation. It may be quite flawed deliberation in my view, but people seriously believe that they have good reasons to fear foreigners, good reasons to join ISIS against the Christian Crusade and good reasons to start twerking. If you questioned some elderly NZ First supporter as to why they opposed Chinese immigration, or some Islamist on why he or she supports ISIS, I'm sure they would rave on at length with great conviction as to the validity of their stance. The reasons may be utterly flawed, but I don't think I've ever met anyone that took up a cause that they weren't convinced was the right one. And it's hard to think of an action more serious and final than suicide. I feel that anyone that is motivated by a suicide to commit suicide themselves has already been on the cusp of suicide themselves, having thought long and hard about it. I have heard of suicide copycats, but because the authorities hide suicide from us it is very difficult to know how often this happens, but I suspect it is, compared to other forms of death, extremely rare. When several people known to each other have died in an apparent suicide pact, then clearly one didn't unexpectedly commit suicide and the rest decided to blindly follow suit. They were all psychologically troubled and were already contemplating suicide. Perhaps it took one to go first and this convinced the hesitant others to follow, but this possibility had long been contemplated by all of them. And the 'infection' didn't spread. None of their family and other friends ever decided to follow on with suicides of their own.

    I do think voluntary euthanasia would be considered and acted upon in rest homes far more often than suicide now is, not because it is infectious but because it was wanted, thought about and sometimes acted upon. We shouldn't consider a plausibly higher rate of voluntary euthanasia in rest homes as an aberration. For example, we find a lot of walking frames in rest homes, not because once one person gets one all their friends want one too, but because most residents are infirm and can see the real need for them.

    So I could see the possibility of euthanasia clusters in rest homes. Many elderly in rest homes could be saying that while they have things to live for then they'll choose to continue living, but should life become not worth living, then they'd like the option of voluntary euthanasia. I could imagine an elderly woman also requesting voluntary euthanasia after her friend opted for voluntary euthanasia. She might say that she only had one thing that made her existence bearable, and that was the company of her friend. With her friend now gone, she would have no reason left to live. I know people will say that there is so much to live for, and for most of us that is indeed true, but they fail to grasp that this is not always the case for those at the end of their lives. Imagine all the things you like doing now, and having every single one of them taken away, not just sports or hobbies, even simple pleasures like eating, talking and reading, and added to this is unremitting pain. And it all gets worse from here. So I certainly could see a voluntary euthanasia death in a rest home finally pushing another person to think, 'What am I waiting for? My friend is gone, and her suffering has finally ended, unlike mine. Do I seriously think my personal hell is going to improve? Am I likely to get younger and healthier? No. I've had a good life, but now every day I live makes my life less good overall. If God won't end my suffering, then it's time to take control. Oh nurse... ' (Of course that last bit, calling for the nurse, is fictitious. In reality you would need to crawl across the floor to reach the nurse call button which has been carelessly placed outside your reach, and having pressed it, an hour or so later someone might come to see what you want. No, seriously.)

    And not so seriously, reading your above comment all I could think of was the movie 'When Harry Met Sally' with Sally faking an orgasm in a deli, and a woman at a nearby table saying to the waitress, 'I'll have what she's having'.

  8. Comment by Zafir, 25 Jul, 2015

    Hi John. Well not much to disagree with here.

    Guilty on the 'When Harry Met Sally' I couldn't resist the imagery of the fake orgasm scene. Maybe not appropriate in this discussion, but still a great scene.

    I would say that there is nothing wrong with being a strong advocate for a position as long as we are still able to alter our stance/beliefs to match the evidence and not the other way around.

    'good reasons to start twerking.'
    That was the most ludicrous thing I could think of. I'll have to try harder in future.

    Glad that you acknowledge that there 'will be one or more negative effects of euthanasia, since no laws are ever perfect.' I sometimes think you border on being binary in your thought process, glad to see there is hope for you yet.

    At any rate there appears to be very little difference in our opinion on this issue.

    It is possible that the only difference is my opinion is not yet well informed.

  9. Comment by Mira, 12 Oct, 2015

    Hello John, I will be 65 in January, so I am of the old, that will suicide one day sooner or later. according to the figures.

    1. The Australian Bureau of Statistics - we laugh at them in disgust, for the pretentious sham that they are. These people have not looked out a window since way back when, as far as they know, the outside may not exist anymore, the outside world that they concoct statistics about.
    2. In all my life I can only remember one suicide - a young Italian woman told me that her brother was totally unhappy with his life & could not see the point of continuing to live, so he knocked himself off - in 1986. He was gay, he drank a bit much, he took recreational drugs & was flamboyant. His boyfriend had left him, he was broken hearted & said he wanted to die, he could not live without him etc. At no time was he going to kill himself, was he wanting to die, he was broken hearted & went on a binge to get rid of his misery & over did it. Death by misadventure.
    3. I worked in a nursing home with a hospice unit. I promise you that even those who are so close to death, do not want to die.
    4. The suicide stories are the excuse of the pharmaceutical companies & the supportive political arenas to push anti-depressants.
    5. What are the odd that I am this old & have not come in contact with real suicide in all these years - please.
    6. At Chemist Warehouse a few years ago, several of us had a chat, Panadol Extra contains 50% CODINE.
    7. Old people buy it to kill themselves so you cannot buy it often & must present ID.
    8. In my street no old person has yet topped themselves.
    9. sedatives - relaxants & painkillers could leave you a vegetable, flat on your back in a nursing home, this would defeat the purpose of the suicide attempt, therefore it is definitely not the way to go
    10. The best & most certain way is to stand in front of an on coming train.

    OLD PEOPLE DO NOT COMMIT SUICIDE.
    IT IS A LOAD OF THE RUBBISH THAT THE AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF STATISTICS SPEW FORTH - ONLY
    I wanted to comment on this & now it is done.
    Stay cool John.

  10. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Oct, 2015

    The logic of your argument Mira seems to be that since you haven't known any elderly person that committed suicide, or even wanted to commit suicide, therefore elderly suicide is a myth. It doesn't happen. Yet by the same logic, I haven't personally known any person, young or old, that has committed suicide, so I guess that means suicide happening at any age to anyone is myth. It simply doesn't happen. And yet I think we both know only too well that suicide is very real, and that while we may have been fortunate not to have known a suicide victim, it has certainly impacted on others. Just this week in Turkey two suicide bombers killed themselves and around 100 innocent bystanders. But again, I don't know anyone that has been caught up in a terrorist attack, or a plane crash or a deadly tsunami or a forest fire, so because I have no personal experience of these events, does that mean that they don't really happen either?

    To suggest that suicides are actually 'Death by misadventure' cannot, I believe, be defended in the majority of cases. When a victim places a shotgun in his mouth and pulls the trigger, or places a noose around his neck and kicks out the stool or, as you suggest, jumps in front of a speeding train, these are not unintended deaths, they are quite deliberate. They are not a call for help, and they happen all too often.

    One reason many people think suicide isn't a problem is that the law (in NZ anyway) prevents the media from reporting on it. Death notices in the newspaper simply say 'Died suddenly' or some similar euphemism, which can mean suicide or simply that they died unexpectedly of natural causes. When a kid at some school commits suicide all the school, and everyone who knows the kid and their family, knows that it was suicide, and yet the wider community are oblivious that a suicide has occurred, and might even argue that kids aren't at risk of suicide. They would have heard about it if suicides were happening. I know of deaths that only years later did I learn that they weren't natural but actually suicides, my ignorance due to the law hiding them aided by families embarrassed by shame.

    Having worked in a nursing home with a hospice unit, you say Mira that you've never met any elderly person that wanted to die. Then you've been extraordinarily lucky, just within my family I've known several that near the end were begging to die. If a doctor had offered them a lethal drug, legally or otherwise, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. Of course many elderly people in terrible pain and with little dignity would never consider suicide, often because of religious beliefs, but there is no denying that some would opt for voluntary euthanasia if it was available. I don't fear death, but I certainly do fear the process of dying, since it is likely to be one of suffering, a loss of dignity and independence, or even worse, as you say Mira, my final days spent as 'a vegetable, flat on your back in a nursing home'.

    Hmmmm... suicide by lethal drug or life as a vegetable? It's not a difficult decision. Unfortunately society won't legalise voluntary euthanasia, so we're forced to take your advice Mira, and 'stand in front of an on coming train'. And we'll be forced to do it before we really need to or want to, while we can still walk to the train tracks.

  11. Comment by Anonymous, 04 Dec, 2016

    Wow.. just speechless. I could only bring myself to read a little bit of this hocum. You may want to shorten it and perhaps start over.

  12. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 05 Dec, 2016

    Wow. Almost speechless. You could only bring yourself to write a little bit of nothing. You may want to lengthen it and perhaps start over.

    On second thoughts, don't bother. We have no time for arrogant people that believe they can criticise an argument without having first read it and understood it. And we guess your ignorance of our argument, coupled with your self-righteous anger, is why you went with insult rather than constructive criticism.

The bashful nature of true believers
What is it with true believers in silly beliefs? Why are they generally so reluctant to reveal and/or defend their silly beliefs? At a social gathering a few might reveal by a casual comment their religiosity, a belief in astrology or psychics, their attachment to some conspiracy theory or some other equally silly belief, and if you concur, then they are often more than happy to expand on the topic. But, if you offer an incredulous response then you might, if you're lucky, get one or two claims to judge the level of your skepticism, and then the 'touchy' subject of conversation promptly changes, or a long lost friend is suddenly spotted across the room that they just must talk to. I've lost count the number of times that's happened. So why doesn't this public reluctance to discuss certain beliefs seem to concern them? Especially since we might be justified in assuming that perhaps they can't defend them. As an atheist, for example, I'd be worried if I couldn't explain and defend atheism, and I'd question my stance if I was unwilling to even try. Why should anyone value their own opinions if they're too scared to reveal them, too lazy to defend them, or totally unable to defend them? If you won't even fight to demonstrate the validity of your own opinions, why should you expect others to take them seriously?

In a personal email the other day I was commenting on the Psychic Challenge that can be taken by those that visit the entertaining attraction called 'Puzzling World' in Wanaka. For a fee, anyone that thinks they're psychic can with little effort earn $100,000 by completing the challenge and finding a nearby hidden treasure. No physical activity is required, one simply consults with the psychic realm for some insider information, reads someone's mind, detects the psychic vibes given off by the treasure, or uses whatever method they prefer, and voilà, the money is theirs.

But here's what confounds us. Since the Psychic Challenge has been running since 1994, why hasn't someone claimed the $100,000? Are we to believe that psychics don't want or need the money? Are we to believe that psychics don't see this ongoing public challenge as an affront to their claims? We live on a planet with over 7 billion people, many that believe they have such spooky abilities, and it would only take one who is the real deal and who could use $100,000 to complete the challenge. And in the process prove us skeptics wrong! And this isn't the only psychic challenge, there are several worldwide. If you wouldn't even get out of bed for $100,000, then there is James Randi's 'Million Dollar Challenge' — and that's US dollars — for anyone that can demonstrate paranormal abilities. But still all these challenges stand. Why are these psychics so bashful, why are they too shy to demonstrate their powers to a doubting world? Surely these psychics that can be found worldwide can't all be fakes or deluded? Or can they?

The odd person has paid a fee to take the psychic challenge at 'Puzzling World' and they've all failed, as have the meagre few that have taken the other challenges worldwide. Wouldn't you'd think that anyone that was going to pay to take a challenge would have already had a few dry runs at home and would have clearly confirmed that they could indeed find hidden objects by psychic means? After they've done that, they'd know that the $100,000 was as good as theirs. And yet they all failed, suggesting that they didn't think of proving their treasure finding abilities beforehand. Clearly the handful of brave souls that have failed at the challenge were quite deluded in their abilities.

But they're a drop in the ocean, since the huge number of professed psychics out there aren't even willing to take the challenge, not even for $100,000 or more. They apparently have tried a few dry runs in private and have proved to themselves that they can't actually do what they publicly claim they can. The great majority of psychics know that they're fakes and couldn't find hidden treasure even if there was a trail of florescent breadcrumbs leading to the spot; the spot being marked by a huge X. So they don't even embarrass themselves by trying and failing. We know that well-known psychics such as Kelvin Cruickshank (from TV's 'Sensing Murder') have given psychic performances not far from 'Puzzling World', and yet none of them were prepared to take the challenge. Maybe $100,000 is chicken feed to what they earn on the psychic circuit? But as we've said in the past, even if they personally don't need the money, why don't they perform a humanitarian and altruistic act by effortlessly winning the challenge and donating the money to a worthwhile charity? And as an added bonus, they would get to amaze and frustrate disbelieving skeptics like us.

But no, these true believers are very reluctant to defend their silly belief in psychic abilities. Even though they're passionate about what they do, Kelvin Cruickshank has written some four books on what it's like to have the gift and many travel the country to show off their spooky powers (under controlled conditions), they're just not at all willing to discuss their passion with someone who has questions. And it's not just those that claim to actually have psychic abilities, those that simply believe that others have these abilities are also quite reticent. While they might reveal that they believe in this spooky stuff, attend the psychic shows and pay for readings, they are usually very unwilling to discuss the details and what it might mean if psychic abilities were real. For example, everyone hates peeping toms (well maybe not exhibitionists), but these believers don't seem to mind those with psychic abilities spying on them. And not just in the shower, but spying on their very private thoughts as well. I've tried to have a few serious discussions with believers but they soon become very defensive and annoyed and refuse to consider how it might all work. They simply want to believe without the complication of having to be able to justify their belief.

Think about something in your life that you're passionate about, be it sport, art, travel, classical music, the abortion debate, politics, or touring the many locations where 'Lord of the Rings' was filmed. If at some casual gathering you were asked some questions about your passion, maybe whether it was still safe to travel overseas or why you supported a particular political party or sports team, would you be forthcoming with your answers, pleased to discuss and defend a topic that you found fascinating and/or important, or would you, while acknowledging your passion, refuse to explain why you it gripped you so? I suspect not, since the many people I've met over the years have almost without exception used any excuse to expound on their favourite topics. Except that is, when that topic is something that they're perhaps a little embarrassed to admit to, like belief in gods, psychics, ghosts and even conspiracy theories, and they suspect that those around them see the world differently. I've worked with fundamentalist Christians that hid their beliefs from me for years. They told others that my atheism offended them but said nothing to me. When I innocently criticised religion or discussed evolution in their presence they remained tight-lipped, yet when I belittled their favourite sport or the monarchy or the NZ flag, they quickly tried to set me straight. Why would they vocally defend sport or a flag but not their belief in God? Surely they believe that God is far more important than sport, so why did they hide their devotion and/or refuse to defend it? Christians are more than happy to tell you why Muslims are a threat, one told me the other day that Islam needs to be outlawed in NZ, but swing the conversation onto the ills of Christianity and suddenly they're desperate to change the subject. They'll quickly make an argument against Muslims but won't defend their own religion even though they're clearly devout. A friend's wife recently told me she believed in past lives and reincarnation, but beyond that, she wasn't willing to discuss her belief any further. While she didn't state it explicitly, she simply wanted to inform me — an atheist — that my view was wrong. And I was expected to simply believe her; she smugly left apparently thinking that she had shaken my worldview. Need I say that she didn't, I saw her argument as no different to a child assuring me that the Tooth Fairy was real. And yet this how most people defend their silly beliefs. By walking away.

Of course this holds true for all the true believers in silly beliefs. They're generally all reluctant to reveal and/or defend their belief in something that the majority think is nonsense. Most Christians don't openly advertise their faith as they once did, and even when they are exposed, they are almost without fail unwilling to seriously discuss and defend their belief in a god. Of course people might point to those annoying door-knocking evangelists as exceptions, but they don't want to discuss their belief, they merely want to lecture to potential believers. As soon as they realise that they can't convert you then they leave, just as psychics refuse to perform in front of skeptics. They aren't at all interested in having their beliefs challenged. As Jesus said, 'He who is not with me is against me'.

Door-knocking evangelists aside, I find that most people that are true believers are often woefully ignorant of the details of their silly belief. And I suspect that deep down they know this and this is why they're often reluctant to reveal and/or defend their silly belief. I've talked briefly with people that believe aliens are visiting us in their spiffy flying saucers, and even abducting us from our beds; with people that believe the Moon landing was a hoax and those that believe in chemtrails; with those that believe an astrologer can predict the weather and with people that claim that homeopathy and simple magnets can cure us of our aliments. But it didn't take long to discover that these people had no good reason to believe, they simply believed. Those that argued for aliens had no knowledge of astronomy, physics or biology; those that believed in astrology knew nothing of the precession of the equinoxes; those that ranted about the Moon landing hoax knew nothing about the Apollo missions, and those that swore by homeopathy had no idea how it supposedly worked. And I guess it doesn't take many encounters with an outspoken skeptic to teach these holders' of silly beliefs to be very careful who they reveal them to. They've discovered that they can't defend their belief to anyone but a kindergarten kid, and perhaps not even then, so they need to be prudent and only reveal their true feelings around like minded folk. True believers really are in a bind. Engage and they risk appearing foolish, lie low and they are dismissed as irrelevant.

But if people sincerely believe in some god, in psychic powers, that the dead watch over us, that aliens are among us, that dark powers are poisoning us all with chemtrails, why don't they take it seriously? Supposedly these beliefs would all have very important ramifications to us all. So why haven't they collected convincing evidence and powerful arguments as support? Why aren't they boring us all silly with their outrageous claims? If you believe a god exists and our behaviour dictates our future wellbeing — and eternity is a long time to regret your mistake — then wouldn't it be absolutely crucial to examine not just the arguments for his existence, but those against as well? Wouldn't you want to be absolutely sure that you had chosen the right god to believe in? The claimed existence of a jealous god should be vitally important to them, and they certainly tell us that it is, far more important than life itself. And yet their apathy suggests otherwise. Because so much more rides on the choices they make in life as believers than it does on my choices as an atheist, one would think they would be far more conversant with the arguments for their stance. And yet most people that profess to be Christians can often name more of Santa's reindeer than they can apostles of Jesus; they struggle to list the Ten Commandments, and most have never read much of the Bible. Of course they know even less about alternative religions, such as Islam or Hinduism. And don't even think that they might be familiar with more technical arguments for the existence of god, such as the cosmological, teleological and ontological arguments. They naively believe in the god of their parents, and blind faith in this god is enough. Some years ago two colleagues and I were discussing whether Jesus was a god or just a man, and I said that there was good reason to believe that he was neither, that he never existed. When they both dismissed my claim out of hand, I said I had a short article they could read that would explain it. They declined my offer. I said I had it right there in my backpack, they declined again. Why wouldn't they at least take a look? Are you really taking your belief seriously and honestly by ignoring claims that you don't like?

I can't understand how people can believe aliens are visiting us, can argue about it and get annoyed when I don't believe them, and yet can't be bothered to actually read the arguments for and against. If they really believe aliens are here and doing who knows what, why aren't they doing something about it? Some people argue that foreigners are taking over the country and some political parties are even trying to stop immigration from certain countries, so why aren't the believers in aliens speaking out too? When people tell me that psychics can talk to the dead and predict the future etc, and I offer to consider the readings they've had recorded, they always refuse. Why don't they want a second opinion? These readings often impact on how they live their lives, so why aren't they interested in ensuring that they're accurate?

The one thing these people and I both have in common are silly beliefs. We all have a view about the likes of gods, ghosts, aliens, astrology and alternative healing, but the difference is that I've reached my stance by researching and discussing the various topics from both sides and they generally haven't. The god believers will have only read selected passages from their holy book and chatted with a priest, but not an atheist or scientist. The believers in psychics will have paid for a few readings and perhaps read a book on improving their own psychic abilities, but not a single book from the skeptic perspective. The people that see flying saucers may have watched all the movies with aliens in them, and read the accounts from those that claim to have been abducted, but not a single book on astrobiology. Those that support alternative therapies prefer to visit a homeopath or perhaps swear by all the testimonials in the colourful brochure that came with their healing crystals. Every one of these true believers in a silly belief have consciously narrowed their input to information and people that will reaffirm their belief.

As an atheist and skeptic I'm more than willing to discuss my views and why I hold them, I want to have my viewpoints challenged, and importantly, if my arguments are shown to be flawed, I'm willing to change my stance. But why are people with opposing views so reluctant to discuss their views? If the evidence supports them as they claim it does, then why aren't they insisting we look at it? Why is it that the people I've met who believe in gods, psychics, astrology, aliens or the Moon landing hoax are generally unwilling to defend their belief beyond a few trite comments, and totally uninterested in understanding their stance beyond a superficial level?

I can't help but feel that when someone believes strongly about something but then refuses to engage on that topic, that this is a defence response. It suggests that this person knows that their reasons for belief are weak in the extreme, and that any proffered explanation would soon reveal this. These same people will argue over trivial topics since they don't care if they are shown to be in error, they'll change their minds over some sporting claim and even politics, but they most definitely don't want to be shown to be in error when it comes to gods and souls and other spiritual matters. Just as the best way to avoid drug addiction is to avoid drugs completely, the best way to maintain belief in spooky stuff is to steer clear of discussions and debates that might raise embarrassing concerns. So when an atheist or skeptic approaches and wonders if they might ask a question, requests to see the evidence or suggests a discussion to clarify some points, Just Say No!

Some more free advice for true believers: from the perspective of someone with a passionately held silly belief, there is nothing to be gained by trying to engage with a skeptic, things will only go badly for you. Just ask weather astrologer Ken Ring. To maintain your shaky confidence in your silly belief confine your discussions to those that think as you do, read only material written by your fellow believers, and isolate yourself from those that think differently, ie those that use reason and evidence. Reassure yourself that a fantasy that you can help create and promote will promise a far better future than a cold and empty Universe that doesn't care, or even know, that you exist. Remember that the only people foolish enough to expose their beliefs to the gaze of critical thinking are those that seek the truth, and that's not you. Shun any request to test or investigate your claims, only secrecy and obfuscation will maintain your circle of followers. Nothing good will come from a naïve wish to be open and forthcoming, silly beliefs only survive in the darkest of shadows and the murkiest of explanations. Be reassured that a person can comfortably believe all manner of nonsense if they shield themselves from opposing views. So surround yourself with your fellow believers and their books, spurn the queries from those annoying skeptics and all will be well.

A Reassuring Lie

And for our fellow skeptics out there, know that when the likes of psychics, alien abductees, alternative therapists, god believers, astrologers and conspiracy theorists rebuff your requests for evidence and cogent arguments, it's probably nothing personal. They're not trying to hide their belief from you, in fact they'd love to have you in their camp, what they're trying to hide are the many fatal flaws in their belief.

It can be frustrating, unsatisfying, discouraging and annoying when psychics refuse to perform in your presence, when god believers flit desperately from question to question to avoid admitting ignorance or error, when UFO spotters decline to give details of their encounter, when astrologers resist learning from history, when conspiracy theorists can't stop repeating proven falsehoods and when opponents think insults are a form of argument. It can be disheartening when all these people with silly beliefs quickly clam up or run and hide on encountering an inquisitive skeptic. But of course we can take considerable solace from all of this, since just as a vampire flees from exposure to sunlight, fear also drives the holder of silly beliefs. These people know that silly beliefs can't survive in the presence of critical thinking.

If believers in gods, psychics, healing crystals or the lost city of Atlantis refuse to engage in civil and rational discussions to defend their belief, then we skeptics have every reason to assume that this is an unspoken acknowledgment that their claims can't be defended, at least not by them. They have lost the battle by default by simply not turning up. They have forfeited any right to claim that their view is correct if they are too afraid to even mount a defence. It's like me being pushed into a fight against a world champion boxer, my opponent could rightly view my hiding in the dressing room as a clear and undisputed win for him. We don't have to actually slug it out for knowledgable people to know who the victor would be. While the boxer and the audience may have desired an actual fight, just as the skeptic desires an actual confrontation with a believer, everyone still knows who the champion is even if one wimps out and refuses to show. The matter doesn't remain unresolved if one side refuses to engage, to me their unwillingness to front says it all. Every refusal to discuss their belief in weird things or demonstrate their psychic abilities bolsters my confidence in a naturalistic universe and drops their credibility down another peg. While I enjoy a good debate, a no show stills sees me reaching the same conclusion. Fantasies can't be defended.

As a skeptic I welcome debate from people who see the world differently, because even though I'm confident my view is the correct one, I want to be sure, and I also want to understand the reasons why people might disagree. Perhaps I'm missing something? I don't just want to hold a view, I want to hold the correct view, or at the very least, based on the best evidence available right now, the view that is most likely correct. But this isn't how those with silly beliefs tend to think. They focus blindly on a belief or view of the world and usually nothing will see them doubt this belief. They don't discuss their view with others to ensure they've made the right choice; if they do raise the topic they discuss it solely to sway others to their viewpoint.

Even young kids will argue for Santa's existence, because they sincerely believe, so what does that say about adults that won't argue for their belief in psychics and gods and ghosts? To me it suggests that they know all too well that their belief can't be defended, so their answer is to simply stay low and remain silent. And maybe those circling skeptics won't notice.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 07 Jul, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Mira, 11 Oct, 2015

    Hi John, James Randi does not have $1 million to give to himself, let alone anyone else, he is financial skinned & therefore a fraud.
    This man & the likes of Richard Dawkins have taken a stance, which has put him on center stage - Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame concept - & everything thereafter MUST be consistent with that stance. There is no going back on his original position or he loses his few centimeters of platform on the global stage = ouch, ouch, man ! - it's hard being a nobody once you have tasted the limelight. Therefore he is trapped, he must keep a closed mind .... oh what a tangeledd web we weave ....

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Oct, 2015

    Whether James Randi is rich or poor is irrelevant, I understand that the funds for the 'Million Dollar Challenge' were held in a legal trust and were available regardless of Randi's personal finances. He has recently retired from 'The James Randi Educational Foundation'. But even if the funds didn't exist, you still have to ask why no one has bothered to demonstrate their paranormal powers and attempted to collect the $1 million dollars, or at the very least, demonstrated that the prize money doesn't exist and Randi is a fraud? Are we to believe that all those with paranormal abilities are only in it for the money? Are they saying, 'There's no way I'm going to make a fool of Randi and all those silly skeptics if I'm not going to get a million dollars out of it!' Is it all about greed, don't they care that they're laughed at and thought of as cheats or deluded fools? Are they're not going to demonstrate their abilities without being given a fortune to do so? And even if Randi's challenge was bogus, why haven't the psychics taken the other challenges around the world that offer big money?

    If psychics worldwide, and you too Mira, hold Randi in such low esteem, why does no one step up and expose the man as a fraud? Why don't they prove that the million dollars doesn't exist, or prove that the challenge is rigged, or prove that all the psychics that Randi has supposedly exposed over the years were actually the real deal? I would have thought that with the aid of psychic powers, exposing a dodgy magician as a fraudster would be child's play! But again, apparently psychics would rather let the public believe that Randi is honest and they're the cheats. Why this reluctance to reveal the truth?

  3. Comment by Mira, 12 Oct, 2015

    Regarding., Richard Dawkins - WHO DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS A MAN OF SCIENCE & A SEEKER OF TRUTH.
    youtube Richard Dawkins versus Muhammad's Buraq horse ... listen to Richard Dawkins ridicule the sttory of Muhammad's assentation to heaven on a winged horse.
    A MAN OF SCIENCE & A SEEKER OF TRUTH - would ask

    1. Is Muhammad telling the truth ?
    2. If Muhammad believed it to have occurred - why ?
    3. Was it so vivid a dream, so realistic that ... in those primitive timess, Muhammad would not know any better than to believe it ?
    4. Was it an out of body experience ?
    5. A hallucination ?
    6. Was Muhammad under the influence of any kind od hallucinogenic herb, mushroom, water Lilly petals ( as they used in Egypt) ?

    Today science knows that mind, time & space travel, past present & future is possible - it could have been this. Does Richard ask any of these questions ?
    No
    Richard just launches into his usual arrogant fit of abuse & ridicule - there are some who believe Richard Dawkins to be processed by demons & give him a wide berth.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Oct, 2015

    Our modern knowledge of the world reveals that horses do not fly and never have, thus 'A MAN OF SCIENCE & A SEEKER OF TRUTH' can immediately assume that Mohammed's ride never happened. There is no evidence available or good reason to question this conclusion. You don't need to question Mohammed unless you're curious as to why he might have spun this fantastical tale. Was it an outright lie, a fabrication to improve the religion he was creating, or did he somehow delude himself into honestly believing it had happened? Nearly all the above questions suggest that you Mira suspect that Mohammed's ride was a delusion, but as a Christian I guess you'd reach that conclusion anyway.

    To me, and no doubt Richard Dawkins, the important question is: did the ride to heaven happen?, and the clear answer is no. As to why they made it up is a question of religion not science, and explaining why is really no more important than explaining why people invented the Tooth Fairy. The answers would only tell us about how we invent stories, not about reality.

  5. Comment by Mira, 12 Oct, 2015

    Hello John, Puzzling World - I had no idea it existed, wow !
    Maybe psychic is not exactly what they / we believe it to be.
    Maybe psychic is special purpose.
    Maybe psychic has rules.
    The whole universe has rules, I have no idea & I agree with you 100%, why things are not what they seem, why everything is not straight forward & rational is also frustration.
    I am not psychic, but I would have a try anyway - the money would do me the world of good & who knows, I might get lucky.
    I have one for you.
    There is a prize & money.
    youtube The Double Slit Experiment explained by Professor Jim AlKhalili
    Watch the video & see - how hard can it be - they don't know - I have had several goes & emailed them to the professors website - I have told others & suggested that they have a go also - you never know & we are all helping to progress science.
    Thank you for your website it is a good place - to question is very important

    It is not buried in the ground.
    But
    If it is, they dig it up every night & lock it in the safe.
    And
    Every morning they would re-bury it.
    Soft, newly dug soil would be a dead give away.
    Surveillance would surround the area where the loot is hidden.
    If staff were watching, body language is a sign of direction 'your hot' 'oh no, your cold' type stuff.
    The art of deduction might just be enough to take home $100.000.
    With the double slit experiment.
    Everything has its own behavior.
    Everything interacts with everything.
    Particles attract & repel each other, the bigger they are the slower they move, the smaller the faster.
    When they introduced the camera, they brought new particles into the room - they changed the dynamics & therefore the behavior.
    Do not think that you can't.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Oct, 2015

    At 'Puzzling World' Mira they charge people a fee to attempt the challenge to prevent people just lining up and guessing. Since the 'real' psychics have failed to crack it, I doubt a muggle could.

    As for 'The Double Slit Experiment', Jim Al-Khalili is explaining science and a weird aspect of quantum mechanics, it's not something that he expects YouTube viewers to solve. But as he says, 'If you can explain this using common sense and logic, do let me know, because there is a Nobel Prize for you'.

Earthquake blamed on naked tourists
On the TV news the other night I saw an item stating that 4 young foreign tourists had been arrested by Malaysian authorities for apparently causing a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that led to the death of 18 people. How you might wonder could 4 tourists cause a major earthquake? Well there was actually a group of 10 young male and female tourists but the authorities could only find 4 of them, but of course adding a few more tourists doesn't make creating an earthquake any easier. Did they build and detonate a nuclear weapon? Did they cause a stampede of overweight elephants? No, these hikers simply took their clothes off for a memorable photo at the top of a mountain called Mount Kinabalu. Apart from their local guide apparently no one saw them do this, and even if he had fainted in shock, his body hitting the ground wouldn't have caused even a minor quake. And the reality is that nothing actually happened. Our youthful nudists took their photos and admired the view, then dressed and hiked back down the mountain. It was several days later that a major earthquake occurred in the same area that killed 18 other hikers. The tourists' downfall was twofold, they placed a photo of the incident on the Internet and their guide complained to the authorities.

So if hikers can cause earthquakes, shouldn't the Malaysians have suspected the hikers that were killed or that were hiking at the time the quake happened? No, because it's evidently not hiking that causes quakes but nudity. And how might nudity cause the earth to shake violently? Well apparently the male and female nudity offended some invisible spirits that for some unstated reason like to hang out on that mountain. The Malaysian locals believe that the mountain the hikers climbed, Mount Kinabalu, is a sacred mountain since it's the place where the spirits of their ancestors reside. And the locals claim that these spirits were angered and insulted after viewing naked bodies. It gets a little fuzzy from here but we're guessing that on sighting our 10 naked tourists the spirits immediately decided to call a meeting to determine what their reaction to this insult would be. Clearly they decided on vengeance, and that a deadly earthquake would send the appropriate message, although whether the vote was unanimous we'll never know. But whether it was due to drawn out meetings or simply that executing a major earthquake takes some time, the reality is that the spirits expressed their wrath several days after the offending incident happened. By this time the offending tourists had left the area and the spirit generated earthquake killed 18 innocent hikers, hikers that hadn't stripped naked or offended the spirits in any way.

The following photo is the one shown in the media of the incident, and although no one is actually naked in it, the prudish 'Prime' TV news item I saw still felt the need to pixelate the men's underwear and the backs of the women, even though the adverts for underwear in their following ad break showed far more naked flesh at a higher resolution. I don't understand the logic of this sort of thinking.

Mount Kinabalu

Concerning the arrested tourists, we read in the media that 'Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan... is calling for them to be brought to a native court and charged according to local customs. "Whether other people believe this or not, it's what we Sabahans believe," he said, speaking about the mountain. "When the earthquake happened, it's like a confirmation of our beliefs ... It is a sacred mountain and you cannot take it lightly. There is almost certainly a connection. We have to take this as a reminder that local beliefs and customs are not to be disrespected."' ['Malaysian Authorities Are Blaming Nude Photos For An Earthquake That Killed 16 People']

A tribal elder of the region said, "To appease the mountain protector, the 10 western tourists who stripped and urinated on Mount Kinabalu should be fined 10 head of buffalo, according to local customs. According to local beliefs, the spirit of the mountain is very angry. The tourists who angered the guardian of the mountain should pay for their mistakes by giving [a peace offering]." ['Naked tourists blamed for earthquake now detained in Malaysian jail']

Of course all this spooky stuff raises many questions in my mind.

If truly offended, why did the spirits kill innocent people and not those that committed the offence? This isn't how earthly justice works, and surely divine justice isn't so barbaric and unjust? Of the 10 tourists involved, 6 were never found and only four were arrested, and these 4 were eventually released after spending 3 days in jail and each was fined $1,900 on public indecency charges. So for these 4 tourists, their Malaysian experience certainly ended on a negative note, but nowhere as bad as those 18 other innocent tourists. They're dead. They paid the ultimate price for an offence committed by someone else. Why is it that believers in supernatural forces accept such unjust acts from their spirits and gods, and yet they would complain loudly and bitterly if human institutions treated them so unfairly?

Note that the Deputy Chief Minister claimed that 'When the earthquake happened, it's like a confirmation of our beliefs ... It is a sacred mountain and you cannot take it lightly. There is almost certainly a connection'. Clearly he, and the others involved, all believed that it was the nudity that 'almost certainly' angered the spirits and caused the earthquake and 18 deaths. So why weren't the tourists charged with causing those deaths? The charges ignored completely the deaths and the damage caused by the quake. The charges were the same as if they had stripped off in public somewhere in Kuala Lumpur and no one was killed or injured. How can there be such a gulf between what the authorities, locals and the media are ranting about and what the tourists were charged with?

And while the major focus has been on nudity, it was also claimed one or two of the tourists urinated somewhere on the mountain, which also angered the spirits. But why would the spirits be so upset by such a natural act? They were evidently once human themselves so would be well aware of the innocent call of nature. If having a pee in nature causes earthquakes then I alone have caused untold quakes. There could be nothing more natural, so why would ex-human spirits, who would themselves have urinated in nature untold times in their past lives before the invention of toilets, be offended, so offended that they would go on a killing rampage? And what about all the animals on this mountain, are we expected to believe that they don't urinate and defecate on a daily basis all over this sacred mountain? Humans are just another form of animal, so why get so upset?

Why did the spirits or the spirits' god take so long to cause the quake? Being unable to react immediately suggests that the spirits or the gods they implore for help are not all-powerful. But clearly they are powerful, it would still have taken immense power to shake a mountain and cause a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, far and away ahead of what humans are capable of. But if these spirits can summon such power compared to humans, why couldn't they have simply caused the hikers' zips to jam as they attempted to disrobe? They have the power to move a mountain but not to stop a zip from unzipping? I'm foreverSign amazed that believers claim that their spirits or gods are capable of such powerful acts, often called miracles, but they are at the same time seemingly totally incapable of simple acts that mere humans find so easy. Humans can stop others from taking their clothes off, spirits can't. Humans can find and punish those guilty of crimes, spirits can't. Humans can put up warning signs prohibiting public nudity, spirits can't.

Why are spirits and gods so useless and need to rely on humans to see justice done? Let's remember that the spirits or gods killed 18 innocent people, that is not justice. All they could do was express their anger, and even then many people, such as myself, call it an act of nature, refusing to accept that it was a divine display of anger. If any sense of justice was obtained at all, if the spirits were truly offended by the nudity, then that justice was won in human courts with convictions of public indecency. So again, why can mere humans achieve things that divine powers can't?

Seeking recompense, why did the locals demand stuff that benefited them and not the spirits? A tribal elder said that the tourists should be 'fined 10 head of buffalo', which clearly would have been kept by the locals, since what use would a spirit or a god have for a smelly buffalo? But it was the spirits that were supposedly offended, not the locals that weren't even there. If anything, the locals should be punished not rewarded, since it was them that were allowing, probably for a fee, disrespectful foreigners to tramp all over their sacred mountain. If the locals truly believe that these spirits are capable of such mindless violence, why do they allow unsuspecting foreigners anywhere near the mountain? Why do these locals treat their spirits on their sacred mountain with such reverence when clearly, if they're real, they are nothing but deranged psychopaths that go on killing sprees when some innocent thing ticks them off? The Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister said that 'the locals are planning on holding a traditional ceremony and ritual to appease the spirits as soon as possible'. The locals evidently know how dangerous these spirits are, and know how to pacify them, so again, why do they act so irresponsibly and let naïve tourists wander blindly into their territory? It's like letting young children wander into a lion's den.

Why might nudity offend spirits so much that they must kill innocent people? These are spirits that can watch you in the shower, when you're having sex or simply getting dressed. I've been naked in Malaysia numerous times, although not in public, but I would have been clearly visible to passing spirits. So have I unwittingly caused disasters and killed people? Why would spirits be shocked and offended on seeing a naked body? Of course they wouldn't, it's only the living folk that are offended and they project their psychological shock onto their imaginary spirits. And let's remember that the upset Malaysians haven't actually seen any nudity, they're just imagining it. There are a couple of photos in the international media of the hikers, but neither show any nudity, they only hint of it. And even if the photos did show full frontal nudity, the Malaysians still shouldn't have been shocked by it, since they know that nudity offends them and thus they would have been utter hypocrites to have gone looking for said photos.

Are these spirits just annoyed that they haven't got a body anymore and thus can't feel the pleasure of being naked like they used too? Is it bitter resentment that sees them strike out when they see bare flesh, or do they really believe that the naked body is offensive? But if there truly is a huge problem with the naked body, what does this say about the god that these people believe created the human body in the first place? Why would a creator god, that is often described as perfect and all-powerful, design a body that was to be viewed as offensive, repulsive and shameful? We don't believe he did. If we look at the god that is the basis for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we read in Genesis 2:25 that this god doesn't find the naked human body offensive at all. Just after God had created Adam and Eve, we read that, 'The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame'. This clearly states that they were not ashamed at being naked, and implies that God their creator approved of this state of affairs. Let's remember that having created them naked, God apparently intended that they remain naked, that nudity was natural and normal and nothing to be ashamed of. He made no attempt to clothe them. So we can confidently claim that God approves of nudity, that he designed us to be unclothed, and would prefer us to emulate Adam and Eve and wander around unashamedly naked.

So again, it is the living that are offended by nudity, not the spirits, since the spirits of course don't exist. These living prudes are simply projecting their psychological flaws onto their imaginary spirits which are then projected onto natural disasters. And this is nothing new. Back in 2010 we commented on an Islamic cleric in Iran that claimed that 'Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes'. We always knew that nudity could in some cases lead to an unwanted pregnancy, but we struggle to see the mechanism that leads from nudity to earthquakes? NZ's self-proclaimed predictor of earthquakes, soothsayer Ken Ring, has to our knowledge never incorporated a nudity density factor into his calculations, but then maybe this omission is the reason why he gets his predictions so wrong?

While Malaysia is predominantly made up of Muslims, Hindus and Christians, I'm guessing that the locals that were offended were native Malays whose beliefs are mainly Islamic mixed with a form of ancestor worship. And Muslims are seriously screwed up regarding exposure of the human body, mainly the female body, but even the male body to a lesser degree. Of course many sheltered Christians, Jews and Hindus recoil in horror and embarrassment at the sight of naked bodies too, but they generally tolerate scantily clothed bodies at the beach and in music videos. Not so the devout Muslim. As we all know, in many Muslim countries a woman exposing her hair or an arm or an ankle is enough to get her beaten and/or arrested.

Why do people like the Malaysian authorities deliberately make themselves the laughing stock of the enlightened world? MediaIf some foreign tourists had stole from a local shop or assaulted a local, actions far worse than merely standing naked on a mountain, the world would likely have never heard of the offence. We heard about this incident though because it's along the lines of: 'Primitive natives accuse stranger with cigarette lighter of witchcraft'. Our media love to highlight how enlightened and advanced we are by comparing us to some ignorant village folk that still believe in spirits and gods and curses. We get to shake our heads and go, Tsk, tsk, tsk, while feeling sorry for them. Evidently British media outlets ran headlines mocking the Malaysians beliefs, such as the one in this photo on the right. Of course the local villagers may not grasp how great the gulf is between their worldview and ours, but their heads in the Malaysian government surely do. Might the strident resurgence of Islam in recent years have given them the courage to reveal their silly beliefs to the world, believing that no one will dare belittle their offended spirits?

This could be part of the explanation, but even in NZ we've been embarrassed by our own locals insisting that their own mountain spirits were being offended. Remember this sorry story that went global in 2003 concerning the filming of the movie 'The Last Samurai'?:

'Maori elders have told the makers of a £70 million film starring Tom Cruise that they cannot film a New Zealand volcano crucial to the script because it is sacred... The row comes soon after a tribe in the neighbouring Waikato region forced a new motorway to be diverted after complaining that the route would disturb a swamp monster.' [www.telegraph.co.uk]

'Others claimed they should be paid compensation for the use of images of their sacred mountain, Mount Taranaki... In tribal legend, Mount Taranaki is regarded as an ancestor of Maori who live in the region.' [www.bbc.co.uk]

Note the common supernatural themes of a sacred mountain which is their ancestor and that the locals expect to be paid compensation. Again this compensation would only benefit the living, not the mountain spirits. And I've taken images of Mount Taranaki, am I to expect an invoice in the mail soon or a call from their lawyers? The movie did get made, so I wonder what a sacred mountain can be bought for? At what level did compensation beat out sacredness?

And there are regularly protests outside my local hospital where a placard wielding crowd say that their sky spirit is deeply offended that abortions are carried out within the hospital. I went to a talk recently where a similar group of superstitious folk warned me that their sky spirit was very upset that enlightened segments of the community were calling for voluntary euthanasia to be legalised. What I don't understand is why this sky spirit, apparently it's the same one, will spend hours pouring his heart out to these groups, but won't even send me a memo! If he's so concerned that things are deteriorating, or afraid that my sexy neighbour might sunbathe naked and force him to let loose with a devastating earthquake, why won't he stop hiding from us and clearly warn us what will happen if we continue down this path? Does he not realise that when he causes an earthquake or a flood or some other disaster to punish us for some silly digression that we no longer see them as 'Acts of God' but simply as natural disasters? As a warning, his destructive acts are wasted. Does he not realise that enlightened folk view his long absence as evidence that he doesn't even exist?

Seriously, what sort of all-knowing god would hide behind natural disasters and then expect us to see it as a divine warning? Not even the village idiot could be so stupid. But what really concerns me is not imaginary gods, but the very real humans worldwide that believe that the spirits of their ancestors and their all-loving, publicity-shy god are killing innocent people simply because they saw someone naked on an isolated mountain top. How can people believe such nonsense?

Of course we're not saying that stripping off on that mountain was appropriate, but we certainly don't view it as being an indecent act. Even their guide, the only other person there, apparently wasn't shocked by their nudity. He said that 'I feel offended as a Dusun. It's not about the naked body I saw, but the action they did. That's our holy mountain. What they did showed disrespect to our mountain and our people in Sabah'. He said that he, rather than the spirits, felt offended because the hikers did something that 'showed disrespect'. By the sound of it that 'something' could easily have been anything, from not wearing a head scarf to taking a photo of a sacred object. So really their only 'crime' was of being disrespectful, not of indecency and certainly not of causing the deaths of 18 people. And it is arguable as to whether the tourists knew that they might offend some invisible spirits that they were probably completely unaware of. After all, they were on an isolated mountain top and had deliberately kept out of sight of others. Can you really be knowingly disrespectful if you are genuinely unaware that your actions are disrespectful? While working in Malaysia some years ago I remember a Muslim female colleague politely explaining to me that my pointing at objects with my index finger was seen by some as quite offensive, and that I should point with my thumb instead. She did not have me arrested, and nor did she accuse me of being deliberately offensive. She knew my behaviour was quite innocent. Of course if I had ignored her advice then I could be accused of being disrespectful, since it was no great hardship to change my pointing method while in Malaysia.

So even if the hikers had set out to deliberately offend their guide or Malaysians at large, for which there is no evidence, the incident should have remained as a simple behavioural clash between cultures, that surely could have been resolved without people being arrested, tried and convicted. But once vindictive, murderous, invisible spirits and accusations of causing a major fatal earthquake were added to the incident, then alarm bells should have sounded, since the Malaysian furore is depressingly reminiscent of medieval times when witches and even barnyard animals were put on trial for murder and lesser crimes. Rational heads most definitely should have dismissed any thought of court action and sent the tourists on their way with the friendly advice that parts of Malaysia are far more conservative than the beaches of Europe.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Jun, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Mikaere, 17 Jun, 2015

    Hi John. An excellent analysis of the mountain-nudity/earthquake issue. I'm assuming the guide had taken foreigners to the mountain previously and they (and he) had urinated on it. I don't expect there were portaloos handy. The whole affair is full of inconsistencies and I wonder if there is another reason for the outcry. Scratch another country on my visit list. Oh, regarding the earthquake, perhaps they mooned the mountain...

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Jun, 2015

    Thanks Mikaere. Evidently the tourists were on a two-day trek up Mount Kinabalu, and while there is the odd lodge to stay overnight at, there would have been hikes of several hours without access to a toilet, so one would expect numerous occasions when hikers felt the sudden call of nature. I also read that the guides give hikers a set of rules that include: "do 'ask for permission' before relieving one's self", so clearly the authorities expect it to happen and allow it to happen.

Ken Ring's Easter fantasy
Since Easter is upon us again, we thought we'd have a look at an article Ken Ring authored last Easter entitled 'What some may not know about Easter'. As is typical with Ring's articles when he tries to explain the world to us mere plebs, it actually exposes what he doesn't know about Easter. But Ring has never let ignorance stop him speaking his mind, and like all authors of the fantasy genre, he simply makes it up as he goes, sprinkling his article with a few factoids that he has twisted to serve his purpose. And what might that purpose be? Why did Ring suddenly feel the need to educate us all about Easter? Well, as a closeted astrologer, Ring feels that those bloody Christians, in concert with the Jews, have stolen one of his group's festivals, and it needs to be returned to its rightful owners. His opening sentence states his argument:
'Easter is the story of astrology and the stars, into which the story of Jesus was fitted, not the other way around'.
Near the end of his article he repeats this assertion by claiming that it is a 'fact that the date and name of Easter are based on astrological events... '. Ring wants the spotlight taken off Jesus at Easter and to have the reverence and respect directed back at astrology where he feels it belongs. He claims that we already acknowledge this debt to astrology in another area of our lives, since 'Whenever we say a day of the week we pay quiet homage to astrology'. As I explained in a recent blog, 'Ken Ring — astrology's handmaiden', this is not true. The days of the week are not named after 'astrological deities' as Ring falsely calls them. So Ring is wrong about the week days, but did the Christians hijack an astrological festival called Easter and insert Jesus? Pagan Xmas

That Christians might do this is quite plausible, since they certainly did this for Christmas, stealing pagan festivals that celebrated the winter solstice, including the Roman festival called Saturnalia. Unable to get people to stop celebrating this pagan festival, the Church claimed, quite falsely, that Jesus was born at the winter solstice, and started calling the festival Christ's Mass. Of course for most people these days neither Easter nor Christmas is focused on Jesus, but the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus respectively, with no focusing on a torturous death at Easter. And frankly I don't know of any kids that would be willing to swap chocolate eggs and Xmas gifts for a boring astrological festival that has neither chocolate nor gifts.

So like Christmas, did the Church fit Jesus into a pagan Easter? Yes and no.

For Christians, Easter is 'A Christian feast commemorating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion'. Unlike Christmas, and if the Bible can be believed (don't get me started!) then Jesus was indeed crucified at the time Easter is now celebrated. Christians celebrate Easter when they do because they believe this was when the event happened. It was just a coincidence that it happened near the vernal equinox. Confusing things slightly, the Jews also celebrate a festival called Passover at around this time, and Jesus, being a devout Jew, was participating in this festival when he met his demise, again just a coincidence. Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and it is held at this time because the Bible says the exodus happened in spring. Neither of the events that Passover and Easter celebrate have anything to do with the equinox beyond happening at near when the equinox occurred. Thus Jews and Christians would later look to the equinox to know when to celebrate both Passover and Easter, but they most definitely didn't think they were celebrating the coming of spring. So why is Easter named after a pagan goddess with connections to spring and not something Christian sounding, like Christmas was?

Ring tells us that 'Easter became the adopted name after O/Eastre the Roman goddess of spring'. He's essentially correct, but as usual he can't help but introduce errors into everything he writes. The spelling varies, but Eastre or Eostre was actually a Anglo-Saxon fertility-goddess and goddess of spring, not a Roman goddess. Pagan festivals celebrating the coming of spring and new life would have involved Eastre, and early Christians apparently appropriated the name and connected it to the resurrection of Jesus — new life. So similar to Xmas, they likely did hijack spring festivals to a degree, but unlike Xmas, the supposed event they were celebrating really did happen at that time of year, it was not celebrated because of the equinox. The equinox was merely used as I use a clock, to know when to do something.

Ring claims that 'When you celebrate Easter with pagan eggs, a pagan Easter bunny and pagan candy, you are also celebrating the freedom of the Jews from slavery and the astrological Equinox, with its reference to Constellations'.

First, I'm not sure it makes any sense to prefix eggs, Easter Bunny and candy with the word 'pagan', in the context that Ring is using it to mean non-Christian. Can an egg be a pagan or convert to being a Christian, and has the Easter Bunny ever revealed what his religious beliefs are? I don't think so. Second, when Ring talks of 'the astrological Equinox', what he actually means is the Northern Hemisphere vernal equinox. This astronomical event happens around March 21st and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The equinox is not 'the astrological Equinox'. Ring naively believes, just as he did above for 'pagan', that he can claim anything he wants for astrology by simply adding the prefix 'astrological'. For example in the past he has talked of 'astrological science', 'astrological deities', 'astrological physics' and the 'astrological energy grid of the constellations'. And yet when I prefix 'long range weather forecaster' with 'astrological' to describe what he does, Ring gets upset. I guess you have to be an astrologer to know what is astrological and what isn't.

What are we celebrating at Xmas and at Easter? Is it the winter solstice and the spring equinox respectively? Or is it Santa and the Easter Bunny respectively, or for a minority, Jesus? In the deep past people did indeed celebrate at the time of the winter solstice and the spring equinox, since both were markers that things were likely to improve weather wise. But these festivals disappeared long ago, and since the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, they don't make any sense for us in NZ.

So when Ring claims that 'When you celebrate Easter... you are also celebrating... the astrological Equinox, with its reference to Constellations', he's arguing that, along with chocolate and gods, we are revering astrology. This is rubbish because again it is not 'the astrological Equinox', it's simply the vernal equinox that signalled the coming of spring. Pagan festivals celebrated the end of winter and the coming of warmth and new life in nature, they were not celebrating the equinox per se or the astrologers that marked the day, anymore than I celebrate the calendar when it's my birthday. Being an atheist and a skeptic, and a fascist, white supremacist, Jew and woman hater according to Ring's grossly offensive insults, I naturally don't have many friends, but if I did, they'd celebrate my birthday and not the calendar, the tool that simply keeps track of the days. And for us in the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox actually signals the coming of autumn, and then winter, not spring. I'm all for people understanding what the equinoxes and solstices are and when they occur, but to achieve this people need to turn to astronomy, not astrology. Astrological knowledge will only misinform you. For example, medieval Jewish astrologers believed that water became poisonous at equinoxes and solstices. So if that's the case, avoid drinking water, which includes coffee and tea, at Easter and Christmas! Probably best not to swim or bathe in it either. You have been warned. Ring talks of 'the accumulated wisdom of astrology', so I guess this is the kind of stuff he's referring to.

Ring seems to be arguing that no matter why we celebrate Easter today, be it chocolate, gods or whatever, we only know when to have our long weekend off because long ago it was astrologers that kept track of the calendar. But of course when the call came for more accurate time keeping, astrologers were long ago replaced as keepers of the calendar, so why celebrate astrologers anymore, why not celebrate the atomic clock? No doubt Ring will argue that astrologers started all this mucking around with calendars, but of course this is not correct either. Humans were observing nature and devising primitive calendars for thousands of years before the Babylonians invented astrology.

OK, so Ken Ring has the hots for astrology, a primitive form of soothsaying that's based on superstition, and he's peeved that Christians and confectionary businesses have hijacked Easter. But many people have embarrassing little secrets in their closet, the question is why is Ring going public with one of his? Well Ring is not just enamoured with astrology, it forms the very core of his weather and earthquake prediction method. He blindly believes in the predictive power of astrology, and not only that, but that everything from science and technology to religion and chocolate bunnies owes its existence to long dead astrologers. Apparently astrological principles are deeply enmeshed in the very fabric of everyday modern life, but we plebs are oblivious to their true origins and falsely give credit to others who merely hijacked age old astrological knowledge. And since Ring's secret is out, that astrology is the basis of his forecast method, Ring desperately needs to put the shine back on astrology, since presently, unfortunately for Ring, it has a high giggle factor in the public's mind. If the public can be convinced that we have ancient astrologers to thank for our present high standard of living, then astrology goes from an embarrassing little secret to the head honcho of sciences. In Ring's mind astrology has already shed it's pseudoscience identity, and writing in his April 2015 newsletter, he claims that 'Of all known sciences, astrology alone has recognised that all phenomena...' blah, blah, blah. Ring thinks that all it takes for ancient superstitious nonsense to become a science is for him to call it a science. This week astrology, next week witchcraft. And in Ring's mind astrology is not just the foundation of modern science, it still has much to offer the world, and in the same newsletter article Ring says that 'If only modern scientists could keep their minds open, the accumulated wisdom of astrology could prove to be of great assistance'. As 'evidence', Ring claims that Hindu astrologers have been able to accurately predict earthquakes for the last 5,000 years. Not that they've bothered to though, remember the 2004 Asian tsunami that surprised everyone? But they could predict them it seems, you know, if they wanted to. So clearly we ignore astrology at our peril. It's probably why we don't yet have flying cars or holiday villas on the Moon.

Trying to make a connection between Jesus and the stars, and consequently astrology, Ring argues that 'The 'Son' of God was formerly the sun of God', and talks of 'The doings and undoings of the Suns of God... '. While I haven't heard this exact phrasing before, I have seen people suggesting that 'the rising of the Sun' became ' the rising of the Son'. Many pagan religions did view the Sun as a god, so it would be easy to hijack the pagan expression and replace it with the Christian one. This argument sounds plausible to modern ears because 'son' and 'sun' sound exactly the same when spoken, and very similar when written down. But back in the day when pagans and Christians were competing for supremacy, no one spoke English, so saying, in ancient Greek, that 'The 'Son' of God was formerly the sun of God' wouldn't have made a lot of sense. To say that the male offspring of Yahweh was formerly the bright daytime ball in the sky of the god Jupiter would have sounded like nonsense.

As if Christianity hasn't got a bad enough record, Ring then decides to make up some stuff:

'In 325AD, Passover was still a festival in popular continuance because early Christians were Jewish. As Christianity gathered momentum, Pope Constantine hosted a conference of cardinals and bishops, the Council of Nicaea, to discuss how they could blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. Unknown to early Christians for 300 years, the crucifixion account was anti-Semitic propaganda'.
Most of the claims made by Ring in that paragraph are false. In the 4th century Christians were not Jewish, and they did not celebrate Passover rather than Easter. In the time of Jesus in the 1st century, most of his followers were certainly Jewish, in fact Jesus was quite xenophobic and ordered his disciples not to preach to non-Jews, but when Jesus died and as Christianity grew and moved out of Israel, most Christian converts were what the Bible calls Gentiles, people who were non-Jewish, such as Greeks and Romans. That's why Paul had to contradict what Jesus said and told potential male converts to Christianity that they didn't have to get circumcised, that it was just a silly thing, and a very painful thing, that Jews did. As for the Council of Nicaea, it was convened to settle differences in Christian belief and practice, not as a witch hunt against the Jews. Furthermore Constantine was an emperor, not a pope, and not even a Christian. Also there were no cardinals there, only bishops, since according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, cardinals didn't appear until the 6th century.

Of course the Church is indeed infamous for its anti-Semitism through the centuries, from inquisitions, pogroms, prohibiting Jews from attending university and voting, and even lending their support to the Nazi's Holocaust. Christians have committed unspeakable atrocities throughout history, and still are with the Catholic child sex abuse scandals, so there is absolutely no need for Ring to make up things about them. And yet this is what Ring does, he takes a real event, the Council of Nicaea, and makes up what might be called anti-Christian propaganda. Like Ring I'm no fan of Christianity, but I criticise it for the very real, documented harm that it did and still does, whereas Ring criticises Christianity solely because he believes it suppressed and almost destroyed his beloved astrology. But what evidence is there for this? There is well documented evidence for Christians attacking and killing Jews, Muslims, heretics, witches, homosexuals, women, abortionists and primitive natives worldwide, but I can't recall a single period in history when the Church was persecuting and burning astrologers at the stake. In fact Ring has often given lists of famous scientists he claims were simultaneously astrologers and Christians, and there is his oft-repeated claim that for many centuries 'even doctors had to be qualified astrologers', that's all Christian doctors. Even the odd pope was deeply into astrology. I think Ring needs to finally accept that astrology faded from use, not because the Church declared outright war against it, but because intelligent people eventually saw it was all crap. But Ring needs a scapegoat, so he's focused on Christianity, and if that means re-writing a bit of Christian history, then so be it.

Christians definitely wanted to separate their practices and festivals from the Jews, and this meant ensuring that Easter was held on different days to Passover. It also meant that for most Christians their day of rest, their 'Sabbath', would eventually be moved from Saturday to Sunday. Most Christians now ignore the Ten Commandments about respecting the Sabbath, since it is still actually Saturday. But Ring is wrong, again, when he claims that 'To further distance early Christians from Jewish traditions, the Romans moved Passover back to being more associated with equinox than the Jewish moon'. The Romans had no control over the timing of the Jewish Passover, it was the Church fathers at Nicaea that effectively moved Easter by decreeing that it must be kept separate from when the Jew's held Passover. Ring is also wrong when he claims that 'It was also decided to focus on the Sunday of Easter, as annoyance to the Jews, because their most spiritual day is Saturday'. Easter Sunday is important to Christians solely because they believe Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday. He was crucified on Friday, and well, not much happened on Saturday worthy of celebration. Saturday is important to Jews since it is the Sabbath. Ring is also wrong when he goes on and says that 'The irony remains that this Christianised festival, for all its efforts to break from Judaist tradition is still reliant on the old Jewish calendar'. If Easter and Passover were both reliant and synchronised with the Jewish calendar then they would both still be held at the same time. The reality is that when the Church made the break from simply holding Easter when the Jews held Passover meant that the Church was forced to get into the business of astronomy themselves. They no longer wanted to ask the Jews what day it was. For a long time the Church's only interest in astronomy was to determine exactly when the vernal equinox happened so they could hold Easter on the correct days. This is why we now use the Gregorian calendar and not the Jewish calendar. Ring also claims that in the 4th century 'To further distance early Christians from Jewish traditions... they revived rabbits, eggs and candy, all Roman pagan symbols formerly used to celebrate the Equinox'. Ring claims that it was the Church that did this, not the shops or markets or pagans. This is rubbish, go to any church at Easter and you won't find a single rabbit, egg or piece of candy. Certainly rabbits and eggs, but not chocolate ones, can be traced back to symbols in ancient spring festivals, but it certainly wasn't the Church that incorporated them into Easter celebrations.

Still mired in primitive, superstitious astrology Ring writes in his Easter article that 'The moon is female in aspect... ', and then after some dubious information about crosses says that 'the new patriarchal Christian Church adopted the cross minus its feminine aspect'. Ring has written in the past that the Church hates the Moon, and hence astrology, seemingly because it hates women, but how could any modern person, that isn't an astrologer, still think that 'The moon is female in aspect'? It's like Ring thinks he's writing for a medieval audience. Ring claims that 'The Christian gender conflict... rears its head in debates on abortion, contraception and the subject of female bishops'. Ring is correct that the Church has shown a shameful attitude towards women over the centuries, but he's wrong in his examples. For one it's mainly only Catholics that have a huge problem with abortion, contraception and female bishops, and their opposition to abortion and contraception has nothing to do with a gender conflict, and everything to do with ensuring babies are conceived. Males aren't allowed to use contraception either.

Ring also claims that 'The crucifixion of Jesus was said to be when the sun was in the house of Aries'. Actually the crucifixion of Jesus was said to be at Passover, its only astrologers that convert the time of the year to an astrological star sign. And by highlighting the zodiac, Ring's implication appears to be that the crucifixion of Jesus had a real connection with the sun and the constellation Aries, meaning that 'the ancient astrological energy grid of the constellations' as Ring describes it, impacts not just on the weather but on human destinies as well. While your typical astrologer would completely agree with this, Ring normally dismisses the belief that astrology can be used to predict the welfare of humans. So what does it matter that the Romans crucified Jesus 'when the sun was in the house of Aries'? While normally reticent to support the astrology found in magazines, Ring clearly believes that no matter what happens to the weather or to people, and even cats, we need to look to what the planets were doing to discern the real cause. With God plotting against him, and the sun in Aries, Jesus didn't have chance of making it out alive.

Ring implying that astrology was the reason for Easter is like saying the calender was the reason for Halloween and Valentine's Day. His argument that elements of Christianity were stolen from pagan religions, and there is indeed good evidence for this, does nothing to support astrology. It's simply talking of one fantasy plagiarising another fantasy. And his need to fabricate Church history suggests that there is no real evidence to support his case. But Ring doesn't really care about the origins of Easter, his article is merely a vehicle to make astrology sound respectable in the eyes of his potential clients. For Ring's long range weather and earthquake prediction business to survive, gullible people with money to spend must help Ring drag astrology from the dustbin of history and view it as equal if not superior to the sciences such as astronomy, physics, geology, biology and genetics.

Concluding his Easter fantasy, Ring tells us that 'Celebrating any festival is a chance to teach children how to honour and what to renew respect for'. And what should modern children be honouring and renewing respect for in Ring's view? Well astrology of course! I mean, what else apart from the good ol' 'astrological Equinox' argues for gender equality in today's world? Forget Christianity or Judaism, or even non-religious chocolate bunnies, talk to your kids about astrology this Easter and make the world a better place.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Apr, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Ken Ring — astrology's handmaiden
Ken Ring Do you know your star sign, do you occasionally read your horoscope, and more importantly, do you take it seriously? Do you think that astrology still has important things to tell us in our everyday lives? Well, longrange forecaster Ken Ring does, and to this end he has recently written an article entitled 'Still The Oldest Science', to explain his love of astrology to the rest of us. The intelligent reader no doubt views Ring's article(s) as nothing but bullshit, stacked on finer layers of bullshit, and they'd be right. But why leave it there? Why not put on our gumboots and dig around in the excrement that is Ring's article and reveal to the less discerning reader, ie Ring's clients, exactly why they are being mislead?

If you've heard of the infamous Ken Ring and his claims to be able to predict the weather 200 years out from the event, as well as earthquakes and the stranding of whales, you've possibly also heard him described as an astrologer and/or that he uses astrology to inform his predictions. You've possibly also heard that Ring abhors being labelled an astrologer, and strenuously denies being one, even as he openly admits to using ancient astrology to make his forecasts. In the past Ring has said that 'I admit I use the ancient astrology that was the forerunner of astronomy', and yet he has also repeatedly argued that 'I am... not an astrologer, have never done a horoscope for anyone in my life, yet nor do I decry astrologers if that is their choice of paths. I am a scientist, university trained... '. We should highlight here, astrology aside, that Ring is NOT a scientist and has no university qualifications whatsoever. In a recent forum discussion with someone skeptical of his claims, Ring, failing to contain his anger, again writes 'I say I am not an astrologer and am doing investigative science, but your fascist mates say I am not, yet you believe them over me. What's going on with you?'

So are you confused, that the term 'astrologer' is anathema to Ring and yet 'astrology' is his mentor, colleague, business partner and his tools of the trade? To further muddy the waters — is it science or is it silly nonsense? — Ring is not only the author of a weather almanac, he's also the author of 'Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat's Paws' and 'How Your Cat Chose You', books that discuss numerology, astrology, NLP studies and psychology... as they apply to cats.

Ring's Almanac Pawmistry How Your Cat Chose You

And now we have Ring writing an article supporting astrology, with the theme of his argument summed up in his opening sentence:

'Forget the back pages of tabloids, about your love life and star signs. The real astrology has never left science and never left our lives'.
Ring wants to convince us that astrology is part of the very fabric of modern society, woven into many names that we use, the calendars we consult, and is an integral part of science, and in fact the 'Founding fathers of modern western science were the astrologers'. In Ring's view, astrology is something we should be proud of.

But if we start taking astrologers seriously, listening to them rather than scientists, next thing witches and priests will be demanding we take them seriously too. Where would this nonsense end? Bugs Bunny reading the TV news?

On reading Ring's article I found it to be absolutely riddled with errors and irrelevancies, all designed to create a myth, a fiction, a falsehood. He is truly a man trapped in the past, the deep primitive past. And he wants us there with him. And to get us to view astrology in a new light, he's not beyond telling quite a few porkies. So I decided to debunk the many bogus claims he makes, and I apologise now, since my reply went much longer than I had intended. I was simply astounded as to how many falsehoods he managed to cram into his article. Writing bad fiction just seems to come naturally to him.

I've broken my reply into sections, each tackling a different false claim made by Ring, you can read as many as you like. There is no surprise ending, the person suspected of fraud at the beginning just incriminates themselves more and more with each new claim.

Astrology 101

So basically Ring's argument is that he uses astrology, he has great respect for astrology, as should we all, but just don't call him an astrologer. So before we look at his many errors, let's first look at whether his assertion — I use astrology but I'm not an astrologer — makes sense.

Ring has said often that we plebs don't know what astrology really is, or at least not the ancient astrology that he uses. Unfortunately he consistently refuses to provide a clear definition. So let's get some background, and first let me quote a typical definition from my encyclopedia:

Astrology: form of divination based on the theory that movements of the celestial bodies (stars, planets, sun, and moon) influence human affairs and determine events.
Let me also quote from this article (by an astronomer) on astrology, since Ring often implies that astronomy and astrology are one and the same and that astronomers are deliberately suppressing the mystical elements: 'Many people confuse astronomy — the science that studies celestial objects — and astrology — a belief that those same objects in the cosmos influence individual lives here on Earth'.

But rather than simply accept the view of encyclopedias and astronomers, here is a brief description of what astrology is, gleaned from astrologer Kris Brandt Riske's book 'Llewellyn's Complete Book of Astrology: The Easy Way to Learn Astrology':

'Around the sixteenth century BC, the Babylonians began to observe that events on Earth could be correlated to celestial phenomena. Their brand of astrology is what is today called mundane astrology, or the astrology of countries, wars, coups, economic conditions, and weather, to name a few... At that point in time, no connection had been made between astrology and the individual... [it was] sometime between the seventh and fourth centuries BC, that the Babylonians developed the concept of natal astrology... The natal horoscope was seen as a predictor of the person's life, much as it is today... The twentieth century saw refinements in astrological technique and an emphasis on psychological astrology versus event-oriented astrology. But the basics remain the same today as those developed by the earliest astrologers... As the ancient Babylonians observed, astrology is the correlation of celestial events to life on Earth.
There are a number of specialty areas, or branches, of astrology. Each uses the same principles used in natal astrology: signs, planets, houses, and aspects.
Mundane Astrology: Mundane astrology is the study of countries, cities, provinces, and states. Each has a birth chart that is used to forecast trends and major events affecting that entity... This branch also includes the study of wars, peace agreements, and presidential inaugurations and other government-initiated events. From the birth chart erected for the start of the event, the astrologer can predict the outcome. Weather forecasting, or astrometeorology, is another area included in mundane astrology. It's possible to forecast the weather for any date, time, and place using specific techniques.

Electional Astrology: This branch of astrology is based on the theory that some dates and times are preferable to others for initiating an activity...

Horary Astrology: Horary astrology is used to determine the answer to a question... and to find missing objects.

Relocation Astrology: Relocation astrology is used to determine the optimum locations in the world for life activities such as relationship happiness, career success, travel, or retirement.

Predictive Astrology: Predictive astrology is used to forecast trends and events in an individual's life.

Financial Astrology: ...astrology techniques to determine general economic trends and as a tool for investing.'

The crucial things to take from this summary is that 'the basics remain the same today as those developed by the earliest astrologers', 'astrology is the correlation of celestial events to life on Earth' and 'Weather forecasting, or astrometeorology, is another area included in mundane astrology'.

And in case Ring intends arguing that Riske is just one of those silly magazine astrologers and knows nothing of what he does, we should note that her book also mentions that 'She is particularly interested in astrometeorology (astrological weather forecasting) and is the author of 'Astrometeorology: Planetary Power in Weather Forecasting' and the annual weather forecast published in Llewellyn's Moon Sign Book'. But can what Ring does be called 'astrometeorology'? Here is Ring describing his method:

'This is not astrology, it is astrometeorology. Usually natal charts are set for each particular person in astrology. In astrometeorology natal charts are set for locations. The influences are then plotted as to what is affecting that location, or is about to do so. So we have the concept of "my" Mars, and the real Mars, in astrology, but in astrometeorology we have Taupo's Mars at a particular moment in sky-time. So, say, as Mars embodies action, Taupo's Mars (the red line with the Mars symbol along the bottom) intesecting with the real Mars (yellow), would be a conjunction, which is considered very powerful.'
OK, so Ring's form of astrology, whether you call it 'ancient astrology' or 'astrometeorology' or even 'spooky celestial meddling', definitely falls under the astrology umbrella. So what's an astrologer? Let's offer a basic definition that I feel even Ken Ring must agree with. An astrologer is someone who uses the basic tenets of ancient astrology to make predictions. Anyone that simply believes in the validity of astrology or merely accepts the predictions of an astrologer, is not an astrologer. Reading and believing in your daily horoscope does not make one an astrologer, but the person that devised the horoscope is most definitely an astrologer (or at least is pretending to be).

Does Ken really use the basic tenets of ancient astrology to make predictions? Most definitely. On numerous occasions Ring has stated that he uses ancient astrology, eg 'Suffice that I use the ancient astrological energy grid of the constellations', 'I admit I use the ancient astrology that was the forerunner of astronomy', and 'It is the old principles of Astrology that we should be turning back to'. He often uses terms and ideas that are only used in astrology and horoscopes, for example he has written that 'In the old astrology various planets had specific characteristics, depending on their aspects or positions. Mars brings heat and... Mercury is known for wind... but its chief influence is cold... I posted an article about the astrology signs the moon moves through, and what general weather often results... "The moon goes across Cancer... Cancer typically brings downpours,... Leo is typically a still sign, not much wind... '. Elsewhere Ring writes, 'For those already familiar with the language of astrology, Jupiter/Saturn is an earthquake midpoint, also Jupiter/Uranus, and Uranus/Pluto. We are also looking for crossings overhead of Mars, Venus and Mercury, the inner planets...'

Astrology Ring has revealed that he uses astrology programs such as Astrolog, Solar Fires De Luxe, Janus4 and Kepler 6.0 to track the movement of the planets through the Zodiac constellations, and he uses the output of these astrology programs to predict or forecast future events. For years his almanac was called 'Predict Weather', and his website still is. Because it's been highlighted that his predictions generally fail, he has recently started calling them mere 'opinions'. Of course this fools no one, they are still predictions generated by consulting astrology, and this is probably the reason they do fail.

Might his almanac also be called a horoscope? Indeed it could be. According to my dictionary, a horoscope is 'An astrological forecast... based on a diagram of the aspect of the planets and stars at a given moment'. A horoscope perfectly describes what Ring produces in his almanac, although Ring abhors the term. Ring feels that every modern astrologer that you might have heard of (bar him of course) is a complete charlatan, their horoscopes utter nonsense, and therefore to refer to his almanac under it's correct description — a horoscope — would link his (apparently accurate) forecasts to their bogus ones, and the association could tarnish his reputation. He is most definitely an astrologer writing horoscopes, but he would rather his public not know that. It's better if the public gets a feel (albeit false) of science stuff going on, and openly mentioning astrology and horoscopes could harm that impression. So scratch talk of astrology and predictions and let's talk about... uh... oh I know... investigative science and opinions. That has a nice ring to it, one that doesn't sound primitive and superstitious.

But the strange thing is that while Ring states, 'I say I am not an astrologer and am doing investigative science', if we take him at his word and ask about the science and request to view his evidence that supports his weather prediction claims, he comes back with statements like this:

'...I don't think weather is about science... so I have no need to prove anything.'

'...what I am doing is pre-science, and cannot fit present day rigor. That is why I don't claim that it can be tested and suggest it objectively can't be.'

'My business is only a bunch of opinions as I have wearily repeated. There is no claim on accuracy, proof or anything other than that I have opinions.'

'My work... is not intended for the scientific community... not intended for city-based academics who fancy themselves as "scientifically literate"...'

So... if I'm reading this right Ken, you're not really doing investigative science then?

OK, so we are decided. Clearly Ring uses astrology, he uses natal charts to cast horoscopes and he is without doubt an astrologer.

The errors run deep

So let's now look at some of the fictions and falsehoods that Ring's employs in his article. The theme of his article is a little bit like asking, what would the world be like now if Hitler hadn't lost the war? Just replace Hitler with astrology.

Ring's article begins with the heading: 'Still The Oldest Science'. He can't even get his title out of the way without making an error. Reminding me of that other saying — still the oldest profession — Ring's heading is meant to imply that astrology is 'Still The Oldest Science'. But of course astrology is not now and never was a science, no more than witchcraft and religion are. Astrology wasn't a science that changed its name to astronomy, nor did it split into two sciences, astrology and astronomy. Astrology is simply an ancient form of divination whose predictions failed to reflect the real world, but it had managed to collect valuable astronomical observations. It was these astronomical observations, not its astrological foundations, that were eventually used by others to create the science of astronomy on the superstitious shoulders of astrology. Ancient astrologers certainly played a part in man's early investigation of the world, as did witches, alchemists and priests, but they all lost their way and ended up going down blind alleys. Eventually a few enlightened souls realised their mistakes, retraced their steps and set off in new directions, and needing something to stop them making foolish mistakes again, they invented science. So Ring could certainly argue that astrology's failures helped push us towards science, but not that astrology was ever a science.

Astrological deities

Supposedly demonstrating our subtle love of astrology, Ring insists that 'As soon as you mention the name of any day of the week, you unwittingly continue to pay homage to ancient astrological deities'.

Wrong. They are not 'astrological' deities, they are simply 'deities'. Many celestial objects were named after gods. and the days of the week were also named after gods. The days were not named after astrology gods, since there are no such things as gods of astrology, or as Ring calls them 'astrological deities'. There are Greek deities and Norse deities, but there are no astrology deities. Gods are not a part of astrology. In his book 'The Calendar: The 5000-year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens', David Ewing Duncan on describing the days of the week notes how we 'pay homage to otherwise forgotten gods', whereas Ring now writes the we 'pay homage to ancient astrological deities'. Note how he has changed 'forgotten gods' into 'astrological deities' to concoct a lie to support astrology?

Speaking of days, Ring claims that 'Sunday is the Sun's day (with the heli in heliocentric meaning 'holy')'. Wrong. I agree that the words 'heli' and 'holy' do have some surface similarities, but only in Ringworld do they apparently mean the same thing. Heliocentric means having the sun at the centre, with helio- actually coming from the Greek 'helios' meaning 'sun'.

Ring continues with, 'The months ('moonths') too were named by Roman astrologers. September was the seventh House, October the eighth, November the ninth and December the tenth (Latin deca). Names of planets, stars and constellations are astrological'.

First, although the word 'month' is related to the moon and it's orbital period, it's not a simple misspelling of 'moonth' as Ring suggests it is. Second, while the months were named by the Romans, there is no clear evidence that they were astrologers. The legend is that the calendar was created by Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome, and originally it only had 10 months, not 12. The first 4 months were names of pagan gods, and the last six were simply and unimaginatively named as the 'fifth' month through to the 'tenth' month. Ring claims that 'September was the seventh House' etc, meaning that September was named after the seventh astrological house on the Zodiac, which is Libra. But clearly the month is not called Libra, and never has been. In fact not a single astrological house name appears as a calendar name. September simply means seventh in Latin, and if I were devious like Ring I could claim it was named after the last of the Seven Dwarfs. Also there are 12 astrological houses, so if the calendar derived from it as Ring suggests, there would have originally been 12 months, not 10.

And Ring is wrong when he claims that the 'Names of planets, stars and constellations are astrological'. Let's be clear here, planets, stars and constellations were named after pagan gods, they are not original names invented by astrologers. Astrology didn't give the gods their names, the gods' names were purloined and attached to astronomical/astrological objects. The origin of these names is religion, not astrology, so Ring should have said that the 'Names of planets, stars and constellations are religious'. But of course Ring is anti-religion and pro-astrology so he distorts reality.

Astrology — always culturally and politically acceptable

A strange comment that Ring makes is this, 'The roots of astrology are tied to the calendar and seasons, always culturally and politically acceptable'. What utter nonsense. When have we ever had cultural or political debates to decide on whether we are happy to accept that astrology might have had some connection with the calendar in the deep dim past? If we had had that discussion then people like Ring would know that some of the claims he makes are false. He then goes on to claim that 'The ancient Greeks believed that cycles of Sun, Moon, and stars dramatically impacted their lives. Nothing has changed to this day'. Ring is being quite devious here. He wants the reader to think along modern lines, such that the Sun can cause skin cancer and contribute to droughts and the Moon causes tides and impacts on when we can fish, but this is not how ancient astrologers viewed celestial movements. The stars dramatically impact on my life through their beauty and majesty, whereas ancient folk (and Ring today), felt that their impact actually meant changing events and lives on Earth.

The Sun controls the seasons

In the following sentence we have Ring unknowingly admitting two things, one, that he's a dyed-in-the-wool astrologer, and two, that he doesn't know what causes the seasons. He writes: 'The Sun controls seasons (from 'sow'), being the Sun's entry into new divisions of the astrological sky'. The Sun moving through the constellations of the Zodiac and the star signs of your astrology horoscope are what Ring means when he talks of 'the Sun's entry into new divisions of the astrological sky'. We in NZ experience four seasons, the maximum possible I believe, but since there are 12 'divisions of the astrological sky', why don't we have 12 seasons? Ring has told us that he uses 'the ancient astrological energy grid of the constellations' and that 'Constellations are really declination-energy roadmaps. Temperatures are combinations of both solar and lunar for instance warmer in Aries or Leo'. But science has advanced greatly since medieval times and we now know that the tilt of the Earth's axis is the reason for the seasons. At Xmas Christians try to argue that Jesus is the reason for the season, but again wrong, it's the tilt of the axis. If everything stayed the same but the Earth's axis became vertical, our present seasons would disappear. And just think about this, if summer on the Earth depended on the Sun's entry into a specific constellation, say Libra, then why when we in NZ have summer does the USA have winter? How can the Sun's entry into the same constellation cause opposite seasons on the Earth? If by being in Libra the Sun sends out spooky summer waves for us in NZ, why does the USA not feel them?

Isaac Newton was wasn't an astrologer

For years now Ring has falsely claimed that his hero Sir Isaac Newton was an astrologer, and no matter how many times he was shown evidence that this was untrue, he kept repeating this lie. In this latest article he doesn't explicitly say Newton was an astrologer, as he does with Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Franklin, but he still implies that he was by falsely claiming that 'Newton trained under the astrologer Descartes'. But again this is just another lie, well two lies actually, invented by Ring. The fact is that when Descartes died Newton was only eight years old, so if Newton ever trained under Descartes, it would have had to have been his ghost. The second lie is that Rene Descartes, like Newton, was not an astrologer. In his book 'Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius', A.C. Grayling writes that Descartes 'had no intention of being involved with what he called "the false sciences" of alchemy, magic and astrology, of which he was frankly contemptuous'. And frankly I'm starting to lose count of the number of scientists that Ring has over the years falsely claimed were astrologers. So why is it that Ring is so desperate for Newton to be an astrologer that he will lie over and over about it? Well Ring told me that 'Newton wrote his Principiia about gravitation in astrological physics... [and] Astrology is primarily about gravitation'. In Ring's mind gravity is the key it seems, but even if astrological effects actually happened, clearly they aren't caused by gravity. But Ring believes they are, and since Newton is in Ring's opinion the world's greatest gravity expert, then he must, ipso facto, be a great astrologer too.

Ring needs a famous scientist to connect with his astrology scam to give it some legitimacy, and if he falsely claims that a renowned genius like Newton believed in astrology, then maybe we should too. Of course anyone that knows anything about gravity knows that Einstein has since improved on Newton's theory of gravity, so why doesn't Ring use Einstein as a poster boy? Well simply because people have never heard Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and astrology mentioned together, and would rightly be quite skeptical that Einstein was a believer in astrology. Of course Newton did indeed believe in some wacky things that were utterly bogus but, unfortunately for Ring, astrology wasn't one of them,

Of course it doesn't matter what the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Franklin believed. Everyone of them most definitely believed many things that we now know were completely wrong. They are remembered not for what they got wrong but for the revolutionary thing(s) that they got right. Ring trolls back through history and argues that since the aforementioned people all dabbled in astrology, and these men clearly weren't idiots, then astrology must naturally have some validity since so many intelligent men couldn't have been wrong. This is no different to saying that for many centuries untold intelligent men and women believed in what the Bible said, and thought that the world was flat and that humans all came from a nudist couple having sex, so clearly the world must be flat and Adam and Eve were real.

Ring erroneously insists that the 'Founding fathers of modern western science were the astrologers', but many religious folk disagree and argue that the founders of modern science were actually the Christians, guided as they were by their Christian faith. And of course Muslims make a similar claim. All the people that Ring mentions from Copernicus to Newton were indeed devout Christians, and would have all put their Christian faith well ahead of whatever belief they had in astrology. So was it the beliefs of astrologers or Christians that led to modern science? Perhaps you'll suggest that since men like Kepler clearly believed in both Christianity and astrology, both beliefs can take some credit? And yet confusingly, if Ring can be believed, he claims that 'Christian society defines astrology... as heretic... [and Christians believe they] have no business trying to divine what God has not clearly revealed in His Word'. So if this were true, his named astrologers can't have been both Christians and astrologers... and yet clearly they were. Ring's problem is that he hates the Christian Church, since he personally believes it caused the downfall of his beloved astrology, and thus in his view an astrologer would have been as welcome in the Church as a devil worshipper. And yet all his famous astrologers were all Christians. How can this be Mr Ring? I'm confused.

The reality is that the long journey to modern science was indeed helped along (and also greatly hindered) by people that were often Christians who also had a belief in astrology, and then there were Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, atheists and ancient peoples such as Greeks, Babylonians, Arabs etc. People from all of these diverse worldviews contributed insights into how the universe really worked, but their insights usually came about not because of their religious or astrological beliefs but often in spite of them. People like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Franklin made discoveries that more often than not conflicted with their religious beliefs and their astrological beliefs. Let's remember that the work of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler were all placed on the Church's Forbidden Book list (and they weren't writing about astrology). Evidently due to Kepler's astronomical discoveries, it is said that, 'in some respect, Kepler was the astrologer who destroyed astrology'. In the same way that astrologer Ring is insisting that these men were astrologers, and thus their discoveries must have come from astrology, a devious Christians might insist that Charles Darwin was a Christian (he indeed trained in theology), and thus his great discovery must have come from this belief. But the reality is that for Darwin his Christian beliefs were likely a handicap, and he had to fight to reject them and accept what the science was telling him. Likewise Einstein was a Jew, but who says that it was religion that brought forth the theory of relativity?

Certainly some early astrologers made important contributions to astronomy, just as the work of alchemists contributed to modern chemistry and witch doctors contributed to modern medicine, but this doesn't mean that we should pretend that astrologers, alchemists and witch doctors are still making contributions. They're not.

Scientology is a science

Note also that Ring again tries to create a myth by talking of 'modern western science'. But of course there is only science, there is no 'western' science anymore than there is 'eastern', 'southern' or 'Ringworld' science. Gravity and genes work exactly the same in Europe as they do in NZ, and a science degree is accepted worldwide. With his talk of 'western' science Ring wants to generate the falsehood that there is a 'western' science that uses astronomy and an alternative but equally valid version of science that uses astrology, both reaching the same conclusions. There are indeed other spheres of belief that have science in their name, but these are clearly all nonsense, such as pseudoscience, the one that embraces Ring's astrology, and Ring has previously informed us (no, he wasn't joking) that 'there is Creation Science, Christian Science, Scientology and science fiction. Anything can be a science, and one who studies it is a scientist'. Another time he defended what he does as science because '...science just means learning and study. Everyone does that, even a 3-yr old, even a dog... And that's why we have sports science, food science, massage science, sex science, religious science, etc etc'. That's right, in Ringworld even dogs do science. I wish my neighbour's dog would take up physics or paleontology or something, since the diversion might mean that he wouldn't have the time to do so much bloody barking. Clearly Ring is a fool to either believe such nonsense, or to believe that we would believe it.

Copernicus the astrologer — not!

Still dropping famous names, Ring states that 'Copernicus the astrologer claimed that Earth was not the centre of the Universe... [and this] new view came from astrology'. Ring promotes two falsehoods here. First, labelling Copernicus as 'Copernicus the astrologer' may in one sense be true, but it's as misleading as talking about 'Albert Einstein the musician' or 'Charles Darwin the pigeon breeder'. As we've said, Copernicus is not famous for his connection with astrology, any more than Einstein is famous for his violin playing or Darwin for breeding racing pigeons (which they really did). As Ring has stated elsewhere, many people believed in astrology back then and even doctors had to study astrology at university. So pick a doctor from that period and Ring would deviously change their description from 'Alfred the doctor' to 'Alfred the astrologer'. So yes, Copernicus will have studied astrology at university, but there is no good evidence that he took it any further. His main interest was astronomy. In Copernicus' book, 'On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres', the preface (not written by Copernicus) describes a book about astronomy, not astrology, '...let no one expect anything in the way of certainty from astronomy... '. Describing Copernicus, one of his friends, a young mathematician called Rheticus, wrote that 'The astronomy of my lord and teacher can justly be called eternal'. Note that he said 'astronomy' and not 'astrology'. Copernicus once wrote sarcastically about a colleague, 'Being a great astronomer, (Werner) is not aware... '. Here again Copernicus is identifying himself as an astronomer, not an astrologer. And no, as Ring might be tempted to claim, modern editors have not rewritten 'astrology' as 'astronomy'. I have two books on Copernicus, and both clearly note when authors are discussing astronomy and when it's astrology. Even real modern astrologers that have looked into it agree, as this quote from astrologer Bruce Scofield's article 'Were They Astrologers?' notes, 'To my knowledge, Copernicus was no more into astrology than anyone else of his time. However, astrology was part of one larger body of knowledge called science. Therefore, he had to know something about it, but he may not have practiced it directly in the sense of casting charts for people'. Perhaps you could think of it this way. In my first year of high school I studied, among other subjects, science, maths and woodwork. So can I now, as Ring does with 'Copernicus the astrologer', call myself John the scientist, John the mathematician or John the carpenter? No of course not, even though I still dabble in these things, just last week I built a shelf. Unfortunately Ring sees no problem in labelling people with bogus labels to match his needs, it even extends to falsely labelling himself. To different people at different times Ring has falsely identified himself as a mathematician, a scientist and a psychologist, and yet he is not qualified to align himself with any these professions.

The second falsehood from Ring is his claim that the heliocentric 'view came from astrology'. Rubbish, ancient Greeks such as Aristarchus of Samos, who wasn't an astrologer, was one of the first to propose this idea. William T Vollmann in his book 'Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres' notes that once Copernicus' improved tables were published, eventually 'even the astrologers, to whom an uncentered Earth is anathema, embrace his system, such is its predictive power'. Astrologers had always argued that the Earth was at the centre, they only went with the more accurate tables of Copernicus because they worked far better than what they had. Like the Church, they argued that just because the maths worked, that didn't mean the Earth wasn't still at the centre. It really is quite childish that Ring must insist that most everything science has ever achieved can somehow be traced back to his silly astrology.

Astrology was the internet

Astrology Still naively trying to defend this silly argument, Ring notes that 'Today we have several tiers of financial advisers, from accountants to economists doing the job of the old astrologers... this is like the court astrologer who advised a mediaeval king before going into battle. Astrology was the internet, the apps, the adding machine, the farm advisory and the sailor's guide'. Of course many of these claims are bogus. Medieval folk did not use astrology to 'Google' who the town's mayor was, it wasn't used as an app to tell them where they were or what time it was, they didn't use it play a medieval version of 'Angry Birds', they didn't use it to count their stock or tell them what to plant, and sailors didn't use it as a GPS system. About the only thing Ring got correct is that some medieval kings might have used astrologers to predict the future, to divine the best time to go to war as written in the heavens. But not everyone used astrologers, some used witches. But these were primitive times, they didn't know any better, and just because astrology was used in these dark times, is that any reason to accept Ring's argument that we should still use astrology, that we are still using astrology?

Let's rephrase Ring's argument by replacing 'astrologer' with 'horse'. Today we have several types of motor vehicle, from cars to trucks and tractors doing the job of the old horse... these are like the horse that a medieval king rode into battle. Horses were used in farming, industry, war, sport, hunting and transport. All true, but who would argue that we are still using horses for all these purposes? This is what Ring can't, or refuses to grasp, that regardless of what our ancestors used in medieval times, we've moved on. Astrology is like the witch's potion and the doctor's leech, we've found far more powerful ways of doing things, ways that aren't based on superstitious nonsense.

Astrology — we're stuck with it

Ring goes on to insist that 'Astrology continues to revolutionize our thinking on a worldwide scale. It was used to measure time, mark the seasons, and navigate the vast oceans'. Did you notice how he contradicts himself? He says 'Astrology continues to revolutionize... ', implying that it is still used, but then he admits that 'It was used... ', implying — correctly — that it no longer is. How is astrology revolutionising 'our thinking on a worldwide scale' today? Are scientists using astrology? Did Samsung use astrology to design their latest smartphone? Are politicians and diplomats using astrology to inform their discussions? Are doctors using astrology to fight Ebola and cancer? No, no, no and no. The only people on the planet using astrology are silly astrologers and their horoscope reading followers.

Undaunted Ring carries on and argues that 'Astrology is part of every culture's history and roots — we are stuck with it'. But this is no more meaningful than me stating that living in caves, going months without bathing, religious hatred, using leeches as a cure-all and regularly going to war with our neighbours is also equally 'part of every culture's history and roots — we are stuck with it'. Just because some particular behaviour or belief was common in our past, is that any reason to say that we're stuck with it? Many cultures once practiced human sacrifice, others cannibalism, many oppressed women and others taught that the world was flat and built on pillars. With the benefit of modern knowledge and modern sensibilities, clearly much of what was taught and believed in the past was wrong, and no sane, rational person is arguing that we need to stick with these false beliefs. We don't deny that in the past astrology was widely supported, but then so too was slavery, so by Ring's logic, we are stuck with slavery too. Just because some horrible mistake was made in the past, this is no reason to say that 'we are stuck with it'. We can accept our past failings, learn from them and move forward with new ways of viewing the world. We shouldn't own slaves, and we shouldn't believe in astrology. We're better than that.

Ring writes that regarding astrology, 'One role was to provide personal identity, to bring comfort via sense of place in the complex cosmos and vast universe. Cycles embraced philosophy and mental health and promised answers to the big questions. All things come then go'. Rubbish, astrologers didn't envisage a 'vast universe', theirs was finite and quite small, it was only once people moved to astronomy that we eventually realised that we live in a 'vast universe'. And how the hell does Mars passing through Aries tell us anything about philosophy, or my neighbour's mental health, or answer 'the big questions', like how did life begin and is there a god? This, along with Ring's assertion that astrology can tell us about our personal identity and bring comfort is the very reason that intelligent, rational people today giggle when some fool asks us what our star sign is.

Ring tells us that on TV, 'Every night the weatherman foretells tomorrow's weather. This is what astrologers did'. Bullshit. Are we to believe that landholders, peasants and serfs all slogged miles into the town square everyday to hear what weather the local astrologer was predicting for the next day, or that the local astrologer travelled all around the county each day advising farmers personally of the coming weather? Of course not, farmers and sailors didn't need to, and couldn't, rely on astrologers for daily weather forecasts. Does Ring really think that our ancestors would have been lost weather-wise without an astrologer on the payroll?

Astrology can not be proven because...

So why isn't astrology accepted by science, why is it labelled a pseudoscience? Well, just like witchcraft and prayer, the simple answer is that there is no evidence that the claims that it makes are true, and much evidence against it. But Ring, naturally, doesn't accept this, and in his article essentially argues that scientists are being pedantic. He wrote:

'Astrology... fell into disuse when omitted from science texts because it did jarred with the scientific method... The new scientific method changed one variable whilst the remainder were held still. An experiment had to be repeatable by others. Astrology could not be proven because some cycles took a thousand years to repeat. And yet to be true to itself the scientific method would need for the same experimenter to do all the experiments, to remove the variable of operator bias. Without that condition the scientific method is invalid'.
Here Ring cherry picks some things science does indeed try to do, and if they weren't all performed then Ring falsely claims that science immediately walks away, essentially saying that it can't test astrology. This is nonsense, and demonstrates either that Ring doesn't understand how science works or that he's creating another myth. Take his claim that an 'experiment had to be repeatable by others'. Lots of people are being born all the time under just 12 star signs, meaning the experiments can be repeated untold times. And they have been, with different results every time, meaning that the experiments are repeatable but the results predicted by astrologers are not repeatable. However, even in science if an experiment can't be repeated, the results from just a single 'experiment' can still be accepted if there is enough supporting evidence. For example, the Big Bang has never been repeated in a lab experiment, neither has the evolution of ape-like primates to humans or the asteroid impact that helped wipe out the dinosaurs. But science still accepts these theories as valid, whereas even though many astrology experiments have been repeated, not one has been accepted.

Ring then argues that 'Astrology could not be proven because some cycles took a thousand years to repeat'. This is again false. First, there are many cycles that science readily accepts that take thousands and millions of years to repeat. The precession of the equinoxes for example, a cycle that is intimately tied to astrology, is accepted by astronomers, and takes nearly 26,000 years to repeat. Most knowledgeable astrologers accept this cycle but keep quiet about it because explaining it would stuff up everyone's star sign. Astrologers are falsely, and knowingly, using star signs that moved on long ago. Whatever star sign you think you are, you're wrong! But in any case, most of the important astrological cycles, orbits of the Moon, planets and Earth around the Sun, have been repeated untold times, and if there were anything to astrology, its claims could have been proven untold times, and yet not a single cycle has thrown up something mysterious. And let's remember that Ring is normally arguing that most cycles repeat often enough that he can reliably forecast the weather every year, his crucially important tides happen twice a day and his full and new moons every month, he's not arguing that our astrological weather cycles take 'a thousand years to repeat'. Except when we ask for proof.

Next Ring says that it's necessary 'for the same experimenter to do all the experiments, to remove the variable of operator bias'. And yet Ring has already explained that an 'experiment had to be repeatable by others'. which serves to remove 'operator bias'. Plus many experiments today are very complex and can't be managed by just one person, only Ken Ring beavers away alone in his kitchen. And anyway, what about 'Copernicus the astrologer', much of his experimental data came from Ptolemy and other ancient astronomers, the same with Newton and Einstein. But regardless, there have actually been many astrology experiments where the same experimenter did all the experiments, and yet still nothing was proven.

So Ring's arguments as to why astrology isn't accepted by science are just classic pseudoscience, scientific sounding arguments that are just nonsense created to confuse and convince those that know knowing about science, or astrology. And to wrap up his bogus arguments, Ring decided to redefine what science means, stating that 'The word 'science' simply meant to use investigative methods set down by the astrologers... '. What can I say, this is as false and as arrogant as a witch in a pointed hat saying that 'The word 'science' simply meant to use investigative methods set down by witches... '. Like an angry divorcee, Ring has a very strained relationship with the truth. And like that movie quote, 'If you build it, he will come', Ring seems to think that, If I write it, they will believe.

Cycles are astrology

All this nonsense is written to confuse those that are ignorant of science, ie Ring's potential clients. Ring asks, 'Do cycles exist, or is everything due to chance?', with astrology on the side of cycles and science evidently opting for chance. Why might Ring think that science says everything is due to chance? Well, it's actually more to do with Ring's losing battle with real weather forecasters, with him saying in the past that 'Meteorologists use words like random, chaos, confidence percentage, laws of average and probability when it comes to forecasting, words that are found in casinos. That's why I would rather not call myself a meteorologist'. (You can't call yourself a meteorologist Ken because you're not qualified to do so!) So this is why he now says again parrot-style that words like 'probability, chance, random, luck, fluke, coincidence is the language of the casino, not the science lab'. He's hoping that since people can clearly see that cycles do exist in nature, then science, and especially meteorologists, are foolish to talk of probability and chance when it comes to nature. But again Ring is exposing his ignorance of science and the world, for example evolution moves along by random mutations, quantum mechanics is all about probability, weather is a part of chaos theory and every experiment must be designed to eliminate flukes and coincidences. Ring's argument is that nothing happens by chance, everything is part of a cycle and can be predicted, and that these 'cycles are astrology'. There are indeed many cycles in nature, for example, day and night, the seasons, the orbits of the Moon and the planets, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle and many more, and these were mostly discovered by science and certainly explained by scientists, not astrologers. Where cycles exist they are readily accepted by science. But most cycles don't have great predictive power beyond the obvious. Day and night cycle quite regularly, but this knowledge is useless at predicting what I will do each day. Astrologers beg to differ, hence the daily horoscopes.

Ring's flawed argument is that 'cycles are astrology', and if we accept that cycles exist, as of course we do, then we are logically accepting that only astrology, not science, can explain these cycles, since Ring has implied that science doesn't accept cycles, it's all chance remember. Of course the argument fails because Ring's initial premise — 'cycles are astrology' — is false, thus the conclusion must be false. The cycles are a part of the natural universe, they are not part of astrology. Astrology may want to claim certain cycles, just as religion wants to claim control over women's bodies, but gone are the days when astrologers and popes controlled our lives.

Ring's implication that science denies cycles exist and argues everything is due to chance is so wrong that it's a wonder he could even suggest it. But of course we are not the complete slaves to cycles as astrology would suggest, there are many events in nature that are not cycles. I am unique for example, as are you, and there is no cycle or time period when another me or you is going to be produced. Hitler and World War II will not cycle around again, nor will the dinosaurs. I am not going to become a virgin again, thankfully. The Moon is slowly moving further away from the Earth, it's never going to cycle closer again. The Sun is using up its fuel and will eventually die, it's not going to cycle back into life.

Blame it on the Christians

Let's now look at this paragraph from Ring's article:

'Christian society defines astrology and its reliance on cycles as heretic. The weather cannot be cyclic, argues the western scientist, because God himself, God alone, knows the future. We have no business trying to divine what God has not clearly revealed in His Word. We do not leave it up to God to decide - we seek assurances from people who have slide rules, not bibles.'
As I've already noted, all of the famous scientists that Ring uses to bolster his case for astrology were Christians first and astrologers second (except Newton who wasn't interested in astrology), and any horoscopes they produced were for fellow Christians. Thus it is utterly bogus to claim that 'Christian society defines astrology... as heretic', when for much of its history most every religion was practicing astrology on the side, Jews, Muslims and Christians right up to the pope. In his article Ring reinforces this view by telling us of 'the court astrologer who advised a mediaeval king'. Are we expected to believe that this medieval king was a Rastafarian perhaps, and not a Christian, at a time when the Catholic Church dominated Europe? It's true that today the Christian Church frowns on astrology, but hey, what don't they frown on? They condemn everything from harmless masturbation to the 'Harry Potter' books. I read recently that the Church once ruled that married couples were not allowed to have sex while completely naked or during daylight hours. They really want to take all the fun out of it. But the question we should really be asking is, who cares what the bloody Christians think about astrology? Certainly most modern scientists don't care what the Christians think, and yet Ring implies that the modern scientist and the devout Christian are one and the same. He writes that, 'The weather cannot be cyclic, argues the western scientist, because God himself, God alone, knows the future. We have no business trying to divine what God has not clearly revealed in His Word'. That claim might make some sense if you replaced 'argues the western scientist ' with 'argues the priest', but as it stands it is utter bullshit.

How childish it is for Ring to argue that modern scientists deliberately ignore the evidence provided by astrology because they are too afraid of offending God, a god that most of them don't even believe exists. But their fear only surfaces when it comes to the weather it seems (and perhaps earthquakes), since clearly scientists have had no qualms discovering untold cycles in the natural world, they've worked feverishly to discover what wasn't revealed in 'His Word' and have tried to determine what the future might bring, even making attempts to predict the likely end of the Earth and the Universe. And of course scientists haven't ignored cycles in the weather and the climate as Ring claims either, has he not heard of meteorology and climatology for example? What irks Ring greatly is that scientists have indeed discovered many cycles in nature, but unfortunately for Ring, none of these cycles result from Jupiter moving into Aries or from Mars rising in the east or even from the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. To hide this lack of some measurable spooky impact from the planets as they traverse the Zodiac constellations, Ring has invented a massive conspiracy. All the world's scientists, and indeed most everyone that even understands a little science, has unanimously agreed, secretly of course, to ignore and suppress any and all evidence that might lend any support to astrology. Any spooky cycle or effect that appears to emanate from that delicate waltz between the sun, moon, planets, and the constellations must be quickly covered up or given some bogus scientific explanation coupled with weird and intriguing names, such as WIMPs and dark matter. That Ring can seriously believe, or expect us to believe, that the world, or at least the educated world, is conspiring to hide the truth about astrology from us ignorant peasants is simply staggering.

But of course Ring lives in a simpler world than we do, and based on this perhaps he expects us all to simply believe him. After all, he is an astrologer, a man of learning, even if that learning is a thousand years out of date. Ringworld is evidently styled on the medieval world, the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, call it what you will, and this was a time when superstition was rife, ignorance of how the world worked was the norm, and as Ring says in his article, 'Astrology was the internet, the apps, the adding machine, the farm advisory and the sailor's guide'. Although to be fair to Ring, Ringworld is a little more advanced than the Dark Ages, at least technology wise if not knowledge wise. He tells us that now 'we seek assurances from people who have slide rules, not bibles'. Slide rules Ken, really? Are they considered hi-tech in Ringworld? Geez, drag yourself into the 21st century why don't you.

Captain Cook's secret voyage, powered by astrology

Captain Cook, an explorer familiar to all Kiwis, even gets a rewrite by Ring in his quest to defend astrology. He informs the reader that 'Captain Cook sailed to the Antipodes to secretly test Venus risings using a new-fangled clock. It was practical astrology at work'. Oh dear. So many errors in just 21 words. One, Cook did not travel to 'test Venus risings', he went to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun. This is quite different to what Ring claims, which apparently is Venus rising above the horizon. Ancient astrology taught that celestial bodies rise and set, whereas modern astronomy knows that actually the Earth turns on its axis, and without telescopes, astrologers were utterly ignorant of transits of planets across the Sun's surface. I'm surprised Ring doesn't know Cook observed a transit and not a 'rising'. Two, there was nothing secret about Cook sailing to observe the transit of Venus, it was well publicised. It's true that there was a secret element to Cook's voyage, but it wasn't the Venus bit. After observing the transit, Cook had sealed orders to then search for a large southern continent that was thought at that time to exist. Three, Cook did not take or use 'a new-fangled clock' to observe the transit. Cook was involved in testing a new sea clock, but this was on a completely different voyage, and it had nothing to do with Venus, nor was it secret. Four, Cook's transit observation had nothing to do with astrology and everything to do with astronomy, since the transit allowed French astronomer Joseph Lalande to calculate a more precise measurement of the distance from the Sun to the Earth. No astrology was involved, and no predictions involving the weather, love or coming disasters came out of Cook's voyage. To rephrase that Hollywood disclaimer: No animals astrologers were harmed used in the making of this movie voyage.

This raft of errors from Ring are just more examples, as if more were needed, of Ring's utter incompetence at doing real historical research, and his real willingness to just make things up, deviously weaving them together to relate a story that never happened, but one he hopes we will believe anyway. Every time Ring tries to defend his belief in astrology and his use of it, he simply reveals why we were right to doubt his claims in the first place.

Astrology

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Mar, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Ken Ring, 18 Mar, 2015

    Thoroughly confused as to whether or not I'm an astrologer according to his own definition and those of selected astrologers equally confusing — "John" blames me for his confusion. No, I am not an astrologer, don't think of myself as one, never had a client for a reading, never put astrologer on my census form, tax return or passport, never called myself one, and never been called one by professional astrologers who know what astrology is actually about because they have studied it, unlike "John" who has only read the writings of others on the subject.

    "John" thinks anyone who studies old subjects must be a practitioner. By the same reasoning anyone who looks at the sky must henceforth be called an astronomer, or who turns on a tap must be a plumber, or puts a plaster on a child must be a paediatrician. As my article publicised here says, we are all astrologers who use any science that derived from astrology, which for hundreds of years was the original science. That we call today's science branches by other names is immaterial. But if you have a hatred of anything that departs from mainstream then you will find astrology, alternative medicine, alternative religion, alternative customs and beliefs (if they appear "supernatural") all objectionable. Why? Because they are different and less well understood, and lack of understanding brings fear. Such fear can bring out thousands of words of hate speech, as "John" so voluminously displays his gift for..

    And yet NZ is historically renowned for coming up with alternative technologies and new directions in science. We had Richard Pearce, Lord Rutherford, Dr Gillies, Edmund Hillary, Linus Pauling, and many many others, all creating new pathways, after the "John"s of the day told them it couldn't be done.

    No, for the zillionth time, I am not an astrologer. But I use it every day as does every other person in the world that I know of. I am a longrange forecaster, and all weather forecasting was once purely the domain of the astrologer. TV1's Karen Olsen and other weather anchors are carrying on the astrologers' role. It is the same sky, same wind, same planets and same reasons for weather as it was many thousands of years ago. It doesn't matter what you call it, the forecast results are what are sought.

    It is well known that the methods I employ successfully warned (http://yardyyardyyardy.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/ring-of-truth.html) of Christchurch's major earthquakes. It is not my method exclusively — Hindus have been able to use this method to predict earthquakes for 5000 years.

    In this year's almanac I have said Canterbury would be dry this summer but rains in March and April would stop any longterm widespread drought, and the rains have started arriving. I said there would be a cyclone developing 12-13 March but would mainly deliver rain to most of the North Island and not too much wind, except on coasts, and that the summer would be dotted with heat waves and long fine periods. We are coming up to a mainly wet but warm autumn for most, except the top of the South Island. Winter is a sorry story for North Island ski operators. The value of what I and others like me try to do is that farmers can plan longterm for seasons way ahead, and save themselves thousands of dollars by planting the right crop at the right time and harvesting accordingly. The sheep farmer can know when to put the ram into the field with some certainty that spring lambs will have escaped the last of the winter snows.

    But this website wishes to prevent me doing all that, simply because "John" does not understand it, nor the origins of the science of it, nor it seems, the origins of science itself. And by continuing to display such lack of understanding whilst purporting to represent science he continues to bring true science into disfavour. Science means investigative activity, and perhaps a little honest investigation into science's origins would not go too amiss here.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 19 Mar, 2015

    I'm assuming English is your first language Ken, if that is even your real name? Should I say "Ken" rather than Ken? But you apparently do struggle with the written word, so I'll type slowly for your benefit. Please re-read my comments, I am not at all confused over whether you are an astrologer or not. I clearly wrote, 'OK, so we are decided. Clearly Ring uses astrology, he uses natal charts to cast horoscopes and he is without doubt an astrologer'. Do you want me to draw a picture?

    Furthermore I did not merely define astrology by my 'own definition and those of selected astrologers'. I offered widely accepted definitions provided by professional scholars (encyclopedia), a professional astronomer and a professional astrologer. Since you dismiss their definitions, who else might we ask if scholars and professional astronomers and astrologers don't know what they're talking about? One of your alternative medicine friends? A witch perhaps?

    You then say that '"John" thinks anyone who studies old subjects must be a practitioner'. Seriously Ken, are you really this dense, or is this you grasping at straws? Or is it your poor literacy skills again? Please re-read my comments, slowly, and ask questions if you need to. The germ behind your accusation was what I accused you of doing when you've labelled people as 'Copernicus the astrologer', 'the astrologer Descartes', 'the famous astrologer Sir Isaac Newton' and 'the astrology of Archimedes'. You claimed that all these people, none of whom was actually an astrologer, were astrologers, were practitioners, simply because they studied the subject. You've also claimed that because you've simply studied some science, some maths and some psychology, that this means you are a scientist, a mathematician and a psychologist. I'm saying that you're being devious and totally fraudulent by calling Copernicus an astrologer and calling yourself a scientist, mathematician and psychologist. I'm not saying you're an astrologer because you've studied some old subject called astrology, I'm saying you're an astrologer because you, by your own admission, use natal charts to cast horoscopes, or 'weather forecasts' as you call them.

    And you offer no defence for the many errors you made in your article? Errors regarding Copernicus, Descartes, Newton and Captain Cook, astrological deities, the cause of the seasons, and the flaws with the scientific method etc?

    Ken, you started your reply by asserting, 'No, I am not an astrologer, don't think of myself as one... ', and yet in your second paragraph you contradict yourself, admitting that 'As my article publicised here says, we are all astrologers who use any science that derived from astrology'. OK... so I was right... you are an astrologer! I'm not confused, as I've always said you were an astrologer, but can't you see how others might suspect that you're a little confused Ken? One minute you're not an astrologer, next minute we're all astrologers. I've heard Ken that there's a help group for people like yourself called AA, no not Alcoholics Anonymous, it's an offshoot called Astrologers Anonymous, where you get to say, 'Hi my name's Ken, and I'm an astrologer'. Admitting to your addiction is evidently the first step.

    In the past Ken you've had the arrogance to compare yourself to the likes of Galileo, Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa in regard to the work you're doing, the impact you're having on society and the way the world views your ideas. Now I see you're including 'Richard Pearce, Lord Rutherford, Dr Gillies, Edmund Hillary, Linus Pauling, and many many others, all creating new pathways', because 'NZ is historically renowned for coming up with alternative technologies and new directions in science'. But your arrogance aside Ken, these people are famous because they actually achieved something, the world accepted their claims and went in new directions because they provided evidence, Rutherford didn't just write a book ruminating on what might be inside an atom. And I'm hard pressed to remember what technology or science Hillary developed. Perhaps you could enlighten us all? And that famous "NZ" scientist Linus Pauling was actually an American. Shades of 'Copernicus the astrologer'. Do you just guess these things Ken, hoping no one will know the truth, or do you get a perverse pleasure in making a fool of yourself? And yes, there were people back then saying 'it couldn't be done', but rather than throw a hissy fit and scream 'hate speech', the likes of Rutherford and Hillary went and proved their critics wrong. When are you Ken going to simply stop talking about the 'ancient astrological energy grid of the constellations' and actually do the experiments, collect the evidence and say to me, 'Well George John, we've finally knocked the bastard off!'

    Apparently a little confused again, you say that 'I am not an astrologer. But I use it every day... ' It sounds like someone is in denial, like those that say, 'I'm not a druggie, but I use it every day'. You once again claim that 'all weather forecasting was once purely the domain of the astrologer'. What rubbish. The world does not revolve around you bloody astrologers. Do you seriously believe that for thousands of years no one ever made an attempt to forecast the weather, not until astrologers turned up looking for work? Weather forecasting was never 'purely the domain of the astrologer', everyone turned their hand to forecasting, it was called looking out the window and taking an educated guess.

    You then argue that 'weather anchors are carrying on the astrologers' role', implying that weather anchors are still astrologers. This is like me saying that 'cars are carrying on the horse's role' and 'cruise missiles are carrying on the arrow's role', but can't you grasp that just as a car is not a horse, a weather anchor is not an astrologer? Only a fool would drive their car and yet say that they're still somehow riding a horse.

    You say that 'It doesn't matter what you call it, the forecast results are what are sought'. True, but your silly argument is that if science puts up a weather satellite to make forecasts, you want to insist that the satellite is still using astrology. Remember that you claim that 'I use it [astrology] every day as does every other person in the world that I know of', so this must include the scientists and engineers controlling the weather satellite. They would, I think, be surprised to learn that they have astrology to thank for their success.

    You (again) erroneously insist that because we 'have a hatred of anything that departs from mainstream then you will find astrology, alternative medicine, alternative religion, alternative customs and beliefs (if they appear "supernatural") all objectionable. Why? Because they are different and less well understood, and lack of understanding brings fear'.

    It's not about fear of the unknown turning into hatred Ken, it's about education evoking the need to expose charlatans like yourself. As I've explained previously Ken, I'm an atheist, which certainly 'departs from mainstream', so if your argument made sense then I must have a hatred of atheism and find it objectionable? According to your logic I should be quaking in fear of atheism, so why do I support something that isn't mainstream Ken? The reality is that I hold many views that depart from mainstream, for example I hate rugby, racing and beer, all mainstream obsessions for most Kiwis. I don't have a love affair with Facebook or Twitter, I don't check my horoscope in the paper, I don't watch reality TV shows and I don't like Bluff oysters, all mainstream things. I don't challenge a viewpoint based simply on how many people support it, on whether it is mainstream or not. I accept viewpoints based on reason and evidence, not on faith or primitive superstition as you do. And for your elucidation Ken, there is really no such thing as 'alternative medicine'. If a treatment works then it's simply medicine, if it doesn't then it nonsense. To say that I embrace the mainstream and object to 'alternative religion' falsely implies that I support mainstream religion, which you know all too well is utterly untrue. And proving you wrong yet again, I do often shun the mainstream and support some 'alternative customs', for example, rather than politely saying nothing, when I see people supporting astrology I openly question their intelligence.

    Next you raise your bogus earthquake predictions, and claim that 'It is well known that the methods I employ successfully warned of Christchurch's major earthquakes'. To back up this claim you link to an obscure little blog that is unsure what to think, and acknowledges that 'there's plenty of opinion on the internet [that] his ramblings have no basis beyond the minds of the mad' and that 'TV3 has not found a single scientist, geologist or seismologist who believes Ken Ring'. Is that really the only support you can find Ken? You then say that 'It is not my method exclusively — Hindus have been able to use this method to predict earthquakes for 5000 years'. That's right Ken, I had forgotten how they were the only ones that predicted the quake that caused the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and saved thousands of lives. Just like you saved all those lives in Christchurch. You did get a medal for that right?

    I see that you now write that farmers can use your astrological forecasts 'with some certainty'. The phrase 'with some certainty' implies better than average accuracy, so what happened to your previous assertion that ''My business is only a bunch of opinions as I have wearily repeated. There is no claim on accuracy, proof or anything other than that I have opinions'. How does, 'There is no claim on accuracy' mesh with your forecasts that you now claim are cast 'with some certainty'? Will we hear no more talk of mere 'opinions'?

    Near the end you allege that we challenge your prediction business simply because we do 'not understand it'. I suspect your real concern is that we understand it all too well. And would like others to understand it too.

    Finally you implore that 'perhaps a little honest investigation into science's origins would not go too amiss here'. OK Ken, we know that you're no good at research of any description, so we'll explain it to, and perhaps help dispel your delusion that astrology is the Adam and Eve of science.

    We've already acknowledged that elements of the likes of alchemy and magic, and yes, even astrology, eventually helped create what we call modern science. We don't deny that one and two thousand years ago some people were quite taken by astrology, and thought it better than democracy and more useful than good hygiene. But that was then, this is now. And unfortunately when modern humans talk of weather and GPS satellites, supercomputers, MRI scanners and rovers on Mars, you Ken want to continually interject and say, Ah yes, but we have astrologers' to thank for all those things! Why, just because they came before scientists? Why stop there Ken? If that logic were true, I could then ask, but who came before astrologers, who gave rise to them, who gave them the first ideas? Well... uh... that would probably be the village shaman or witch doctor. And before them? Well... I guess we eventually get back to the inquisitive troglodyte, that is, a curious caveman (or woman). So there you have it, the true beginnings of the origin of science. Not an astrologer, not even a witch, but a caveman. If we're going to be as loose in our definition of science as you are Ken, then the first scientist was a caveman. And as regards my base caveman instinct, to feed, socialise, forage and seek sex, to use your words Ken, 'I use it every day as does every other person in the world that I know of'.

    And Ken, while we have you, is there any truth to the rumour that this is your next book project:

    Astrology
  3. Comment by Mikaere, 20 Mar, 2015

    Hi John. Using the simplest terms, science could be seen as the search to 'know why' and technology to 'know how'. Often the two work together in the quest to extend human knowledge and capabilities but it is only relatively recently that the 'know why' has become credible in many fields. True science seeks what is not correct — falsifiability — as much as what is. It is not static and is more than willing to dismiss what is proven to be wrong.

    In the past, explanations for phenomena were often fanciful. As you noted, magic and superstition ruled and led to epistemological cul-de-sacs. Alchemy and astrology would be examples of this.

    Technological practice and development varied from the stunningly successful — aqueducts, lateen sail — to the woefully ineffective or inhuman — bloodletting, mercury inunctions for venereal disease.

    Breakthrough for technology often resulted from trial and error, especially when the science was incomplete or erroneous. An exception would be the solution to the problem of determining longitude accurately. (This is alluded to in your mention of Captain Cook). Knowing longitude was so crucial to safe navigation that a large sum was offered to the successful inventor. Harrison solved the problem with good science and brilliant technological practice but there were contemporaries who delved into the bizarre, clinging to inaccurate historical beliefs and faulty ideas of causality.

    It cannot be assumed that if a belief or practice is ancient, it must be true. Age doesn't automatically confer validity. There is nothing inherently better about being old. The science of today bears little resemblance to the science of say, 1000 years ago. It is interesting to investigate but to use its knowledge-base to drive contemporary practice makes no sense.

    Modern technologists and scientists do stand on the 'shoulders of giants' but these people were the ones who shook off the magic and mysticism of the past and helped to develop a methodology where irrelevancies and falsehoods could be separated from the provable.

    Superstitious (belief in false causality) practice is not science.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 20 Mar, 2015

    I'm sorry Mikaere, although I like it, we're going to have to give you a fail on that answer, since it's not the one Ring was looking for. You only mentioned astrology once, and not in a positive light. Please try again. Let me start you off: 'We have astrologers to thank for science because... ', and including a cat reference wouldn't hurt either.

  5. Comment by Doug, 20 Mar, 2015

    Well done — you got Ken to respond. He can't help himself. And he shows, once again, that his powers to think, let alone think logically, are seriously compromised. He does not seem to grasp that if he makes a claim about something one day, and then makes the opposite claim another day, then he has contradicted himself, and this means that he should not be taken seriously except as an idiot.

    He also has adopted tactic of defining words to mean what he thinks they should mean, not what everyone else thinks that they mean. Recent examples are "science". Ken's definition is completely different from what it really means, so perhaps we should call it "Ken's Science" — which has much the same meaning as "pseudoscience". But we have to be careful, because his definitions change with time too. Another recent example was his definition of "drought" — it is not the same as NIWAs, for example, which is based on days of no rain and soil moisture deficits — you know, things that can be measured. His definition is "No one knows what a drought is because it changes according to opinion". Science is so powerful because it is so useful. Ken's definition is useless. That's another reason that no-one should take much notice of him, except as an example of how people are easily gulled by lots of words, no matter how silly they are.

    Like you, I cannot comprehend how Ken can misread clear english.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 20 Mar, 2015

    Hey Doug. Thanks for that, but why Ring came out of hiding and responded this time is beyond me. He neglected to defend most of what he wrote, and as you say, he failed to comprehend those bits that he did comment on.

    I don't know what to think about Ring continually redefining words to suit his purpose. Of course it's stupid and only stupid people fall for it, but does Ring truly believe in his new definitions, or does he just do it to confuse and fool his clients? Either way he loses, he's either delusional or a deliberate scammer.

    I like your idea of using Ring as an example to educate others. I've heard that some schools and universities use the example of 'Creation Science' in their science and critical thinking classes to demonstrate to students how pseudoscience differs from real science, so revealing the flaws in 'Ken's Science' as well could really help our youth discriminate between nonsense and science.

    I've just had a vision of Ring adopting Richard Nixon's famous pose, arms outstretched and proclaiming, 'I am not an astrologer'.

  7. Comment by "Zafir", 22 Mar, 2015

    Hi "John"

    I'm inclined to agree with Ken on this point — "It doesn't matter what you call it, the forecast results are what are sought."

    And as your correspondent "Jamie" clearly showed here, coin tossing is the way to go. Unless the moon's gravity is causing the coin to be more accurate than Ken...

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Mar, 2015

    Agreed "Zafir", coin tossing does give better forecast results than Ring's method, but when I really want to know what the weather will be, I retire to a special area in my backyard, make a few preparations and begin with these famous lines:

    'Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.'
  9. Comment by Ken Ring, 22 Mar, 2015

    What? "Out of hiding" Doug? I've never been IN hiding, unlike you and "John" who hide behind nom de plumes. It is both sad and deplorable in a society that values free speech, that there are some hidden and frightened identities like you and "John' who think they know what astrology is better than actual astrologers themselves "John" insists on his own definition based on his reading of articles written by non-astrologers. How hilarious. That's like asking a bunch of witchdoctors what western medicine is.

    I have never known an astrologer to attack a scientist and point out the assumed error of his ways, but some "scientists" and like-minded know-alls here think it is their role to constantly bully astrologers and breathlessly lecture the rest of the world about the supposed evils of this ancient science. It is simply witch-burning Middle Age claptrap.

    Most citizens do not mind variety in the community. It contributes to the tapestry of life to have other cultures, customs and practices in our midst. It is both delightful and charming to hear of alternative beliefs, and is reason to welcome a moderate amount of immigration so we can be healthily immersed in a cultural melting pot full of of novel learning experiences.

    But when the less-studied, unused to multiculturalism, don't fully understand something, they often develop an anxiety about themselves which leads to fear and animosity, usually only some signal of their own uncertainty. Then they become like little children and misbehave, hanging out with other troublemakers, all with the shared mission of wrecking whatever it is that bothers them.

    For this reason we witness cyber-vandals, of which this website is a prime example. Something not properly understood can only be labelled a silly belief by an essentially silly person. Silly because for society to be healthy, everyone's belief must be regarded and respected, and with rights of protection as if it was one's own. It is not up for grabs by another whose felt duty it is to convince the world of some only one true path; usually by sheer coincidence the one that only he thinks he has discovered.

    So I suggest you try if you can, to drop your private war, "John" for you are the principal henchman here. Come out of the shadows away from the safe anonymity of behind your keyboard, and identify yourself by full name as you spout your endless hate speech, before you accuse me of hiding. Accept that there are other people in the world with other beliefs to yours, perfectly valid to them. I bet you don't. We will not know who "John" is anytime soon. You may as well wear a sheet and burn your cross.

    Otherwise for your endeavours to constantly denigrate people like me, my employees and their families and supporters, for no good reason, on this nasty website you will continue to attract negativity towards yourself and shame. It is old redneck world, the world of persecution for daring to be different. Please get out of our way, that is, we who are labelled by you and others like you, alternative thinkers with alternative business models. We mean no one any harm. We may not speak out much nor often, and that is no sign of hiding, nevertheless we deplore bullies like you and all the hate that you/they stand for. I suggest you address your own anger issues.

  10. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Mar, 2015

    OK, you still need to work on your comprehension of the written word Ken. It was me that mentioned my surprise that you had seemingly come out of hiding and responded, not Doug. You need to be more careful who you accuse. You wouldn't want someone to charge you with libel would you? You give the impression of being in hiding since you only frequent places that you view as 'Ring friendly', and as soon as people begin to question your claims you quickly disappear. You're like Eric Cartman from 'South Park', who when things don't go his way quickly says, 'Screw you guys, I'm going home'. For example, you recently made a surprise appearance on an Irish blog, but it wasn't long before you said, 'Okay, that's it. Once the insults start because someone feels he's losing an argument, and criminal accusations start getting thrown, I'm gone'. You have your own website but you've never opened it to comments and discussion from readers — no debate permitted — so the public that is interested in debating your method is forced to use independent Internet forums, such as this one. You've told people that you don't read our website, and yet here you are. Seeing you here is like spotting that timid hermit that almost never comes to town.

    Harping back to a mistaken belief that you've laboured under for years, you say that 'It is both sad and deplorable in a society that values free speech, that there are some hidden and frightened identities like you and "John"''. You're confused Ken. Free speech means that people like me, Doug, and other visitors to our website can freely express opinions without the fear of being censored by others. It is not a condition of free speech that we have to provide our full name, address, a recent photo and a DNA sample. Free speech is not about our personal identities, or yours, it is about the message. We only know your identity because you want the world to know it, it helps sell your product. And you are more than happy to sell your books to anonymous people, to send your newsletters to anonymous people and to promote your wares to anonymous people on the radio and TV. But from people who express opposition you demand full disclosure of their identity. Why this burning desire Ken, what would you do with this information?

    You lament that 'We will not know who "John" is anytime soon. You may as well wear a sheet and burn your cross'. With ongoing racist and white supremacist abuse like this from you Ken, is it any wonder that we don't advertise our address? The last thing I want Ken is a burning cross on my lawn or to see your hooded face peering over my fence. Your unhealthy fixation on people that challenge your claims has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do intimidation. People should feel free to make honest comments about gods or nudity or astrology without the fear that their colleagues will ridicule them or that Ken Ring will start investigating them, as you did us. Almost every week some expert tells us that we should limit what personal information we reveal on the Internet to stop personal attacks, identity fraud, bullying etc. and yet you want us to reveal everything. I don't think so.

    And frankly, stalking and physical attacks aside, I fail to see how your wanting to know everyone's identity would change things one little bit. Let's say it said 'John Johnson' and not simply 'John' on our website, would that make you happy? Of course not. Expanding the name wouldn't change one single criticism that we've made of your forecasting method. I could still walk past you and you wouldn't recognise me, would you? I suspect that you haven't really thought this through.

    Further proving that your comprehension is woeful Ken, you again claim that '"John" insists on his own definition based on his reading of articles written by non-astrologers. How hilarious. That's like asking a bunch of witchdoctors what western medicine is'. In my original post I clearly provided a brief description of what astrology is as explained by astrologer Kris Brandt Riske, author of 'Llewellyn's Complete Book of Astrology' and 'Astrometeorology: Planetary Power in Weather Forecasting'. In your first reply you acknowledged that I had provided definitions from 'selected astrologers', although you didn't accept them, and in my reply to you I said it was actually one professional astrologer and one professional astronomer. Now you seem to have forgotten all that, claiming that they were all 'non-astrologers'. Why is astrologer Kris Brandt Riske now a 'non-astrologer' Ken? You vehemently claim you are not an astrologer, you refuse to define astrology, and instead insist that we should be guided by 'professional astrologers who know what astrology is actually about because they have studied it'.

    And yet when we quote a 'professional astrologer', you call her a 'non-astrologer', seemingly because she says that what you do is indeed astrology. So Ken, please link to the 'professional astrologers' who confirm that what you're doing has nothing to do with astrology. But until you prove otherwise, we have little choice but to accept that you are using astrology to forecast the weather. And how hypocritical of you to besmirch witchdoctors with your put down: 'That's like asking a bunch of witchdoctors what western medicine is'. You accused us of hatred by finding 'alternative medicine, alternative religion, alternative customs and beliefs (if they appear "supernatural") all objectionable', and yet here you are poking fun at 'a bunch of witchdoctors'. Why can you belittle their credibility but not us?

    You say Ken that you 'have never known an astrologer to attack a scientist and point out the assumed error of his ways'. But since you're claiming not to be doing astrology, how many astrologers do you actually know Ken? And really, saying no astrologers challenge scientific views is as silly as saying no Christians challenge scientific views. You need to read more, and not from your astrology and alternative beliefs' library. And did a little truth slip out Ken when you said that it's not our 'role to constantly bully astrologers'? Is that you subconsciously admitting you are an astrologer? And yes we all agree that it is 'simply witch-burning Middle Age claptrap', but you still keep trying to sell it!

    And of course true to form, you offer yet another diatribe, arguing that anyone that disagrees with that primitive superstition that is astrology is doing so because — obviously — we have racist and white supremacist views! I've already explained Ken (geez... it's like talking to a child) that I have no problem with alternative beliefs per se, and hold many myself. What I have a problem with is idiots trying to feed me bullshit. And I love variety, expose an astrologer one day, a god believer the next and a psychic the next. You say you have employees Ken, you should really get them to help you with your arguments. I don't care that no one else would give them work, their input couldn't make your arguments any worse. And I mean really, to argue that I don't 'welcome a moderate amount of immigration' is just ridiculous. As a country we do limit the number of refugees and immigrants, but are you suggesting that we have a quota on how many astrologers we let in? And also, concerning the silly beliefs that we criticise, belief in gods, psychics, UFOs and alternative healing etc, by far the greatest number of people that believe in this nonsense are not recent immigrants, they are New Zealanders. Like you. Your silly mention of immigration and multiculturalism is irrelevant and pathetic in the extreme.

    And Ken, if you're being truthful when you say that 'It is both delightful and charming to hear of alternative beliefs', why aren't you delighted and charmed when you hear of our alternative beliefs, or when you hear of the alternative beliefs of those who see climate change as a real threat? It's all so one-sided with you isn't Ken, you're allowed your opinions and unfettered free speech to criticise views you disagree with, but these freedoms don't extend to your critics it seems. So is it actually you that is 'less-studied' and is your anxiety, fear and animosity due to you not fully understanding our viewpoint? I suspect so.

    And perhaps you're right, I 'don't fully understand' astrology, but then neither does the scientific community evidently, and I'd rather side with them, at least until you finally decide to release your data and prove us all wrong. And so we wait...

    I agree — sort of — that 'Something not properly understood can only be labelled a silly belief by an essentially silly person'. But the flaw in your argument is the false assumption that we don't properly understand those beliefs that we label silly. We, as you apparently believe, don't look at belief in astrology or gods or homeopathy and say, well, I don't really understand those things at all, so they must be silly. Just the opposite, we look at these things and come to a good understanding of how believers claim that they work, and then decide based on this understanding that they are silly beliefs. And we've yet to have a believer in astrology, gods or homeopathy explain why their belief makes sense. Like you Ken, they usually know little about the subject — I am not an astrologer, I haven't studied it! — and are at a loss to explain why no one has demonstrated that their silly belief is actually true.

    You argue Ken that 'for society to be healthy, everyone's belief must be regarded and respected, and with rights of protection as if it was one's own'. Then why don't you regard and respect our beliefs Ken, and protect them as if they were your own? Again Ken, you're a hypocrite, demanding that everyone accepts your criticism of corrupt governments, universities, scientists and meteorologists out to ruin your business and promoters of climate change out to ruin the world, but it seems you are the only one permitted to find fault in the claims of others. And furthermore, while everyone has a right to their own beliefs, I don't believe the beliefs of others must be respected and protected. Do you Ken respect the beliefs and actions of groups such as Islamic State (or ISIS) and Boko Haram? How healthy is the society where they operate Ken? Do you respect the right of religious fundamentalists to withhold lifesaving medical treatment from their children Ken? How healthy is their society when a child dies unnecessarily? Are you really going to defend Boko Haram Ken, arguing that their 'belief must be regarded and respected'? When it comes to speaking out against the beliefs of Islamists Ken, are you going say, 'So I suggest you try if you can, to drop your private war'. Or are you happy that we criticise Islamists Ken, and it's just you that we should ignore?

    You wonder whether we 'Accept that there are other people in the world with other beliefs to yours, perfectly valid to them. I bet you don't'. Are you serious? The stupid comments that you make never cease to surprise me! Of course we accept that others have different beliefs that they think are valid. We've just mentioned Islamic State, Boko Haram and other religious fundamentalists, and then we have you of course. We have no problem with people holding different beliefs as long as those beliefs don't harm others. And we don't just mean physical harm. There's also financial harm, such as selling someone a book of weather horoscopes, as well as emotional harm and intellectual harm. Intellectual harm would be telling people the world is only 6,000 years old or that astrology works.

    You just don't get it do you Ken, when you claim that we 'constantly denigrate people like me, my employees and their families and supporters, for no good reason... '. We are not attacking you per se, we are debunking your claims that astrology can be used to reliably forecast the weather, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Oh, and your silly alternative history claims such as your belief that modern humans lived with dinosaurs and Maori were brought to NZ as slaves. As for your 'employees and their families and supporters', we have never denigrated them, beyond perhaps a subtle implication that anyone who believes your claims is a tad gullible. But they can be forgiven, since they need the work evidently, and they probably only hear your side of the debate.

    As for saying that we challenge your claims 'for no good reason'... I mean... haven't you been paying attention? Put simply Ken, the good reason is that there is no evidence whatsoever that astrology can predict anything. That's reason enough to dismiss it as nonsense. Want more? There are good reasons to show that astrology is based on superstition and a primitive ignorance of how the universe worked. You could of course prove us and the world wrong by producing evidence that astrology does work, but you refuse and continue to remain focused on sales. You won't even define astrology, you merely deny the definitions that scholars, astronomers and even astrologers offer. What are you hiding Ken? Why won't you front with a well-supported definition and the evidence that after years of research you must have collected by now? Why are you in no hurry to silence your critics with evidence but very much so with threats and intimidation?

    As for your delusion that we are against 'alternative thinkers with alternative business models', you are, yet again, quite wrong. We love alternative thinkers, such as Epicurus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein, just to name a few from science, but what you fail to grasp is that it's far more that just thinking of alternative ideas, you must then go on to prove those ideas correct. It's very easy to have alternative ideas — I think gremlins took my keys — it's not so easy to have ones that reveal something real about the universe. Priests, witches, alchemists and astrologers all came up with alternative ideas, but their problem was that none could prove their ideas were valid. You are one of these alternative thinkers Ken that has settled on an idea — astrology works — but have refused to take the next crucial step, prove that it works. Until you do you'll just be another alternative thinker (or eccentric or nutter or charlatan) working away in his kitchen.

    As for your talk of 'alternative business models', you employ a publisher and have a simple product that you sell in bookstores and online and that you advertise on TV and radio. It is a standard business model, there is nothing alternative about. Your product is essentially no different than horoscope books, diet books or get-rich-quick books. Peddling crap is not an 'alternative business model', it's simply peddling crap.

    You really need to study some history Ken. Your beloved alternative thinkers that have since become rightly famous for their ideas all had their critics and detractors. The difference between them and you is that they strived valiantly to win them over, to show their critics and the world that their alternative views actually reflected reality, whereas you just want us to buy your horoscopes. Epicurus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein weren't pushing 'alternative business models', they were finding evidence and using cogent arguments to convince the scientific world that their alternative ideas had real merit. It was their ideas that mattered to them, and each challenge from an opponent wasn't simply dismissed as 'endless hate speech', but was instead met with better evidence and better arguments. They didn't hide behind their employees' families like a terrified child hiding behind his mummy's dress, they fought for their beliefs, not for their profit margins.

    It's time to stand up and be counted Ken. You could start by providing that definition of astrology from professional astrologers. But in the end the thing that you absolutely need to provide is real evidence that astrology can reliably forecast the weather, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. And no, book sale numbers from your publisher is not evidence, nor is a heartfelt testimonial from one of your anonymous farmer friends.

  11. Comment by Miles, 23 Mar, 2015

    Hi John. You did well to get Ring to contribute to Silly Beliefs. I take exception to his "No, for the zillionth time, I am not an astrologer", though, because there is a site 'weathersage.com' which used to have a page promoting (and written by) Ring.

    Kenny hasn't learned yet that the interweb never forgets. I have attached a screenshot of Ken's page on that site.

    His claim that he is not an astrologer is just silly.

  12. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Mar, 2015

    Yes I remember that page Miles, and you're right, one of Kenny's downfalls is that he fails to remember that there are good records of what he has claimed in the past, and they continually, and embarrassingly for him, show up his deceptions.

  13. Comment by Don, 25 Mar, 2015

    I give you — not Bugs Bunny reading the news, but — The News Bunny from L!VE TV in the 1990's. :-) News Bunny

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_Bunny

  14. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Mar, 2015

    Nice one Don. I read on the wiki page that,

    'During news bulletins an extra dressed as a giant rabbit would stand behind the news presenter, and mime actions related to the news. For example, good news would be greeted with an enthusiastic thumbs up, while during bad news the bunny would hang his head and look sad.'
    Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction, although I doubt if Ken Ring's TV appearances could benefit from a bunny. The bunny would just continually express a look of shock and surprise — Say what? You're pushing astrology?
  15. Comment by Alison, 02 Apr, 2015

    "And yet NZ is historically renowned for coming up with alternative technologies and new directions in science. We had Richard Pearce, Lord Rutherford, Dr Gillies, Edmund Hillary, Linus Pauling, and many many others, all creating new pathways, after the "John"s of the day told them it couldn't be done."
    It would be news to Sir Ed that he was a scientist, & while we might want to claim Pauling as our own he was in fact an American. Fact-checking is your friend, Ken.

    It would also be interesting to see the evidence that Hillary was told 'it couldn't be done' when it came to climbing Everest or driving to the South Pole. After all, in both cases he was part of a team of people with the shared goal of doing exactly those things.

  16. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Apr, 2015

    Fact-checking isn't Ken's friend, Alison. Because of a falling out and a court order it must now stay 100 metres from Ken at all times. And the reality is that because of the arguments he pushes, if Ring were to check his 'facts' his arguments would collapse.

    And you make a good point that people weren't telling the likes of Hillary that what they were attempting couldn't be done. Hillary and Tenzing Norgay only got to the top of Everest first because two other men from their team failed two days before, and yet the expedition didn't just give up. And are we to believe Tenzing Norgay went along with Hillary just to continually remind him that it couldn't be done?

  17. Comment by Mira, 12 Oct, 2015

    I am in the process of reading this article - I will be here a while - right.
    I do not read stars, I do not go to psychics.
    Only to say that in 2001, & because the Mag was right in front of me, Vogue Magazine, Jonathan Cainer's readings for that whole year were so accurate, not only for me, but also for my eldest daughter. So much so that I indeed, I was inspired to do what I would never have done, I rang the Tarot line & 8 times - I am not a money waster - but / &, out of a sense of curiosity & fun & it was very interesting. It costs money & I was billed accordingly & paid the bill, shortly thereafter, the amount of the exact Tarot calls ONLY was refunded to me by Telstra ... (?)
    Weird or What - somethhing definitely went bump, for Telstra to give a customer a refund.

  18. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Oct, 2015

    Unfortunately Mira, the likely reality is that you read the completely wrong horoscope in the 2001 Vogue Magazine, and so you were reading someone else's reading, not yours. So it was only your imagination that made you think it accurately described your year, or your daughter's. I'm sure you will have read the wrong horoscope because the star signs that modern astrologers use — Aries, Gemini etc — were invented thousands of years ago, but the constellations have all moved since then, but the modern astrologers haven't bothered to keep pace with the real changes in the sky. So whatever star sign you think you are, you're mistaken. Modern astrologers haven't bothered updating since it doesn't really matter what star sign they say you were born under, none of them work!

    As for Telstra, there is probably a perfectly logical reason why you got a refund, you shouldn't immediately jump to a spooky one. Perhaps Telstra discovered that the Tarot line was using misleading advertising or something, so refunded everyone that called that line rather than face legal charges, or perhaps they discovered a glitch in their call timing software, and refunded all calls rather than have someone challenge their call charges. With all the problems in the world, I think it unlikely that the universe would ignore them all but go out of its way to save you some money on your fortune telling.

Agnostics and their unholy truce
Believers in god are usually quite keen that the rest of us believe as well, some murderously so, and I understand their motivation and conviction, and atheists like me are equally keen that that believers take off the blinkers and realise that what's written in their holy books is no more factual than what's written in the 'Harry Potter' books. But milling around indecisively, wavering blindly between the clear lines of believers and non-believers is a third group, a group that argues, poorly I might add, that no one can ever say whether gods exist or not. They call themselves agnostics.

And the thing that seemingly concerns them most as a group is that both believers and non-believers acknowledge that their complete inability to decide whether gods likely exist or not is real, and that their avowed ignorance about the nature of gods and the fence-sitting that it causes must be respected.

I just don't understand why agnostics want to be labelled as indecisive and uninformed over the topic of whether supernatural beings exist or not, although normally, without justification, they narrow these supernatural beings down to just a favourite god. If they can't be bothered to learn enough about the existence of gods to form an opinion either way, why are they so concerned that the public still correctly labels them as being apathetic, ill-informed and indecisive? Why do they care about the label when they clearly don't care about the debate itself? Why won't they make a decision and take a stance? They clearly think it's important to be recognised as a separate group, and they apparently don't want to offend either side by saying they're wrong, or risk making a hasty decision and siding with the wrong group. To me they seem to place more importance on remaining agnostic than risk taking an informed stance. I've even heard some agnostics say that they wouldn't want to be seen as intolerant or disrespectful by dismissing someone's belief, so better to stay neural, but tolerance and respect has to do with matters of values, not matters of fact. Over the years I've encountered many people that have argued passionately for things that they believed in, from feminism and politics to climate change and nudity on beaches. But never have I struck people that argue so passionately that we should all refrain from adopting a belief and fighting for a cause, as agnostics do with the god belief, that ignorance is good.

And yes, I know there will be people that say they've read widely on religion, science, philosophy, history etc and still call themselves agnostics. But seriously, this might have been true were it the 7th century BCE, but in the 21st century I find it difficult to accept that a broad grasp of the available knowledge wouldn't see an intelligent adult being swayed towards atheism, and an equal lack of education swaying one towards belief in gods. In science there are still mysteries and many matters where outcomes are uncertain, and theories will come and go, but is anyone still seriously arguing that we're still not sure whether a naked Adam and Eve were fooled into eating an apple by a talking snake or that Noah waited patiently while a pair of flightless kiwis walked and swam all the way from NZ to the Middle East for a year long cruise on his boat? Who but silly Creationists are arguing that an unimaginably complex god is far more likely to pop into existence or to have existed forever than is a very small ball of energy? If any explanation is needed or even possible, surely it's much easier to explain some simple energy than it is to explain an all-powerful god with a creepy interest in our genitals? I can only see one being indecisive when one is torn between the apparent robust evidence behind the scientific worldview and the attractiveness of a loving god and/or the fear of a judgmental god. Does your typical agnostic think that it appears as thought there are no gods, but wouldn't it be nice (or scary) if there were? Maybe they'd better not offend them just in case? Being an agnostic means they don't have the annoying duties of a believer, like going to church every Sunday, and unlike atheists they don't deny god outright, thus leaving the door open to salvation if it's all real. It's all win win. (Well, not really.)

As we noted in our article, agnosticism simply means that we can't prove whether God exists or not. It does not say whether we may have a belief that God exists or not, merely that we can not prove this belief absolutely. So we can still form opinions on whether we think that it is likely that God exists. Some also claim that agnosticism also states that we can have no 'knowledge' whatsoever of God. This new narrow claim is actually self-defeating. Saying that we can't have knowledge of the supernatural because it works differently to the natural world means we already have some knowledge of the supernatural, that is, that it works differently. They also base their argument on the fact that God is a supernatural being, which is more knowledge about God, and that he lives in the supernatural, yet more knowledge. Arguing as some do that God hides from us because he works in mysterious ways is yet more knowledge, that he is hiding and his ways are mysterious. All this clearly shows that we can have knowledge of God and the supernatural so the 'no knowledge' definition fails. The very nature of the supernatural may certainly limit our knowledge of it, but it doesn't stop us thinking about it.

To me agnosticism is not the honest and informed view that supernatural beings, because of their very nature, can't be definitively nailed down, since one doesn't come across people that are unwilling to take a stance on the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, gremlins, fairies at the bottom of their garden or even gods such as Thor and Apollo. They don't argue that they must not be forced to either believe or disbelieve, insisting instead that they must be allowed to be unsure. No, agnostics are generally only ever agnostic about a single supernatural being, their local god, and no others. Their arguments that effortlessly slice through the gods of the ancient Greeks and Aztec somehow fail when confronting the equally elusive god of their parents. They confidently claim that Zeus and Quetzalcoatl never existed, but then stumble and start mumbling when asked about God, 'Well, who knows... can anyone really say one way or another?'

Let's keep it simple. You either believe in gods or you don't. This nonsense of whether you can prove categorically that gods exist or not is a distraction. I can't prove I'm not dreaming right now, or that dinosaur fossils weren't planted by god for us to find. Everyone lives their life by what they believe is likely true, not what they can prove is true. I have the confidence, based on reason and evidence, to openly say that gods, along with fairies and aliens called Klingons, don't exist.

Everyone would view a normal adult that refused to take a stance on whether evil trolls existed or not as being very weak-minded, especially if they added that they reached this indecision based on no real research. They had heard of evil trolls, but because they knew so little about them they thought the best option was to withhold judgement, even though they readily deny the existence of similar beings such as elves, pixies and gremlins. Why the inconsistency? If they think that the little they know is sufficient to dismiss elves and pixies, why doesn't this extend to trolls? Why do trolls occupy a special spot in their worldview?

It's the same with gods. Agnostics think that the little they know is sufficient to dismiss gods such as Thor and Apollo, so why doesn't this also extend to gods such as Jehovah and Allah? It can't be that agnostics know more about Thor and Apollo than they do about Jehovah and Allah, because let's remember that agnosticism is all about an embarrassing lack of knowledge and a lack of real proof. Remember that no experiment has ever been conducted that proved that Zeus didn't exist but was inconclusive about Jehovah, thus removing all doubt about Zeus but not Jehovah. Agnosticism is about what we can't prove and can never know. Zeus and Jehovah are both gods, it's all or nothing. If you want the possibility of Jehovah then Zeus must come along for the ride as well.

I agree that agnostics could honestly admit that they simply don't know enough to debate the topic, just as I could admit ignorance over whether controlled nuclear fusion will ever be achieved, and nor do I really care, but having admitted ignorance and apathy, I shouldn't then argue that people who have studied the topic in depth are wrong to take a stance one way or the other. Just because I'm ignorant and apathetic, it doesn't mean that those studying the topic should take my lead and become indecisive too. Just the opposite, since my lack of knowledge makes me the least qualified person to hold an opinion, or sway the opinions of others. I can admit to being agnostic, of not knowing, but I can't argue that those who have taken the time to study the topic should also adopt my stance of not knowing, or caring. There are in fact many debates that I would plead to be agnostic over, where I don't honestly know which side has the best argument, from arguments about sports to ones about prison reforms, but I readily admit that my not knowing which side to take is down to ignorance on my part, I simply haven't bothered to understand the debate. But those wanting to be identified as being agnostic about god generally imply that they are well informed on the debate, and yet their knowledge leaves their wallowing, unlike both believers and non-believers who let it guide them to a decision, that right or wrong, they are willing to stand behind.

I wish an agnostic would explain to me why they think the legitimate stance is to be unsure about their favourite god — [insert name here] — and then explain why they're not unsure about Zeus.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Feb, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Norman, 25 Feb, 2015

    Good read John. As usual.

  2. Comment by Mike, 25 Jan, 2015

    "But milling around indecisively, wavering blindly.." I cant' agree with this sorry. I was a long time agnostic and I wasn't indecisive at all — I was sure that no-one could really know whether god exists or not. Agnostic is not "in the middle" of atheist vs religion — it is a considered opinion in its own right. As an atheist I reject your apparent lambasting of agnostics — they are entitled to their opinion, and (IMO) you are wrong to say otherwise.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Jan, 2015

    Hi Mike. I'm not saying agnostics are not entitled to their opinion, I'm saying I don't understand their opinion. I'm asking how they can be agnostic about god A but not about gods X, Y and Z, when their reasons for dismissing gods X, Y and Z should logically dismiss god A as well. I want to know why the inconsistency exists, and if agnostics can't or won't admit that there is an inconsistency, or explain why there is no inconsistency at all, then I will continue to say that I don't understand the agnostic stance.

    Of course people can be agnostics, Muslims or Scientologists, I can't stop them from holding their opinions, nor would I want to as long as their opinions don't cause them to harm others. But if I think there are obvious flaws in their opinions, then I'll expose those flaws, and just hope that unlike followers of Islamic State, they won't get physical.

    I view agnostics as being indecisive in the sense that they won't choose between one of only two options: Do they believe gods exist or not? Yes or no? Of course agnostics would argue that they have indeed made a choice, and thus aren't indecisive, and their choice is not to make a choice at this time. Remember that my argument is that since agnostics don't believe in gods then they are technically atheists. They may, as you were, be absolutely sure that 'no-one could really know whether god exists or not', but they are still atheists. To me it seems that many agnostics fear the atheist label, believing in the Christian-driven notion that atheists are fools and evil, as per the Bible. Thus, just like those that tried to replace the 'Atheist' label with 'Bright', they call themselves agnostic, anything but atheist.

    But as I said, worrying about a label is a distraction. I get that so-called agnostics argue that 'no-one could really know whether god exists or not', but why did you say 'god' — singular (and we all know which god you're talking about) — why don't agnostics ever argue that we equally can't know whether other gods exist as well? Like the Egyptian god Anubis, usually depicted with a human body and the head of a jackal?

    Perhaps some of my comments were rather flippant, but I'd like to goad agnostics into not just defining themselves as agnostics, but to help me understand why they happily talk about god but not about gods.

  4. Comment by David, 26 Feb, 2015

    John, as usual, I don't dispute your logic. I just think you have misunderstood the motivation. In my experience, agnostics are atheists who chose to express their belief in a less threatening way. That may have more to do with the way the term 'atheist' is often vilified than the strength of the belief. So while you are happy to wear the badge and front the argument, other non-believers basically say — I don't believe there are gods or tooth fairies, but if you want to, I'm not going to argue with you.

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 27 Feb, 2015

    Ah yes David, but that's my point, well two points, that agnostics are usually just closet atheists, and that while they often can't be bothered to argue with believers, they are often more than willing to argue with atheists to avoid coming out.

  6. Comment by Mike, 27 Feb, 2015

    John you are assuming that agnostic has a very specific meaning about knowledge of god — that it is only about the monotheistic judeo-christian-islamic god. But who says that is true? What you have done is set up your own definition as a strawman. As far as I know agnostics don't necessarily limit themselves to that particular mythology — I certainly never did for the couple of decades when I considered myself agnostic. And if they do, I suspect it is because they consider all the "lesser" and "imperfect" "gods" as not being worth worrying about at all, and the only question is whether a "perfect" and omnipotent god can be known.

    Would a god that is not perfect and omnipotent (a la YWHW, etc) be a god in the first place? Why would you bother worrying whether such a "god" could be known? If such a god has "limits" why couldn't you "know" that it does or does not exist?

    Your inadequate understanding does not make agnosticism "indecisive" or "blind" — it makes your understanding inadequate.

  7. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 27 Feb, 2015

    Hi Mike, thanks for replying. You say that I assume agnosticism is talking 'only about the monotheistic judeo-christian-islamic god. But who says that is true?'

    Do I make that assumption? Well... yes and no. OK, first, when you quiz agnostics their language almost always reveals that it is indeed the Abrahamic god found in the Torah, Bible and Koran that they are thinking of, whether they realise it or not. Even you Mike go on to suggest that only a 'perfect and omnipotent' god is worthy of being called god. And yet to my knowledge a 'perfect and omnipotent' god only exists in the context of the Bible. None of thousands of other religions ever talk of a 'perfect and omnipotent' god. Some people shun the Bible and talk simply of an unknown deist god, but since the world is clearly not perfect and since the qualities of this god are completely unknown, there is no holy book describing him, her or it, then clearly the description 'perfect and omnipotent' can't apply to this god.

    Most agnostics that I've met knew next to nothing about Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, let alone the nature of gods in the religions of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Maya, just to name a few well known ones from a list of thousands. They all talked of god this and god that, never mentioning gods plural or saying that the Babylonian religion might be the true one, we can never know. Their talk revolved around a god that was all or some of the following, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, present everywhere simultaneously, all-loving, perfect; all qualities attributed to the Abrahamic god, and only the Abrahamic god. Most people, believers, atheists and agnostics alike, often unconsciously limit themselves to speaking as if there is only one god and we all know what his qualities are and what he has supposedly done, created the universe, flooded the world, resurrected the dead, that sort of thing. If someone asks if I believe in god, they almost never feel that that they need to explain the question. God is God, there's only one, there's no confusion. Who when asked that question would reply, 'Yes I believe in Zeus'? The response would likely be, 'Oh now you're just being stupid!'

    Of course they muddy the waters by simply calling their god... well... God. It's like calling your dog by the imaginative name of Dog. It would have been so much clearer if the Hebrews had called their god Bruce or Arnold, just as other civilisations had all managed to find out the names of their gods, eg Zeus, Thor, Osiris, Maui and Quetzalcoatl. It would have stopped a lot of confusion. Even Allah is simply Arabic for 'The God', which wouldn't have been at all helpful for Arabs who prior to Islam used to believe in many gods. People can say they believe in a god, as they have for millennia, and in the deep past they would have called that god by name, but now we atheists have to ask what god they are referring to. But others generally assume that they mean the same god that they believe in. The very word monotheism states, as defined by my dictionary, 'that there is only one God', a belief that the majority of the world agrees with. Note that this god is spelt with a capital G, which as any Christian will tell you is the name of their god. There is no suggestion that this one god might be Zeus or Anubis. Even my dictionary definition of agnosticism states that it is 'The belief that there can be no proof either that God exists or that God does not exist'. Again with the clear implication by the use of 'God' rather than 'gods' that we are just interested in the Abrahamic god.

    Regarding the Abrahamic god, you say that 'agnostics don't necessarily limit themselves to that particular mythology', but I've never struck an agnostic that tried to defend a god from any other religion, such as saying that the Roman god Neptune might be the cause of tsunamis, we can't prove he's not. And if as you say, they do consider other mythologies, this use of terms is revealing. The religious would say that religion is made up of true stories and mythology is made up of false stories, so to talk of the Abrahamic god as part of religion and the others as part of mythology would suggest that they're not the same thing at all. But as I say, I haven't come across arguments for agnosticism that say that Neptune might be causing tsunamis, but if agnosticism is truly about all gods then I should. So yes, I do often debate as if both atheist and agnostic are talking about the Abrahamic god, because in reality we usually are. I don't think it's a strawman argument since when I have asked agnostics if they think Neptune might be causing tsunamis, the response is the same as if I had asked them if they believed in Santa Claus.

    And secondly, my comments are not a strawman argument since I'm at pains to break away from just considering the Abrahamic god, that's why I ask how agnostics relate to the millions of other gods that have been proposed, such as Zeus and Anubis. That's why I finished by again asking that I wish an agnostic would explain to me why we shouldn't be so sure that Zeus is not interfering in our world. Agnostics are more than willing to say that the Abrahamic god or perhaps a deist god or gods can't be discounted, but consider it a waste of time to explain why Zeus is a non-starter.

    You appear to argue that to be a god, two essential attributes would be perfection and omnipotence. Supernatural beings without these attributes are apparently 'the "lesser" and "imperfect" "gods"', and are evidently not 'worth worrying about at all'. But if I thought a lesser god was the sort inclined to throw lightning bolts at people that annoyed him, I would be worried and would want to know more.

    My dictionary defines God as follows:

    1. God. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.
    2. A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality.

    The first definition is clearly and unambiguously the definition of the Abrahamic god, that is, God. The second definition describes the gods from every other religion that humans have ever invented, eg Zeus and Anubis.

    You imply that these lesser gods, those of the second definition, are the ones with limits, they're not all-knowing or all-loving and they couldn't have made the entire universe, maybe they just made the fiords in Scandinavia. You argue that these lesser gods could be discovered if they existed, they don't have the absolute power to hide from us. I disagree, while they may be much less powerful than the omnipotent God, they will still be way more powerful than mere humans. The Bible mentions the existence of other lesser gods, Baal for example, but we still haven't been able to 'know' whether Baal is real or not. If a lesser god called Felix with quite pathetic powers existed just beyond the visible horizon of the universe, we would never be able to detect him. We can not dismiss lesser or imperfect gods from our consideration simply because they are less powerful than an omnipotent god. This would be like Christians arguing that even though Satan has been able to battle God to a standstill for thousands of years, since the Bible says he isn't quite as powerful as God (although the impasse would suggest otherwise) then we should have proven his presence by now, and since we haven't we can safely ignore him. You ask Mike why anyone would 'bother worrying whether such a "god" could be known?' Hot pitchforks plodding our nether regions for all eternity, that's why we should be worried!

    I would also ague that it is logically far easier to dismiss 'A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe' than it is to dismiss a 'lesser' god, a being that might only be quite powerful and quite knowledgeable, but not certainly not perfect. For example how could an all-good god have created evil? Impossible. How could a perfect being that is only capable of making perfect creations have made a human body that gets back problems? Impossible. A highly advanced alien with warp drive and cloaking and teleportation technology could easily hide from us or pretend he was a god, how much easier it would be for a real god, even a lesser one.

    But anyway, this claim that lesser gods can be ignored effectively dismisses all the gods such as Zeus and Anubis. That's apparently why agnostics don't need to talk about them. That was easy. Too easy. And since if there is a true god there can only be one, and he must be perfect and omnipotent, all this clearly pushes us back to the Abrahamic god, the very god that you said agnostics aren't fixated on. We've come full circle. We're back to the very assumption the most agnostics are only concerned with their favourite god which just happens to be GOD.

    So again, this is my problem with agnosticism, that it appears to only concern itself with GOD, and its reasons for dismissing all the other gods I find to be wanting.

  8. Comment by Tony, 27 Feb, 2015

    "Knowing" has nothing to do with theism or atheism. Theists don't know gods really exist they merely believe they do. Atheists don't need to know gods don't really exist to reject beliefs that gods really exist. Anything presented without knowledge/evidence can be rejected without knowledge/evidence. If agnostics require knowledge that gods really exist, rather than mere belief that gods really exist, then they are no different than atheists.

  9. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 27 Feb, 2015

    Ahhh... that's deep Tony. And I agree, there is a real difference between knowing something and believing something, but of course that doesn't mean that we should withhold an opinion until we've looked under every rock. I don't know — absolutely, categorically, scientifically 'know' — that Santa doesn't exist, but I certainly have good reasons to believe he doesn't. And until someone comes up with something to shake my belief, that's good enough for me to take a stance.

  10. Comment by Tony, 27 Feb, 2015

    Sure — Given the complete lack of evidence that gods really do exist, the complete lack of reason why gods should really exist, and the complete lack of scientific method by which gods could really exist, then it's perfectly rational and justified to conclude gods really don't exist. It would be irrational and unjustified to reach any other conclusion. The situation would change of course if any credible evidence was ever provided that gods really do, should and could exist. In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath.

    Atheism isn't a product of knowing, it's a product of not knowing (that gods actually exist).

    Theism isn't a product of knowing, it's a product of merely believing (that gods actually exist).

    Agnosticism isn't a product of indecision. It's a product of denial that it's actually atheism (to require knowledge of a god's actual existence, rather than accept mere belief of a gods actual existence, is to be an atheist. Knowledge of a god's non-existence isn't required).

    The question that defines theists and atheists isn't — "CAN you believe gods actually exist?" — It's "DO you believe gods actually exist?" Besides — If you can't, then by default you don't.

  11. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Feb, 2015

    Exactly Tony, clearly our neurons are firing in sync. It's not that we know gods (or fairies and trolls for that matter) don't exist, it's just that based on what we do know about the universe, it's perfectly rational and justifiable to conclude that they don't exist. It's not that atheists are being arrogant in claiming that we KNOW gods don't exist, and can prove it, as the Christian-fuelled definition of atheists would have it, it's just that it doesn't make good sense to waste time believing that gods, fairies and trolls are running around just out of sight.

  12. Comment by Mike, 28 Feb, 2015

    John I fear you do not understand me either — I am not saying that "lesser" gods can be known — I am saying that you do not actually know what agnostics think about them unless you ask every single agnostic.
    There is no more a singe idea of agnosticism than there is of atheism.
    You have decided you will discuss a single idea — and I am saying you are wrong to do that.

  13. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 Feb, 2015

    Hi Mike. You start by saying that you're 'not saying that "lesser" gods can be known', and yet to me it appears as though you did say this. Speaking of 'lesser' gods, you said that 'If such a god has "limits" why couldn't you "know" that it does or does not exist?', which lead me to infer that a 'lesser' god, because of its 'limits', can be known.

    It's true that I can't know what any particular agnostic might think of the idea of 'lesser' gods without asking them, but again this is why I specifically implored an agnostic, any agnostic, to explain to me why they're not unsure about Zeus, a 'lesser' god. If 'lesser' gods can be dismissed, tell me why, if they can't, tell me why. Until agnostics front up and explain why I don't hear them arguing that Zeus and trolls might or might not exist, I must assume that they're being duplicitous.

    If an agnostic argues that Zeus and trolls might or might not exist, we just can't be sure, then I will view them as irrational. Conversely, if an agnostic argues that Zeus and trolls don't exist, but God might, we just can't be sure, then I will view them as cherry-picking what they want to believe, a choice based on emotion and not reason. But as I say, until an agnostic opens up and explains why they argue as they do, I have to try and guess why they argue as they do.

    And I'm afraid I must disagree when you say that 'There is no more a singe idea of agnosticism than there is of atheism'. You're right that questioning different agnostics over whether supernatural beings exist would no doubt reveal different views, from people saying they simply don't know and don't care, people saying that it's impossible to know and people saying that the jury is still out, since the evidence on both sides is still inconclusive. To me the last description best fits true agnosticism, which applies to much more than just gods. The first stance of not caring is merely apathy, and the second is an oxymoron. How can anyone argue that it's impossible to know anything about the supernatural, since that very statement is claiming some knowledge of the supernatural, that it is impenetrable and incomprehensible. How can they know even that if it's impossible to know anything? So 'true' agnostics, those arguing that the evidence on both sides is still inconclusive, have they still got a good argument in the 21st century? Back when Huxley invented the word, maybe, but if such an argument exists today, they are keeping it well hidden.

    The same, unfortunately, can be said of atheism. Questioning different people about what as atheist is will reveal different definitions, from people saying that an atheist is simply someone without a belief in gods (this could include babies and people that have never thought about gods). Some that call themselves atheists have thought briefly about gods (and fairies and trolls) and have quickly decided that they are too silly an idea to believe in or even waste time thinking about. A definition favoured by the religious is that atheists are those that arrogantly claim to know absolutely that gods don't exist and can prove it, and yet other atheists will say that they have considered the evidence for gods, and found it lacking, and have thus gone on to say that they don't believe gods exist. I am an atheist of the first and last types, I am without a belief in gods, as is my cat, but I have gone further and also deny the existence of gods, in that I refuse to believe after serious deliberation.

    My argument would be that regardless of what the man on the street believes, and what the church argues, there is a single definition of atheism. You are an atheist if you are without a belief in God or gods. If someone asks if you believe in God and you don't or can't answer Yes, then you are an atheist. End of story. It's not rocket science. Atheism has nothing to do with whether you know anything about the Bible or science or the philosophical arguments for and against belief in gods, it only involves a simple yes or no question. Like the question, Is that woman pregnant?, or Is that man dead?, the real answer can only be yes or no. (Of course you could respond that you might honestly answer, I don't know, but that answer would be based on nothing but ignorance. A little more thought and investigation will only ever produce yes or no.) Do you believe in God? Yes or no? Yes — you're a believer. No — you're an atheist. (Don't know — think again.)

    Finally Mike, you write, 'You have decided you will discuss a single idea — and I am saying you are wrong to do that'. I'm assuming that you mean my impression that many agnostics appear to suspend judgment about a god written with a capital G while happily dismissing millions of gods written with a lower case g. What's up with that? How can it be justified?

    Of course there are more flaws in agnosticism than just this one, but I feel that this is one of the biggies, a serious handicap that needs explaining if we are to take agnosticism seriously, and as the Chinese saying goes, 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. We have to start somewhere, and if looking at this problem in isolation is misleading, I'd love to know why. If to understand agnosticism I'm expected to 'ask every single agnostic' what they think and if I'm not to confine myself to discussing a single idea, I feel as though I've been presented with an impossible task.

  14. Comment by Tony, 28 Feb, 2015

    I can't and don't speak for others but I'm pretty sure that the "Silly Beliefs Team" (as I am) are using the term "agnostic" in the popular sense of the term in which, an "agnostic" is someone that neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of gods. To these people agnosticism is a third, alternative position that lies between theism and atheism. They aren't "agnostic theists" or "agnostic atheists" so these terms aren't relevant to the debate.

  15. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Mar, 2015

    Yes Tony, we are 'using the term "agnostic" in the popular sense', as you explain it, since this best describes the agnostic one meets at work and at social occasions. Most people will argue that there are three distinct options regarding belief in gods, hence the existence of three labels: theist (or believer), atheist and agnostic.

    I still think that many agnostics use their label as a distraction, like a committee spending all their time discussing what their group should be called, and neglecting the real reason for their formation. They fight for the right to have the agnostic label stand alongside theist and atheist, but, deliberately or otherwise, never put forward good arguments for the agnostic label in the first place. They spend their time explaining what they're not, ie theist or atheist, but never really explain why the agnostic label makes sense.

    So, to all you agnostics out there, answer me this, when it comes to the existence of gods, what is the justification in the 21st century for us to still be unsure as to what one should believe or not believe, what is the killer argument that shows that the evidence is inconclusive and that we should remain undecided?

    I don't want to be an atheist if the stance is flawed, and I definitely don't want to be an atheist if there's even a remote chance that a demon is presently sharpening pitchforks in preparation for my death. So tell me why you think this demon might, just might, be real? At least real enough for me to ditch the atheist label and pin on an agnostic one.

  16. Comment by Tony, 02 Mar, 2015

    Theist — "Are you an atheist?"

    Agnostic — "No, I'm an agnostic"

    Theist — "Do you believe in God?"

    Agnostic — "No, it's not possible to know if gods exist or not. I'm neither a theist nor an atheist"

    Theist — I asked if you believe in God. Not if you know God exists. Do you believe in God?"

    Agnostic — "Um . . . no."

    Theist — "Then you are an atheist"

    I think the term "agnostic" is pretty redundant as it doesn't describe a position between theism and atheism.

    No theist can truthfully say they have credible evidence of a god or gods actual existence. Therefore all theists are agnostic-theists regardless of whether they know and admit it or not.

    No atheist can truthfully say they have credible evidence of a god or gods actual non-existence. Therefore all atheists are agnostic-atheists regardless of whether they know and admit it or not.

    So what practical purpose does the term "agnostic" serve?

  17. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Mar, 2015

    You ask Tony, 'what practical purpose does the term "agnostic" serve?', so I'm going to be cheeky here and note that Laurence Twaddle wrote in his book, 'Making Sense of English in Religion' that 'Agnosticism is often expressed as an indication of an open mind — but it could equally be interpreted as the last refuge of a lazy mind, unwilling to pursue the arguments to one end or the other'.

    Of course this doesn't apply to all agnostics, but from personal experience it does apply to many that I've met over the years, although maybe I just mix in the wrong circles.

  18. Comment by Mike, 05 Mar, 2015

    John when I asked the questions about lesser gods I was pretty sure it was obvious that I was presenting these as questions that an agnostic might ask — so no, I did not say that was the case at all. Looking back it still seems clear enough to me — so I have to ask whether you really cannot see another perspective, or are you choosing to not see it?

    You don't like agnostics I guess.....and it looks to me as if you want them to admit that they conform to your version of atheism — is that right? If so what makes you any different from any other intolerant believer in anything?

    Can you please try to write a succinct reply.

  19. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 06 Mar, 2015

    Mike, I summed up my post by making a simple request: 'I wish an agnostic would explain to me why they think the legitimate stance is to be unsure about their favourite god — [insert name here] — and then explain why they're not unsure about Zeus'.

    You replied by saying that 'As far as I know agnostics don't necessarily limit themselves to that particular mythology [the monotheistic judeo-christian-islamic god] I certainly never did for the couple of decades when I considered myself agnostic. And if they do, I suspect it is because they consider all the "lesser" and "imperfect" "gods" as not being worth worrying about at all...' I apologise, but with your having been an agnostic, I assumed, incorrectly, that you were calling on your experiences defending agnosticism and discussing it with other agnostics for some 20 years, and that this notion of 'lesser' gods was something that was often used to answer my question. But seemingly it isn't, and now you take me to task for taking your comments seriously.

    And again, I'm not saying I won't tolerant agnostics or that I dislike them, I'm saying I don't understand their stance, and it's frustrating when they won't make the effort to explain their reasoning. Why do people spend an inordinate amount of time defending their right to use the label and yet skirt around explaining the supporting arguments? As an ex-agnostic you are perfectly qualified to reveal how you and your fellow agnostics answered my question, but instead of revealing some insights, you muddied the waters by making up some stuff that imaginary agnostics might ask. Now you seem to be simply arguing that they have a right to their label (and they do), and that at the same time they don't need to explain how they defend their stance. We just need to learn to tolerate our differences!

    If agnostics think their stance is valid, then they need to define what they think agnosticism means, and then explain what reasons and evidence supports it. I'm not concerned with how theists or atheists think an agnostic might defend their stance, I'm interested in how a real agnostic would answer my question. And as I say, I assumed you were revealing some trade secrets.

    I accept that agnostics might be peeved that I'm suggesting that agnosticism is a silly belief, but they need to get past that and explain why it isn't. I didn't give up belief in god because I didn't like my fellow Christians, I gave it up because it didn't make sense. They're still entitled to their perspective, and whatever label they want to hang on it, but it still doesn't make sense. If they want to change my mind, then forget about whatever label they use, and simply show me where I got it wrong. Ditto for agnosticism.

  20. Comment by Zafir, 07 Mar, 2015

    Hi John, thought I'd poke you with a stick for a little fun.

    I am not an Atheist, although most people that know me think I am. I think it very unlikely that there is a God. I would go as far as to say I think it extremely unlikely that the God described in the Bible exists and if he does he is worse than any human that has ever lived. Just read the book of Joshua (not long but very disturbing) and think about what God is telling his people to do.

    I am most definitely not a Theist, but I don't feel comfortable with the Atheist label either.

    Here's the thing, it is remarkably difficult to think critically about a subject once you have decided to take a firm position. How can it be possible to examine a new piece of data without bias if you already have an unshakeable belief in your position?

    So I'm going to take it as a transgression against the noble position of agnosticism when you say —

    "But milling around indecisively, wavering blindly between the clear lines of believers and non-believers is a third group, a group that argues, poorly I might add, that no one can ever say whether gods exist or not. They call themselves agnostics. And the thing that seemingly concerns them most as a group is that both believers and non-believers acknowledge that their complete inability to decide whether gods likely exist or not is real, and that their avowed ignorance about the nature of gods and the fence-sitting that it causes must be respected."
    O.K. I am most definitely not milling around indecisively, it is a clear stance I have taken a decisive position on; Avoid claiming certainty until I am certain. I'm not wavering blindly, actually all the religious beliefs I've looked at from the outside look well, dare I say it... silly. When I was on the inside though, if you could only belief, then you would see.

    I could argue that it is the ones that take a hard stance that are blind.

    The reason that you "don't understand why agnostics want to be labelled as indecisive" could be perhaps we don't want to be labelled as indecisive.

    Many people actually don't know, perhaps because they haven't thought about it very much, perhaps because they don't care, perhaps they say they don't know so they won't upset anyone. Generally I think that is a good thing. It's the ones who don't know that can be reasoned with. I actually try to have zero respect for any belief. Emotional attachment is a sure fire way to skew perception.

    The bit above about transgression and noble is just a bit of fun to wind you up, actually I don't really care that much about the labels. I am just defending the principle of saying, I don't know when we don't know.

    You finished with "I wish an agnostic would explain to me why they think the legitimate stance is to be unsure about their favourite god — [insert name here] — and then explain why they're not unsure about Zeus."

    Your reasoning about Zeus and the tooth-fairy is reasonably sound, except it is not in context.

    So to answer your wish; It is the emotional blackmail of Christian teachings and years of infecting defenceless children's minds on rubbish and cultural pressure's that make some agnostics not want to categorically dismiss the God of their tribe.

    But that is not this agnostic's stance. To reiterate one last time, I'm not arguing that ignorance is good; I'm say a position of absolute certainty is mostly bad.

  21. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 07 Mar, 2015

    Hi Zafir. As long as the stick isn't too pointy, then poke away.

    You start by saying that 'I am most definitely not a Theist, but I don't feel comfortable with the Atheist label either'. Agreed, your comments mean you're certainly not a theist, and while you're rather vague on gods that aren't God, I'm going to assume you also think that it's at least unlikely that there are other gods. So, at the risk of belabouring the point, you may not feel comfortable with the atheist label, just as 'gays' apparently aren't comfortable with the homosexual label, but without a clear belief in God or gods, you are technically an atheist. Sorry to break it to you like this.

    You write that, 'Here's the thing, it is remarkably difficult to think critically about a subject once you have decided to take a firm position. How can it be possible to examine a new piece of data without bias if you already have an unshakeable belief in your position?'

    This is where I fear you're confusing atheism with fundamentalist religious belief. To say that 'it is remarkably difficult to think critically about a subject once you have decided to take a firm position', this could almost be a polite way of suggesting that atheists are close minded. When you talk about an 'unshakeable belief', there are many believers on record, who when asked what potential evidence might see them change their minds or give them second thoughts, have replied that no such evidence could exist. So that label could definitely apply to some believers. No matter what they were shown or told, they would NEVER change their position. As an atheist however I have never said or indicated that I have an 'unshakeable belief'. I have often said to evangelists, show me the error in my stance and I will convert immediately, and I mean it. I have even told many how they could quickly bring me to my knees, and yet none have followed through. I have certainly taken a 'firm position', just as I have on scientific ideas such as evolution and gravity, but my position is not unshakeable. New evidence would see me shift my position. Unlike Christianity, there is no reward for being an atheist, and thus no incentive to keep me here if evidence for gods with pitchforks turns up. New evidence has changed my mind in the past and will again in the future. Do you know I once firmly believed in Santa Claus, and even Robin Hood and King Arthur.

    I agree that a bias might exist, but biases can be guarded against and overcome. And if I was utterly biased against the likes of gods, ghosts and psychic mediums, I would dismiss them out of hand and not spend one minute on them. And yet I spend a lot of time asking believers in gods and ghosts to show me the evidence for their beliefs, and usually they refuse to respond. There also many examples of very committed Christians and Muslims that have come to reject their faith. They supposedly had the same firm position and unshakeable belief that you talk of for atheists, and yet they examined new data critically, perhaps with difficulty, but they followed the evidence and took up a new position. If the religious can change their mind after viewing new evidence, I don't see how it can be argued that atheists can't. And since most atheists have been religious, I would argue that it is far easier for them to return to the fold, to give up their firm position for another, than it is for the religious who have often been taught that to become an atheist is to become evil.

    When I talk about agnostics being indecisive, I know that they're being quite decisive in deciding to be agnostic. I'm saying that they can't or won't decide whether gods exist or not — yes or no. They answer that they can't decide, that they don't know. You have decided that you can't be certain about gods, I accept that, but you have still sidestepped the question that I want an answer to: do gods exist? If I reach a fork in the road and I'm unsure which way to go, I'm not interested in advice from those that decisively admit that they don't know where either road leads, I want to hear from those that argue for one road or the other. Of course one agnostic argument, that we really can't know which road to choose, might be the right answer, but rather than just saying we can't know, they need to explain why we can't know. I'm a little peeved when agnostics just keep repeating that we can't know, and yet won't explain why we can seemingly know that going down a road labelled Zeus would be a silly choice. I understand how they think they can be certain about Zeus — it's just silly myths and all that — but they need to explain why the same reasoning — it's just silly myths and all that — don't also apply to Jehovah.

    I understand that agnostics 'don't want to be labelled as indecisive', but I'd prefer it if they'd stop quibbling over the label and start explaining why they don't know or aren't certain and can't... umm... decide whether gods exist or not. If the agnostic stance is valid then explain why the evidence for and against gods is insufficient for anyone to take sides.

    I disagree with your statement that you 'could argue that it is the ones that take a hard stance that are blind'. First, I take a 'hard stance' on many things, that the world is spherical, that rape is wrong and that New York really exists. So am I, and most of the world, blind, in the sense that we have no real justification for holding these strong stances? Sometimes hard stances are based on hard evidence. And my experience is that agnostics are equally attached to their stance and equally argumentative as are theists and atheists, so that must mean, if the logic is sound, that agnostics are equally blind. And perhaps it's not a good argument to suggest that your opponents are blind, or to put it another way, close minded and dogmatic. :-)

    Regarding many, and probably most agnostics, I agree when you say that 'Many people actually don't know, perhaps because they haven't thought about it very much, perhaps because they don't care, perhaps they say they don't know so they won't upset anyone'. But none of these agnostics ever get beyond saying they're agnostic, they never seek discussions and they never appear on Internet forums with their thoughts on agnosticism. None of those agnostics ever take me to task over my descriptions of them, and none of them would defend their stance beyond saying, I'm an agnostic. Let's leave it there. Of course I agree that people who openly admit that they don't know something quite possibly can be reasoned with, but you sometimes have to get through the apathy first. My experience is that often people who know nothing about a specific topic usually don't want to know anything about it. If they did, they would likely already have an opinion.

    That said Zafir, like you I'm a great fan for saying I don't know when we don't. It could almost be a catchphrase of mine, whereas many people are adverse to admitting that they don't know something. But when I say I don't know much about ballet, it means you won't catch me discussing ballet with anyone, but if I was stuck in a ballet discussion, I would be merely listening and asking the odd question. On the other hand, when I say we don't know much about how life began or what caused the Big Bang, I could give my reasons why I think we know how life and the universe evolved over billions of years, but how evidence for its origins is lacking. I can give reasons for why I think we don't know, which I could also argue are better than those that think we do know, eg God.

    You say, 'I'm not arguing that ignorance is good; I'm say a position of absolute certainty is mostly bad'. Like suggesting that atheists have 'unshakeable belief', I think it's also totally misleading to suggest that atheists hold 'a position of absolute certainty', although again it could apply to many believers who proudly say they are absolutely certain that God is real. We know nothing with absolute certainly, nothing. A lot of our scientific knowledge we know with a great deal of confidence, some not so much, but none of it do we know with absolute certainty. New evidence could overturn our most robust theories tomorrow. We can of course say in ordinary speech that we're certain the Sun will rise tomorrow and that we will all eventually die, but we can't say it with absolute certainty. I can say I'm certain that fairies, evil trolls and gods don't exist, but all I'm really saying is that all the evidence, and there's a lot of it, points to there not being any supernatural beings, and thus it makes good sense to live my life as if this is actually the case. Until some new evidence turns up, I don't need to look under bridges for evil trolls before I pass over them. I am certain gods don't exist, but I'm not absolutely — will never change my mind no matter what — certain.

    When I asked agnostics to please 'explain why they're not unsure about Zeus', you wrote that my 'reasoning about Zeus and the tooth-fairy is reasonably sound, except it is not in context'. I'm not quite sure what you mean there. Are you saying that Zeus and God are completely different things, or is it that gods and the tooth-fairy are completely different things or... ? If it's the first, then both Zeus and God are gods, so both stand or fall together. If it's the second, then both gods and the tooth-fairy are supernatural beings, so both stand or fall together.

    Your answer to my Zeus question, if I might paraphrase, seems to be 'fear', that due to religious brainwashing many agnostics want to keep a foot still in the closet, placing a bet either way. I of course agree, but you never hear these hesitant agnostics being so forthright. They say they're not hedging their bets or looking over their shoulder, and taking them at their word, I therefore ask why are they unsure about God and not at all unsure about Zeus. They will talk about not knowing and uncertainty and the unshakeable beliefs of atheists, but none focus on my question about Zeus. I suspect it might be a good question, since they all avoid it rather than quickly explaining why it's just silly.

  22. Comment by Zafir, 08 Mar, 2015

    Hi John, thanks for the reply.

    Quoting you...

    "Agreed, your comments mean you're certainly not a theist, and while you're rather vague on gods that aren't God, I'm going to assume you also think that it's at least unlikely that there are other gods. So, at the risk of belabouring the point, you may not feel comfortable with the atheist label, just as 'gays' apparently aren't comfortable with the homosexual label, but without a clear belief in God or gods, you are technically an atheist. Sorry to break it to you like this."
    I'm not great at semantics. I'll start by defining what I understand a few terms mean to see if we are talking about the same thing.

    These are not dictionary definitions, just what I understand these words to mean.

    Belief: — An acceptance of something as being true.
    God: — Some intelligent entity that played a starring role in the creation of the universe.
    Theist: — Someone who believes in some kind of God
    Atheist: — Someone that doesn't believe that there is any kind of God
    Agnostic: — Someone that doesn't know if there is a God.
    I think the existence of God is very unlikely, so I don't believe in God.
    I think that it is unlikely that there will ever be convincing evidence that God exists.
    Does that mean that God does not exist? Of cause it doesn't.
    Applying labels to myself has no bearing on what is true.

    If I had to pick a label from Theist, Atheist and Agnostic I would have to go with Agnostic. Your definition seems a little different and you think I'm an Atheist, that's o.k.

    Interesting analogy with the Homosexual/Gay thing. If I can add to your analogy by pointing out that sexual orientation is not binary, it is not either homosexual or not. It is more of a sliding scale. Let's be simplistic and say the scale goes from very straight through to very gay. I tend to think of myself as being on the straight end of the spectrum. But what I choose to call myself is irrelevant. I could be in denial of my inner longings.

    So as I have pointed out before, I try to avoid beliefs, I know I can't get away from them altogether but I am trying. I instead try to think in terms of likelihood.

    This allows me to function just fine in a world where the senses can't always be trusted and the brain's interpretation is to be trusted even less.

    Quoting you...(albeit abridged)

    "This is where I fear you're confusing atheism with fundamentalist religious belief. To say that 'it is remarkably difficult to think critically about a subject once you have decided to take a firm position', this could almost be a polite way of suggesting that atheists are close minded."

    "As an atheist however I have never said or indicated that I have an 'unshakeable belief'."

    "I have certainly taken a 'firm position', just as I have on scientific ideas such as evolution and gravity, but my position is not unshakeable. New evidence would see me shift my position."

    "New evidence has changed my mind in the past and will again in the future. Do you know I once firmly believed in Santa Claus, and even Robin Hood and King Arthur."

    I'm sorry if I slighted atheists as being equally unable to think critically as religious fundamentalists. Unshakeable was the wrong term, I retract it.

    I am saying that going from saying I have a high degree of confidence in something is different from saying I believe something. Almost nobody ever re-examines their beliefs voluntarily.

    But then almost nobody thinks critically. Altering your beliefs to match the evidence is not the norm. I guess that makes you abnormal. (I should say exceptional, but I did say something about poking with a stick)

    Quoting you again...

    "And if I was utterly biased against the likes of gods, ghosts and psychic mediums, I would dismiss them out of hand and not spend one minute on them. And yet I spend a lot of time asking believers in gods and ghosts to show me the evidence for their beliefs, and usually they refuse to respond."
    I thought that perhaps you also took a little pleasure in pointing out how faulty their reasoning was. I'm please your motives are purer than I gave you credit for.

    Currently the answer I have to "do gods exist?" is very unlikely but I don't know for sure. Not very satisfying I know.

    Quoting you again.... (abridge again)

    "I disagree with your statement that you 'could argue that it is the ones that take a hard stance that are blind'. First, I take a 'hard stance' on many things, that the world is spherical, that rape is wrong and that New York really exists. So am I, and most of the world, blind, in the sense that we have no real justification for holding these strong stances?" Sometimes hard stances are based on hard evidence. And my experience is that agnostics are equally attached to their stance and equally argumentative as are theists and atheists, so that must mean, if the logic is sound, that agnostics are equally blind. And perhaps it's not a good argument to suggest that your opponents are blind, or to put it another way, close minded and dogmatic. :-)
    Fair enough I'll retract blind, I used the term because I was referring to what you wrote about "wavering blindly between the clear lines of believers and non-believers" (also I liked the biblical imagery) please substitute for vision impaired. I'm not trying to sling mud at atheists. I'm extolling the virtues of uncertainly.

    Quoting you...(abridged)

    "When I asked agnostics to please 'explain why they're not unsure about Zeus', you wrote that my 'reasoning about Zeus and the tooth-fairy is reasonably sound, except it is not in context'. I'm not quite sure what you mean there."

    "I therefore ask why are they unsure about God and not at all unsure about Zeus."

    I mean what seems rational or not has little to do with what is rational or not and more to do with cultural norms, upbringing and pre-formed beliefs; you know... context.

    So when you compare Zeus to the God in the Bible it is understandable that many people that hadn't considered this before would go errr... what's Zeus got to do with anything? that's just silly.

    I wrote that your reasoning is reasonably sound, I'll go one step further and say it is sound. I just want to acknowledge the role of cultural norms in how we think about things.

    As I know rather a lot about Yahweh I can say it is extremely unlikely that he exists.

    I don't know much about Zeus so I just go with very unlikely on him.

    Check out this article, it has nothing to do with God but relates to the point that I'm trying to get across.
    'I Don't Want to Be Right'

  23. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Mar, 2015

    Hi Zafir, thanks for your response. I know it's semantics, but just quickly why I think you're an atheist, using your own words. You define atheist as: 'Atheist: — Someone that doesn't believe that there is any kind of God'. In the next paragraph you say that 'I think the existence of God is very unlikely, so I don't believe in God'. So you view an atheist as 'Someone that doesn't believe' and then you say, 'I don't believe'. If I was a lawyer, I'd now say, I rest my case, your Honour.

    But moving on, concerning your disbelief you ask, 'Does that mean that God does not exist? Of cause it doesn't'. As an avowed atheist I would answer exactly the same. Atheists are not arguing that gods don't exist — absolutely, categorically, we have proof! — we're saying, like you, that it's so extremely unlikely that, just like the Easter Bunny, we might as well screw semantics and simply say gods don't exist. We think it's just a waste of time to always qualify our denial of gods and the Easter Bunny by also adding, 'But don't think we're saying that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist, we're not, we're just saying we don't believe he does'. Try that in the pub and see how many people take you seriously.

    Sorry about the Homosexual/Gay analogy, it seems I wasn't clear. It wasn't about sexuality but simply about the acceptance of a label. You said that you didn't 'feel comfortable with the Atheist label', and many others have said the same, many opting to call themselves 'Brights' instead. My point was that even though someone calls themselves 'gay' because they don't feel comfortable identifying themselves as 'homosexual', especially to granny, the reality is that when asked what 'gay' means, they will... eventually... say that it's not about being cheerful, it means that they're... well... 'homosexual'. Gay is simply a euphemism for homosexual, invented solely as a PR tool. Many say they don't like the atheist label, not because they aren't atheists, but because of how others negatively perceive the label. So they call themselves agnostics, and suddenly others think they're a nicer person who isn't so dogmatic. But they're still a homosexual, I mean an atheist.

    I know you weren't trying to insult me with talk of my 'unshakeable belief' and that it's 'the ones that take a hard stance that are blind' and that I'm arguing from a 'position of absolute certainty'. But I highlighted these phrases that increasingly creep into discussions, often innocently, because they do signify a close minded, dogmatic attitude and they consistently turn up when people talk about atheists. If atheism is frequently described in these terms, and it is, then it's no wonder that closet atheists don't want to be labelled as atheists. All of these descriptions of atheism are bogus, invented by the religious to make atheists seem repulsive and unreasonable, similar to that infamous Biblical quote: 'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.' (PS 14:1) No informed atheist says they have an unshakeable belief or absolute certainty that gods don't exist, and we need to challenge those agnostics and believers that are falsely defining us to suit their arguments.

    You say that, 'I am saying that going from saying I have a high degree of confidence in something is different from saying I believe something'. I know what you mean, but now I think it's you that have sunk into semantics. Informed atheists do actually mean that we 'have a high degree of confidence' that gods don't exist, even though we usually just say we 'believe' they don't exist. In the same way I would say I believe my friend is picking me up from the airport, rather than the more accurate claim that I only have a high degree of confidence that she will.

    As for me quizzing believers over their beliefs, I do gain 'a little pleasure in pointing out how faulty their reasoning was', because it means I've again validated my own reasoning, and it makes me happy knowing that I'm apparently on the right path. I am genuinely interested in things like gods and ghosts and aliens, and I honestly want to see why so many people think differently to me. As the religious argument goes, OK smartass, if there isn't a god, why does most of the world believe there is? Are we all idiots? So am I missing something? The only way to find out is to question believers. I know what I think, I want to know what they think, especially about Zeus.

    You say that 'Currently the answer I have to "do gods exist?" is very unlikely but I don't know for sure. Not very satisfying I know'. And as an atheist Zafir, if pushed I would say exactly the same thing. But again normally I'd just give the quick answer: No. I don't bother with expanding on my answer since if I got into that habit of speech I'd have to do the same for many, many dubious things — Do fairies exist? It's very unlikely but I don't know for sure. Not very satisfying I know. The reality is that I don't know if fairies exist or not, and never will, and that's not a very satisfying realisation. But if I laboured this point at the pub my friends would think me pedantic, but if I switch from fairies to gods, they fully expect me to give the more expansive answer, or else I risk being seen as an arrogant atheist.

    As for my question of why agnostics are unsure about God and not at all unsure about Zeus, I agree that many will reply 'what's Zeus got to do with anything? that's just silly'. Ditto with the religious upbringing and cultural pressures that you also mentioned that keep some people as agnostics. But all that just proves my point that the stance of many agnostics is based on ignorance, thus I have no good reason to take them or agnosticism seriously.

    I read that article you mentioned — 'I Don't Want to Be Right' — very interesting, and I have read about that before, how difficult it often is to convince people that they have the wrong end of the stick. As an atheist and skeptic I strike it all the time. Welcome to my world. The article argues that 'When there's no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It's when that change contradicts something we've long held as important that problems occur'. It could well explain why agnostics are all too willing to accept that Zeus doesn't exist, but stumble when a more important god is mentioned.

  24. Comment by Zafir, 10 Mar, 2015

    Hi John. Busy week for me so I'll be brief.

    Try not to think like a lawyer if you can avoid it, generally a lawyer will argue their clients point of view and the truth be dammed.

    The thing I've being trying to get across all along is how it can be useful to think in degrees of uncertainty.

    O.K. I'm so close to thinking God doesn't exist that I might as well be an Atheist.
    Say for example that right now I think probability of God existing is less than 0.5%.
    But their was once not long ago I had God at 5%
    Less that a decade before that I was 50-50
    Just 15 years ago I was over 95% certain that he did exist.
    In fact if I was asked I would have said I was 100% certain (although this was never true).

    So at what point was I a theist?
    At what point was I agnostic?
    When did I become atheist?
    Was I somehow silly, blind and ignorant when I was 50-50 on the matter?

    It is actually kind of irrelevant.

    What matters is constantly realigning position with evidence.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with accessing evidence and altering a position to match the data. Bay's theorem shows us that the initial level of certainly is vital as to how much impact any piece of data has.

    I am suggesting that this is easier to do when thinking in terms of probability rather than labels and beliefs.

    Right now I can think of few things that are binary.

    Most things are on a sliding scale.

    Sure you might say either God exists or does not, binary right. As you can't know with absolute certainty one way or the other we have to go with probability.

    I don't spend much time thinking about God these days because now I have confidence in my position on the subject.

    I was once 50-50 on climate change. I spent a large amount of time researching and trawling through huge amounts of data. I have a fairly high degree of confidence in my position now, so I don't spend that much time on that subject of the "debate" anymore.

    I have moved onto another subject that I know little about and I'm back to 50-50.

    For me it is acknowledging the uncertainly that makes me want to learn.

  25. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Mar, 2015

    I fear Zafir that you are letting your religious past and it's negative view of atheism subconsciously influence you, since you again seem to be arguing for agnosticism by implying that being an atheist means arguing for something unobtainable — 'absolute certainty': 'As you can't know with absolute certainty one way or the other we have to go with probability'.

    But as I've already said, 'I think it's also totally misleading to suggest that atheists hold 'a position of absolute certainty'... Atheists are not arguing that gods don't exist — absolutely, categorically, we have proof! — we're saying, like you, that it's so extremely unlikely that, just like the Easter Bunny, we might as well screw semantics and simply say gods don't exist... I am certain gods don't exist, but I'm not absolutely — will never change my mind no matter what — certain'. Like you, informed atheists most definitely 'go with probability', and that's why I said in my post that 'we can still form opinions on whether we think that it is likely that God exists'. The phrase 'think that it is likely' is talking probability.

    I also said that 'We know nothing with absolute certainly, nothing. A lot of our scientific knowledge we know with a great deal of confidence, some not so much, but none of it do we know with absolute certainty. New evidence could overturn our most robust theories tomorrow'. I've argued often that I will follow the evidence no matter where it leads, even saying to evangelists that were they to produce some good evidence then I'll swap sides.

    I agree wholeheartedly when you say that, 'I don't think there is anything wrong with accessing evidence and altering a position to match the data', and 'What matters is constantly realigning position with evidence', but yet again the subtle implication seems to be that agnostics do this, atheists don't. And yet 'accessing evidence and altering a position' is what made me an atheist, and I'm 'constantly realigning position with evidence'. For example, many years ago I believed, as an atheist, that Jesus was just man, not a god as Christians claimed. Now with new evidence I don't believe it's likely Jesus even existed. My position has realigned. And please note that I'm not speaking of absolute certainty here, I'm saying the odds are high that Jesus is a fictional character, like his father.

    You say that it's better to think 'in terms of probability rather than labels and beliefs', whereas I think we can do both. For example, has the theory that life evolves by natural selection been proven with absolute certainty? Certainly not, and while there is an enormous amount of evidence supporting it, it could be proven false tomorrow, in fact Creation scientists say it already has been. And yet you don't see evolutionists refusing to call themselves evolutionists just because they don't know with absolute certainty that evolution is true. Evolutionists and other scientists — and atheists — all know that there is inherent uncertainty in all the claims that they make, it is only their opponents such as Creationists and other believers that paint them as if they are arrogantly and closed-mindedly claiming absolute certainty. The label 'evolutionist' does not have 'absolute certainty' as one of its defining characteristics, and neither does the label 'atheist'. It's all about what is likely based on the evidence. If agnostics could grasp this then perhaps they would not fear the label so much. Just because the pope claims absolute certainly, the religious shouldn't assume their opponents do likewise. And in case you think the pope doesn't, The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism informs us that 'however the science of cosmology should develop in the future, a person's belief in the truth or falsity of the Genesis account of initial creation, properly understood, will be unaffected'. In other words it's always going to be a 6 day creation with Adam and Eve and a talking snake, no matter what new evidence arises. Now that in my view is a stance of absolute certainty.

    You finish by saying that 'I don't spend much time thinking about God these days because now I have confidence in my position on the subject'. (Of course a believer in God could say the same thing, that they have confidence in their stance.)

    To me this suggests that you've decided to take an informed stance on the existence of God and (based on what else you've said), if asked in a survey you're unlikely to respond, 'I don't know, maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, we don't have the evidence either way'. But by labelling yourself an agnostic this is exactly what the label suggests is your view on God. Your real stance doesn't match your label. And yet you've apparently decided that the god matter is resolved, at least to your satisfaction, and you've 'moved onto another subject that I know little about'. You apparently don't think there's a need to be still researching the topic and be 'constantly realigning position with evidence'. As an atheist I'm still busy reading up on the evidence for gods, while as an agnostic you've reached a decision threshold and moved on. In some sense you seem to be more certain about gods than I am.

    But don't get me wrong, I absolutely think you've done the right thing, having now understood the likelihood of god existing you have quickly moved on to seek knowledge about other things in the world. I wish more people would. I'm just a little disappointed that by arguing for the agnostic label you risk giving people the impression that you haven't really moved on at all, that you think it could still go either way.

    Perhaps you could think about it this way. You're peeved that atheists casually say that gods don't exist, and you bring up the topic of certainty. Would you have committed the same effort to this debate if I said fairies don't exist?

  26. Comment by Zafir, 22 Mar, 2015

    Hi John. I'm not peeved, I just don't understand your position and I'm not sure you understand mine. Pretty sure neither one of us is going to get septic about it.

    I know next to nothing about fairies. So no, I wouldn't have debated that. But I take your point as I know next to nothing about most concepts of God.

    Not sure you got my point. It is precisely because I know almost nothing about these possible Gods that they could be more likely to exist than Yahweh.

    I have Yahweh at less than 0.5% probability. I have not looked at any data, legends, history about Zeus so I have no informed opinion.

    You didn't answer my question so I'll rephrase it. At what level of certainty does someone go from being a Theist to Agnostic to an Atheist? Is it only what they say they are, rather than their degree of certainty that counts?

    For example, I have meet plenty of people that say they are Christian but their knowledge actions and apathy about all things Christ would imply that they are Agnostic. The label Christian to some people appears to be more about identifying with a culture or ethnic group than about actual belief in a Deity.

    Step outside the realms of religion for a minute. I have a couple of old (as in they are both in their 70s) acquaintances; one is politically hard right wing, the other hard left.

    They are incapable of having a reasonable conversation with each other about any political, monetary, social or environmental matter. As it turns out they now do not talk to each other at all. But both of them will talk to me as I state "I don't care for ideology, just evidence."

    Outside of our discussion I don't actually use a label to describe my position on God(s).

    When the subject comes up, I just say 'I think it very unlikely there is a God.' I might add 'If the God of the bible exists, then he's an arsehole' depending on if the company is likely to find that funny or offensive.

    I'd be interested to read your opinion on David Eagleman's quote "I call myself a Possibilian: I'm open to ideas that we don't have any way of testing right now." http://www.possibilian.com/

  27. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Mar, 2015

    Hi Zafir. In the broad scheme of things, when someone says that 'I think it very unlikely there is a God' and 'If the God of the bible exists, then he's an arsehole', then regardless of what labels we might use, I think that we're pretty much on the same page.

    So you're not the type of agnostic that frustrates me. They would be the ones that argue we can't know anything about whether gods might exist. They adopt my dictionary's definition that agnosticism is 'The belief that there can be no proof either that God exists or that God does not exist', and therefore we must remain undecided. The clear implication is that either option is equally likely, we just can't say, and never will be able to say. This bit about no proof gets back to your point about absolute certainty, and I agree that no absolute proof is possible either way. However as we agree, there is no absolute proof in science either, we can't even prove that you exist, let alone god. I could be dreaming all this, I can't prove I'm not. However as we also agree, confidence in our 'beliefs' comes down to probability, how much evidence supports them, and is it reasonable to assume, since absolute proof is impossible, that they are very likely true. There can be no proof either that the Sun exists or that the Sun does not exist, and yet no one professes agnosticism when asked if they believe there is a Sun. If I quizzed them, they would roll their eyes and reply, 'Yes, yes, OK, I'm not "absolutely" certain that the Sun exists, but I feel there's enough evidence to get me off the fence and to side with the Sun believers'. They don't even quantify their stance by saying, 'I won't say categorically that it does exist, but I think the probability of the Sun existing is greater than 99.5%'.

    This is my gripe with agnosticism, that a logical argument is adopted to avoid having to say yes or no about the existence of God, but the identical argument is given short shrift when applied to the existence of the Sun or fairies or Zeus. To me it appears that it is solely the object under investigation — God — that sometimes causes their confidence to waver. The Sun, that annoying blogger, and even invisible atoms and DNA that most people have never seen, nearly every agnostic is happy to say they exist (with no plus or minus error figures attached), and yet ask about God, and suddenly nothing is simple anymore. As if detecting atoms and DNA was ever simple. When the object under investigation is God, suddenly they become hesitant and noncommittal. I don't understand the inconsistency, that agnostics will readily agree in polite conversation that atoms and galaxies exist (with no talk of probability or certainty), and yet won't take a similar yes or no stance on whether God exists. It's almost as they're saying, 'I'd rather not commit, if he is real he'll be listening, and I wouldn't want to offend him, whereas you can't offend an atom or galaxy'.

    Regarding my question of how agnostics feel about the likes of Zeus and Thor, you say that 'It is precisely because I know almost nothing about these possible Gods that they could be more likely to exist than Yahweh'.

    Really? I disagree. There's no reason that these 'possible' gods 'could be more likely to exist than Yahweh' simply because you know almost nothing about them. I know absolutely nothing about the possible brother of Santa Claus, that doesn't mean therefore that this brother 'could be more likely to exist than' Santa himself. I know almost nothing about fairies, pixies, elves, sprites and leprechauns. My ignorance of them doesn't somehow increase the chances that they might exist. I know people will say that if I've never looked under bridges for trolls then I can't say they're not there. I can reply that while I haven't searched for fairies or trolls, many others have and failed to find any evidence of their existence. Likewise scientific and historical evidence argue that these supernatural beings don't exist, and can't exist based on how we believe the universe works. Before you can talk of the likelihood of something existing, you have to swap from knowing almost nothing about that thing to actually knowing something. And I suspect that learning more about 'these possible Gods' would lead you to realise that they are just as unlikely as Yahweh.

    Furthermore, when you say that 'I have not looked at any data, legends, history about Zeus so I have no informed opinion', I think you're being a little disingenuous here. I agree that like me you likely have no in-depth knowledge of Zeus, but I'm sure that you probably knew who was I referring to, that he was a god of the ancient Greeks, You no doubt also know that almost no one on the planet has believed in this god for a couple of thousand years, and that he is widely considered as mythological, not real. You probably also know that gods like Zeus were said to toss lightning bolts and cause storms etc, whereas we now have naturalistic explanations for these events. Knowing these few things, I suspect you do have an informed opinion, and that is that Zeus is not now and never was a real god tossing lightning bolts. Likewise if you saw the god Thor in the recent movie 'The Avengers' fighting alongside Iron Man, I suspect your informed opinion was that Thor was just as fictional as Iron Man. Surely?

    Sorry, but I missed your question, 'At what level of certainty does someone go from being a Theist to Agnostic to an Atheist? Is it only what they say they are, rather than their degree of certainty that counts?'

    I agree Zafir that for many religious folk it's more about 'identifying with a culture or ethnic group than about actual belief in a Deity', and that based on 'their knowledge, actions and apathy', most could be called agnostics. But just as you demote many believers to agnostics because their belief is rather weak, I further demote many agnostics to atheists because their belief is gone altogether. But as we both know, for some reason these people are not altogether happy with us relabelling them, no matter how good our arguments for doing so. Go figure!

    At a superficial level, we could just believe the label people give themselves, but as we both agree this wouldn't be getting to the truth of the matter. My mother described herself as a Christian, but never went to church or mentioned religion, and when I asked if she believed in Jesus, she replied, 'No, of course not'. She naively claimed the label simply because she had been raised to believe that 'Christian' was a synonym of 'good person', such as when someone lies or cheats, people would say, 'Well, that wasn't a very Christian thing to do'. My mother fell for the myth that Christianity meant morality.

    So was my mother a theist, agnostic or atheist? Well, from the way I view these labels, my mother was an agnostic atheist. For a fuller explanation of what I mean here, I would recommend you read our article on 'Agnostics', but let me repeat a little of it. To me the following statement makes perfect sense:

    "I am a theist (or atheist) and I believe that God exists (or doesn't exist) but I'm also an agnostic in that I accept that I can never prove my belief."
    Thus it would be perfectly reasonable to ask someone who claims, 'I'm an agnostic', as to whether they are an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. For example I'm an atheist, specifically a 'strong' atheist in that I don't believe gods exist, but I'm also agnostic because I accept that we can never prove my belief. In the same way the Pope is an agnostic, he knows (I would hope) that he can never prove his unshakeable belief that God exists.

    As I've said already, definition wise there are only two possibilities when it comes to describing belief in God — theism and atheism. Put simply, theism means a 'Belief in the existence of a god or gods', and atheism means 'Without a belief in the existence of a god or gods'. Basic atheism can be further defined as 'implicit' or 'weak' atheism — 'I am without a belief in gods' — and 'explicit' or 'strong' atheism — 'I have a belief that gods do not exist'.

    If someone is asked the question, 'Do you believe God exists?' and they reply, 'Yes', then they are a theist, regardless of how strong that belief is, regardless of their degree of certainty. Anyone that can't honestly answer, 'Yes, I believe God exists', is obviously without a belief in God and is therefore an atheist. They may be wracked with doubt and they may only be a hair's-breadth away from believing in God, but until they make that leap of conviction they will remain an atheist. Any theist that gives up belief in God immediately becomes an atheist and vice versa. In my view their degree of certainty doesn't matter at all. A theist that is absolutely certain that god is real (they've personally experienced him, or so they believe), and a theist that is experiencing doubts are still both theists. My mother was an agnostic weak atheist, in that she had no real belief in God, but she certainly wouldn't have argued that she knew this God didn't exist. I'm a strong or explicit atheist, and my level of certainty that gods are just as fanciful as fairies is very high. But even though the degree of certainly between my mother and me is huge, we are still both atheists.

    I certainly couldn't put a figure on the degree of certainty that suddenly sees someone swapping from theist to atheist and vice versa, but from experience I'd say that as doubts creep in, then the degree of certainly falls, and it becomes increasingly likely that some new revelation might eventually cause a quantum leap, and belief suddenly reverses. The trend is mainly for theists to become atheists, but occasionally it goes the other way too. Some people need little evidence to walk away from belief in gods, others need a mountain of evidence. It's possible that the level of evidence required to defeat religiosity is proportional to the amount of belief that was ingested as a child.

    To me agnosticism often isn't a belief about gods, it's more about people talking about how uncomfortable they are about being identified as atheists.

    I suspect I agree with your sentiment when your acquaintances argue about 'any political, monetary, social or environmental matter' and you say, 'I don't care for ideology, just evidence'. But let me play devil's advocate for a moment. What if the evidence overwhelmingly supported the ideology? Would you care for it then? I think a lot of people view an ideology as something negative, as dogmatic and unwilling to change to match reality, but that doesn't have to be the case. It can be just a body of ideas working towards some goal, and those ideas can be valid. I don't view the support of an ideology as bad per se, as long as they do as you suggest, and follow the evidence. Many people likewise condemn all '-isms', such a fascism, capitalism, communism, theism and atheism, as doctrines that are dogmatic and negative. But again this is too simplistic, and we need to look to see whether the evidence supports a specific view. I happily support atheism and capitalism (even with its faults) and reject theism, communism and fascism based on the evidence of whether people prosper or suffer under them.

    In any discussion I'm perfectly happy to label my position on gods, and I will defend it as me not seeing any evidence for gods or any need for gods to explain events in the universe, like lightning. It's never me saying that I 'know' with 'absolute certainty' that gods don't exist, that it has been 'proven', but I will confidently say that my level of certainly is little different to that surrounding Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Could I be wrong? Of course I could, the Tooth Fairy could be real, but I have little reason to believe so. And until I hear of that reason, I'm happy to dismiss them all.

    As regards David Eagleman's philosophy and his quote, 'I call myself a Possibilian: I'm open to ideas that we don't have any way of testing right now', I find it a little arrogant. He writes that 'with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities'. The implication is that only people that reject the normal way of thinking and adopt his 'Possibilianism' can think new revolutionary things. The reality is that the story of progress throughout human history has been 'the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities'. Every new invention and discovery from the spear and fire making to x-ray machines and Einstein's General Theory or Relativity was due to 'the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities', even something as mundane as me deciding to publish my thoughts on 'Silly Beliefs'.

    Eagleman says that because of 'Possibilianism' he's now 'open to ideas that we don't have any way of testing right now'. Again the implication is that others aren't open to such ideas, which is utter nonsense. It reminds me of that common insult from religious and New Age folk that skeptics and scientists are closed-minded. Eagleman should read 'What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty', edited by John Brockman. Here's some examples from around 110 contributors:

    'What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death.'
    Ian McEwan
    '[I believe that] There is no God that has existence apart from people's thoughts of God.'
    Scott Atran
    'I believe that there is an external reality, and that you are not all figments of my imagination.'
    Janna Levin
    'I believe that cockroaches are conscious.'
    Alun Anderson
    'I believe but cannot prove that our universe is infinite in size, finite in age, and just one among many.'
    John D. Barrow
    'I know it sounds corny, but I believe that people are getting better. In other words, I believe in moral progress.'
    W. Daniel Hillis
    'I don't believe that life is a freak event. I think the universe is teeming with it. I can't prove it; indeed, it could be that humankind will never know the answer for sure.'
    Paul Davies
    Eagleman also writes that 'Possibilianism is a philosophy which rejects both the idiosyncratic claims of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in atheism in favor of a middle, exploratory ground'. There is clear bias here against atheism when he talks of 'the positions of certainty in atheism' but not of 'traditional theism'. Again, it is a myth that atheists claim certainty in our stance, whereas theists have for centuries been standing in front of crowds proclaiming that they know God is real, of this they are absolutely certain.

    Furthermore I can't subscribe to the idea that 'Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story'. Of course I agree that it's important to be able hold multiple ideas, but who doesn't do this? When I plan a journey I think I could drive direct, or I could take the scenic route around the coast, or perhaps I should simply fly and save time. Multiple ideas all held at once. Likewise when I consider the origin of the universe I hold multiple ideas, was it the Big Bang theory, was it the Christian story or perhaps the Aztec version of creation? We all easily hold multiple ideas. However the real problem with 'Possibilianism' is that 'it is not interested in committing to any particular story'. Clearly I can't believe that the Big Bang, Christian and Aztec version of creation are all true, so evidently 'Possibilianism' encourages me to be uncertain as which might be correct, and that I should be comfortable saying that I don't know which is correct. Even if I were to encounter strong evidence that one story is far, far more likely than the rest, I should not be 'interested in committing to any particular story'. To be undecided and unwilling to chose from multiple ideas seems to be the goal of 'Possibilianism'.

    However further on he talks of 'the necessity of holding multiple positions at once if there is no available data to privilege one over the others'. Now this is a far more reasonable position, but of course individually we run into problems over deciding when the 'available data to privilege one over the others' does reach a threshold and we should stop being undecided.

    Eagleman dismisses agnosticism as an 'uninteresting stance' and rejects both theism and atheism 'in favor of a middle, exploratory ground', arguing that 'The possibilian perspective is distinguished from agnosticism in that it consists of an active exploration of novel possibilities'. But as I've said, people, especially scientists, already conduct 'active exploration of novel possibilities'. Eagleman is claiming a way of thinking that isn't his to claim, and labelling something that already has labels, such as inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity, genius and investigative science.

    Some other quotes on Eagleman's homepage further confirm that he sees agnosticism as going nowhere, and here I agree with him:

    Agnostics end with the lack of an answer.
    Agnostics say, we can't decide between this and that.
    Agnostics say, I Don't Know, it's impossible to answer that question.
    And yet with 'Possibilianism' he has in a real sense merely given agnosticism a new name. He writes that 'Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion'. Having dismissed thousands of religions and millions of gods, and unwilling to accept atheism, Eagleman apparently thinks that if he continues his 'exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities', some god worthy of his belief will turn up. Our ignorance of the cosmos will always be vast, therefore by his logic atheism will never be acceptable, and every religion that exists now or has ever existed is apparently too silly to be believed, so Eagleman is clearly stuck in limbo, forever unwilling to believe or disbelieve.
  28. Comment by Zafir, 25 Mar, 2015

    Hi John. Thanks for the comprehensive reply.

    Cool, I think we are mostly agreed. Just a few points for clarification.

    On Zeus, yes really. I lived a childhood saturated in the Bible and everything else was considered of the devil.

    So I've seen Hercules the T.V. programme and one bad film where Zeus was a character. But what I have researched about Zeus is non existent. I have never meet anyone that has said 'you should check out Zeus, he is the one true God.' The very little I know is enough to suggest that he is not worth investigating further. I think his existence is very unlikely, but that is an uninformed opinion.

    I am not saying that he IS more likely to exist than Yahweh. I'm saying that for all I KNOW he COULD be more likely to exist than Yahweh. Same goes for trolls etc.

    On the ideology thing. You ask "What if the evidence overwhelmingly supported the ideology?" and "Would you care for it then?" Answer — no.

    I think if the evidence overwhelmingly supports an idea/belief or a set of ideas/beliefs it stops being an ideology and becomes a sound theory.

    I try to treat all new ideas as a hypotheses. I try not to have a world view (of course this is a world view in itself), as this might distort my perception, (I'm not talking about religion here, just ideas in general).

    Next I try to think about what I would expect to see if the hypothesis is true or what I would expect to see if the hypothesis is false.

    I don't get paid to do this, so more often than not, I don't actually design an experiment (although sometimes I do), I go in search of data.

    I actively avoid reading what some expert has written about the subject (except peer reviewed papers) until I've had a chance to see if I can understand the data myself.

    Now of course I don't manage this in everything I do, as everyday life would become very difficult, but I do apply this approach as much as I can.

    You mention a few systems of governance, and how "Many people likewise condemn all '-isms', such a fascism, capitalism, communism, theism and atheism, as doctrines that are dogmatic and negative. But again this is too simplistic, and we need to look to see whether the evidence supports a specific view."

    Agreed — A good idea is a good idea regardless of where it comes from, I've even come across a few in the Bible.

    But to labour the point, it is easier to see other good ideas when not looking through the lenses of one system of belief. Again I'm not talking only about religion.

    Thanks for the thoughts on Possibilianism. I mostly agree.

    Except this bit — "But as I've said, people, especially scientists, already conduct 'active exploration of novel possibilities'". "Inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity, genius and investigative science" are very rare in the general public, and even in scientists it is rare to find good research that is not pushing an agenda. That's why it is important to check who is funding a research.

  29. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Mar, 2015

    Hi Zafir, thanks for the reply, and I concur, mostly.

    Most people, possibly not you though, would probably be surprised to learn that some people still believe in the ancient Greek gods. I recently read this:

    'Greek gods prepare for comeback'
    'It has taken almost 2,000 years, but those who worship the 12 gods of ancient Greece have finally triumphed. An Athens court has ordered that the adulation of Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Athena and co is to be unbanned, paving the way for a comeback of pagans on Mount Olympus...'
    Like cockroaches, religion is extremely difficult to get rid off. Of course the Christians aren't too happy with yet more competition, with less than tolerant Greek priest Father Eustathios Kollas saying, 'They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past'.

    On ideology, I thought you might appreciate this cartoon:

    Ideology

    From the book, 'Ideology: A Very Short Introduction' by Michael Freeden. Unlike you I stick to reading books written by experts for us plebs. I usually find 'peer reviewed papers' difficult to obtain and even more difficult to comprehend, like reading Shakespeare. At times it's hard to believe I'm reading English.

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