Wednesday 7 September 2016

Horoscopes in "The Times" Newspaper Reduce Its Credibility

Sent to The Times, Johannesburg, Wednesday, September 07, 2016 15:01.  Not Published


I support the letter “Star-crossed reader reacts” by Jonathan Basckin in The Times, Monday September 5.

Astrology has no basis in science.  It is based on primitive misunderstanding of how the universe works.  It cannot predict the future, offering only generalities that confuse and mislead.

When a reputable newspaper publishes horoscopes, it makes superstition look respectable.

For a twenty-first century newspaper like The Times to publish horoscopes is out of keeping with your function of giving readers the truth.

Please stop.

Here is the letter under reply:

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Religion is the Problem, Not Just Rogue Pastors

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Tue 10/11/2015 08:22.  Published Wed 11/11/2015, as “Religion must obey same rules as rest of society”.

I refer to The Star leader page’s Little Spot today, Tuesday November 10, “Religion needs regulation”, by Thabile Mange, Comment by preacher Ray McCauley “Causing consternation”, and the front-page article “Pray for rain, public urged” by reporter N Nkosi.

Religion gets far too easy a ride, and privileges it does not deserve.

In the process, superstition is encouraged, and progress is held back.

Prayer is ineffective at best, if not actually counter-productive.

For perhaps 10,000 years, the human race has conducted the experiment of praying to different gods.  If any gods answered prayer, it would be obvious by now in the sustained success of the followers of those particular gods.  It would be obvious which gods are real.

Instead, we have a proliferation of dozens of religions, with several, if not thousands, of sects, each claiming to represent the only true god.

Common sense should show that religion is one big confidence trick.  It persists because parents indoctrinate their children while they are too young to think for themselves.

Yet, regulating religion would interfere with people’s freedom of speech, conscience, and association.

The answer is to subject religion to the same rules as all other aspects of society.

There should be no rates- or tax exemptions for religion and its practitioners.  Preachers claiming “miracles” should have to prove them, or face fraud charges.

Religion Makes Fools of Believers

Sent to The Times, Johannesburg, Tue 10/11/2015 07:46.  Published Wed 11 November 2015, minus the parts in blue, as “Scourge of the Believers”.

In The Times Letters, Monday November 9, “Rogue pastors must be brought to heel”, Thabile Mange says that rogue pastors are making fools out of believers.

While the commission is investigating, will they also investigate widely-practiced ritual cannibalism?  I refer of course to churches that pretend to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, in the form of the Eucharist.  We all know that it’s just wafers and wine –does this not make fools of believers?

How about a book that claims that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, and that life on earth arose in six days, contradicting every shred of evidence –does this not make fools of believers?

Then there are the exhortations to pray to gods for which no proof exists –does this not make fools of believers?

Mr Mange, the problem lies much deeper than a few rogue pastors.  It is religion as a whole that makes fools of believers.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Allow Religious Freedom so that Your Own is Not Curtailed!

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Tue 11/08/2015 08:17.  Published Wed 12/08/2015 as “Right to religious freedom abused”.


On Sunday, EFF members went to the Soshanguve meeting of the End of Times Disciples Ministries, where they threatened the “Snake Pastor” and his followers, and burned the tent used by the church.  According to reports, SAPS members watched and did nothing.

It appears that the local EFF and SAPS members do not understand the concept of religious freedom in clause 15 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Everyone has the right to practice their religion free of interference, if they do not break the laws of the country.

If the pastor is causing cruelty to animals, breaking the food health and safety regulations, or endangering the health or lives of his followers, then the law should be applied.  If the church is disturbing the peace, there are by-laws that should be enforced.

It is completely wrong for anybody to force their way into the gathering, threaten violence, and commit arson.  The EFF members who took part must be arrested and prosecuted, and buy a replacement tent.  The SAPS members who failed to act, must be disciplined.

The behaviour of other sects may seem barbaric and bizarre to you, while the brutal and strange practices of your own religion seem normal to you because you have grown up with them.

Oh, your religion has no such practices?

If you are a Christian, have you ever received Holy Communion?  You pretended to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ?  To me, this looks like ritual cannibalism.  If, outside of religion, your children made a game in which they pretended to consume human body parts, you would probably be horrified.

Various belief systems mutilate the genitals of children –and dignify it with the term “circumcision”.

A final example, one that causes untold harm, is when children, too young to think for themselves, are indoctrinated into a fear of Hell.  There is no evidence that Hell exists –-nor Heaven, for that matter.  Forcing irrational fears on children is child abuse.

You get away with these practices because they are part of your religion.  In return, you have to accept that other religions are allowed to practice theirs.

Thanks and RICKgards
Rick Raubenheimer

Thursday 23 April 2015

No, There Are NO Real Angels Among Us

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Thu 23/04/2015 18:08 in response to the reader’s letter below.  Not published.


I refer to the letter “Proof angels are among us” in The Star, Thursday April 23, by Judy Bennett.

Linden Cycle Shop is to be praised for their “angelic” behaviour.  They are obviously good people.

However, the letter can hardly convince us that real angels –mythical spirit beings commonly depicted with wings, haloes, and harps— exist.  Good people, or at least people who behave commendably in certain circumstances, definitely exist: The letter is proof of that.  Taking it as proof of the supernatural is not a logical conclusion.

It is also not logical of Ms Bennett to thank her god and pray for Linden Cycle shop.  What evidence does she have that a god was responsible, let alone the specific one that she believes in?

If I were the unnamed owner of Linden Cycle Shop, I would be annoyed that Ms Bennett believes that a supernatural agency made me behave well, rather than that I did it myself out of my own goodness!

As for praying, scientific studies of the effects of prayer have concluded that it does not work.  The most extensive of these was the "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer" in 2006 (see the STEP project in It found that prayer had no noticeable effect on healing, unless patients knew they would receive prayers, in which case (on average) the patients fared worse!

Ms Bennett’s letter may be good for the cycle shop, but her prayers are just a way of pretending to do something, while doing nothing.

Thanks and RICKgards

Monday 6 April 2015

"Miracle" of Easter? What "Miracle"?

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sun 05/04/2015 22:08 in response to the Editorial below.


I refer to your Editorial “Let’s honour the Miracle of Easter” on Thursday, April 7.

In fairness, it looks as if the Editor went on holiday and delegated the Editorial to the Sub-Editor who, needing some time off, delegated it to the Sub-Sub-Editor, and so on down the line until it ended up in the lap of a junior staffer.  This could explain why it is thought through so poorly.

The word “miracle” has two main meanings:
(a) An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by scientific laws and is thus attributed to a divine agency.
(b) A remarkable event or development that brings welcome consequences, or an exceptional product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.

The Editorial makes the elementary fallacy of confusing the two.

The “South African Miracle” you cite is an example of the second one.  It was welcome, perhaps unlikely, but entirely governed by physical laws.

The alleged resurrection of Christ (if it occurred at all) would be an example of the former type of “miracle”, something inexplicable by science.

The fact that we had a “miracle” of the second kind is no reason to believe that miracles of the first kind take place.

Indeed, the evidence for the alleged resurrection of Christ (if he ever existed), is not convincing.  No eye-witness accounts exist.  The earliest of the gospels was written at least 40 years after Easter.  The gospels differ significantly on major points, therefore some, perhaps all, of them are wrong.  The earliest existing copies of the same gospels differ in thousands of ways, many of them materially so.

Contemporary historical records outside of Christianity do not corroborate any of these major events claimed in some of the gospels:
  • Darkness over all the land from noon until three in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44) (but not John)
  • An earthquake at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:52) and another on Easter morning (Matthew 28:2)(but not Mark, Luke or John)
  • Dead arising from their graves and walking the streets (Matthew 27:53) (but not Mark, Luke or John)

How is it possible that such (literally) earth-shaking events were not recorded by anybody else?  Or even in all the gospels?

The unbiased observer has to conclude that the resurrection of Christ is not, in fact, a miracle, but a myth.

The Star is –or was until the takeover by Iqbal Surve– a newspaper concerned with facts, unlike some others.

It behoves the Editor, even in the Editorial, to stick to real-world facts and not to indulge his readers in their superstitious fantasies, no matter how comforting or well-entrenched they may be.  By all means, wish the Christians well with their holy day (which not all your readers share) but please do not treat these myths as reality.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Are Nail Clippings Eligible for Human Rights?

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sun 09/03/2014 20:55.  Not published.

John Rowland (The Star, Thursday March 6 2014) in “Punish the guilty, save the innocent”, says that everything he wrote “has a Christian base”.

A difficulty with Christianity is that there are (per Wikipedia) around 3000 different sects.  Across the spectrum, there are radically divergent views.  Many sects regard the others as hell-bound non-Christians.  “Christians” can be as diverse as Catholics and the ZCC.  All claim to be following “God’s Word”.

What sort of god is unable to express himself clearly enough to avoid being misunderstood in 2999 different ways?

As Ricky Gervais says, “It’s almost as if The Bible was written by racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, sexually frustrated men, instead of a loving God. Weird”.

If there were any truth in religion, over time it would converge to a consensus.  This happens in science.  Instead, religion produces ever more schisms.  This is ample proof that religion has no basis in fact.

Hence, Mr Rowland’s “Christian base” is built on sand.

“By their fruits ye shall know them”:  Religion –particularly Christianity– has produced sumptuous churches, rich preachers, poor masses, ignorance, fear, disagreement, hatred, inquisition, persecution, pogroms, wars, and misery.  It has suppressed freedom, progress, science, and human rights.

Given its history, it should be clear that religion has no moral authority.  Rather, faith marks a person as one that believes things that aren’t true.  A religion is a badge of the irrational, something of which to be deeply ashamed.

Religion is an unreliable guide.  Let us look instead to facts, to science.

Mr Rowland argues against abortion with the usual dishonest emotive argument that a “baby” is aborted.  This is hardly true.

The fertilized egg is known as a zygote. It develops rapidly into a mass of cells called a blastocyst.  This becomes an embryo, which looks like a fish.  From around 10 weeks, it begins to have some human characteristics and is known until birth as a foetus.

A first trimester embryo or foetus is not a viable human being.  The nail clippings Mr Rowland so callously discards are just as much human tissue, just as capable of independent life.  Should nail parings be given human rights?

Later in pregnancy, things become more complicated, and our treatment should be more sensitive and circumspect.

Of course, the unspoken reason that Mr Rowland opposes all abortion is the concept of a “soul”.  His particular branch of his particular religion probably holds the belief (not necessarily shared by other sects or religions) that the “soul” enters the body at conception.  This gives a zygote, in his eyes, the same rights as a fully-grown woman.

Science has found no evidence of the existence of a “soul”, just as it has found no evidence for any gods.  This may distress those who are suffering under the yoke of religion in the hope of a glorious Hereafter, but it is so.  There is no afterlife, no Heaven to come.  It is up to us to make this Earth our Heaven during the brief time that we have here.

I agree with Rowland that “women who find themselves pregnant in distressing circumstances must be helped with all the compassion that society can provide”.  That compassion should include every woman’s right to cheap, safe, legal, early abortion.  Having an abortion is no easy decision.  It should not be further complicated by a patriarchal religion that still regards women as property useful only for producing male heirs.