Monday, 30 December 2013

Atheism Produces Better Morality than Religion Does

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sun 22/12/2013 22:36, and published Mon 30 December 2013, minus the parts in blue, as “No atheist likely to become a suicide bomber”.

Justin Steyn (“Atheism has to come up with cogent concept of morality”, The Star,Letters, December 20) either didn’t read my letter (“Atheism is the most honest approach”, The Star, December 17) or, having read it, didn't understand it, or, having understood it, didn't believe it.

As I clearly said, few atheists say categorically that no gods exist.  We say that there is insufficient evidence to believe that gods exist.  Unlike the “faithful”, we are prepared to change our minds, given reasonable scientific proof.

Mr Steyn talks about forming a common consensus.  This indeed is what happens in science.  Based on experimental evidence, the vast majority of scientists agree on such things as heliocentric theory (the earth revolves around the sun), that HIV causes AIDS, and the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Notice that this does not happen in religion: There is no sign that religions are converging to a common understanding.  This is because religion ignores evidence.  This wilful blindness is even hailed as a virtue, as proof of faith!

We are simply talking about what is real.  We apply standards of rationality and evidence to most aspects of our lives: Why not to religion?

Mr Steyn believes that religion is necessary for morality.  He must have a low opinion of himself if he thinks he would behave immorally if God were not watching him.

However, he is wrong.  Humans have in-built morality, put there by evolution.  It should be obvious that a group will do better than an individual will, and that a tribe is more likely to survive if its members cooperate.

Statistics show that nations where atheism is highest have lower crime. Studies in the USA show that states with more religion also have more crime.  The percentage of atheists in prison is well below the percentage of atheists in the general population.

Humans are not the only moral animals either.  Chimpanzees, for example, show altruism and public service to members of their group.

In fact, it is religion that hijacks our morality and turns it to evil ends.    No atheist will stone you for collecting firewood on the Sabbath, or not being a virgin.  No atheist will murder a doctor for performing an abortion.  No atheist will blow himself and you up to get into heaven.

If we look at issues like contraception, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, it is the atheists who adopt a “live-and-let-live” attitude, and the religious who are hell-bent on imposing their sectarian views on others.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Agnosticism, Atheism, and Eusebius McKaiser

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Wed 04/12/2013 08:09, and published Tue 17 December 2013, minus the parts in blue.


I refer to Eusebius McKaiser’s column on Monday, December 2.

I agree with Eusebius on many things, such as the value of Sunday’s Conference “Thinking Things Through”, and that faith is an intellectual failure.  However, he, in contrarian fashion, also takes a swipe at atheists and maintains that agnosticism is the most honest approach.  I disagree.

Eusebius makes a distinction, between atheism, which he characterises as saying that there is no god, and agnosticism, which, he says, is not committing one way or the other.

Eusebius says that atheists baldly claim that god does not exist.  This is a “straw man” argument, beloved of Thabo Mbeki, where you misrepresent your opponent’s position to make it easier to knock down.

The word “atheist” comes from the prefix “a-” (not) and the word “theist” (a believer in a god or gods).  An atheist is simply someone who does not believe in any gods.  The word “agnostic” derives from the same prefix “a-” and the word “gnostic”, meaning “having direct knowledge” (usually of god).  Few of us can claim to directly experience god, so the majority, theists included, are agnostic.

You will seldom find an atheist who says he is 100% sure that there is no god. Most follow the scientific method, which allows for error and correction. One can say with reasonable certainty that Odin, Jupiter, Allah and Jesus Christ do not exist, at least as described in their religious writings.  However, one cannot yet disprove the claim that a god set off the Big Bang and now lives in retirement on Betelgeuse IV, taking no interest in our affairs.

How, does Eusebius, as a professed agnostic, live in practice?

An agnostic has a dilemma. Should he give equal credence to all gods, and worship at church, mosque, synagogue and temple, just in case?

Even that may not be enough: Many Christian sects believe that the others are going to Hell.  Better to worship at all of them! The poor agnostic will have no time left for anything else!

Worse is to come. Different religions believe contradictory things. You cannot truthfully accept Jesus and still worship Allah.

There is only one option open to the reasonable agnostic and that is to disregard the lot.  This is what Eusebius does.  His behaviour is identical to that of the atheist. The only difference is in what he says.  "I am not sure if there is a god or not (but I am living my life as if there isn't)" vs. "I am pretty sure there is no god so I am living my life as if there isn't".

Which is more honest?

Thanks and RICKgards

Rick Raubenheimer
126 Kelvin Drive, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg, 2191.
Tel: 011 802-2685. Cell: 082 389-3482. E-mail:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Islam Pioneered Colonialism

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg ( Tue 04/06/2013 08:42 and published Fri 7 June 2013 minus the parts in blue

A R Modak, in his or her Letter in The Star, Tuesday May 28 (“Look to colonialism for reasons”), while lamenting violence, blames colonialism for Muslim terrorism.

Allow me to remind Mr/Ms Modak that, centuries before the UK or the USA were founded, Islam was itself spread by the sword, colonising the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Europe, and much of Asia.

This violence extends to the present day in majority Islamic nations, where we have only to look at the fate of apostates who leave Islam.

Even those who choose the wrong branch, suffer:  In Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan we see terrible violence between Sunni and Shia.

Deception, threats, and war in support of Islam are authorised in the Quran and the Hadith: Many verses can be found in support of these evils, and only a few in support of peace.

Good Christians, like the Rev Peter Storey (The Star May 29) speak out against the bad parts of their scripture, reinterpreting it in the light of modern morality.

Until good Muslims likewise disown the antisocial parts of their scripture, radicals will have the support they need for violence.

Colonialism is just an excuse.

A R Modak's letter:

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Shouldn't Religious Tolerance be a Two-Way Street?

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg ( Mon 21/01/2013 08:20.  Published in full in the Saturday Star, 27/01/2013 08:20 as “Two-Way Street”.  This is my first letter critical of Muslims to be published in The Star (if the Saturday Star counts)!

The Saturday Star, January 19, had an article “Religious groups battle food sign ban” about a Christian group opposing everyone bearing the costs of food certification for religious groups.

This has had one beneficial effect: Unusually, Muslims and Jews are standing together in opposing the action.

Rafiek Mohamed of the Muslim United Ulama Council of South Africa is quoted as calling for religious tolerance.

Isn’t it interesting that, when Muslims are in the minority, they call for religious tolerance?

By contrast, can anyone think of a country where Muslims are instead in a majority, where a Muslim leader has called for religious tolerance?

We had a headline a few days ago on the internet “Egyptian Court Sentences Christian Family to 15 Years for Converting From Islam”.  In Egypt, ID cards carry a person’s religion (why?) and it is easy to convert a Christian ID to a Muslim one, but impossible to do the reverse.

Shouldn't religious tolerance be a two-way street?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Time Changes the View of the Bible

After I sent yesterday's reply to the Bishop, The Star has published another response to my letter.  Would anyone else care to reply?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Bible Cannot be Reconciled with Science, and Must be Rejected

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg ( Tue 22/01/2013 21:14.   


Bishop Moagi Khunou’s letter “Much agreement between Bible and true science” (The Star, January 21, copy below) is a classic piece on how religion deals with pesky facts.

First, if you don’t have a good response, denigrate your opponent’s views as “hackneyed and discredited” without refuting them.

Then, profess Special Knowledge.  Your opponent is deluded, as indeed are many Christians, but you know better.

In fact, denigrate anyone likely to disagree: They are “casual or simplistic minds”, not “serious students”.

Knock down some straw men and deliberate misunderstandings of your opponent’s position, throw in a few apparent “facts”, a casual lie like a deathbed conversion of Darwin, skirt around anything difficult, and you’re done –what could be easier?

Only a believer is qualified to criticise the Bible?  Hardly. Reading the Bible with an open mind is one of the surest routes to atheism

Let us confront what the Bishop avoided:

I was refuting Mr Lee’s claim that the Bible is “the infallible and inerrant Word of God”.  I showed that it is not inerrant (error-free) as it has serious mistakes, and not infallible (incapable of error) as it has been modified over time.  I said nothing about whether God personally wrote the Bible, one of the Bishop’s straw men.

There are plenty of professing Christians who believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, including about 30% of US citizens: They are called “Young-Earth Creationists”.  However the Bishop is welcome to believe that a Divine Space Opera took place between the first two verses of Genesis.

Let’s also ignore that in Genesis 1, God creates plants first and man last, after all other animals, but in Genesis 2 He creates man first.

What we can’t ignore is that in Genesis 1, God creates day and night on the first “day”, and then it was evening and morning (a literal day –not an “age”). Plants are created on the third day, and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day.  Thus we have day and night proceeding before the creation of the sun.  The earth is supposedly older (much older, the Bishop claims) than the sun, which is itself two days older than Adam.  Please try to reconcile this with science!

The Bishop claims that there is agreement between the Bible and “true science”.  “True science” is a tautology: If it’s not true, it’s not science.  No doubt the Bishop only regards as true the parts of science that don’t contradict his myths.

There is a big difference between a Bible written by fallible men, and science done by fallible men.  Science is self-correcting.  Experimental results –facts– are checked against the proposed model.  There is stringent peer review.  Scientists compete for the best explanation that fits reality.  Hypotheses that do not work are discarded.
Religious books, on the other hand, are not rewritten when they prove inaccurate.  The believer is not encouraged to check that his beliefs match reality.  Instead he is called upon to believe ever-more absurd things in order to demonstrate his “faith”.

For example… If all the eight-million-odd species on earth were on Noah’s Ark and got off on Mt Ararat, isn't it strange that we find marsupials only in Australia?  The Bishop seems to believe that they ran and swam (or built boats?) all the way there without any being left behind!  Continental Drift, coupled with evolution, is a much sounder explanation.

Note how the Bishop skirts the genealogy of Jesus.  “The Saviour had to be born in the house of David” –what nonsense is this?  Does the Bishop know how babies are made?  Matthew 1-16 deals only with the male line: Either Joseph is Jesus’s genetic father, in which case Jesus is the “son” of David, the “son” of Abraham –but not the Son of God– or, if God inseminated Mary, then Jesus can be claimed as the “Son of God” but he has no family tree, and the “prophecies” are false.

Of course the Bishop has no answer to the 500-year difference between the conflicting so-called genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  If God “inspired” Matthew and Luke, he “inspired” at least one of them to lie.

We can find biblical phrases that can be shoe-horned into agreeing with modern science after the fact.  Nevertheless, the Bible has been used, and continues to be used, to suppress science and human rights.  One thinks of church persecution of Galileo and Copernicus, the “Creationism” rampant in the US, and persecution of gays in Africa.

According to Wikipedia on “Deathbed Conversion”, Charles Darwin did not “surrender to the wisdom of God in the end”.  Deathbed conversion stories should be taken with a pinch of salt.  It is claimed that Christopher Hitchens too had a deathbed conversion: He called for a priest, and converted him to Atheism.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Second Coming of John Lee

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg ( Mon 07/01/2013 09:32.  Published minus the parts in blue [plus parts in red] Monday 14 January 2012 as “Bible is contradictory, a product of fallible men”.

I refer to John Lee’s letter “Nobody will determine end of days, only God” (The Star, Monday January 7 2013).

Mr Lee needs to check his assumptions.  The Bible is not “the infallible and inerrant Word of God”, as he believes, and one can prove this easily.

First proof - objective reality: The two creation myths in the Bible are both wrong. They can in no way be reconciled with the true age of the earth as corroborated by many scientific methods.  The tale of Noah’s ark begs the question: How did all the kangaroos get to Australia and the llamas to Peru?

Second Proof - logic: A document that contradicts itself cannot be true.  The self-contradictions in the Bible are many and well-documented.  Among the more glaring ones are [Such as] the two conflicting genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  From Abraham to David the records agree.  From David to Joseph there are serious discrepancies.  Luke has 40 generations between the two; Matthew has 25, a difference of about 480 years.*

Matthew 1 starts “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”.  When he gets to Jesus in verse 16, he contradicts himself, saying “…Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus”.  The original writer of the book of Matthew probably had Joseph as the father of Jesus.  A later writer then grafted in the “Son of God” myth, apparently not realizing that if God was the father of Jesus, then Mary’s cuckolded husband Joseph and his entire descent were irrelevant.

Third proof – the Bible has changed: Since Mr Lee has internet access, he should look up the book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart D. Ehrman, and the web site which deals with Codex Sinaiticus, the "Sinai Bible".  The latter is over 1600 years old and includes the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. It differs substantially from modern Bibles, and from slightly younger versions like Codex Vaticanus and Alexandrinus.  There are literally thousands of differences, many minor, some major, between these early versions of the Bible and the one Mr Lee reads.  How can something that appears in so many different versions be infallible or inerrant, let alone the “Word of God”?

The Bible is, simply, [It is] the work of fallible men who knew very little about the universe and explained it as best they could to try to control their followers.  We know better now.  Second Comings, Revelations, Heaven and Hell are just lies to scare the faithful.

*Footnote: I have set up a spreadsheet comparing the Old testament, Matthew 1, and Luke 3's genealogies of Jesus.  e-mail me if you'd like a copy.

Mr Lee's Letter: