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: