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.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

So Many Gods, So Little Time to Pick the Right Ones...

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Tue 07/01/2014 08:29 in response to the letter below.  Not published – we want to make it appear that the Atheists have no answers, don't we?.


Ebrahim Nathie (Letters, The Star Monday January 6 2014, “Atheism boggles my simple mind”) says that human intellect is fallible, so we should rely on divine intellect, or ”god”.  Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. say their scriptures prove that god exists, so the burden of proof should be on Atheists.  He concludes that if the religious are right, Atheists are doomed for eternity but if believers are wrong, there is no penalty.

The latter argument, “Pascal’s Wager”, has been well discredited, but there is no harm in doing it again:

Yes, many religions (excluding Buddhism, Jainism, and Scientology) say that there’s a god –or gods, in the case of Hinduism, Shinto, etc.-- but they disagree radically about what those gods want their believers to do.  Accept Jesus as your Saviour, but if Allah turns out to be in charge, you’re damned.  Worship Allah, but if the Jews are right, you’re in big trouble!

With over 3000 gods to choose from, the Theist is no closer to Heaven than the Atheist is.

In fact, the believer is worse off: She will have devoted time, money, and energy to a fantasy, and missed the wonders of reality.  The devoted Jew and Muslim will have missed bacon and prawns.  The Young-Earth Creationist will not have been amazed by geology and evolution.  The Jehovah’s Witness may have died for lack of blood transfusion.

All will have voted for people and supported policies that are not in their best interests, delaying human progress in fields like medicine and ethics.

Ebrahim (since we seem to be on first-name terms now) thinks Atheists have the burden of proof.  In other words, we should prove that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of gods?

On this same basis, does he believe in Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Odin, Zeus, fairies, invisible pink unicorns, and that he won $50 Million in an internet lottery he didn’t enter?

No: The burden of proof is always on the person claiming that something exists, not on the person asking for proof.

The universe is proof of the existence of the universe, not that it was created by Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Odin, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Religious scriptures look suspiciously like they were written by misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and (by today’s standards) barbaric uneducated men, not a transcendent intellect.

What a pity that the Creator did not include a few equations in His Scripture!  If only He casually mentioned E = mc² or that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old and revolves around the sun!  Imagine where we could be now had He described Natural Selection, the law of universal gravitation, or the secret to faster-than-light travel.

Sadly, there is no evidence that a higher mind than ours had any hand in religion.

May I suggest that Ebrahim, instead of bemoaning his human intellect, rather (in the words of the scripture) “become as little children”?   All children are Atheists until they are indoctrinated into a random religion.