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.