Tag Archives: religion

Is it Time to Teach Creation in Schools?

sciI got to thinking about the argument for teaching creationism in schools and how perhaps it might be useful. First, I should make clear that I am completely convinced that there is no scientific merit in creation ‘science’ or so called intelligent design and consequently there is no room for it to be thought as if it were a science. There maybe room for teaching the argument that people want it in schools and telling students what creationist believe and explaining to them that there is no scientific method behind it. Notwithstanding the fact that I have just said that it is not science is there any room for teaching it in science class. I think there might be.

The scientific method is the most fundamental tool in a scientist’s arsenal it helps to ensure that he makes objective arguments rooted in reason and reality. Teaching this is an important part of any science curriculum and perhaps using creation as a case study for teaching the scientific method could be useful. Maybe we could provide the students with the rules for making scientific inquiry and ask them to apply it to creation and make an assessment of the veracity of creation within the context of the parameters of science then ask them to do the same to evolution.

Students can learn a lot about how science works by doing this they will learn what is considered science and how scientific conclusions are reached. Also hopefully it will shoe equip them with the skill to say that creation is not science.

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I Wish There Was an Afterlife So Theists Would Know They’re Wrong.

shockedI was thinking about how some people are so convinced that there is a god that the are unwilling to even entertain the idea that there probably isn’t a god. For them there is no question in their mind. You are unable to reason with them; you can try to talk to them and explain clearly how all of their arguments for the existence of god are flawed, you ask them why they believe in the god that they believe in rather than any other god–if Jesus why not Zeus? They may try to tell you that their holy book says that their god is the true god and god wrote their holy book. You can then try to explain to them what a false syllogism is then listen to them respond saying strange things like “you have to invite the lord into you life” and “god has a son that died for you”–I never asked him to! Most, you will never be able to convince because religion has some advantages, among them are: it has inculcated people from a very young age it has been part of their life since they were very young for a lot of people religion is all they know; it exploits gaps in the knowledge of mankind–where a question is unknown religion has no problem ascribing it to god whereas at least reasoned people have the decency to admit when they don’t know something, also there is the great carrot and stick approach i.e. lots of theists will no entertain disbelief in god because they want to spend eternity in paradise or want to avoid the rest of time in fire being burned and tortured by demons and the one that concerns me most here the existence of god cannot be disproved because a negative cannot be proved. Prove to me that Unicorns don’t exist. 

All of these kinds of things can make it hard to argue with a believer because they become incapable of reason they will maintain, despite the all evidence to the contrary, that their god exists and nothing will change their minds. They’ll sit smugly knowing full well that you will not be able to change their mind. Then what makes it worse is that when they die that’s it, there is nothing; they’ll never know that they were wrong because their minds are turned off. So on thinking about this I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a post-death de-briefing where people would realise that they had wasted huge parts of their lives on a god that wasn’t there. There could be no more arguments they were dead and if they were promised heaven there would be none or if it was reincarnation they wouldn’t get reincarnated. This was it they last straw no way to argue-there was no god. Then once they realised there was no god waiting for them and a photo of their faces was taken to amuse us atheists as we arrived they would be sent off into nothingness.


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Funniest Bible Verse

The stupidest verse of the bible is a hard competition to win considering all the very capable contenders but, I think I may have a winner. In the book of numbers the author says “Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.” Numbers 12:3. Fine, this Moses chap may have been humble however, when you find out who wrote the book of numbers it makes a startling difference. The book of numbers is traditionally believed to have been written by–you guessed it the humblest man on Earth, Moses.

This really compliments the theists when the say first, that they are humble then follow it with things like; they know that god exists, they not only know that he exists but, they know who he is, what he wants and how he created the Universe. Humble? I don’t think so.

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god doesn’t give us morals

ChurchMorals How do we know what is moral and what is not? It is the view of religious advocates that religion defines morality and virtue. They say that without religion society would breakdown and immorality would become systemic. But if religion contains so much stuff that we regard as immoral—how can it define our morality? The fact is that religion does not provide our morals what really happens is our internal sense of right and wrong goes though the text of the bible, koran or whatever and tells us what is good and what is bad. Churches have been editing the religion’s morals by picking and choosing what they regard as moral and disregarding the rest or explaining it away with some fancy ecclesiastic double-talk.

Think about it for a second—would you suddenly become feral if one day you were walking home from a night out and were run over by a car and suffered amnesia. Imagine waking up in hospital not knowing where you are or what has happened all your long term memory is gone—you don’t know what the bible is never mind what is in it. Would you no longer feel love for your family? Would you become cruel and violent? This reminds of what Sam Harris had to say in The End of Faith[1]he suggests that if suddenly all man’s knowledge was lost due to some event that cleared our minds of everything that we have learned— at what point would it be necessary to know that the source of morality was born of a virgin?

This all begs the question—where do our morals come from? We know the story of Huckleberry Finn[2] by Mark Twain where a young Huck is confronted with a dilemma—helping his friend Jim escape slavery is stealing—Huck knows that stealing is wrong and he could be damned to hell for it—he is so afraid of it and so indoctrinated by religion he even contemplates handing over his friend by writing a note to Miss Watson however, in the end Huck’s own moral code rules and he tears up the note and helps Jim escape. We all know that Huck did the right thing but what is it that made him do it? It surly was not religion because Huck thought he was going to hell—Huck’s sense of moral duty came from a primordial code of ethical actions built into him that was able to overrule his religious indoctrination.

It might be hard to imagine how we got this moral code. For some they see morality coming from society and being instilled into a child from birth. All children are born a blank slate to be written upon is their morals and ethics. This is the argument made by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in seminal work—Leviathan where he looks at the nature of man and he concludes that man’s natural state is of war—every man against every man—and in this state there is no justice or injustice because as he sees it there is no government to give us justice. One place he regarded as living in this state was America[3] however, things have come along since he wrote this in 1651—he regards the Native Americans as ‘brutish’ and without a system of government no sense of good or bad. Now clearly we know this not to be the case the aboriginal Americans have a sense of moral decency and are not embroiled in a war all against all.

Consider then if our biology has any place in giving us a sense of right and wrong. In Moral Minds[4] Marc Hauser gives us a look at a biological explanation of our morality. He looks at our morals as being very similar to any other organ or our body. He draws on the work of Noam Chomsky and his revolutionising theory of linguistics that showed that human beings have a built-in set of principles that are used to learn a language no matter what it is. To give an example of these rules consider the sentence “Frank is foolish” and the same sentence but with the ‘is’ shortened so “Frank’s foolish”—ok so they both make sense but what is I said “Frank is more foolish the Joe’s” now you know that there is something wrong with that sentence but nobody has ever told you that you cannot shorten the ‘is’ at the end of a sentence and yet you still know not to do it that is because you have a rule in your head that tells you that the ‘s sound is too short and it need to be followed by something.[5] This rule would be the same no matter what language you learnt. The fact that you know this rule but, you do not know how exactly how you know it is what Hauser suggests is is happening with your morality.

The same—what is termed ‘grammar’ of morality—can be found inside us. Hauser takes this argument from outside the realm of philosophical thought and does experiments using the old philosophical fact scenarios like—a train is driving along the track and it is unstoppable it can either keep going and kill five people or take a off-shoot track and kill just one—most people choose instinctively to take the off-shoot track. This is not to suggest that every society has the same morals because this is obviously not correct but, it sets up a basic rule system like killing babies is immoral and has room for variances from person-to-person—society-to-society.

How does this square up to the Darwinian survival of the fittest? How can one be the fittest and therefore spread your genes if you are helping other? Richard Dawkins—one of the world’s most outspoken atheists and leading evolutionary biologists—has written extensively on the subject of the evolution of altruism and morality. In Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene[6] the author explains the process of natural selection and puts into a context the development of altruistic behaviour and how that the genes responsible for that behaviour can be favoured by evolution and thus populate the gene pool. It may be difficult to imagine how some behaviour is beneficial to a gene’s promulgation when on the outside it seems counterintuitive to that ends.

You are made of genes—each one of these genes programmes how you are—what you look like; how tall you are; how you behave virtually every aspect of you is controlled by your genes. Genes make copies of themselves and are spread and mixed with other genes i.e. we have children. But, in this process mistakes are made—small mutations. Long ago imagine there was a single type of gene making copies of itself then one time it made a copy that let it get together with another gene that mutated and by being together they were better off—say for arguments sake the two of them together were able to take the sun’s rays and turn it into their own food like plants do during photosynthesis—this means that these two cells are not better able to make copies of themselves and their ‘children’ can do the same thing they are doing so over time they become stronger and the weaker ones die off. I do not want to give the impression that these genes are alive—they are not making the decision to do anything it is just that they happen to be the best at making sure that they are spread. Over time more complex genes start to mutate and for example form legs to move around and a mind to help think and get away from danger—they are changing and mutating all the time—but building on past successes—creating the best ‘survival machines’[7] for them to be in—if they do not make a good body to live in then they do not get passed on so are wiped out the genes that make the best body get passed on so there are more of them. Eventually these genes formed a survival machine that is us.

So you see that the gene is not trying to keep us alive per se it is just that we do the gene the most good because we are alive long enough to spread it around. So you can imagine a gene that says ‘You are to sacrifice yourself to save ten people with the same gene as me in them.’ This gene would do well because by losing you it has saved 10 other copies of itself and thus made itself fitter—that is the survival of the fittest. But how do we know if them ten people have the same gene in them? Well we don’t—we can guess—our children have half our genes in them so there is a 50%[8] chance that they have that gene in them—this is a why we are so protective of our children—our brother and sisters have the same chance ½—there is a breakdown of all these relationships and why perhaps we feel more protective of our children than our brother and sisters even though the chances are the same in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene.[9] Some of us would sacrifice ourselves to save 100 strangers is that because the chance that they have the same gene is higher than if it was just two?

Now imagine again Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature—war all against all—imagine now a gene that said ‘help people that help me’ could spread. If we lived in Hobbes’ state of nature we would be under treat all the time so if perhaps we had this gene to help each other out if they help us we would do much better than the people that did not have this gene so this gene would start to spread. Now perhaps imagine one of us in this society had a gene that mutated to say do not help other but take their help then that gene would start to flourish. But then it would just go right back to the start again however, there is a point where an optimal number of both is reached and it would begin to steady out.[10] “’The ants and termites,’ wrote Prince Kropotkin, ‘have renounced the “Hobbesian War”, and they are better for it’”[11]

Let’s take a look now at some of the principles that are genes have given us. So it is one thing to care for your kin because there is a high probability that they share the same genes as you but, the trouble comes when you look at non-family altruism. Where is the Darwinian advantage in that? Well again Prof. Dawkins’ books try to give us an understanding into this process. The first theory of altruism that Prof. Dawkins discusses is the old saying ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’—indeed a very utilitarian adage that has huge merits for a gene that is trying to get passed on. You can see how a society could grow on this concept—if I have the ability to make pots but don’t know how to cook and you need pots and can cook by working together we ensure both of our survival. This concept can be seen to work throughout nature—flowers can’t fly so the pay honey bees to spread their pollen around[12] and we have all seen on wildlife documentaries small birds that are cleaning the parasites from hippopotamuses that cannot do it themselves. In human society the division of labour[13] has allowed us as a species to flourish and has thus caused the spread of the gene that causes this through our generations. It is really quite clear how this system of helping others fits in with our theory of natural selection.

Reputation plays a part in altruism if I build up a reputation for not buying a round of drinks in a pub nobody’s going to include my when they buy a round. It is observable behaviour in the animal kingdom for reputation precede you—in the stickleback fish population there is evidence that shows that the fish will tolerate defection of fish that have stuck by them in the past over fish that have been wimps when they are going to inspect a dangerous predator—they even choose fish to join their expedition parties that have shown high standing in previous situations.[14] Human beings have a much greater ability to remember who was good to them in the past even to the most to people that you only met briefly—we can all run a list down in our heads of people that have ripped us off and we will be very wary of helping them in the future.

Now this brings us to how our genes influence our morals in a general way. Our genes are too slow to make the decisions all by themselves and there are too many situations—infinite numbers—to all be coded for in our genes. So our genes make more general rules i.e. principles. A good analogy here is communicating over great distances—it takes four minutes for messages to get from Earth to Mars travelling at the speed of light—there is no way to make that faster the speed of light is the maximum speed anything can travel—so imagine now we have sent a robot to mars that is remotely controlled from Earth—as it goes about its business of exploring the Martian landscape[15] it takes four minutes for us to get its information and four minutes for it to get our instructions which is clearly too long a time if the robot encounters cliffs for example—so what do we do? Well we build in rules into the robot e.g. if you come to cliffs avoid them. This is sort of like what are genes do for us. However, what are genes are able to do also is allow for parameter input—that is to say the general principles are set out but they allow for more data to be used in order to make the best decisions. So take for example the principle of ‘be fair to people’—this is a general principle that is set by our genes say—now the parameter can then vary from society to society depending on how it works best—there is no universal definition of fairness but it uses the details of the particular society to set its standard.[16]

For a further demonstration our inbuilt moral judgements—consider two scenarios

1) You are driving along in your new sports car and you see a little girl at the side of the road bleeding. He can take her to the hospital but it will cost you time and money to clean the bloody seat—€200.

2) You see video on TV of children in some poor country that need €50 to save 25 of their lives.[17]

Now most of you will say that in case 1 you are obliged to help the little girl and in case 2 most of you will not believe that you are obliged to send the money—although most of you will sympathise you won’t be under huge moral pressure to help. What this indicates is that our genes have not adapted with our psychology to the ever increasing distances that we can communicate in the modern world. Our genes are no used to dealing with great distances and our psychology is having trouble with it too.

[1] Harris, S., “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” (Free Press, 2006)

[2] Twain, M., “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Adamant Media Corporation, 1999)

[3] Hobbes, T., “Leviathan” MacPherson, C. B. Ed. (Penguin Classics, 1985) p 187 Part I Chap XIII

[4] Hauser, M. D., “Moral Minds” (Harper Collins, 2006)

[5] Ibid. ( pg 40

[6] Dawkins, R., “The Selfish Gene” (3rd ed Oxford University Press, 2006)

[7] Ibid. ( at chapter 3

[8] For a look at the statistical relationship of family look at Ibid. chapter 6

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. ( chapter 5

[11] Quoted in Ridley, M., “The Origins of Virtue” (Penguin, 1996)

[12] Dawkins, R., “The God Delusion” (Transworld Publishers, 2006) at p216

[13] Smith, A., “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (Regnery Gateway, 1999)

[14] Ridley, M., “The Origins of Virtue” (Penguin, 1996) at p82

[15] This analogy is loosely based on Prof. Dawkins’ analogy in his book: Dawkins, R., “The Selfish Gene” (3rd ed Oxford University Press, 2006) at p55

[16] Hauser, M. D., “Moral Minds” (Harper Collins, 2006) at p71

[17] Ibid. (



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Flying Teapot v. God: The Negative Proof


800pxTouched_by_His_Noodly_AppendageThe worst argument that‘a believer in god can use is the negative proof i.e. when she says “can you prove god doesn’t exist?”- the answer to this is that the onus is on the one asserting a belief to positively prove that to which they assert. We are familiar with this concept in other areas of our society. If we are unfortunate enough to be charged with a crime how unjust would it be if you were told that the prosecutor was not going to adduce any evidence that you committed the crime but you have to prove that you did not break the law?

If this argument is brought to its natural conclusion it can enter into the realm of absolute absurdity. The mere fact that a proposition cannot be disproved does not render it true. This is known as an argument form ignorance which is a logical fallacy- X cannot be proved false therefore it is true. There are innumerable things that you do not believe in that cannot be shown do not exist. Bertrand Russell deals with this question delightfully in his essay “Is There a God?

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.[1]

There are infinite things that are things that cannot be disproved but we do not therefore accept that they are true. In fact taking this position belies all methodology that has advanced our understanding of our Universe. Russell’s teapot is the foundation for numerous incarnations of gods which have arisen to highlight the lunacy of this logic: Invisible Pink Unicorn, flying spaghetti monster. Religious people also try to use this logical fallacy when they say that “You are assuming god is false because we cannot prove he exists” I am not 100% sure that god doesn’t exist–no one is this is an epistemological problem; can we ever be 100% sure about anything?

By using evidence I can explain with greater quality the nature of our universe. The 14th centaury logician William Ockham provides a method of logical reasoning known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’ in which he states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Therefore where evidence explains our universe this implies that where there is no evidence to the contrary this solution is valid.

[1] Russell, B., “The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell” Slater, J. G. and P. Köllner Eds. (McMaster University ed G. Allen & Unwin, 1983)


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Cosmological Argument

The first substantive argument I am going to deal with is the fanciful named cosmological argument. Many people that first read this argument are taken in by the simplicity that it conveys itself—on a cursory glance it seems quite an attractive premise. How did the universe come into existence? This is really what is being dealt with by this argument.

Contemporary scientific understanding is that the universe came into being about 14 billion years ago as a singularity called the big bang—this is a bit of a queer concept—it says that the distance between anything in the universe was zero also the universe was infinitely dense and infinitely hot. What happened nearly instantly after this singularity came into existence was it began to expand very fast and it still expanding to this day. Thinking that time and space were both created is so odd to our heads that we find it hard to conceptualise.

What has all this got to do with god? Well, the cosmological argument basically tries to trace things back to their root. St. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most cited in terms of this argument—he has written extensively on god’s existence—in his Summa Theologiæ he lists five—what he calls ‘proofs’—I am going to group the first three under the heading of Cosmological because they all deal with the idea of tracing things back to a beginning.

First Cause
The first two of Aquinas’ proofs are nearly exactly the same—he says that the universe as it is now was caused by how it was a moment ago and how it was a moment ago was caused by how it was two moments ago and so on. Basically everything has a cause and every cause has a cause. The second is basically the same but instead of causes it’s motion. So what Aquinas does is to trace everything back and say that they cannot go back into an infinite regress—they must have a terminator i.e. a first cause and Aquinas conveniently calls this terminator ‘god’.
There a number of reasons why this argument can be undermined. The first one is the assumption that there cannot be as a matter of logic an infinite regress. Why not? The argument goes that without a start something cannot have reached the present—it could not have gotten started—well that’s the whole point of infinite—it didn’t start it has always been going—to suggest that it needs a start is therefore not allowing it to be infinite.

If we accept that there can be nothing without a cause all we need to show is a prior cause not the first cause—if we say that the regress is infinite then for every cause we pick we can point to one previous. Where Aquinas is mistaken is using his mind’s experience of events like if we imagine a chain hanging from the sky with a bell on the end we cannot see the top but we ask what is holding the bell up? The last link—yes, but what is holding the last link up? The second last link. But the question goes to what is holding the whole thing up? In our experience there are no chains that are infinite so we cannot imagine one but, causes are not chains there is nothing to put a limit on things going back forever.

There is no philosophical limit or paradox in infinite regress however, there is a practical one at least as applied to this universe insofar as modern scientific understanding says that the universe had a beginning some 14 billion years ago—therefore time cannot stretch back infinitely. Does this mean that the universe as a whole needed a cause? Well we have been accustomed to seeing things as requiring a cause—there is no dinner without a cook; there is no house without a builder—however, the development of quantum mechanics does provide explanations that refute this very idea—however; quantum mechanics is a very difficult concept to grasp it has been said of it that “anyone that says they understand quantum mechanics doesn’t understand quantum mechanics” if that doesn’t give you much hope in quantum mechanics understand that the results of predictions made on the basis of quantum mechanics are extremely accurate Richard Feynman is quoted as saying the precision of quantum mechanics “is equivalent to predicting the width of north America to within a human hair’s breadth”.

However, what about the universe as a whole—could that have a cause? First, I have to say that at the creation of the universe everything was created: matter; space and time. So before the big bang was created there was nothing—no matter; no space and no time—so to say that the universe had to be created doesn’t make sense there was no time before the universe so when did it happen? It is like asking what is north of the North Pole —it is not a valid question to say what was before the big bang?

But let’s indulge for a moment and contemplate what was before the big bang. Is it what Aquinas suggests it is i.e. god? The reasons for suggesting it is a ‘personal god’ are thus; it goes that where there are two different options that are equally likely that is the existence of the universe or not then this choice must be made by a personal agent that chooses one over the other. This is not a logical statement—they are mutually exclusive either one occurs or the other one does—if a free agent chooses neither then one of them will occur as a matter of logic. Obviously that kind of logic really doesn’t hold any water.

Now ignore all that again so we can suppose how a creator can be excluded from the idea that everything must have a first cause. What is his first cause? The theists’ answer is that god has a different kind of existence—outside of time—because we know that he cannot exist in time because time is in the universe and god cannot be in the universe and also cause the universe—and also be excluded from needing a creator.

The Argument from Contingency
Aquinas’ third ‘proof’ tries to deal with that—it says in basic terms that everything in contingent on something else that is the bell is contingent on the last link in the chain and the last link is contingent on the second to last and so on—he applies this to the universe that everything in the universe in contingent on something else therefore the universe as a whole is contingent e.g. all parts of a chair are contingent therefore the whole chair is contingent. Since conceivably the universe as a whole might not have existed because it was contingent on something else existing then that means that there is something that exists that doesn’t need a cause—Aquinas calls this god Aristotle calls it the ‘uncaused cause’.

We are expected to take it that the uncaused cause doesn’t need a cause just because it is necessary. Furthermore the qualities of the uncaused cause need not have traditional god-like powers e.g. goodness, omnipotence or even sentience. Why does it even have to be just one could there not be more than one? Why couldn’t it be a cosmic force or something rather than a ‘living’—for want of a better term—thing?

We also need some explanation of how this being created the universe—it is not fair to say that we have contingent things on one hand and god on the other and he causes the contingent things. Theists’’ answer to this is that god had a choice he could have created another universe or none at all—‘[god] is a being that exists of necessity but which creates this universe as an act of free will’

OK, well then does this god exist in time? He cannot exist in time because as we have said how can he create time and exist in it? So he must exist out-of-time—well then how can he make a choice? Choices need to take place in time—I must choose to bake a cake before I bake a cake—surly the same can be said of universes. “But”—you might say—“maybe the creator can make a non-temporal choosing—he doesn’t need to do it in time”—well then if he chooses to create the universe he is doing it at no time so he doesn’t make it occur. But again it gets worse remember we said that we let the uncaused cause be god because he is making a choice to create a universe rather than not? Well part of that choice has to be why he chose to create the universe when he did. He cannot choose when to create it if there is no time.

As you can see this argument really is not much help when you really get a good look at it. It can be kind of a head wrecker. There is lots of counter-arguments to what I have said but I have read a lot of them and do not think that they are valid counter arguments.

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Is there a proof that god exists?

“IN THE BEGININING, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and earth.” Humans have created innumerable gods over our pin-head-sized history of existence. All across our planet and throughout our history there are conceptions of the supernatural that are varied and completely contradictory to each other. All religions involve some incorporeal idea has some power outside the realm of natural explanation.

But what is even more diverse than the huge variation in the definitions of god is the supposed ‘proofs’ that people throughout history have put forward to affirm that their god exists. Some of these ranging from the quite absurd to metaphysical headaches—but what they all have in common are that none of them can conclusively prove the existence of a god or gods.

Someone left a comment on one of my posts suggesting I read the logical arguments for the existence of god. I have read all the arguments and have to say I am unconvinced by them. I am going to run a series of posts showing my problems with them.

I will post the links to them here as I post them:

Cosmological Argument

Teleological Argument

Ontological Argument


Negative Proof

Pascal’s Wager




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