Humans are so much better than their Gods – thank heavens

NoahjpgNoah’s Ark seems to be very popular these days, there has been the recent “blockbuster” film staring Russell Crowe and there is an upcoming big adaptation for the BBC staring David Threlfall. I have always been rather fascinated by the story of Noah’s Ark. As a young child it was the usual thing with cute pairs of animals going into a big boat, what’s not to like? Later on I started think about the story more and, importantly, I started thinking about the people and animals that didn’t make it onto the ark. I never really thought about whether it was “true” or not. As I’ve described before in “Atheist reflections on apples, genesis,and growing up” they were just bible-stories, they were just there.

But as I thought about it I started to imagine just how terrible the events described in this story really are. If you are having trouble imagining it just check out some of the reports of the Tsunami of 2004, then multiply the misery, death, destruction, stench, and appalling suffering a thousand fold and that might give you some idea of what it would have been like.

So, here’s a quick summary of the story which appears, in some form, in all three of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions.

  1. God saw how great wickedness had become and decided to wipe out mankind
  2. One righteous man among all the people, Noah, found favour in God’s eyes.
  3. God gave Noah instructions to build an Ark to save his family and two of each of all living creatures
  4. After they entered the ark, rain fell on the earth for a period of forty days and nights.
  5. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days, and every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.
  6. This genocide included every blameless child and baby in the world
  7. The waters fell and the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.
  8. After a further 8 months Noah and family left the ark and offered animal sacrifices to God
  9. God decided the sacrifices were good and promised not to kill everyone again and invented the rainbow as a “sign of this everlasting covenant”

And there you have it. The deliberate and brutal drowning of every human being on earth except for one favoured family! And this act was carried out by God. The good father-figure in the sky that we are meant to worship!

According to scripture, God does this kind of thing regularly. Sodom and Gomorrah, bears ripping up kids who take mickey out of prophets, and all various evils visited on Job so he could win a bet with Satan, to name but a few. This God also intends to torture unrepentant atheists like me for all eternity after I die. And don’t forget the suffering and destruction yet to come when we reach the “end of days”.

In my opinion religion, as represented by the supposedly perfect scriptures, is utterly vile. To quote Richard Dawkins

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But my point is that no normal Muslim, Christian, or Jew would dream of behaving like this. Most are tolerant, even respectful, of other religions. They wouldn’t destroy whole cities no matter how badly the citizens behaved. They wouldn’t even want to torture me forever because I disagreed with them about God either.

There are of course notable exceptions. The Westboro Baptists are pretty vile and ISIS are busy proving that there is nothing so vile in scripture that they won’t do it in God’s name.

But my point is not how vile these religious texts are. My point is how the overwhelming majority of the followers of these religions are perfectly decent, tolerant, peaceful, people.

If you type Islam is Perfect but I am not into Google you will get more than 20,000,000 hits usually in the form of a longer quote something like I’m a Muslim, Islam is perfect but I am not. If I make a mistake, blame it on me, not on my religion. It will also get millions of hits on Facebook or Twitter. You can find this kind of apologism for all the Abrahamic religions. It is for example the position taken my Mehdi Hassan, who has on many occasions said that the dreadful barbarism carried out by Islamists is not the fault of Islam, which is perfect, but the failure of some Muslims to understand and live up to that perfection.

This is about as wrong as it gets. People are infinitely better than there Gods, as they are described in their scripture.

Most people have actually already outgrown literalism. Theyknow that their scripture is a very long way from perfect. They know it deep down, that’s why they don’t actually get their morality from their scripture.

If they could just admit it to themselves and say so publically they would be in a better position to argue against the extremists.

So please – stop pretending your scriptures are perfect – rejoice in your humanity – you are so much better than your scripture.

And this particular atheist is grateful (to you not your God) for that.

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The battle for evolution in Scottish schools

Dave Watts:

In many ways the Scottish education system has a better reputation than the English/Welsh. If they handle this well they can enhance that reputation. Handle it wrong and it could become a laughing stock.

Originally posted on Leaving Fundamentalism:

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee will be hearing from members of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) and Scottish Secular Society (SSS). Earlier this year, the SSS started a petition urging the Scottish government issue guidance on the teaching of creationism in schools. In England and Wales, there is clear guidance that creationism and Intelligent Design are not valid scientific alternatives to the theory of evolution, and should not be taught as such. In Scotland, there is no equivalent document.

This is a problem, because as we’ve previously seen, there have been significant inroads by creationists in some Scottish schools. Fortunately in that case, there was a decisive win for science. But what that case showed was that creationism genuinely is an issue in Scotland, and it will continue to be so without clear guidance. So you might think that the SSS petition, backed by three…

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Yes – Keep the pressure on Israel. But dont be fooled by Hamas

I didn’t want to write this post, I really didn’t. I think the situation in Gaza is an appalling human tragedy. One that Israel is largely responsible for. But I think I have to.

Some of the stuff I am going to write will certainly annoy some people so I am going to nail a few things to the mast before I start.

  • I think Israel’s current actions are totally disproportionate and shameful
  • I think Israel should stop ignoring UN resolutions
  • I think Israel should retreat to the 1967 boundaries
  • I think Israel should dismantle all its settlements beyond those boundaries
  • I think Israel should share the sovereignty of Jerusalem
  • I think Israel should lift its blockade (with the exception of weapons)
  • I think 90% of the people protesting in support of the Palestinians are good people

OK, now that has been said lets look at some facts.

A couple of months ago Isis invaded Iraq. Since then they have killed thousands of people, mostly Muslims. They have performed public beheadings, crucifictions and stonings. They have told Christians that they must convert, leave, or pay the “I’m not a Muslim Tax”. They have stated openly that they intend to basically take over the world and put an end to “Un-Islamic” practices like equality, human rights, liberalism, and democracy. And kill anyone who gets in their way.

As far as I know there have been two anti-ISIS demonstrations in London with attendances in the low hundreds, I have linked to reports about them below.

  1. Anti ISIS protest (well anti Saudi really)
  2. Kurdish Anti ISIS protest

The current crisis in Gaza has resulted in approximately 1,500 deaths at the time of writing. Despite several shaky, short lived cease-fires hamas continue to fire rockets into Israel ans Israel continues to bombard Gaza.

The “Pro-Palestine / Anti Israel” demonstration in London apparently put 45,000 people on the streets. As I have said above I think most of these people are genuainely concerned to save lives and believe that basically Israel is in the wrong, but the decent, humanity of those involved is being used and abused by Islamists with a very different agenda.

Israel is increasing being portrayed as “fascists”, “Nazis“, and of course “baby-killers” and the words genocide and holocaust are also being bandied about.

Typical of this is illustrated by a twitter exchange I had with Yvonne Ridley. She had repeatedly called what the Israelis were doing a genocide and said it had to be stopped before it became a holocaust. So I responded, pointing out some statistics.

  • Rwanda – 1 million were killed – 70% of the Tutsi population.
  • Nazi Germany – 6 million jews were killed – 60% of the European jewish population.
  • Gaza – 1,500 killed – 0.08% of the population

Yvonne asked what figure would constitute genocide for me. I said a lot more than 1,500 what figure would she suggest. She the changed tack somewhat and said that what the Israelis were doing was like a “9/11″ every day. I pointed out that “9/11″ killed 2,600+ in one day and so far Israel had killed less that 2,000 in a month.

If you want you can read the twitter exchange with Yvonne Ridley here.

It’s worth looking at that last point again.

The 9/11 terrorists managed to kill 2,600 people in one day with a couple of civil aircraft. Israel is, as we are constantly told, “a nuclear power with a huge modern army and airforce”. yet in three weeks of almost constant air raids they have killed 1,500 people. But we are expected to believe that this is a deliberate genocide?

The truth is Hamas are an Islamist organisation, in the same vein as ISIS, Boko-Haram, and the Taliban, and they are exploiting, and prolonging the suffering of the palestinians they claim to be protecting. This shouldn’t surprise us, its what Islamists do.

  • They exploit democracy in order to destroy it and impose Theocracy
  • They exploit liberalism to impose illiberal customs
  • They hide behind human rights legislation while trying to destoy human rights
  • They exploit common humanity to persue the destruction of Israel and all Jews

Before you go off-on-one read again what I said at the begining. I think Israel is guilty of many things, but not “war-crimes”. They are not Nazis, or “baby killers” and this is not a genocide.

So be careful what you say in your tweet and be careful who you stand with on your demo because, although you want to free Palestine and save children’s lives, behind you, grinning and waving the black flag of ISIS, is a real fascist.

He is preying on your humanity. He wants to suck the life out of life itself. He thinks the holocaust was a good thing. He has sworn to finish the “good” work started by Hitler. And every time another commentator says it’s a genocide, and every time someone calls Israelis Nazis,  and every time another Gazan child dies, his plan advances a little further, and his grin gets a little wider.

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Do something about Tredennick and raise policy standards

David Tredennick MP has apparently “spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and is convinced it could work.” This is nothing new for David, he has in the past championed homeopathy and suggested that surgeons should avoid certain operations at the time of the full moon.


It’s funny isn’t it?  – No it bloody well isn’t.

The voters of Bosworth made David an MP (please voters – sort that out next year) and, worse, his fellow MPs put him on the commons health committee and the science and technology committee.

This kind of thing is the very reason I write this blog, and the reason I started the Geek Manifesto Pledge. But there is something much more practical that I have done and I would urge you to do the same.

A group of academics including Chris Chambers of Cardiff university, who did a Geek Manifesto pledge for Welsh Assembly Members, are creating what they call an Evidence Information Service (EIS) to give evidence based advice to politicians both on demand, and as proactive briefing notes. And they need your help to make it work.

They are looking for “local champions” to interview their local MP to find out what would make them welcome and use the service. I have interviewed mine, and I was pleased by his enthusiasm for the project. he seemed convinced it would be both useful and used. They have 100 volunteers and 35 interviews “in the bag” so far, which is good, but they need more. If this service is well designed it could make a real contribution to improving political policy making in the future, and these interviews are important to get the service right from the start.

The commons has broken for the summer recess and this means a lot of MPs will be spending a lot of time back in their constituencies which means they are much more likely to have time for an interview.

Please help – this is a chance to make a real, practical, difference. It probably won’t stop Tredennick being a total clown, but it will help all the others who are not, and it will mean he has no excuse.

Use the links below to find out how you can make a real difference.





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Why calling values British (or Islamic) is dangerous nonsense.

I have written before about how religious people sometimes condemn other people, or behaviour for what I think are the wrong reasons, you can read about it here, but I think I have to revisit this issue because of the whole “British Values” thing. I think allowing gay people to get married if they want to is liberal, tolerant, and morally right. But until last year it was forbidden by British law, and guess what, it is STILL un-Islamic, un-Anglican, un-Catholic, un-Judaic, and many people would still say un-British.

I am a Humanist but when I was arguing in support of equal marriage I didn’t argue that to be a good Humanist you have to support it. Humanism describes (most of) my values it does not determine them. The BHA supports an opt-out system for organ donation, I think they are wrong on this, that doesn’t stop me being a Humanist or, indeed, a member of the BHA. The trouble with allowing beliefs to hide, in groups, behind labels is that people are taught to belive the labels rather than the values. This can have disastrous consequences.

Imagine a very religious Muslim boy growing up in Birmingham. He believes, because all Muslim authority figures tell him so, that Islam and the Koran are perfect, not good, perfect. It is impossible for Islam or the Koran to be wrong in any way. If I want to convince this boy that beheading, stoning, wife-beating, and going to butcher people in Syria and/or Iraq are right I don’t have to convince him that any of these things, individually, is morally justifiable. I just have to convince him that they are Islamic.

If I want him to despise democracy and free-speech, I only have to convince that they are un-Islamic.

If his Imam is worried about him and tries to change his mind he cannot argue about the unfairness, suffering, or brutality because he, the Imam, also believes that Islam and the Koran are perfect. All he can do is try to convince him that these actions are un-Islamic.

Then along comes David Cameron, worried about what might, or might not, be being taught in the lad’s school. Does he say what they are teaching is wrong? No he says it’s not British.

So the voice in this lad’s ear is now saying “See. If you are going to be British you have to be less of a Muslim. You may have been born here but they will never accept you as one of them. And if your Imam says different that’s because he has sold out – he’s not a proper Muslim”

Both the Islamist and the PM are playing identity politics in this poor kids head. By wrapping their beliefs or values in a black flag, or a union jack, they both avoid having to actually justify any of the beliefs and values they are peddling in terms that actually say something about the beliefs themselves rather than the identity they are wrapped in.

This kind of argument is know as the “No true Scotsman” falacy. it is a favourite of many religions and is the very essence of blind patriotism. The young lad in Birmingham isn’t allowed to decide about things on their merits, he has to be “truly” British, or a “proper” Muslim.

One of the things Maajid Nawaaz consitantly argues is that people should think for themselves and get into real politics rather than Identity politics. That’s why he can condemn stoning people to death without refering to the Koran. He is a Muslim, but he condemns stoning because it is wrong, not because it is or is not Islamic.

This kind of thinking is by no means confined to religion it can be seen in all kinds of identity politics Stalinism, Nazism, the french Front National, and many others but is is particularly found in religion because they can claim to be absolutely perfect as they are obeying the laws of God.

This is why faith schools are so wrong. No matter how good some of them are. Not because they teach people to behave badly but because, by definition, they have already decided the answers to questions that people should be free to decide for themselves. In extremes this can mean the denial of evolution and presenting nonsense as scientific fact, or that people who love others of their own sex deserve to be killed. not because of evidence or logical argument, but because that is what WE believe.

So give the young lad in Birmingham a break. Don’t tell him a 1400 year old book is perfect and don’t tell him that British values are the best despite years of religious buchery and the slave-trade because . . . well . . . Magna Carta.

Tell him there are many opinions on just about everything and that he is free to make up his own mind. He can be his own kind of Muslim, his own kind of British, or even his own kind of Humanist

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On relativism and being unable to condemn stoning

I am writing this before the OFSTED reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the “Trojan Horse” inquiries are published because that’s not really what this piece is about. While I am very concerned about the spread of Islamism in this country, I have to say I have some sympathy for the schools concerned. OFSTED said they were outstanding a couple of years ago and it seems they are about to be labelled inadequate. The letter that started it all off is widely regarded as a fake and, if the leaks are to be believed, the schools look to be guilty of nothing too different from what the more, dare I say extreme, Catholic or Jewish schools do. I agree with Catherine Bennet who wrote “Forget these ‘Trojan horses’ the real issue is faith schools”

This affair has however thrown up a few more interesting cases of the “failure to condemn”

On Newsnight for instance Maajid Nawas asked Ibrahim Hewitt to condemn stoning you can see the video here as you can see he completely failed to do so. He refused to answer the direct question and said it was “complex” and it wasn’t “black and white”

Maryam Namazie and the CEMB Forum have been having a prolonged twitter discussion with the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) over the same thing with the same result. Evasion and a complete refusal to answer a direct question.

I also had a shorter discussion with a tweeter who calls himself ISLAM IS PERFECT with the same results. At one point he asked why he should condemn stoning to please someone as ignorant of Islam as I was. I said he shouldn’t, he should condemn it because it was brutal, barbaric, and wrong. Eventually, though he wouldn’t explicitly condone stoning he said that he agreed with every single word in the Quran.

I can understand why ordinary Muslims would get fed-up with being constantly asked to condemn or condone this or that. But these are people and organisations that put themselves into the public domain, and as such have a responsibility to answer simple direct questions.

The other thing that sometimes holds people back is a kind of cultural relativism. A reluctance to condemn practices which might be considered normal in other cultures because it implies that you consider yourself superior to them.

Well I don’t suffer from cultural relativism. I am happy to explicitly condemn what I think is wrong, and what’s more if you disagree I think that does, on that issue, make me superior to you. So, just to prove that these issues can be “black and white” and even though they may be “complex” . . . . . . . .

I think protecting priests from the law when they rape children is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think telling a woman she must cover herself from head to toe, even her face, because you think men can’t control their libido is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think refusing people entry or employment in a state funded school because of their religion is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think passing a death sentence on a woman because she says she is a Christian is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think bulldozing people’s home to build your own on land you occupied in a war is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think telling people in a land ravaged by aids that using condoms is a sin is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you

I think asking people to kill a man because he wrote a book you don’t like is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

I think passing laws against people who love people who are of the same sex is wrong – and if you don’t, I’m better than you.

And, above all, unequivocally, without ifs or buts, under any circumstances, in any country, I think throwing rocks at a human being till they die because they have changed their mind about God is wrong – and IF YOU DON’T, I’M BETTER THAN YOU

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Mehdi & Mo – The silence is deafening

A follow-up to my previous post What Mehdi and Mo haven’t learned from the West Wing

Well I have been tweeting to Mehdi and Mo on a daily basis for the whole of February. (Actually I lay off Mo mid-month as he was off twitter for a while) and the silence has been deafening.

The text of the tweet I have been sending is “Dear @mehdirhasan & @MoAnsar Are you literalists? No? What, in the Quran, is not literally true?” along with a link to my previous post.

At the end of my last post I asked Mehdi or Mo to coment or reply. I conceded that they had much busier time-lines than me, which I’m sure they have, but I honestly don’t think even they can have missed a tweet-a-day for a month.

It’s not as if they’ve been in hiding. Over the last few days Mehdi has managed to tweet about Piers Morgan, House of Cards, and his head-to-head with Mona Eltahawy (which is excellent by the way – catch it here) and Mo has covered internet throttling, Philip Hollobone MP, immigration, Piers Morgan and “mixed lentils, roasted vegetables, garlic parsley sauce”. Yet neither of them has seen fit to comment in any way on their literalism, or non-literalism despite their belief that it is “the bane of every religion

So, assuming they have seen the tweets, and are not going to reply or comment, I consider myself free to comment.

If you can’t point to something in your Holy book and say “Actually that bit isn’t literally true” then YOU ARE A LITERALIST. That’s what the word means. It’s not complicated. Nuance and context don’t come into it, they only come into play if you are NOT a literalist.

In his original article Mehdi attacked “Islam-Bashers” for making the same mistake as Islamists. That is, believing that there is only one, rigidly literal, interpretation of Islam and The Koran. I think he’s right and it was a good article, but to write that article but not be prepared to publically say whether or not he himself is a literalist seems at best disingenuous, and at worst hypocritical and cowardly.

As for Mo, well, he praised the article as “excellent” but, he too refuses to declare whether or not he is a literalist.

So, lets recap:

  • if I assume that all Muslims are literalists I am being Islamophobic.
  • But if I ask the two prominent Muslims who make that assertion to clarify their own status I am ignored.
  • They both claim to be commentators but suddenly neither of them wants to comment!

I think the trouble is that in some ways Mehdi and Mo are both “professional” Muslims. This means they have to appear to be liberal and progressive to get the work. But they also cannot afford to take the chance of upsetting some of their more literalist supporters or they might lose their “authenticity”

Hence they write, and praise, seemingly liberal articles, then sometimes go quiet when asked a straight question about the very same issue.

I think this is a great shame. I think Mehdi’s article is right, Muslims are not homogeneous. There is a wide variety of opinions and differing interpretations of the Koran. As  Mehdi says “Throughout Islamic history, interpretations (tafsir) have differed from scholar to scholar and this intra-Islamic pluralism and diversity of thought should be celebrated, not condemned or ignored.”

Unfortunately the more liberal, progressive, non-literal interpretations often come under strong, attack from the more illiberal, regressive, literal ones. Sometimes including threats of physical violence.

That’s why I think it is important that people like Mehdi and Mo should answer straight questions and not go quiet on this issue. Which is why I have banged on about it for a month. This my last try.

Mehdi, Mo I would genuinely love it if  you proved me wrong and it would not be difficult. All you have to do is answer two straight questions. They are not trick questions. I can answer them quite easily, look . . .

  • Q1 – Are you a literalist?
  • A1 – No
  • Q2 – If not, what in the holy book is not literally true?
  • A2 – Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, Parting of the red sea, etc . . . .

Why can’t you?

Mehdi, Mo, Please – prove me wrong!

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