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Stardate 10.014

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team

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Laughing at other beliefs
I recently read a newspaper article that began, "OVERSEAS: More than 250 people in northern Bangladesh have attended a wedding ceremony between two frogs as part of a ritual to bring rain to the parched region".

Why does the media continue to feed us stories of this nature? Is it for the humour, where we get a giggle out of picturing little frogs dressed up in a wedding dress and top hat and tails? Or is it to reinforce our superiority and sophistication, where we shake our heads in disbelief that these ignorant peasants still believe in such superstition? Perhaps both, but I suspect for many it is the latter. People want to be reminded that their beliefs must be correct because other cultures and religions believe in really silly things. They fall for the either/or solution. If other religions or cultures are quite obviously wrong then we must be right. It never occurs to them that what they believe might be equally silly. Do newspapers in Bangladesh report stories of tearful Christians prostrating themselves in front of a vague image of the Virgin Mary? Do the locals giggle at people being fooled by a trick of the light in the same way we giggle at the frogs?

Of course not all these stories are humorous, many tell of hundreds of Muslim pilgrims being killed in stampedes or busloads of Hindu pilgrims plunging to their deaths into canyons. Any innocent death is a tragedy of course, but these stories go out of their way to emphasise what these people were doing when they died. They were on a pilgrimage to their god, and if you're not safe or protected when you're carrying out your god's wishes, when are you? Of course all this implies that since they were killed, often horribly and in large numbers, then their beliefs were obviously false. And since we're obviously still alive, safe and well to be able to read these stories then it makes sense to some to believe that it is in fact we who are being protected by some god. Thus belief in their particular god is bolstered. Every failure or highlighted ridiculous element of other religions is another reason to believe your religion is the correct one. Are these stories nothing other than Christian confidence boosters?

Everyone with a silly belief obviously fails to recognise their own convictions as being childish or superstitious or irrational. Yet strangely they have no problem in recognising numerous real flaws in the beliefs of others, flaws such as conflicts with reason, logic, science and history. They can explain quite clearly and correctly why frog nuptials won't cause it to rain, why having sex with virgins won't cure AIDS, why killing albinos won't produce potent items for use in witchcraft, and why a god called Maui didn't really fish up part of New Zealand. And yet even though near identical flaws exist in their own belief system, they are oblivious to them, and they refuse to acknowledge them even if they're pointed out. They'll willingly agree that gods dressed in Greek togas tossing lightning bolts off Mount Olympus is just plain silly, but see nothing remotely silly in a god turning a woman into a pillar of salt. They immediately dismiss elephant headed gods as primitive superstition but see nothing at all unbelievable in a talking snake. They ridicule witches casting their spells but believe a man spread his hand over the sea and caused it to part.

Their overwhelming desire to believe their own fantasy blinds them to its faults, flaws, imperfections and outright falsehoods. And this applies equally to all religious types, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan or Scientologist. All have this ability to consider their own beliefs as entirely rational while marvelling at the gullibility of others. Hence they all enjoy giggling at stories of others organising wedding ceremonies for frogs and following false gods. They could increase their mirth levels considerably by just by looking in the mirror, and by rereading their own stories with their blinkers off.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Apr, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Healing with Christian Science
Last week I attended a free lunchtime lecture entitled "Curing the Incurable". Elise Moore of Nashville, Tennessee, would explain about healings of "unemployment, a broken arm, earache, cancer and even a gunshot wound". Only the print at the bottom of their ad hinted at how these amazing healings might have occurred: Sponsored by the Christian Science Church. It seems that prayer alone can cure even unemployment. There were 22 people in attendance, and excluding a reporter and myself, everyone appeared to be members of the Christian Science Church. Interestingly no newspaper article has appeared but I guess it would be difficult to write a positive article about the lecture. Better to say nothing.

It was in 1879 that Mary Baker Eddy founded The Church of Christ, Scientist. Or perhaps put another way: The Church of Jesus H. Christ, Phd. Can you imagine Jesus calling Textbookhimself a scientist, dressed in lab coat peering into a microscope or a telescope, performing experiments to understand how the world works? Why would Jesus need to resort to becoming a scientist to understand the world? I thought he — in the guise of God — actually made the place? We humans only need scientists because their bloody god won't give us the handbook. (Click on the righthand image to view a sample page from the new Christian Science Textbooks.)

Like most people, I've always been amazed that followers of this church see nothing contradictory in the phrase "Christian Science". It's an oxymoron, as silly as saying square circle or heterosexual lesbian. Of course this name was coined back in the 1870s by a devoutly religious woman with little education, but that its followers in our modern scientific world still call themselves Christian Scientists and Christian Science practitioners without any sign of embarrassment is testament to their delusion. Though not uneducated they seem to be completely ignorant of what science really is, and it seems to play no part in their religious belief. They simply call their belief in healing prayer a "science" because they claim it has been scientifically proven. This just further exposes their ignorance of the scientific method. Their belief has the same scientific support as does a child's belief in the tooth fairy.

In one way Christian Science is similar to that other religious cult Scientology. Silly scientologists believe that aliens called "thetans" living in our brains cause our health problems, especially our psychological problems, whereas Christian Scientists believe "false beliefs are the procuring cause of all sin and disease." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures). It's all in the mind evidently. Scientologists believe that once you rid yourself of these thetans then good health returns, and likewise Christian Scientists believe that simply ridding yourself of false beliefs will cure you of anything — cancer, bullet wounds and unemployment. Scientologists call this mind altering procedure auditing, whereas Christian Scientists simply call it praying, but both believe that returning the mind to its perfect state will cure its owner. Both are deluded.

Put simply, Christian Scientists are just a bunch of ineffectual faith healers. They shun medical treatment and believe that praying to Jesus aka God will rectify all problems one might have in life. They are primarily concerned with the health of the human body, but believe prayer can improve anything and everything. As the list above shows, even your employment status can be healed. Thus the entire lecture was used to explain how one can pray more effectively. We learnt about the different 'machete' and 'helicopter' methods of prayer. One especially silly prayer was this: "If it's true for God, then it's true for you. If it's not true for God, then it's not true for you." This prayer can be used for all manner of complaints. For example, if you suddenly find you've been stabbed with a large kitchen knife, you ask yourself this: Is it true that God has a large kitchen knife protruding from his chest? Answer: No. Therefore if it's not true for God then it's not true for me. Thus I do not have a large kitchen knife protruding from my chest. Keep saying this prayer over and over until the problem disappears. End of medical problem. While this particular example wasn't offered at the lecture, it is valid. There is no cut off point where you skip prayer and immediately seek medical treatment. Prayer cures EVERYTHING.

It should be noted that the Christian Science Church doesn't specifically forbid its members from seeking medical advice or treatment, unlike some other Christian sects, but it certainly doesn't recommend it as a first option. Unfortunately many members are unlikely ever to take up this option due to their blind commitment to prayer and their belief that medicine and doctors are ineffectual and may even cause illness rather than cure it. Also seeking medical treatment would alienate them from the church, and possibly family and friends. This has resulted in many, especially children who have no voice, suffering and even dying of preventable and curable conditions. Although the Christian Science Church is opposed to demonstrating that their health regime through prayer actually works, a few independent studies have shown that Christian Scientists actually have shorter live spans and catch more diseases than others, due to their opposition to vaccination, immunisation, and quarantine for contagious diseases. They don't believe in germs. Remember it's all in the mind. This is where their ignorance actually impacts on all of us, since they contribute to the spread of infectious diseases.

But what is praying anyway? Isn't it just wishful thinking or outright begging? Supposedly their God knows everything and is everywhere at once, so why would you have to tell him you have cancer? Does he eventually get sick of your continual pleading and begging and snap, "OK, OK. Enough already. I'll cure your bloody cancer. Just stop bothering me. I've got a universe to run." What happens when two opposing sports teams or armies, all devout Christians, both plead for victory? Who does He choose? Does He flick a coin? And hasn't God got our whole future planned out already, Armageddon and all that stuff? Isn't everything unfolding as He planned? Wasn't the extinction of the dinosaurs, the Black Death and WWII all part of His plan? Surely someone's cancer or unemployment is planned too, and why would God alter His plan to find someone a job and not lift a finger to stop the Holocaust? Why would God suspend or momentarily alter the laws of physics to instantly mend a broken arm — which will heal naturally anyway — but turn a blind eye to all those little altar boys being raped by His priests, and praying for his help?

The arrogance of people who pray amazes me, that they believe that they can make an all-powerful, all-knowing God change his mind. That the sophistication of their argument or sincerity of their prayer or outright grovelling will cause him to change reality to suit their prayer. To make the world the way they would like it to be. For Christ's sake, grow up!!

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 01 Apr, 2009

    I haven't particularly studied Christian Science but have read a little. I understood that Christian Scientists are slightly healthier on average than the rest of us. The reason is they prohibit their members from smoking and using alcohol. They eat healthily, in fact do what we all should be doing. However I get angry when I hear of any group rejecting immunisation. I am old enough to remember polio and tuberculosis. I remember the little kids with leg braces. I remember TB sanatoriums. There are often comments on the number of children buried in old graveyards. Most of these died of infections. If I was in government I would deny social welfare to any parent or parents who decline to have their kids immunised. As much as I believe in democracy and personal freedom I also believe in personal responsibility.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Apr, 2009

    I'm with you Bob. You might find the following articles interesting. They comment on the health of Christian Scientists. This article states that "Gale Wilson was an autopsy surgeon for the coroner in King County, Washington, USA who studied death records in that county from 1935-1955. He (or she) found that Christian Scientists tended to die at a slightly earlier age than non-Christian scientists; that the cancer death rate for Christian Scientists was twice the national average, and that at least 6% of Christian Science deaths were medically preventable."

    In this article "Two studies suggest that Christian Scientists who rarely consult doctors pay a high price for avoiding medical care. The first study, study published in 1989, compared alumni records from Principia College, a Christian Science school in Elsah, Illinois, with records from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Even though Christian Science tenets forbid the use of alcohol and tobacco, the death rates among those who had graduated from Principia between 1934 and 1948 were higher than those of their University of Kansas counterparts (26.2% vs. 20.9% in men, and 11.3% vs. 9.9% in women). The second study compared Christian Scientists and Seventh-day Adventists (who also are admonished to abstain from cigarettes and alcohol but use scientifically oriented medical care) and found even greater differences in the death rates."

    This page describes some unfortunate victims of Christian Scientists.

Promoting Creationism
Why is that in the 21st century do we still have creationists? In a letter to the editor last week in the Otago Daily Times (Mar 20), Gordon Miller wished that science would stop "speculating" about life and the universe and simply accept that God the Creator is the answer for everything, that we should "accept the real and satisfying evidence both in nature and in Scripture of a special creation". But we've already tried religion, and it didn't work. It seems Mr Miller was born several centuries too late.

He claimed that many scientists are rejecting evolution, which is as misleading and demonstrably false as if I was to claim many scientists now think the earth is flat. He attempted to mislead the layperson by distorting the facts of evolution, providing confused descriptions derived from books on religion rather than science. It's obvious from the phrases Miller uses that his arguments come from creationists, not scientists. He talks about "molecules to man evolution", DNA, chance and the "mathematically impossible" nature of evolution, yet no real scientist believes that random molecules in some primordial soup simply joined together by chance to make man. It's the same silly argument as the 747 junkyard story, that a hurricane going through an aircraft junkyard, throwing parts every which way, wouldn't by chance leave a working 747 in its wake. Everyone realises that this would be nigh on impossible, and if humans were supposedly formed in this same random fashion, then obviously evolution is wrong. Or would be if this were what evolution actually claimed, but of course it doesn't. But then those who can't see flaws in stories about talking animals can't really be expected to understand evolution.

His first problem is that he believes the Bible is actually true, fact not fiction. His second problem — and that of all creationists — is that he mistakenly expects to understand science by reading Scripture, which tells us of a universe that was made in six days by an invisible fairy some 10,000 years ago. Life, among which were two nudists and a talking snake, was created instantaneously on a flat world in the middle of this universe, and all these feats were performed merely by uttering phrases such as 'Let there be light'. We learn that dinosaurs and saber tooth cats lived alongside man al la The Flintstones but were deliberately slaughtered by this deranged fairy in a worldwide flood, destroying all life bar an old sycophant, his family and their boat load of numerous pets. We're told about the sea parting on command, men returning from the dead, the sun stopping in the sky and stars falling to earth. We're told that bats are birds and hail is kept in storerooms. We read about a virgin giving birth to a man who could make nice garden furniture, walk on water, instantly clone fish and bread and magically turn water into wine. We read that this deranged sky fairy is the man's father but that he has nothing to do with the child until a planned meeting some three decades later, which goes horribly wrong. The fairy suffers another outburst and has his son beaten and executed, supposedly on the pretence of teaching the rest of us a lesson. Christians now live with the fear that if they misbehave again he'll slaughter another one of his children.

All these "facts" derived from Scripture have kept mankind ignorant for thousands of years.

In addition to ignorance about the real world, relying on Scripture has given us intolerance, inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, pogroms and pedophile priests, whereas accepting science as a description of reality has put us on the path to true knowledge, and to increased equality and tolerance. Not to mention men on the moon and rovers on Mars, antibiotics, safer childbirth, a greatly increased lifespan and the abolition of both fairies at the bottom of the garden and big ones in the sky. We'll stick with the proven success of science and if we want a book with magic in it, then we'll read Harry Potter.

Creationists should have gone the way of the dodo by now, but still they persist. Is the ODT itself one reason we still have them and their silly belief? Even though their letter limit is 150 words, Miller was permitted around 350 words to promote his creationism, whereas letters challenging his nonsense were much shorter, the first 196 words and the next three abridged by the editor down to 105, 88 and 132 words respectively. Then we get a convoluted letter supporting creationism by the use of mathematics, which the editor didn't abridge, publishing around 345 words. Does someone in the ODT have a creationist agenda, happily publishing against its own rules the full unabridged text of letters promoting creationism while editing and watering down those that try to support evolution? I would ask them but like most spineless newspaper editors they refuse to "enter into discussion about selection or editing".

Creationists are people who steadfastly refuse to enter the 21st century. Yet they have no chance of convincing scientists that religion is true and science is false, that's why all their effort is put into placing their bogus arguments in front of laypeople, the general public. That's why they publish letters in newspapers, magazines and books read by laypeople, and why they don't publish articles in scientific journals. That's why they spend their time sending their promotional material to schools and politicians and not to scientists. They may convince someone's granny or an eight-year-old or some uneducated shift worker that evolution doesn't make sense, but these same people probably believe in vampires, homeopathy and the healing power of crystals as well. Conning them into believing one more silly thing requires no great effort. Creationists just want others to share their delusion with them.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 27 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 04 Apr, 2009

    Mr. Miller doesn't want to think preferring to have simple certainties. Some years ago now when Paul Holmes had the 7 O'clock slot on TV1 a small fundamentalist group in the South Island made astounding claims. During their services gold dust floated down covering them and their prayer books. They claimed a 13 year old girl had rotting teeth which were miraculously repaired through prayer giving her a perfect set. Holmes, an atheist, picked up on it and invited the church leader into the studio. He asked him for some gold samples but none were forthcoming. Holmes pointed out fine dust must have settled in their clothes and books but no it didn't survive outside the door. Then Holmes questioned him about the girl. He asked if he could have the girl's teeth examined which was agreed. A dental nurse did the examination comparing them with the chart of bad teeth. It appeared the bad teeth were the girl's baby teeth. When her new ones grew they were perfect. The leader had the grace to admit he was wrong feeling very embarrassed. A woman member of the church was upset saying claims of what happened in church should never be questioned. If Miller had his way there would be a lot of stuff like this because no one would do the investigation to rubbish it.

    Just as a matter of interest I think science is getting to the point of outdoing Jesus in miracles. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and himself. Putting the Resurrection aside think how many people medical science has raised from the dead. Everyday people clinically dead are revived. Research is going on now to find how to turn on DNA in the body to become active and start growing new limbs and other body parts. I have little doubt it will succeed. Jesus wasn't reported as miraculously replacing arms and legs.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Apr, 2009

    Yes Bob, I do remember that Holmes show about the gold and the teeth. And there is a law that stops us questioning the church, as that woman wished. It's called blasphemy. I think Britain had it struck from their law books recently, we should do the same. And you're right, science is starting to outdo Jesus. It is this blatant success of science that will cause more people to reject religion than anything else.

Religulous — The Movie
To steal a cliché from the film critics: If you only see one movie this year, Religulous should be that movie.

Religulous It's very funny and enlightening. You can laugh and learn something at the same time. This is how the DVD blurb describes the movie:

"In this new comedy from director Larry Charles (Borat, Seinfeld), comedian and TV host Bill Maher... takes a pilgrimage across the globe on a mind-opening journey into the ultimate taboo: questioning religion. Meeting the high and low from different religions, Maher simply asks questions, like "Why is faith good?" "Why doesn't an all-powerful God speak to us directly?" and "How can otherwise rational people believe in a talking snake?" For anyone who's even a little spiritually curious, this divine entertainment will deepen your faith... in comedy!"
Maher interviews Christians, Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, Mormons etc and lets them explain and defend their faith in their own words. In doing so they unwittingly demonstrate just how little they really know and just how little they've thought about their religion. If Maher had simply told us some of the ridiculous things religious people believe, we would have thought, 'Don't be silly, no one could be that stupid or that naïve or that ignorant', but hearing these silly statements come out of their own mouths makes one realise just how ignorant and deluded most religious believers are. Often their belief rests on claims that are demonstrably false and their depth of knowledge of their faith is wafer thin. They were given a religion as a child and their knowledge of it remains at a child's level. A not very bright child.

While many of the funny bits naturally come from Maher and the editing in of various images to highlight certain comments, the real strength of the movie comes from the comments of the interviewees themselves. They do untold damage to their various religions and their own credibility. It just goes to show that if you force a religious believer to focus on specific questions rather than just letting them waffle on with vague statements or feel good promises — God works in mysterious ways or God loves you — they soon demonstrate that their religious faith is as well thought out as their belief in Santa Claus was.

Here's one example from the movie of a Christian fundamentalist who was also a US Senator unwittingly making a fool of himself. Bill asked him something along the lines of:

"It scares me when senators such as yourself, who are almost running this country, say they believe in talking snakes. I don't understand how intelligent people can believe things like that."

"Hey, no one said you had to pass an IQ test to become a senator."

The ODT had an excellent write up on the movie: Bill Maher slaughters some sacred cows

As for the movie title, since Religulous appears to rhyme with ridiculous, I'm guessing it's a play on statements such as 'religion is ridiculous' and 'Its ridiculous to be religious'.

Religulous is screening as part of the World Cinema Showcase 2009 in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin during March and April.

For those of you that don't live in these cities, my commiseration. You'll be missing a great movie. I went and saw the movie in Dunedin and would go back and watch it again but unfortunately I will be in Invercargill and petrol isn't cheap. But I definitely will watch this movie again. One hopes that it will be picked up by the regular movie theatres, and that a TV channel might eventually screen it. But I won't hold my breath.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 20 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Feng shui and safer driving
Yesterday I heard an announcer on one of our ubiquitous commercial radio stations — The Breeze I believe — tell us how we should use feng shui to pick the colour of our next car. She was relating an article she had read in Saturday's ODT. According to Melbourne-based feng shui practitioner Nadia Lapaduia-Merino, green cars are going to be the new black. Evidently "every 20 years was represented by a number, which in turn was represented by a particular element and its corresponding colour". This reality challenged person reckons feng shui forces have a "subconscious effect on the colour choices people make". "It sort of reflects the overall consciousness level of people," she claims. She provided a formula and chart that allows us all to pick our own "good fortune" colour — based on the year one was born — which if we pick a car of this colour will evidently prevent accidents and considerably reduce our vehicle maintenance bills. Yeah right, sure it will. What would make a green car safe and cheap to own this year, but not last year? Of course certain colours do improve vehicle visibility and hence make them safer. However the present popularity of grey, black, silver and other asphalt coloured cars that blend into the road under certain lighting conditions are just what we shouldn't be driving. But according to this feng shui expert these have been the safe cars to drive up until now. But now it's green. What's changed in the world? Nothing has physically changed, the environment that we drive through is the same and our eyes respond in the same way to different colours. So why would I be safer in a green car, a car that now tries to blend into the lush green paddocks of Southland, imagining it's an army tank on manoeuvres? Why aren't fire engine colours changing over the years as different colours become safer? Why aren't very expensive to maintain Formula One racing cars painted feng shui colours to reduce maintenance bills? This utterly stupid notion that mystical forces are influencing our lives should have died out long ago. Why did we get to keep this and lose the dodo?

I've long thought that commercial radio stations could easily improve their product immensely and save themselves a fortune at the same time. How? Just fire most of their announcers. I don't care if there is a recession. Think of the children!

We all hate the thought that there might be a pedophile or nuclear power station moving in next door, so why don't we have the same fears over the utter rubbish being propagated by superstitious, intellectually challenged radio announcers? And also newspaper editors, remembering that it was the supposedly reputable Otago Daily Times that first published this prominent article with colour photo and helpful chart so we could all work out our own lucky colour. This was important stuff that we need to know evidently. And don't bother looking up the chart, they've obviously got the formula wrong as it returns numbers that don't match the chart. A chart that indicates that these morons believe the world is composed of five elements — earth, water, metal, wood and fire. I was going to work out the colours to see if it was safe for my partner and I to both ride in the same car. Imagine if Dad gets a new car that is a safe colour for him but not for the wife and kids? Could he be accused of endangering his family? And if your safe car colour is based on your year of birth, why are we moving into a green car phase, which suggests that green should be safe for everyone? Quite frankly, the piece of toast I had for breakfast had more brains than these idiots and their silly beliefs.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Ghost hunter spots alien probe
Mossburn UFO Invercargill's freebie weekly newspaper the Southland Express recently carried a story entitled "Strange light in southern skies" (Feb19). It published a photograph of the "strange light" taken by Kathy McBride late at night in the cemetery in Mossburn, in Western Southland. (Click on the photo to view a larger image). Why was Kathy in a position to take such a photo you might wonder? It seems that "on a clear night in January" she and seven others were out hunting ghosts. Unlike ducks or fish, ghost hunting season extends all year round, and evidently you don't need a licence. It wasn't made clear what they intended doing with a ghost if they ever caught one. Would they, like some fishermen do, release it back into the wild, or would they roast it with an orange sauce? Kathy McBride is a medium or clairvoyant and hails from Masterton, so whether she was using her claimed abilities to lead this merry group or merely accompanying them wasn't revealed. Anyhow, they notice a white light in the sky and Kathy takes up the story: "We thought maybe it was a satellite, but we noticed it was going very fast and going the wrong way and moving off in different directions". Annoyingly this light moved behind a cloud and wasn't seen again. Or did the cloud simply move in front of the light? At night it can be hard to tell. And confusingly, how can there be clouds in the sky on a "clear night"? We are then informed that "Shortly after Kathy noticed two puncture wounds on the back of her hand which had begun to bleed, and sheep making odd noises in nearby paddock". Let's see... in a cemetery and two puncture wounds? Well, that's simply vampires, nothing mysterious there. As for the sheep, maybe they were just unsettled by something strange nearby? And I don't mean the vampires or ghosts, they would be used to them. I mean a bunch of loonies sneaking about in the dark, randomly lighting up the night sky with bright camera flashes and no doubt tittering nervously every time a beetle coughed.

This brings us to the photo in the article. Kathy says, "I was snapping away casually and I looked down and I'd taken a photo of this thing which looked like a moth. But it looked too big." The article said that, "Kathy suspects the object was an alien probe, with the original light possibly the main spaceship". Kathy added, "I had heard stories of people seeing UFOs in the sky, but even though I'm a clairvoyant it was odd for us."

I know it should be obvious, but it needs to be highlighted that no one, not Kathy or any of the other seven in the group, actually saw this big, bright object. Kathy only noticed it when she looked at the image displayed on her camera. Remember that it was dark, and this group was scanning the sky specifically looking for unusual glowing objects. They'd already detected a light that they initially thought might have been a satellite, and satellites are quite small and not all that bright, and yet no one noticed this big, bright light right in front of the camera. The object is so bright no detail can be made out other than a rough outline. It also appears to be casting a light downwards, but obviously this is an illusion, because since no one saw it then obviously it wasn't glowing right there in front of them. But perhaps the light wasn't being emitted by the object but it merely reflected back the light from the camera's flash? Before and after the flash the object would have been hidden by darkness. However many people grossly overestimate how powerful their camera flash is. If you look below the object you can see a line of dimly lit headstones and beyond that all is darkness. The object would have to be at least this close to the camera and highly reflective to light up as much as it did. But again, if it was this close, this big and this reflective, it's unlikely that none of the group noticed it light up. Also note that the scene is illuminated exactly as one would expect the camera flash to do. If such a large, bright light — that appears to be directing light downwards — really was hovering above or beyond the visible headstones then it would illuminate the area beneath it, just as streetlights do, but there is no extra light on the ground "beneath" this object. The foreground, headstones etc are evenly lit from the flash and the area beyond the headstones is in complete darkness. This would suggest that the object is either quite distant, in which case the flash wouldn't be powerful enough to illuminate it, or much closer than any other object visible in the photo. And when Kathy looked down and saw it on the screen — remembering that this is the very thing they were looking for — why didn't she immediately take another photo? After all, she hadn't seen the object depart so it might still be there. Or did she take another photo and it revealed nothing this time?

The unfortunate thing with unidentified objects in a dark sky is that there is no scale, nothing by which to judge how big they might be. Is it a large object far away, a small object up close or something in between? If we could identify it as a Boeing 747 then we could say it had to be much further away than those headstones, but if it was obviously a bat then it was quite close, and if it was a moth, then it was very close to the lens indeed. Unfortunately it's not clear from the small photo what the object is, but if I had to take an educated guess, I would go with Kathy's first impression. She has photographed a moth. What would a moth look like photographed at close range? Since most cameras can't focus up close the moth would be completely blurry. Depending on how reflective moths are, much of the flash could reflect back into the lens washing out any detail. Depending on the "shutter speed" of the camera, duration of flash, camera movement etc, light reflecting from moving wings and body could show up as a sweeping arc Mossburn UFO or blob rather than as a sharp, identifiable shape. Also a moth would have been almost invisible before, during and after the photo was taken, hence no one would see anything. And if a second photo were taken, the moth would have been long gone, the poor little guy fleeing the flash, screaming "My eyes... my eyes!" And no doubt they were using torches that would attract moths. Also the published photo appears to have been cropped, so I wonder how big the object was in the original, and what magnification or focal length the photo was taken at? If you look at the blob of light, it's relatively easy to imagine wings, body and two feathery antennae at the top, as my red outline shows. I'm not saying it definitely was a moth, but this explanation must rank highly. There are many more reasons to suspect moth rather than alien probe.

So what might lead someone who is a clairvoyant and who admits that they have merely "heard stories of people seeing UFOs in the sky" reach the conclusion that it was an alien probe? Where does this knowledge or even the phrase "alien probe" come from? Frankly I suspect someone has watched one too many alien movies and has failed to grasp what the word fiction in science fiction means. Why would an alien probe be skulking around a cemetery at night? And please don't say it was observing the ghost hunting humans. We have satellites with camera and detection technology that can observe us from hundreds and thousands of kilometres away. Surely advanced aliens having technology several orders of magnitude better than ours don't still have to hover a few meters away? This is a major flaw with many UFO believers. They insist aliens are highly advanced compared to us and yet they have their craft using technology equal to and sometimes inferior to ours. If aliens want to observe humans, why not just log onto YouTube or one of many satellite broadcast TV documentary channels? And why do alien spacecraft, like the "main spaceship" spotted earlier, evidently need to be brightly lit up to fly, and yet the alien probe can move about with its lights off?

Even though this group was hunting ghosts and even though they claim to have some expertise in ghosts and none in UFOs, there is no suggestion by them that this unidentified apparition might be a ghost. It's often said that people see what they expect to see. These people were expecting ghosts and saw — to a non-ghost hunter anyway — what would usually be described as a ghost. I mean, one of the favourite camera images often claimed to be ghosts are the so-called orbs, just small blobs of light, so why are they so convinced that this blob of light wasn't a ghost? What identifying characteristics does it exhibit that clearly say "Not a ghost"? It was glowing, it was floating, it was there one minute and gone the next, it only showed up on "film", it was sighted in a cemetery — all ghostly signs it would seem. What screams alien probe rather than ghost? There was no coloured flashing lights, no high speed manoeuvres, no reported hum of the hyperdrive, no evidence that they had been scanned by an alien technology, no observed docking or connection whatsoever with the aforementioned "main spaceship".

And why does one even go to a cemetery to look for ghosts? Is there some sort of spectral "power cord" that limits how far ghosts can roam from their resting place? Is there a curfew that sees ghosts returning to their graves similar to that of vampires and sunrise?

Letters printed the following two weeks in the Southland Express have commented on the original article. One from Lloyd Esler of the Southland Astronomical Society simply expressed skepticism of claims of alien craft and the supernatural and requested more details about that sighting and any others. Another from electrician Winston Bowes suggested that the strange image might have been caused by the flash bouncing back from the reflector in a pole mounted floodlight that was nearby but switched off. Quite plausible but a further letter from an Andrew and Kathy Morahan maintains that there is no lighting at the cemetery. They state that "As ghost hunters we make sure we are familiar with skeptics explanations for phenomena, ghostly or alien." They also stated that "Whilst working on a Mossburn dairy farm... it was common to see satellites travelling across the sky on a south to north direction. But four times I saw a light heading east from the West Dome that was definitely not a plane or satellite. Strange lights are not uncommon in the area."

For people that claim to be "familiar with skeptics explanations", the Morahans should be aware that satellites can travel in any direction, not just south to north. There is nothing strange about a satellite travelling towards the east. Remember that in the original article clairvoyant Kathy McBride said, "We thought maybe it was a satellite, but we noticed it was going very fast and going the wrong way and moving off in different directions". She is incorrect in stating that there is a "wrong way" for a satellite to move or orbit, but she is correct in that they don't suddenly move in different directions. However I'm not sure why the Morahan letter mentions satellites. It is blatantly obvious that the captured image is not a satellite and there is not one reason or iota of evidence that connects it to any satellite that might — or might not — have been observed earlier in the night. While I initially thought the Morahans might have been part of Kathy McBride's ghost hunting group, a little research revealed that Kathy Morahan is actually clairvoyant Kathy McBride, and Andrew is her husband.

An online article describes Kathy McBride (or Kathy Morahan) and Andrew Morahan joining with psychic investigator Kelvin Miller to hunt for ghosties in the Wairarapa. Of course I have little confidence that a clairvoyant or a psychic could conduct a believable investigation, and my confidence in Andrew Morahan as being able to objectively and rationally investigate ghosts (or aliens) was convincingly destroyed when he stated, "I have been sceptical in the past and I was an atheist for three months, but that was all the faith I could manage." If Andrew Morahan was to ever say something like, "I'm not convinced that that light or sound was a ghost", he would be expressing skepticism, yet he says he is no longer skeptical. If you're not skeptical about ghostly sightings, then you're a believer in ghosts, and every strange thing you see or hear must be a ghost. Only a "skeptic" can say it might not be. And to say "I was an atheist for three months, but that was all the faith I could manage" is one of the silliest claims I've ever heard. It demonstrates that he must have put as much thought into his choice as I do when deciding whether to have the chocolate or the banana cheesecake. It demonstrates ignorance that he actually believes you need faith to be an atheist, when it is the religious who must rely on faith to believe.

While in Mossburn medium/clairvoyant Kathy McBride put on a show called "MESSAGE'S FROM BEYOND". Tickets cost $10 but you did get a "light supper and tea & coffee", so it wasn't a complete waste of money. I mention this because since Kathy works as a medium getting "messages from beyond" you'd think she'd be a little bit better informed about future events than your typical skeptic. Yet another newspaper article I came across informs me that "A flooded home on Sunday night has not dampened the spirits of Eketahuna couple Kathy McBride and Andrew Morahan." If no one from the other side is going to warn you about a flood driving you from your home, then these alleged messages from beyond are only telling us things we already know. Do medium/clairvoyants never worry about why they can allegedly get messages about other people's fortunes but never their own? Do their dead relatives not care about them? Mediums, clairvoyants, psychics, ghost hunters and their ilk have unintentionally demonstrated that they are really pathetic at what they do, and they have failed miserably to provide any evidence to support their flaky claims. Yet these dismal ongoing failures haven't dimmed their confidence in the slightest, and don't cause them to be reticent in making authoritative claims about fields in which they have no experience, such as UFOs and aliens.

It's pretty obvious that Kathy McBride would have approached the Southland Express with her photo. But why? Was she simply hoping a reader might be able to explain what caused the strange light in the photo, or was she trying to alert us to alien activity in Western Southland? It's not rare for people to see strange things in the sky that they can't identify, and they shouldn't be afraid or embarrassed to ask what it might have been. However it's hard to take people seriously when they express ignorance of what it was and knowledge of what it was in the same breath. Remember that Kathy told the reporter that she "suspects the object was an alien probe, with the original light possibly the main spaceship". UFO observers that immediately make the unwarranted leap to aliens — or ghosts — cause other members of the public to be reluctant to publicly query their own strange sighting or photo, fearing ridicule. Thus many strange lights that have prosaic explanations remain mysteries in the public eye, and all we are exposed to are the silly beliefs of the hunters of aliens and ghosts.

We have made several requests to Matt Maley, the journalist who wrote the Southland Express article, as to whether it would be possible to view the original digital photo and/or whether he or McBride can provide further details. We have had no reply. This demonstrates a scenario that UFO investigator Philip J. Klass has labelled as UFOlogical principle #4:

"News media that give great prominence to a UFO report when it is first received, subsequently devote little if any space or time for reporting a prosaic explanation for the case when all the facts are uncovered."
Media hate to admit they might have been wrong or been a little too gullible or that they failed to investigate the story with the same integrity that they would report a murder case. If they didn't believe the story for a minute but still reported it, they don't want to reveal that they sometimes mislead their readers for the sake of their advertisers. And in the case of this particular story, they were in hog heaven, with not just ghost hunters or mediums that talk to the dead or UFOs and aliens, but all three combined in one story. The silly punters will just love it.

For the record, there was no mention that any ghosts were found that night. I'm not surprised.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Andrew & Kathy, 14 May, 2009

    Hi, came across your site a while ago, only just getting time to comment on your blog.
    We like to go ghost hunting for paranormal research purposes, fun, education, etc..
    Your claim that we were "...tittering nervously...", is a fantasy to substantiate your own beliefs.
    The sky was mostly clear with patches of cloud towards the eastern horizon, their was still some light in the sky.
    Another wild claim, we dont watch alien movies.
    We were expecting ghosts not UFOs so the expectant/fulfilment theory is baseless.
    Yes ghosts are in cemeteries, but they are not always bound there.
    From what I read most satelites from Cape Canaveral go east/west. Others launched elsewhere north/south. Its easy enough to check this.
    Another fictitious claim to support your beliefs, "...every strange thing must be a ghost", is just plain wrong.
    I stand by my claim based on my experience, most spiritual belief systems (which I include athiesm etc..) are faith based. Your blog and website show evidence of this. Blind faith in the religion called "scientism". Except, when Uri Geller apparently could fool the scientists.
    Unfortunately, the future is not fate, or set in concrete. You confuse clairvoyance with fortune telling. If we knew the future with absolute certainty, we would be the only ones winning Lotto.
    We do have the original photos. Please dont believe with absolute certainty everything you read in newspapers. Their editorial changes, and space limitations etc..
    We do have photos of moths at nighttime, nothing like what was in that photo. If you can repeat it with real moths let me know.
    That particular ghost hunt was undertaken with clairvoyants, and Mossburn locals who could vefiry much of the information that was received from the ghosts about themselves.
    We are not silly "New Agey", incredulous nutters. We certainly didnt fall for Prof Richard Wisemans, so called Taunton Castle ghost, that received worldwide publicity. See my letter to the Dom Post.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 May, 2009

    Hi Andrew and Kathy. Thanks for you comments but my belief is still that your photo is most likely to be of a moth, and you have given me no reason to change my mind. You don't address any of my concerns, such as why no one saw this object (only the camera), or why you think it was an alien probe.

    You do mention satellites again, but why? Surely we are all agreed that you didn't photograph a satellite? And if you'll recall I told you that satellites can travel in different directions, especially towards the east, to counter your apparent claim that they only travel north/south, not towards the east. Also I didn't say you were expecting to see UFOs, I said you were expecting to see ghosts, and asked why when you saw a "ghost-like" object you identified it as an alien probe instead?

    You say that "I stand by my claim based on my experience". What experience would that be? What experience do you have that allows you to confidently claim it was an alien probe? You implied that your knowledge of aliens was very limited — "I had heard stories of people seeing UFOs in the sky" — and that you have no knowledge of aliens from movies etc, although this is quite surprising. Have neither of you seen movies like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Star Wars, or viewed an episode of Star Trek, Lost in Space or Dr Who? You might be able to claim that your "experience" as a clairvoyant allows you to say it wasn't a ghost, but that's the extent of it. By your own admission, you don't appear to have the experience or knowledge required to identify alien probes.

    Furthermore, to imply that your conclusions are derived from a faith-based spiritual belief system is merely admitting that you actually have no evidence or reason whatsoever to support them, just blind faith. Blind faith is not a good reason to believe anything. You incorrectly assert that atheism is also faith-based, presumably to imply that my conclusions, because I'm an atheist, must therefore be as weak as yours, yet my conclusions had nothing to do with atheism. All that was required was critical thinking and a willingness to accept the most plausible conclusion based on the available evidence.

    Your mention of our atheism being "faith-based" and that we support the "religion" of scientism are just red herrings. One, they have nothing to do with your sighting and our interpretation of it. Two, atheism (and science) are most definitely not faith based. They are based on evidence and reason. Three, we do not subscribe to scientism, and neither it nor science can be honestly described as a religion. It dismays me that many spiritual or religious people must forever try and define everything in religious terms.

    Again, you said that "I stand by my claim based on my experience", yet the only claim attributed to you was this: "Kathy suspects the object was an alien probe, with the original light possibly the main spaceship". Can you provide nothing other than a photo of fuzzy blob that no one actually saw to support your claim? And no, your faith in something you claim to know nothing about is not sufficient.

Faith and Reason
Last Friday the opinion page of the Otago Daily Times gave readers the first of a new weekly column entitled "Faith and Reason". We're told that in this column "a broad range of ideas on religion and philosophy will be explored". Judging by the first effort however, written by Dunedin's Fernhill Church pastor Mark Buckle, we got dollops of faith and little reason. Perhaps next week's column will have a different author, hopefully someone who has been trained to think rather than simply believe.

Christian pastor Mark Buckle began his column with the question: "Ever considered a creator of all things?" He then told us about a young woman from some unnamed communist country who "raised in an education system that carefully taught atheism, she was confused when we told her about belief in God". As if this wasn't unbelievable enough, we are then expected to believe that "Before we left her city a few days later a remarkable thing happened: she believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God".

This story is either pure invention on Buckle's part or if "true", is so childish as to be worthless. This woman was supposedly confused about belief in god, yet how could someone that has been "carefully taught atheism" be ignorant of belief in god or not understand why people might believe in god? An atheist could be and often is ignorant of why people believe in god, but someone "carefully taught atheism" should not be. This is like saying a person carefully taught modern medicine is confused about talk of germs and disease. If Buckle's young woman was truly confused about belief in god, then he at least should realise that she can hardly be the atheist that he implies she is. Converting her to Christianity was not the amazing coup he claims it to be.

Christians are either very ignorant of the history of these "communist countries" or deliberately suppress this history. When referring to "communist countries" most people mean Stalin's suppression of religion in the USSR and certain Eastern European countries. But up until Stalin's rule, the large proportion of the population of these countries were Christians and the rest were Jews, Moslems, Buddhists etc. No doubt there were a few atheists but they would have been a very small minority. Christians like Buckle want us to believe that when Stalin brought in laws to suppress and discourage religion, especially the Russian Orthodox Church, all these devout Christians and other believers immediately saw that their beliefs were false and/or immediately forgot all about them. This is bullshit. I could ask Mark Buckle that if the NZ government passed a law tomorrow outlawing Christianity and introduced Atheism 101 into our school curriculum, would Mr Buckle become an atheist? Perhaps in public he would, but would he in his heart? Is a mere law change all that takes for him to reject his belief in God? Is his belief that flimsy? I suspect not. Yet Christians want us to believe that people in Soviet countries happily — even in private — gave up being religious and embraced atheism. I say again — bullshit. Yes I'm sure many young people in later years did happily identify themselves as atheists, especially since their schools and laws encouraged it, possibly showing good reasons why it was the best option, and there would have been no public pressure to be religious. However religion was only suppressed publicly, not privately. As soon as communism started to collapse in the 1980s and 90s, churches revived and religion become public once more. It had never left. The belief that everyone in communist countries was a committed atheist is a Christian spread myth. The Soviet leaders weren't interested in atheism per se, all they were interested in was removing power from the churches, and the easiest way to do that was to proclaim everyone an atheist. Unlike powerful organisations like the Russian Orthodox Church with millions of members, there was no atheist group that might challenge the Soviet government (and there still isn't). However calling someone an atheist does not make them one, nor does simply telling kids at school that there is no god. You can't make someone an atheist by hiding religion from them or making it illegal. Everyone growing up in these countries would have been exposed to religion — from parents, grandparents or family friends. Many would have required only the smallest of pushes to adopt religion, if they ever lost it. The notion that all Russians and Eastern Europeans are committed atheists that are willing and able to argue knowledgeably about atheism is bogus. Christian evangelists cultivate this myth to make their occasional conversion of Russians seem as if the love of Jesus triumphs over even educated, dogmatic atheists. (And also to claim that the atrocities of Stalin were committed by evil atheists and not loving Christians.)

Buckle goes on to ask, "how can we ever be certain that God exists? What reasons are there to believe?" He first offers up science but immediately rejects it, claiming science can't even say what or who god is. He next suggests philosophy but quickly rejects that as well, claiming that, "Something of a different realm altogether is required to grasp such things as the existence of God - that thing is faith." Yet faith is no reason to believe in something, in fact it is just the opposite. The religious resort to faith when not only can they find no reason to believe, they know that there are in fact many reasons not to believe. They know too well the value of reason and if they had reasons to believe they would produce them. They fall back on faith because not only has reason deserted them, it has formed a dangerous opposition. Arguments from faith are offered as the last resort, as a rear guard action.

Buckle tells us that, "Faith is a very personal matter because it comes from the very heart of a person." Again this is the very opposite to reason, which isn't personal or subjective but objective, and comes not from the heart but from the intellect and reality. He even admits that, "Belief can be an extremely subjective thing", tells us about religious delusions and reminds us that "simply because someone believes something with all their heart, it does not necessarily make that thing true."

Having apparently admitted that what someone has faith in and what is true can be completely different, he immediately forgets this realisation and states that faith can be accepted as evidence. He says, "perhaps, the closest thing to evidence of an unseen supreme being is in the lives that are joined to him by faith". I guess this is where we are expected to recall his silly story about the communist atheist increasing the ranks of Christianity. He seems to believe that the truth of a matter can be arrived at by a vote. If the majority believe that Elvis is still alive then he is. If the majority have faith that their god exists then surely he must. But if happy, devout Christians is evidence of God, then millions of devout Muslims is evidence for Allah, millions of devout Hindus is evidence for Shiva, and thousands of trekkies attending Star Trek conventions is evidence for Vulcans and Klingons. And even if we were to accept this silly linkage, since the number of people who believe in Christianity is reducing, this would mean that evidence for god is also decreasing, in a similar way that evidence for Santa Claus seems to dramatically decrease as one gets older.

So in a column called "Faith and Reason" exploring "religion and philosophy", have we actually learnt anything? I believe we have, but not what pastor Buckle would have hoped for. We have learnt that this devout Christian educated to teach others about his religion, believes that neither science nor philosophy can provide a reason for us to believe that god exists. This is true. We also learn that this devout Christian believes that the best and/or only evidence that god exists can be described as what you feel in your heart, and by being amazed at how many other people also have this feeling about god. If enough of you feel in your heart that he exists, then surely he does. This is false. So we have learnt that belief in gods is not supported by reason or physical evidence from science or philosophy, but by an illogical, irrational feeling that is grasped frantically in desperation when all other reasonable avenues fail. This feeling is called blind religious faith.

The whole purpose of Buckle's column seemed to be to confirm that he has evidence of god's existence, and it is found in a thing called faith. However we come to realise that Pastor Buckle's explanation of faith has merely given us another reason to believe god doesn't exist. If faith is the best argument that an educated Christian can give as to why we should believe in god, then they really should consider filing for intellectual bankruptcy. The reasons they thought they had in their coffers for supporting their belief have proven to be worthlesss, and their competitors — science and reason — have hit on an extremely accurate and efficient method that explains the world as it really is, without the expensive overhead of invisible fairies and blind faith.

Buckle's argument may have been applauded in medieval times, but having to fall back on faith in the 21st century is really an admission of failure.

Anyone that claims to know the truth of a matter based on what they feel in their heart is basing their claim on nothing but ignorance and superstition.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Mar, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Apr, 2009

    Five "Faith and reason" columns have now been published, each with a different author. The second was Andrew Bradstock, a Professor of Theology and Public Issues who "considers the value and future of the Commonwealth and how Christian faith and hope can help us make the world a better place". It was simply an abridged sermon he delivered at Dunedin's St Paul's Cathedral. The third column's author was Peter Matheson, president of an interdenominational religious group in Dunedin. He strangely enough spent the entire column discussing the present recession and market economics, but finished in a religious mind. He suggests that since "our politicians can't deliver, isn't it time for our poets and thinkers and theologians to be exploring some quite new scenarios, tapping into what Ernst Bloch called "anticipatory consciousness", mounting an urgent quest for realistic alternatives...?"

    Say what? Anticipatory consciousness?? And what idiot would even consider letting poets or theologians run the world economies? Theologians have no knowledge of economics and most have trouble separating fantasy from reality, so can't be expected to provide "realistic alternatives". Certainly praying to some god would be an alternative, but it's hardly realistic. And no number of well-written poems will turn our economy around. It never fails to amaze me that many people think that religion has the answer to all our problems, even our economy it seems. Newsflash idiots! We've tried religion, it didn't work. But I guess if the ODT only asks religious people then they'll only get religious answers. The fourth column was written by Ian Harris who has his own silly column on religion — 'Honest to God' — which we've already debunked. The fifth column began "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth" and was penned by Mark Smith, pastor of Grace Bible Church. Is this all their "Faith and reason" column is going to be, just a print and web-based pulpit for devout Christians to preach their childish sermons from? Something to complement the ODT's daily "Bible Reading"? Either they need to change its format and get some input from the likes of secular philosophers or else remove the word 'reason' from the title. Might I suggest: "Faith — blind and irrational but comforting".

    Update: (08 May) True to form the Otago Daily Times' next 'Faith and reason' column again featured confused believer Ian Harris, then one by Victor Billot, the next by Ivan Grindlay, an elder in the Caversham Community Church, and then Ian Harris yet again. (It seems that 'Honest to God', the fortnightly column written by Harris, is now running under the "Faith and reason" banner.) The "odd" man out in this list is Victor Billot, since he was described as a "Dunedin atheist and humanist". One may think that finally the ODT has decided to provide a little balance, a drop of reason in their ocean of blind faith, but this would be a mistake. Don't get me wrong, Mr Billot's article was excellent, well-written, full of reason and empty of silly arguments based on faith. A breath of fresh air which you can read here. But it seems we don't have the ODT to thank for this article, the one and only that wasn't penned by a religious nutter. The ODT's by-line stated: "Victor Billot argues that the Otago Daily Times series "Faith and reason" has so far featured a lot of faith, and very little reason." I infer from this that Mr Billot's article was not commissioned by the ODT, his article was not a planned part of the 'Faith and reason' series. Like this blog, it was a complaint about their column, about it's religious nature and complete lack of balance. One suspects that the ODT had approached every religious nutter published so far to provide an article on faith and has neglected to seek articles from the side of reason. The column certainly doesn't ask for contributions, it just appeared fully formed, god-like. It does little to suggest that it's anything but a religious soap-box. So I guess we should be grateful that the ODT agreed to print Mr Billot's article of dissent. It's interesting that it's the only article from their 'Faith and reason' series that has generated any letters to the editor, four in complaint and one in support so far. I have looked at some of the comments made in these letters in a new post: Christians — ignorant or deceptive?

Do atheists exist?
In the letters to the ODT last week, Lachlan Gordon of Cromwell wrote regarding (I assume) the slogan placed on some 800 buses throughout the UK — "THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE". He wrote:
"If an atheist writes on the side of bus "There's probably no God", then there is probably not an atheist. They are probably not a gambler, either."
Evidently the word "probably" was included in the slogan for a number of reasons. One, to meet advertising requirements, since while many people seemingly have no problems with the absolute claim that there is a God, the opposite claim apparently scares them. The Committee of Advertising Practice advised that "the inclusion of the word 'probably' makes it less likely to cause offence, and therefore be in breach of the Advertising Code". Two, it is technically more accurate than "There is no God", since it is impossible to prove there isn't (or that there is for that matter). In this case "probably" means that "almost certainly" there is no God. Three, it was seen as a less threatening statement, contrary to the religious slogan it was designed to challenge, which promised non-believers eternal torture in hell.

Mr Gordon appears to suggest that anyone who uses the word "probably" isn't really an atheist, they're more likely a believer in denial. For the record, you can't believe in God and also claim "There's probably no God", so anyone that agrees with that slogan is definitely an atheist. If an atheist says there is no god, then he's accused of being arrogant and of claiming something he can't prove. Yet if he says that there's probably no God, then he's accused of being wishy-washy and not a real atheist at all. We can't win. Yet why don't people accuse the Pope and priests and ordinary devout Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc of being arrogant and of claiming something they can't prove either? Why are only non-believers continually challenged to support their claims or shut up? Why do some Christians insist that atheists are just closet believers? We don't actually disbelieve in god it seems, we just hate god, and show this hatred by maliciously claiming he doesn't exist. It seems that for some Christians the concept that atheists honestly might have no belief in gods is beyond their comprehension. For others, they need to suppress any discussion of atheism for fear that it might corrupt them or their children.

The main complaint that Christians' voice about Richard Dawkins and his book "The God Delusion" is that he claims — apparently in what they see as an angry manner — that god doesn't exist. They consider him arrogant to take this confident stance. Yet no intelligent atheist would criticise the Pope solely because he claims just the opposite, that god does exist. We don't consider him arrogant and angry because he travels the world and preaches this belief to millions. In fact I've noticed many Christians say they refuse to read "The God Delusion", not because they believe his arguments are flawed, but solely because of the dismissive tone they say Dawkins takes of religion. That's like me refusing to read the Bible because of the dismissive tone it takes towards atheism. But Christians that make these silly claims aren't fooling me. Saying they won't read the likes of "The God Delusion" solely because they don't like the tone the authors take with their cherished beliefs is just an excuse. It seems the real reason is that some Christians really are very afraid of what they might learn from reading a book that critically examines their deeply held beliefs. Perhaps you doubt this claim? As an example, here are two Christians writing for help to a Christian website regarding — not one of Richard Dawkins' books — but Carl Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World" which teaches skepticism and critical thinking towards numerous bogus beliefs, including religion.

"Question 1: Our high school chemistry teacher requires all his students to read Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It has already caused my son to start questioning everything we hold dear, and last Sunday he refused to go to Church... What can I do?

Question 2: My daughter got back from her first day back in school, and I found out that one of the books that she is required to read for her high school science class is "Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. After reading only a single chapter in class, I have noticed that she has started to question many things such as the existence of Witchcraft and Demons and the reliability of the Bible. Could you send me information about this book and ways to fight against its pull since I am afraid to read it for myself." [emphasis added]

These parents have seen what effect reading the book is having on their child's view of religion, and one is blatantly afraid that the same will happen to them if they read the book. They obviously don't have the knowledge or answers with which to debate the case with their kids. They know or at least suspect that the book's logic, reasoning and evidence will also cause them to see that their religious beliefs are false. And so they must avoid it like they would the plague.

I've also seen devout believers that have read these books admit that they can see no flaws in the arguments — BUT — go on to claim that their inability to detect flaws is brought about by the Devil. They insist that the devil could convince them that a chicken is a type of fish. They admit that there appears to be no god and good evidence to support this conclusion, but the devil is subconsciously forcing them to believe this. Thus contrary to their own thoughts, god still does exist. You can't debate with people like this.

As for Mr Gordon's quip that atheists probably aren't gamblers either, anyone that honestly lives their life assuming that there is no god — and knowing that if there is then they are in for eternal torture — is far more of a gambler than devout religious types unwilling to ever take that risk.

Like many others Mr Gordon needs to accept that atheists, unlike gods, really do exist. Not only that, our numbers are growing and we are taking their children with us. And finally, so that I personally don't confuse Mr Gordon, let me clearly state — with the same confidence that a true Christian would use to voice their stance — "There is no God".

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Feb, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 09 Mar, 2009

    Hello John, I don't care much what some oddbod writes to a newspaper. I find types like that resent their beliefs being questioned and don't want to acknowledge they might be wrong. On another tack I found three items on the Catholic Church which made me feel angry. I take a lot more notice of the Catholic Church than I do of Christian writers to newspapers.

    On YouTube there are a number of videos made by Richard Dawkins while travelling through America. In one he interviewed a Catholic priest called Father George Coyne. Now Coyne was rather remarkable. He is a scientist and was in charge of the Vatican Observatory. He is also a very intelligent man with a strong attachment to science. He said that in his opinion evolution was the only viable explanation for the development of life. He had no time for creationists. He didn't accept that miracles happened though he believed one did occur namely the Resurrection which justifies his faith. Apart from that he was a very interesting person. It was obvious Dawkins was impressed by him. He is in his mid 70s and mentioned that he had retired the previous year.

    Coyne said he believed evolution was random and humans were randomly thrown up. I was surprised at this because I had read that the Pope believes evolution is directed by God and that humans were meant to appear as the pinnacle of life. In other words he believes that life evolves through a form of intelligent design. When I googled George Coyne it all became clear. It appears that Coyne was dismissed from his post in 2006 because the Pope was not impressed by his views. That bit of information came from a newspaper article.

    It was two documentaries on Sky which really angered me. One subject was the pedophile priests. Now I knew a certain amount about them mainly from media articles. However this documentary put it more in perspective. It appears that known pedophile priests were left in their positions or shifted to other areas still in contact with children. From the highest levels of the church which included the present Pope as a cardinal documents were put out telling members of the hierarchy to say nothing and not to cooperate with legal authorities. One American police detective said he faced a stone wall when he tried to get information to prosecute pedophiles. It seems the Vatican went so far as to shield priests refusing to hand them over to civil authorities. The interviewer for the documentary said one American priest had been spirited away to the Vatican and was hidden while the Vatican refused to consider requests for extradition. I thought the best comment on the whole sorry saga came from a conscientious Catholic woman. Writing to a newspaper she said it sounded more like the mafia than her Church. I know you have already covered this subject but that is a slightly different perspective.

    The next documentary was to do with contraception and particularly the use of condoms pertaining to poor people in Catholic dominated third world countries. To poor women with large numbers of children Catholic authorities can be very domineering. One women lived in a one room shack with seven children. She had nine but two had gone. When asked why she didn't use condoms she said because she was told it was a sin. In poor areas in South America the Church has been able to stop condoms being available. If any question of abortion arises Church authorities then threaten excommunication which is frightening to simple people of low education. The Church is not above telling lies to push it's principles. It claims the minute pores in condoms are large enough to allow HIV virus through. The interviewer was talking to an African bishop who gave him this bit of false information claiming people who use condoms are relying on false security. The interviewer told him that WHO scientists have categorically stated condoms do give protection against HIV and against all common sexual diseases. The bishop simply refused to accept that and kept repeating condoms allow the HIV virus through. Some highly qualified people trying to give poor people real help find themselves obstructed. Politicians who have tried to have abortion laws passed have had the Church campaign against them to get rid of them from public life. In Brazil it has come to a head now over the aborting of two fetuses from a nine year old girl who had been raped by her stepfather. Doctors feared the pregnancy would kill her so removed them. A Roman Catholic archbishop declared those who took part in the abortion were now excommunicated. The Brazillian President openly criticised the archbishop. Hopefully now that the European countries have largely thrown out the Catholic Church third world countries will follow suit and give their people the treatment they really need.

    Members of the Catholic hierarchy are not stupid though some seem to follow the leader blindly. They follow the official line rather than thinking for themselves probably because they are too cowardly to stand up for true principles especially when they see those who do get eased out.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Mar, 2009

    You're right of course Bob that the Vatican has a lot to answer for in third-world countries. They've largely lost their hold on first-world countries, all the "devout" Catholics I know use birth control, so they prey on the uneducated. In the future their actions may be referred to in the same way that we now mention inquisitions, crusades and witch trials.

  3. Comment by Bob, 20 Mar, 2009

    Further to my comments on the Catholic Church and the use of condoms - the Pope apparently on the eve of a tour of Africa reiterated that condoms are not the answer to AIDS. Abstinance and fidelity to one partner are. The problem is an unattainable ideal is the norm for the Catholic Church. Both German and French leaders have attacked the Pope for undermining world health programmes. It has always puzzled me why God gave young people very strong sexual desires yet says if you give into them or have sex for fun instead of procreation I will punish you. On the other hand if sexual desire is seen as an evolutionery adaptation to make sure species keep procreating to survive then strong sexual desires make a lot of sense. In fact to achieve this men have an instinct to want to impregnate a number of women. Marriage and a life long attachment to one partner are in fact social developments over time to keep society stable. Once again the pope lives in a dangerous dream world.

  4. Comment by Matt, 10 Feb, 2010

    If i may add regarding condoms, it was unfortunate that durex supplied shipments of flawed condoms to africa, so if any were distributed those ones may not have in fact worked. As for the bus, it was the UK, they probably didn't want some IRA sleeper cell blowing the thing up for dismissing their god.

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Feb, 2010

    I hadn't heard about those shipments of flawed condoms to Africa, but regardless, the Vatican argues that no condom is effective, and even if they were, it is still forbidden to use them, as it is a sin in the eyes of God. We all know that condoms are not guaranteed 100% effective in every case, but only a fool would say that if they're not 100%, then I'm safer not to use one at all. If the Vatican have tried to capitalise on a flawed shipment to encourage Africans to shun condoms, then this just highlights their evil nature.

Naturopaths — should we visit them?
My partner told me yesterday that a friend is going to visit a naturopath. She told her friend Naturopath that it was just pseudoscience (my skeptical attitude must be having an effect) and that she would get a brochure from me that explains why it's a waste of money. I don't in fact have any brochures on naturopathy, but I dug up some good articles for her that clearly explain what naturopathy is, how it arose and why it's a bogus practice (Links to these articles are at the end of this post). But let me summarise their findings.

Naturopathy is, as the name suggests, about healing the body the "natural" way. At its essence it involves the ancient — but false — belief that the human body is imbued with a life force or energy. This mystical force has the power and intelligence to keep our bodies healthy. The Chinese refer to it as "Qi or chi", the ancient Egyptians called it the "Ba", Ayurvedic therapists refer to "prana", chiropractors talk about working with the body's "Innate Intelligence", therapeutic touch therapists manipulate the body's energy field and Jedi Knights call it "The Force". This life force or energy evidently needs to be balanced to flow freely around the body for good health. If its flow becomes blocked then illness results. And here you were thinking that nasty germs and organs malfunctioning cause illness.

Of course science has not been able to find the slightest trace of this "life force or energy", and that's to be expected since it is based on a primitive and ignorant understanding of how the human body functions. Science can now explain perfectly well how our bodies work and unlike naturopathy, scientific explanations are robustly supported by evidence. At most naturopaths use worthless testimonials to support their existence and magical descriptions rather than evidence to explain their methods.

So what are their methods? For example, homeopaths use homeopathy and healing touch therapists use Reiki, what do naturopaths use? Well, it seems there isn't a "naturopath" method per se, naturopathy is a catchall title for any method that relies on "natural" healing. Naturopaths usually use one or often many of the following alternative treatment therapies: homeopathy, iridology, reflexology, applied kinesiology, Kirlian photography, ear candling, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage, enemas, hydrotherapy, heat treatments, aromatherapy, fasting, hypnosis, joint manipulation, "realignment" of the cranial bones, magnetic healing, therapeutic touch, faith healing, Ayurvedic healing practices etc. Note that all these therapies are recognised by science, conventional medicine and intelligent, rational people as bogus treatments. It matters not which therapies your local naturopath chooses to specialise in, they are all equally worthless.

Because it's all about nature, naturopaths are generally against modern medicines and treatments since they see them as artificial and unable to act on the true cause of "unwellness". Don't you just hate that word — unwellness? What brain damaged New Age moron came up with that I wonder? We already have a perfectly good word to describe disease or poor health — illness. Is it bad luck on some mystical plane to utter that word so that they have to go with silly euphemisms? Anyway, since naturopaths believe that disease is caused by disruptions to an imaginary life force, and not the likes of bacteria or viruses, they are opposed to things like vaccinations and antibiotics. They agree that bacteria and viruses exist, but insist that they merely take advantage of a weakened life force, they don't cause the problem. This means that you could be exposed to all manner of dangerous pathogens — HIV, Ebola, cholera or the bubonic plague for example — and you wouldn't get ill, as long as your naturopath was keeping your life force energy flowing freely by ensuring all your chakras were well tuned. Of course we all know this is utterly false. Think about it. If their treatment worked, naturopaths would have the most finely tuned bodies on the planet, and yet they still fall ill and even die at the same rate as the rest of the population. In fact their morbidity rate might well be higher due to them eschewing conventional treatments. Why doesn't this annoying fact concern them or shake their belief in this bogus treatment?

Not all the advice that naturopaths give is bogus — just most of it. They normally do recommend a proper diet and sufficient exercise, but then so do real medical professionals. If treatment results in the patient seeing an improvement, then it can be assumed that they weren't suffering from anything that wasn't going to heal itself anyway given time. Of course the main thing at work with naturopaths — and all alternative health therapists — is the placebo effect. As I said, many conditions just need time to rectify themselves, and if the naturopath can put the patient in a positive frame of mind while this happens then all well and good. But this is no different than a doctor diagnosing exactly what the problem is and saying that it will clear up in a week or so. The patient leaves reassured that it's nothing serious, and this lowering of stress normally aids the healing. The difference is that the doctor's patient knows that the body is healing itself, whereas the naturopath's patient thinks her recovery is due to her chakras being realigned. She has been duped and has paid for the privilege, but the real and potentially dangerous situation arises when the health problem is not something that the body can heal unaided. Unlike doctors, naturopaths have no real diagnostic skills or tools. They often have little medical training and don't actually need any to call themselves a naturopath. They don't have access to medical laboratories or MRI scanners or even an x-ray machine, nor do they have access to modern medicines or surgery. Of course they wouldn't use them even if they did, but this means that a myriad of medical conditions will be beyond their ability to diagnose. And some of these could be fatal. By the time the patient finally loses faith in their naturopath and seeks conventional help, it could be too late. For some, wasting time and money by consulting a naturopath could be the difference between life and death.

Medical science has improved human health and longevity immensely, and yet naturopaths want us to shun modern medicines and surgeons and scanners and adopt their useless and potentially dangerous therapies instead. They want to return us to a time of ignorance and superstition, to a time of unnecessary suffering and death. It's depressing that many otherwise intelligent people are supporting them in this endeavour by consulting them and then recommending them to their friends.

Some articles examining Naturopathy:

Naturopathy: A Critical Analysis ~ Barry L. Beyerstein, PhD

The Skeptics SA guide to Naturopathy

A Close Look at Naturopathy ~ Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Naturowatch: The Skeptical Guide to Naturopathic History, Theories, and Practices

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Feb, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Acts of God
In a TV3 News item last night on the horrific Australian bush fires which have to date claimed 181 lives, the reporter informs us that Police have arrested an arsonist for one of the numerous fires. She tells us that regarding one bush fire that claimed at least 21 lives, "Police don't believe it was an act of God, they say a 39 year old local man is responsible. He was arrested... and is expected to be charged with arson causing death."

Think about this for a minute. Since authorities believe that something like one in ten of the deadly fires may have been caused by arsonists, this means that the great majority of the fires causing death were acts of God. Police are vigorously pursuing the arsonists and the public is equally demanding that they do so. So why isn't there a public outcry over the inaction or disinterest of holding the major arsonist in Victoria's bush fires to account? That is... God.

Has the general public finally reached the realisation that so called "acts of God" are nothing of the sort? That it's just an outdated euphemism for mindless acts of nature? That the lightning that caused some of the fires can be simply explained by physical laws and it wasn't hurled by a vindictive, murderous arsonist sitting on an imaginary throne in an equally imaginary heaven?

The item also featured an interview with a bush fire survivor in his late teens — a Kiwi actually — rummaging through the ashes of his family home. (Isn't it weird how reporters think that we can better relate to tragedy if we see a Kiwi crying rather than any number of Aussies? Is it only a tragedy if a Kiwi suffers?) We are told that there is growing anger and resentment and the young survivor who had a noticeable silver cross around his neck complains that there weren't any warnings, "They didn't have no warning, they should have warning, like this is... it isn't fair to the people... it's not right."

Obviously this young man still has a confused foot in both camps, so who is he accusing, the authorities or God? He doesn't say, but we're lead to infer that he's pointing the finger at authorities. I was in Melbourne just before the bush fire fatalities occurred, and I was well aware that bush fires were raging out of control even then. They had plenty of warning. These deaths occurred because of complacency, in people's naïve belief that a garden hose could extinguish a raging inferno. As for a personal, last minute warning, why does this Christian expect local authorities to be able to warn him when his God with far more impressive communication tools at his disposal — think of the talking animals, clouds and burning bush from the Bible — is seemingly unable or unwilling to? Why couldn't God have whispered him a warning or caused the fire Burning Bush to skirt their house? Why when tragedies like this occur do Christians try to apportion blame or request answers from earthly causes, yet if a life is saved then a miracle is claimed, to them explicit and obvious evidence of their God's involvement in the world? They're bloody hypocrites living in a fantasy world, and for once I wish a reporter would ask them, "I see you're a Christian. Some lives have been lost and some saved here today. What part did your God play in all this?"

The Christians have a (bogus) saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes", meaning even atheists relent and cry out to god when their lives are threatened, but perhaps we should coin another: "There are no Christians in natural disasters". Meaning even "true believers" give up on god when faced with real world events.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Feb, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 16 Feb, 2009

    "Acts of God " is merely an archaic legal expression taken into general use from the days when religion ruled supreme. I was brought up in Sydney in my early years so am generally familiar with bush fires. While arsonists might have been responsible for some fires spontaneous combustion causes many of them. Hot dry rubbish such as leaves and bracken can burst into flame. At one stage we lived in a house in the last street on the edge of town with bush outside the back fence. Someone had thrown an old mattress and other rubbish near our fence. A bottle lay on the mattress setting it alight by acting as a magnifying glass. On another occasion a fire started spontaneously under our house, an old style house standing on piles. Fortunately my father was near by and quickly put out the flames. I have no idea why it started.

    You are right about people being complacent. At one time bush fires were burning on the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Homes were lost there. People had been advised to keep bush cleared for a distance from their properties. They didn't and even after the loss of houses people forgot and became complacent again. Bushfires are part of Australian nature. Aborigines used to start and control fires to get the benefits of burnoffs to revitalise growth. If you look at the pictures of the aftermath now you will see the tree trunks are still standing. The undergrowth will grow again and trees will sprout new tops. The soil will have been nourished with ash. Bush fires are natural. The trouble comes when people get in the way.

    If God is really responsible it is clear He doesn't give a stuff about people. He is the Lord of nature and nature carries on regardless. One of the problems with modern people is that we have lost contact and familiarity with nature.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 16 Feb, 2009

    Well said Bob. I agree entirely. You'll no doubt remember the major bushfires that raged through much of Yellowstone National Park in the US a few years ago and "experts" feared that it had been destroyed. However it came away better than ever. As you say, bush fires are natural, and much of nature even relies on them to revitalise the land. You're right, the problem is man thinking that the bush is just there to decorate his backyard.

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