Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
I have some friends who are atheists. They seem like normal intelligent people most of the time, so it baffles me that they can accept so bizarre and irrational a belief system. Of course, most of them would be thoroughly confused by that statement. “We’re not saying we believe in anything,” they might say. “We are just saying we don’t believe in something, namely, God. What’s irrational about that?”
But that is not good enough. God explains stuff. Like Life, The Universe and Everything. If you remove God as the explanation, you have to come up with another one. If you want your theory to be convincing, it has to explain the evidence better than God. “What evidence?” atheists might ask. “I don’t see anything that needs explaining.”
To be clear, I am not talking about the impact of religion on society and history and individual lives, and whether it has been positive or negative; that is interesting, but it is another discussion. Nor am I talking about the content of other belief systems. Theravada Buddhism, for example, doesn’t believe in a damn thing, including God, except that there is not a damn thing to believe in, including yourself. Others believe in a variety of gods or spirits. Some people like the idea of angels, but have no idea where angels come from or what they do. I am not (at the moment) interested in any of those things, but only in the question of whether everything we see and experience is better explained by belief in God, or by some other theory.
Nor am I talking about the fact that atheism means that human life, art, suffering, work, families; the whole of human effort and endeavour, is pointless. In the end everything we do and feel will amount to nothing, mean nothing. Or that atheism means there is no objective morality. Morality, right and wrong, is simply whatever we believe it to be. There is no good or bad, just differing opinions. Societies can agree on some things and make them into laws, other societies can agree on different things and make them into laws. They can even call each other names because they disagree. It doesn’t matter. There are no objective standards, so outside your own culture’s view, it is meaningless to talk about right and wrong.
Many if not most atheists simply ignore these corollaries of their beliefs. Most of them still try to do what is right, and act as if their lives and lives of the people they care about had some meaning. That is interesting, but it is not why atheism is irrational. Atheism is irrational because it is not a reasonable explanation of the facts.
Let’s think about the tooth fairy for a moment. The tooth fairy explains something; that from time to time teeth disappear from under a pillow and are replaced with money. If you decline to believe in the tooth fairy, then you need to offer a credible and economical theory which also explains this phenomenon. By economical I mean a theory which does not require the invention of some other unseen entity or entities for which there is otherwise no evidence. This is a rephrasing of William of Ockham’s famous “razor”: when trying to explain something, do not multiply entities beyond necessity. Or, don’t make up more stuff than you need to. Or, the simplest explanation is often the best.
For example, an alternative explanation which required the existence of an entirely new class of supernatural beings would not be acceptable. For example, OK, there are no tooth fairies. What is actually happening is that there is an alternative universe inhabited by creatures called Morbongs. There is a serious deficiency of calcium in their universe, and they have invented machinery which can detect loose teeth in ours. When they find a tooth under a pillow they open a portal between their universe and ours, take the tooth, and leave something in exchange. Usually money, but sometimes a button or a bit of cat hair. The appropriate response to this explanation, even though it explains the phenomenon completely, is to suggest its proposer has had a bit more bong than is good for him.
The tooth fairy is trivial. That is, believing or not believing in the tooth fairy won’t affect your life much at all. Belief in God is not trivial. Theism or atheism is not a choice people can ignore. No, let me refine that. It is not a choice a thoughtful person can ignore. Nothing can make more difference to your understanding of what your life, and life in general, is about, than whether you believe in God or not. Either there is a God who has created the universe for some purpose and (at least in the Christian and Jewish view) invited you to share in that purpose both now and for all eternity; or we make our own way, nothing is objectively right or wrong, and nothing we do or decide matters anyway. This a bigger difference than between living in Antarctica and living in North Queensland. Your daily life would be different, your sense of the world around you would be different, even little choices, how far can I walk or cycle, what clothes do I wear, what food is available, are vastly different. The difference between believing the universe has a purpose which you can be part of, and believing the universe has no purpose, couldn’t care less about you, and you are not ultimately part of anything, is orders of magnitude greater. Thoughtful consideration of the evidence for theism and atheism is incumbent upon every intelligent adult.
Atheists need to be able to offer a credible and economical theory which explains:
Why there is anything rather than nothing?
Given that there is something, why is the universe so finely tuned for life?
Why is there such abundant life on earth and in so many forms?
To limit the extent of this discussion, I am not going to discuss the first. Atheists can decide for themselves whether they believe in an infinite regression of causes, or if they don’t like that idea, that some things just happen, with no preceding energy or matter or cause at all. Nor am I going to discuss the third. It is clear the earth is very old – billions of years old. I have no argument with that. But it is also clear that neo-Darwinism (the combination of evolution through natural selection and Mendelian genetics) has none of the explanatory power high-school textbooks ascribe to it, and is in serious trouble. That is a (very long) discussion for another time.
So let’s focus on this one question: How and why is the universe we inhabit so finely tuned for life?
The theist’s answer is simple; God made it that way. What do atheists have to say?
How finely tuned is it? What does that even mean anyway?
I will review the ruminations of Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, OM, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, a British cosmologist and astrophysicist. He has been Astronomer Royal since 1995, and was President of the Royal Society between 2005 and 2010.
In his book Just Six Numbers, Professor Rees notes the extraordinary extent to which the values of six key variables mean the universe conforms to just those requirements which enable the formation of stable atomic structures and other factors without which galaxies, stars and life itself would be impossible.
This is there merest flick through each of those six numbers (you don’t have to understand all of these, so skip this section if you want):
N, the ratio of the strength of electromagnetism to the strength of gravity for a pair of protons, is approximately 1036. According to Rees, if it were significantly smaller, only a small and short-lived universe could exist.
Epsilon, a measure of the nuclear efficiency of fusion from hydrogen to helium, is 0.007: when four nucleons fuse into helium, 0.007 (0.7%) of their mass is converted to energy. The value of Îµ is in part determined by the strength of the strong nuclear force. If Îµ were 0.006, only hydrogen could exist, and complex chemistry would be impossible. According to Rees, if it were above 0.008, no hydrogen would exist, as all the hydrogen would have been fused shortly after the big bang. Other physicists disagree, calculating that substantial hydrogen remains as long as the strong force coupling constant increases by less than about 50%.
Omega, the density parameter, is the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the Universe. It is the ratio of the mass density of the Universe to the “critical density” and is approximately 1. If gravity were too strong compared with dark energy and the initial metric expansion, the universe would have collapsed before life could have evolved. On the other side, if gravity were too weak, no stars would have formed.
Lambda, commonly known as the cosmological constant, describes the ratio of the density of dark energy to the critical energy density of the universe, given certain reasonable assumptions such as positing that dark energy density is a constant. In terms of Planck units, and as a natural dimensionless value, the cosmological constant is on the order of 10-122. This is so small that it has no significant effect on cosmic structures that are smaller than a billion light-years across. If the cosmological constant were not extremely small, stars and other astronomical structures would not be able to form.
Q, the ratio of the gravitational energy required to pull a large galaxy apart to the energy equivalent of its mass, is around 10-5. If it is too small, no stars can form. If it is too large, no stars can survive because the universe is too violent.
D, the number of spatial dimensions in spacetime, is 3. Rees claims that life could not exist if there were 2 or 4 dimensions of spacetime nor if any other than 1 time dimension existed in spacetime.
Simply put, while the possible settings are calculated in different ways, the odds of the universe having just the variables it has are less than 10-120. To get a (very rough) idea of just how unlikely this, imagine covering the whole of mainland Australia with 5c pieces. One has been painted red. Then imagine a blind man tossing a dart out of an orbiting space station and hitting just that 5c piece. Then imagine the space station circling round again, another blind man tossing a dart out at random and again hitting the only red 5c piece. Then imagine this happening ten times in a row. Would it be rational to believe this “just happened” or happened by chance?
Professor Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab and President of the American Physical Society in 2013, said “The precision (of the fine-tuning of the universe) is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”
Atheists are in the position of having to say this is just co-incidence. Co-incidences happen all the time. A guy buys a lotto ticket for the first time, using his and his wife’s birthdays as the numbers, and wins. Two sisters with blonde hair are playing golf on different sides of the world. They are both struck by lightning at the same time. But the unlikeliness of these events vanishes into insignificance compared with the unlikeness of our universe.
Fred Hoyle, another famous British astrophysicist, said: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Another quote from Fred Hoyle: “The chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids is similar to the chances of a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.”
And from a few others (these are just for reference. It’s not important to read all of them if you don’t want to; just the first few and the last few will do):
George Ellis (British astrophysicist): “Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word ‘miraculous’ without taking a stand as to the ontological status of the word.”
Paul Davies (British astrophysicist): “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming.”
Paul Davies: “The laws [of physics] … seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design… The universe must have a purpose.”
Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy): “I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.”
John O’Keefe (astronomer at NASA): “We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in.”
George Greenstein (astronomer): “As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency – or, rather, Agency – must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?”
Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist): “The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory.”
Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”
Roger Penrose (mathematical physicist, Professor of Mathematics, Mathematical Institute, Oxford): “I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance.”
Tony Rothman (physicist): “When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it’s very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it.”
Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.”
Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.” Since he wrote this, Tipler since has converted to Christianity, see his latest book, The Physics of Christianity.
Ed Harrison (cosmologist): “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God “the design argument of Paley” updated and refurbished. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one…. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument.”
Edward Milne (British cosmologist): “As to the cause of the Universe, in context of expansion, that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him [God].”
Barry Parker (cosmologist): “Who created these laws? There is no question but that a God will always be needed.”
Drs Zehavi and Dekel (cosmologists): “This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with ‘common wisdom’.”
Arthur L. Schawlow (Professor of Physics at Stanford University, 1981 Nobel Prize in physics): “It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.”
Henry “Fritz” Schaefer (Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia): “The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.”
Wernher von Braun (Pioneer rocket engineer) “I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”
Carl Woese (microbiologist from the University of Illinois) “Life in Universe – rare or unique? I walk both sides of that street. One day I can say that given the 100 billion stars in our galaxy and the 100 billion or more galaxies, there have to be some planets that formed and evolved in ways very, very like the Earth has, and so would contain microbial life at least. There are other days when I say that the anthropic principal, which makes this universe a special one out of an uncountably large number of universes, may not apply only to that aspect of nature we define in the realm of physics, but may extend to chemistry and biology. In that case life on Earth could be entirely unique.”
Antony Flew (Professor of Philosophy, former atheist, author, and debater) “It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”
See Flew’s book There is a God, in which he describes (in lengthy detail) how both science and philosophy finally convinced him God was the best and only complete explanation of real world and rational evidence.
Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”
Robert Jastrow (astrophysicist): “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”
Of course there are still some who cling, kicking and screaming, to their bizarre and outdated atheism. Stephen Hawking is one. He and some others agree that it is simply impossible that the universe we inhabit is a product of chance. There is no arguing with that. Their alternative is to posit the existence of an infinite number of universes. The argument goes like this: our universe is ridiculously unlikely. The number of alternate configurations which would not give rise to stable structures or life is greater than the number of atoms in the universe. Therefore there must be an infinite number of universes, so that for anything that is possible, there is a universe in which that possibility is realised. This theory is called the multiverse, or sometimes, the Landscape.
In inventing an infinite number of universes, physicists like Hawking are in the same position as our earlier friend who invented the Morbong and their calcium-deficient universe to explain the disappearance of teeth from under pillows. The amusing thing is, if Hawking and his chums are right, a calcium-deficient universe populated by intelligent Morbongs who steal teeth from a neighbouring universe really does exist. So do tooth fairies. There is a universe, in fact millions of them, in which Morbongs and tooth fairies compete for dwindling tooth supplies. It is not those who believe in God who believe in the tooth fairy, but atheists like Hawking. Their own theory requires them to.
If they don’t want to believe in God, atheists have to believe one of these two things:
* We live in a universe which, quite by chance, has exactly the variable settings needed for complex life to develop, even though the chances of that are less than one in a number billions of times more than the number of atoms in the universe; or
* We live in one of an infinite number of universes for which there is no evidence whatever, including one in which desperate Morbongs open inter-universal portals to hunt for lost teeth, one in which everything else is the same except you got up ten seconds earlier this morning, one in which the lump of snot you blew into your handkerchief yesterday was a hundredth of a gram lighter, one in which … Well, you get the idea. Enough universes so that everything that possibly could happen, happens.
The first choice is irrational. The second choice is free of any evidence, and so bizarrely uneconomical that William of Ockham would have thought you were mocking him.
Neither of those choices makes sense. There is only one that does.
First, the Bible is not a single book. It did not land with a thump one evening on St Peter’s doorstep, complete with leather zipper cover and thumb-tabs. It is a collection of books written in different languages and different cultures over a period of 3,000 years. It includes a variety of types of literature; history, folk tales, fables, proverbs, law and poetry. Some of these work quite differently from the way the same kind of literature works now. For example, Hebrew poetry is not recognised by rhyme or rhythm as is most English poetry, but by parallelism; the repetition or development of an idea in succeeding lines. All of these things must be considered when trying to decide on the meaning and application of a verse of Scripture. Some kinds of literature in the Bible, apocalyptic, for example, are not forms we are familiar with at all, and with those, particular care must be taken not to impose meaning by the application of rules of interpretation which do not apply.
Second, any passage must interpreted in the context of its time and culture. For example, Deuteronomy 22:29 commands that a rapist must marry his victim and is not allowed to divorce her for as long as he lives. Our reaction to this is likely to be “What the flaming heck?” or words to that effect. But to understand this one does not even have to go back to Mesopotamia in 3,000BC. In most Middle-eastern countries now, a woman who complains she has been raped is likely to find that she is the one who is beaten, imprisoned and despised by her community, or killed by her own family for bringing shame upon them. 5,000 years ago, being raped meant a woman was defiled and unlikely to find a husband. Since it was unusual for women to work outside the home or to own property, this meant she could choose between life as a beggar or as a prostitute. Abject poverty or ridicule and shame. The law in Deuteronomy meant this could not happen. If a man raped a woman, he was responsible for her welfare from that day on. He could not divorce her, as he could other wives. As long as she lived, he was required to care for her. Would that work now? Of course not. But then, it was a creative and humane solution.
Third, for Christians, the meaning of all Scripture is found in Jesus. This principle cannot be overstated. All Christian biblical interpretation must be Christocentric. If it isn’t, then it is missing the point. Obviously Jews see this somewhat differently! This does not mean we are in a desert trying to work out what things mean by ourselves. Clear guidance can be found in the writings of the early church. That context; of the sermons, letters and other writings of the early Church fathers, provides a vital foundation to our reading and application of Scripture. For example, Christians have never believed the Mosaic law applied to them as law. Sometimes useful for guidance and discussion, yes. Binding as law, no.
Fourth, the fact that something is recorded in the Bible, whether as law or history, does not mean God thinks it’s a great idea. The history of David’s adultery with Bathsheeba and subsequent murder of her husband are a cautionary tale, not something to be emulated. Most of the Book of Judges is the same. It is a history of a time when “men did what was right in their own eyes” (pretty much like now). It was one messy disaster after another. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean God is saying it is a good thing.
This leads to the final point. There is a huge difference between description and prescription. There is a massive difference between Biblical descriptions of war, almost always portrayed as a result of human greed and sinfulness, and which portray the struggle of a desert people to come to an understanding of God which was utterly different from that of the cultures around them; and prescription – calls to violence which are binding upon the people of God in every place and for all time. Descriptions of violence can found in the Old Testament in plenty. Prescriptions for violence in perpetuity, never.
This means it is not just ludicrous, but ignorant in the extreme, to pick laws or records of violence out of the Old Testament and use these an argument that all religions are the same.
For Christians, Jesus is the perfect example of how to act. And that’s great. Jesus was honest, caring, respectful, courageous, self-sacrificing. For Muslims, Muhammad is the perfect example of conduct. Not so great. Muhammad was a serial rapist and murderer, a bandit, a torturer and a paedophile (a fifty-three year old man who rapes a nine year old girl is definitely a paedophile). Since he is the perfect example of conduct, nothing he did can be considered wrong, or made illegal in a Muslim country.
The Sharia law, which is based on the Quran and the Hadith (stories of the acts and sayings of Muhammad) are considered Allah’s perfect law for all people for all time. Every Muslim is required to consider him or her self subject to that law regardless of the laws of the country in which they may be living (hence the demands for Sharia courts) and to work for the imposition of Sharia law on the entire population. This is prescriptive, not descriptive. There can be no change or alteration in Sharia. Its outcome in practical and political terms is massively different. To give just one example, Muslims are less than one third of the world’s population, but make up more than two-thirds of its refugees. People are literally dying to get out of Islamic countries. Does these mean we condemn all Muslims? Absolutely not. They are the primary victims of Sharia and of violence by other Muslims. Is this a philosophy we would like to be influential here? Heck no.
Every time there is a major Christian festival, someone pops up with the claim that of course, this was really a pagan festival that Christians appropriated. And then the rest of the herd pass on whatever silly graphic has been created this time around to make the same claim.
Every single one of these claims is silly, tedious and ignorant. Not to mention intrinsically unlikely, given the determined opposition by Christian leaders East and West to any watering down or mixing of the Gospel message with local culture or religion.
Take the graphic going around FB over the last few days showing a statue of Ishtar, with the claim her name is pronounced Easter, and that, like obviously dude, that’s where Christians got the whole idea of Easter from.
There is not a single thing in that post/graphic which is true. Not even the statue – a statue of the queen of the night from the Old Babylonian period – some 2,000 to 1500 years before Christ. It could later, in the neo-Babylonian period (c600 to 500BC) – have been thought to be an image of Ishtar (pronounced Ishtar, as it is spelled, not Easter). But there are other possibilities, and archaeology is uncertain.
Ishtar was a minor goddess in the Akkadian/Assyrian/Babylonian pantheon. The Babylonians were defeated by the Persian Cyrus the Great in about 550BC, and the few temples dedicated to Ishtar fell into desuetude or were converted for use by Achaemenid deities. The Achaemenids then underwent a religious revolution of their own with the rapid growth of Zoroastrianism, before being defeated by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great at Gaugamela in about 331BC.
At Alexander’s death, the Eastern part of his empire was taken over by his general Seleucus Nicator. His dynasty, the Seleucids, maintained control over a large but declining empire that included most of the Middle-East until being defeated by the Roman general Pompey in 63BC.
By the time we get to 1st Century Judea we are more than 500 years from the time anyone had any serious interest in Ishtar, and 1400 kilometres away by normal trade routes.
There are no references to Ishtar in 1st Century Greek or Roman literature, and it is unlikely anyone living in Judea or Galilee or Samaria had ever even heard of her. Suggesting that because Ishtar and Easter sound vaguely alike they must mean the same thing makes as much sense as saying chocolate and choo-choo train sound alike so they must mean the same thing. It is just silly.
Quite apart from this, the word “Easter” was not used to describe the celebration of the Lord’s passion until over five hundred later, in England. Everywhere else, even today, the word for that celebration is Pascha, derived from the Hebrew word pesach, meaning Passover. It very early became a custom for Christians to give each other gifts of red-dyed eggs on the morning of Pascha, partly because they had been fasting from eggs and meat for the last forty days, and this was time for celebration, but more importantly, to symbolise passing over into new life won through the blood of Christ.
The Venerable Bede, the great historian of the early English Church, offered an explanation for the use of the term Easter in chapter fifteen of De Ratione Temporum (On the reckoning of Time), written about 725 AD:
“Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
In other words, Bede says that the name of the month of April, when the Pascha normally occurs, was Eosturmonath, and gradually Christians in England began to call the Paschal feast by the name of the month in which it occurred, so it became the feast of Easter.
However, careful as Bede usually is, this sounds like a “just-so” story; an explanation invented after the fact, and without any evidence. Kipling’s delightful Just-so stories were amongst my favourites as a child, and I can still tell you how the camel got its humph.
Bede is the only person to refer to a goddess by the name of Eostre. All later references to Eostre, or Ostara, or whatever other transliteration is given, including works by the Brothers Grimm, are based on this single sentence. It is likely that Bede simply assumed that because other Saxon months were named after gods and goddesses, Eosturmonath must have been too, so he deduced the existence of a goddess Eostre.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica has another explanation:
“There is now widespread consensus that the word derives from the Christian designation of Easter week as in albis, a Latin phrase that was understood as the plural of alba (“dawn”) and became eostarum in Old High German, the precursor of the modern German and English term.”
In other words, the Christian use of the phrase “In albis” – “at the dawn” (of new life, new beginnings, new hope) became in Old German “eostarum” dawning. Eosturmonath was named after the Paschal celebration. The word Easter ultimately derives from Christian use of the Old High German word eostarum, meaning dawn.
Whether Bede was right, or modern scholarship and the Encyclopaedia Britannica are right, the Pascha was well-established throughout the empire and beyond, long before a small group of Christians in England began using the name of the month to refer to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
Many of the media criticisms of Pope Francis have been unfounded, unfair, or simply silly. But this much more thoughtful article by Adam Shaw, an actual practicing Catholic, points out a history of mediocrity and confusing comments that are doing real harm. No question Jorge/Pope Francis is a great pastor and a caring man. But he does not have the intellectual capacity or discipline to be Pope. Of course, the fact is, he is Pope.
Some people would say this means he ought to be, and therefore whatever he says and does is part of the divine plan.
Yes but, yes but, yes but … human stubbornness or deceit or pride can get in the way of God’s perfect plan. That’s what sin does. There was a considerable amount of wrangling in the last conclave. That sends warning signs. What we can do is pray for Pope Francis, that God will lead and encourage him in the right way, and at the same time exercise the critical judgement, thoughtfulness and reason that the Church has always encouraged in its members.
All things work together for good, for those who love the Lord. Romans 8:28
Or so says this imam.
I know we are all fed up with hearing about this. But watch this, and think, seriously, whether the attitudes on display here are compatible with Western values and liberal democracy.
And I promise this will be the last thing I post on this. Until the next atrocity …
Iran is building a military base in the Kurdish heartland of Northern Iraq, apparently specifically to target the Kurds, who are leading the fight against ISIS.
If this marks a new level of understanding betweeen Iraq and Iran, then it amounts to the creation of a Shi’ite arc extending from Hezbollah in Lebanon, through Syria and Iran down into Shi’ite majority Iraq.
The Saudis won’t like this.
People seem not to realise that religious belief was essential to the development of science.
1. The belief that the world is real, objective, and largely independent of our perceptions, and not simply illusion (maya in Sanskrit). That is, that there is something real and enduring there to investigate.
2. The belief that the world is reasonable, and organised in a reasonable, that is, orderly and consistent way, not not simply according to the whim of ancestors or nature spirits or fickle and jealous gods.
3. The belief that the material world is good, and therefore worth investigating, as opposed to the view that the material world inferior, something to be spurned or escaped from.
We take these beliefs so much for granted; that the world is real and objective, that it is ordered according to laws which can be investigated and understood, that nature/the universe is good, and that investigating and learning its laws and systems is a good and worthwhile endeavour, that we forget that only one culture has ever held these views consistently over a long enough period for science to develop.
Science is a creation of the Christian West.
The more science drifts from Christian theology, that is, the more it drifts from understanding reality as independent and objective, and the more it drifts from believing truth is an absolute value in its own right, the more it will be become empty, political, and corrupt.
Fukushima, vaccines, chemtrails. It is always the same.
CT (Conspiracy theorist) “Something really bad and scary is happening!”
Me “I don’t think there is any evidence to support that.”
CT “That’s because there is a massive cover-up. The (government, power companies, big pharma, Monsanto) are deliberately hiding the truth from the public.”
Me ” How do you know that?”
CT “Because there is no evidence. If they weren’t covering it up, there would be. Isn’t that obvious? Are you crazy or something?”
That is the subtitle of Paul Driessen’s powerful book describing how Western “green” restrictions on the cheap energy the West demands and takes for granted result in suffering and death in the world’s poorest nations:
It could just as well be the tile of Brendon Pearson’s article “Carefree ignore consequences of limiting supply of fossil fuels” in The Australian a few days ago. This is just a few paragraphs. Read the whole thing.
“The response from green advocates is that the emissions from coal and fossil fuels are different — they can be replaced by renewables. Let’s do the maths. Last year wind and solar energy produced the equivalent of nine days of global primary energy needs. Coal produced 109 days and fossil fuels combined produced 313 days of the world’s annual primary needs. Despite all these power sources, 1.3 billion people still missed out on electricity and a further 1.7 billion only had partial access.
To put this problem into context — the energy used by Christmas lights in the US in an average festive season is more than the national electricity consumption of many developing countries, such as El Salvador, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal or Cambodia.
Halting or limiting coal or fossil fuels output will simply mean that those with no or partial access to electricity would have to wait much longer in the dark.
That is an uncomfortable but incontrovertible fact. If you limit something or make it more expensive to the poor then you are delaying or denying that access. Not just for weeks, months or years, but generations. Hundreds of millions of people will live shorter, more miserable lives as a result of the choices of the comfortable and warm.”
That is it exactly. The cost of cozy green self-righteousness is that hundreds of millions of people will live shorter, more miserable lives.
A longish article from Mark Musser on the origins and continuing influence of the theory of sustainable development:
Understandably, Albert Speer Jr. has spent much of his life trying to escape the long shadow of his father, Albert Speer, the Third Reich’s architect during the 1930s who later was baptized as Hitler’s Armaments and War Production Minister during the heights of World War II. Albert Speer Sr. died in 1981. After serving 20 years in Spandau Prison, Speer made millions off of his best-selling books that described his life deep inside the Third Reich. In 1984, Albert Speer Jr. began a very successful architect company in Frankfurt, Germany called AS & P, or Albert Speer & Partners.
Today, AS & P is a very profitable high end international architectural company that has building projects in Germany, the Middle East, and in China. Much of Speer Jr.’s earlier financial success in the 1970s took place in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Speer Jr. loves the Middle East and Arab culture. He is currently working in Qatar. Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup because of Speer Jr.’s audacious plans to design a carbon neutral sustainable arrangement of soccer stadiums.
AS & P pursues a holistic approach to architectural design that roots all building activities into the surrounding culture, landscape, and regulatory environment. AS & P proudly advertises its emphasis upon sustainability in the area of ecology, economics, and social quality. AS & P has even published a “Manifesto for Sustainable Cities – Think Local, Act Global.” Albert Speer Jr. is also an international lecturer on environmental sustainability. According to Der Spiegel, Speer Jr. is credited with having introduced the idea of sustainability into German urban planning. Others consider him to be the green conscience of the construction architect industry and one of the first sustainable practitioners of green building in Germany itself.
While Speer Jr. has publicly stated he has purposefully tried to place as much distance between himself and his father as possible, this is not exactly true. In reality, Speer Jr. has followed his father’s footsteps, not only in terms of being an architect, but also because of his obsession with sustainable development.
Roger Franklin writes in Quadrant Magazine:
On the western flood plain of the Maribyrnong, the lesser of Melbourne’s two brown rivers, Buddhists have built themselves a handsome temple and, most arresting, a gigantic golden statue of their guiding philosophy’s founder. It is quite the spectacle and well worth a glance as your Werribee-bound train approaches Footscray station. But unless you have a particular interest in the sound of one hand clapping, a glance is all it’s worth — and, obligingly, Buddhists don’t see any need for grants and government programs to promote “understanding” of their creed. Alas that another religion were so content to mind its own business. As Fairfax Media demonstrates today with a series of profiles — Australia’s Muslims Speak Up — it seems that one cannot be regarded as a fair and unbiased citizen without an obligatory knowledge of Islam, its adherents, their agonies and the bigotry we are told yet again makes the lives of Australia’s faithful so very difficult.
That, at any rate, is the series’ intent. The end result, however, is the polar opposite. Unwittingly, wrapped in its gush of multi-culti pablum, at least one of the profiles illustrates why one doesn’t need to be a peddler of prejudice to find Islam more than somewhat alien and not a little unsettling.
Reading Aisha’s story in The Age, it seems clear that her every experience of islam was violent or at least unpleasant, from her failed marriage to her repressive and hostile high school, and most of her experiences of non-muslim Australian society were by contrast warm and colourful and welcoming. Yet all this seems to prove to her is that Australians are racists and it is no wonder so many muslims are angry.
Very, very sad. But surely this is not a surprise to anyone?
The mother of toddler Sanaya Shaib has been charged with murder after she confessed to killing the 13-month-old infant.
An ISIS supporter has been charged after allegedly carving “e4e” — representing “an eye for an eye” into the head of an Australian Digger he was sharing a cell with. The former soldier, who served in East Timor, (and was) deemed a low security inmate, is fighting for his life following the alleged attack inside Kempsey prison on the state’s Mid North Coast.
It is believed the 18-year-old attacker choked the 40-year-old and carved ‘e4e’ into the front and back of the victim’s head. The teen then allegedly placed a towel over him and poured boiling hot water on him.
The former Toowoomba-based soldier was rushed to the Port Macquarie Base Hospital and put in an induced coma, believed to have suffered a broken sternum and severe wounds to his neck, head and face.
Senior prison sources said the 18-year-old attacker was a known supporter of the terrorist group and had been previously caught sending graphic images of beheadings via internal mail to other ISIS extremists housed in Goulburn’s Supermax.
Bourhan Hraichie has now been charged with causing grevious bodily harm with intent and intentionally choking a person.
Sources said the teen was also previously found to have a hand-drawn ISIS flag inside his cell, as well as having carved one into the wall. Hraichie had been isolated from other inmates previous to the alleged attack because he was being “disruptive”.
The pair were in the same cell for just a few hours before Thursday’s alleged attack inside the prison’s maximum security section. Authorities were alerted when a medical alarm system, known as a “knock up” was activated.
ISIS is known to use the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” mantra when inflicting their brutal torture. It is understood the teen allegedly used a razor blade to etch the slogan, but prison authorities would not confirm it.
NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin confirmed the attack, saying it “appears to have had a strong fundamentalist element to it” and that the teen had “clearly identified himself as a radical”. “I am appalled that these two inmates were placed in the same cell,” Mr Severin said.
The general manager of the prison, Greg Steele, has since been stood down from the role.
From the always useful New English Review.
This is simply getting to the point of absurdity. We have to start taking what these people say about their own beliefs and intentions seriously, or more and more ordinary people are going to be hurt.