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Moringa – the Latest Superfood Supplement Scam

“Dried moringa leaves are a storehouse of concentrated nutrition, so even a small daily dose can help correct imbalances in the body, add concentrated nutrition to your diet and help you reach the recommended daily dietary targets of fruits and vegetables.”

This claim was made by an Indian company; Organic India Private Limited. In 2015 the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) upheld a complaint against the company for this advertisement, finding its claims were unsubtantiated.

If it were just a matter of comfortably-off people buying supplements that don’t contain anything useful, and wouldn’t help most people even they did (the only time a dietary supplement is helpful is if you are deficient in some particular nutrient, in which case you should seek advice from a medical doctor), then it wouldn’t matter too much. People will always find silly things to spend money on, and it is no one’s business but their own.

That does not excuse the sellers of these products, who generally know that what they are selling is useless. Even if they do not have the skills to analyse the claims made by the parent company, the methods employed should be a dead giveaway. For example, in the case of one multi-level marketing Moringa company, agents are given scripts which they are told to claim as their own stories, to share with potential clients and on social media. They generally go like this:

I was feeling x (fat, ugly, tired, sleepless, lacking energy, etc). Nothing else worked, so I decided to try y (the moringa product). I was sceptical, but after two weeks, the difference was amazing. I was z (slimmer, more energetic, sleeping better, dating Brad Pitt, etc, etc). The next time I went to the doctor, he/she was amazed. I told him/her about y, and showed him/her the list of nutrients it contains. He/she was so impressed he/she asked where he/she could get some for him/her self.

Any company that suggests it is appropriate to tell invented histories, ie lies, to family, friends, and customers, is not a company whose claims you should be taking at face value. That is bad enough.

But when extravagant claims are made for weight loss, or for cures for cancer or diabetes or other acute or chronic illnesses, then selling such products crosses a line from being merely unethical to being illegal. Or even where not illegal, monstrous. It is wrong to take advantage of people who are poor, who are ill, who are desperate.

You would hope people would be well aware by now that every few years some new miracle supplement, superfood, or therapy appears, promising weight loss, new youth, and social success. Bai-lin Tea, Cal-Ban, Herbalife, are all earlier examples. But sadly not.

Moringa is just the latest in a long line of supplement scams.

Don’t fall for these scams. Don’t buy these products.

The Murray River and Pudding-headed Pixies

I am getting a little tired of seeing people repost Jeremy Buckingham’s moronic video about Cubbie Station and the Murray/Darling  basin.

It’s always the end of the world with these loons. Everything is going wrong, everything’s a disaster, the world is going to end. Unless you vote for us, give us lots of money, and return to the stone age.

Buckingham, by the way, is the same tax-teat-tippling twit who told us that thousands of year old naturally occurring swamp gas was proof of the horrors of fracking.

Buckingham claims Cubbie Station diverts the water from the Balonne/Culgoa catchment before it can reach the Darling and flow downwards into the Murray. They are stealing water from the environment and from other Australian farmers!!!

They are not. In fact, Cubbie Station is an almost perfect example of sustainable water use in arid areas which are also prone to flooding – like much of the Australian outback. It is the kind of development the pudding-headed pixies in the Australian Greens would be supporting whole-heartedly and encouraging others to use as a model, if they actually cared about Australian workers or the environment. They don’t.

I have lived on the Balonne River, which is what the Condamine is called as it starts to move down toward the Darling. And I have lived at Murray Bridge. That doesn’t make me an expert. But it does mean I have some idea of issues at both the upper and lower reaches of the Murray-Darling. And I have visited Cubbie Station.

Cubbie Station is a miracle of engineering, common-sense and foresight. It has massive water storage capacity: just over 500 megalitres. And it has large and efficient recycling systems.

Essentially it relies on the rain-bearing storms which occur every ten years or so. Cubbie acts as a flood mitigation system. It catches water from those ten year floods which would otherwise cause damage downstream and then be lost to evaporation. Because it takes flood water which would otherwise be lost, Cubbie is able to take just over one quarter of one percent of the Murray’s total flow, but without affecting at all the useful environmental flow, or the amount of water available to recreational or agricultural users. In addition, Cubbie filters and recycles constantly to maximise water use and minimise loss. When water can no longer be recycled, it is sequestered so that not a drop of fertiliser or pesticide flows into river catchment.

As I said, it is exactly the kind of carefully planned, carefully managed system which greenies should be having parties to celebrate if they cared about Australian land, industry, workers or environment.

Did I mention that Cubbie is managed by an Australian company with an Australian workforce, has revitalised the town of Dirranbandi, is the town’s major employer, and generates about $100 million in export revenue every year?

Rules for Apostrophes

Rules for apostrophes!

There are only a few, and they are simple.

Rule 1. If the word is simply a plural, it does not need an apostrophe. Ever. For example, the plural of CD is CDs, not CD’s. The plural of DVD is DVDs, not DVD’s. The plural of seafood is seafoods, not seafood’s. The plural of tomato is tomatoes, not tomato’s.

That is the first rule. No apostrophes for plurals!

 

Apostrophes are used to tell the reader one of two things; ownership (sometimes called possession) and contraction. Let’s look at ownership first. This is rule two.

Rule 2. If a dog has a bone, then it is the dog’s bone. If a boy has a football, it is the boy’s football. If a girl has ten tractors, they are the girl’s tractors.

But what if there is more than one girl? Then they would be the girls’ tractors (with the apostrophe after the ‘s’). If there was more than one boy, it would be the boys’ football.

When more than one person owns something, the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ at the end of the word. The ‘s’ in those words is just the normal plural (more than one) ‘s’. The apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ to show there is more than one owner.

So that is rule number two, and it is also easy. If you read “The boy’s toy,” that tells you there is one boy who owns one toy. If you read “The boy’s toys,” there is one boy who owns lots of toys. If you read “The boys’ toys,” (with the apostrophe after the ‘s’ in boys) there are lots of boys who own lots of toys.

English is a wonderfully precise language. Apostrophes are one of the tools that help us to express what we mean with a clarity that is often not possible in other languages.

Rule 3. Apostrophes show where missing letters should be. Sometimes we put two words together to make one word, and then take some letters out to make the new word shorter. An apostrophe shows where the missing letter or letters used to be. For example, can not becomes can’t. I am becomes I’m. Do not becomes don’t. I would becomes I’d.

This is also a very straightforward rule. If you put two words together to make one word, and take a letter or letters out to make the new word shorter, you use an apostrophe to show where the missing letters were.

There are a few contractions that don’t make a lot of sense. For example, “Will not” becomes “Won’t.” You just have to learn these as you come across them. But there aren’t very many, so they are nothing to worry about.

There is only one other thing to remember, and that is distinguishing between its and it’s. We can call this rule four.

Rule 4. “It’s” (with an apostrophe) always means “It is.” Always. If you are tempted to write “it’s,” ask yourself “Do I mean ‘It is’?”

I’ll say that again. “It’s” always means “It is.”

“Its” (without an apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun, like his, yours, mine. It shows ownership. When you talk about an “it” owning something, for example, “The dog ate its bone,” you do not need an apostrophe. If you did put an apostrophe in that sentence “The dog ate it’s bone,” you would be saying “The dog ate it is bone,” which doesn’t make any sense. “It’s” always means “It is.” Always.

So that is easy too. “Its” (without an apostrophe) means that “it” owns whatever comes after; “Its bone,” “Its blanket.”

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) means “It is.”

So there you are. Six hundred words, and you know everything you will ever need to know about apostrophes!

Mass Murders and Gun Control

Every time there is a major public shooting in the US, there is an outcry on Twitter and Facebook; It’s so easy! Can’t they see what the problem is? Just take the guns away! Don’t they care about their children? And then the laments; nothing will change. They don’t care. They are only worried about votes.

The reason nothing changes as a result of these Facebook tirades is that they consist of little but slogans. They don’t address the real problems, and consequently, offer no real solutions.

Take, for example, the claim there have been eighteen school shootings in the US this year. Even the Washington Post, no friend to Trump or the Republicans, has examined this claim and found it to be false. The group that compiles these figures uses as its definition of a school shooting “Any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.” This has included, for example, when a man unrelated to the school committed suicide in his car hours after the school closed and the carpark was otherwise empty, or when a group of university students were at a meeting of a criminal justice club in Texas and a student accidentally fired a real gun rather than a training weapon. No one was injured. Or when a police officer’s gun accidentally discharged in a high-school carpark, again, injuring no one. In reality, eleven schools in the US since Columbine in 1999 have experienced mass shootings involving student fatalities.

Eleven mass shootings in schools in eighteen years is a horrendous figure. It indicates a problem that needs to be addressed. It does not need to be exaggerated.

Sadly, media reports seem to delight in sending the message that the US is a dangerous and unpredictable place to visit. Again, this is untrue. The US is not in the top ten countries in the world for gun related deaths, not counting active conflict zones. The US sits between eleventh and eighteenth, depending on whose figures you consider reliable. But this does not take into account that two thirds of firearm related deaths in the US are suicides. This figure is certainly a by-product of the easy availability of guns in the US, and of the quickness and deadliness of guns compared with other methods.

Of genuine gun murder victims, sixty percent are black males between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five. Black males in that age group also commit nearly fifty percent of all gun related murders, despite making up only about five percent of the population. Most fatal gun violence occurs in specific areas, and in specific racial groups. If you stay out of those areas; anywhere that has a long history of Democrat control, anywhere that has a high proportion of blacks or of illegal immigrants (I know you are not supposed to say these things, but they are true nonetheless) you are safer in the US than almost anywhere else in the world.

Mass shootings, though they are terrifying, in part because they are apparently random and feature loudly in headlines and news reports, account for only approximately one percent of all gun related murders.

Nor is the gun debate in the US a Democrat vs Republican conflict. At any time when Barack Obama was president and the Democrats controlled both the US Senate and Congress, they could have introduced stricter gun control measures. They did not. Incidentally, ninety percent of recent mass shootings in the US have been perpetrated by Democrat voters, including the most recent school shooting.

Is stricter gun control the answer? It is not clear that it is. One of the few safer places in the world than the US is Switzerland. More than thirty percent of adult Swiss own a gun, a rate higher than the US (statistics showing much higher rates of gun ownership in the US are based on the number of weapons vs the population, but this ignores the fact that many US gun owners own multiple guns) and yet at 0.6 per 100.000, Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of gun related homicide. In addition, some parts of the US where it is difficult to buy a gun legally also have the highest rates of gun related homicide, while some states and cities where open carry is permitted have amongst the lowest rates.

Are gun-free zones the answer? Definitely not! Ninety-six percent of recent mass shootings have taken place in areas in which guns were banned. Designating an area as a gun-free zone, whether a school, a club or a public event, does nothing except advertise to potential murderers that they will have anywhere from five to fifteen minutes of uninterrupted killing before anyone arrives who has the capacity to stop them.

Are the latest mass shootings President Trump’s fault? It is hard to see how when there has been no increase in gun related deaths including mass shootings during his term, and such a high proportion of gun deaths are perpetrated by Democrat voters and in Democrat controlled cities. It is true he and Congress declined to enact a regulation proposed by President Obama which restricted gun ownership for anyone receiving a government benefit who had been treated for a mental illness. This regulation was resisted strongly by the ACLU (no friend to the Republicans) and by mental health advocates.

One fifth of the population will receive treatment for mental illness during their lifetime, and despite Facebook posts to the contrary, and media and police reports claiming almost every example of Islamist violence as evidence of mental illness (a gross injustice to the genuinely mentally ill, just as describing muslim rape gangs as Asian rape gangs is a gross injustice to Asians) there is no correlation between receiving treatment for mental illness and an increased likeliness of committing violent gun crime. So no, recent mass shootings cannot be blamed on President Trump.

Another claim that is sometimes made is that Australia has solved the problem of mass shootings by a massive buy-back of weapons, and imposing restrictions on what weapons can be privately owned.  In reality, Australia had so few mass shootings before those controls were introduced that it is impossible to draw any valid conclusions about their impact on the rate of mass shootings, while the rate of gun ownership has now increased to pre-buyback levels, and the rate of violent crime overall has not changed. In other words, Australia cannot be used as an example, and even if it were, it would not be a very good one.

In addition, it is clear that if access to guns is made more difficult, those determined to commit mass murder will still find ways to do so, for example using improvised explosive devices or vehicles, sometimes with devastating results, as has been seen in the last year in the US, Europe and Australia.

Let’s review.

Increased gun ownership leads to an increase in completed suicides. Increased gun ownership in itself does not seem to lead to a higher rate of violent crime or murder. Those are much better correlated with drug abuse, gang membership, illegal immigration and some racial and religious groups. There is no realistic prospect of enacting legislation which restricts gun ownership in those areas or to those groups, or even of having a sensible discussion which takes those factors into account. Does that mean nothing can be done? No.

The largest group of firearm related deaths are suicides. A person determined to commit suicide will find a way to do so, but removing or even delaying access to guns will help to prevent impulses to suicide becoming completed suicides. People seeking treatment for depression or presenting as depressed should be asked if they have firearms at home, advised of the risk, and asked to consider other arrangements for safe-keeping. If acceptable to the patient, options should be discussed with family or close friends who should also be made aware of the risk to the patient of easy access to a firearm.

The second largest group of gun deaths and by far the largest group of murders are young black males in urban areas. Most of these deaths are related to drug use or gang conflicts, or incidental to the commission of petty crimes. Many of the areas in which these deaths occur already have strict gun controls in place. It is not clear that more laws is the answer. Instead, communities in which there is a high level of crime and violence need to take responsibility to reduce the level of crime and violence amongst their members, and to encourage positive relationships with law enforcement. Existing laws relating to drug use, gang membership and firearm ownership need to be enforced, with no excuses about no-go areas or about ethnic or gang violence being of less concern than other forms of crime.

Mass shootings and mass murders of any kind are extremely difficult to predict. But there are levels at which any community or group can be prepared. As a first step, put an end to the madness of gun-free zones. Nothing could be a more effective advertisement that a location or event is a soft and easy target.

Armed guards should be present any school at which parents and community agree that this is desirable. We take for granted that politicians and celebrities should have armed protection, and we are used to armed guards at banks and jewellery stores. Are children less deserving of protection? It is simply silly to say we should not have to do this. Of course we shouldn’t, but that is naïve and irrelevant. We do have to, just as we have to lock our doors and watch out for shop lifters and not leave our phones lying around. Having an armed and trained person on site means a response to violence or threats of violence in seconds rather than minutes. More importantly, it is a powerful disincentive. Either way, it saves lives.

There is one way in which a change to gun regulations would help. The recent school shooting was committed by someone about whom law enforcement had had more than one credible warning, and yet he was able to acquire a semi-automatic sports rifle capable of firing a two rounds every three seconds. That is simply absurd. People who have made threats about committing mass violence should not be permitted to acquire weapons legally. They will still be able to acquire them illegally, and they will still be able to plan and carry out murders using other means – vehicles, for example, or easily made aerosol poisons such as ricin, or IEDs. But difficulties in obtaining weapons legally may at least slow them down, and give law enforcement more time to track and apprehend them.

Gun control will reduce the number of peaceful, law abiding people who own weapons. There is no evidence it will stop mass murders or gangland violence. You cannot stop evil people planning and doing evil things. You can make it more difficult for them by restricting legal access to weapons for people with criminal records or who have made threats of violence, you can respond more quickly and more effectively, and you can ensure punishments are severe enough to act as a deterrent. These are the strategies that reduce the number of gun deaths.

Love isn’t Love, and “Gay Marriage” Isn’t Marriage

A couple of days ago I posted an article essentially saying that same sex relationships may be as loving and worthy of respect as heterosexual relationships, but they are a different thing, with different meaning to society, so it is wrong to get the government to force everyone to pretend they are the same.

Of all the odd responses I got, which included various names and obscene suggestions, this was surely the oddest: “How are they different? Give me one way they are different, you ignorant bigotted piece of sh%t.” I had three different variations of this question, including “Your an ar^$hole how th f$%k are they differnt?”

It surely cannot be the case that large numbers of people really cannot see any difference between a long term relationship between a man and woman which is open to the possibility of new life, and a relationship between two men or two women.

There are multiple differences. But the most fundamental is this: society can survive perfectly well without homosexual relationships. No society can survive without heterosexual relationships. This is why every society in every place and every part of history has given special recognition and protection to long-term heterosexual relationships. That is what marriage is.

To paraphrase gay activist Milo Yiannopoulos: ” I am in love. I would like that relationship to be recognised and celebrated. But It’s not a marriage. We all know it’s not a marriage. It is silly to pretend it is. Just call it something else.”

To be fair, people do and say silly things all the time. They don’t much matter. If some same sex couples want to go through a ceremony and say they are married, fine. I don’t want to stop anyone doing what makes them happy. But I do object to anyone trying to get the government to force everyone to pretend to agree, or labelling any disagreement “hate speech.”

Last word from gay Irish journalist Richard Waghorne:

“Marriage is vital as a framework within which children can be brought up by a man and woman.

Not all marriages, of course, involve child-raising. And there are also, for that matter, same-sex couples already raising children. But the reality is that marriages tend towards child-raising and same-sex partnerships do not. I am conscious of this when considering my own circle of friends, quite a few of whom have recently married or will soon do so in the future. Many, if not most or all of them, will raise children. If, however, I or gay friends form civil partnerships, those are much more unlikely to involve raising children.

So the question that matters is this: Why should a gay relationship be treated the same way as a marriage, despite this fundamental difference? A wealth of research demonstrates the marriage of a man and a woman provides children with the best life outcomes, that children raised in marriages that stay together do best across a whole range of measures. This is certainly not to cast aspersions on other families, but it does underscore the importance of marriage as an institution.

This is why the demand for gay marriage goes doubly wrong. It is not a demand for marriage to be extended to gay people – it is a demand for marriage to be redefined. The understanding of marriage as an institution that exists and is supported for the sake of strong families changes to an understanding of marriage as merely the end-point of romance.

If gay couples are considered equally eligible for marriage, even though gay relationships do not tend towards child-raising and cannot by definition give a child a mother and a father, the crucial under-standing of what marriage is actually mainly for has been discarded. What that amounts to is the kind of marriage that puts adults before children. That, in my opinion, is ultimately selfish, and far too high a price to pay simply for the token gesture of treating opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships identically. And it is a token gesture.

Isn’t it common sense, after all, to treat different situations differently? To put it personally, I do not feel in the least bit discriminated against by the fact that I cannot marry someone of the same sex.”

Credit for some of the above, including the long quote from Richard Waghorne, to Bill Muehlenberg’s thoughtful, detailed and meticulously researched book “Strained Relations.”

Last Thoughts on Redefining Marriage

I have gay family members, and have had gay friends all my life; people who are dear to me, whose feelings I value, and whose opinions I respect. I have been to gay bars, events and festivals with gay friends, been propositioned by men more times than I can remember, and am happy to greet my gay friends with a kiss on the cheek. In the same way as my other friends, they deserve my love, loyalty and support.

Nonetheless I will be voting No.

These are some of the issues:

1.We are told that if Australia does not legislate to redefine marriage we will be falling behind other civilised countries.

2. We are told redefining marriage is a matter of justice and equality.

3. We are told that nothing else will change. The only thing that will be different is that gay couples will now be allowed to marry. It won’t affect anyone else, so no one else has any right to have a say.

4. We are told there is no “slippery slope,” that no further changes to the definition of marriage will be made after this.

5. We are told there is no connection between same sex marriage and the teaching of gender fluidity.

Let’s consider these claims.

1. The fact that some other society is doing something is not in itself a reason for us to do it. Even if it were, so far approximately ten percent of the world’s nations, representing less than ten percent of the world’s population, have legislated to change the meaning of marriage. This is a long way from an overwhelming or compelling majority.

2. To claim that redefining marriage is a matter of justice is to prejudge, to take for granted, what is being discussed. To say something is just is to say it is right. That is exactly what is at issue.

Things can be equal in different ways. People are equal in dignity and value, regardless of gender, race, intelligence or physical ability. But that is not to say they are same in every way. Men and women are different. People have different levels of intelligence, different abilities, different interests. It is entirely reasonable and fair to distinguish people on the basis of these factors. If you are short and slow, you probably won’t get picked to play basketball. If you have never sat down at a piano in your life you probably won’t be invited to perform a piano concert at the Sydney Opera House.

Marriage has varied from society to society, for example in the permissible difference in ages, the degree to which the partners may be related, or sometimes, the number of people involved. What has never changed is that it is a permanent bond between male and female. Even in societies with a high degree of tolerance for homosexual acts, it has never been suggested until twenty years ago that a relationship between two men or two women was identical to a life-long commitment between a man and a woman with openness to new life, or that it had the same meaning to society.

Recognising this difference, that these two things are not the same and therefore not equal, is not unfairly discriminatory any more than saying a dog cannot be a cat, no matter how much it wants to be, or that a square cannot be a triangle.

This not to suggest that same-sex relationships cannot be as loving, as stable, as worthy of respect as a marriage, but simply simply to note that they are different things. This is similar to the argument employed by some of the many same sex attracted opponents of the re-definition of marriage. “We know our relationships are different,” they say, “so why do we need to appropriate hetero-sexual institutions to feel validated?” Not better or worse, just different. It is ignoring reality to insist they be called by the same name.

3. Since the early 2000s a number of countries have redefined marriage to include same sex partnerships. Of these, only Ireland has made the change as the result of a vote by the people. In all others it was changed by judicial fiat, as in the United States, or by government without direct reference to the people, as in New Zealand and the UK. Fifteen years is not a long time over which to study impacts on society, but some things have become clear.

The first is that redefining marriage does not change what same sex attracted people can do. In Australia, same sex partnerships have exactly the same protections under law as marriages. The have the same rights in relation to superannuation, succession, taxation and government benefits. Same sex attracted people can find a celebrant, get dressed in white, invite their friends, go through a ceremony, and say they are married. They can claim their relationship is exactly the same as a relationship between a married couple, and means the same thing to wider society. The legalisation of “same sex marriage” does not change that at all. What does change is that everyone else is now obliged to agree.

The promised protections for conscience and free speech in Ireland have been undone two years later. The US has seen a seemingly never-ending targeting of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim bakeries, florists, venue operators, printers, photographers, etc, etc, etc, or anyone who still believes about marriage what everyone believed until twenty years ago. No one is permitted to disagree. Last year there were demands that Fixer Upper, a popular house renovation TV show, be taken off the air because activists had discovered that the couple who made the show went to a church whose pastor had expressed the view that marriage was between a man and woman. In 2014 the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was forced out of his position after it was discovered that he had made a donation in support of the traditional view of marriage. In Denmark Lutheran pastors are now forced by law to conduct marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.
Redefining marriage changes nothing that same sex people can do, or the protections they have under law. It simply forces everyone else to comply.

4. Once the essence of the meaning of marriage – a lifetime commitment between male and female – is removed, It is difficult to see how further changes can be avoided without cries of unfairness and discrimination. This story sent to me by a friend sums up the situation:

Good morning. We want to apply for a marriage license.”
“Names?” said the clerk.
“Tim and Jim Jones.”
“Jones?? Are you related? I see a resemblance.”
“Yes, we’re brothers.”
“Brothers? You can’t get married.”
“Why not? Aren’t you giving marriage licenses to same gender couples?”
“Yes, of course, that’s the law. But we haven’t had any siblings. That’s incest!”
“‘Incest?’ No, we are not gay.”
“Not gay? Then why do you want to get married?”
“We love each other. Besides, we don’t have any other prospects.”
“But we’re issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who’ve claim they’d been denied equal protection under law. If you are not gay, you can get married to a woman.”
“Wait a minute. A gay man has the same right to marry a woman as I have. But just because I’m straight doesn’t mean I want to marry a woman. I want to marry Jim.”
“And I want to marry Tim, Are you going to discriminate against us just because we are not gay?”
“All right, have it your own way. Here’s your license. Next.”

“Hi. We are here to get married.”
“Names?”
“John Smith, Jane James, Robert Green, and June Johnson.”
“Who wants to marry whom?”
“We all want to marry each other.”
“But there are four of you!”
“That’s right. You see, we’re all bisexual. I love Jane and Robert, Jane loves me and June, June loves Robert and Jane, and Robert loves June and me. All of us getting married together is the only way that we can express our sexual preferences in a marital relationship.”
“But we’ve only been granting licenses to gay and lesbian couples.”
“So you’re discriminating against bisexuals!”
“No, it’s just that, well, the traditional idea of marriage is that it’s just for couples.”
“Since when are you standing on tradition?”
“Well, I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.”
“Who says? There’s no logical reason to limit marriage to couples. The more the better. Besides, we demand our rights! The law guarantees us equal protection.”
“All right, have it your own way. Here’s your license. Next.”

5. If men and women are different, then a relationship between two men or two women is different from a relationship between a man and a woman. Claiming equality between same sex relationships and marriage can only be maintained if men and women are interchangeable. This depends on the claim that gender is fluid, can be changed, and is largely a matter of choice. A man can become a woman, or a woman a man, because there are no essential differences between the two.

Once marriage is redefined to include same sex relationships, general acceptance of gender fluidity becomes a necessity. This needs to be taught. And taught it will be. In the UK, couples who believe marriage is between a man and a woman are no longer considered suitable to act as foster parents. But in an astonishingly hypocritical policy, children can be taken from ordinary English families which are in trouble, and sent to be fostered with Muslim families, despite the fact that under Sharia law homosexual acts are punishable by death. In Canada children can be removed from families which do not support their children’s gender choices, or facilitate gender transitions if desired. California is currently considering legislation which makes it a jailable offence to call someone by other than their preferred pronouns.

To summarise:

I love my gay friends and family members. I would oppose any legislation which gave them less protection under law, or limited their choices.

Demands to redefine marriage are not about tolerance for homosexual acts, or for same sex attracted people. Their relationships already have equal status in every way relating to succession law, benefits and taxation, etc.

If same sex attracted people want to say their relationships are exactly the same as a life-time commitment between a man and woman, and mean the same thing to society, most people would not be bothered about this.

If they want to go through a ceremony and say they are married, most people would wish them well.

But if they want to get the government to force everyone to agree with them, that moves over the line from the rightful and realistic expectation of tolerance, to Stalinist enforcement of compliance.

The campaign to redefine marriage is not about letting same sex attracted people do what they want. They already can. It is about demanding the government create a society in which no one is permitted to disagree. That is not tolerance and freedom. It is the exact opposite.

Redefining Marriage – Semantics and Stalinism

Societies are successful when their policies and practices align with reality. Success for a society means the ongoing ability to provide resources and safety to ensure that children can grow to maturity, and in turn, have children of their own. Once this basic necessity is ensured, success can also be measured by life-span, low infant mortality, growth in scientific and mathematical understanding, in political participation and freedom, and in literary, musical and artistic output.

At the most basic level, if one group of cave dwellers insisted on hunting for mammoth in rugged mountains were mammoth were few in number, they would be less successful than another group who hunted on the plain where mammoth where plentiful. If one society believes the universe is worth investigating, and is ordered according to rules which are consistent and can be understood, such a society will be more successful than one which believes nature is ruled over by a god, or gods and demi-gods, so fickle that any attempt at understanding nature is doomed to failure, or a society which believes nature is an illusion, or that matter is intrinsically evil and not worth investigating.

The belief that the universe is worth investigating and can and should be investigated is so familiar to us that it seems obvious. But it was the view of no one at all until 2,000 years ago, and has become the majority view of mankind only in the last one hundred years. It has become the majority view of mankind not so much because of any direct evidence that it is true, but simply because it works.

The alignment with reality that leads to success for a society is not simply a matter of insight into the nature and rules of physical reality, but also of a realistic assessment of human nature. For example, socialism has never worked in practice and never will work, because it fundamentally misunderstands human nature. It is too generous in its assessment. It is difficult to motivate or inspire people to take pains and labour if they do not see some benefit of their work flowing to themselves or their families.

Because the most basic requirement for a successful society is to provide conditions in which children can be raised and go on to raise future generations, societies everywhere have taken measures to recognise and protect the family. The choice to live together and raise children has been regarded as something in which the wider society has an interest. This is more than respect for and celebration of the mating/loving relationship between male and female. In almost every known society there is official recognition by the community of long term sexual relationships between male and female, which involves notions of binding or tying together, from which exit is made difficult, and outside of which sex is regarded as illicit, or at least discouraged or viewed as not fully meaningful.

For most of the last 2,000 years, the West has regarded marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. The Western tradition includes other requirements before a couple can be considered married. Free consent must be given by both parties. If one party is unable or unwilling to consent, no marriage has taken place.  There can be no coercion. This means that neither party to the marriage can be intoxicated or otherwise impaired to the extent that there could be doubt about his or her ability to understand and enter freely into the marriage agreement. The parties must be of marriageable age. How this has defined has varied, but in the West it has meant as a minimum that both parties must have passed through puberty. The parties must not be within restricted degrees of relatedness. The list of prohibited degrees included in the English Prayerbook forms the basis for law in most English speaking countries and prohibits marriage between close relatives, but not cousins. The relationship must include the reproductive sexual act. A marriage which is not consummated may be annulled; it was never a marriage.

Other societies have had varied these requirements. In some, a man may have more than one wife. In a very small number, a woman may have more than one husband. In some societies the marriage of older men to very young women is common. Others have different rules about how closely related the parties can be. In every society, however, the relationship is regarded as a permanent and civilly or religiously recognised and bonded sexual relationship between male and female.

This is a very different view of marriage to the rather cloudy notion that has overshadowed recent discussion. Marriage has not in any previous society ever been regarded as purely a matter for the parties concerned. Indeed, part of what makes a marriage is the public commitment, and public recognition and recording of this commitment. Marriage is not simply a relationship in which there is respect and care for one another, although those will be part of any successful marriage.

For example, imagine two brothers, one seriously disabled. They share a house. One has devoted his life to caring for the other. This is clearly a relationship based on a high degree of trust, love, and commitment. But almost no one would describe this relationship as a marriage, even if the two expressed a wish that they be considered married. What if they began having a sexual relationship? If they then asked their community to recognise their “right’ to marry, and went through a form of ceremony claiming as much, would that mean that a marriage existed between them? If not, why not?

A few days ago news outlets reported a mother and daughter being arrested for incest after living together in a sexual relationship after having been through a marriage ceremony. http://www.people.com/article/what-you-need-to-know-about-patricia-spann-the-oklahoma-mother-who-married-her-children The mother had previously married her son. That marriage had been annulled at the son’s request on the basis that it was incestuous and therefore not a genuine marriage. The mother and daughter are both adults and entered freely into the relationship. Are they in fact married? If not, why not?

Some people in such relationships claim they are genetically predisposed to be sexually attracted to close relatives. They are born with urges which makes it difficult for them to form sexual relationships with others. Sex with close relatives seems right and normal to them. If they were born that way, they ask, how can it be wrong? In recent years there have been reports of people marrying dogs, dolphins, inanimate objects such as bridges, and even themselves, a state of being called sologamy. Most people would not consider these relationships marriages, although they would probably be content to let people in them call themselves married if they wanted to, as long as others were not forced to agree.

One argument for not regarding those relationships as marriages, no matter how much care and respect the partners have for one another, is that no societies ever, anywhere have done so. Whatever other variations there have been in understanding what a marriage is, it has never included relationships with animals, or with oneself. Nor has it ever included relationships with members of the same sex. Even in societies which had a high degree of tolerance for homosexual relationships it was never suggested that those relationships were identical in nature and function and in their meaning to society as a long-term relationship between male and female.

This is not to suggest that those relationships are inferior. There may be homosexual or polyamorous or inter-species relationships which are every bit as caring, respectful and committed as heterosexual relationships. It is simply recognising what ought to be and until recently was, obvious; that they are not the same thing.

I asked a random sample of friends whether they thought it would be appropriate for the government to insist that everyone agree it was a marriage when 1. A woman married a dolphin 2. A group of three men marry each other. 3. A man marries himself. The answers were no, no (with one exception) and no. The one exception was “Why shouldn’t they, if they want to. They are not doing anyone any harm.” But she had missed the point. The question wasn’t about whether it was acceptable for the three men to go through a commitment ceremony and think of themselves as married, but rather, whether it would be appropriate for the government to force everyone else to agree.

When I asked why these things should not be considered marriage, or rather, why the government should not insist that everyone agree they are, the answers were remarkably uniform. Essentially; “It’s silly. They are not the same thing.”

Words are meaningful not only because of what they include, but because of what they exclude. For example, the word cat is meaningful because it includes cats, and also because it excludes all other objects, including other four legged mammals. Some objects are in (all cats) and some objects are out (all other things). Let’s say some squirrels felt distressed at being excluded from the world of catness. They begin to call themselves cats. No one much minds. But then they begin to insist that other animals also call them cats. “Don’t you believe in equality?” they ask. It is hard to argue with that. Everyone wants to be on the side of equality. So eventually the government passes a law saying that all animals are cats, and no one has the right to discriminate. It is hard to argue with that. No one wants to be guilty of discrimination.

Except for one thing. Squirrels are not, in fact, cats, and therefore are not equal to cats. Nor are horses or chimpanzees. Even if they want to be. And this very useful word, cat, is no longer useful at all, because its meaning has become so wide, so equal, so non-discriminatory, that it has no meaning at all. If a word can mean anything, it has no meaning at all.

Sometimes SSM activists claim that redefining marriage will not affect anyone but themselves. It won’t affect anyone else, they claim, so why should anyone else even have a say?

How would legitimising sex with minors affect your relationship with children you know? It would, even if you never had any such intentions towards them, because it would change the whole dynamic of child/adult relationships.

How would allowing brother and sister to marry affect your relationship with your siblings? It would, regardless of your feelings for your siblings, because it would change the way siblings relate to one another. And if you object to a father marrying a daughter, or two brothers marrying each other, what is wrong with you? Don’t you believe in marriage equality? Haven’t we moved past the time when society can tell people who to love?

Any change to the definition of marriage affects all existing marriages. We thought we were entering into one sort of covenant, now it turns out that we have actually entered into something quite different, something other than an open to life, lifetime commitment between one man and one woman.

Forcing people to call a variety of types of relationships by one word will not alter the fact that they are different. This is not a religious judgement. It does not suggest that gay relationships are less loving or noble. They are just different.

Those who oppose the redefinition of marriage are not trying to stop anyone doing what they want. SSM activists are the ones who want force others to change their behaviour. Anyone who doubts this is simply not paying attention. In Australia, same sex relationships have exactly the same rights under law relating to succession, taxation, benefits, superannuation, etc, etc. People in same sex relationships are free to go through a ceremony, invite their friends, get dressed in white, have a wedding cake, go on a honeymoon. The proposed changes in the law will not change what same sex attracted people can do, and are not intended to. They are intended to force everyone else to agree, or pretend to agree, that two things that are different are the same.

This article lists a few of the changes in the UK since marriage was redefined there. https://www.spectator.com.au/2017/09/whats-changed-in-britain-since-same-sex-marriage/

In other jurisdictions in which marriage has been redefined, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim businesses, and anyone who believes what everyone believed about marriage until twenty years ago, have been subject to Gestapo type targetting and  persecution.

The notion of “marriage equality,” that is, that a relationship between two men or two women is in every way identical to a lifetime commitment between a man and woman, and has the same meaning to society, rests on the claim that gender is a social construct which has no basis in reality. If there are real differences between men and woman, then a relationship between two men is a different thing from a relationship between a man and woman. Consequently, coercing people to agree that two men or two women can be married, is inextricably linked to attempts to force people to accept “gender fluidity.”

In Canada, children can be removed from their family home if parents do not affirm their gender choices and encourage and assist “gender transition” (ie, life-changing and destructive hormone therapy and surgery)  if the child desires it. California is currently considering legislation which would make it a jailable offence to call someone by other than their preferred pronouns.

Demands to redefine marriage are not about tolerance for homosexual acts, or for same sex attracted people. Their relationships already have equal status in every way relating to succession law, benefits and taxation.

If same sex attracted people want to say their relationships are exactly the same as a life-time commitment between a man and woman, and mean the same thing to society, most people would not be bothered about this.

If they want to go through a ceremony and say they are married, most people would wish them well.

But if they want to get the government to force everyone to agree with them, that moves over the line from the rightful and realistic expectation of tolerance, to Stalinist enforcement of compliance.

The campaign to redefine marriage is not about letting same sex attracted people do what they want. They already can. It is about demanding the government create a society in which no one is permitted to disagree. That is not tolerance and freedom. It is the exact opposite.

Atheism is Irrational

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 ε is in part determined by the strength of the strong nuclear force. If ε 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.

Basics of Biblical Interpretation

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.

Wynford Wilde Author Website

I just finished the author website for Wynford Wilde. This is the place to go for news on upcoming adventures in the Jennifer Jones series, starting with Dark Turnings, which is now available for Kindle or in paperback.

Describing myself as a best selling writer was just wishful thinking a week ago, but within three days of being launched my short story Encomium had shot to number two on the bestseller list in its number one Amazon category, and the top ten in two others:

Wynford Wilde’s sci-fi adventure Encomium hits number two on Amazon’s bestseller lists after only three days

Easter, Ishtar and Eostarum

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.