The first of the New Year!
It seemed appropriate to have pictures of dogs in the snow, again from Unsplash!
But first a photograph taken locally of nearby Mount Sexton.
Happy New Year to all!
The first of the New Year!
It seemed appropriate to have pictures of dogs in the snow, again from Unsplash!
But first a photograph taken locally of nearby Mount Sexton.
Happy New Year to all!
Just two days time.
I want to wish you, one and all, a
Very Happy New Year.
My next post, Picture Parade Four Hundred and Eighteen, will be next year!
See you there.
Back on Thursday, 30th December
Dear good people,
I am taking a break for the next week.
Please, wherever you are, please take care and have a Very Happy Christmas.
Today, we celebrate the shortest daylight! (In the Northern Hemisphere).
The winter solstice, also called the hiemal solstice, hibernal solstice, and brumal solstice, occurs when either of Earth‘s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. Either pole experiences continuous darkness or twilight around its winter solstice. The opposite event is the summer solstice. Depending on the hemisphere’s winter solstice, at the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn, the Sun reaches 90° below the observer’s horizon at solar midnight, to the nadir.
The winter solstice occurs during the hemisphere’s winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (usually December 21 or 22) and in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (usually June 20 or 21). Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment, the term sometimes refers to the day on which it occurs. Other names are the “extreme of winter” (Dongzhi), or the “shortest day”. Since the 18th century, the term “midwinter” has sometimes been used synonymously with the winter solstice, although it carries other meanings as well. Traditionally, in many temperate regions, the winter solstice is seen as the middle of winter, but today in some countries and calendars, it is seen as the beginning of winter.
Since prehistory, the winter solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.
Later on, that article speaks of the Celtic history:
Prior to the arrival of Christianity, the Celtic people of Britain celebrated Yule in a similar fashion to the Germanic festival. It is alleged that Celtic Druids began the tradition of the Yule Log, with the intention of driving out darkness, evil spirits, and poor luck in the following year. The Yule Log was intended to be kept alight over the entire solstice period, twelve days over which the sun was believed to stand still. The log being extinguished symbolised poor luck in the following year. Additionally, evergreen plants were used in decoration – of key significance are “The Holly and the Ivy”, used in decoration, and Mistletoe, suspended over a doorway in a token gesture of goodwill to all who passed under it. These traditions have been adopted into the Christian winter celebrations, symbolised by a mistletoe wreath placed on the front door to a building.
It is a most ancient celebration because as soon as humans recognised that this was the shortest day they were deeply respectful of the forces of the universe.
And yet more delightful photographs of dogs courtesy of Unsplash!
It seems appropriate to show dogs from the Christmas Dogs selection on Unsplash. I will do it for this Sunday and the Boxing Day Sunday in a week’s time.
More from this selection in a week’s time.
Meanwhile, wherever you are please will you and all your families have a very great holiday.
Some advice from The Dodo.
There are many things we just take for granted including, if I may say, celebrating a birthday for our dog. Now I’ve no way to check with readers if what I just said is correct; it is an assumption.
Earlier in the year, July to be exact, The Dodo published ideas that might be useful for you. Here they are:
Published on the 28th July, 2021
There are lots of ways to celebrate your dog’s birthday. But different dogs might like to celebrate in different ways depending on their personality — some dogs are more social, and others might just want to spend the day lounging around.
With all the different ways to celebrate and all the different dogs out there, it might be hard for you to decide what to do to give your dog the best birthday.
To help you decide, The Dodo made a list of seven fun ideas for ways to celebrate your dog’s birthday.
Invite all your dog’s friends to his birthday party! To make sure everyone’s included, send out invites like this one. You can personalize the template and add whatever you want to say to the front!
You’ll need some decorations for the party, too, so get this banner of your dog’s face! Just send in a pic of your dog, and you’ll get this banner to hang your pup’s face all over your house.
Give your dog’s guests some party favors before they go. Fill up these paw print party bags with little treats or toys to say thanks for coming. They come in a set of 20, so you’ll have plenty to go around.
If your dog’s birthday is in the summer, let him cool off by taking a dip in the pool! This doggie poolcomes in multiple sizes and doesn’t need to be inflated, so it’s super easy to set up.
Obviously your dog will need a cool outfit for his party. Get him this Birthday Boy (or Birthday Girl) shirt that comes in multiple sizes and keeps your dog warm enough to wear on outdoor walks.
Get this birthday crown to complete the look. It’s sparkly gold with pom poms on top and has a chin strap, so it will stay put all day long (or as long as your dog will keep it on).
Set up a photo booth with props! These birthday-themed props will let you take lots of Instagram-worthy pictures with your dog. There are glasses, balloons, cake and hats, so you’ll have a lot of options.
Make homemade pupcakes for your pup with this dog cake mix. The recipe is all-natural and peanut butter flavored, comes with an icing mix and can be made in either the oven or microwave for easy baking.
Spend quality time with your dog and give him some exercise by taking him on a long walk. You can still dress your pup up for his birthday walk with a fun harness and leash combo like this mix-and-match one that earned The Dodo’s Paw of Approval. The harness is adjustable, and there are tons of different colors. It also comes with a cute poop bag carrier to make cleaning up after your pup a little more fun.
Take time out of your day just to play with your dog. Whether it’s throwing a ball or playing with a squeaky toy or tug-of-war, your dog will love it. Get him some new toys that he can play with on his birthday too.
Take your pup to a pet store and let him pick out his own gift! You’ll probably be getting him tons of presents, but it’ll be fun for him to pick one out for himself too. Plus, dogs go crazy for all the sights, smells and sounds in pet stores, so it’ll be an adventure.
You should be aware that if you choose to purchase an item from The Dodo website then their statement is applicable:
We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.
I think there are some brilliant ideas and, upon reading this article, maybe many fewer people will take it for granted when their dogs have a birthday!
A powerful and well-argued position from Waiving Entropy.
This is a cogent discussion article that was published back in July, 2013. Waiving Entropy is a blog that ranges across many aspects of life. As their About page states:
Waiving Entropy is a blog with humble aims. What began in 2011 as a gesture toward self-improvement evolved into a vitalizing outlet for creative expression. To write is to live more fully, and it has now become something I can scarcely imagine life without — a kind of formless, free-floating impulse that hovers about like a pregnant cloud. Fortunately, blogging is a kind of catharsis for the restless. Nothing eases an active mind like seeing your ideas materialize in a meaningful way in front of you, which is to say I write for myself first and foremost. This blog acts as both heat sink and hard drive, helping me offload scattered collections of thoughts and organize them into a coherent whole.
First, let me (with the help of WikiPedia) explain the difference between atheism and non-theism. It is in the form of a diagram:
So onto the article.
It is a long but a most interesting read.
July 10th, 2013
As an atheist and former theist I am on occasion asked what it would take to change my mind on this central metaphysical question. What met conditions or circumstances would reincorporate into my worldview the conviction that God exists and, more specifically, that Christianity offers the best explanation for the world we observe?
However we may currently identify, and however strong our convictions in any one area, we must take these questions seriously. If we possess well considered reasons justifying our beliefs, then we should also consider possibilities that could weaken or undermine those beliefs. A worldview which can never be moved around, reconfigured into different shapes, is a worldview better characterized by creed and dogma than by epistemic openness and intellectual integrity. If we are to be responsible in our commitment to truth, our positions must ultimately be defeasible — open to revision in light of new information — lest we fall victim to playing tennis without the net.
With this in mind, my overriding approach is that a belief should be demonstrable on the weight of evidence and argument. If new information is forthcoming, if the evidence (or interpretation of that evidence) changes, or if arguments with greater explanatory scope and internal consistency are offered, it is our epistemic duty to honestly assess these new inputs and what it entails for our existing orientation. This is a basic feature used to build conclusions in philosophy and science and can be broadly exported to other areas of our discourse.
Before we dive in, it will be useful to clarify an oft-omitted distinction that tends to bog down discussions on this topic. The distinction is that between a “direct participant” deity — the god of theism — who intervenes in space and time and cares about how the drama of life plays out, and the noninterventionist, “absentee landlord” variety of deism. The latter is irrelevantbecause its existence and nonexistence are logically identical (from our perspective) and thus is not the focus of this essay. Rather, I will deal here with the former, a transcendent being that has a hand in the natural order and is in some sense involved in the affairs of humans. This is the territory of theism, the regime with the most relevance to our daily lives and metaphysical luggage.
Contrary to some atheists, I don’t subscribe to the notion that there is, in principle or otherwise, a falsifiable “God hypothesis.” Refuting God is not like refuting the proposition All swans are white by finding a gaggle of black-plumaged swans in Scandinavia, thereby bringing us closer to the truth about the nature of swans. While I do think certain religious beliefs have been rendered untenable by the lights of modern science and historical inquiry, I don’t think we can definitively adjudge an entity’s nonexistence in the case of theism.
What we can do, however, is point out the lack of evidence where evidence ought to be — in other words, build an evidential case for nonexistence. And this is where popular conceptions of theism tend to break apart, because a god that intervenes in space and time is a god that is accessible to scientific study. In a world where Christians and other monotheists profess belief in a meddler god who influenced ancient texts, answers prayers, appoints semi-sane politicians to run for office, and worked all manner of miracles throughout history, the utter vacuum of evidence for such assertions begins to speak volumes. If demons and angels and spirits and souls were part of the furniture of reality, then their effects in the world should have been clearly documented by now. Given all that is attributed to these ethereal entities, this paradox should at the very least strike a person as strange.
Accordingly, though we may not be able to conclusively rule out the God of theism and his confederacy of celestial beings — à la Russell’s teapot — we can be reasonably confident that no such entities exist, in short, because things that don’t exist leave no evidence behind. They can’t, after all, because they don’t exist.
If we want to be more careful in our language here, rather than claim outright that God does not exist we can simply say that we see no good evidence for God, and therefore (recalling John Dewey) a verdict cannot be reached on the question unless and until good reasons to warrant the belief are found. It’s an important distinction, in the same way that a jury for a criminal trial either finds sufficient evidence to convict, or not. A ‘not guilty’ verdict does not mean the defendant is innocent, only that there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt.
The purpose here is to offer 20 examples that would move a jury, namely me, beyond reasonable doubt. In so doing, we will look at a number of expectations that could be considered consistent with the claim that God exists and then see how those expectations correspond to the world we actually observe. As noted above, most of the following will interface with the generic god of theism and in the process make direct contact with Christianity in particular. My personal view is that a wider appreciation of reality reveals a universe that does not appear the way we would expect if theism were true, leaving nonbelief as a supremely rational position to hold.
1. If evolution were false. That is to say, if our scientific understanding of the diversity of life were irreparably refuted. The theological challenge presented by common descent has less to do with any putative conflict between science and fundamentalist religion than the larger dissonance it poses for teleological value systems. Those who flippantly maintain that evolution and faith are compatible rarely come to terms with what the great Book of Nature really tells us: We are an evolutionary accident, an infinitesimal, stochastically produced whimper in a four billion-year chain of existence that when compressed to a single year has man emerging within the final fifteen minutes of the calendar. If we truly are God’s chosen — the foreordained purpose of all that is and ever will be — why so much time spent with “unensouled” microbes?
This can be a tough pill to swallow precisely because it taps into something more profound than clumsy interpretations of ancient texts. Not only do evolution and deep time blunt our cosmic significance, but its ends are achieved through the instrument of death. Within the context of natural selection, death is not an unnatural state but is in fact integral to the process: it is the mechanism by which less fit individuals are removed from the gene pool, allowing those left standing to carry on. The corrosive influence of this most foundational of scientific formalisms was perhaps best expressed in a letter to the editor popularized by the late Stephen Jay Gould:
“Pope John Paul II’s acceptance of evolution touches the doubt in my heart. The problem of pain and suffering in a world created by a God who is all love and light is hard enough to bear, even if one is a creationist. But at least a creationist can say that the original creation, coming from the hand of God was good, harmonious, innocent and gentle. What can one say about evolution, even a spiritual theory of evolution? Pain and suffering, mindless cruelty and terror are its means of creation. Evolution’s engine is the grinding of predatory teeth upon the screaming, living flesh and bones of prey…If evolution be true, my faith has rougher seas to sail.”
Those who prefer a “God-guided” evolutionary model, moreover, must contend with the abundance of suboptimal design and overt inefficiencies with which nature is replete. Classic examples like the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the crossing of the air and food passages in vertebrates seem far removed from the realized premeditated vision of a competent architect. And if we owe our presence here to the illimitable wisdom of a Master Engineer who populated the planet in special acts of creation — as alleged by literalist readers of Genesis — we would not expect the rampant dysteleology evident in nature any more than we would expect the indisputable genetic, embryological, paleontological, and biogeographic evidence pointing to common descent.
Far from suggesting humanity occupies the climax of any cosmic production, the available evidence suggests we are an accidental scene in an otherwise haphazardly produced drama. The privileged plank on which so many religions place humanity is permanently deposed through the lens of evolution. To believe that there is some discarnate, phantasmic agency out there that harbors deep concern for our species is perhaps the most delusional, nay, conceited notion one can countenance.
2. If God appeared to me or made its presence known to me. The canonical gospels of the Christian New Testament are filled with post-mortem appearances. Jesus is said to have appeared to Cephas (Saint Peter) and the apostles, and to more than 500 others. In the Hebrew Bible Yahweh appears to Moses so often the two are on a first-name basis. A god concerned about the affairs of its creation, about what we believe and our eventual destination, could appear to every one of us, convincing us instantly of its existence and preeminence — yet we are left only with silence. Indeed, a direct manifestation would very likely convince me posthaste, though I would of course first ensure that I had not been in a chemically induced or comatose state at the time.
3. If we were not made of “star stuff.” Imagine the human race were composed of material utterly foreign to the rest of the cosmos. Suppose that baked into our biology were elements or unique forms of matter or energy not found in any other species, or anywhere else in the universe. Such radical discontinuity would at the very least be tantalizing enough to wax poetic about our “specialness.” Drawing a straight line from here to Jesus would be rather naïve, as scientific inquiry could lead us to other, more mundane reasons for our sui generiscomposition. But this would be a good launching pad for theism.
As the science shows, however, there are universal inheritance patterns linking up the diversity of all life on Earth. The DNA and RNA found in all living things — from microbes and archaea to plants and mammals — are altered over time in response to changing circumstances, with more closely related kin sharing more features (and DNA) in common than more remote kin. Our bodies are littered with echoes of Homo sapiens’ evolutionary ancestry — from retroviral DNA, pseudogenes, and vestigial structures to the assortment of point mutations we share with our chimpanzee cousins. We all come from common clay, an inspiring and beautiful fact in its own right.
4. If a natural disaster were stopped in its tracks. There would be no explaining away a major cataclysm being miraculously averted, say, the tsunami which thumped the island of Sumatra in December 2004, laying waste to a quarter million people, 40% of which were children. A hurricane that mysteriously changed direction or an approaching asteroid that was inexplicably deflected away from Earth, trouncing the known laws of physics: divine involvement of this magnitude would likely blow the lid off my ideological center. By contrast, the biblical Yahweh saw fit to intervene on behalf of the fleeing Israelites by parting the Red Sea, and on behalf of Elisha by issuing flesh-hungry bears to maul his antagonizers. Alas, the God of the Bible has apparently grown lax over the years.
The problem of justice in a world created by a personal force remains unsolved, though certainly not unchallenged. The moral position on matters of avertable harms declares the bystander to be guilty, and as the eternal Bystander, God, should he exist, must be indicted as the worst offender of all.
5. If the efficacy of prayer could be conclusively demonstrated as superior to modern medical remedies. To date there have been several well-controlled, double-blind studies on the efficacy of prayer. In each of these studies, the null hypothesis was confirmed (i.e., prayer was shown to have no effect on patient condition). One of the largest and most significant of these studies was funded by the Templeton Foundation, who of course was trying to prove the opposite. Templeton solicited Christian petitioners across America and provided them with the first name and last initial of 1,802 patients to pray for. The whole unctuous affair lasted for months, and the results were published in the American Heart Journal in April 2006. No relationship observed.1
6. If we were to observe a true medical miracle. Qualifying phenomena include an amputee regrowing a limb — a capacity granted to starfish and many reptiles but not to us — or some other marvel outside the confines of our genetic toolkit. Or perhaps one of the millions of children who die every year being resurrected after declared death. Were the saints in Matthew more precious than these children, year after year?
7. If miracles like the ones crowding the Bible had occurred since the arrival of video cameras and modern methods of recording and preservation. Contrasting the Yahweh who intervened spectacularly in ancient times — taking up residence in a burning bush, raining fire down from the sky to establish Baal’s inferiority — or the Jesus who walked on water and transformed it into wine, with the utter absence of such enchanting productions following the arrival of video capture would seem to clinch the case against Judeo-Christianity almost singlehandedly. A falloff in miracle claims at precisely the moment our technology is capable of documenting them is not what we would expect were God as active in the world as many believers proclaim.
8. If we found two cultures who had independently received an identical revelation. As secular author David McAfee has noted, “If one religion were ‘true’, we would expect to see, even if only once in all of recorded history, a religious missionary that had stumbled upon a culture that shared the same revelations — brought forth by the same deity.”
Were we to discover that two uncontacted peoples inhabiting opposite ends of the planet worshipped the same god, lionized the same verbatim scriptures, and were bestowed duplicate revelations, this would strongly suggest divine origin or supernatural agency. Even more convincing would be the arrival of an extraterrestrial civilization that was found to have had an identical revelation to one here on Earth.
Instead, what we have found is that geography and birthparents are the leading predictors for religious affiliation. Which god one believes in and which values one adheres to are predominantly determined by the culture in which one happens to be born. This is not what we should expect if a single revelation had a more tactile connection to the truth. We find, moreover, that none of the major world religions sync up with one another; many are mutually contradictory, and even members of the same religion often disagree as much among themselves as they do with those of other faiths. Within the framework of personal revelation, we should expect more consensus in the realm of religious experience, with internal agreement and conversion rates tipped in favor of those claims with something real behind them.
Religious demographics are better explained anthropologically, in which cultural traditions, beliefs, and norms are largely rooted in that culture’s heritage and social environment. And this is as true now as it was in the ancient world. The biblical writers, like those of the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu scriptures, drew from and adapted existing ideas to speak to their particular historical perspective.
9. If divine messages were embedded within our mathematical or physical laws.Were we to find some hidden intelligible code in our numeral systems or field equations escaping all plausible coincidence, this might suggest a message from above. An example could be a discernible pattern located in pi‘s unending chain of decimals that only makes sense in the context of Hindu or Christian scriptures. Suppose the pattern could be cross-walked perfectly to our oldest biblical manuscripts in their original Hebrew or Greek to the extent that we could read the scriptures strictly from the decimals. Or perhaps a string of prime numbers that could not possibly have arisen by sheer chance and carried unmistakable signs of intelligence.2
This one is abstract, and astute sci-fi fans will recognize traces of these ideas from Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact.
10. If there were not 10,000 different genetic disorders, and counting. The wrong DNA in the wrong place can prove fatal to those with lackluster genetic heritage. Maladies big and small, especially those occurring throughout one’s life, can usually be traced to irregularities in one or a combination of genes. Some gene-based diseases threaten our quality of life and beleaguer us daily, while others kill us outright with devastating effectiveness. Such malfunctions of our biological makeup account for more than 150,000 babies per year in the U.S. alone who die from birth defects during or shortly after birth. That’s 411 every single day that an all-powerful God must choose not to rescue.
Granted, these tragic circumstances are simply the result of evolution in action paired with imperfect cell repair mechanisms. Unless we were to short-circuit the very processes which keep us humming along, genetic mistakes will continue to be a part of life for the foreseeable future. But surely that doesn’t prevent God from tidying up some of the delinquent DNA we’ve accumulated across evolutionary time. Could a God who fashioned cellular superstructures not rid our species of this “natural evil” that nudges us toward mortality through no fault of our own?
11. If the infant mortality rate (IMR) dropped faster than could be accounted for by scientific advances. IMR is the total number of newborn babies who die under one year of age divided by the total number of births per year. Two hundred years ago, there was a 50 percent chance of your child not surviving past its first year. By 1850, IMR for babies born in America was 217 per 1,000 for whites and 340 for African Americans. By 1950, global IMR was down to 152 per 1,000 babies born (15.2 percent).
It is thanks to advancements in medicine and biomedical science that these numbers have been reduced to 4.3 percent today and continue to fall. Were this rate to experience a sudden sharp drop on a global scale that could not be explained by improvements in healthcare, it might just indicate that God is looking out for us and cares what happens down here.
Yet nothing like this has been observed. New life is still shuttered at staggering rates across the third world from malnutrition, infectious diseases, and a miscellany of genetic factors. One can only imagine how high these numbers have climbed historically, prior to when these types of records were kept. Salvation of these newborns has clearly been delivered by the hands of science, not by any god or goddess.
12. If the people of one religion experienced dramatically less suffering relative to all others. Consider that in 1990 around 12.6 million children died who were under the age of five. In 2011 the under-five toll was 7 million, and this figure is lower by about two-thirds compared with just a couple of centuries prior. One of the leading causes is malnourishment and starvation, which currently affects 800 million people — 11 percent of the world population — many of whom will not survive to the end of the year. Hunger alone accounts for more than a third of child mortality.
To put these figures in perspective, consider that every 4.5 seconds some under-five child will have died somewhere around the world. By the time you have finished reading this essay, and while men and women of faith are thanking God for parking spots and promotions, some several dozen children will have perished in misery, most likely from overwhelmingly Christian countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Yahweh is portrayed in the Bible as the Ultimate Provider, showering manna from the sky to nourish the Israelites in time of need. Once again, we see this deity has apparently grown more callous with time.
If a single faith group were special enough to reap God’s favor, we might expect different outcomes among the world’s religions. Against the harsh realities outlined above, we might see longer life expectancies, lower infant, child, and maternal mortality, fewer epidemics, and an overall higher quality of life for Jain-majority communities, say. Yet religion doesn’t seem to play a role in any of these factors, each of which are better predicted by geography, socioeconomic status, and access to healthcare. If anything it is non-religious societies which predominantly meet these conditions. Indeed, as Greg Gaffin writes in Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God:
“By every objective measure, open, liberal, secular societies are healthier than closed, bigoted, superstitious ones. Countries with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable, best educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according to a Human Development Index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries — Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands — all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely religious.”
13. If we did not have such a somber record of mass extinctions. Our excavation of the past has revealed that the glamour and diversity of life on Earth was punctuated by great loss and collapse. Depending on how you count species, anywhere from 30 billion to 4,000 billion (that’s 4 trillion) have met their demise, which means that 99.99 percent of everything that has ever lived is no longer with us.
The most recent event was the Chicxulub impact marking the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. This 10-mile wide asteroid not only laid the dinosaurs to rest but wiped out 75 percent of all extant species. Yet even this is eclipsed by the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction, the most ruinous event on record. Swings in climate and geologic activity around 252 mya saw 96 percent of all marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates blink out of existence. In taxonomic terms, some 57 percent of all families and 83 percent of all genera along the tree of life went extinct, as did over 90 percent of all species sea, land, and air.
What is the most reasonable inference one can draw from these facts? I submit that an omniamorous creator god is about the last thing one would deduce from such information.
14. If our own species had not been jerked to the precipice of extinction multiple times in our relatively brief time on this planet. Consider man’s evolutionary past. Anatomically modern humans first arose around 200,000 years ago. For our ancestors, life was less a gift than a burdensome, calamitous, and affliction-laden existence. The absence of anything we would call medicine or quality of life meant death was a hurried and unrelenting affair, with average life expectancy hovering below age thirty.
Disasters such as the supervolcanoes of Yellowstone and Lake Toba, genetic diseases, epidemics, and virus outbreaks variously culled our population numbers to the low thousands in a series of bottlenecks that very nearly signaled the death knell for our species. At our nadir, we were but a few thousand casualties short of joining the 99.99 percent of other species in annihilation. And if events had proceeded a bit differently, we might not be here at all.
It was Ambrose Bierce who wrote: “Religions are conclusions for which the facts of nature supply no major premises.” Our universe is no idyll. Nature’s a serial killer, the boldest and most successful that’s ever lived. It’s clever, it’s ruthless, and it’s highly efficient. Indeed, it seems as if the universe was engineered for the express purpose of snuffing out life forms with unmetered brutality. Is such a universe consistent with a benevolent God?3
15. If the Bible were non-discrepant, free of error, and internally consistent. A central feature of revealed religion is that God authors books. He doesn’t code software. He doesn’t produce feature films or compose plays. Rather, within the narrative of Judeo-Christianity, God is said to have inspired a diverse collection of writings sometime between the years 1000 BCE and 135 CE. What might we expect of a corpus inspired by the Creator of the universe? Maybe not one riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Given the claims made on its behalf, we would expect to find a level of perfection which transcends that of ordinary, man-made works, and such excellence would be positive evidence in favor of those claims. We do not find this.
No religious texts pass this test.
16. If the Bible, or any purported holy text, contained prescient moral and scientific truths. What about matters of ethics and morality and insights about the physical world? Here again, given the extraordinary claims made on its behalf, the Bible should exhibit an ethical blueprint that transcends the rate of cultural evolution observed across history. Yet on issues such as slavery, the status of women, penalties for various innocuous (and imaginary) crimes, and the treatment of unbelievers, the biblical texts are found to be par for the Bronze Age course.
Consider the issue of slavery. In the time of St. Paul and the other New Testament writers, enslavement was a common and completely accepted social institution, as ubiquitous in Judea, Galilee, and the Roman Empire writ large as stock trading is to our own. What better opportunity to condemn in clear and certain terms and bring an early end to a practice that would haunt and oppress the underprivileged for the better part of the next two thousand years? Yet neither Paul nor any other biblical figure is recorded as saying anything in opposition. Not even Jesus, supposed moral exemplar to the stars, utters a word against slaveholding.4
Likewise, the Bible is bereft of insights about the universe: no scientific precocity, nothing that has stood the test of time. As Sam Harris has noted, there isn’t a single sentence in the Bible that could not be uttered by someone today or that could not have been uttered “by someone for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.” If within the pages of the Bible or other (prescientific) text we were to find passages on DNA, electricity, principles of infectious disease, astronomical and cosmological truths, references to common descent and DNA, quarks, Higgs or other subatomic particles, then one could easily advance a sensible case for divine inspiration.
As it stands, the Bible, like other primitive works, is a product of its time. Its authors betray a manifest ignorance on matters pertaining to nature and ethical judgment, just as we would expect of a work sprung from the ancient world. The confluence of these problems casts considerable doubt on the very idea that the Judeo-Christian texts are of heavenly origin. If truly these were instructional messages vouchsafed to humanity by an all-knowledgeable, all-loving agency, we should expect to see the apotheosis of ethical counsel, the consummation of moral enlightenment, and the cutting edge in cosmic literacy. We do not find this.
17. If the biblical texts were purely preserved. Most Christians assume their nicely printed and bound book, conveniently translated into modern English idiom, contains the pure, unvarnished words passed down from their time of origin. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, we have not one of the autographs (originals) for any text in either the Old or New Testaments. As with any document from antiquity, the originals were lost or destroyed a long time ago. What survives are copies of the originals several centuries removed from their point of provenance.
When we compare the later manuscripts to our earliest witnesses, we find hundreds of thousands of variants, some material in nature (the alternate endings for Mark’s gospel, the Johanine Comma, the silencing and disesteeming of women in Paul’s epistles), some less so (innocent copy errors and the like). The evidence of our manuscript traditions confirms that these texts have been edited, revised, and redacted down through the centuries, often by way of mistake but also for theological and political motives, and the further back we go in the catalog the more errors that appear. If God deemed it prudent to deliver us a textbook of instruction, then why was the same care not taken in preserving it for us?
“For most people, the Bible is a non-problematic book. What people don’t realize is that they’re reading translations of texts, and we don’t have the originals. Given the circumstance that God didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.” —Bart Ehrman
18. If we had a more reliable historical record of the life and deeds of Jesus. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t leave any writings of his own behind, and neither did any of his disciples (who were most likely illiterate; see here and here) or anyone who knew him. Christians are often surprised to learn that we don’t actually know who wrote the gospels; the titles we see at the top today were added centuries later. The gospel accounts were written anonymously by Greek-speaking persons (read: not Aramaic) several decades after Jesus’ death.
To be fair, Jesus is hardly alone on this score. Our surviving sources for most historical figures are non-autographic, non-eyewitness, and in many cases irreconcilably contradictory. This does not mean historical reconstruction is impossible, but it does complicate the task. Where Jesus differs relative to most figures from the ancient world is, firstly, that accounts of him have come down to us in the form of the gospels, which are largely theological in nature. Particularly compared to other contemporary works by the Roman-era Josephus, Tacitus, Plutarch, or Suetonius, we are not reading rote history when we read the canonical material.
Second, many of the miracles attributed to him we would expect to be externally attested if they did in fact occur. Mark tells of a darkness which covered the earth upon Jesus’ last breath and is strangely specific as to its duration (from noon to three in the afternoon). Matthew describes a rock-splitting earthquake accompanied by a parade of corpses leaving empty tombs behind. Paul informs us that the resurrected Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at once. Surely these goings-on made it into other writings of the day? Except nowhere outside the Bible do we find mention of any of these miraculous events. Not even the other New Testament writers mention them.
In fact, the only legitimate references we have to Jesus outside the New Testament canon are from the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 93 CE, and the Roman senator-cum-historian Tacitus, writing in the second century. And neither make any mention of the miracle wonders front and center in the gospel narratives. Taken together, the scattered and contradictory nature of the historical sources calls into question any confidence surrounding the details of his life, leaving the truth about what he said and did largely inaccessible and uncertain.
It’s important to note here that such silence and contradiction are not evidence against the very existence of Jesus as a historical figure. The reality is that Jesus simply did not make that big a splash in his day. That the source material is so scant is only surprising or problematic if one subscribes to Jesus the miracle-worker as opposed to Jesus the obscure, illiterate, penniless Jew whose life was posthumously embellished by his most devoted followers. Thus the fact that we have no extra-canonical sources for Jesus’ miracles merely serves as evidence against the historicity of those miracles, not against the historicity of Jesus himself.5
19. If Christianity were not so divided and had not repeatedly found itself on the wrong side of history, all the while citing divine revelation. Christians claim their God embodies absolute morality, yet they are in absolute disagreement over what those morals are. One would expect a group with a direct landline to the Creator to agree upon moral matters. They do not. And they have not. With no modicum of irony, those with no religion tend to experience much greater unity on ethical matters than do religionists.
In the same way, Christians claim their faith is uniquely characterized by a relationship with God, yet they are in consummate disagreement over God’s nature and God’s will and basic Christian doctrine, testified by the 41,000+ denominations and splinter sects. When it would take the better part of a lifetime or two to sift through all of these non-negotiable disagreements and sub-disagreements, clearly we have missed the revelation. Is God not available for an air-clearing Q&A to set the record straight?
20. In a certain sense, the foregoing is ultimately beside the point. It stands to reason that an infinitely wise god that made entrance to heaven dependent on proper belief would know exactly what criteria each of us would require. An all-knowing god that craves certain convictions on the part of bipedal mammals and longs for our attention in the form of a personal relationship would doubtless find this essay of marginal utility. An infinitely capable god that cares sincerely about the safe haven of our souls would spare no expense, and leave no measure untaken, in ensuring our demands for evidence had been met.
That the god theists insist is real and present in our world has altogether failed to do so may point to the thin foundation on which these belief systems rest. A god that has made itself impossible to detect — that, indeed, has ostensibly crafted a universe using processes indistinguishable from nature itself — and neglected to act on our behalf when and where such intercession was most desperately needed, undercuts our expectations of a cosmos governed by a benevolent watchman.
“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”
—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787
I challenge my Christian friends to compile a similar list. If practicing theists were genuinely concerned with the truth of their beliefs, they should be able to replicate this exercise. What array of facts, happenings, or circumstances might it take to convince a theist of the truth of atheism?
Well if you have read to the end then you are to be congratulated.
I think it is the best argument that I have seen for the truth. I greatly admire the many people in the world that believe in some form of religion, especially in the USA, but as that quote above from Robert De Niro says: “If there is a God then he has a lot to answer for!”
More delightful photographs of dogs courtesy of Unsplash!
More from the same source in a week’s time.
You all take care and be safe in the meantime.
This article is simply gorgeous!
This is an article that was recently published in The Dodo. Indeed, published on the 11th November this year.
I started this post late in the day yesterday and was anxious to have it published before the evening took over. But the story is so clear and obvious, and lovely, that further rambling words of introduction would have got in the way.
So, here we are:
Rescue Dog Waits All Day For The Man Who Saved Her To Get Home From Work
“She hit the jackpot” ❤️
Published on the 11th November, 2021
Earlier this year, Sara Fitzwater’s husband arrived to one of the coal mines he visits for work when he spotted a dog nearby, seemingly alone. He wasn’t sure where she’d come from, but after seeing her there again on later visits, it became obvious.
“Someone had dropped her off in the area,” Fitzwater told The Dodo. “Each time [my husband] would go to this mine, she would run to him and smile at him.”
The dog had won his heart. And he had landed a special place in hers.
During one fateful visit to that mine, Fitzwater’s husband decided to bring the sweet dog home with him to keep her safe and loved as his family’s new pet. They named her Sadie Kate.
The abandoned pup’s eager wait to be rescued was over. But each and every day since, there’s still something Sadie Kate so clearly looks forward to.
And that’s her hero coming home.
“I work from home, so I started noticing her just looking down the street waiting on him and thought it was cute,” Fitzwater said. “I never dreamed she would continue doing it every day.”
For Sadie Kate, it’s the sweetest homecoming.
The dog, once without a friend in the world, had found her soulmate.
And he’s always worth the wait.
For Fitzwater, it’s no surprise that Sadie Kate is so smitten with her husband. It seems he’s the type of man whose kind, caring spirit is easy to love.
“I tell her all the time she hit the jackpot when she smiled at him,” Fitzwater said.
Sadie Kate is quite clearly now the name of the dog.
Because Sadie is a dog that has come home!
A guest post from a dear friend!
Many years ago I found myself teaching at a unit attached to Exeter University. I was teaching sales and marketing. I can’t remember clearly the events that produced the meeting between myself and Chris Snuggs. But I recall the outcome.
Chris was the director of studies at a French institute named ISUGA. Let me borrow from their website:
The ISUGA Europe-Asia International BBA Bachelor’s degree is a 4-year cursus following the Baccalaureate or High School diploma which combines studying International Business and Marketing with learning an Asian or English language and comprising university exchange stays, as well as internships in French and International businesses.
ISUGA is located in Quimper, Western Brittany relatively close to Devon in England where I was living.
In Chris’ words: “It must have been through them that we got your name when we needed someone to teach Selling. Now I come to think of it, we HAD someone lined up for a whole week and he CANCELLED on us, so you were a last-minute replacement.”
For quite a few years I went across to Quimper to teach for Chris. Mainly by ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff. During the summer months I flew to Quimper from Exeter in our group-owned TB20. (The picture below is of the type only not our aircraft.)
Since that day we have remained in reasonable contact and I regard Chris as good friend.
A few days ago Chris published on his blog his account of his journey from Quimper back to Ramsgate, in east Kent. It was hilarious and I asked Chris if I could publish it and share with everyone.
Chris not only said yes but insisted on improving it (his words) including expanding it to what it is below.
So with no further ado, here is Chris’ post.
“A DOG’s Travel Across Northern France” … as in “Doddering Old Git”
I am officially a “Senior Citizen”, but as such prefer much of what passes for “The Good Old Days” when in this case we were called “Old Age Pensioners” – MUCH less PC and wokeish AND more realistic – but DOGS sounds much better (and more informative) than OAPs.
A simple trip to Blighty to see the family for XMAS was not supposed to be a saga, but it turned out to be one:
Like ET, I was going home, though not quite as far – though it probably seemed like it.
I got about 3 hours sleep max Thursday night/Friday morning; worried about oversleeping even though I had THREE electronic wake-up devices.
I got up at 04:30 to finalize packing and clean up (the worst of) my mess.
I went out into the street in front of the house at 06:45 to await the taxi – it was raining, albeit not heavily.
The taxi was 5 minutes late, but the driver didn’t apologize. (I was going to say “woman driver” but I believe that sex differentiation is no longer allowed.)
I tried to help her (it, hir, shim?) load my heavy suitcase into *** boot (car, not footwear).
I lightly touched the car with the suitcase, and shim said: “Mind my car. Your suitcase is too heavy.”
I nearly said: “So are you, but it’s probably your hormones or your genes.” but decided that discretion was the better part of insult as I had to catch a train ……
We got to the station in plenty of time, only for me then to find that the train was due to go from platform C (usually it’s A as you leave the entrance hall).
I then found out/remembered that there is no lift at Quimper station. “This is not going to be my day,” I thought …
As I approached the stairs down to the access tunnel, I pretended to be a Doddery Old Git on the point of collapse (no comments please) and a nice young man helped me with the case.
Same procedure with a different bloke to go up to platform C. I actually tried this ploy with a pretty young lady first, but just got a funny look ….
Eventually got onto the right and very crowded train; my “This is not a gasmask” COVID mask was very reassuring as the virus probably had a field day circulating the carriage. I got some more funny looks, but two people asked me where I got my mask, so I am thinking of merchandising them ….
Got to Paris 4 hours later – showed a railway worker my little map where the taxi was supposed to be waiting and he pointed me in direction X saying authoritatively: “Tout au bout.” (“right at the end” for those who left school at 14).
Seemed a bit iffy to me (I vaguely remembered having gone somewhere else the last time I had done the journey, but couldn’t remember where. Does that happen to you?), but I followed his directions in the obviously-idiotic belief that someone actually working in a place would know where the taxis would be.
Of course, there was no sign of a taxi area at the distant far end of the HUGE Montparnasse Station, so I asked another railway bod.
He pointed in the 180° opposite direction and said the same as the first bloke, so I had to retrace my steps and go another 200 metres past where I had started to one of the no doubt multiple exits.
On exiting I was surrounded by some Middle Eastern gentlemen (without beards as it happens) who were desperate to take me somewhere.
I told them I had booked a taxi already and they suddenly lost interest.
I then got a call on my posh new mobile, but as with every other mobile I have ever owned it is specifically designed so that one cannot easily answer a call – first there is always some other leftover screen on the thing which by the time you have got rid of the caller has given up, and second you have to SWIPE to even see a green button which you then press – and I don’t know who invented SWIPE but hanging, drawing and quartering while being burned alive in oil over a period of several hours would be a suitable punishment.
This was all way beyond me, so I missed the call.
Miraculously, however, I did manage to call back and it was in fact the driver.
After two or three calls in each direction we managed to find each other physically as well as phonally.
We set off for La Gare du Nord, which should be about 15 minutes max by road – but it took us an hour and a quarter … (This was Paris in the rain on Friday at lunchtime – but I did learn a few new French swearwords from the driver.)
Fortunately, I had plenty of time between trains and so managed to find and embark on my TER to Calais.
This was an uneventful trip except that I was opposite a young mother with an inquisitive baby who kept looking at me for some reason (the baby not the woman ….).
I thought about playing with the baby but did not want to be arrested as a paedophile. I did plonk a small orange on the little table between us thinking she might want to play with it, but I got a funny look from her mother …. so I picked it up (the orange not the baby) and ate it – getting more funny looks. Strange … I get that all the time.
There was no internet on the TER so I tried to doze, but dozing with a high-decibel baby one metre away is a skill I have not yet mastered – and probably never will.
Arrived at Calais station – it took me 10 minutes to find the lift to get to the exit: in fact, one has to be led across an actual line by a railway bod and then take the lift – which is conveniently hidden.
But once outside the station I got a taxi right away. (a rare plus chalked up!)
I was dropped at the port outside a little hut marked “Billets”: (“tickets” for the linguistically-challenged).
This was weird – there used to be a big hall full of foot-passengers, but it has all changed – there IS a big hall, but it is empty except for two WWI biplanes. “Perhaps they want to fly us over?” I thought.
Went into the ticket office to be told my boat was cancelled (no explanation was offered) and they would try to get me on the next one. I never did understand why they would “try” (there was hardly anyone else there), but it seems they had to wait for a phone call.
It was a very small cabin with four guichets (Would you like a French dictionary for XMAS?) and three simple chairs, on one of which – after having my particulars scrutinized and recorded – I was invited to sit – which I did, not sure whether I should show appreciation or keep going with the scowl I could feel coming on ….
Behind the desks several women came and went, but spent all the time yacking to one another about women stuff while three of us sat waiting in stony and in my case exhausted silence (it was by now 18:00 and I had been up since 04:30).
I eventually got up and complained, something that comes naturally to we DOGs. I said I did not understand the delay, that I needed a coffee and a toilet break and that the least they could do was install some beds in their little office for those in my situation (and condition) who had to wait overnight for information about getting on a replacement ferry. I wanted to add a question about whether they had been trained in defibrillation techniques but by then I had run out of breath.
The charming young lady smiled and said they had none of the things that might alleviate my stress (adding the word “understandable” would have been nice) but that the large hall opposite might be open, and if not she could lend me a key to open it and visit the convenience.
I couldn’t be bothered to try to work out why she wouldn’t know whether the hall was open or not and that what I in fact most urgently needed was to get out of there without bothering with keys I would probably lose – which I did.
I then walked round the large hall three or four times admiring the WWI planes and wondering if the Red Baron had ever flown one of them. The fresh air and exercise refill renewed the oxygen supply to my needy brain.
I eventually staggered back to the ticket office and sat down on my hard chair again. I was tempted to feign a loud snore but as with the taxi driver in the morning decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
15 minutes later a phone call came and I was summoned to the guichet and given my ticket.
“Great,” I thought. “At last we can get outta here.”
THEN she told us that in 40 minutes someone would come to drive us to the boat.
I was fast losing the will to live, but thought that another dose of circling the large airplane hall might at least get my blood circulating again.
I told her where I was going and mentioned the hall and the planes (to be fair she did laugh at my joke about flying us across the Channel), but said: “That’s all run by the Chamber of Commerce.”, and of course we all know that no lunacy is beyond THAT organization.
I left after asking if she could send out a rescue party if I did not return – and she smiled again …. Smiles don’t of course achieve anything practical but they do at least make the pain somewhat more tolerable.
I came back half an hour later, having admired the bi-planes once again and wondered whether the Red Baron had ever flown one – and indeed a lady driver soon turned up as predicted to drive us to the boat. (another rare plus chalked up …)
We had to go up and down two or three kerbs (nowhere lowered for people to wheel their too-heavy suitcases) and eventually got onto a bus.
Had to go up a multiply-zig-zagged ramp to get onto the boat, but I played the Doddery Old Git card again and someone helped with my case.
I had thought of taking my walking-stick on this trip to boost the DOG sympathy factor, but could not work out how I could possibly carry it simultaneously with the rest of my baggage.
I asked a boatbod what time we would be leaving and then arrive in Dover, and he said: “in 15 minutes and 20:00.”
40 minutes later we still had not left, so I asked someone else when we would be leaving and was told in 15 minutes.
We actually left 30 minutes later, and I decided that being 100% wrong in a prediction was not actually that bad as these things go.
When I asked yet anOTHER bod WHY there had been another delay he just rolled his eyes and said something about the Captain which I didn’t understand – but was past caring.
Ten minutes later I asked the next available bod what time we would arrive in Dover and was told 20:30.
This was well past the time my taxi was booked, so I called to inform Eddy, the driver.
Fortunately, making calls on mobiles is easier than receiving them, so that was OK.
On the boat I got talking to a foot-passenger couple (there were only EIGHT of us!).
They were very nice and I gave them Taxi Supremo Andy’s phone number as they had nothing arranged for their arrival.
When we eventually got to Dover, there were no more checks (even though they made us walk through a maze of corridors in the totally empty border-control and customs instead of going straight to the taxi area – maybe they were filming us secretly?) and we eventually got to where I hoped to find Eddy the Driver.
However, there are huge roadworks going on just inside the port entrance and all the usual roads are blocked off and/or rerouted.
There was of course no sign of Eddy – OR any other taxis. Foot-passengers have a VERY low priority …..
Grateful for my phone once again, I called Eddy who said he was ALREADY in the port but had got lost.
Taxi-drivers getting lost is a bit ominous, so I assumed he was even more of a DOG than I am. Still, we DOGs have to stick together …..
I told him where we were ….. right near the entrance just past the roundabout at the bottom of the long clifftop descent to the port. For those who know Dover this is the easiest part of the entire port (or indeed of England) to find …..
Three exchanged calls later we finally met up physically as well as phonally – which was a reminder of Paris. In future, I am going to fix a GPS signal to myself and ensure my driver has military-standard tracking equipment. Perhaps Nathalie can arrange that?
Eddy was as suspected a bit of a DOG – but like me, very nice …… I asked if he could drop off my friends from the boat at Dover railway station before taking me back to Ramsgate – which he agreed to.
So we took them up the road to the station, where they unloaded their stuff from the boot.
I did think about getting out to check they didn’t take any of my four bits of luggage, but I was very tired and also thought that it would be impossible to confuse the grotty things I was carrying with any of their posh stuff from Parisian shops.
They gave Eddy an extra £8 for the slight detour. As I said they were very nice even if the lady’s perception and memory banks were highly undeveloped.
We then at last set off for Ramsgate, but Eddy took a wrong turn and we ended up driving towards Canterbury.
It takes a really advanced stage of dodderation to get lost driving from Dover to Ramsgate, so I will be contacting “The Guinness Book of Records”.
I decided against advising Eddy to do a U-turn in the pitch dark, and after driving four miles up a dual-carriageway we eventually got to a roundabout, retraced our wheels and made our way back to Dover.
Miraculously finding the right road to Ramsgate this time, we set off on the last lap. By now I was desperately hanging onto life by a thread.
Halfway to Ramsgate Eddy got a call from Taxiboss Andy’s Missus:
“The couple you dropped off at the station just rang; it seems they have got a package belonging to one of the other passengers.” ME! NO, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP …..
…. but they were nice people and apparently said they would wait at the station for us to come and pick up the bag.
I tried to keep calm, but remembered Einstein’s famous dictum. (SEE BELOW)
We stopped to check the boot and I saw that they had taken a plastic bag with two boxes of wine for my sister Maggie and another box of boiled eggs and fishsticks essential for my diet.
I asked Eddy if he minded going back, and he agreed to instantly – even without being promised any more dosh.
So back we went to the station, picked up the bag and Eddy collected another £10 for his trouble. (As I said, nice people …)
Off we set for Ramsgate again, and this time Eddy did not get lost ……. even we DOGs are capable of learning.
I eventually got to Ramsgate around 22:30 instead of the anticipated 20:00 – and of course I felt obliged to give Eddy a generous tip even though he DID get lost twice. Actually, everything in France had gone pretty smoothly as planned; it only went really tits-up when we got to Dover. I of course blame BREXIT ……
How was your day?
PS No insult to real dogs is intended in this account. As we know, if the world were ruled by dogs we would all be safer and happier, though the absence of tv and the internet would be a shame.
PPS I was fortunate to be able to employ Paul for brief periods over a number of years to teach business students about Selling and Marketing during my time as Director of Studies of a business school in France. His teaching was highly impressive, but even more so his habit of flying his own plane to Quimper. In this and many other ways he was and remains unique. As I told the students: “Listen to Paul’s advice and one day you will fly your own plane.”
Thank you, Chris!