Monday, January 24, 2011

Extreme Claims and Faith

Amongst people of faith that I've dealt with in my life I've noticed a disturbing trend. Even more disturbing is that this trend often extends to people who cannot be labeled as fundamentalists. Even intelligent people who know an awful lot about the world can be conned. We're not immune to gullibility, even those of us who are skeptical about a great many subjects. There have been great minds and vast intellects throughout history who fell prey to pseudoscience and superstition. The best example I can give is that of Isaac Newton. It isn't Newton's theism that I necessarily want to disagree with her but his belief in Alchemy. That's right, Newton, one of the most brilliant minds in history, believed in something as hokey as Alchemy. I've had numerous theists bring up Isaac Newton because Newton was a theistic scientist and they want to suggest that because an intelligent person believe in god that gives god claims some validity it didn't have. This idea is crushed when I bring up that Newton believed in Alchemy as well.

History is filled with this story time and time again and it truly shows the pervasive desire our species has to believe in the supernatural, or merely to believe. We want to believe but through trial and error and mastery of language we've learned not to accept most claims on faith. Oh sure I'll accept the idea that I exist and you exist, we must have some fundamental assumptions in order to get anywhere at all. I'll also accept basic information that is non-extraordinary, like if you tell me you shower daily or had a sandwich for lunch. The more mundane the information the more likely we are to believe it which is why lying is so effective.

So what drives otherwise rational people to believe the wildly unfounded claims of religion or of psychics and mediums and pseudoscientists? What causes them to abandon reason in favor of faith and why do they think this is ever acceptable?

(infamous photos of fairies which managed to convince famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite having dreamed up the always logic bound Sherlock Holmes Doyle was a spiritualist and believed these photos were genuine).

The More Extreme the Claim the MORE Skeptical we should be

When I discuss someone’s religious beliefs with them I sometimes get a statement that God must believed on Faith. That we ought to just “let go” and “believe” in God. It is as though the God concept, for whatever reason, receives a free pass. This bizarre “Get out of Criticism Free” card is played at different times but is used almost universally by religion. It is as if the people who use this KNOW full well that the claims of religion are not compelling enough to stand up to reason or scrutiny. Like many such beliefs these rely on emotional states. Someone having a really bad week or a really bad life might be excited to hear that Jesus loves them. A person wracked with guilt may hear that Jesus loves them regardless of their misdeeds and leap at the chance to be “washed in the blood”. I went through a great deal of just such emotional vulnerability growing up and each time I felt miserable religion was there to give me a little comfort. The false emotional high was sometimes enough to stave off the doubts, the guilt and the confusion that my beliefs had left me with.

In truth the more extreme and extraordinary a claim the MORE we should be skeptical of it. Claims involving the supernatural, magic, the occult, or non-mainstream “scientific” conclusions are worthy of scrutiny. There is a reason why mainstream science is mainstream, it’s been proven. There’s a reason pseudoscientists are ostracized or ignored by the actual scientific community and it has nothing to do with conspiracies of silence.

If you claim to talk to the dead, perform miracles or be in contact with God himself than you should be under MORE scrutiny and not less. I’ve often seen followers of various gurus and personalities give the person a pass when scrutiny is made. A classic example is David Icke. I have been known to criticize the claims made by Icke and his followers in regards to Reptilian shapeshifters and I often get a statement that reads something like:

“Say what you want about the Reptilians BUT...”


“Icke may not be right about everything BUT...”

This sort of defense works if you’re defending, let’s say, a politician who has made some good decisions and some bad ones. It does not work when someone is making wildly unfounded speculative claims about the supernatural, or, in Icke’s case, the completely batshit crazy.

(Was Jesus a Reptilian? If not than why is there is a lizard called the Jesus Christ lizard that can perform a miracle by walking on water?)

Strength in Numbers Fallacy

Another thing I see from theists again and again is this idea that they don’t have to justify their god belief or back up their claims that god(s) exist because a great deal of other people believe in it too. This is also known as an Appeal to People or Argumentum ad Populum. I find it truly amusing that Christians attempt to cling to their numbers as a support when they make up only one third of the world’s population. The majority of people on this planet are non-Christians, the majority are also non-Muslims, non-Jews and non-Hindus. There is no religious group that has more than two billion members and thus none form a majority.

Even if the majority existed that doesn’t bolster the fallacy, it only makes it worse. The prevalence of idea amongst the people is not contingent upon how correct the idea is. It was once widely believed that demons cause illness and that the sun revolved around the Earth. Both of these ideas are patently absurd by our standards today yet they would have passed for common knowledge at one time.

While theists in general do have a majority in the world they differ vastly in their opinions on god(s). Even two Christian theists will disagree on some doctrinal details or about their deity. The number of people who believe something does not lend it credibility and the fact that many people believe in the same God as you does not set your God free of the scrutiny of logic and skepticism.

One wouldn’t want to argue that because the majority of Nazis supported Hitler that Hitler was a good leader would they? (I’m not sure what the German citizens thought of Hitler, I’m just making a point).

Mediums, Prophecy and Astrology

In a similar vein with David Icke there is a wave of New Age sweeping the nation. In fact such beliefs are not new and spiritualism was fairly common as far back as the 1800s. The occult has always interested me mainly because I was never tempted to believe in it. Even back when I was a Bible believing Christian the occult seemed utterly preposterous. Even as my Father and other Fundamentalists warned me that Astrology and the occult could lead me astray I was already dismissing the claims of psychics and new agers. It was only later that I found my skepticism was well worth it.

Mediums are cons. Many of you may be aware how Cold Reading works and how masterfully some practitioners do it as they jump from person to person in a crowd. The crowd wants to believe already or else they wouldn’t be there. That isn’t to say skeptics cannot fall for the con but that the process works best with emotionally vulnerable and gullible people. If you WANT to be convinced chances are you will be as cold reading turns zero information into seemingly detailed contact with the dead in moments all with simple linguistic tricks and vague leading questions.

Vagueness, I would argue, is the key to all three of these things. Astrology and Prophecy thrive on being exceedingly vague. I noticed this first as a Christian when I would read so-called prophecies in the Bible and try to line the up to current events or ancient events and found it was easy to stretch the vague verses to fit almost anything. Astrology works in a far more general way, it is written to conform to the lives of thousands of readers. You are given the general dull dim prediction and than you attach meaning to it just like the person in the crowd attaches meaning to whatever comes out of the Medium.

When prophecies are too specific they set themselves up for failure.

False Comfort?

One of the defenses I have heard both for belief in God and belief in psychics, spiritualists and Astrology is the idea that it gives people hope, joy or comfort.

I agree. It gives people comfort in the same way that believing in Santa Claus made Christmas more fun as a kid. Taking a comfortable fantasy away from a child is one thing but taking a comfortable fantasy away from an adult is a worthy cause indeed. At some point you should be able to grow up and learn that Santa isn’t real and neither is the Easter Bunny. At some point the fairy tales and magic stop and you have to fly back from Neverland and leave the lost boys behind.

The false comfort of God beliefs are not worth all of the negative side-effects. Setting aside the millions who have died in the name of various god(s) these beliefs often hold back our current social progress. How many six year old Santa believers do you see protesting gay marriage? Yet we see grown men and women denying their fellow citizens equal rights by the mandate of an invisible magical being.

Of course you don’t see many Mediums holding back social progress either... they’re too busy conning grieving widows out of their money and filling people’s heads with false hope of an afterlife that may never come. It may not be as bad as discrimination but it is unethical. I’m talking here of those Mediums who know they are being dishonest, not those who are just as self-deluded as their customers.

Don’t Buy the Snake Oil

My conclusion - The greater your desire to believe a claim the more you should scrutinize it. I’d like to believe in a god of some sort and even in an afterlife (after all who really wants to die?) but that desire is a reason to become MORE skeptical of those selling a glimpse at God or a snippet of information from beyond the grave. Don’t be fooled and whatever you do DON’T BUY THE SNAKE OIL!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ancient Astronaut "Theory"

During my twenty-three years of life I've come across numerous theories and ideas regarding the mysterious origins of man. The question of our origin is one that has fascinated and intrigued likely from the beginning of spoken language and certainly since the advent of written language. There are many stories and ideas, both old and new about how the human race became what it is today. It should come as no surprise that many are set in their ways about such ideas and reject outright the attempts of science to explain our origins via Evolution. Some want to claim that God, using divine power alone, summoned life into existence. Others claim that Evolution IS true but that God created mankind from a lesser form of ape. Today we'll be talking about a similar idea, ancient astronaut theory or AAT for short.

Ancient Astronaut theory is actually not a scientific theory but is a set of pseudoscientific beliefs about the biological and societal evolution of early man. After I left Christianity and Creationism behind this sort of pseudoscience was the first thing I gravitated to because, as we will see, it has its own brand of apologetics and requires faith on the part of the believer. Many ancient astronaut theorists also, like many Creationists, claim that there is a conspiracy of scientists trying to keep the truth from getting out.

The primary idea here is that extraterrestrial beings with superior technology landed on Earth in the distant past and hopped from civilization to civilization passing down knowledge to the ancient peoples of the world. Apparently everyone from the Aztecs to the Egyptians were contacted by these alien beings that descended which were mistaken as being gods.

Myths and Gods

This is the first idea that I take issue with, the idea that ancient myths about gods are actually recording alien encounters. In order to come to this conclusion one needs to rob a myth of all its context first. For instance many AAT proponents have mentioned the Biblical verse about God leading the Israelites as a pillar of fire. This pillar of fire sounds suspiciously like a UFO. In order to assume that this verse is talking about aliens you must ignore the context of the story. In particular I point to the burning bush as a counter. While it is possible to stretch a pillar of fire into a UFO it is hardly the same thing to stretch a burning bush into having ANYTHING to do with aliens, especially when the voice of God comes from the bush to talk to a guy who's been wandering in the desert looking for a lost sheep. So in most of these myths one has to ignore the rest of the story and ignore historical context not to mention having to apply MODERN UFO/Alien lore to ancient accounts.

I'm constantly reminded by ancient astronaut proponents of the Annunaki, a group of Sumerian deities, whose name supposedly translates as "those who came down from heaven" as if this means anything. This is meant to add credence to the story but I'm not sure exactly how it does. Imagine we're a thousand years into the future and I stumble upon a super-man comic book that says he arrived from Krypton from the sky... exactly how does this imply that super-man is real? Even if these myths literally stated that beings from other planets came down and showed them how to plant crops it wouldn't be conclusive evidence although admittedly it would be more impressive than the stretched interpretations of myth often presented by AAT proponents.

I've also been told by AAT proponents that the best evidence for their hypothesis is the fact that almost all gods supposedly come from the sky the way the Annunaki did. This is, of course, entirely false. There were gods for nearly everything. Volcano gods, wind gods, gods of the underworld, etc. If one is to look at it logically it doesn't seem that the domain of the gods is always the sky and they aren't always descending or ascending. It is true that the heavens are a common place for the gods to live but given the majesty and beauty of the sky and the lack of understand the ancients had for how weather works and what the son, moon and stars even are it is entirely understandable that many gods would originate or live in the heavens.

Monumental Mystery

Other supposed evidence for alien visitation comes in the form of massive monuments such as Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Machu Picchu. For some reason ancient astronaut theorists are unable to believe that human beings built these structures. While certainly there are many incredible feats of ancient engineering there is no archeological evidence that anyone BUT humans built these wonders of the ancient world. In fact there is ample evidence that human beings did in fact build them. It is true that for some of the monuments often touted the method of construction remains unknown however this is no reason to begin wild speculation. In this cast ancient astronaut proponents remind me of ancient storytellers attributing natural monuments to larger than life monsters. Case in point the Giant's Causeway:

The Giant's Causeway is a perfectly natural formation but has the appearance of design (Creationists should know that terminology) and was attributed to, well, a Giant. This is also akin to what is known as a God of the Gaps fallacy only in this case its an alien in the gaps. AAT proponents realize its still a mystery how many of these monuments were built and they don't think humans were able to build these structures by themselves and so alien intervention is a better explanation. They fill the gap with their knowledge with aliens without first having any evidence these aliens even exist.

To be entirely honest with you it bothers me that ancient astronaut theorists refuse to give credit to our ancestors for the feats the accomplished and the myths they compiled. There is a lack of respect for cultural context and the truth here that disturbs me greatly. This can be seen when they bring up something like the Baghdad battery, the Nazca lines, the pyramids or the Antikythera mechanism as proof of aliens. These are not proof of aliens they are evidence that human beings are a resourceful and creative species.


Here is another subject that I ended up changing my mind on. Early on in my research into the idea I found ancient astronaut theory compelling primarily because of the artwork that supposedly depicts UFOs. Many paintings and works of art contain objects in the sky that can be interpreted to look like UFOs. There are numerous rebuttals of this but I think the strongest rebuttal is that actual scholars of art are not the ones claiming aliens. For anyone interested here is an excellent video debunking of some commonly held “UFOs” in artwork.

So as you can see the idea that these are UFOs is essentially bunk but even if it wasn’t how exactly would the presence of UFOs immediately prove the presence of extraterrestrials. Afterall UFOs are merely unidentified flying objects and as such they cannot be identified otherwise they wouldn’t even be UFOs. So even if the ancients did see some weird things in the sky that they couldn’t readily explain does that mean that they were seeing aliens? Why presume such a thing without first having evidence? Furthermore why assume that what people see today when they see a UFO has any correlation with UFOs of the past. A flaming chariot carrying Elijah into heaven doesn’t sound anything like a shiny metallic craft moving stealthily across the night sky and Elijah hopping into the fiery chariot doesn’t sound at all like being taken from your home and floated out the window during an alien abduction. Yet that Biblical story is often touted as an ancient alien abduction.

Conclusions and Similarities with God Belief

There has never been a shred of conclusive evidence that alien beings have interfered with life on Earth either by altering us biologically or affecting our development of civilization. There is also the fact that many of the civilizations supposedly influenced by aliens were separated by centuries and had vastly different methods of doing things and vastly different myths. The Aztecs, for instance, built pyramids and are sometimes lumped in with civilizations that had alien visitors yet their empire was separated by THOUSANDS of years from the Egyptian civilization that built their pyramids. How long have the aliens been here and why have they left no evidence behind at all? Why didn’t they give ancient man real technology, why only teach us what we were capable to know for ourselves (agriculture, building techniques, etc).


Because the evidence for AAT is lacking so heavily one is required to have faith in order to believe it. Much the same way that Creationists have faith those that believe in alien intervention must ignore scientific consensus and evidence that refutes their ideas while co-opting actual science and actual knowledge to make their claims. Blending modern UFO lore with ancient texts may be a recipe for interesting fiction but it shouldn’t be presented as producing facts. Once again, say it with me:


Monday, January 3, 2011

Yahweh is Evil

In many of my posts I have actually been quite lenient to the God of the Bible. Something occurred to me a few days ago however that permanently solidified Yahweh as an evil malevolent God who, if it exists, should be opposed by all reasoning empathetic beings. I used to poke fun at Satanism both as a Christian and later when I became an atheist however after reading some more of the Bible and really thinking about it I can see why someone would rebel against Yahweh and seek to stand for everything that being hates. This will be the last blogpost I make directly regarding Yahweh's moral character, the proverbial nail in the coffin.

In order to make my point I am going to bring up a favorite historical figures who theists like to pretend was actually an atheist - Hitler. For the record Hitler was a theist, although he wasn't what anyone should consider a traditional Christian he was, indeed, a Christian. I really don't care what he was, neither Christians or atheists should attempt to use Hitler's religious beliefs as ammunition for an argument.

The aspect of Hitler and the Nazis I want to talk about is the horrible things they did. As most of you know Hitler and his minions massacred millions of Jews and people from other minority groups deemed "undesirables". In particular I want to focus on the Jews. What Hitler did to these people - forced labor in camps, gas chambers, disease and hunger and thirst and cold in the camps. People burning. Mass graves. What Hitler did was wrong.

If you are a Christian than you believe those Jews had souls and, depending on what they believed, they had a chance to go to Heaven or Hell. I imagine that many of these Jews did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah at all and were not Christians in any sense. Some of them may have been. Those that were not Christians would have, after laboring, starving, and finally dying in horrible concentration camps, been sentenced to an eternity of torment by a God who supposedly loves them. Imagine if those Nazis had looked into the eyes of each Jew and told each Jew that they loved them unconditionally before pulling the trigger or pumping in the gas.

When I think about this I grow sick to my stomach. What sort of God do you serve Christians? The sort that would damn people to Hell after they've suffered through Hell on Earth. And you can't deny it, you can't pretend it isn't part of your religion. Its right there in Revelation 21:8.

"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

The unbelieving. How many people killed by the Nazis fit that description? Only those who believe on the name of Jesus Christ can be saved, so says Christianity. Now I know that many kinder gentler Christians would dispute everything I've said here and I applaud them for seeing and ignoring the immoral aspects of their own Bible. There are also those who know that the Bible translates a number of different words as Hell leaving the actual interpretation of Hell wide open.

Who is Worse?

So who is more evil? The Nazis or Yahweh? It is generally held that with great power comes great responsibility. Hitler had an awful lot of power and he abused it to kill millions. Yahweh, however, possesses ALL POWER and therefore possesses ALL responsibility. Yahweh is considered by many to be the Lord of all, a divine King. He is essentially a dictator. Set aside for a moment that dictatorships are one of the worst forms of government imaginable and ask yourself what sort of Dictator Yahweh has shown himself to be. Remember that one of his first acts in the Bible was to drown everyone. Does this sound like the actions of a merciful and good leader? And what's his excuse - the people were the ones that were evil. What sort of God blames his creations for their imperfections and then seeks to kill them all?

Hitler was just a man. Yahweh is a God who plans on doing far worse than what Hitler did. It is my opinion that Yahweh is worse than Hitler.

Literal Hell and Free Will

How many people are burning in Hell for the mere act of exercising religious freedom? Let's not forget that the very first commandment says that YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME. Yahweh doesn't want you to think for yourself, he doesn't want you to be free. Religious freedom is a sin in Yahweh's dictatorial kingdom, and the wages of sin is death. Many people claim that God himself gave us free will and the ability to make choices so that we could freely choose him. The only problem is we are not free to make a choice other than Yahweh, if we do we are destined for eternal punishment. Think of Yahweh and other god(s) as people you might want to date. Yahweh in this case is your ex who is letting you be free to choose who you want to be with, the catch is that if you choose someone other than Yahweh he will kill you. In fact Yahweh can do WORSE to you than death and, if you do happen to use your God given freedom in a way he doesn't like, he will do worse.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. - Luke 12:4-5

So Yahweh doesn't like free will. Yahweh created Hell for the devil and his angels according to the Bible. So after Lucifer's rebellion God's first act is to create a place of eternal torment to throw them in? Rather than attempt to reconcile his differences with the fallen angels, perhaps offer them forgiveness of some sort, instead he plans on burning them for eternity. Imagine for a moment that God truly is a Father. What sort of Father plans on torturing his rebellious child? Is this the sort of punishment a loving Father would enact? Imagine for a moment you have a rebellious teenager who attacks you, after you defend yourself your rebellious child runs away. Would you immediately begin plotting to light your child on fire? A loving Father would want only the best even for a violent and rebellious child.

Yahweh Created and Owns Hell

I get told by Christians all the time that Satan is real and is trying to do us all in. I see ramblings posted all over the internet of people claiming demonic influence in the music industry, television, movies. Satan is apparently everywhere and he's planning on doing bad things to you. Ask yourself - Are any of the things Satan wants you to do as bad as being tortured forever? Obviously being burned forever is about as harsh a punishment as can be imagined and yet it isn't Satan who threatens us with Hell. I've also heard Christians say that Satan wants you to engage in his rebellion against God. The Biblical God, if it exists, should be rebelled against.


Supposedly Jesus came to Earth so that he could sacrifice himself for our sins and thus become the Savior of the world. But what is Jesus saving you from exactly? Some may answer that Jesus saves us from sin but as any Christian will tell you sin is still an ever present danger long after you've accepted Christ. Many Christians are susceptible to falling into temptation, it could happen to anyone. Some claim that Christ exempts you from the law of sin altogether so that even if you do sin you don't really have to ask forgiveness again, you're automatically saved no matter what. This thought is disconcerting as it means Hitler might be up on a cloud playing a harp somewhere.

Others say that Jesus is saving us from Hell. But that's not really salvation at all. If Jesus is truly God in another form than he's the one who owns Hell and decides who goes there. God sets the criteria for who goes to Hell - so why is anyone going to Hell? Surely Yahweh doesn't think we deserve infinite punishment for a finite list of sins - does he? If he does he is even more evil than Hitler. If you're a Christian you believe all people have sinned at some point, this would include the Jews Hitler planned on murdering and the wages of sin IS DEATH. So what Hitler was doing was merciful compared to what Yahweh plans to do (remember that verse from Luke we looked at earlier).

Jesus/God are saving us from what exactly? Hell, a place that he created owns and controls where he will throw everyone who doesn't live by his rules and believe in him. Its like holding a machinegun offering salvation from it but only if you do what he says. And the audacity on top of it all is that this machinegun wielding maniac claims to love you UNCONDITIONALLY. Christianity refutes itself.

A Father should not, when his children leave the house, grab them as they leave and say, "Obey my every word, or I will kill you, but don't forget that I love you. You must do only what I say if you want my blessing or my help" - That is not the love of a loving Father, it is a conditional love and a threat of violence, yet that is how the Bible makes Yahweh come off.

In Conclusion:

If the Bible is to be believed literally than its God is evil. Whether you look at the wrathful slayings of the Old Testament where God's first inclination is typically bloodshed or if you look at what God plans to do to you after you're dead. A finite list of sins is enough to damn even the nicest person to an eternity of Hell while the mere act of belief is enough to get you a ticket to Heaven (in some interpretations anyway). If Yahweh existed I would be opposed to it but luckily there is no evidence that such a being exists so I am left having to oppose the idea and belief of Yahweh.

Just for the Lulz: