Dieing with Religion

An article on the BBC News website caught my eye today, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-19322413). Its basically about a Muslim family who want to force the hospital, where the father is very ill, to resuscitate him. Watching a very ill parent lie immobile on bed, struggling to breath and incapable of any self-motion is considerably distressing.

I remember seeing my mother ill with cancer, struggling to breath and no longer able to feed herself, let alone make it off the bed and round the house. Its horrible and oh how I wanted to see her back to her old healthy self again. I hated seeing her like that, yet I also wanted her to cling to life for as long as possible. I wasn’t ready to let her go then and in many ways I am still not, four years later.

So I sympathise with the family concerned.

Yet, I am also concerned about the message they are sending through this action. Their statement is that under Islam, they believe that you prolong life. I imagine this is a sentiment that many Christians would agree with, one I am sure I would have too. Still do in many ways. However, is this actually life they are seeking to prolong? What life is it they seek? They certainly are not going to get their father back, no matter how long they keep his body breathing and his heart beating? While I will readily accept that I am in no way a knowledgeable person on Islam and what it teaches. I do find myself asking the question “does Islam really teach that we must do all we can to prevent a body from physically dying, even when the person inside has no active part to play in life?”.

There is a time for everything; we all must die someday, it would appear that the time is nigh for this gentleman. It is sad, at 55 he is not old by today’s standards and he is younger than my mother was when she passed. Its sad that people do still fall ill and die at that age, there is always a family grieving a loved one who was taken from them way too young.

What concerns me most about this case is that there is a subtle message here that places this Muslim family, during what should be a private time, in the public eye because they are being denied a religious right by the big evil state. The cynic in me wonders if this is intentional, to create unhelpful headlines elsewhere in the world when the story gets repeated with a pro-Islam slant. I hope its not true, but we live in a time of constant suspicion of motive and second guessing.

The spokesperson who is quoted gets it right when they say that it is prolongation of death and lack of dignity. This was something I had to come to terms with after Mum died, the three or four years she bravely fought the cancer started off hopeful and got progressively more desperate. There have times since when I have genuinely wondered if it would have been better for everyone if the cancer treatment had never been given and death be allowed to come swiftly. Those years were a long death, with much pain and sadness. The false hope created by each new treatment made the come down on the realisation of the truth even more painful. Dignity was most certainly not increased and her barely breathing unconscious body had none. Resistance really was futile.

I hope this family comes to terms with their loss and does not feel bitter afterwards because of this action. That would likely taint the memory of a loved father in a way that is not helpful.

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Arguments Creationists Should Avoid

Anwers in Genesis has a useful page listing some of the arguments that a Creationist, faced with defending their beliefs (http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers/topic/arguments-we-dont-use).

The list is broken into 3 section, arguments never to use (9), arguments to avoid (12) and common misconceptions (8). The lists are not as long as I initially expected, but going through the list and ticking off those I had subscribed to was interesting.

Section 1:

1) Moon dust thickness proves a young moon

3) NASA computers found Joshua’s missing day and Hezekiah’s sundial reversal

5) Darwin’s deathbed recantation

6) Flash frozen Woolly Mammoths

Section 2:

1) Evolution is just a theory

2) Macroevolution / Microevolution

8) Human and dinosaur tracks found together

10) No rain before the flood

11) The speed of light has decreased

12) There are no transitional forms

Section 3:

6) Women have one more rib than men

7) Archaeopteryx is a fraud

In my defence, most of the items above all came from one source, that of a book I read in about 1990 by an American pastor who was a staunch Creationist and the uncle of someone I worked with. I don’t remember the name of the author or the book.

However, I should also admit that taking the majority of my information and foundation for belief from a single source was a little naive. At that time in my life, I was interested in scientific understanding but I was also in the early years of living on my own and developing my Christian faith as my own and no longer in the shadow of my parents. That one book set me on a path for most of the next 20 years and oh how different things might have been if it were not for a chance conversation.

At least I can now be honest and admit, yes I did once believe those things, and laugh at me past silly self with a minimal amount of embarrassment. I think shame in the past at this point would not be productive. I may as well embrace my past mistakes and move on. It does of course concern me that there are many who still belie the items I have listed above. This can only be explained through ignorance. That ignorance may not be entirely the fault of the believer, it could be the fault of person (or persons) who continue to peddle the myth, or it could simply be in some cases that the believer simply does not know where to go to check and test. They need help from others to discover the truth.

Sometimes that help only comes from those who are more scientifically literate and also happen to reject that form of Christianity. That can be a problem. It was for me on several occasions. When faced with being corrected on science by someone who disagrees with your Christian faith is difficult because you find yourself in a situation where the foundation of that faith itself is questioned and if that questioning comes from a non-believer then the only course of defence is to reject all they say.

I applaud what the Answers in Genesis are doing here. They are trying to ease the lot of enthusiastic Creationists by guiding them away from problem topics. However, there is one obvious sting here; this list can only grow longer, an problem argument can never revert to being a good argument. At what point does the list become so long that Creationism implodes?

Is There Life on Mars (or anywhere else out there)?

I doubt I need to explain to anyone that NASA landed a new rover on Mars last week. I have been looking forward to it for a while and am excited about what it is going to find and the picture it is going to send back to earth. The whole landing process was a fantastic technical achievement in itself and for anyone who has not seen it, I thoroughly recommend the movie & Minutes of Terror (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9s) which describes the complex process and just why such a crazy method was required. Thankfully it all panned out and the hard work that went into just the landing paid off. Now lets see what happens next.

For those with an XBOX 360 Kinect, there is also the free game of the landing (http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Mars-Rover-Landing /66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258480836). I’ve not yet managed a safe one, but then I’ve only had two or three attempts so far, I need to find myself some more free time.

But what about the life?

Several blog commentators have focused on the rover having the ability to detect the early building blocks of life. The mission is much more than that, it’s a mission designed to find out more about the past environment of Mars and more detail on its geologic makeup. Technicalities aside, this is a mission that is connected with life possibly evolving somewhere other than on earth.

Now that life will never be anything other than small microbes. No one is seriously suggesting that anything that could be classed as intelligent has ever existed on Mars. There certainly won’t be any fossil bones being dug up or discovered on Mars.

When I think about that fact in the mind-set of my former creationist self I am immediately dismissive of the importance of finding these microbes. Of course those are not life I would say, they are a natural process that happens everywhere. That does nothing to disprove God’s creation and if anything a wet Mars with flowing water but nothing evolved would prove creationism. In fact my previous creationist self was so confident that Earth was the only place God put people that I utterly dismissed the idea that any intelligent life could exist out there. By out there I mean anywhere that’s not Earth.

One (relatively) recent event that served to strengthen that attitude was when NASA released photos of a landslip on a crater wall on Mars. The news and items at the time suggested that they could be the result of wet in the sand, either ground ice thawing or another method of getting moisture into the sand and causing slip. Something like in this document (http://www.raschultzunr.net/pdf%20reprints/NeufferRAS-VM06.pdf), the photos in that document don’t look familiar so it may not be that specific event I am talking about, just one like it. It was a few years back now and I can’t recall all the exact details.

Anyway, NASA released the photos and I had fun looking at them. I heard the news about them being wet caused but when I looked at them I genuinely doubted the wet story and said they were dry sand slips. A few weeks later, NASA announced that they were in deed dry sand slips, I was vindicated. I was right, NASA was wrong and that proved creationism and that there was no life outside of Earth. Yes, I really did interpret that small vindication as an absolute victory.

 

So What’s changed?

 

Well, now I am excited about the prospect of NASA’s new Curiosity rover finding stuff not yet found before. Clues to what the atmosphere once consisted of, more evidence of volumes of flowing water; who cares what it is, it is going to be interesting no matter.

My attitude to life elsewhere has changed. If it is found I welcome it. If it does exist (no matter the form) I would be excited. I’m not expecting proof of anything we could communicate with (though that would be immensely cool) I just want to see and know what there is for us to see and know. I don’t have a preconceived idea on what is or isn’t.

 

It is not Just Mars either

 

Saturn’s moon Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa are likely better candidates in the search for life (http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/virtualmuseum/litu/10_3.shtml).

So here I am, excited about what discoveries are waiting within our Solar System and wishing I had enough years to see them all. My old self who would automatically dismiss what I didn’t like has gone. Now the unknown is welcomed with eager open arms.

 

Clearing out the Clutter

Recently myself and Mrs limey have started to clear out some of the stuff that has accumulated over the years. Moving house a year ago has helped a little to prompt that. However I am a natural hoarder while my lovely wife is not, so this tends to generate a few predictable discussions.

One of the challenges is that we have become the storage location of choice for much of my late mother’s things, which also means her parents things as well since she was an only child. Some of the stuff is incredible, like a couple of books that are more than 100 years old. What am I supposed to do with stuff?

There are some treasured items which have gone into a box and are now in the loft. However there are many other items which are far less treasured, what to do with them? Books have been the biggest problem. Its not just books that have come from Mum though, its also books that I have hoarded over the years. Books which, quite frankly, no one wants these days.

I compiled a sample list of the books and included those which I thought were the most desirable and valuable of the lot and sent it to a couple of bookshops which said they specialised in old books. They didn’t want any of them. A specialist old book store was not interested in a leather bound book that was 100 years old! Confused? You bet I was!

It could be that much of this list of old books is religious in nature. However, not all were.

So I am left with a few boxes of books which I really don’t know what to do with. I guess dropping them off at the local charity shop is my only choice. Yet am I doing any good by dumping on them stuff that clearly no one wants? Am I only shifting the storage and disposal quandary from myself to a charity?

Maybe I should just dump them all at the local waste disposal depot.

Yet the hoarder in me really does not want to do that, it is almost too painful to consider.

As well as the box old gems that I have found, there are also some classic children’s books. My mother was an avid reader as a young girl and had many books. Somehow all those books have survived and now I have them. Sorting through them I have a whole box of books with inscriptions in them to my mother for various achievements. Many of these books were prizes or rewards given her as a young girl, a young girl not much older than my own daughter.

The romantic in me wants my daughter to pick up these books and read them and love them like my mother did. They are old hardback books from the 1950s. Would a modern girl like my daughter even appreciate them? Even if she doesn’t, how can I get rid of a loved possession of my mother’s which pinpoints a specific part of her young life? I have a whole box of these pinpoints!

So I have had to create several boxes. Boxes to keep, boxes to keep for now, boxes I should disposes of but can’t and finally boxes of stuff to go. It will come as no surprise that the last category is the smallest.

So clearing out the clutter has resulted more dilemma instead of the hoped for peace and space.

In all that lot I found some old books of mine which I will be disposing of. Including all my 1960s James Bond books. I’ve had to be tough.

Then I discovered a couple of old bibles of mine. One is an RSV (oh that weird old English with thee and thou!) with a memento in it from my baptism and other markings I added over the years. There was also a bible I was ready to drop in the bin when I opened it up and saw the inscription. Given to me when my mother remarried, I remember the occasion, it was a happy day. It was her gift to me on that day. In it my step-father is described as my “friend in the Lord“. A phrase that I chose and sounds rather pathetic and twee more than 20 years later. He is also a man whom I have no love for, my attitude towards him is best described as contempt.

So that book went into the “I don’t know” pile as well.

The clear-out hasn’t been as successful as we had hoped. I think I’m going to have to toughen up and not pay so much attention to my emotions when we revisit this again, because I know we’ll have to.

Until that happens, the past will still hold me through the objects that represent it. That is a past mostly filled with happy memories and disposing of those objects feels like I am betraying those that are gone whom I still love.

Can Science (dis)prove God?

My last post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/pondering-the-effectiveness-of-prayer/) neatly leads into a question that I have pondered a little recently.

Two blogs that I read have published very good articles on the subject and very conveniently they take opposing views.

In the yes camp there is http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/can-science-test-the-supernatural-yes/ and in the no camp there is http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/science-and-the-supernatural-2/.

Having pondered it and re-read the two posts above (which I do recommend) I have come to the conclusion that Neil is right and scientific tests on the claims of the religious are not tests on the supernatural. The supernatural will remain untestable because scientific tests by definition can only be on the natural. Let’s ignore for the moment that the supernatural is a moving goalpost anyway.

However, that’s not all.

There is a valid conclusion based on these tests, and that is; with the testable claims of the religious coming up false, it is valid to conclude that there is no supernatural entity. But it is not a proven fact.

If Jerry Coyne was in fact correct then I don’t think that Richard Dawkins would have made the ‘not quite sure’ quote that made a lot of press earlier this year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html).

Neil is also right at the end of his blog to say that this is about honesty. Jerry should have been more clear and honest in his piece, what he should have stated was that its valid to conclude that there is no supernatural because the testable claims that believers make are consistently shown to be wrong when scientific rigour is applied.

It might be a subtle distinction, but it is very important to be accurate and bravo to Neil for picking up on that.

Pondering the effectiveness of Prayer

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that during my Christian days I was utterly convinced of the effectiveness of prayer.

Over the last two decades (and probably more) there have been a number of tests for the effectiveness of prayer, this article is just one example of many that exist on the subject (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032302177.html). It was during the 1990s that I first became aware of such tests and the negative conclusions. As a dedicated Christian at the time I very quickly dismissed them; referring to Luke chapter 4 and not testing God (http://bible.cc/luke/4-12.htm).

It was clear in my mind at the time that these attempts by doubting scientists were invoking some form of supernatural hide and seek and God was not going to perform for them.

Over the years, as more and more of these articles came out, the conclusions started to bother me more and more. My pat apologetics to the problem was becoming less convincing to myself and for a while I actively ignored the difficulties it caused me.

Anyway, there was always the major power of prayer event that happened to me that I could fall back on (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/the-dramatic-deliverance/). After that event I did get involved in my church’s prayer for healing ministry and over the next few years prayed for a fair few people. I saw many blessed by the experience of prayer, that is to say they said they felt blessed and the walked away smiling. Did I ever experienced something that would categorically come under the banner of answered prayer that I could honestly say would have been validated by a scientists watching?

No. There was once a time when a friend and I were praying for an elderly lady at a weekend away and she specifically asked for prayer for her failing hearing. My friend and I prayed for that, we were full of faith that it could happen, and after what felt like 10-15 minutes she did say, in response to my friend asking, that yes her hearing had improved a little. We both praised the Lord. However, even at that time, I did hold a little doubt in my mind that she was actually being completely truthful. I can’t explain why I questioned her honesty, it was a good 15 years before I was to start the path I am on today. So, no I don’t believe I ever saw anything that qualified as supernatural answer to prayer.

Yet for many years I continued to accept and believe that the power of prayer was real and effective around the world constantly.

When I look back now I do wonder if my prayer experiences and the reports of studies failing to find a link would sow a seed of doubt that would later take root. I can’t say for certain that is the case, I think its just one of those things that sits there and nags at the sub conscious and suddenly you realise its there when other things click into place.

When I read those same studies and articles now I do see how they are rigorous and not at all biased against faith. They are honest testing and should be taken seriously and for me they serve as proof that I do now hold the right answer.