Conspiracy Against Creationism and Ken Ham’s Intollerance

The BBC have been running a series called Conspiracy Files. The basic premise is that half dozen people who subscribe to a conspiracy idea are taken on a bus trip across America to visit various experts who can counter the conspiracy claim. At the end of the programme each person gets a piece to camera to see if they have changed their views.

Its not an especially great programme to be honest, you can tell that there is an element of manufactured conflict in that the people picked to the bus trip often have conflicting views themselves.

I watch it because I have in interest in conspiracies, not because I believe them, quite the opposite. Its because I don’t believe them, but I am interested in the arguments that conspiracists use so that I can better understand the argument and how to counter it. Classic conspiracies like 9/11 and UFOs have been covered.

Creationism as a Conspiracy

I very intrigued when I saw there was to be a programme on Creationism. Not just because I wanted to see what the people believed and who would be rolled out against them, but because I wanted to see what came up as compared with my previously held version of Christianity and Creationism. I was also puzzled by the inclusion of Creationism in the series; I don’t especially object to its inclusion but I’m not actually convinced that Creationism is a conspiracy theory in the way that 9/11 and the existence of crashed alien craft are.

A conspiracy theory requires agents actively working against the idea in an effort to hide the truth. I don’t think this is really the case. I certainly never believed that people were trying to hide the truth of a literal Creation from the wider public. I believed that evolutionary theory was a misreading of the evidence. Surely if scientists knew of a literal creation they’d become Christians and there would be no need to hide the fact of creation from the rest of the world.

The idea of the government and scientists actively trying to teach evolution and hide the truth of a literal creation just doesn’t make sense to me. I also don’t think I’ve ever read of anyone claiming this to be the case.

On to the Trip

Conspiracy or not, the programme rolled out a handful of folks from Ol’ Blighty. One hardened Christian Creationist, one hardened Muslim Creationist and some other people who, as far as I could tell, were a bit more ‘woolly’ in their faith, one I suspected was more spiritual than religious. Their creationist credentials did seem more suspect, though if they had filled the bus with identical Christian Creationists its wouldn’t have been a very interesting programme because the same arguments would have rotated round everyone so I can see why diversity was desired.

Predictably, the Christian Creationist sounded very much like I must have in my early argumentative years. It was interesting see those arguments come out in the way that I would likely have put them. Hearing them made me laugh. They sounded weak, and when countered with the detail of the science from the relevant expert in the field, the creationist arguments really had no foundation. It was clear as day.

Towards the end of the programme, one of the girls did appear to show a softening towards evolution and I did have hope that she would continue that journey.

The biggest giggle came from the ending comments from the two hardened creationists. The Christian claiming that his beliefs were shown to have held up and that the Muslim was shown to be false. The Muslim claimed the reverse. It was a classic case of preconceived bias leading one to interpret an experience to their own advantage, ignoring what actually occurred. Despite it providing me entertainment, I did genuinely feel sadness for them both as they were clearly unable to see beyond their beliefs.

Ken Ham’s Intollerance

I see that Ken Ham has made a comment on the programme (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/10/22/more-intolerance/).  He headlines it as intolerance against creationism, which is frankly baloney. There was no intolerance shown, simply evidence and argument. If evolutionists are intolerant because they attempt to explain to Creationists why they are wrong, then Ken Ham’s comments are equally intolerant for declaring evolutionists wrong.

That aside, Ken Ham makes a basic Creationist error, one that I have seen made many times.

 

His determination to deal only with “natural forces” eliminates God automatically. In other words, he started with the assumption that God and His Word have nothing to do with explaining reality. He started with a bias against anything to do with the God of the Bible. He did not start by looking objectively at the evidence.

 

This is a basic understanding failure. The fact that its made by a leading Creationist apologetic is damning and pathetic. He really should know better. Scientists who claim there is no god do so because of the evidence they see. Its this evidence that has lead them to the conclusion of evolution and its this evidence that falsifies the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve and The Flood. Its not then unreasonable to conclude there is no god. Science looks at natural processes because that is all that we can see and gather evidence from. That evidence is explained by those natural processes only and therefore its an easy conclusion to make that no god was involved. There is no predetermining the non-existence of any god and then building a theory which excludes it, as Ken Ham would have people believe.

Scientists reach their conclusions from the evidence and if the evidence does not fit a hypothesis, then its abandoned and a new one is formed. The evidence always dictates the conclusion, not the other way round. It is the Creationist who starts from the end result and looks for the evidence that matches the result or comes up with a hypothesis for fitting the evidence into the end result. Ken Ham wrongly asserts that because his idea of science is all arse over tits, so must the scientists’.

 

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The Life of Mohammad

The BBC recently ran a series about the life of the Islamic prophet, Mohammad (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2011/06_june/20/muhammad.shtml). This is something I was very interested in watching as I had previously not had very much knowledge of the man or his influence.

I was expecting the programme to result in me having genuine reason to dislike him. The main reason for this is that previous descriptions of him that I have heard include the words; raider, polygamist and paedophile. Not words you’d want to have associated with any prophet.

The programme was very different though and did not portray Mohammad as the monster I was expecting. It was obvious that all those being interviewed held a respect for the man and his values that was more than just skin deep. I’d even go so far as to say that some held a reverence like respect for his legacy.

However, there is a caveat to that glowing praise. The presenter and producer appear to be Muslim and the majority of those interviewed were also Muslim. There were a couple of others who had written about Mohammad and they included a couple of Anglican Reverends and a Jewish leader (Priest?). There was no one who was an obvious atheist. The result is that I am left with a feeling that the whole programme was somewhat biased in favour of the prophet.

Impressions from the Programme

That said, I still watched all three episodes and found them informative and interesting. Even if I had no way of telling how much was left out or how much spin was being employed.

There are a few things that stood out for me from the programme. The most obvious one being the revelations that he had; they all seemed to be just the right thing at just the right time and to my sceptical mind it smacked of a man who was making things up to suit him and his continued establishment of power. At no point at all was anyone else the recipient of these revelations, it was only him. This seemed far too convenient and to me does not constitute satisfactory evidence of a man of God (or Allah), quite the opposite in fact.

Inclusive, ecumenical and respectful.

Mohammad’s early adult life seemed to be one that very few modern critics of Islam would recognise. Women were apparently valued as equals and respected and other religions were accommodated and given equal validity too. Those who look at modern Islam and see the oppression of women and the desire to be the dominating religion and a special zeal to eradicate Jews would not recognise the young religion that was growing during Mohammad’s lifetime.

In fact, all the commentators agreed that the modern activities of extremist Muslims were not in accordance with Mohammad’s legacy or the words of the Koran.

The Covering up of Women

The origin of Muslim women covering up was traced to an instruction by Mohammad to his wives to cover their whole bodies. I can’t remember the exact reasons given in the programme, but it was an instruction for a specific reason in the context of a specific situation at that time. The modern following of it seems utterly ridiculous and irrelevant. I can’t help but be reminded of the Christian Church’s issue with women and head coverings.

What a Young Wife to Have

Among the most uncomfortable issues to get brought up was that of one of his wives, promised in marriage at very young and still young when finally married. Some narratives place her age at 9, while others put her as a teenager. One commentator said that it was his belief that she was 16 or 17. Either way, it was a very young bride for a man close to 50.

I don’t know how I feel about this revelation really. Obviously by modern standards its not acceptable, but in the context of that time when an older man would take more than one wife and some very young, is it right that we should judge them by our standards today? If she really was as young as 9, then it is an act that can’t be defended well; even then, I don’t think he would have been alone in doing such a thing. If the culture of the time habitually did that then his actions should be seen in that context.

The Killing of the Jews

There was another major keystone event in the life of Mohammad; that of an act of war where he slaughtered the men from a tribe of Jews when they sided with his enemies.

The bigger story here is that these were Jews who had an agreement with him to help and assist him. The Jews in question saw a chance to usurp his leadership when he was busy defending from other attackers. The plan failed and punishment was exacted.

A Jew interviewed for the programme called it the first holocaust, which I think is a bit rich frankly. The slaughter was a clear punishment for a specific act that could easily be called treachery. It was not a specific attempt to rid the area of Jews. I think Jews who take the holocaust stance on this event should go and read about what the Israelites did in some of their battles in the Old Testament.

Summary

Having watched the programmes, I am not sure exactly how accurate much of the information was; but I now have some information with which to form a view of Mohammad.

I think he was a leader with ideals around personal integrity that people today would recognise as decent. He was one of several religious leaders in the area who were all fighting for greater boundaries of power. As such his personal ideals clashed with a greater desire and being a leader with growing power resulted in some of those ideals being sidelined when it suited.

I certainly don’t believe Mohammad was anything special, I was just one of many leaders, he was just the one that got lucky. I also don’t believe that he was the horrid despot that others would say he was.

The Islam that I see today in the news does not seem to bare any resemblance to the Islam that Mohammad was trying to practice in his day and that does seem to be a very real shame.

An adventure in miracles and blogger integrity.

Last week I read the following blog post, http://creationbydesign.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/marian-apparitions-akita-and-the-disaster-in-japan/, which led me down a path I had not expected. It wasn’t the blog posting itself that caused the distraction, but the first comment on the post. The comment contains the following sentences.

I would ask the people of Japan to look at the history of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped and what happened. The one building that was saved was a church where the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was practised daily. The fire separated as it rushed towards the church and those priests were the only survivors for miles around.

This triggered alarm bells in my mind. I am no stranger to miraculous stories and have encountered many over the years, but this was one I had not heard. I am usually very suspicious of stories like this and need more than someone else’s word before I will believe.

The miracle that never was

Being curious I did some internet searching and discovered enough for me to doubt the story. Specifically, no evidence for a church having been spared blast of the bomb. Some churches did remain standing, but none was undamaged. In fact there were quite a few buildings that still stood, in a very damaged state, after the bomb, though the majority were flattened.

I replied with my accuracy concerns and a brief explanation as to why.

The blog owner came back with a reply that included more details on the Hiroshima miracle story and some other stuff that I don’t accurately remember. The further details are widely repeated around the internet, interestingly, mostly on catholic websites and forums, and are pasted below.

At 2:45 a.m.  on August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber took off from the island of Tinian to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan.  At 8:15 a.m. the bomb exploded eight city blocks from the  Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Hiroshima.  Half a million people were annihilated.  However, the church and eight Jesuit fathers stationed there survived (four of the priests were Fathers Hugo Lassalle, Kleinsorge, Cieslik and Schiffer.  According to the experts they “ought to be dead,” being within a one-mile radius of the explosion.

With this extra information I went about doing more research, because now I felt like I’d been challenged.

There were some key facts that I was able to determine quite quickly.

  • The population of Hiroshima at the time was less than half a million and about 25% of them died as a result of the bomb
  • One of the priests suffered severe radiation sickness and was unwell for the rest of his life, despite this he still managed to survive for 30 years after the bomb.
  • There may have been only four priests, not eight.
  • The church and the attached residence were both significantly damaged in the blast, though they did not collapse.
  • The priests concerned were not the only survivors at that proximity to the blast.

Dramatic stories like this live and die on their specifics, so they had better be correct. In this case they are not and its ill advised to accept them unquestioningly.

I wrote a long reply to the blog (which will be repeated at the end of this post) detailing what I had found and why I questioned the accuracy of the story.

The response from the blog author is best described as a rant than a reasoned reply. At least one of my points was misrepresented and I was called a god hating atheist for daring to doubt a miracle.

Before I could compose a response, the blog owners reply was deleted, along with my long post and his previous reply to that. My original posting was edited down to significantly and a new reply was up which is an acknowledgement that the story is questionable.

Blogger Integrity

Which brings me to the issue of blogger integrity. I consider it very bad form to edit down replies to your blog without making it clear what you have done and why. In this case its clear to me that its to save the blogger in question from looking a tad foolish. My answer to that is, take care not to paint yourself as a fool in the first place. Far better to leave your mistakes visible for all to see and post a retraction. That shows true integrity.

Editing down and deleting posts while a discussion is still in progress is poor, very poor, and to me that loses the person concerned many credibility points.

———-

My refutation post that got deleted follows…

Some facts that I have been able to gather about Hiroshima.

 

The 1945 population of Hiroshima as less than half a million. The link in my earlier post puts the number at 255,000. This BBC page puts the number at 350,000 http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/6/newsid_3602000/3602189.stm as does this page http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/hiroshima.htm.

Several other sources put the number between 300,000 and 400,000. All of this brings significant doubt on the accuracy of this statement from your reply to me.

“Half a million people were annihilated.”

When you look for numbers perished, both in the blast and subsequently due to illness, the number ranges between 70,000 and 140,000. Most people survived. The claim of half a million people being annihilated is now no longer questionable, but demonstrably wrong.

The paragraph that you quote that contains the half a million claim is repeated in many places across the internet with very little supporting documentation. One such location is this one: http://www.hovensd.com/pdfs/Bulletins/Bulletin%20-%2011-21-10.pdf which lists four priest names Fathers Hugo Lassalle,  Kleinsorge, Cieslik and Schiffer. These four names come up many times, but the names of all 8 survivors never.

The second paragraph that you quote appears to come from this source http://www.blessedmotherschildren.com/9/category/hiroshima/1.html. It says four resident priests not the eight that is widely reported elsewhere. What is also interesting is that the protection of the rosary is ascribed solely to a single priest, Fr. Schiffer, rather than everyone. Also, the amazement of the doctors at his well-being is ascribed to the immediate days following and not to years later, as reported on other websites that repeat the story. So here we have two specifics that are repeated across the internet that do not match the testimony of one of those involved.

This page http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/13833.html, specifically says that Father Kleinsorge suffered from illness in the days after the bomb, so yes he survived, like the majority did, but it didn’t escape unscathed, he suffered radiation effects too, like the majority of those who survived. He would suffer the effects of that radiation for the rest of his life, http://pketko.com/Hiroshima/survivors.htm#Father Wilhelm.

 

This page, http://facultyfp.salisbury.edu/tfrobinson/An%20Account%20of%20Hiroshima.htm, by a Father John A. Siemes, says that the house was damaged, with all doors and windows blown out and some structural damage.  This contradicts your claim of no damage.

You’d have thought that if there truly was a house that escaped damage completely, that there would have been photographic evidence of it wouldn’t you? After all there is photographic evidence of the vast range of damage, both from the ground and the air. How did a house that supposedly escaped damage, when everything around it was allegedly destroyed, also escape being photographed? I suggest its far more likely that the house was indeed damaged but that the structure didn’t fully collapse and that it wasn’t unique in that. There is photographic evidence of buildings that did not fully collapse, but all buildings also lack their doors, windows and many their roofs too. A building that survived undamaged would stick out in all that destruction, especially one so close to the blast, and would most certainly have been photographed and further documented, yet that evidence does not exist, why is that?

You state that’s its not highly possible that anyone could survive close to the blast. This page, http://www.atomicarchive.com/Maps/HiroshimaMap.shtml, shows a small map of Hiroshima and lists some numbers of people killed and injured. What is very interesting is the numbers listed for the one kilometre zone.

Population: 31,200, killed: 26,700 (86%), Injured: 3,000 (10%)

This page repeats those numbers, http://www.hiroshima-remembered.com/maps/HiroshimaMap.html.

Assuming those numbers are accurate, that’s over 1000 people survived uninjured from the one kilometre zone.

My scientism on such a story, is that in order for me to believe such an incredible thing could happen, there should be further evidence outside of the initial claim. That evidence either does not exist or differs from the accounts given above. For me this is enough to call into serious question the existence of the claimed miracle.

Lastly, I urge you to read the following page with a genuinely open mind, it is written by someone who has put more effort than I have into checking the facts of this story http://www.lazyboysreststop.com/mary25.htm.

 

 

Where is the line between religion and cult?

The BBC recently broadcast a programme called My Brother The Islamist (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12900460). I found the content fascinating and when I compare it to my own experience of fundamental Christianity I can’t help but stop and ponder, how close is the extreme end of religion to a cult?

In the BBC programme, a man tries to answer the question of what happened to his step brother to turn him into an extreme Muslim. One quote in particular jumps out at me.

“You see all this filth, all this munkar, it will all be gone when the Sharia comes in,” he remarked, scanning disdainfully around him.

By “munkar” he meant sin, evil. He was disgusted by what surrounded him

This strikes a chord with me as its how I remember feeling at times. I would look around and be offended at all the perceived sin around me and see it as evidence of the devil at work in this wonderful Christian land that was so obviously turning its back on God.

Now I know that the brother featured here and my own brush with fundamentalism are both small representations of the religious spectrum. I know too that the vast majority of those who practice religion are more moderate.

This is why the difference between a cult and an extreme religious sect intrigues me. Cults are normally identified by their forceful encouragement of members to cut all ties with friends and family outside of the cult. Its this aspect of a cult that rang a warning bell for me with the story of the Islamist brother and had me wondering how much further down the extreme spectrum does a religion have to go in order to be a cult.

When pondering this subject I was reminded of The Nine O’Clock Service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_O’Clock_Service). This was a specific service that was part of an Anglican church here in the UK and eventually grew into something potentially more dangerous. I am fairly sure that when the news broke, that the word cult was used by some to describe it. Mind you there are many who would happily call anything religious a cult so that in and of itself does not make it a cult.

The thing with The Nine O’clock Service is that it started innocuous itself and then, without the right accountability, grew into something dangerous. This was my concern with the BBC story of the brothers, does something start looking like its becoming a cult and what can be done about it?

I don’t have answers to either but I hope that moderate religious people being aware of the dangers are able to spot the act early. Certainly for those in the centre of it, its very hard to spot what is going on.

 

British Schools, Muslim Rules

Not surprisingly, there is much talk on the web this week about the recent Panorama programme featuring British Schools teaching British Muslims the Saudi national curriculum. Of particular focus is the fact that these imported text books teach young children that homophobia and anti-Semitism is okay. Some commentators have put it far more strongly than that.

This sort of bigotry is deeply concerning and children should not be taught it. It encourages segregation and isolation of people groups, which is harmful to everyone. This wasn’t the only thing that bothered me though; the text books features were not in English, which is absurd, schools in this country should teach in the national language, English, and from text books published to this country’s national curriculum. Importing foreign language books that teach to another national curriculum puts those children at a disadvantage in this country. That’s before you get onto the subject of the racist and bigoted matter therein.

Not surprisingly, and even understandably, there are many comments from Muslims saying that this is a twisted reporting of Islam and that not all Islam is like that and the British press are on a witch-hunt against Islam. The question I would like to ask those people is “why are you not joining the people who are rightly criticising those extreme views featured?”.

If Muslims are concerned that there is not anything good about Islam in the British press or on the TV then they should make an effort and change that themselves. Go public in criticising the bigotry of the Saudi curriculum that is being taught in British schools, go public in supporting those who want rid of the absurd system that has allowed this to happen. When the British public see Mulims joining them in fighting prejudice and bigotry then they will see Islam being positive. If all that the British public see is Muslims complaining when some parts of Islam are justifiably focused on as wrong then of course it will reinforce any negative views that are already held.

Of most concern for me in the programme was the fact that the schools are not Ofsted inspected, but instead are inspected by a separate organisation, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which inspects faith schools. Faith schools should adhere to this country’s national curriculum first and foremost and the teaching of faith should come secondary to that, minus the homophobia, anti-Semitism and any other bigotry. Self imposed seclusion will only damage religious credibility even further.