Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Here's an interesting one.

Creationists poke fun at scientists by saying things like "so....there was nothing...and it exploded" and "life from nothing, ha ha".

The objection is that, to the creationist, life from non-life ("nothing") is a ridiculous concept.

I've heard many and various examples of this, and........ I sympathize. That may surprise you. But it's all about what you can wrap your head around, and I have the same problem with other ideas.


Because I've done a bit of study on the current theories of the origin of life, I don't actually have any problem with the idea of simple chemical compounds becoming organic. One of the most recent theories is detailed here:

Of course, it could be completely wrong, but something along these lines is quite plausible.

Another popular theory is that we were "seeded" by microbes arriving from other planets, ultimately for other solar systems, other galaxies. Which is fine, but you still need abiogenesis happening somewhere.

The creationist rejects this, either because it is simply not what his book tells him, or he doesn't understand it and the book version sounds simpler. OK.

In his version everything is created by God from...............nothing.

So what's the difference?

Well, according to scientists, first of all, when they talk about the origin of the universe and the origin of life, these are two different things. The time span between them is considerable (10 billion years) and during that time a lot of other things happened. Gradually. Also, since life began, almost another 4 billion years has passed, giving plenty of time for those simple life forms to evolve.

In the creationist model, that 10 billion years is whittled down to a week, and this all happened 6,000 years ago, which quite clearly doesn't allow time for very much evolution at all. We barely had time for wolves to become dogs.

There are other options, of course. I'll come back to that, but for now let's consider these two versions..


Scientists have never suggested that the Big Bang was the start of the cosmos. It wasn't "matter from nothing". Laws of Physics insist that matter from nothing is not possible. The theory says that there was a singularity of mass, which expanded, and rather suddenly at first. And it is still expanding.

It is well-known that most of the universe is empty space, more than 99.9999999% in fact. Even the most solid things that exist are mostly empty space. Atoms are mostly empty space. If you take away all that empty space you can reduce the remaining mass down to an incredibly small size. So the whole singularity concept is not really a problem at all. The size could be argued, but of course the question remains, what came before that?

And that question exists no matter what your version of origins are. As do many others.

Those who are not literalists, look at the creationist version as given in the Judeo-Christian tradition as a best guess. Not to be taken seriously, not to be read as science or history, but seen as the best theory the priests could come up with. People wanted to know where it all came from, and after much consideration, this was the story that worked for them. It shouldn't be taken literally.

And those who say "but nobody really knows" are missing the point. If you don't find the Big Bang Theory compelling, there are other theories. Google it if you are interested. There are serious scientists looking at other possibilities, and maybe one day these will become the prevailing theories. That's how science works. It is a process, an honest process. If something that was standard in the textbooks is found to be wrong, then it is changed.

It's not a belief system. Anyone, at any time, is at liberty to prove it wrong, and if that proof is good, it will be accepted. The science of cosmology is interesting simply because we are dealing with things long ago and far away that we can't pick up in our hands to observe. It is always going to be full of changing theories. That's the nature of it.

What cosmology does not get involved in is life. Whereas in the creationist model everything started at once, in the scientific model, life, and subsequently evolution, came later and therefore is part of a separate scientific discipline.


One thing is quite clear, the organisms alive today have not always been here, and many of those that once existed are now extinct. Things change.

Of course we do still have single-celled organisms, very simple lifeforms, and these help us understand evolution, because they do it so fast we can watch it happening. The more complex an organism is, the more changes are required for it to be quite different, so the longer it takes. We can't watch mammals evolve because of the timespan involved. But the principles are exactly the same. This makes it a much easier science, and this is why we are on such solid ground.

Returning then to the original issue, which is creationists poking fun at scientists for claiming that something came from nothing, it is actually the creationists with the more absurd ideas. Humans from dirt? Women from ribs?

Oh, it's all good for a laugh. Makes great cartoons. And if you really wanted to have a giggle at somebody's expense you could read the creation myths from other cultures. There are plenty to choose from.

OR, you could accept creation myths as they are, leave the actual work of figuring all this stuff out to the scientists, and teach your children the latest, most carefully studied theories, because those are what will help them get on in life.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


Years ago I was one of the admin team at MSN Religion Forum. We had a few rules and they were pretty simple, just to keep the peace, and mostly it worked. But we had two rules that were a problem, not individually, but together.

You see, one rule, which we considered very important, was the special freedom of speech that allowed each member of the forums to share their beliefs freely. Really, not much point having a forum if you can't share the topic at hand, after all. All beliefs were treated equally this way, and there was no risk of censorship just because one belief was unpopular.

Another rule was no proselytizing. Because freedom to discuss religion means freedom not to have that religion attacked. If people spent all their time trying to convert you to their belief system it would get very tedious.

The problem was that some members of the forums were from belief systems where proselytization was expected or even demanded. And we wouldn't let them do it. Twas a bit of a dilemma. We sorted it out, more or less, with a bit of compromise and grumbling, and our sole regular Jehovah's Witness was very good about it.

But the conversation didn't go away. Every so often, somebody would mention the Great Commission, and we'd have to say "No"....and there'd be a bit of grumbling.

I tried to explain what the problem was, but I know for a fact they never understood. Or were they just being stubborn?

I would say "Proselytization is rude." and they'd feign lack of understanding. Some would explain how they MUST do it, and I'd tell them they had free will (which they were always telling ME), so then they'd switch to what a great kindness it was, sharing their "good news".

The problem was, it wasn't news. We'd all heard it a gazillion times before. It wasn't even a variation on a theme. It was the exact same stuff, over, and over, and over, and over.......perhaps they thought eventually it would wear us down.

I would explain, patiently, that it is arrogant to assume what other people "need" to hear. How they were in no position to decide that. "Blank." I really found it hard to believe they actually didn't get it, but it seemed like they didn't.

Nothing has changed of course. I talk to different people, and explain it to them, without the constraints of forum rules, and I am a little more blunt.

You have absolutely no idea what I need.

You certainly do not know me better than I do.

I am fine as I am.

If you need Jesus, that's great, you keep him.

If you need saving, go and do it. With my blessings. I don't need saving. Stop telling me that I do.


No. You don't "know". It's your belief. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

No, please don't repeat yourself. I've heard it all.

As I age, I become (I hope) increasingly compassionate/kind/tolerant. That's the plan, anyway.

But I am, at the same time, increasingly tired of repetition. Some arguments I walk away from because I've done them so many times I just can't be bothered.

This is one I am bored silly with, and yet it just won't go away. I don't think a week goes by that somebody, somewhere, tries to "save" me. And as soon as I say I don't need saving, they simply redouble their efforts.

So let me be clear.

I don't need saving. I am safe. Whatever it is you need saving from is something I don't believe in, so it holds no fears for me. And I cannot believe what you believe, because I don't believe it. There is no choice in the matter. Belief is not optional. If it were, it would be fraudulent.

And I especially object to being proselytized by people who have fucked up their life, and then fixed it. I'm very happy that you found a way to do that. You needed your religion to achieve that goal. Fine. Carry on.

I did not fuck up my life. I did not make those bad choices. I did not go off the rails. I'm sorry you did. Please don't try to make yourself feel better by assuming we were all as foolish as you, OK?

And don't talk to me about morality. Mine is fine. It isn't the same as yours, but that's not my problem. If yours works for you - GREAT! Stick to it kid.

And especially, if, without your version of religion, you are a bad person, please stick to it. If you need to go to church to be reminded regularly how to behave, GO. Go regularly. If need be, I'll get you there, FFS. We don't need you behaving badly. We have enough problems.

Personally, I don't need that. I am capable of remembering to behave ALL BY MYSELF. Many of us are. We are sorry you have a problem there. We don't.

Finally, do not tell me I'm going to hell. I will probably be flippant about it. I do not believe in hell. It's a very empty threat. But I'm more likely to say "fine, it sounds like fun". Because such a ridiculous idea deserves to be joked about. However, if we are going to be serious, can you seriously tell me that what has happened right here, in this life, on this planet, to innocent people, by sheer bad luck, or by the bad behaviour of other humans - war, tsunami, torture, disease, slavery, earthquake.......the suffering of millions, sometimes their whole lives, can be one-upped? Plenty of people have been through hell. When you can stop that happening, I'll be impressed.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Holy Shitheads

OK, the crazy holiday season is over and I have time to spare. I love this time of year. Too cold to play outside, but rather than whine and bitch I take the time to do indoor stuff and really enjoy it. This time of year I organize, clean, repair, paint, craft, and........write. Some nutbars write in November. I don't have time. I write in deep winter when there's not so much other stuff going on.

And despite lots of material, I was well-behaved and didn't write anything "difficult" over Christmas. I didn't even share the meme about Isaac Newton's birthday. It's just an etiquette thing, I don't shit on people's parades.

Not that I'm afraid to go there. I love a discussion on the topic of religion. Not everyone does, and for all sorts of different reasons. Some, because they just aren't interested, which is fair enough. Some don't think it's polite to discuss it. I think that's reasonable at a social gathering, but here, well, that's this medium is FOR. Some don't like their views being examined or opposed. This is where it gets quite interesting.

There are those who are anti-religion in all forms, no exceptions, and they haven't got anything good to say about it. Obviously, if they take part in a discussion, it will change the tone. Those who object to their stance have several options, they can argue, they can ignore them, they can attempt to change their minds, or they can just respond.

The same applies with the other extreme, the hardcore believers. It isn't necessary to accept what they say. There are just many ways to disagree.

So, there's this whole idea about respect. I try to be respectful of people. Even if they have an opinion diametrically opposite to mine, I try to focus any opposition I have on that opinion, rather than aim negativity at the person sharing that opinion. Sometimes it is really difficult. And there comes a time that if an individual offers too many opinions opposite to mine, that there seems no point in talking to them. Where is that line drawn? Lots of variables there. I give more leeway to the young, and to those I consider to be compromised in some way. If you are an educated adult, let's say sometimes I remain courteous with effort.

Because while my respect for a person is based on kindness, my respect for their opinions is based on what harm I consider could come of them. To be kind there is to enable harm. I won't do that.

And so, there have been times when I've been called anti-religion - which is partly true, but not fully - and specifically I've been called anti-(insert religion here). That is not true. Take the Mormons for example. I consider the LDS belief system to be a sham. A bit of Christianity, a bit of Masonic stuff, and a lot of fantasy straight out of the head of Joseph Smith. He even confessed to his practices being fraudulent.

So, the religion itself is mostly bollocks, but is it harmful? That is not a question that can be easily answered yes or no. Only the most anti of the anti religious would say yes. What has to be said is that some of the teachings of the church are good, and some are not. And some of the adherents are good people, and some are not. And it's not a contest. You can't say it's better or worse than any other belief system because you have to break it down bit by bit to compare.

To me, all that matters is the behaviour of the followers. Their actual beliefs are irrelevant. If I see harm in any given belief, I'll say so. If I see harmful behaviour by any member of that belief system, I'll say so. And I won't always blame the one for the other, because sometimes it's causal, and sometimes it isn't.

I think that people are shitheads, or they're not. And some are part shithead and part not. Or 24% one or the other, or whatever. And that is who they are, religion be damned. And there are shitheads in all religions, and there are shitheads with no religion.

The difference, when it comes right down to it, is that religious shitheads have the idea that they are called by God to be shitheads. Superior shitheads, if you like. Holy shitheads.

No, I'm not anti anything except anti harm. If I am "rude" about something to do with religion, it's because I see it as harmful. No harm? No problem.

No, I don't think one religion is better than another. There are things I personally prefer in whatever religion. Which is not the same thing. I am liberal minded, so naturally I don't like conservative religious stuff. Duh.

So, this week, and until I get bored with it, I'm open to, and encouraging, and probably starting religious discussions. The blogs will be here, the discussions will be at Facebook. If you read me here but don't have me on Facebook, ask nicely and I'll add you. I do NOT respond to emails or private messages on these topics. If you send me an interesting private comment I'll include it in my next blog (don't worry, I won't name you). If you send me any proselytizing messages, I'll just ignore them. We're here to learn from one another, not convert one another.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Have a Cool Yule

Today is the solstice, the reason we have any kind of winter holiday, and apart from my choice of meal this evening, and some meditation, it will not really be marked in this house in any major way. There are two reasons for this.

1. Good Pagans treat it as pretty much the most important day of the year, they have a ritual, they choose this day over Christmas to gather their family and celebrate, it is A Very Big Deal. I am not a good Pagan, I am the Pagan equivalent of the Muslim who drinks alcohol, or the Christian who only attends church for weddings and funerals. There was a time when I toyed with the idea of becoming Pagan clergy but I'm too lazy and selfish. And busy.

2. I live in a secular society. Today is a working day. It's easier and more logical for me to celebrate at Christmas when everyone is off work. I see the modern Christmas as secular and generic, after all it is pronounced Krissmus, not Christ Mass and apart from the obviously Pagan history and associations thereof, for most people (including many Christians) it is not treated as a solemn religious event, but as something much broader and more inclusive.

Now, there are all manner of ways to observe and celebrate Yule, but I've noticed an increasing amount of neo-traditions in the Pagan community, some with a Wiccan bent, some more Nordic, and some...well, I think it's just creative really. The point is, all of this is reconstructed because apart from noticing the actual solstice itself, nobody really knows what ancient ancestors did to mark the day. Maybe they just slept in.

Certainly, an absolute wealth of symbolism and tradition grew from this basic need to recognize the turning point in the year, after which days get longer and we start looking forward to spring. In days of yore this was pretty much a matter of life and death. But unless you live in a very small percentage of the globe geographically, the weather doesn't actually fit in with the scheme. Here, we only have a small amount of snow, and the worst of the winter is still to come. In Australia, it's summer. At the equator they scratch their heads at the whole long/short day idea.

One of the most interesting things I am seeing a lot of this year is the Sun Child. It's a sort of reverse situation to that of early Christians tolerating Pagan beliefs and including them, to make them more likely to convert. I like the symbolism, so don't get me wrong. I've always liked the Christian nativity story anyway. You don't have to believe in a myth to enjoy it. Some dramatizations have been beautifully done, with good acting, moving music, and so on. Who doesn't love a new baby anyway.

Or possibly the Sun child story came first, and the Christians borrowed it. Well, stole it, I suppose. From Mithras. Who knows. Christians object to that idea, but for those of us who are not troubled by it, the similarities are compelling.

Mithraism developed from an Indian religion, and then swept through the Roman empire and thence northwards, into Scandinavia and the Celtic countries, and it picked up some middle-eastern bits along the way, because this is what religions do. They are sort of magnetic to local culture.

None of this is breaking news, I might add. The Christian church was always aware of this "problem" and addressed it at first with the usual "the devil did it". Later they tried to prove that Christianity came first, and there are even allegations of Mithraic records being deliberately destroyed for that purpose. Who knows. But subsequently, plenty of pre-Christian evidence has been found by archaeologists not interested in religious arguments.

Does it matter? Well, I daresay it matters to the more literalist Christians. While I actually know plenty of Christians who are not worried by it at all. They have always known that religions are syncretic, and that such details are not what it's all about.

Some Pagans are seriously uptight about it too. I just leave them to it. As fascinating as this all is (when you are a history and mythology buff like me this stuff is positively drool-worthy) in the great scheme of things it's just a puzzle. As much as I love puzzles, they are not meaningful, they're just fun.

The Pagan sun child is not real. It is a symbol. A rather obvious one. Depicting an actual child is not harmful, it is an artistic expression. On the other hand if somebody out there wants to believe in an actual child as historical fact or spiritual entity, there's no harm in that either. These are fully harmless beliefs, and especially nice for children. Seeing the sun "return" as a new baby, and the tired, waning sun end as an old man is nice and easy to get your head round. That's why we have symbolism. And without symbolism there'd be no art, no music, no poetry, no literature.

If course there is danger in any mythology if it's taken literally and used to hate and oppress, but I find the winter holidays the most harmless, the most symbolism filled, the most natural, and therefore the most joyful. It makes me even more than usual open to sharing and toleration. Joy to the world. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.

Share gifts, eat, drink, be merry, but most of all show someone love. Love is what it's all about. It's THE most important thing, and everything else is just stuff. Celebrate any way you wish, and try to remember those who don't have anyone else. If you have a lonely neighbour, bring 'em in. If you have some spare cash, or spare time, there are people who would appreciate it.

Be nice to one another, and if, in any size, shape, or form any belief system asks you to be anything other than kind and loving to all, ignore it. It's rubbish.

Welcome back sun.