A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

Jul
16

This will be the last ever post on A Load of Bright.

I am starting a new blog today called One for One, for reasons that I explain in my Inaugural Post.  I will be writing under the handle tobyselwyn, my real name.

I thoroughly enjoyed the six months in which I wrote regularly on this blog.  I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who ever visited, read and commented, or contributed in anyway to its success.  I will leave the site up as an archive.

I hope to see you at One for One.  If not, I wish you all the very best.

Jul
30

Greetings to you all, that is to any readers who are still here and still awake.  I have risen from my own slumber but suspect that this will, alas, be a brief return.  My reason for writing after so long is simply too important for me not to try to exploit the modest popularity this blog once held.

I wrote many moons ago in my article The Importance of Being Satirical about the pivotal role humour plays in communicating important messages to the masses.  Tim Minchin is a staggeringly intelligent atheist and sceptic in his own right, and more than adequately equipped to write a serious blog.  Fortunately for us all, he is also a phenomenally gifted pianist, singer, writer and comedian, which means we are able to hear his views through the more pleasurable medium of music.  The level of intelligence and comedy in his writing is almost as breath taking as his performance, which is always immaculately flawless.  Despite the most intricate, articulate lyrics, no word is ever stumbled, nor note ever fumbled (sorry, I’ve listened to so many of his songs and poems in the last week that I’m actually starting to think in rhyme!).

Well I could wax lyrical all day (cringing pun very much intended, my apologies) but I would rather let the great man speak for himself.  I am only going to link to one clip directly, but I advise you all to enjoy the many songs available on Youtube, or better still go to his website and purchase his CDs/DVDs.

This is a nine minute beat poem called Storm.  From now on, this is what I will use to inform people I meet of my views on the world.  It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

As to any return to writing for me, I am not in a position to make any announcement.  I am in the process of reading heavily on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.  As I agree with everything I’ve read so far, I would probably call myself a student of the philosophy.  I suspect that by the end of the year I will have to make a decision to either accept it completely or reject it, at least partially.

If I do begin writing again I will probably start a new site under a different name.  While my atheism is secure, my political and philosophical beliefs have shifted considerably since I was writing articles on this site.  A new, clearly defined start would certainly be necessary.  If and when I do I will announce and link on this site, and I certainly intend to leave A Load of Bright available for the time being (although I do have a backlog of comments to approve – my apologies if you are still waiting unless your comment is simply Christian preaching or abuse in which case give up, I’m just going to delete it).

I hope you are all well.  I am, as ever, reachable by email.  Any comments, regarding Tim Minchin or my perpetual inertia are welcome.

Dec
14

I am a proud Englishman. Or, at least, I used to be. Today, I’m just a proud human being. In my late teens and early twenties I was passionately patriotic, with a huge St George’s Cross flag hanging menacingly from my bedroom wall, and England cups, towels and key rings never far away. I followed the England football team fanatically, and took an active interest in any other sport where England competed. My younger brother is Welsh, and we used to mock each other mercilessly, albeit in a friendly manner.

Over the last year or so, my patriotism has waned to the point where there is almost none left. I’ve questioned it more and more and come to see it as rather pointless and empty. I’m proud to be English; why? It wasn’t a choice. And, even if it had been, so what? What does the fact that I was born in England actually mean? Does it make me better than people who weren’t born in England? Of course not. The planet is made up of land and water. Human beings have drawn lines to divide that land up. Those lines are certainly not random, but they are arbitrary when it comes to where they lie in the moments that you draw your first breaths.

So, what about England as a country and as a culture? Well, I’m certainly proud of some of the values we hold in England, such as freedom of expression. On the other hand, I’m ashamed that we are officially a Christian nation, and still function under the archaic monarchy system. I’m proud of some of the achievements by English men and women, and by England as a nation. In the past we have lead the way in industry and contributed richly to music, art, literature and sport. On the other hand, in our colonial adventures we have been the tyrant, spilling much blood and taking many lives.

Another thing, was that I always thought of myself as English rather than British, but the absurdity of this identification has dawned on me too. I’ve lived in Wales for the last 20 years, been raised here, educated here and worked here. I can’t really claim to be English rather than Welsh or British, looking at it rationally.

I consider myself British insofar as I live in Britain, and so what is in the British interest is inevitably in my interest. If I were to move abroad, I would see it exactly the same with whatever country I moved to. I find it much easier now to think of myself as a global citizen. There are aspects of England to be ashamed of and aspects to be proud of, and the same can be said of any other nation. The same can also be said of human beings. I think I may as well just consider myself human. As a human I am ashamed of the religious ignorance in Saudi Arabia, but I am supremely proud of the United States Constitution. I see very little to be gained from patriotism and much danger. The segregation and emphasis on arbitrary differences often simply fosters resentment and disdain, and it is a mindset that can be easily manipulated and exploited by charismatic speakers, who dress up racism as fair and rational.

Is it worth it? To me, the answer is an ever more resounding no.

Dec
13

Tomorrow I will post an article which will be my submission for Sunday’s Humanist Symposium, which on this occasion is being hosted by my good friend Evanescent. I apologize for my silence in recent weeks, but I can make no promise that this will mark a return to regular posting. My passion and desire for blogging is all but gone at the moment, and while I continue to feel strongly about the harm that religion and superstition causes, I am not feeling the same drive to speak out.

As I’ve always said, I would rather not write than force the issue, and as long as I feel no strong urge to write, I will stay effectively retired. I read what I can when I can, and I will continue to comment as much as possible on others’ blogs. I may post a few thoughts from time to time or share videos, and other odds and sods that amuse me.

The only thing I feel certain of at the moment, is that my blogging days are not over. I do foresee a return to the level of quality and quantity that I have provided in the past at some point, but it will not be for a while. If anyone wants to remove me from their blogroll, I will completely understand. If anyone wants to email me, I’m never far away.

Nov
05

If you are unaware of the current situation at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, Ebonmuse can fill you in. Until the wrongs are put right, I am removing Internet Infidels and IIDB from my links.

On another note, I apologise for my continued negligence of my blogging duties. I do at least have some ideas now, but very little time or energy to actually write articles. I would rather reduce the frequency of posting than dilute the quality of my writing by rushing my work.

Oct
28

Regular readers may remember me expressing an intention to write a review of god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. With my apologies, I must now tell you that I have decided not to write that review for two distinct, but connected, reasons.

Firstly, I have allowed too much time to pass since finishing the book, to the point where scanning it would be insufficient to refresh my memory – I would need to reread it.

Secondly, the reason I have put it off for this long is that I don’t think I actually have anything particularly clever or significant to say about it. I would prefer not to write it at all than force the issue and do a poor job of it.

Please don’t misunderstand me; my sentiments are entirely positive. I am happy to say that it is an excellent read, and that I highly recommend it. After the works of scientists like Dawkins and Harris, and philosophers like Dennett and Onfray, it is very interesting to read a journalist’s take on religion in the modern world. And no ordinary journalist, mind you – Hitchens’ intellect is staggering.

god is not Great has been reviewed many times both within and beyond the atheosphere, by many bloggers whom, I’m quite sure, will have done a far better job than I would have done. There are only a quick Google search away. Better still, if you’re interested, I recommend reading it for one’s self.

Oct
25

On my recent article Tugging at Loose Threads, Evanescent and Storbakken resumed a debate they had suspended on another blog. It was completely off topic, so I’m starting an open thread for them, and anyone else, to continue it.

Evanescent’s last comment was:

Storbakken said:

It is not my intent to go round and round again. But I will briefly respond to your comment. The point is not that Hitler was an an atheist or a theist, rather that his ideology was based on the notoriously atheistic philosopher Fred Nietzche much more than it was based on the teachings of Christ. Hitler clearly infused religious rhetoric to win the masses and most definitely believed his own rhetoric.

You’re right, the point is not that Hitler was an atheist or a theist. I don’t hold up Hitler as an example of theistic horror, even though he was an affirmed Catholic and his many speeches and sayings reflected one who believed in the Christian god. I don’t care if he did or not believe in god as it was irrelevant to his actions, which is exactly my point.

I never said that Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, et al committed their evil actions IN THE NAME of atheism. I did say that atheism produced these characters.

So their entire personality and character was a result of them being atheists? No, I don’t think so.

As evil as their characters were, it was not atheism that PRODUCED this evil. It is vital and yet obvious to point this out.

It is interesting that the anti-theistic communist government of Russia actually sent Christian communists to the gulag. It is also interesting that Enver Hoxha did brutally persecute the adherents to the religions of Albania for two decades and proclaimed his nation to be completely atheistic in 1967 when he passed the Decree on the Atheist State. You can argue whether or not these fascist atheistic dictators persecuted believers IN THE NAME of atheism or not, but the facts of history speak for them self.

Yes they do, and even if I grant that atheism was the motive for these actions, (which I do not grant), the scales are irreversibly tilted with blood in religion’s direction. Even if was 50/50, that would still be damning against religion, after all that would just show that believers and non believers tend to act with equal altruism and equal wickedness, a fact that throws religion into severe doubt anyway. But when we consider that religion has ALWAYS been a constant source of repression and cruelty, and far outweighs the crimes of non-believers, you are left with an absurd inexcusable mystery. The problem is yours, not mine.

The militant atheism movement today in America is almost frightening in its fervent zeal to eradicate theistic religions. This anti-theistic movement desires to wipe out every person’s faith in the grand name of reason. Why?

First of all, I could say that if your religion was grounded on REASON to begin with, you have nothing to fear. But since you are afraid of reason, I wonder what that implies?

All the same, the charge of ‘militant’ is unjustified. Atheists do not wish to wipe out peoples’ faith. You are happy to believe whatever you want! All we ask is that you don’t interfere with anyone else’s life. NOW, if religion did that, I AM CONVINCED that atheists everywhere would shut up about religion.

Unfortunately, religion has never kept itself to itself. It causes too much misery, repression, suffering, and interference in the world. It has become a menace to civilisation, and if religion is eradicated as a matter of slow evolving history, so much the better. However, I will say again, we all have a right to free speech and belief, so as long as no one is hurt, I would not force anyone to do anything, and I think I speak for most atheists when I say that.

Storbakken’s reply was:

Evanescent said: “All the same, the charge of ‘militant’ is unjustified. Atheists do not wish to wipe out peoples’ faith… All we ask is that you don’t interfere with anyone else’s life.”

The charge of militant atheism is not unjustified when I am specifically addressing militant atheism. I agree that not all atheists wish to wipe out people’s faith, but militant atheists clearly do. Militant atheists fail to employ reason with the same disregard for truth as Fundamentalist Christians. And yet, ironically, militant atheists say they do it in the name of reason.

Militant atheists make grand statements such as: “religion has ALWAYS been a constant source of repression and cruelty.” There have been times in history when adherents to religion (e.g. Tibetan Buddhism) are crushed under totalitarian and, dare I say, atheistic regimes (Communist China). I’m not saying that atheism is the reason China oppressed, systematically killed and exiled many Tibetans, but I am saying that religion is not, as you say, “ALWAYS a constant source of repression.”

Militant atheists declare that they don’t want theists to “interfere with anyone else’s life.” Does this mean that it is better for theists not to assemble, not to visit shut-ins, not to serve meals to the poor and indigent? Or should they simply not allow their beliefs to shape their views regarding foreign/domestic policy? Just like atheists, there are theistic pacifists, war-mongers, Democrats and Socialists. It is unjust to repress another group simply because they have faith in something greater than themselves.

I’m not going to pretend to be impartial, I am completely on the side of Evanescent, but rather than dropping my two cents in here I’ll join in the discussion as and when I can. Enjoy!

Oct
22

Religion has nothing worthwhile to say on anything.

Evanescent

Theology is the art of knowing the unknowable. It is an immensely vast and complicated area of study requiring much careful research and dedicated learning to master. Many great minds devote their lives to the subject, gaining qualifications and passing on their wisdom to new students. It is, however, comparable to a large, antique vase: huge and striking, intricate and ornate, ancient and mysterious, but ultimately empty, and created entirely by human beings. I would like to use two modern cultural examples of proxy-theologies to demonstrate this point.

The first of these examples is the Klingon race, a fictional creation within the Star Trek science fiction stories. (I would just like to state for the record that I myself am not a Trekkie, although I do fully acknowledge the right of Trekkies to be Trekkies, as long as they are Trekkies behind closed doors and keep their Trekkieness to themselves.) A quick browse down the Wikipedia article reveals that, far from being represented by a few quickly assembled individual characters on a TV show, the Klingons come complete with biological details, culture, government, legal system, thousands of years of history and, perhaps most astonishingly of all, a complete artificially constructed language. There are many Star Trek fans who have learned to speak this language fluently, and regularly attend conventions speaking no other language for the duration. Many of these same Star Trek fans are experts on the Klingon race, and can relate their knowledge with all the scholarly grace of a learned professor.

The second example I’d like to use, is the land of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s fictional creation. (For the purposes of this exercise, I am going to ignore the fact that Lewis was a Christian apologist, and that his Chronicles of Narnia were a Christian allegory. It has no relevance to the point I am trying to make.) Once again, we have a vast subject. Again, we have fans who truly dedicate themselves to the details of the subject, including Narnia’s geography, cosmology, history and mythological creatures and other inhabitants. Again, these enthusiasts attend conventions across the world to interact with one another. The study is taken extremely seriously and these people talk about their subject with great conviction, passion and command.

But the thing about the Klingon speaking Trekkies and the Narnia enthusiasts, is that they know it’s not real! It is just a hobby, albeit one that they take very seriously, and they are under no illusions that either the Klingon people or the World of Narnia actually exist in the real world. It is, to coin a phrase, just a bit of fun.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for theists. They are well and truly under the illusion that the characters of their study are, or at least were, real. Some of them believe it so strongly, that they are prepared to die in the name of that belief, and to take the lives of others who do not share it. Just like the Klingons, they have an intricate web of detail, names, dates, places, events and even mythological creatures, all of which they attempt to use as an elaborate distraction from the fact that they are without any actual evidence for the truth of their claims. It would be bad enough if they simply wanted us to believe that their fairytale were true, but it doesn’t stop there. On the basis of this elaborate fictional story, they want to tell us how to live our lives, what we can and can’t do, and that what we have learned about the universe through hard, scientific work is wrong. To the theologian I say: thank you but no thank you.

If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?

Richard Dawkins

Oct
18

I’ve always found it helpful to think of a belief system a bit like an item of clothing, like a woolly jumper. If you find a loose thread, you should pull at it. If the jumper is well made and sturdy, the thread will just break off and the clothing will survive with no scars. If the whole thing unravels in your hands, then it was poorly made and you are better off without it. Any belief system that is logically coherent and drawn from solid facts and strong evidence will stand up to scrutiny and criticism. This is why we should always challenge those beliefs we hold dear.

Christianity as a belief system offers a wide variety of loose threads to choose from, and once you start pulling it isn’t long before you’re holding a large pile of tangled, knotted wool, as without form as the universe was in Genesis 1:2.

Take for example, the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies within the Bible. How old was Ahazia when he became king? 2 Kings 8:26 says he was 22, whereas 2 Chronicles 22:2 says he was 42.

Pull the thread.

Apologists cannot account for this blatant contradiction without claiming that somewhere down the line, someone made an error when copying out the text. But once you allow for the fact that there can be errors in the Bible, how do you objectively know what is true and what has been distorted? Now, far be it from me to advise the all powerful creator of the universe on how to do his job, but if I were him I would have ensured that the holy book I was leaving for my people could not possibly be spoilt by human errors. The Uncredible Hallq has pointed out that if God wanted to prove the truth of Christianity, he could have “made all accurate copies of the Bible indestructible”.

Pull the thread.

This is an excellent point, but God could go one further. He could magically guarantee not only that every Bible would be completely without error, but that every Bible could be read by anyone in the world, regardless of their literacy or language. Just imagine it! A French Christian staying in a hotel in Spain could just pick up a Spanish copy of the Bible and read it, without any need for a translator. Now how could we skeptics argue with that?!

Pull the thread.

Thinking about it though, why have a book at all? If it’s so important that we know everything in the Bible, why not just create us with all of its contents automatically, magically known to us? It would save a lot of time and effort, and would be a great way to make sure everyone of us knew the Christian ways without instruction. There are certainly very few Christians who have read the Bible all the way through, and that wouldn’t be a problem for them.

Pull the thread.

Better still, why not just make himself known to us? Why not answer our prayers in a real voice that is actually audible, rather than with ambiguous feelings and impulses. Why not present himself to us visibly, and answer our questions in person. I would convert to Christianity without hesitation.

Pull the thread.

Now that we’ve come this far we have to ask: if the Christian god were real, would Christianity exist? Would any other religion? Would atheism? If the Christian god existed, religion as the concept we understand would not exist, it would be simply unnecessary. God would be just like a person known to us, like our parents. There would be no reason to preach his word, everyone could hear it first hand. There would be no need for theology, there would be nothing of this nature to discuss. There would be no reason to debate any metaphysical issues, as the truth would be known. We would not have to wonder why we were here or where we were going. There would certainly be no need to fight about anything remotely resembling what we call religion.

Pull the thread.

When I look around me, I do not see a world that is in keeping with what I could reasonably expect to see if Christianity were true. Christians are at constant pains to reconcile a square peg with a round hole. I am well aware that Christians will have answers to all my questions. Some I will have heard before, others perhaps not. One thing I will bet though, is that they will all start at the conclusion and work back towards the evidence.

Oct
15

I’ve been planning for ages to dig out this video clip and post it. It’s an excerpt from the film Young Sherlock Holmes, in which an adolescent Watson is given a quick lesson in “simple deduction”. Although they don’t use the term, it is a form of cold reading, and although this is obviously a fictional scene, it is a perfectly plausible example of what fraudulent psychics really do.

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