Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Letters to a Young Contrarian, C. Hitchens. 9/10.

Book Review: Letters to A Young Contrarian, C. Hitchens. 9/10.

"As for the ironic, I shan't attempt a definition here. It's the gin in the Campari, the x-factor, the knight's move on the chessboard, the cat's purr, the knot in the carpet. Its elusive and allusive nature is what makes it impossible to repress or capture. It has a relationship to the unintended consequence. One of its delights is that it can be deployed literally..."

The late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a prolific, articulate, literate, and extremely thought provoking author. "Letters to a Young Contrarian" was published on the eve of 9/11(2001) an event which would influence Hitchens' later writings and discussions. This is evident when one examines how he redoubled his efforts in ridiculing faith and promoting anti-theism post 9/11.

"Letters" is not similar to other books i have read - even by Hitchens. The book is a concise collection of short letters, written to a Dear X, or addressed to you the reader. The book highlights the importance of being a dissenter, contrarian or critic in the modern world. The short 100+ page book is somewhat of a manifesto on how historical dissidents, gadfly's and revolutionaries argued their ideology or beliefs, which were often counter to mainstream thought but ultimately were more noble or honest than just sitting quietly while the oppressor reaped the harvest of human freedom and thought.

The skills necessary to be a modern contrarian are taught and the reasons why one should be a contrarian are given. One example is irony, which is highlighted as an essential part of being a contrarian. Ridicule, it is said, is the best weapon of the slave or the oppressed. People from Socrates to Orwell and countless other 'contrarians' are only briefly covered as Hitchens does not want to make arguments from authority - rather he wants the reader to think for oneself. While i do not agree completely with everything Hitchens asserts in this book, it is interesting to note that disagreeing with the author is perhaps a chief reason for reading the book. Hitchens wants to show the reader how to become a contrarian - as opposed to simply gaining your consensus on his well articulated points.

Thanks, Brady Fair. 3fs,org. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Too Much Faith Leads to Religion: Faith vs Reason.

“Faith is the surrender of the mind, it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It's our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. ... Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated” C Hitchens. 

Faith, superstition and irrationality. Will they continue forever? - or is it possible to loosen - or even break, the heavily laden shackles of faith that burden the human condition.


An optimist assessing the spread of information via global communications in the 21st century, coupled with an understanding of the astonishing discoveries and advances in the sciences, could claim that faith based epistemology's are in their death throws and will soon be replaced by epistemology's with predictive capabilities.

A more cynical or pessimistic observer could claim that despite the internet and unprecedented access to knowledge, humans are at their very core not rational beings - or at best are part rational and part superstitious. Meaning we will continue to progress in science, unraveling more of natures mysteries, but as a species we will continue to trust in the supernatural, as if the supernatural were a real thing. When we leave the science laboratory for the day we start to think there are ghosts in the dark and gods in the heavens.

A third person, examining the situation, could say that both the pessimist's and the optimist's views are true at the moment. The struggle between fact and fiction is thousands of years old and 'god is still not dead'. The history of faith clashing with science, has led some to believe that both positions are in desperate need of a reconciliation.

 If the two ways of knowing are not compatible, which the optimist would suggest is in fact the case, while the pessimist might think some form of reconciliation between faith and science will allow both to co-exist. If the pessimist could not reconcile the two they may say that faith and science deal with different phenomena. Faith and science are non-overlapping magisteria, as S.J Gould suggested. The optimist may say this is not the case, faith based claims can often be approached scientifically as the extreme claims made by the faithful directly trespass on one or more fields of science, or could be formulated as a hypothesis - or they are unfalsifiable in principle and arguably not science. The pessimist might disagree instead suggesting that faith applies to meta-physics and spirituality while science deals only with the natural world.

 Deism does not overlap with science, the third person adds, as it is vague and unfalsifiable. However theism certainly overlaps with the natural world; as it claims Deities or God(s) have or are still interfering with human affairs on Earth. These theistic divine "interventions" are a part of the natural world (this presupposes the claims are true, an unsafe assumption to say the least) - and therefore these claims are fair game for naturalistic or scientific investigation and possible refutation.

The pessimist concedes Yahweh and Allah may eventually go the way of Zeus and Ra - into the mythological and superstitious compendium in the library. Yet humans will largely remain the same; credulous, gullible and superstitious. They may invent other gods to replace the ones no longer in vogue or gravitate toward the overflowing sink of other unproven supernatural, fantastical or miraculous pseudo-scientific claims. The optimist disagrees and argues that the zeitgeist is changing, religious and credulous people for the most part are now faced with accepting the scientific truth or denying reality. Reality, as we know, does not go away just because you stop believing in it. The third person jumps in and ends with what he sees as happening.

If he can do it you can this, what can you achieve? 

We are prone to believing what we want to be true, regardless of whether the evidence is actually in favour of the proposition. Our species only recently acquired the priceless skills of evaluating evidence, applying critical thinking, using reason and logic, adopting skeptical inquiry and employing the scientific methodology. Our future is unknown, but if our whole species cannot make use of these invaluable tools - and accept their findings - then we are stuck with astrology, religion, ghosts, UFO's and all the other results a non-predictive epistemology brings - and we are stuck indefinitely. On the other hand if enough people are educated on the aforementioned skills then faith is not impenetrable to critical thinking and skepticism. Faith could literally be replaced by reason and evidence. It seems our species has both a knack for gathering empirical knowledge and a serious handicap in using faith as an epistemology. Only one methodology has predictive powers and can take us to the moon. The other epistemology makes enormous claims about the same universe but will never take people to the moon. Make sure your "way of knowing" has predictive capabilities.

"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." C. Sagan

Thanks, Brady Fair - http//

Monday, June 2, 2014

Islam: The Faith to End All Faith...

"Judaism has the ugly tendency of leading to Christianity and Islam". 

Islam is the second most popular religion in the world, after Christianity, there are 1.5 billion adherents to the faith. Most Muslim's are not Arabs, as the prophet Mohammad was. The countries with the most Muslims are Indonesia, Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent. Islam covers North Africa, through the Middle East and onto Pakistan and South-East Asia. Recently there have been jihadist style wars in Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan and India - to name a few. Most of the Gulf states are under theocratic dictatorships, with Iran being an actual theocracy other places have Sharia or Islamic law.

Islam is based around the Qur'an and the prophet Mohammed. Many Muslims believe that the Hadith, which focuses on the teachings and sayings of the Prophet is essential to understanding the Qur'an. Both books were not written by Mohammed, as he was illiterate, so these works were compiled after his death from various manuscripts and rote memorization's of Mohammed's 7th century "recitations".

Islam claims to be the final revelation from God or Allah (Joseph Smith disagrees) and that the previous revelations and prophets of the Old and New Testaments have become imperfect over time and so have been superseded by the perfected Qur'an. The Bible is still important to Islamic theology and can be thought of as Part I and Part II of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic trilogy (similar to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but based partly on fact, as Mohammed was a real person).

Don't Forget to Recycle Your Garbage
Growing the Qur'an from the roots of the Judeo-Christian tradition means that if the latter traditions turn out to be false then the Qur'an also risks becoming less credible as a result. As in the Bible, the angel Gabriel is the medium between God and humanity in the Qur'an. Gabriel relayed Allah's commands to the merchant Mohammad in the 7th century AD in Arabia. After the initial recitation Mohammed experienced many more and it is these divinely revealed truths which were memorized and recited by Mohammad's followers. These messages, after much fighting and bloodshed would go on to become the Qur'an.

During Mohammed's conquests and for a significant time after his death, many of the people who had memorized the various Suras of the Qur'an continued to die in battles at an alarming rate - taking their knowledge of the Qur'an with them to heaven and jeopardizing Allah's whole en-devour to allegedly contact humanity, once more, via an illiterate superstitious prophet in the deserts of the middle-east (believe at your own discretion)... This led to an emergency council where the remaining texts and those who had memorized the various Suras had gathered to formalize a new Holy book. This is where the first Qur'an was cobbled together and we are expected to believe no mistakes were made during the human process of compiling a new book. The Hadith was written later and is a victim of the same problem that all oral traditions suffer from, namely the "Chinese whisper" effect.

Islam is just another branch of the Judeo-Christian God, another schismatic sect, another group of peasant illiterates claiming they are part of God's revealed plan. Maybe they are. It all seems so human in it's fallibility though. Furthermore there are schisms inside the faith itself. Most Muslims are Sunni and most of the rest are Shia. So all Muslims are now in the unfortunate position of being susceptible to the charge of being the 'wrong' kind of Muslim. The schism between Sunni and Shia Islam occurred after the death of the Prophet and has not been resolved since. In-fact Sunni's and Shia's have been destroying each other's mosques and killing their fellow Muslims ever since the division occurred - modern confrontations often employ martyrs and suicide attacks in fighting. Tragically this barbarism and sadism shows no signs of stopping, such is the power of faith.

Finally and most importantly, one should notice that Islam makes literally the most grandiose claims in the Qur'an about the nature of the entire universe and our role within it, but curiously has an inverse relationship with the evidence it can produce to support it's extreme assertions. This is a similar theme in all religions, but modern Islam in particular does not take kindly to having it's wild claims skeptically examined or scrutinized. Furthermore the threat of violence that often results from these innocent inquiries is believable. The faith to end all faith?

"I cannot disprove that the Qur'an is the perfect word of God, but I hope He was at-least having a bad day when it happened". C.H.

"Once a Year it is Happy Fathers Day to Yahweh and Mohammed- Not to Allah, he is still a Virgin. source: Holy Bible, Qur'an and Hadith. (Jesus was unavailable for comment, as usual)" 

Thanks, Brady Fair.