With thanks to this week’s guest scriptwriter, HM Government.

Discussion (66)¬

  1. HaggisForBrains says:

    😀 😀 One of the best! Truly laughed out loud.

  2. wholly human says:

    I totally burst out laughing !! That is the funniest one for a long time, and yet so simple! How you do it?

  3. Derek says:


  4. Grumpy says:

    Soooperb !

  5. Matt says:

    Good point. Well made.

  6. helenahandbasket says:

    Ok, to sound a (mild) voice of dissent here. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell: What is the proposed alternative? Is it realistic to think that 1.6 billion muslims, and the roughly 2.5 million in the UK, are going to turn apostate overnight? Has a process like that ever happened to any other religion in the entirety of human history? Or, has each religion softened and secularised in a process that takes a couple of generations (at least).
    If someone can point to an instance of the former then please do so. Otherwise, it might be worth getting off the back of people like Maajid Nawaz and have a think about what he and others are trying to achieve with reform rather than revolution. BTW, before anyone wades into this please understand that I am lifelong atheist and thoroughly opposed to divisive things like faith schools so please do not push on those doors–they are already wide open. I’m talking about realistic political solutions that don’t lead to something horrible.
    Having said that–still funny author.

  7. Grumpy says:

    helenahandbasket..not a voice of dissent more of a reality check. Sadly I believe it will take several hundred years before religious beliefs will finally be a thing of the past -assuming no more bat crap crazy cults appear-but hopefully J&M through its brilliantly funny and accurate cartoons will play a part in the demise of religion.

  8. helenahandbasket says:

    Grumpy–I hope so too! However, the rise of things like Mormonism and Scientology (the latter we can actually watch in real time) where both are the fully documented creations of known and convicted fraudsters makes me think that religious belief is driven at least as much from the bottom up as from the top-down. In other words–its not just a case of pointing out the irrationality. People want the irrationality. Its a selling point. From Houdini onwards magicians have been pointing out how the trick is done. Does this even put a dent in the careers of psychics and frauds like Uri Geller? I would be genuinely interested to see if the actual amount of belief in such things has decreased. Does anyone know of any studies?

  9. Henry Ford says:


  10. Grumpy says:

    helenahandbasket..sadly I think irrational beliefs be they religious, spiritual, new age etc. etc. are on the increase although I have no data to support this.
    However when you see the amount of pseudo-science and alternative therapies being promoted and given credibility e.g. one UK University offers degree courses in Chiropracty, I can only conclude that many people cannot come to terms with the fact that the only reason we are here is to pass on our DNA to the next generation and that is what it is all about in a nutshell.

  11. Nassar+Ben+Houdja says:

    The recruiter for radical islam
    Are the pages found in the qur’an
    It presents houri’s as bait
    For a lifetime of hate
    Spewn from an illiterate imam.

  12. kjordan says:

    @helenahandbasket it seems more like religions are wiped out by other religions. i.e. Christianity forcefully converted Pagans and such.

  13. Aruki says:

    One of the best ones! It had me looking for the patreon button.

  14. David+Amies says:

    I published this little thought on my blog yesterday.
    “Researchers working at the University of York in the UK and others working at the University of California, Los Angeles have discovered that the application of magnetic stimulation to part of the frontal cortex weakens belief in God. Just imagine the benefits to humanity as a whole if this technique could be modified to allow its being delivered en masse and from a distance to the entire population of the Middle East. Peace would break out and all those troubled jihadists could find something more profitable to aim at than cutting off the heads of unbelievers. Instant enlightenment and freedom from fifteen hundred years of brain freeze and submission! Now there’s a worthwhile goal! Scientists who achieved such a miracle would deserve to share the Nobel Prizes for Peace, Medicine and Physics all in one hit.”
    Offer any hope?
    David Amies

  15. joe3eagles says:

    A point of correction. Scientology was not founded by a fraudster. It was founded by a science fiction writer who publicly claimed he could create a religion out of whole cloth, then went and did it. This seems to support helenahandbasket’s point that people WANT the irrationality. The human race is fucked.

  16. steeve says:

    Hi David Amies: How about we put the magnets into special hats, then get a notable celebrity god-botherer to wear it as a fashion statement, interviews with said celebrity suddenly take on a sceptical air, other followers start thinking ‘I’d like a hat like that’ and we’re on our way!

  17. You may be aware of the latest controversy in Canada, fanned into flames by our former Prime Minister’s sleazy election strategy. Short strokes: A woman from Pakistan insisted on wearing the niqab (similar to the burka, a complete covering that only shows the eyes) while taking the oath of citizenship. Our former PM objected. The woman took the government to court, and although not yet a Canadian citizen, won the case. Apparently our bill of rights extends to non-citizens. The majority of Canadians see the burka and niqab as representative of radical Islam and oppression of women. But the woman in question in this case has us by the balls: “I came to Canada because this country offers me the freedom to wear what I want,” she said. Hoist on our own petard.
    There’s a great strip in here someplace, Author. I don’t have the talent to suggest it, but I’m hoping you give it some attention.

  18. Am I the only one confused about the message?

  19. extro24 says:

    Magnetic stimulation to cure religious belief? Maybe the US should run some clinical trials at Guantanamo?

  20. Hello, Everyone.

    Where were you people when my daughter was dating a Muslim? Could of really used your advice back then!

    Stumbled across this site a few days back, and been reading the archives. I think I’ve been reading a bit too much J&Mo. Last night, the prophet sent me a revelation in my dreams. Now if I could only remember it. Something about the eyes of unbelievers looking upon their holy books being like the eyes of dogs. I dunno. It’s all jumbled.

    If you don’t mind, I think I’ll hang about a bit. I have some questions I’d like to ask. ( If I can ever get rid of this bloody headache!)

    And feel free to make fun of my religion. I won’t mind. I enjoy good poke now and then. (oops, that didn’t sound quite right, did it?)

  21. Reid Malenfant says:

    Mention of Uri Geller (above) prompts me to relate a true story and what subsequently became for me a much repeated and woefully exaggerated claim to fame amongst colleagues in my former, rather responsible, career.

    Geller used to own a luxury river boat named ‘Paranormal’ that he moored outside his house in Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire (UK). Whilst approaching with a work colleague in another boat, we saw him temporarily return to his garden leaving the riverside cabin door insecure …….. an unforeseen but utterly irresistible opportunity for highly questionable mischief.

    As a longtime Geller sceptic I simply couldn’t resist; We shut down our engine, drifted silently up alongside Paranormal and I entered as stealthily as possible (I wasn’t sure it was unoccupied) – and I could still hear Geller talking nearby – I quickly found his silverware drawer and proceeded to bend up a number of items of his exceedingly fine cutlery before exiting unseen a matter of seconds later. We pushed away and drifted silently off in the current.

    I have it on very good authority that he agonised over calling the Police but eventually thought better of it! This confession aside is this perhaps a near perfect crime?

  22. Now that’s a story I like. Sounds like something I’d do. Geller’s too out there for me. I know. My religion is silly, absurd, etc. etc. I freely admit that. There are some things though, that even I won’t touch.

    On the other hand, I’ve been told by several online atheist friends that I’m so close to being an atheist myself, I might as well chuck all the magick crap and become one. I’m thinking about it. That’s why I’m here. I need some more information. As soon as I get rid of this latest round of headaches, I will be asking my questions. I really hope you can give me some answers.

    I’ve been on the godhatesamputees and godisimaginary sites but that was a while ago. I took a really bad spell, got really sick and some how, just never went back. I was very ignorant about atheism back then. I’m not a lot more educated bout it now. I happened to make a comment about their “beliefs that god didn’t exist” and every atheist in the room morphed into werechristians and tried to disembowel me. “A soft answer turneth away wrath,” so I did escape with my life but it was a close call. Boy, I’ll never do that again!

  23. Ketil.W.Grevstad says:

    Funny this one. I like Jesus and mo cartoon ????????????????

  24. The Unknown Witch, you seem like a good sort. Welcome to the C&B. I look forward to your questions. And I have one for you: What was one of the beliefs about atheists that you held?
    I find my atheism to be a great source of comfort in life, and it always amuses me to have believers tell me my world must be bleak and miserable without a magical sky daddy overseer.

  25. Oh, all the usual. Bleak and miserable. Check. immoral, check. If you didn’t have Gaawwd (actual pronunciation in my childhood home.) in your life, you had nothing to stop you from doing anything evil. Worshiping Satan with/without knowing it. Check. That’s the short list.

    Of course, I shed all that nonsense when I ran away from home at fifteen after a forced marriage. The problem was, I had no knowledge to replace it. I was in my early fifties before I discovered the internet and I lived in the buckle of the bible belt. No one there was exactly eager to spread the word about atheism. So mostly, I dismissed it to the future when I could be free to investigate.

    As someone once said, I don’t remember who that was, but they said it, “The future is now.” so I’m finally getting around to an in-depth investigation. I just started reading ‘The God Delusion’. It’s very interesting. Any suggestions for other good reads on the subject?

  26. rebecca says:

    Jesus, just get off the computer is a useful line

  27. DH
    Answered your question, but it’s not showing up on the comments. If it doesn’t show up in a while, I’ll repost.

  28. Hmmm. That didn’t work either. Trying again.

    DH, answered your question, but it didn’t show up in the comments. If it doesn’t appear after a while, I will repost my answer.

  29. Author says:

    It’s there, TUW – try hard refreshing your browser.

  30. Did that. Didn’t work, But immediately after I posted the third time, all three posts magically appeared. Figures. 😀

    Darn. I keep forgetting to let you know I’m not a spammer!

  31. The Unknown Witch, your comments are showing up on my thread. Try refreshing the page.

    Ah, all your beliefs about atheists seem to be the standard ones, and quite laughable. If you want a wonderful saga of escape from religion, you really must listen to Julia Sweeney:
    I’m not sure I’ve given you the right URL for the whole story, but check her out. I found her journey, from a teenager who wanted to be a nun to a science loving atheist, fascinating.
    Another wonderful writer about deconversion is Amanda Marcotte whop started out as a fundie and now speaks for skeptics. Here’s a sample:
    There’s lots more out there. Ask us questions.

  32. Grumpy says:

    TUW…try God is not great by Christopher Hitchens plus his youtube stuff. At the end of the day when you appreciate there is no requirement for gods / spirits / fairies / little green men to explain the world and beyond, that is when you will realise that you are an atheist.

  33. Oh, I’ve got a Christopher Hitchens video. Forgot I had it. Mother Teresa – Hell’s Angel. Must’ve gotten it when I was reading up on her a while back. I’ll look for more and the book too. Amazon, gotta love it! Thank you much.

    DH, I’m watching the Julia Sweeney video now. I like! Thanks.

  34. helenahandbasket says:

    joe3eagles. A point of correction correction. L Ron Hubbard was convicted (in absentia) of fraud by the French courts and sentenced to four years in prison for it
    Morgan, Lucy (1999-03-29). “Abroad: Critics public and private keep pressure on Scientology”. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-11-04.

  35. helenahandbasket says:

    Reid Malenfant. Please please let what you say be a true story. Coffee came out of my nose reading it.

  36. hotrats says:

    The sad fact is that Islam insulates itself from any attempt at reform, backed up with death threats, by putting its doctrines and scripture beyond even the mildest criticism. Not only can we not expect 1.6 billion muslims to become apostate, even if the estimated 93% do hold extreme views, that leaves over 110 million who would happily die (or kill) to keep Islam barbaric, exploitative and bent on world domination at the point of a sword.

  37. Stephen Mynett says:

    Keeping the religious firmly in line
    Over-ruling logic is fine
    Raging against reason
    Atheism is treason
    No one is allowed to use their own mind

  38. Reid+Malenfant says:

    helenahandbasket, I can assure you that it is all absolutely true; as best as I can narrow it down, it happened in 1994 and it’s still a talking point among close friends and my now grown children particularly relish in telling it …….

  39. Okay. The first question I have is concerning the scientific evidence that there is no god. As the Rede and the law of return from my Wiccan days confused me and made me uneasy, so does scientific evidence confuses me.

    Just what is a scientific theory? Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing in science that I have found that conflicts with my belief in my religion, from evolution to quantum mechanics. (not that I understand the latter) except for magick. Take gods, for instance. Atheists say there is no god. God was created by humanity. My belief says the same thing. Gods and Goddesses were made in the image of man by humans. All the different aspects of God/Dess were designed to help us understand the universe. Of course without modern scientific theory there were many flaws in that understanding.

    What I would like to know is, what is scientific theory? Is it cold hard fact or is it someone had an idea, tested it out and now they think that it is the most likely the right explanation but they are not completely, one hundred percent sure?

    This definition of Theory from Webster’s is what I have always thought to be true.

    “An idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events.
    An idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true but that is not known or proven to be true.
    The general principles or ideas that relate to a particular subject.”

    How is this different from my hypotheses that magick is real, that it works. I have tested it, Used it successfully time after time over a period of almost fifty years. I have seen things and experienced things that I interpret as magick. I wouldn’t presume to offer these things as evidence or proof. They are subjective and there are alternate explanations. I have no documentation, (I never thought of documenting anything), no controls, etc. as is done in scientific investigation and I am not claiming that my ‘testing’ is on a par with that.

    Can you give me an explanation of how atheists determine what they consider as evidence. Not a list of the actual evidence, but how to determine exactly what is cold hard evidence and what is not.

    I may be expressing myself badly. I had an accident years ago and broke my neck and back. The neck injury gives me fierce headaches which make it hard to think clearly. And right now, it’s about to explode. Thanks for any help you can give me on this because I am rather confused by it. Maybe you can help me understand.

  40. The unknown Witch, as far as understanding what a theory is, I think you’ve got it. A theory is the best explanation of the facts, the evidence, that we can come up with. In theory, no theory is ever proven as fact. But some, like evolution and gravity, have so much evidence confirming them that to claim they are wrong is the mark of an idiot.

    The creationist crowd are always claiming to find something that gives atheists nightmares and refutes the theory of evolution. These invariably turn out to be ignorance on stilts, laughably stupid. Like the fundie who claimed that the banana is proof of the existence of god, not knowing that the modern banana is a very human creation.

    By the way, if you have any doubts about the theory of evolution, I hope you find time to read “The Greatest Show on Earth”, by Dawkins. It’s brilliant and easy to read.

    Your confusion seems to be mostly about what constitutes evidence. Proof of this is your assertion that magic is real. It isn’t. Your evidence simply will not stand up to close scrutiny. If it could, if you could prove that magic works, there’s a million dollars waiting for you to claim. If you could even prove that something as seemingly believable as dowsing works, you could claim this prize. Many sincerely believing dowsers have tried, and all have failed.

    So what is wrong with your evidence? First of all, the human mind likes to be fooled, begs to be fooled, and loves having evidence that confirms it’s beliefs. This is called the confirmation bias. It’s the reason homoeopathy manages to survive. True believers will ignore a thousand cases where the evidence goes against their belief, but latch on tight to the one case that seems to confirm it.

    I have more to say about this, and I sure other do too. But right now I must run. Real life is getting in the way. Hope your headache improves.

  41. Reid+Malenfant says:

    To The Unknown Witch – if I may:

    The first, and most important, thing to digest is the inherrantly probabilistic nature of Science. All appearances to the contrary, Science is not really in the business of providing ultimate proofs of anything; what Science aspires to do, all it can ever really do in principle, is to provide the most probable explanations for the data in question.

    The simple fact of the matter is that whenever you amend, clarify or uncover any new data there is a likelihood that your previous explanations and hypotheses may have to change accordingly and you can never be sure if or when that might happen. Because of this, you will never be in a position to definitively claim that you have identified any ultimate explanation or proof of any phenomena.

    It is the very existence of the unknown that is the driving force behind Science and the anathema of religion.

    Science will never be in a position to disprove God, what it can do, however, is to say that based on all that we know so far, the ‘God explanation’ is becoming increasingly improbable.

    Atheism essentially concerns belief and not knowledge; scientifically informed Atheists will not claim there is no god, instead they will say they they don’t believe that there is.

    If you really do need proof in your life then you need to look to mathematics or logic but not to science and certainly not to faith which, by definition, requires nothing more than uncritical belief without any evidence at all.

  42. John67 says:

    Just a quick comment – the business of science isn’t to prove anything. Its business is to disprove things. If, on any subject, enough criticism is disproved, and enough evidence exists to support it(will never prove it 100%), then the idea is considered, for all intents and purposes, to be established enough to be considered fact.

    This is the case for evolution. It would take a huge amount of contrary evidence to upend it. So far, no criticism of evolution stands up to scrutiny.

    Final note: I believe most atheists do not claim there is no god. Rather, they claim that there is no good reason for them to think there is one. Those 2 situations are very different.


  43. John67 says:

    Above comment was directed for TUW. Sorry for forgetting to say that.

  44. extro24 says:

    To the Unknown Witch

    At the present moment there is absolutely no evidence for a god. But if such evidence were to emerge, he/she would become a scientific fact.
    This does not mean that there are not other “strange” things in this universe. Quantum entanglement (spooky action at a distance) and the delayed thought experiment come to mind. Although these phenomena appear somewhat “supernatural” they are real because there is evidence for them.

  45. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I really appreciate it. Your answers have helped me very much. I apologize if my questions seem a bit childish. The same accident that left me with a broken neck and back also left me with some brain damage. I am not any less intelligent, I simply think more slowly and it takes me longer to make connections. It is a little harder for me to learn new things. Now I actually have to study! 🙁


    Thank you. I agree with you about the theory of evolution. There is way too much evidence to ignore. As I said in my previous post, I do not claim that I have proof that magick exists and is real. I have proof that satisfies me. . .or maybe it doesn’t. I mean if I were absolutely certain, I’d be satisfied with the answers I already have and look no further. My proof is all subjective, not objective and there could be many alternate explanations for my personal experiences.

    I think my confusion lay in a misconception on my part. Here’s the thing. I read books, watch videos and documentaries, listen to speakers. They speak of all these wonderful, incredible things and they say, “this is how it is.”

    Not ‘this is how it might be according to the facts we have now’. or ‘we think it may have happened this way’. Instead, they speak in absolutes, just as the Bookies (my pet name for fundys.) do. So now I’m thinking, I must have missed something. (And with the damage I’ve suffered, I have to be very careful or I do miss things because of frustration at having to go so slowly. I’ve turned from a jet into a Model T.) They’ve found new evidence that these things are true, so now they are 100% sure. They know and I must have skipped over it somehow. Confusion reigns.

    Thank you. In other words, there are no absolutes. Uh — mathematics & logic? I don’t think so. 😀

    Thank you. This clarifies my ideas of just how much proof is enough for something to be considered fact.

    Thank you. I can not imagine any circumstance where there would or could be any evidence for a Christian or Muslim god. The very thought makes me want to curl up in a corner and die. I suffered too much at the hands of the Christian cult (think Jim Jones or David Koresh) I was raised in to even think about it.

  46. helenahandbasket says:

    Hotrats. Yes, exactly the same thing could be said about Christianity 400 years ago. I never suggested that reform was likely to be easy. But in many ways we in the west are a sideshow–a way for true believers to display their beliefs. Its tough for us to realize but we are not what its all about. The fight between Sunni and Shia is being fought between various direct and proxy forces (such as Saudi Arabia and Iran with interests in Syria). And in many ways the divide has got worse rather than better in recent years (there was plenty of intermarriage between the sects in urban Iran until the takeover, for example). From the outside their beliefs look pretty close (and all equally preposterous) but then much the same could be said of Protestant and Catholic. But then, it was rarely about the theological details! We in Europe came to a more-or-less truce about this in the last few hundred years (with plenty of logically ridiculous but somehow working fudges like the Church of England and the Queen in Parliament). I don’t see this happening in the middle east any time soon. But–it could happen in Europe. Will it? I don’t know. I am pretty sure that hammering at folk like Maajid Nawaz and insisting that all muslims turn atheist overnight isn’t going to happen and is more likely to polarize people into more strongly embracing an ideology that they barely understand. Scott Atran, the anthropologist who just presented to the UN has been interviewing captured ISIS fighters. Some of them come over, literally, with a copy of the Q’ran for Dummies in their pockets. Loads of them don’t even know which side they are on.

  47. Helenahandbasket says:

    Martin van Creveld, probably the worlds most distinguished military historian, compares Syria to the 30 years war

  48. stevegallacci says:

    A simple answer to the question of how could one have morals without faith(read- the fear of divine punishment)? While driving, why do you stop at a stop sign? Is it out of fear of getting a ticket? Or is it a cooperative act between yourself and the other drivers?

  49. HaggisForBrains says:

    TUW – welcome to the Cock & Bull! You’ve already had some good advice from some of the regulars. I can recommend following Why Evolution is True for interesting debates on religion and atheism, as well as biology, cats, food, music, free will, and cowboy boots. The writer, Professor Jerry Coyne, is very erudite, and the comments are always interesting, and entertaining. Read “Da Roolz” on LHS before posting. Theramin Trees on YouTube has some interesting thoughts on the psychology of faith. Derren Brown shows how to convert an atheist (you may need to use a proxy such as Hide My Ass for this link if you live in the UK).

    Have fun!

  50. HaggisForBrains says:

    PS Jerry Coyne’s new book, Fact vs Faith, is well worth reading. Details on his website (not blog!).

  51. Catty says:


    A lot of people (mostly religious people it would seem) have a tendency to complicate what constitutes atheism, something that is actually extremely simple.

    An atheist is someone who is not convinced that one or more god(s) exist(s).

    Describing someone as an ‘atheist’ doesn’t impart any information about that person (what he/she thinks, says or does, or anything else) other than that specific non-belief. The nature of that non-belief is no different from anyone’s non-belief in elves, vampires, gremlins, goblins, leprechauns, fairies, werewolves and the Loch Ness Monster.

    There’s no doctrine or dogma. Being an atheist doesn’t require someone to believe or support any particular thing. Everyone is born an atheist. Try asking an infant for his/her opinion of evolutionary biology, gun control, the insurance industry, defence spending or foreign policy. For that matter, try asking a rock – rocks don’t believe in gods either.

    The burden of proof lies with the theistic position, not the atheistic position. No one has disproved the existence of leprechauns, but that doesn’t mean that it is in any way justifiable or reasonable to be convinced of their existence.

    Deism vs. religion

    Even if we had cast-iron proof that a god exists, that by itself would not even suggest, let alone prove, that any of the world’s religions is the correct religion (or even partially correct). A lot of religious people mistakenly treat these distinct concepts as though they were the same – they make the flagrantly illogical assumption that “if a god exists my religion must be true”.

    In the extremely unlikely event that existence were proved there would still be no point in having any religious beliefs, as the odds of adopting the right ones would be extremely slight indeed. Furthermore, we can rule out lots of religions in any case, as they are ridiculous, terrible and as convincing as the vows of fidelity at the wedding of a drunk man and a hooker in Vegas.

    The argument that “religion is validated by the fact that religion is the cause of some good in the world” is bogus as (a) the good things are not unique to, or dependent on, religion (and would be more abundant in the absence of religions), and (b) this argument has no bearing on whether claims of a religious nature are factual.


    Science is not a dogma, it’s a method for determining, in such a way as to limit to the greatest possible extent the potential for error, whether a proposition is factual. Scientists are human and therefore fallible, so they will get things wrong from time to time, but a great thing about science is that discoveries, corrections and refinements continue to be made. Unlike religion, nothing is off-limits to correction.

    However, there are degrees of certainty. We can be confident that many scientific discoveries will not be challenged successfully. What are the odds, for example, that DNA has nothing to do with the inheritance of physical traits? What are the odds that the sun orbits the earth after all?

    Despite the insane claims of creationists, evolution is one such way-beyond-reasonable-doubt fact. There is much more evidence than is required to be absolutely confident of its being factual. Every single argument made in an attempt to challenge evolution has been demolished. The theory of evolution is the thing that explains the fact of evolution. A theory is the body of information that supports a conclusion. Whether the conclusion is proven to be factual has no bearing on the applicability of the word ‘theory’.

    The idiotic ‘god of the gaps’ argument remains a favourite of theists: “the existence of a god is proven by the absence of a scientific explanation for something.” Scientists know they don’t have an answer for everything – that’s why they’re still scientists. The gaps will undoubtedly continue to diminish. Perhaps there will always be some gaps, but saying that that proves a god exists makes about as much sense as saying that when I can’t find my keys it must be because they were put somewhere by a goblin.

    “I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one.”
    – Sam Harris

    “Science doesn’t know everything. Religion doesn’t know anything.”
    – Aron Ra


    “Morality comes from intellect and intuition (which are products of evolution by natural selection). Specifically the way we apply them to how we treat other beings. Atheistic morality is the only kind of morality there is – the alternative is nothing more than following orders whether they’re moral or not. That’s not to say that there won’t be questions of morality that are difficult to resolve, but they can’t be resolved by appealing to claims made about an imaginary celestial dictator.”
    – J. Prowd.


    Astrology is clearly a load of old cobblers. The idea that arbitrarily-defined groupings of stars that are light-years apart have any bearing on the lives of a particular species of primate that inhabits one planet is absurd on several levels. Yet some people take astrology seriously – and everyone else just lets them get on with it. This is because believing in this nonsense doesn’t cause anywhere near the mayhem, suffering and obstruction of progress that religious belief leads to. Beliefs lead to actions. If you believe that it will be cold outside, you put on a coat before leaving the house. If you believe that hacking someone’s head off buys your entry to the alfresco knocking-shop in the sky…

    Christianity continues to be a blight (though certainly not to the same extent as in the past), Hindu fanaticism is increasing in India, and even Sikhs and Buddhists are increasingly obstreperous when it comes to their beliefs. But the biggest problem is Islam, which is spreading and spreading fast. Instances of ‘Islamically justified’ murders, rapes, other assaults, threats of violence, subjugation of women, terrorist plots, etc., are increasing as the Muslim population increases across the Western world at an alarming rate. This is being aided and abetted by muddle-headed Westerners who don’t know much about Islam other than it’s a religion and “therefore”, goes their logic, “it should be treated like any other religion”. Which is like saying that a shark should be treated like a minnow because they’re both fish. Much – if not most – of the Quran is devoted to informing the reader, over and over again, that whilst devout Muslims are special and will go to a heavenly paradise, non-Muslims are all hell-bound scum who must be despised, shunned, fought and conquered.

    Making allowances for – and even according privileges to – the idiotic, unjustified beliefs of Christians is a deeply ingrained attribute of our society. The acceptance of this exceptional treatment of a particular type of unjustified belief is being exploited ruthlessly by proponents of a far worse ideology than modern Christianity.

    A number of countries have laws that say that you can bash any ideology you want to bash as long as it isn’t a religious one – hang shit on a religious one and you get visitors in blue uniforms. Even without such laws, due to the assassin’s veto we can’t do something as trivial as publish a cartoon purporting to be of a thoroughly unpleasant man who died hundreds of years ago.

    No one bats an eye at the fact that we have government-accredited schools run by the Catholic church, yet there are no government-accredited schools run by the Communist Party, for example, or other proponents of dubious non-religious ideologies. Are their ideologies any less valid than that of an organisation whose members believe that eating a cracker is sacred cannibalism? The nonsense of non-religious-ideology-mongers is likely to be more rooted in reality. Western society doesn’t give special treatment to the ideology of Kim Il-sung (who at least was a verifiably real person), but it does for ideologies based on the supposition that there is a celestial, immortal, omnipotent and omniscient version of Kim Il-sung. And so we now have madrassas in our cities.

    If we tolerate stupidity, stupidity wins. If we tolerate tyranny, tyranny wins. If we tolerate irrationality, irrationality wins. If we tolerate intolerance, intolerance wins. Our world is dominated by people who believe terrible things for terrible reasons and they have weapons that range from intimidation to handguns to nuclear missiles. It is therefore incumbent upon us as moral beings to challenge religion and challenge it strongly.

    PS. Apologies for the long post. I got rather carried away. It comes from visiting just after reading the news.

  52. Shaughn says:

    Hear, hear!

    Catty, re “Perhaps there will always be some gaps”, thanks to Kurt Gödel that ‘perhaps’ can be omitted!

  53. Stephen Mynett says:

    Good post Catty, although it will completely ignored by the theist trolls who stop by and who redefine words to suit their arguments.

  54. plainsuch says:

    You might want to check out this reference guide to the thoroughly unpleasant sacred scripts of the Xians, Muslims and Mormons respectively. If, for instance, ypu are wondering which one has the God withthe highest body count.

  55. JohnM says:

    “The human race is fucked.”

    Given the parlous state of the planet and life on earth in general, this might prove to be a good thing in the long run. Just hope we can get past the point where we create our AI nemesis. 🙂

  56. Shaughn says:

    Just quit the f-ing.
    No f-ing, no human race. No human race, no need for AI nemesis.
    No f-ing, no problem.

  57. JohnM says:


    But, but… I quite like f-ing. It’s fun, probably that’s why it evolved. Unfortunate it causes planetary disruption,

  58. Clifford Banes says:

    TUW, those are fantastic questions, and I really appreciate your curiosity and vulnerability. I’m not a scientist, and my understanding of what science is and how it’s done may be off. But if I were to sum up the difference between scientific inquiry and your experience with magick, it would be a matter of rigor and peer review. As DH said, our brains love to be fooled, and the antidote is a ruthless devotion to documentation, process, and critique.

    (By the way, I did notice that you weren’t holding witchcraft up as scientific or in some way equivalent to science. It’s just a really helpful counterpoint, if you don’t mind me using it.)

    My experience with contemporary witchcraft is that there’s a strong undercurrent of “whatever works for you,” which science opposes because lots of things have “worked” for one person at one time but then failed to “work” ever since. Cold fusion “worked” once and made headlines. But nobody else ever got it to work, so it was deemed a failure. If somebody figures out how to make it work again, and reliably this time, then it can become a success. But until then, it’ll stay in the “disproved” box.

    The thing about spells, though, is that their ability to “work” is fundamentally psychological. If you cast a spell for prosperity, any subsequent event that has anything to do with your personal sense of material gain can be counted as successful. So the only limit is your own imagination – both in the sense of creative interpretation of events, and in the sense of being able to move your own goalposts in defining “prosperity.” Maybe you had money on your mind when you cast the spell, and your bank account only shrank in the months that followed, but also someone gave you some spare tools they were getting rid of, and isn’t that what money is for – to buy things like tools? So the universe used your spell to teach you a deeper lesson about prosperity!

    Whereas science – such as in the search for cold fusion – has firmer goals with more definite failure parameters. Cold fusion is only worthwhile if more energy comes out than is put in, and those are hard figures that can be easily measured. There’s very little wiggle room in what counts as “energy,” at least the sort that powers motors. All the mental reframing in the world won’t suddenly make the fusion reaction start generating electricity if it hadn’t before.

    So a scientific approach to spellcasting would involve unambiguous goals whose failure would be obvious, rigorous documentation as a check against misremembering, the elimination of as many confounding variables as possible so you can be reasonably sure the spell is what’s responsible for anything that happens, and an invitation to other people to check everything you’re doing and also try the same thing themselves. In fact, the more skeptical and even motivated to see the experiment fail, the better. The same creativity that witches tend to use to justify their “successes” is, in science, applied to looking for failure. The New York Times presented this fantastic puzzle to show how unduly kind we are to our own pet hypotheses, even when we’re not particularly invested in them:

    I ended up doing what most people do, which is that I came up with a hypothesis, tested a bunch of positive examples and found it worked, then tried a couple of negative examples and found it failed in the way I expected, then I called it good. But I was then surprised to discover I was wrong, and I very easily could’ve figured out the truth if I’d only been more creative in my negative examples. But I’d gotten attached to my hypothesis, and my brain wanted to spend its time and energy thinking of ways to prove that hypothesis RIGHT, not wrong. The tools of science are meant to fight that tendency, and as far as I can tell that’s most of what makes it different from other philosophies. There’s a kind of pitilessness to it, an offer of truth with no promise of psychological benefit. Even Buddhism, which is based on the stripping away of all pleasures and pains, offers transcendent bliss at the end. Science only offers what is.

  59. Catty says:

    Some of the above comments about spells are very similar to religious people’s comments about prayer and I’m reminded of this great line:

    “If you decide to flip a coin 100 times and you pray for every toss to result in ‘heads’ and you get ‘heads’ 50 times, that doesn’t mean the prayer worked 50% of the time – it means the prayer didn’t work.”

    Confirmation bias is a bugger. That’s why scientists are constantly discarding ambiguous results and trying to disprove their own hypotheses. That’s how you make sure you’re on the right track.

  60. Clifford Banes, thanks for the link to that puzzle. With your warning and advice, I had fun trying to disprove my theory and when I couldn’t I submitted a correct answer. Very satisfying.

  61. Clifford Banes says:

    Indeed, Catty; the only difference I see between spells and prayers is semantic. That’s not to say they have no utility, though. As the “prosperity” example shows, they both can be tools to gain self-knowledge: You need an intention before you can cast or pray, and how you interpret what happens afterward will tell you a lot about what you really want and why. Also I’m willing to buy into the “law of attraction” inasfar as if you concentrate on a goal, you’ll more readily notice opportunities to achieve that goal when you happen upon them. Plus your subconscious will probably come up with more creative actions to take to bring it about.

    At any rate, I love the “50 heads” line. Very apt.

    Also, DH, I’m glad you liked the puzzle! It’s fiendishly clever. The NYT outdid themselves.

  62. Hello everyone. Sorry I haven’t gotten back here sooner. Day before yesterday, my internet went out and stayed out all day. Yesterday, it was on and off all day. I haven’t managed to stay online long enough to really do anything. I find your posts very interesting. I will reply to them later today as soon as I think things through. As I said, my thought processes aren’t as swift as they used to be and if I’m not careful I will make mistakes.

  63. Jerry+www says:

    “Jesus, just get off the computer…” That’s weird, I hear this exact quote every day at home, and my name isn’t even Jesus.

  64. HFB
    I downloaded ‘how to convert an atheist.’ Very intriguing. (I have to download Youtube videos to watch them otherwise Firefox screws up and crashes.) BTW, I’m American, born in Arkansas, raised in Missouri, currently living in North Carolina. See? I really am on the buckle of the bible belt. 😀

    Your post cleared up quite a few things for me. As for morality, I think many people have the notion that something is wrong only if you get caught. Or they are afraid God will chastise them for their “sins.” One reason I left Wicca aka Fundamentalist Witchcraft, is because the Rede and Rule were too mixed up with fear. Do good or karma will bite you in the a**! Why not do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re terrified of divine retribution. That’s no way to live. I refuse to live in fear.

    I am very familiar with the phrase “whatever works for you.” There are two versions of this. First, the eclectics or the syncretics who take bits and pieces from the different Trads (traditions), whose motto is, if it works, use it. Then there is the “what works for me, may not work for you, so keep experimenting till you find what works for you and use that,” school of thought.

    I tried your link. Confirmation Bias, hmmm? Gonna have to follow up on this.

    As for prayer, some witches do consider spells to be prayers with props. Others believe that spell casting is something more than prayer. It is using energy to manipulate the world around you. deity may be called upon or may not be. In any case, it involves more than just asking for something.

    I agree that there is a huge psychological component in witchcraft and there are any number of my fellow witches who will agree also. You must believe whole-heartedly and without doubt, or spell casting won’t work. That is why, they say, that scientists will always fail to get the same results that witches do. They go into it with disbelief, so nothing happens. There are even exercises to perform to help you suspend disbelief, as you do when you read a book or watch a movie. I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

  65. Clifford Banes says:

    Thank you for the reply, TUW! I like this conversation.

    I was being a little flippant when I said the only difference between prayer and casting (heh, I didn’t mean to make a quasi-pun, but here we are) is semantics. In a philosophical/theological sense, spells inherently involve more personal supernatural agency than prayers. But for the purposes of talking about the psychology of self-deception and what makes science unique in comparison, I think the distinction is negligible.

    And that’s especially true when belief is said to be a necessary precursor to effectiveness. That just reminds me of my conversion to evangelical Christianity in my teens. I was reading apologetics literature and being persuaded of the rational truth of the religion, but even the apologists would say that ultimately it wasn’t logical proof that made them sure of their faith, but rather the experience of receiving a “new heart and new spirit” when they committed themselves to the Lord. I was aware of the paradox there – that I wouldn’t be able to test the claim without first committing, and commitment required belief, but how could I believe before I’d tested it? In the end, I decided that the fact that I’d run out of other skeptical questions to be answered meant that I had the proverbial “mustard seed” of faith necessary, so I went for it. It didn’t work out, but it took a few years for me come around, and in the meantime the nagging thought that I might not be believing hard enough kept me from looking squarely at aspects of the religion that I would later decide were flat-out wrong.

    So I guess what I’m getting at is that any claim that requires people to believe in it before its truth will be evident is not just an invitation to confirmation bias, but is throwing open all the doors and shutters for it and yelling “yoo hoo!” while putting freshly-baked gullibility pies on the windowsill. I think the key question in such a situation is, “Would a positive outcome be distinguishable from self-deception?” If not, then one can assume the latter, since a supernatural explanation is always more extraordinary and therefore less likely than a natural one.

    Now, like I said above, if the effect one is looking for is ultimately internal, self-deception isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, it’s a legitimate strategy to improve performance in competitive sports – it’s even been measured in the context of swimming. Think of the kind of outsized beliefs Olympic athletes need to have about themselves to push as hard as they do, and yet the very structure of the medaling system guarantees that most of them will be proven wrong. A rationalist Olympian would have to admit from the get-go that they’re most likely going to fail, but as far as I know there’s never been a medalist who said they thought that way. (At the very least I’m confident the number is vanishingly small.) So sure, preemptive belief can have effects, but the more external those claimed effects are, the more wary of self-deception I would be.

  66. Raymond says:

    I don’t care much for this one. It sort of harmonises with the chorus who sing the “Islam is a religion of violence” song.


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