21 January 2010

Letter to Thinking Christians - full text

[The pdf version contains the foot note in correct formatting.]
Dear thinking Christians,

I want to appeal to your reason and talk to you about a very important part of our core belief system.

What is the earliest moment of your life which you can recall? Do you remember how you were sneezed out of the birth canal? Do you remember the first breadth of air you took? Do you remember your first taste of milk? I don't.

My parents told me our home had a fire on the Chinese New Year Eve when I was about 2. We lost everything to the fire. That should be a very significant event of my early life, but I have no idea. I have no memory of the fire. My parents told me that we had a dog. I used to go out on the back of the dog. When it was dinner time, the dog would bring me home. Unfortunately, the dog was burnt to dead during the fire. Losing my greatest companion should be a big deal at that young age. Again, I have no memory of these. In fact my earliest memory is about something at school when I was 4 years old. At school when I was being bullied. What a sad start of memory!

My point is that we are born “unconscious”. We learn throughout our life. After sufficient experience has been accumulated, after sufficient neurons have made connections, we gradually build up a model for the physical reality. We become “conscious”. When we die, no one has escaped this ultimate fate yet, our conscious mind will disappear. We came to this world with nothing. We are not going to bring anything away.

This lead to an important point. What is the purpose of our life? Frankly, none. We are programmed to reproduce. Period. I can hear you screaming out loud protesting. You believe God has a purpose for us. But I don't believe there is a god and I want to convince you that there is no sufficient evidence of the existence of any god. We shall deal with that later. I can also feel you pointing finger at me proclaiming my immoral stance. I can assure you that I am a moral person. I have not committed any crime. If you like, you can do a police check on me. Yes, I have told white lies. Yes, I have secretly read pornographic magazine. I am happily married. I am loyal to my wife. I participate in micro-loan to the poor. I sponsor a child in China. I donate to good causes. By any standard, I am as moral as you are. But here is a difference. I am moral not because I am afraid of being sent to hell. I am moral not because I know there is someone watching me. I am moral because I think it is how we should behalf, how we should treat each other, how to live our only life better in this world. I have empathy. I can feel other people's pain and hurt. I help because I feel good doing so.

Since the discovery of mirror neurons in 1996, we now have a physiological base for explaining morality. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. For instance, when I touch my arm with my hand, some neurons will fire. Interestingly, when I see you touch your arm with your hand, those neurons which fire when I do the same also fire. The sensor neurons on my skin send back signal to my brain telling it that my arm is not actually touched. That's how we can distinguish between a “real” touch from a “seen” touch. Cognitive neuro-scientist Jean Decety thinks that the ability to recognise and vicariously experience what another individual is undergoing was a key step forward in the evolution of social behaviour and ultimately morality. It has also been proposed that problems with the mirror system may underlie cognitive disorders, particularly autism.

With mirror neurons operating, we can feel other's pain and hurt, sorrow and joy. We have compassion. We have empathy. We feel good ourselves when we help others. We need to hold ourselves back when we see suffering. We have to pretend that suffering has not occurred. We have to convince ourselves that suffering has not occurred if we are just to sit back and do nothing. We know that other people can feel the same. Unless there is conflict of interest, you can expect other to treat you courteously and kind, generously and honourably, with care and sincere. Friendship can be found and enjoyed. It is more than just companionship. Friends in need are friends in deed. No doubt you have such friends. This is natural phenomenon. Whether you are religious or not, these are feelings shared among human beings. We don't need a religion to tell us to help others.

If you tell me that one needs a religion to be moral, you are insulting a lot of people. Just as an example, Chinese people have written history over 2000+ years. Chinese society has been relatively stable. If people were immoral, the society would not have survived through the many natural disasters. Chinese's religion, if you insist to call it religion, is the respect to 天 and 祖先, roughly translated to the sky (or the unknown) and ancestors. After Buddhism entered China around Tang Dynasty (265BC), it was mixed with Taoism and Confucianism to become the backbone of Chinese philosophy and belief system. In this system, there is no god. Christianity first came to China in the 7th century, introduced by Nestonian Christians from Persia. The influence is not as large as Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. If you claim that the Bible is the only source of moral, then you are mistaken.

Frankly, the moral values from Christianity is naïve and have passed its used-by date long time ago. As Richard Dawkins put it elegantly, the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Steve Wells1 (from Dwindling in unbelief) has listed the Bible verses supporting each of the adjectives used by Dawkins. Here are a few sample of the verses:

Jealous: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Exodus 34:14

Brag about jealousy: I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Deuteronomy 5:9

A petty: Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. Leviticus 19:19

Unjust: The LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast. Exodus 13:15 and over 800 more2 .

Unforgiving: He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. Joshua 24:19

Control-freak; But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: ... The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods (hemorrhoids), and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: ... Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: ... The LORD shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head. ... And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters ... The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them. Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Vindictive: Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine: Jeremiah 11:22 and so on.

Jesus of Nazareth is not any better. C. S. Lewis took great pain, I believe, and struggled with his belief. He wrote, a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is,the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse .... You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to. (Case for Christianity)

Let me use the words from Christopher Hitchens.

In any case, I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption. I would not throw my numberless sins onto a scapegoat and expect them to pass from me; we rightly sneer at the barbaric societies that practice this unpleasantness in its literal form. There's no moral value in the vicarious gesture anyway. As Thomas Paine pointed out, you may if you wish take on a another man's debt, or even to take his place in prison. That would be self-sacrificing. But you may not assume his actual crimes as if they were your own; for one thing you did not commit them and might have died rather than do so; for another this impossible action would rob him of individual responsibility. So the whole apparatus of absolution and forgiveness strikes me as positively immoral, while the concept of revealed truth degrades the concept of free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out the ethical principles for ourselves.

You can see the same immorality or amorality in the Christian view of guilt and punishment. There are only two texts, both of them extreme and mutually contradictory. The Old Testament injunction is the one to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (it occurs in a passage of perfectly demented detail about the exact rules governing mutual ox-goring; you should look it up in its context Exodus 21). The second is from the Gospels and says that only those without sin should cast the first stone. The first is a moral basis for capital punishment and other barbarities; the second is so relativistic and "nonjudgmental" that it would not allow the prosecution of Charles Manson. Our few notions of justice have had to evolve despite these absurd codes of ultra vindictiveness and ultracompassion. (Letters to a Young Contrarian)

In the case of the golden rule of moral, Jesus is not the first to say so. The Buddhist sacred literature says, "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Islam teaches, "That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind." Confucius said, "Do not impose on others what you do not desire others to impose upon you." All these sayings dated earlier than Jesus.

The Bible is a mixed bag of ideas. You can pick whatever you want to follow. But that is exactly why the Bible is not your guide for moral. You pick what you want. You would not stone an arguing child to dead, would you? You would not stone your wife to dead if she was not a virgin on the first night, would you? Oppression of women is considered unjust, so is slavery. Human moral has advanced since the Bible was written by the men in the desert 2000 years ago.

Let me get back to the purpose of life. We did not bring anything to this world and we will not take anything away when we die. But we can leave something behind. We can make a difference. What you want to do with your life is your own business. If you want to serve god, fine. But if god does not exist, it is pointless, right? I hope I can show you why I don't believe in the existence of any god in this letter.

I have a very humble purpose for my life. I know I can only live once. This is all I have and I am going to make the best use of it. I was professionally trained as a teacher. I have been doing my job for over 20 years. I have nurtured some brilliant minds and I am very proud of them. My mid-life change brought me to Australia. I am now passionate about the environment. I am now passionate about how we can live a sustainable life. I want to leave behind a world better than the world when I arrived. For the rest of my years, I am going to work hard. I want to make a difference.

What is your purpose of your life? Think about it. It is worth the time spend on thinking about it but make sure you leave the bulk of the remaining time towards that goal passionately. But before you do that, please read the rest of this letter. It may change your mind, forever!

Homo Sapiens are social animals. We have become the dominating species on this planet. We have learnt to use tools, exploited natural resources, moved mountains, filled seas, changed the course of rivers, built cities and mega-cities. We have languages, we can share ideas and we can now share our ideas with almost everyone else. We have achieved all these because we are co-operating and generally moral. Most important of all, we have hit upon a great idea called Scientific Method.

Science undoubtedly is the most important human invention. Most of us can observe the impact of what Science has done. We have been benefited from the achievements of Science. We interact constantly with inventions which are the results of the vigorous uncompromising methodology called scientific method. You don't need to be a scientist to understand how scientific method works.

Scientific process involves collecting observable repeatable evidence. One off occurrence may happen due to a large number of possibilities. That's not the realm of Science. Science only deal with repeatable, observable evidence. So, the first step is always to repeat and observe to find out if the same phenomenon happens. Equally important is the conditions under which such phenomena are observed reliably and measured. If a phenomenon can only be observable to a single individual, that does not fall into the scope of Science as well. The observable evidence must appear to be the same for anyone, not just the scientists! Yes, there are things which appear obvious to me, but not necessarily to you. However, if I indicate to you how I see the phenomenon, you should not have any difficulty in seeing the same phenomenon, because such phenomenon is a physical reality.

"Step" here is just for the purpose of exposition. In most situation, all the steps occur at the same time and/or shortly another each other and not always in the same order as presented here.

The next step is to propose a theory. The theory must satisfy several important criteria. One, it must be compatible to ALL previously established theories in ALL scientific disciplines. If two theories are contradictory to each other, one of them must be discarded, expanded, modified (whatever) to remove the incompatibility. ALL scientific theories are mutually compatible.

Two, the theory must be able to "explain" the observed phenomenon. Here explain means by applying a deductive logic, the observed phenomenon can be deduced from the theory.

Third, any other deduction from the theory must also be physical reality.

This is where step three starts. The theory is used to create new predictions. The predictions are then converted/expressed in observable events. Experiments are conducted to look for the predicted observable events. So in a way, scientists are also looking for "strange" observable events not commonly obvious to most people except those in the same field. If the observed event does not appear as predicted (at the probability frequency as predicted) then the theory has to be rejected, modified.

If this sounds hard enough, there is yet another hurdle for anyone claiming to be a scientist. The result must be published and be verified by someone else, actually anyone else. In the publication parlance, the publishing has to go through a double-blind review process. Double-blind means the reviewer does not know who the author is AND the author does not know who the reviewer is. This eliminate personal favouritism and/or bias. For reputable publication, this double-blind review process is rigorous and demanding and is usually carried out by more than one reviewer. A standard practice is three independent reviewers. Once published, everyone else can become a reviewer and put the theory to test.

In other words, if the observation is NOT a physical reality, the observation will not happen to a random third person and the theory will fail the double-blind review process. That also means the theory will not receive acceptance in the scientific community.

While some scientific theories are not fully settled - scientists are still arguing some parts of the theory, most of the times, such parts are only "academic" especially for theories which have general acceptance within the scientific community.

Scientific knowledge at the cutting edge is evolving, all the time - that's how progress is made. So adjusting, modifying, rejecting theory is part of the everyday life of any scientist. But a vast majority of established scientific theories are mature enough for us layman to apply and be benefited from such understanding. For example, when Einstein's relativity disproved Newton's laws of motion, it does not mean that Newton's laws of motion is completely wrong. It means that at speed near the speed of light, Newton's laws of motion is wrong. But at our human speed, both Einstein's relativity and Newton's laws of motion produce practically the same result. In this case, the scope of Newton's law of motion is adjusted and limited only to speed substantially smaller than the speed of light. Scientists still frequently rely on Newton's laws of motion as short hand when dealing with speed smaller than that of light.

With this insight, I hope you can understand that Science DOES NOT require faith. The scientific method ensures the scientific theory is accurate to the best of understanding at that point in time. Major scientific theory may still happen and may throw some existing theories into the garbage bin. Until then, I don't need any faith to have trust on scientific result because I know that the scientific process has ensured a correct interpretation of reality for us. Science is also self-correcting. If a theory is proven to be wrong, it will be discarded or modified. This is in sharp contrast to religious dogma, isn't it?

You may be comfortable in a stable and unchanging environment. You can get a relief if something you have believed remained true forever. Unfortunately, we are living in a fast changing world. Human knowledge is expanding at ever-increasing rate. Knowledge is said to double every three years. New scientific discovery pushes our moral and ethnics to new grounds. Stem cells research is one of the hot issue. The gay community is demanding recognition. Oppressed women are screaming to be liberated. Slavery was tolerated, if not accepted, just a century or two ago. Billions of people are starving to dead everyday. Wars are continuing. Human moral needs to keep in pace with our own advancement. Unchangeable dogmas will not help us.

People used to believe that the Earth is flat. People used to believed that the Sun revolves around the Earth. These have been proven wrong. Earth is one of the many planets of our Sun - the closest stars among millions of other stars in the Milky Way which is just one of billions of other galaxy. While we are on the subject of galaxy and universe, let me answer one of the questions frequently raised in debate on the existence of god – the highly uninformed “atheist believe nothing created everything” argument.

Current best scientific theory estimates that the universe was formed about 13.7 billions years ago with a big bang. Observations of the distant stars and galaxy show a red-shift in the spectrum light. Just like the sound of siren of a passing ambulance, when it is approaching, we hear a higher pitch sound. When it is leaving, we hear a lower pitch sound. This is known as Doppler effect. In our visible spectrum, the red is at the lower frequency end. A general shift towards red of the spectrum light from distant stars and galaxies suggests that these stars and galaxies are moving away from us. Hubble found that the shift is proportional to the distance away from us. Hence, we are in an expanding universe. Working backwards, the universe must have been started from a uniform, hot, dense primordial state. There are different hypothesis about the origin of the initial state. But an honest answer is “we do not know”.

There are many evidences supporting the big bang theory3. Here is just one of the many. The big bang theory predicts that during the first few days of the Universe, the Universe was in full thermal equilibrium, with photons being continually emitted and absorbed, giving the radiation of a black body. This is a prediction and worth nothing in Science unless it is observed. In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered the cosmic background radiation while conducting diagnostic observations using a new microwave receiver owned by Bell Laboratories. Their discovery provided substantial confirmation of the general cosmic microwave background radiation as predicted — the radiation was found to be isotropic and consistent with a black body spectrum of about 3 degrees Kelvin.. Penzias and Wilson were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery.

After the Big Bang, the universe, for a time, was remarkably homogeneous, as can be observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background or CMB (the fluctuations of which are less than one part in one hundred thousand). There was little-to-no structure in the universe, and thus no galaxies. Thus we must ask how the smoothly distributed universe of the CMB became the clumpy universe we see today.

The most accepted theory of how these structures came to be is that all the structure we observe today was formed as a consequence of the growth of the primordial fluctuations, which are small quantum fluctuations in the density in a confined region of the universe. As the universe cooled clumps of dark matter began to condense and within them gas began to condense. The primordial fluctuations gravitationally attracted gas and dark matter to the denser areas, and thus the seeds that would later become galaxies. These structures constituted the first galaxies. At this point the universe was almost exclusively composed of hydrogen, helium, and dark matter. Soon after the first proto-galaxies formed the hydrogen and helium gas within them began to condense and make the first stars. In 2007 the Keck telescope, a team from California Institute of Technology found six star forming galaxies about 13.2 billion light years away and therefore created when the universe was only 500 million years old.

The universe was very violent in its early epochs, and galaxies grew quickly, evolving by accretion of smaller mass galaxies. The result of this process is left imprinted on the distribution of galaxies in the nearby universe. Galaxies are not isolated objects in space, but rather galaxies in the universe are distributed in a great cosmic web of filaments. The locations where the filaments meet are dense clusters of galaxies, that began as the small fluctuations to the universe. Hence the distribution of galaxies is closely related to the physics of the early universe.

By observing stars from different distance, we now have an idea of how the various elements were formed. Stellar evolution begins with the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud (GMC). Typical GMCs are roughly 100 light-years (9.5×1014 km) across and contain up to 6,000,000 times the mass of our sun (1.2×1037 kg). As it collapses, a GMC breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. In each of these fragments, the collapsing gas releases gravitational potential energy as heat. As its temperature and pressure increase, a fragment condenses into a rotating sphere of super hot gas known as a protostar. The mass of the protostar will determine the fate of the protostar. In simple terms, some will initiate fusion reactions producing the heavy elements as a result. After a star has burned out its fuel supply, its remnants can take one of three forms, depending on the mass during its lifetime. All the elements we found on Earth is the remains of stars.

No atheist I know believe that nothing has created everything. The best Science has not informed us about what triggered the big bang and we have no idea what is the state before the big bang. Some hypothesis on dark matter may provide an answer. We are yet to have a conclusive understanding. “We do not know the origin of the big bang” does not logically lead to “the big bang was created from nothing”. It may, but we do not know. There are many unanswered questions in some of the more details of the cosmic evolution.. However the evidence so far indicates the big bang theory is the best available explanation of many of the observed astronomical phenomena.

It is important to note that “we do not know” does not logically lead to “a creator created it”. The conclusion that there must be supernatural cause of the Big Bang is also ontologically wrong. The opposite of natural is NOT supernatural. The opposite is “man-made”. Supernatural is a concept. The existence of a concept does not automatically lead to the existence of the “object” represented by the concept. I can think of a pink unicorn. I can think of myself flying like a bird. Does the thinking make a pink unicorn appear in physical reality? Does the belief that I can fly like a bird make me fly like a bird? This is called wishful thinking for a reason. If we want to assert that “a creator created the universe”, we need to establish proof that the creator exists and that the creator has actually created the universe. Of course, neither of these assertions have been proven true. We shall come to that later.

“We do not know” is “we do not know”. Period. Can you have the intellectual integrity and humility to accept that our knowledge is not yet perfect? It may never be perfect. But it is a work in progress.

Following the numbers suggested by the retired Astronomer of the Vatican, Father George Coyne4, we will translate the time 13.7 billions years into some number which we may make some sense of. Let say 13.7 billions years is condensed into one year and the big bang occurred at the start of the year. Earth is formed on the 1st September. The first life would come to the earth on 4th September. Dinosaurs would be born on Christmas day and lived 5 days. On the last day of this one-year-old-universe time scale, human came into being 2 minutes before midnight. Jesus was born 2 seconds ago. Galileo was born 1 second ago. As pointed out by Father Coyne, modern Science has been studying a year old universe for only 1 second if we assume the study was started by Galileo. It should be no surprise that we still have a lot of things to learn. Saying “we do no know” is not that bad after all.

The complexity and the beauty of the nature is not limited to the cosmo. On Earth, the many different life forms are as complex and beautiful. Unfortunately, 99% of all species ever existed on Earth have now become extinct. This says something about the difficulty of survival! The best theory to explain all the various life forms on Earth is Darwin's Evolution theory. The word theory has been a way some religious use to attack the evolution theory. Richard Dawkins devoted a whole chapter in his The Greatest Show on Earth on this subject. He wrote

The Oxford English Dictionary gives two meanings (actually more, but these are the two that matter here).

Theory, Sense 1: A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.

Theory, Sense 2: A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.

Obviously the two meanings are quite different from one another. And the short answer to my question about the theory of evolution is that the scientists are using Sense 1 (The Greatest Show on Earth)

As a scientific theory, the concept of evolution has been thoroughly tested. Given the contentious nature of the theory, more people would have studied the subject. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and a Christian wrote,

No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvellous complexity and diversity of life. In fact, the relatedness of all species through the mechanism of evolution is such a profound foundation for the understanding of all biology that it is difficult to imagine how one would study life without it. (The Language of God,)

The power of a scientific theory is that it “explains” observations. You may quickly point out that this is a circular argument. A theory is formulated based on observations. The theory, of course, explains the observations. However, the power of the theory is that it explains more observations than those used to formulate the theory! Before I continue to explain the importance of the theory of evolution, let me explain something else first.

Scientific theories are compatible across disciplines. The compartmentalisation of disciplines are just ways that we organise study of the physical reality. Scientists frequently use concepts and theories from disciplines other than their specialisation. Again, this looks almost like a circular argument. Different branches of Science focus on different aspects of the physical reality. They are all studying the same physical reality. If we are living in a consistent universe, this different studies, of course, should be mutually compatible.

Let me introduce a concept from Physics here. This will be useful when we discuss the age of Earth. Radioactivity was first discovered in 1896 by the French scientist Henri Becquerel, while working on phosphorescent materials5. These materials glow in the dark after exposure to light, and he thought that the glow produced in cathode ray tubes by X-rays might be connected with phosphorescence. He wrapped a photographic plate in black paper and placed various phosphorescent salts on it. All results were negative until he used uranium salts. It soon became clear that the blackening of the plate had nothing to do with phosphorescence, because the plate blackened when the mineral was in the dark. Non-phosphorescent salts of uranium and metallic uranium also blackened the plate. Clearly there was a form of radiation that could pass through paper that was causing the plate to become black.. Further research by Becquerel, Marie Curie, Pierre Curie, Ernest Rutherford and others discovered that radioactivity was significantly more complicated. Different types of decay can occur, but Rutherford was the first to realize that they all occur with the same mathematical formula. By using electric field and magnetic field, we can identify three types of radiation: alpha, beta and gamma. Eventually, we now understand alpha radiation being the nucleus of the Helium element, beta being an electron or positron, and gamma being a high energy photon. Radioactivity is the result of the unstablility of the nucleus of the atom. Except for gamma radiation, the element formed after radiation is different from the original.

The rate of decay, as found out by Rutherford, obeys an exponential decay formula. Simply put, for the same isotope, the time it takes for half of the unstable isotopes to decay is always the same. This time is known as half time. Different isotopes have different half time. This turns out to be a good clock for dating some fossils.

There is an implicit assumption that the physical reality we are observing is consistent across both space and time. When I talked about the scientific process, I pointed out that the acceptance of a theory for publication is dependent on the success of review process. If our physical reality is not consistent across space and time, the review process will always fail. If our physical reality is constantly changing, we will not be able to observe the pattern and formulate any theory. This assumption, of course, is the main reason why we do not understand the state before the big bang. However, there is no reason why radioactivity, the half lives of different elements/isotopes in particular, would be different now from say 10,000 years ago or immediately after the big bang..

There are people who question radioactive dating. For instance, the scientific estimate 13.7 billion year old universe is inconsistent with the description in the Bible. Here is a first test to you. Who are more likely to get the age of the Universe right, the scientists who concluded the Universe is about 13.7 billions year old or the men in the desert about 2000 years ago who concluded the Universe is less than 10,000 years old? If you think it is the latter, please do not waste time reading the rest of this letter. This letter is not for those suborn enough not to look at the evidence.

Welcome and I am delighted that you continue the reading. The dating of the Universe is more complex than radioactive dating. However, rest assure that the estimate should be very much on the mark. Remember, scientific process is rigorous and demand evidence to support any claim. When most scientists agree that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, they would have sufficient evidence to draw that conclusion.

On the question of the age of Earth, the oldest rock on Earth has been dated (using radioactive dating) to about 4.54 billion years within 1% error6. For those who want to argue the age of Earth based on their reading of the Bible, they have to argue against the assumption that physical reality is consistent across time. They must put forward evidence that under certain condition(s), radioactive decay of all the radioactive isotopes changed the half life leading to a wrong date of the rocks. Failing to do so is argument without regard to actual evidence. This is not how thinking human should operate. It is not worth the time listening to or to read.

Returning to the beautiful and complex lives on Earth, the basic theory is Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The basic premise of Darwin's theory is that all species (on Earth) originated from the same source. For each generation of the species, there may be, but not necessary has, slight change. Some changes gave the organism slight advantage over other. These advantages get accumulated. For those changes which do not provide survival advantage, the chance of reproduction is reduced and hence the chance of propagation to the next generation is also decreased. As evidence in “human selection' such as the breeding of dogs, the accumulated changes can be remarkable. A German Shepherd is very different from Yorkshire Terrier both in size and temperament with human selection operating for about 2 centuries. With 500 millions of years of evolution, the complexity and diversity is mind-blowing.

For the first 500 million years, Earth is inhospitable to life. However another 150 million years later, different microbial life were found. How, in a mere 150 million years, microbial life came into existence is not fully understood. Jumping ahead 2.5 billion years, about 500 million year ago, suddenly, a lot of invertebrate bodies appears in the fossil records. Darwin's theory explains all the observation fairly well. There are missing links, but as Francis Collins put it, these gaps are not the place for a thoughtful person to wage his faith. (The Language of God) Some day the gaps will be filled by new discovery.

For the creationists, if they are really want to debate rationally about evolution, they cannot just ignore the evidences that have been collected, critically examined by many independent scientists. They cannot say that Satan has planted the fossils in order to fool us. If they suggest Satan did that, they have first to prove the existence of Satan and then also prove that Satan actually did that.

I do not want to get into debates such as “irreducible complexity”, macro-evolution verses micro-evolution. These topics have been extensive reputed by working biologist. Biology is not my strong point too.

The importance of Darwin's evolution theory is that it provided a path for simple organism to evolve, slowly but steadily to complex organisms, from non-intelligent to intelligent. The argument that this very complex world require an intelligent creator begs the question where does the creator's intelligence come from. If the fundamental religious accuses the non-believe that nothing has created everything, they have forgotten that their God's intelligence seems to come from nothing as well.

The whole theory of evolution depends on a critical factor – the offspring of an organism inherited the characteristics of the parent. If there were no inheritance, the advantageous changes would not accumulate and eventually lead to more complex organisms. DNA is that hereditary material. The basic building blocks for DNA must have been formed some time after the first 500 million years. Again the understanding of the process is little. Again “we do not know” does not automatically and logically lead to “God created us”. If the religious can provide evidence demonstrating the link between God and the creation of DNA, the whole Science community will convert to that religion over night.

Since the completion of the sequencing of the human genome and later many genomes from different species, we now know that 99.9% of our genes are the same for all the human. 98% of our gene is common to chimpanzee, our closed cousin. Quoting Francis Collins:

As a first example, let us look at a comparison of the human and mouse genomes, both of which have been determined with high accuracy. The overall size of the two genomes is roughly the same, and the inventory of protein-coding genomes is remarkably similar. But other unmistakeable signs of a common ancestor quickly appear when one looks at the details. For instance, the order of the genes along the human and the mouse chromosomes is generally maintained over substantial stretches of DNA. Thus if I find human genes A, B and C in that order, I am likely to find that the mouse has counterparts of A, B and C also placed in the same order, although the spacing of the genes may have varied a bit. In some instances, this correlation extends over substantial distances; virtually all the genes in human chromosome 17, for instance, are found on mouse chromosome 11. While one may argue that order of the genes is critical in order for their function to occur properly, and therefore a designer might have maintained that order in multiple acts of special creation, there is no evidence from current understanding of molecular biology that this restriction would need to apply over such substantial chromosomal distance. (The Language of God)

I will finish this part with a quote from Collins again, The examples reported here from the study of genomes, plus others that could fill hundreds of books of this length, provide the kind of molecular support for the theory of evolution that has convinced virtually all working biologists that Darwin's framework of variation and natural selection is unquestionably correct.

You should no doubt find that the scientific account of the creation of the Universe and the development of the many different species on Earth is very different from the Bible. You should realise that the accounts from Bible are just fictional work with no evidence supporting the claim. Those arguing against the big bang theory and Darwin's evolution are either unknowledgeable in the subject matter, or refusing to critically examine the evidence. They are spreading wrong concepts either unintentionally or with selfish reasons.

Is Mathematics the language of God? Unlike Science, mathematics is a pure human invention. Mathematicians state a set of axioms (assumptions) and from these axioms, logical conclusions are reached. These conclusions need not correspond to any physical reality. Just pure logical deductions. Let me use a very simple example to illustrate. Let x be a number. x2= n where n is also a number. What is x when n=-1? We know that any number multiple by itself is a positive number. That does not limit the mathematics to “extend” the number into imaginary numbers so that x2= -1. With this extension in place, mathematicians can continue with the logical deduction.

With human imagination, these odd things become concepts to play with:
a point which has position but no size,
a line has length, but no width,
a square has area and edges but no thickness
While we live in a 3 dimensional world, mathematicians can work in any dimension as the imagination may lead to. The important thing to note about mathematics is that once you agree on the axioms, the conclusions are inevitable. Hence mathematics become powerful tools for Science when dealing with quantity – Physics in particular. Newton invented calculus as a tool for his laws of motion! When a scientist can map some properties of the physical reality into the axioms of a mathematics, the conclusions of the mathematics become conclusions which scientists can test. That is kind of handy – the mathematicians have done the hard logical work, so the scientists can focus on the physical reality. Hence if one is interested in Science, it would be better to have a solid knowledge in mathematics.

Back to the question is mathematics God's language, the short answer is no. Mathematics is human invention. Mathematics is the poetry of logic. If God exists, I sure hope that God is logical and use mathematics.

By now, I hope I have convinced you that Science is based on evidence and the scientific method can ensure us that the theories which are generally accepted by scientists should be the best understanding human have. Scientists may cheat. They may falsify evidence. However the chances that they can get away with it is small. The double-blind review process adopted by most reputable publications is designed to ensure that theory published are repeatable physical reality. Science is the foundation of the progress of human. When the Bible and Science are in disagreement about the Universe and origin of life, my bet is on Science being correct.

The Bible may contain some historically accurate facts, however the main thesis – that a personal God exists and is interested in our daily life remain to be proven. As with any thing, the burden of proof is on the claimant. If I claim I see God every night, it is up to me to prove to you that I really see God every night. You cannot disprove that I do not. So is the burden of proof of the existence of God. It is not my responsibility to prove its non-existence.

In an article entitled "Is There a God?", commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Bertrand Russell wrote:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

Given that the Bible is wrong about the origin of the Universe and the origin of life, no doubt a lot of other claims of the Bible should be put under spot light. You would not argue that men 2000 years ago knew more than we do today. Our knowledge of the Universe and life have advanced a lot.

I know it is going to be difficult to you. After all, I am challenging a belief which you had held dear for a long time. I am asking you to re-examine the core belief base on which you have been conducting your everyday activities. It will take courage and will. Your God supposedly have granted you free will and intelligence. It is time to exercise them.

How do you suppose to know God exists? The Bible said so, right? How do the authors of the Bible know that God exists? Because they were inspired by God may be the answer.

Let us stop for a moment and look at Genesis 22:1-19 where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The typical evangelist's explanation would be this is test of Abraham's faith. At the end, an angel saved Isaac from his father's knife. Is it not strange that an all-knowing God needs to test Abraham's faith? Should not God already know?

Now step into the shoe of the poor Isaac? In today's standard, even if Isaac was saved, the impact of the horror of death on a child would be inhumane.

Switch the situation into today. If you were told by God, may be in a dream, to kill your son, will you do it? Should you do it? Will there be an angel waiting to stop you? What impact would that act be on your son?

God seems to appear frequently in the Bible time. Where is he now? If I tell you that I just see God, will you believe me? Really, if someone claims s/he sees God, would you just believe it without questioning? I hope your answer would be you need to question and make sure s/he really have seen God, right? Then why don't you also question the validity of the claims made in the Bible? You don't question the Bible because you were told to believe in the Bible by people you have trusted, right? Now is the time to examine the question of God existence critically.

The Pope traditionally prays for peace every Easter and the fact that it has never had any effect whatsoever in preventing or ending a war never deters him. What goes through the Pope's mind about being rejected all the time? Does God have it in for him?
Andy Rooney, (Sincerely, Andy Rooney )

God answers prayers, you were told. Did he really answer prayers? I mean when someone pray for help, how often is help given? Evangelist would say God has his own mind, sometimes he does, and sometimes not. Then, why bother praying? For the placebo effect? If God exists and answer prayers, I won't be questioning his existence. No one would question the God's existence. Is it not what God wanted in the first place? Why God makes it so difficult for us to be convinced that he exists if that is what God wants?

I can hear you saying that God wants us to have faith – blind faith! Have faith towards whom, may I ask? We were told by people – people who propagate the God existence myth, people who wrote books 2000 years ago. We should not have faith towards fellow human, should we? Human are fallible. If we should have faith, we should have faith towards God. If God tells me himself, that would not need faith. How much more simple this will be?

I am seeing unnecessarily complexity here. Layers and layers of deceits designed to mystify God. If God exists, it would not be necessary. God just appears every now and then. There will be no competing religion. We all believe in the one true God.

The lightning rod at the top of the house of Lord (churches) is telling. It seems to me that God is not able to protect the place where people gather to worship him against natural lightning. When Pope or a Bishop was seriously ill, they call for the medical doctor who are trained in modern medicine. Obviously thousands or even millions prayed for the Pope or the Bishop, God seems to ignored all the prayers!

As recent as August 2009, Dale Neumann, 47, was convicted over the death of his daughter, Madeline7. Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn't walk, talk, eat or drink. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family's rural home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called an ambulance when she stopped breathing. One month earlier, a jury in the western US state of Oregon convicted a man of misdemeanour criminal mistreatment for relying on prayer instead of seeking medical care for his 15-month-old daughter who died of pneumonia and a blood infection in March 2008. How many lives need to be wasted before people realise that prayers do not work and God, if exists, does not answer prayers?

As I have argued moments ago, it is not my burden to prove the non-existence of God. The examples I have just given are signs that God either does not exist or God does not want us to know he exists.

Eric Reitan, put forth a pseudo-argument against Russell's celestial teapot

By “transcendence,” I have in mind the idea that there is more to reality than what we can discern empirically (aided or unaided by scientific instruments). And this is not just a claim about the current limits of science and technology. Transcendent objects are not just inaccessible to empirical observation in fact (as the celestial teapot would have been in Russell’s day). They are inaccessible in principle. (Is God a Delusion)

Reitan is playing with words, with concepts which can be constructed by our language but corresponds to no physical reality. I must admit following his argument in like trying to walk through a maze. He wrote:

In the empirical world, every object is one that we can experience in either of these ways: we can passively experience it with our senses, or we can act on it. When I eat an apple, I am active (crunching into it) and receptive (I sense the flavor and texture) in equal measure. When I contemplate the vastness of the universe, I am far more receptive than active – but by choosing to contemplate, I have changed the universe itself, if only slightly.

In the empirical world, there is nothing towards which I am only receptive or only active. Everything I act on in that world is something that impresses itself upon me through my senses. And everything that impresses itself upon me through my senses is something I can make choices about, if only the very modest choice to focus attention on it or not. But by “the feeling of absolute dependence,” Schleiermacher means a feeling of being exclusively receptive, without even a trace of the opposing feeling of activity.

And so, if I have this feeling of absolute dependence, the feeling is either delusional or its source lies outside the empirical world. If there exists anything upon which I depend absolutely, it simply can’t be anything in the sensible universe. It must be Something beyond it. And the feeling of absolute dependence is the immediate sense of being connected to that Something – what Schleiermacher calls “God.”

In other words, the feeling of absolute dependence is not only the primordial religious feeling, but our only direct avenue to God. Because of what God is – that upon which we depend absolutely – God can only be experienced by some kind of consciousness distinct from our ordinary interactions with the sensible world. (Is God a Delusion)

Reitan has just conveniently forgotten the other possibility in this scenario – it is delusional! What is “more than reality? Delusion is the answer I have in mind. Reitan argues that God is transcendence and hence not provable. He is trying hard to find a way to “connect” to God. Since God does not exist, he has to use extremely complex, roundabout way to justify delusion as the mean of connection to God.

You may accuse me as materialism, a philosophy which holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance. You may also accuse me of stubbornness, unable to see the possibility of the existence of God.

Let me quote Bertrand Russell to justify myself:

If we say that the things known must be in the mind, we are either unduly limiting the mind's power of knowing, or we are uttering a mere tautology. We are uttering a mere tautology if we mean by 'in the mind' the same as by 'before the mind', i.e. if we mean merely being apprehended by the mind. But if we mean this, we shall have to admit that what, in this sense, is in the mind, may nevertheless be not mental. Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley's argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that 'idea' - i.e. the objects apprehended-must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favour of the idealism may be dismissed. (The Problems of Philosophy)

This does not mean that I have not experienced euphoria, tranquillity and woe by the complexity and beauty of nature. I live my life with both feet on the ground, one step at a time enjoying the journey. I do not need drug-induced or religion-induced hallucination, I do not need false hope and unfulfilled promises. I do not need an non-existent God to tell me what to do and what not to do. My judgement is based on the mirror neurons that I have. I can feel other's feelings. I can laugh and cry. I can feel other's pain. God is just useless for me.

Epicurus, an Greek philosopher in 340 BC wrote: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

It is fair to say almost every culture has some form of religion. Some religion claims only one god, others many and some none. Daniel Dennett points out

religion is natural as opposed to supernatural, that it is a human phenomenon composed of events, organisms, objects, structures, patterns, and the like that all obey the laws of physics or biology, and hence do not involve miracles. . . Notice that it could be true that God exists, that God is indeed the intelligent, conscious, loving creator of us all, and yet still religion itself, as a complex set of phenomena, is a perfectly natural phenomenon. (Breaking the Spell)

Dennett told the story of the cargo cults;

When Europeans in their magnificent sailing ships first visited the islands of the South Pacific in the eighteenth century, the Melanesians living on these islands were awestruck by these vessels, and by the remarkable gifts they were given by the white men who lived in them: steel tools and bolts of cloth and glass you could see through, and other cargo beyond their ken. They reacted much as we would probably react today if visitors from outer space showed up capable of overwhelming us at will, and bearing technologies we hadn't even dreamt of: "We must get ourselves some of this cargo, and learn how to harness the magical powers of these visitors." And our puny efforts to use what we did know to take control of the situation and restore our security and sense of power would probably amuse these technologically superior aliens as much as we are amused by the Melanesians' conclusion that the Europeans must be their ancestors in disguise, coming back from the realm of the dead with untold wealth, demigods to be worshiped. (Breaking the Spell)

Back to Christianity, Dennett again, the Mormon Church is less than two hundred years old, as its official name reminds us: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Protestantism is less than five hundred years old, Islam is less than fifteen hundred years old, Christianity is less than two thousand years old. Judaism is not even twice as old as that, and the Judaisms of today have evolved significantly from the earliest identifiable Judaism, though the varieties of Judaism are as nothing compared with the riotous blossoming of variations that Christianity has spawned in the last two millennia. According to Dennett, writing is more than five thousand years old, agriculture is more than ten thousand years old, and language is—who knows? maybe "only" forty thousand years old and maybe ten or twenty times older than that. . . . Is language older than religion? However we date its beginnings, language is much, much older than any existing religion, or even any religion of which we have any historical or archaeological knowledge.

To Dennett, religion is a domesticated meme. Just like gene, meme's survival in the meme's pool depends on the evolution pressures that it is subjected to. Those memorable memes get repeated/rehearsed in people's mind more often and survived. Those less memorable are forgotten and become extinct. Memes need language to spread, no wonder it appears more recent than language. However, just like animals, some memes, religious ideas, are shaped forever that slightly every time when they are repeated with a human intention. Religion teachings are domesticated memes. Folk religion turned into organized religion in much the same way folk music spawned what we might call organized music: professional musicians and composers, written representations and rules, concert halls, critics, agents, and the rest. In both cases the shift happened for many reasons but largely because, as people became more and more reflective about both their practices and their reactions, they could then become more and more inventive in their explorations of the space of possibilities. Both music and religion gradually became more "artful" or sophisticated, more elaborate, more of a production. Not necessarily better in any absolute sense, but better able to respond to increasingly complicated demands from populations that were biologically pretty much the same as their distant ancestors but culturally enlarged, both equipped and encumbered. I have to refer you to Dennett's Breaking the Spell for the fuller description.

Organised religion has its usefulness. C.S. Lewis wrote:

And here comes the catch. Only a had person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person—and he would not need it. (Mere Christianity)

People like to form groups, religious groups are attractive for a lot of people. People in a religious group share the same belief, get together regularly and get brain-washed together. Within the religious group, people share their joy of new born, share the sorrow of dead, share the happiness of wedding and share activities during festivities.

Organised religion has its self-interest – continuous survival. Churches are also operating in a free market, competing against each other both in the size of the congregation and the wealth being accumulated. Roman Catholic Church, in any measure, is the wealthiest of the wealthiest. It has been accumulating wealth for 2000 years – the longest operating multi-national enterprise selling fear, false promise and salvation from a sin created just to hook us.

Religion is divisive. Religion creates war. Christopher Hitchens has a challenge for anyone. Name a good deed only a religious people will do and a non-religious will not do. You will struggle to come up with an answer. The opposite challenge is much easier. Name a bad thing done in the name of religion. I am sure you will have plenty suggestions.

You may argue Christians are unlike Muslims. Don't you forget the Inquisitions.

My main message to you is that religion has passed its used-by date. We do not need religion to live a healthy life. The time you spent in attending church can be put to much better use. The group spirit and the companionship can be enjoyed without religion. The beauty of life, can be enjoyed without religion.

After recovering from a emergency heart operation Daniel Dennett wrote8;

There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other's work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who's counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning  out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.
. . .
One thing in particular struck me when I compared the medical world on which my life now depended with the religious institutions I have been studying so intensively in recent years. One of the gentler, more supportive themes to be found in every religion (so far as I know) is the idea that what really matters is what is in your heart: if you have good intentions, and are trying to do what (God says) is right, that is all anyone can ask. Not so in medicine! If you are wrong—especially if you should have known better—your good intentions count for almost nothing. And whereas taking a leap of faith and acting without further scrutiny of one's options is often celebrated by religions, it is considered a grave sin in medicine. A doctor whose devout faith in his personal revelations about how to treat aortic aneurysm led him to engage in untested trials with human patients would be severely reprimanded if not driven out of medicine altogether. There are exceptions, of course. A few swashbuckling, risk-taking pioneers are tolerated and (if they prove to be right) eventually honoured, but they can exist only as rare exceptions to the ideal of the methodical investigator who scrupulously rules out alternative theories before putting his own into practice. Good intentions and inspiration are simply not enough.

In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! And I'm not just talking about the standards 'at the top'—among the surgeons and doctors who make life or death decisions every day. I'm talking about the standards of conscientiousness endorsed by the lab technicians and meal preparers, too. This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking "What if I'm wrong?" Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn't replicate his results because they just didn't share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.

I hope this letter signals your first step in removing the shackles of religion. I know it is not going to be easy. Please share this letter with your loved one. Discuss the ideas in this letter openly with your closest. Debate the points. Do the necessary research. Review the evidence. Going through a journey with someone is always better than travelling alone.

When you are more confident that you have made the right choice, share this letter with a broader group of friends. Invite their ideas. Debate, help them to understand your position. Ask them also to consider giving up religion.

Thank you for reading. If you find this letter useful, please buy me a coffee. (Visit http://atheistbibleforum.blogspot.com/)

Thank goodness, mankind has progressed.

Albert IP
January 2010

Copyright 2010. You are free to distribute this letter provided you do not change this pdf and you do not charge people any money. Thank you for sharing with other people. You may have change their minds forever.

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