Monday, 5 December 2016

10 Reasons why I'm not a Christian

Internet Christians seem fond of the "list approach" to proselytizing.  This comes in various forms. Like "10 reasons Christianity is true" or "10 questions atheists can't answer".  So with that inspiration, here are 10 objections I have to the existence of the Bronze-age Deity Yaweh and his magic carpenter son.

1. The absence of evidence where there should be evidence

Depending on your flavour of Christianity, this particular deity is supposed to have created the Universe, formed the earth, begun life, created humanity from just two individuals, intervened frequently in the affairs of a Near Eastern Tribe, and made a personal appearance for approximately 33 years.  Many of these events should leave compelling evidence. Genetics should confirm we descended from just two individuals. Other civilizations should have noticed the extraordinary events described in the bible.  That evidence is just not present.
Genetics confirms that modern human species never originated from just 2 individuals

2. The Soap Test

There are no instructions on using soap.  Soap is a product that is easy to make.  It also has benefits for hygiene as well as reducing infections and limiting the spread of disease.  These effects on disease were not realised until the germ theory of disease was established.

Any deity that is supposed to be benevolent, all-knowing, and interceding to benefit a chosen tribe or people, would give instructions on its use.  Instructions on its use however are weirdly absent.  This neglect would have increased needless suffering (through illness and disease) as well as premature deaths. With no technological barrier to making soap, there is no valid reason to withhold instructions on its use. Given the vast number of people whose lives would have been improved by providing instructions, it's not a trivial issue.

3. The gospels are problematic

Not only are the gospels written well after the alleged events, they contradict each other in key details.  The nativity of Luke and Mark Matthew describe entirely different events.  Unlike Julius Caesar there are no writings of Jesus. No contemporaneous historian, of which there were several in this era, noticed any of the fantastic things described in the gospels.

One feels an omniscient (all-knowing) deity would know this would reduce the confidence non-believers would have in the Jesus-mission. Even Julius Caesar left stuff he wrote. And an all-powerful deity might have ensured the records of the Jesus-mission weren't so dependent on the contradictory, hearsay accounts we have.

4. Prayer doesn't work

Enough children have died in faith-healing cases to show that prayer only succeeds in mundane cases with a high likelihood of occurring anyway. There is no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer or recover from cancer more frequently.

5. How about those slaves then?

Right, Christianity has always been against slavery. Even in the first 1800 years when it wasn't.  And as the American Civil War showed, for many, not until the Federal Army reached Richmond.  The problem is that Jesus never said to abolish slavery. Neither did anyone else in the bible. Indeed, Exodus 21:20-21 said it was permissible to beat a slave so badly that they would die 2-3 days later.  The slave-owner wasn't punished in this case as the slave was his property. A chattel. Not a human being, but property.
Black Slaves (Wikipedia Commons)

This is a very simple test. Moral beings don't sanction this horrific behaviour.  Christianity perpetuated slavery. It's failed to reach a credible standard of morality that would corroborate a loving, moral supreme deity.

6. A peculiar dislike of poor black people

One appreciates that life on this planet is a little chaotic.  That means natural disasters happen.  I'm not quite sure how a loving deity allows people to die in natural disasters, as the freewill argument seems moot in these cases.  The deaths and suffering are not caused by human agency.

Tent City- Port au Prince (Wikipedia commons)

Nonetheless, the real point is how unjust these disasters are.  They impact the poorest and most vulnerable communities the most.  In 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.  The death toll was somewhere between 100,000-300,000 people. The same year a 7.1 earthquake hit Christchurch in NZ.  One person died of a heart-attack, that might have been caused by it.  The effects are not equal.

If we're going to propose any kind of argument that humans have to put up with natural disasters, at the very least, these should not be so manifestly unjust.   Having a system that harms those communities least able to cope contradicts the alleged characters of the Christian deity.

7. Baby I call Hell

Like everything to do with the afterlife, Hell is difficult to pin down.  Is it a place of heinous torture as described by Dante and other evangelical pastors?  Or is is an eternal separation from this deity?  Given the wide-spread dogmatic belief that it is torture (and I've been threatened often enough with it), then it's irreconcilable with a just and loving deity.

 The infraction against this god is transitory in nature. All I have done is not believe it existed. That merits an infinite punishment- one that is unusually cruel, barbaric and inhumane.

Hell- Wikipedia Commons

Hell and a loving, just deity cannot both exist.

8. She blinded me with science

I appreciate that ancient people could not have had with their knowledge, the language of concepts to describe the world in scientific terms.  Nonetheless, it seems odd that many ideas about the world are simply and blatantly wrong.  The microscopic world, the scale of the universe, that earth is not its centre, that life originated billions of years ago and then evolved are in conflict with many religious dogmas.  It's not a good advertisement for these beliefs to be true.

9. It's a small world

It is inescapable that the events of the bible are restricted to a tiny part of the world.  Most of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are excluded.  For a universal deity, this is suspiciously parochial.  It is according to the Abrahamic religion capable of communicating in all kinds of ways.  There are burning bushes, talking donkeys, angels etc.  But only a small tribe of pastoralists are selected for this direct communication.  In particular, a tribe that whose accomplishments were so minor, they had little ability to communicate their god to others.  While civilisations around them developed maths, astronomy, engineering, democracy and philosophy, ancient Judea developed, well, penis modification.

Even within that context, only a small part of the population is considered worthy of this message.  This part being men, of course.  For a universal deity that considered all to be equal, this incredible favoritism does not make any sense.

10. Free Fallin'

The problem with an all-knowing (omniscient) god is well known.  It makes free-will a fantasy.  If a deity knows everything I'm going to do and say over my life-time, there's nothing I can do to change that.  If Abe's god knows I'm going to have sushi for lunch, then I cannot choose anything else.  That extrapolates to every other action I take, to very word I utter.  I cannot choose anything, choice is an always following a single course of action.  I can only say the lines I was given.  I can only play the role I was destined to play.

Life in this case, is meaningless.  If I am going to hell, then, nothing I do over my life will change that.  I can only undertake the actions this deity already knows I'll take.  All life is, is a brief moment where I can change nothing, followed by an eternity of hell.  There's no point to this life at all.  This god may as well put those destined to hell, straight there.  Because nothing will change that destiny.

Monday, 6 June 2016

How improbable is it that proteins can form by "chance"?

A common trait of scientists who work on the origins of life, is not to attempt to estimate the probability macromolecules (like peptide chains) will form. A common trait of creationists who don't, is estimating such probabilities.  This typically produces astronomical odds against such macromolecules forming.

For instance, suppose we are told there is a 50:50 chance that two amino acids will bond.  A peptide-chain (protein) 150 amino-acids long, will thus have the probability of (0.5)*(0.5)^2*(0.5^3)*...(0.6)^150.  This gives a cumulative probability of well, a really really big number against (1 in 1045 IIRC).  Thus the number of trials needed to make this peptide seem up there in many billions of trillions.

The problem above is simple. It ignores the fact that macro-molecules form in a modular fashion. (There's also some assumptions about the chemistry also, but we'll put those aside).  Macromolecules don't form one molecule at a time, in one go.  If we just add one correction to the calculation above- that the peptide chains form in a modular way, it takes just 5 trials to make a chain 150 amino-acids long.  That's right. Just 5.  The Creationist result above are entirely produced by unrealistic assumptions.

Let me demonstrate.  We start with a large pool of amino-acids.  There's a 50:50 chance in the first round, they bond to another amino acids (using SIPF chemistry, dipeptides are found within a week).  This is merely the assumption from the creationist maths above.

So after trial 1:
Half the amino-acids have formed dipeptides (a chain of 2 amino acids)

Half the amino acids are still unpaired to anything.

We then carry these into trial 2:
Some of the amino acids will still not have bonded.  Some will form dipeptides.
Some of the dipeptides will bond to one other single amino acids (making a tripeptide)
Some of them will bond to another bipeptide, or to two single amino acids.  (Bonding can occur at either end of the chain, it doesn't have to be at just one end).  That's an oligopeptide 4 amino-acids long.
Importantly, some of the dipeptides will bond to two other dipeptides.  After two trials, we will find peptide chains 6 amino-acids long.

On to trial 3:
Some of the peptide chains 6 amino-acids long, will bond to two other 6 amino-acid peptides.  Some of the peptide chains are now 18 amino-acids long.  The distribution of peptide chains in the pool will range from 1 to 18 amino-acids long.

On to trial 4:
Some of the 18 amino-acid chains will bond to two other 18 amino acids.  We will find in the sample, anything between 1 amino acid to chains 54 amino-acids long.  

On to trail 5:
If 3 peptide chains that are 50-54 amino-acids long bond, then we've got our 150 amino-acid peptide chain.  We didn't need trillions of trials. It's that simple.

Ok.  This is a gross simplification.  The chemistry of peptide formation is a lot more complex than just two molecules randomly bonding.  That's why people who actually work in this topic, don't try to calculate probabilities.  There are too many variables and too many permutations to make any estimate meaningful.  The point is to show how utterly devious and dishonest it is, to drop the modular assumption of macro-molecule formation.  And why you actually need to use a Markov probability function, not an IID.  What happens in each trial is not independent of previous trials. The reason creationists use an IID is because it's the one function everyone knows, and it wildly inflates the improbability of anything happening.