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The Easter debate (7/4/2007)
On Monday, April 2, I took part in a debate at the Springwood Winmalee Anglican Church on the topic "God is a Delusion". It seemed to go very well, and I escaped without any bodily damage, although I was assailed by a couple of religious fanatics afterwards, one of whom seemed sure that I was bound straight for Hell. (The other one kept repeating some weird and incomprehensible theory about how the Bible should be read. I managed to escape but I later found her talking to my opponent in the debate. He was trapped in a position where he couldn't get away and was making "Help me" type body language signs to anyone who passed by.) As I spoke without any prepared notes I want to wait until I have seen a recording of the event before writing anything about what I said.
I was approached by a journalist working for the Sydney Diocese news service with some questions after the event. My responses were written from the perspective of Vice President of Australian Skeptics, but I wouldn't say what I said unless it was also my position.
1. Why is the skeptics society interested in getting involved with debating Christians about the existence of God?
We are often accused at Australian Skeptics of being an atheist organisation which is hostile to religion in general. In fact we follow our motto, "Seek the evidence", with respect to religion in the same way that we treat other claims of the paranormal or supernatural. We have no problem with religion as long as the beliefs and practices of religion cause no harm, so we usually only take an interest when faith healers start telling people to throw away their wheelchairs and insulin or young-earth creationists try to get religion taught as science in schools.
We do not ask for people's religious affiliations when they subscribe to our magazine or attend our events. We don't need to know and we don't care anyway. We do know that there are believers among our membership, because some have chosen to tell us, and there is at least one ordained minister who regularly attends events in Sydney.
We are interested in debates like this because it exposes both sides to the other. This goes a long way to removing prejudice (in its literal meaning of "pre-judging") and demonstrating that we are all just people with opinions and beliefs, these opinions and beliefs can differ, and that these differences can be discussed in a civilised and polite manner.
2. What are the main arguments you used in supporting that 'God is a delusion'?
I don't really like the word "delusion" because it has a specific meaning in psychology, but we were stuck with it for this debate because of the prominence of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. As a delusion is a belief without evidence, my point in the debate is that faith is also belief without evidence. The true skeptic position is that God is unknowable and untestable, so God is therefore a form of delusion. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because that is the nature of God, but we feel entitled to ask for evidence of God's existence. Please note that this is a weaker position than that taken by Dawkins who has attempted to prove that God cannot exist. I agreed with the opposing speaker that Dawkins did not succeed.
3. What do you believe is the substance behind and purpose of our existence? (Would all skeptics agree, or is this you speaking on behalf of yourself?)
This question requires an essay of its own. I can only speak for myself because the skeptical movement is one of those broad churches that people talk about, but my belief is that we don't know how life arose (but it was probably due to a coincidence of fortuitous circumstances), we have got to where we are today by a process of evolution, and our purpose is to take advantage of the world we live in and to live the best possible life that we can while still respecting the rights of other people, the earth's environment and the abundance of organisms in the natural world.
4. What is your hoped for outcome when debating Christians in debates such as this?
I don't expect to convert anyone to atheism and I don't expect to experience an epiphany myself, although as a true skeptic I am prepared to be proved wrong on either count. What I hope for is that everyone can go away with a better understanding of why the other side holds the position it does. We can only benefit from knowing more about what others think. As I said above, we are often accused of being radical atheists. Hopefully the religious believers will leave the meeting with the impression that skeptics are just people who sincerely hold a different opinion about the existence of God, and the skeptics will go away with the impression that religious believers are the same but the opinion about God is different. Both groups will probably continue to think that the others are deluded.
I didn't think it was a full moon this week
Jack Shulman was not happy with my response to his last effusion. Here is the latest instalment.
Subject: LEGAL NOTICE AND OPEN MESSAGE
Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2007 20:19:31 -0400
AN OPEN MESSAGE TO PATHOLOGICAL PETER PUMPKIN EATER
Your mouth is going to get you into a whole lot of legal hot water here.
Like I said, Pathological Peter, I do believe you're a world class coward, a coward on a par with so many other terrorists who use harassing websites and suicide bombers to try and promote themselves.
Are you defaming me there, Jack? It's hard to tell through all that mouth foam.
Your only partial publishing of the former email shows that: not only do you know I never said anything of the sort, you hide behind distance and quasi-anonymity, falsely accusing me of saying "little green men brought the Transistor to Humanity", something I never said,
And neither did I. Do you have a reading comprehension problem?
why would I, after all, the only time I heard that was from members of the Ken Thompson team (you know, those "geniuses" who've been trying to convince the world they invented Unix for the past thirty years?) at the Unix Lab - they said it, all I did was ask the public why and post their alleged Plan 9 logo (the little green guy with the Bell Labs Briefcase). That was an alleged logo for AT&T's Plan 9 Operating System, which was supposed to be, according to Thompson and his crew, an able successor to Unix. Good luck with that, KT! When can I expect an update, my copy is getting threadbare?
I'm not sure what you are getting at here, Jack, but if you have a dispute with Mr Thompson you should take it up with him and leave me out of it.
BTW, I believe the quote was "Some have said that AT&T reverse engineered an alien space craft that allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico" and so on and so forth, quoting Corso, and the AT&T kids and Stan Friedman, and then American Computer opened up an inquiry to find out "what's the truth?". We had a lot of fun with it back in 1997 and so did the public. And yet, here it is 10 years later and only obsessed, quasi intellectual nutbags like you seem to be continuing to falsely allege we claimed proof that aliens were behind the Transistor. I note that only our competitors didn't appreciate all the fun everyone had with it, as evidenced by people like you who sought to attack American Computer.
I have never attacked American Computer. You, on the other hand, used an American Computer web site to accuse me of pederasty. That might not have been a wise thing to do.
Talk about lacking a sense of humor! Clearly you did it so as to harm ACC's business, and reputation. (Lookout, you failed miserably!) I guess the open question on everyone's mind right now is which business or superwealthy a-hole has you on his slush payroll.
Are you now accusing me of corruption and accepting secret commissions? Are you sure you talked to a lawyer before writing to me? You know, a real lawyer who went to law school and was in class when they taught defamation law. Taxi drivers, hairdressers and psychiatric nurses are nice people and always ready for conversation, but they are not lawyers. Also, perhaps you should mention the paymaster's name, otherwise it might appear that you are suffering from paranoia and delusions.
I think I know who, and you can tell him it's only a matter of time before he pays up. I didn't think his ideas were worthy of consideration back in 1976 when he posed them to me at the bank, and I think his company today is just selling other people's products and no, he does not have a superior product, just another one and it's not a very good one. He can doll it up with all the built in accessories he wants, its like a bad car, you can't cover up the "bad" with fuzzy dice, a "dude", and criticism of your competition. He's become a has been and is very soon to become a never will.
Have you recently changed your medication? You seem to be losing coherence.
NOW THE LEGAL PART
Counsel advises you're in legal violation of our Trademarks and Copyrights under US and Australian law. Kindly immediately remove all pages referring to "Jack Shulman" and "American Computer" upon receipt of this email, you probably won't, but I had to put you on legal notice, before authorizing counsel to take appropriate legal steps.
Would that be the same counsel you used when you first emailed me pretending to be a lawyer? As for the trademark issue, did you think that I couldn't check or wouldn't check? I could and I did. As you can see here, there is no registration for "Jack Shulman" as an Australian trademark, and the only trademark including the words "American" and "computer" belongs to Lexwood Edward Wright, and that ain't you, Jack.
You have 3 business days to remove all the offending pages and references.
BTW, No vacuous legal threats: you're breaking the law by diluting our well known trademarks, committing commercial libel, and deriving commercial gain from same. You're intentionally tortuously interfering with our ecommerce.
You have some evidence for these claims, I assume. Actually, I don't assume that at all, because none of it is happening. If you are worried about diluting the value of "Jack Shulman" then you should cease acting like a loon while using that name. And, seeing as how you mentioned it:
And, just calling it "opinion" does nothing at all to mitigate your liability, you've admitted to encouragement to "do things to" others with these harassing websites.
Did I? Where? Again, I suspect that your ability at reading comprehension has let you down.
You're making it all too easy to build a legal case. Gee I hope you have money. And a house.
You have 3 business days.
Jack A. Shulman
Is this supposed to be a challenge? (7/4/2007)
Someone wants me to do something ridiculous. I don't think I'll bother. You can see why Dr Haley is of interest here.
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2007 01:59:25 -0700
From: Murdoch Robert
Subject: Boyd Haley
If you had a cupful of mercury in front of you right now, how much would you be willing to drink to prove Boyd Haley wrong?
Robert Murdoch DOM
cc Professor Boyd Haley
And what would that prove? You might like to get Professor Haley to explain the concepts of "the dose makes the poison" and "threshold". That is, if he hasn't completely forgotten whatever chemistry he may once have known. All it takes to prove him wrong is to crack open an introductory organic chemistry textbook and read about what the prefixes "methyl-" and "ethyl-" mean.
No challenge, but I am chastened (7/4/2007)
What can I say in the face of such Wildean wit?
From: "Scott Sellards"
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2007 09:58:03 -0700
yur an ignernt dert bag
But someone is praying for me (7/4/2007)
I have noticed that just about the only hostility I ever receive about my stance on this site against religious bigotry, extremism or excess seems to come from followers of Hillsong or Benny Hinn. Perhaps followers of real religions are more tolerant.
Date: Fri, 06 Apr 2007 11:22:49 -0700
From: carol reeves
a good name for ur site. have you ever read the bible about laying hands on and healings. you, my friend are in damnation because you are mocking the holy ghost! i sure hope u turn ur life around because you are headed somewhere u might not want to go. i put no faith in men so therefore i dont believe all i see, so if benny hinn is not what he is supposed to be then, he as we all, will stand before the throne of judgement and answer for what we have done in this life. if god is not in your heart you sure need to think about it. god bless and i will be praying for you.
Job applicants (7/4/2007)
When I published a list of spam messages offering ways of enlarging penises, I received many emails from genitally challenged young men asking for assistance. At the other end of the self-perception spectrum, I receive occasional telephone calls from people wanting to appear in pornographic movies. This started some years ago when someone with too much time and money decided to pay for an Internet advertisement which said (and, yes, it really was my home telephone number)
Peter Bowditch of Gebesse Computer Consultants & Pornographers is looking for amateur porn stars to act in hardcore videos to be broadcast over the internet. Any and all ages! Looks unimportant. Please call me at (02) xxxx 8954. We will pay up to $150.00/hr.
When I found out about this I was highly amused. Understandably, the callers were rather embarrassed when the facts were pointed out, but I did manage to get one caller to tell me where he had found the advertisement, and you can see it here. It now appears that there may be another advertisement out there somewhere, because the latest applicant mumbled something about seeing the job in "cracker", whatever that might be. I'll see if I can get some more details from the next applicant for the job. I almost said "position" there, but in the porn business it's women who take the positions. Or so I have been told ...
So where was it? (21/4/2007)
There was no update to this site last week for two reasons. The first was a simple oversight followed by a bureaucratic implosion. Because I have had other things on my mind I forgot to pay my monthly bill for web hosting. At about 10am on Thursday, April 12, the hosting company sent me a reminder email. I was out of the office, and by the time I got back after lunch three of my sites were off the air and no email was getting to me through the usual addresses. I logged in to the customer service page (which told me "You have services pending deactivation due to 3 unpaid invoices", giving a whole new meaning and retrospectivity to the word "pending"), and by 2:45 all the bills had been paid by direct deposit into the company's bank account and the required evidence of the deposits had been submitted in the required fashion. Then the fun started. Trying to get reconnected, I became involved in an exchange of emails and telephone calls which made me feel that I had fallen down a rabbit hole or passed through a looking-glass. My sites were back on the air (and my email restored) at about 9:30 on Monday morning, but what's more than 90 hours when you're talking customer service and satisfaction?
I mentioned that there were two reasons for being missing in action over the week. A clue about the second reason can be found here.
My bedside bookshelf (21/4/2007)
I have just finished reading by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I might write a full review one day, but this is a book which elicits both despair and hope. Despair that primitive savagery inspired by religion is still part of the lives of many millions of people, hope that resistance, exposure and enlightenment might loosen the foundation of fundamentalism (in this case Islam, but the problem is not confined to that particular delusion). I found parts of the book quite disturbing, such as those referring to the mistreatment of children by abuses like the genital mutilation of girls, the descriptions of the way that Hirsi Ali had to live in fear after the murder of her friend Theo van Gogh and the breakdown of the relationship with her father, but the very fact that the book is out there is encouraging. I wish I could think that it might be causing Muslims to re-examine what they are told and are expected to believe. I am not that much of an optimist, but I can always dream.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be in my town for the Sydney Writers' Festival in May and June. I'm not usually awed by celebrities, but she might just be one person whose signature I would like on a book. I think I know where I will be on the evening of June 3.
Like mushrooms after spring rain ... (21/4/2007)
Within twenty-four hours of the murders at Virginia Tech, the inmates of various wards of the asylum were rushing to their keyboards and media contacts to tell us why it happened and how it could have been prevented. There are no prizes for guessing that the gun nuts were almost immediately declaring that the way to stop mass murder is to have everybody heavily armed so that everyone can participate in pitched gun battles at any time. Apparently, fewer people would die in incidents like this if there were orders of magnitude more bullets being thrown in all directions by untrained and unskilled shooters blazing away in the approximate direction of where they thought some threat might be. The religious nutters didn't want to be left out, and there were claims that all the people died because the shooter likened himself to Jesus, although why God required the sacrifice of thirty-two innocents to atone for one lunatic's blasphemy must be one of those mysterious ways in which He moves.
Not to be outdone, alternative medicine supporters were very quick to blame the incident on anti-depressant drugs. It seems that if you are the sort of nutcase who thinks he is Jesus and wants to kill lots of people to make your point clear you will restrain yourself until you receive medication, at which time you will stop being depressed, cheer up and start shooting. The chelation quacks were claiming (without any evidence, of course) that the killer was autistic and could have been cured if only his parents had spent their life savings on useless treatments.
The best, however, is when the conspiracy wing of the gun lovers merges with the conspiracy wing of the quackery believers. When that happens, you get this reason behind the whole incident. I am sometimes accused of being a little harsh and derisive when dealing with these people, so I will offer this without any further comment:
Certain brain activities trigger people on Prozac to become homicidal or suicidal. Thanks to research by Illuminati controlled companies, the Network knows exactly how to used ELF waves vectored on a particular person by 3 separate towers to stimulate the Prozac controlled brain to murder. This is being used to increase acts of anarchy and violence in order to help insure anti-gun legislation. If a slave doesn't comply or needs to be thrown from the Freedom Train they can become a useable statistic. Simply trigger them to murder and then watch the police gun them down. The NWO gains one more statistic and another case to scare the public into accepting gun control.
A madness shared is not a madness halved
We have become accustomed to seeing crowds of apparent lunatics burning effigies of politicians because of some perceived insult to nationality or religion. The stereotypical effigy-burner is a Muslim fanatic complaining about some offence against Allah that President Bush has done, or might have done, or might have once thought of doing, or might have never thought about but had been in the same city as someone else who had thought of doing it, ... It was somehow refreshing, therefore, to see images of Hindu fanatics going berserk and burning effigies of an actor. The actor in question was Richard Gere, and the reason for the angst and anguish was that he had kissed a woman. Apparently, this was an affront to religious sensibilities and Indian women in general, and was made even badder by reminding people that there might be some sort of sexual connection between men and women. My memory might not be what it was, but I seem to remember that there is a country which produced a manual of sexual practices called the Karma Sutra and which is so committed to women's rights that it can't seem to eradicate men killing their wives over inadequate dowries or the practice of widows committing suicide on their husbands' funeral pyres. Idiocy.
Debate news (21/4/2007)
The Easter Debate was written up in the local Anglican media, although the article seems to be about some other debate with participants with the same names. I wasn't there to concentrate on Richard Dawkins' book and as far as I can remember I didn't, although I have now received the first cut of the DVD so I probably should check my memory of the event. So far the article only appears on the web, but I assume that it will be immortalised in print in next month's edition of Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Sydney Diocese. Anyone who deals with the media on a regular basis will be familiar with the misquoting and partial quoting which makes the lives of people like me somewhat frustrating at times. In one sense it was comforting to find that the comment editing practices of television "current affairs" programs are alive and well in the religious media as well. Still, I suppose that being slightly misquoted is better than not being quoted at all. You can see the article here.
Whine, whine, whine - Part 1 (28/4/2007)
For a few years I have had a video on this site showing me performing a miraculous healing in the style of charlatan Benny Hinn. It showed me curing my friend Alynda of the sin of lust and was recorded by another friend, Richard Saunders, in a pub in Sydney. The only complaint I had ever received was from Alynda's husband David, who felt that, on principle, lust was not a sin that wives needed to be cured of. Earlier this year I loaded a copy of the video up to YouTube. On Friday, April 27, I received notification from YouTube that the video had been removed because a claim of copyright infringement had been made by Pastor Benny and his doing-business-as-some-other-name church. Here is my response to YouTube:
On April 27, 2007, I received an email from YouTube containing the following:
This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Pastor Benny Hinn and the World Healing Church d/b/a Benny Hinn Ministries claiming that this material is infringing:
Healing with the Millenial Power: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVqu-iuruXA
The video in question was recorded by Richard Saunders in a hotel bar in Harbour Street, Sydney, on July 7, 2002. Title and credit sequences were added by me in 2007 before the video was uploaded to YouTube.
There is not one pixel in the video which was sourced from anything created by or belonging to Benny Hinn or any organisation associated with him. There is no image of Hinn, no image of any signage referring to Hinn, no sound other than that recorded by Mr Saunders and this sound does not include any recording of Hinn's voice or any part of his stage performance, no image of any advertisement or documentation referring to Hinn. In short, neither Benny Hinn nor any organisation related to or associated with him has any legitimate claim to copyright over any part of the video.
You require me to state that I have "a good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled". I not only have such a belief, I know it for a fact.
It seems to be the fashion these days for people who don't like any criticism or even comment on their activities to resort to specious claims of intellectual property infringement in order to suppress such comment. I am disappointed that YouTube were deceived into taking precipitate action based on a claim which was so easily demonstrated to be false.
I have altered the credit sequence of the video to explicitly assert Mr Saunders' and my copyright over the material. I will upload this revised video to YouTube as soon as this matter has been resolved.
Whine, whine, whine - Part 2 (28/4/2007)
Guess who else crawled out of the swamp this week with complaints about this web site. I know it was an easy guess for many but there might be some newcomers here who are not familiar with the work of Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group, the man who suggested that someone should kill my grandson. Taking time out from lying to television reporters and writing bizarrely unhinged attacks on Canadian doctors, Mr O'Neill found the time to complain once more to the organisation hosting The Millenium Project. He got the same response as last time, which is that they told him to lawyer up or shut up. The really nice thing is that I was invited to write a more comprehensive reply which would be passed on to Mr O'Neill by the web hosting company. A couple of years back I was made a similar offer by the CEO of a business organisation who suggested that I could write his reply to Mr O'Neill's allegations, but then, as now, I maintained my policy of not responding to Mr O'Neill except through the pages of this site. Mr O'Neill is quite capable of amusing us all without me feeding him straight lines.
From: William Oneill [email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, 27 April 2007 4:10 AM
Subject: Trade Practices Act
For the past number of years I have made specific complaints to Destra.com concerning your client at https://www.ratbags.com/roles and the site owner, Mr. Peter Bowditch of Parramatta, NSW, Australia. The nature of my complaint has been libel, defamation, fraud, misrepresentation and most recently formal complaint under Australia's Trade Practices Act 1974, Section 52 as it concerns myself, William P. O'Neill and my medical practice, the Canadian Cancer Research Group. In this complaint Bowditch and Destra are named as respondents in willful and reckless, deceptive and misleading advertising concerning myself and my group. The significance and magnitude of this complaint has attracted mutli-media interests in Australia, the United States and Canada.
I am writing to reassure Destra.com that I will portray your group's participation in this matter as it it unfolds. Historically your group has actively supported the actions of Mr. Bowditch in view of the facts both Bowditch and Destra.com have co-broadcasted information that is knowingly false, deceptive and misleading.
Be further reassured, that your investors will be fully aware of your patently absent sense of ethics and continued breach of your own AUP.
In the event the website in question is no longer hosted by Destra.com/Ozhosting.com or any affiliated ISP group, by the close of business of business on Friday, April 27, 2007, I will exclude Destra.com/OzHosting.com in all matters of complaints, action and media.
Be advised this communication is private and that international convention requires consent by the authour for publication and distribution.
William P. O'Neill
Canadian Cancer Research Group
I would love to see evidence of the way that "mutli-media" interests in Australia, the United States and Canada have been dealing with the significance and magnitude of Mr O'Neill's perceived problems, but I won't hold my breath waiting. And as for the last paragraph mentioning some international convention, I can only refer Mr O'Neill to the clearly-stated policy of this site to reproduce anything critical of me or my activities which comes to my notice. I believe there are also international conventions dealing with suggestions that babies should be killed and other children should be encouraged to commit suicide.
Thank you (28/4/2007)
I would like to publicly thank all those people who sent me nice emails throughout last week. I will send individual replies, but things are still a bit disorganised and distraught around my place. It is really nice to know that I have so many friends that I have never met.
An omission (28/4/2007)
When I was talking about Ayaan Hirsi Ali last week I forgot to include the film which resulted in the murder of Theo van Gogh. I don't think that it is a particularly well-made or convincing film, but as was seen with the idiocy surrounding some cartoons last year it doesn't seem to take much to get people who are besotted with religion to completely lose touch with reality.
Something to see (28/4/2007)
In March I mentioned that I had discovered a song by Tim Minchin, If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife) from the album So Rock
Listen to Tim
Tim is appearing in Sydney over the next two weeks at the Sydney Opera House. It's not too late to book.
Something truly bizarre!! (28/4/2007)
Have a look at the Aussie Bible. No, Australians do not talk like that.