Did Jesus actually exist?

I’m always learning new things. Even though i’ve been an atheist for several years, i’ve always had the opinion that Jesus probably existed. I’ve heard people claim that Jesus did not exist but i never really heard any good reasons to back up their claims. I kind of thought, “Oh, that’s taking it a bit too far, isn’t it?”

I was happy to accept that sure, maybe Jesus existed. Maybe Jesus said some really inspiring things, and maybe some really horrific things. Maybe a lot of the stories were elaborated and embellished over time. But surely Jesus existed, right? I mean there’s historical evidence outside of the bible, right?

Turns out, not so much. Actually, the most celebrated reference to Jesus outside of the bible was probably fabricated, and even provides quite a strong hint that Jesus did not exist at all. It’s this passage from the Jewish historian Josephus:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

– Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3

Oh, i remember Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha Course placing great significance on this passage as part of the evidence that we can be sure Jesus existed. But hold on, what’s this? The passage was supposedly written 93 years after the birth of Jesus, yet it was not referenced by any Christian historian or scholar for over 200 years after that. It was first referenced by church historian Eusebius in 325 CE. Other copies of Jewish Antiquities existed that did not contain this passage. The writing style does not match the rest of Josephus’ writings. This passage comes out of context to the surrounding passages.

What are we to assume? It seems very likely that Eusebius inserted this passage. I mean, it’s perfect for any Christian who wants reassurance that Jesus is mentioned outside of the bible. It’s actually too perfect: Jesus’ works, teachings, being accepted as the Messiah, death, resurrection, fulfilment of prophecies.

And here’s the thing: that’s it! You take that passage on its own and it looks great for Jesus. But when you understand that Josephus wrote at length about many other people at the time, but said no more than this about the supposed saviour of mankind, Jesus Christ, it’s starting to look very much as if Jesus did not actually exist at all.

Then you find out that at the time of Jesus there were already many mythological stories about sun gods who were born to a virgin (often on December 25th), dying and being reborn. It was a common meme. Apparently, Christians have tried to explain that Satan went back in time to create these stories to make it look as though the story of Jesus was based upon them!

I think i can see now why some people consider it unlikely that Jesus ever existed, just like Horus never existed.

As a post-script, here is something i learned a long time ago, but i can’t vouch for whether or not it is true. Apparently, the three stars in Orion’s belt form a line that points down to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. If you extend this line down to the horizon, it points to the exact point where the sun rises, but only on one day of the year. Guess which day? December 25th. The three kings followed the star to find the son.


Riverford Pumpkin fun day

Yesterday i went with my uncle and cousins to visit Riverford Norton, the farm where most of the fruit and vegetables that we eat are grown. We get a box delivered most weeks, and they provide us with excellent quality local seasonal produce.

They have been trying to entice us to visit for years, and when i read that they were doing a pumpkin fun day, we decided to go. It was great to see the farm, and my cousins enjoyed carving pumpkins with hundreds of other kids.

So many pumpkins!

Carving the face

At the fun day they had plenty of food and drink to try and buy, as well as other craft and fun activities for the kids. There were people doing cooking demonstrations, which gave me a few ideas of things i want to try. Here they were cooking some beautiful Romanesco broccoli just with some garlic and chilli. It was delicious!

Cooking demonstrations

Cooked Romanesco

We bought a box of pumpkins, and got lots of free fruit to bring home too!

Goodies from Riverford

Today, inspired by yesterday’s fun day, i decided to carve my own pumpkin. I first got a lot of flesh and seeds out, that i will use for soup, pancakes and toasted pumpkin seeds!

Carving my own pumpkin

Whenever i carve a pumpkin i like to do it in honour of something i feel passionately about. This year i decided to make a tribute to Buffer! :)

Buffer pumpkin with a candle inside

I look forward to putting it on display tomorrow night! :)

Buffer 2.0.1 for Android

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback about the Buffer for Android new release two days ago. We were very happy to receive so much positive feedback.

I know that we had a couple of problems. The two that stood out the most were the time zone issues (already fixed) and the shortening of URLs.

I am happy to say that URL shortening is coming in the very next release. 2.0.1 should be coming to the marketplace within the next 12 hours.

Update: Buffer 2.0.1 is now available! :)

Here’s a sneak preview for you; URL shortening comes at around 0:40.

In addition, we’ve paid some attention to the styling, going back to standard Android styles in many cases rather than trying to override it with green, which didn’t really work too well. Tom has also come up trumps with some new icons for us!

Here’s a comparison between 2.0 and 2.0.1 – i think it’s starting to look really stylish now!

Update: Buffer 2.0.1 is now available! :)

New Buffer for Android – a couple of tips

I have spent the last 5 weeks working on the all-new Buffer for Android. I’ve learnt a lot about Android and Java, and it has been great fun. I am really happy with version 2.0. It was very exciting to release it to the world last night.

We’ve had a lot of feedback, most of it very positive, thank you to everyone who has tried it and given feedback. There are a few things that i want to mention here.

Time zone issues

At the moment, the API is reporting the time in GMT rather than your local time. This is a mistake from us, and we should have caught that, so sorry about that. I am sure Joel or Tom can get it fixed very soon, and you won’t need to update the Android app, it will just start working for you automatically.

Rest assured that your updates will still be sent according to your schedule, whether you add them through the Android app or through the web. The web will show the correct times for you.

Update: Tom has since fixed this issue! :)

No default profile selected

It is possible that you might have no profile selected. You’ll get the message “Please select at least one profile to post from”. I realise this could be annoying. I will make a fix so that if you only have one profile, that one will get selected automatically.

Update: This is fixed in version 2.0.1 which is now available. I’ll keep the following workaround here because it might still be useful.

In the meantime there is a workaround you can use. Go to your Buffer profile settings and click “add default”.

Having done that, go into Buffer on your phone, use the menu to choose Sign out and then sign in again. From now on it will select your profile by default.

Refresh interval

To speed things up on your phone, i have added some caching so that it doesn’t continually have to connect to the internet. The cache lasts for 2 hours, or until you add or edit updates from your phone, at which point it fetches again from the Buffer API.

If you add or reorder updates from another device, or in the web app, they might not necessarily be shown in your Android app, due to this caching. You can always force a refresh by choosing the Refresh option from the menu.

Short URLs

We are currently not providing an option to shorten URLs within the Android app. We plan to add this in a future release but right now you might see that a long URL means you haven’t enough characters to write everything you want to say.

As a workaround, if you add the update to your Buffer, you’ll find that it does shorten the URL for you. You can then go into the app and edit the update to add your comment. (A long-press on the update will give you the option to edit, copy text or delete.)

Update: Dan Monzelowsky suggests sharing first to an app called Abbrevator! to get a short link, and then sharing from there to Buffer.

Update 2: Version 2.0.1 now shortens URLs for you and it’s available in the marketplace now! :)

Anything else?

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. We’re eager for feedback and suggestions so don’t hesitate. If you have any other tricks/workarounds for using version 2.0 please share them too! :)

Unless there’s a big solar flare!

I was just listening to The Angry Atheist episode 37 interview with The Godless Bastard and i was highly amused by this exchange.

Somehow they got talking about the internet and our reliance upon it.

– It’s almost like a drug … my world comes to a screeching halt without the internet … we just become so dependent on the technology, i mean, how the hell do we get by without it? That’s what i want to know.

– We don’t have to. We’re never gonna have to. It’s always gonna be there!

– Yep, i know, i know!

– Unless there’s a big solar flare!

– That’s right, that’s right, it’ll take everything out!

I have heard the sun is getting more active at the moment, and solar flares are becoming more common and more powerful. Part of me really wants to see what would happen if a big solar flare takes down all our telephones, television and internet. How will we behave when cut off from the wider world? Would we turn to our local communities for support? I like to hope we would.

I have a few close friends locally, but i always think that i could have many more friends in my neighbourhood if it didn’t just seem so weird to go and introduce myself. I think it might take something drastic like a solar flare to get us off our computers, out of our safe little houses and connect with the people around us.

Quick update on my coming out

I mentioned it on twitter, but for the benefit of those who didn’t see …

I traveled to visit my parents today. It was a bit of a surprise for them, heheh! I said i had something to tell them.

I sat down with my dad and stepmum and told them i am an atheist. I explained pretty much the entire contents of my letter that i wrote earlier (that was my preparation to decide what i wanted to say).

They took it extremely well. They listened calmly and kindly. They did not try to change my mind. The only cringeworthy bit was my dad saying, “Even if you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you!”

They both seemed to appreciate my honesty in telling them, and agreed that it’s better that i should admit my lack of belief, rather than try to force myself to believe something that doesn’t make sense to me.

I was even asked, “So what is humanism?” and i think i answered it well.

I have a new respect for my parents, and a sense of relief in myself. Suddenly being an atheist doesn’t seem like a big thing anymore. It’s not something i have to hide or feel ashamed of. It just a word that describes something about me.

I think this will change how i view my non-belief. It’s as if … previously i was christian by default and constantly fighting that: “No! No! I’m not a christian! I am an atheist!” Somehow i feel i can go forwards from this point accepting that my atheism is normal for me.

Thanks to everyone who has given me support and encouragement in this!

A letter to my dad

Dear Dad,

I like to think we’ve always been a pretty honest family; we tend to share our thoughts and feelings with each other and don’t keep much hidden. I’m not very good at keeping secrets; i prefer to talk about things, even if i know those things aren’t what you want to hear, or if those things could cause us pain.

I’ve been keeping a secret from you for a few years, and i don’t want to anymore. I think you might have guessed, or suspected. You know i don’t go to church anymore, and you know i love to learn about science. We don’t tend to talk a lot about religion anymore. Maybe i avoid the subject when it comes up, or maybe you don’t ask because you think you might not want to hear my answer.

I am an atheist. I don’t know for a fact that God doesn’t exist – for all i know maybe there is a God. I will happily say i don’t know. However, with the lack of any reasonable evidence i have concluded that, even though i don’t know for sure, i believe it’s unlikely. Hence i don’t believe in God. I certainly do not believe in a God who takes an ongoing interest in human life on planet Earth, a God who can be offended by what we do, a God who is perfect and omnipotent but is unable to forgive sin without sending a son to be brutally murdered.

The stories of Christianity stopped making sense to me long before i gave up my faith. I actually stopped believing in the devil years before i stopped believing in God. Looking back at them now, they seem like curious mystical stories, almost as unbelievable to me as any of the mythological stories of other religions. The only reason Christian stories have any resonance with me now is because i was brought up to believe them. I believed them because you did, and it was unfathomable to me that you could be wrong.

I want you to know that i am happy in my unbelief. I have found comfort in science, in fact, logic and reason. I have found explanations that do away with the need for a God to explain the things we can’t understand. God of the gaps has shrunk and become so small as the gaps have been replaced by science that i am happy to do away with God altogether. Even though there are things i still don’t know, like “What caused the big bang?” I am happy to say “I don’t know”. I don’t need to conclude that “God did it!” and anyway that would still leave me with further questions. If the universe needed a creator, and God was that creator, then God must have needed a creator too. You’ll tell me that God was outside of time and has always existed, but that’s not a good enough answer. I would rather stick to “I don’t know”.

There are things about church that i miss. I miss collective worship. I went back to church at one point for the music; i loved the feeling of singing together, and the moving effect of music. I tried to join the band there but they wouldn’t let me because they sensed my doubt.

I miss the feeling of community. As a Christian you automatically have friends who care for you and look out for you. I missed it so much that i created my own community: i started a Humanist group in Winchester. I have made good friends who meet on a monthly basis for tea and a chat. We keep in touch through email and text message, and on twitter. We meet up individually for coffee and have meals at each others houses sometimes. We recognise that morality doesn’t just come from religion, nor from law. I believe most human beings are basically good people automatically, capable of making up their own minds about what is right and wrong.

I guess i’m telling you this because i want you to be proud of me for who i am. I haven’t told you for so long because i am afraid of your disappointment. I told myself that you didn’t need to know, that it would just upset you, that it would cause you to waste your time praying for me to be converted back. But these were just excuses.

If your faith is as strong as i think it is, you will believe that i am going to end up in hell and it is your responsibility to do everything you can to save me. That’s hard, i know. I wish you could just let me take my own responsibility for that, but i know you can’t. I appreciate that you love me so much that you’ll want to save me from what you perceive as my certain doom. I can’t expect you not to try.

My personal belief is that when i die the most likely thing that happens is that i will simply cease to exist and have no consciousness. That doesn’t upset me at all, just as it doesn’t upset me that i had no consciousness before my birth. All it does is makes me more eager to enjoy this one life that by some remarkable fluke of probability i have the pleasure of experiencing. It leads me to want to make the world a better place than it currently is. I would love to leave this world better than i found it, and i know i only have a limited time in which to make my mark.

These days, i’m just being true to myself. I believe in things that make sense to me. I can’t force myself to believe there is a God and an afterlife when i think it’s very unlikely. I tried that for a while – i tried to take on trust the things that other people told me, but it didn’t work for long. In the end it just made my beliefs more shaky, so that once i doubted one thing, the rest just came tumbling down.

I love you and i respect you and i hope we remain close as a family, maybe becoming closer than before now that i have been able to be honest with you.

aimee xxx

An evening with Professor Stuart Burgess

Last night i went to a talk given by Professor Stuart Burgess on biblical creationism. It was a public event at Winchester Guildhall, organised by the Hyde Street Chapel, our local congregation of hard-core young-earth creationists. Since anybody is welcome, seven atheists/humanists decided to go along. We weren’t there to cause a fuss, just to ask some questions.

Burgess is a professor of Engineering Design at Bristol university. If you read British Centre for Science Education summary of Stuart Burgess you might get a clue on why we wanted to be there. This guy has some seriously scary beliefs, and uses force and scare tactics to try to make other people believe them too.

The infiltration

After a quick drink and snack at the nearby pub, we went in separately and distributed ourselves throughout the audience. I sat next to a retired minister from Kent and immediately had something to talk about: my dad is a minister and my mum lives in Kent! :) I am sure the minister fully believed i was a Christian. Which meant i was privy to overhearing some interesting pre-talk discussions next to me, chuckling about how anyone could be so stupid to dismiss the beauty of creation. Yup, this crowd was hooked in from the start.

Someone took to the stage to welcome us and introduce the speaker. I smiled as i received a “special welcome to anyone who is here for the first time – we trust you’ll feel at home”.

The talk

Professor Stuart Burgess opened the talk: The Design Argument. Burgess outlined that design reveals a designer. As it does in mechanics, so it does in nature too.

The first slide was a technical diagram of an aeroplane, accompanied by the statement that an aeroplane is designed. We switched to a picture of a bird, then the bone structure. I think Burgess pointed out some kind of a similarity between the bird and the plane and instantly concluded that if an aeroplane is designed, then a bird must be too.

I don’t want to debunk everything, or this will get really long. But feel free to smash any of Burgess’ arguments to pieces in the comments below! :)

You don’t need a PhD to understand the design argument, even a child can understand it.

This quote is interesting in context of later comments that insulted the audience’s intelligence and claimed that you DO need a PhD to understand pretty much anything else.

On the day of judgement there will be no excuses. It’s no good saying that you listened to Dawkins.

Here we get a hint towards Burgess’ real soap box (judgement day) and an introduction to the nemesis of the talk, Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins knows nothing about design.

We were repeatedly told throughout the talk that Dawkins has no qualification to speak about design, never having designed anything. There was a lot of bragging that Burgess tried to cover up with modesty “I don’t really want to bring this up but … I’m a professor of engineering design and Dawkins isn’t” sort of thing.

You often hear from Dawkins, “That giraffe just evolved a long neck and it wasn’t very difficult”.

I don’t know Dawkins’ work well enough to comment, but i suspect this is a gross misrepresentation, a flippant throw-away comment to try and discredit Dawkins.

Having been told what a useless n00b Dawkins is, it was time for us to be impressed by some of Burgess’ designs. Cue complicated technical diagrams and mathematical equations along with casually insulting the intelligence of the audience.

This is something i invented and designed. I don’t expect you to understand it.

I would be very offended if anyone told me that something like that could evolve. It took me many months of hard work to design it.

I really wish Richard Dawkins would take my first year engineering course in design. He would learn that it doesn’t happen by chance.

We were treated to a video of Envisat (Environmental Satellite) going into orbit in 2002. Burgess contributed to the design of the auto-expanding solar array, and paused the video at a few points to draw our attention to its magnificent design. There was a wry quip that some people thought it was called Envisat because they were envious of it.

I am saddened so often to hear Dawkins say that design and creation is easy, that it just happens.

We moved on to another of Burgess’ favourite topics: the irreducible complexity of the human knee joint. This is mostly from a paper written in 1999 that has been heavily criticised. Bristol university list Burgess’ other publications, but omit this one.

It was made clear that we shouldn’t expect to understand any of it. A diagram showed two bones and four ligaments. It looked pretty simple to me, but apparently you’d have to be in your final year at university to appreciate it. I forget whether Burgess said you’d have to be studying biology or engineering.

Burgess tried to simplify it for us by demonstrating how 4 pieces of Meccano move when connected together. We were specifically told that the 4-bar compact hinge knee joint “cannot evolve”. It was on the slide and everything. It is Burgess’ belief that the elbow joint could evolve, but the knee joint cannot.

The human knee joint is too wonderful for Richard Dawkins to understand. He will just say it evolved because he thinks everything did.

Burgess successfully omitted all the criticisms of the last twelve years that explain how multiple characteristics can develop simultaneously, and still sticks to the misguided belief that evolution says characteristics develop one at a time.

We were shown a few slides that demonstrate 4-bar mechanisms in birds, fish and dragonflies. It seems that Burgess encourages engineering students to search for these marvellous 4-bar mechanisms in animals.

Burgess made a few more comments disregarding evolution but did not dwell on them. Some sarcastic remark about “evolutionary breakthroughs” triggered a sympathetic chuckle from the audience, who apparently were lapping it all up.

Everywhere i look, i see optimal design. Everything is optimal.

Even the human eye? Our nose and throat connection? The laryngeal nerve? Our sex organs right next to our waste disposal system? One hole for eating, drinking, talking and breathing? You’re telling us these are all optimal design?

All species of bird ALL have optimal wings, and that is true if you look back in the fossil records. Complete optimal design.

As one of my twitter followers pointed out: “Tell that to a penguin.”

Now we moved on to added beauty. A round column can hold up a building, but architects add features such as ridges and elaboration that add to the beauty without providing additional functionality. Apparently we see the same thing happening in nature.

Evolution cannot explain birdsong or the beauty of peacocks.

I know what Burgess is getting at: evolutionary theory has something in it about unnecessary features being lost. I suppose the answer to this lies in competition. The peahen chooses the most attractive peacock to mate with, and that’s how the genes for beauty get preserved and enhanced. I’m guessing here; i should look into this in more detail.

And then we were told we would need a degree in music to understand the beauty of bird song! This whole thing relies on me being too stupid to understand anything, therefore I have to rely on experts to tell me what to believe.

Sadly, millions of people read Dawkins’ books.

This triggered a reminder in me: when i was a Christian i was too scared to read anything by Dawkins. I think we were discouraged from it, though i can’t remember explicitly being told not to. It was more likely from comments like this. Personally, i think i was scared that i might learn something that would cause me to have doubts, and doubts are bad. You must always just believe.

Funnily enough, not knowing anything about Dawkins, i still had an opinion. I remember once, as a Christian, walking into a bookshop with another christian, seeing The God Delusion on promotion and commenting “I feel so sorry for Richard Dawkins”.

Burgess made a smug comparison of credentials in engineering and mechanical design. A table on screen listed Burgess’ credibility: over 100 publications, 30 years experience in the field, 10 years teaching experience and so on. Next to Burgess were Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, with great big triumphant zeroes in their columns. All this was covered with a lot of feigned embarrassment: “I apologise for comparing myself to Dawkins and Dennett … I didn’t really want to show you this …”

The table was carefully constrained to make Burgess look great, and make Dawkins and Dennett look like numpties. In fact it just points out that they specialise in different fields. You could construct a similar table constrained to experience in biology, and Burgess would look like the biggest n00b of them all.

Apparently Dawkins always criticised imperfect design but never suggests a better design. This was mentioned in reference to the human blind spot, something i happen to know a bit about, so i called Burgess out on it later.

In his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth, Dawkins is more angry than he’s ever been.

Dawkins is trying to make everybody see the world in a very black way.

There were a few off-hand comments about atheists being angry, offensive, arrogant bullies. It was not specifically spelled out, but young ears in particular would have heard a character portrayal that will stick with them.

Right after those comments, we got a perfect example of Burgess being offensive, arrogant, and a bully!

I had a student come to me and say he thought he had designed a perpetual motion machine. I said to him, “You are a fresher! You have only been here for one week. You have unconscious ignorance. You don’t even know what your ignorances are. Come back to me in your final year and then we’ll see if you have designed a perpetual motion machine!”

I don’t think this was a one-off occurrence of belittling students. I can’t remember the specifics, but there was a definite “This is what i tell my students” to do with unconscious ignorance, and after a few years they might get conscious ignorance, followed by unconscious knowledge and maybe finally conscious knowledge.

I think you know where Richard Dawkins fits into that!

Sniggers from the audience. In case we didn’t get it, Burgess spelled it out.

Richard Dawkins doesn’t even know what he is ignorant of.

We were coming to the end and the pace picked up with ever more absurd statements.

I could find a billion arguments that prove God exists but they would be ignored because they are not the evidence science is looking for.

It got more religious in theme. Burgess started going on about The Curse, that we live in cursed times. Everything bad was blamed on this Curse, including sore throats (Burgess had a sore throat last night).

We came back to the original scare tactics, clearly Burgess’ real passion: Judgement Day. Again we were told that there would be no excuses on the day of judgement. You can’t stand before God and say you ignored all the evidence of creation.

People have to remember that they will be in trouble on the day of reckoning. We have a duty to inform our friends and neighbours.

And don’t worry if you don’t understand anything about logic or reasoning, or science at all:

The way you argue can be more important than what you’re saying. It’s a spiritual argument. God works in people’s hearts.

The questions

Due to Burgess’ cursed throat, there was only opportunity for three questions. I put my hand up straight away and talked about the human eye and the blind spot. Burgess had said that Dawkins never provides a better design, but i suggested that the octopus eye was an example of a better design. Their light receptors are in front of the nerves, whereas ours are behind. We have this gap where the nerves go through the retina to the brain, giving us this blind spot so our brain basically has to hallucinate to make up the picture. This can be shown with a few optical illusions. Octopuses, and all cephalopods, don’t have this design flaw. So my question: “Do you think God prefers octopuses to humans?”

Burgess said that octopuses are very different and have different requirements for vision. “I stand in front of you now looking in the audience and i’m not aware of any blind spot” (No, because our brains are pretty awesome at inventing what it thinks might be in the blind spot – see these blind spot tests and map your blind spot.)

Burgess ended the answer by stating that we can’t always understand why God designed something in a certain way, but it is always perfect.

Jon, another infiltrator, picked up the question and pushed Burgess a little further on the design of octopus eyes. A teenager in front of me whispered “Oooh, i hate him! He was here last time!”

Burgess allowed for one last question. And it was Clio, another infiltrator! Actually, i don’t think the Christians there had any questions; maybe they were just there to pick up creationist arguments to tell to their evolutionist friends.

Clio is a medical doctor and was successfully able to push back and forth with Burgess. I was delighted that Clio brought up the laryngeal nerve which i only learned about yesterday, and found fascinating. It provides a good indication that we evolved from something like a fish.

In fish, this nerve goes straight down from the brain, past the heart to the gills. In all mammals, the laryngeal nerve still exists, still loops round the heart, and comes back up the neck to the larynx (voice box). It enables us to talk and swallow. In giraffes, this nerve travels 4 metres from the brain, down the neck to the heart, then comes back up again to a point 2 inches from where it started. An intelligent designer would presumably have chosen the optimum 2 inches route rather than 4 metres. In designing you have the opportunity of starting from scratch. Evolution makes more sense for gradually stretching this nerve over the course of millennia.

Burgess had no answer to this, which is a shame because some people have made good points about this nerve also branching off to other organs, and suggesting that maybe the brain needs to know about what the stomach is doing in order to decide how to control the larynx. But Burgess, not being a biologist, merely made reference to “some people” who thought the laryngeal nerve was poorly designed but later realised it was perfectly designed after all! :D

After a few more questions from Clio about sickle-cell anaemia it all came back to simply blaming every bad thing on The Curse … and praising God for everything good! Whoopee! :D

Having sussed that some people in the audience were not christians, the host came back on stage and encouraged us to read our Bibles “and if you haven’t got one we’ll give you one!” :)

The infiltrator chats

The best part came at the end, where we talked to the people there. I firstly went to challenge Stuart Burgess on the billion proofs of God’s existence that would supposedly be ignored. I think that if there were even one undeniable proof that God exists, everyone would want to know about it. I’d certainly change my mind straight away if someone had indisputable evidence.

Burgess disagreed. “People don’t want to know” … “Essentially there are a billion proofs all around us and people just ignore them”. I tried to press my point even harder – “Because there are alternative explanations. I’m talking about something that provided absolute proof with no other explanation”. Burgess still thought that people would just ignore it.

I later got chatting with a group of people who admitted to having doubts, but just chose to trust God in all of it. I encouraged them to think in terms of knowledge vs belief: “You don’t know for a fact that God exists, but you believe God exists. I don’t know for a fact that God does not exist, but i don’t believe in God.”

We had a very nice conversation, very respectful of each other. It basically came to this: we had the same doubts and the same questions. They chose to go to their bibles, and i chose to go to science. I said i like things that can make predictions, that you can experiment and test, and multiple people can come to the same conclusions from the evidence.

Somebody told me there are no contradictions in the bible. I got the Skeptics Annotated Bible up on my tablet PC and turned to just the short list of contradictions in the bible. I can respect their faith and beliefs, but if they tell me the bible has no contradictions, i will tell them that it does. We just looked at the first question: the grandfather of Jesus. They looked it up on their Blackberry and said “Oh yeah! I never noticed that!” and then said something about the genealogy of Jesus being important. I suggested that maybe Matthew elaborated a little to put Jesus in the right family to match the prophecies.

I hope i showed that there are questions to be asked, and that atheists are not all angry, arrogant, offensive, bullying.

I was actually thanked for coming: so often it’s all one-sided and they found it interesting to have another point of view to consider. I know i would have loved it if something like that had happened when i was young and brainwashed, and having doubts. It would have been really good for me to see that someone can come to alternative explanations and be happy about it. That’s really the reason we were there.

The end

Now i have written far too much! But i hope if some skeptics find this blog post in the future they will be prepared for an evening with Stuart Burgess. I have no reason to suspect that the content matter will change much: it seems Burgess has been rehashing this stuff about the knee joint for the last twelve years and will continue to do so for a lot longer yet.

Now bring on the comments! Let’s see if i get an army of arrogant offensive bullying christians! :)