Thursday, September 28, 2006

There is No God (And You Know It)

There is No God (And You Know It)
Sam Harris

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.
The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe -- at this very moment -- that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?


The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever need identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (eighty-seven percent of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence -- and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible, and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

Consider: the city of New Orleans was recently destroyed by hurricane Katrina. At least a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and over a million have been displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm “of biblical proportions” would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. And yet, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that eighty percent of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

As hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran. Indeed, their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence: their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is -- and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If He exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion -- to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions, and religious diversions of scarce resources -- is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

This is an excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto, to be published at in December.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Irwin’s ‘final lesson’ was his most valuable

Pub Date: 16/09/2006 Pub: ST Page: S14
Day: Saturday
Edition: FIRST
Headline: Irwin’s ‘final lesson’ was his most valuable
Page Heading: REVIEW
Source: SPH

Senior Writer
LAST week, a stingray stuck a fatal barb into conservationist Steve Irwin’s
heart. Immediately after, his fellow Australian, feminist writer Germaine Greer, got a whole sling of verbal arrows when she wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper suggesting that Irwin had got what he deserved. Enraged fans attacked her for being a “bitter feminist” — as if that had anything to do with the price of fish — and even Queensland’s Premier Peter Beattie got into the act, calling her argument “extreme radical rubbish” and stating he wished he could triple the tax on her Queensland rainforest property. He said: “We should double the taxation. If I could do it, I would double it or triple the taxation on it.”

Okay, maybe Ms Greer was a little insensitive to Irwin’s grieving picture-perfect family, but what she said — about Irwin disrespecting the space that animals need — is painfully valid, whether or not we want to listen. And more often than not, we don’t. Thankfully, on Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) came out in support of her sentiments. Its spokesman, Mr Dan Mathews, said on of Irwin: “He made a career out of antagonising frightened wild animals, which is a very dangerous message to send to kids.”

Irwin’s tale reminds me a little of the tragic story of Mr Timothy Treadwell, an American conservationist who saw himself as a protector of bears. Mr Treadwell spent a lot of time in the Alaskan wilderness filming bears and “befriending” them. He would talk to them, give them names and even got up close to touch them. In October 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were mauled to death by two bears. Parts of their remains were found in one of the animals, both of which were eventually killed by park rangers.

Last year, German filmmaker Werner Herzog released a highly acclaimed
documentary on Mr Treadwell called Grizzly Man, using the reams of footage Mr
Treadwell had shot of himself and his beloved creatures.It never made it to Singapore, presumably because the distributors thought it had limited appeal. Documentaries don’t normally do well here.

I caught the film — one of the most compelling documentaries I have ever seen —
in New York where it did not draw much attention too, probably because it
opened at around the same time as another documentary, March Of The Penguins.
Everybody and their grandmother went to see the penguins. In the United States,
the movie went on to make US$77 million (S$121 million), becoming the second
highest-grossing documentary there, after Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Elsewhere around the world, it was a big hit too. In its opening week in China, the film earned two million yuan (S$400,000), taking up a quarter of the total movie takings and making box office history, reported Xinhua. Worldwide, the movie earned US$45 million and even enjoyed a short run in Singapore. Its success was understandable. The penguins in the movie were cute and resembled nuclear families — in short, they seemed human.This was reinforced by the movie’s tagline, “In the harshest place on earth, love finds a way”, which implied that penguins were capable of a human emotion.

The American version had actor Morgan Freeman narrating, but the original French version unfolded like a bedtime story, with actors supplying the actual voices of Daddy, Mummy and Baby Penguins. Many parents dragged their children to see March Of The Penguins, thinking it a delightful and educational movie. But the lesson learnt — that animals think and behave like human beings — is a harmful and erroneous one. It was precisely that kind of mistaken arrogant thinking that killed Mr Treadwell and, to a lesser extent, Irwin. While Irwin never pretended that all the animals he encountered were cute and cuddly, he did, as Ms Greer pointed out, “barge into” their space to “manhandle” them.

Her ultimate fear, she concluded was that “a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learnt to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo owners in their turn”.

Children have always been fed a highly anthropomorphised diet in popular culture, thanks to cartoon characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Big Bird,Speedy Gonzales, Nemo and all the creatures in Madagascar.But one can easily distinguish between reality and fiction in cartoons. Clown fish do not talk in real life: That much is ascertained pretty quickly. But when films like March Of The Penguins claim to be documentaries and conservationists like Irwin make it a point to poke and prod crocodiles, that line quickly becomes blurred.

It’s one thing to dress your poodle up in baby clothes, it’s totally another thing to assume that your poodle likes it. Irwin’s downfall was assuming he knew better than the animals and that he had the upper hand. A few years ago, he was lambasted by the public for dangling his infant son in one arm while feeding a dead chicken to a crocodile with the other. He then baby-walked his son in the compound.

In his defence at the time, he said he always had the situation under control.
But he could not have been absolutely sure that the crocodile would not lunge unexpectedly — just like that stingray. The irony now is that Irwin’s death may teach the world a lot more about animals than his life ever did.
Human beings can sometimes be animals, but animals will never be human.

Saturday, September 16, 2006



  虽然早在1996年就听闻本地著名英文诗人叶纬雄(Arthur Yap)患上癌症并接受电疗,当本月19日上午他逝世的消息传来,依然令人惋惜。

  两年多前,本地著名英文诗人叶纬雄(Arthur Yap)的喉癌恶化,经过与病魔抗争,终于不治,在睡床上安详过世,享年63岁。

  叶纬雄得病前烟不离手,讲话轻声细语。以前住在金声路一代的老甘榜里,喜欢骑脚踏车到处溜达,也常和许多乡村孩子一样,拿着鱼竿钓鱼,玩弹弓打鸟为乐。不同的是,他从16岁开始几乎遍读英国小说家罗伦斯(D. H. Lawrences)的所有作品。




  本地诗人兼剧作家杨清河(Robert Yeo)和叶纬雄是同学,当时两人就读于圣安德烈学校。他回忆说:“叶纬雄是个害羞和内向的人,除非你主动找他开腔,否则他不会和你说话。”

  学者兼作家卡巴·星(Kirpal Singh)说:“他这个人也有趣味的一面 。以文学创作来说,他是新加坡最好的诗人之一。他是真正深爱诗歌、忠于文学的特例。”

  青年马来文及英文诗人阿芬·萨义特(Alfian Sa'at)说:“我喜欢过3名新加坡英语诗人,其中最欣赏的莫过于叶纬雄。他爱用我们熟悉的新加坡式英语写作。”



  叶纬雄和其他著名的英文诗人汤普(Edwin Thumboo)、李子平、杨清河、吴宝星、卡巴·星等齐名。只是他因患病及生性低调,很少参加文学集会。





里兹北山路 (North Hill Road ,Leeds)



全然 (Absolute)


Website gave clues to killer's intentions

Website gave clues to killer's intentions
A photo allegedly showing Kimveer Gill, 25, named as the gunman who fired on a school in Montreal
Numerous photos apparently showed Gill posing with weapons
If the man police say killed one woman and injured many others in a shooting spree at a Canadian school was hoping for some respect from his fellow goths, there was little forthcoming.

"Pathetic in life... even less in your miserable death," said one posting on the blog Kimveer Gill had set up on a goth culture website.

"I can't understand how you can kill people only because you think they suck!" said another.

Kimveer Gill was 25 years old and was from Quebec, according to the details he put on his profile on the website.

He introduced himself by saying: "His name is Trench. You will come to know him as the Angel of Death."

He looked really mad... He looked like he really wanted to kill people
Witness Mathieu Dominique

On Wednesday he entered a school in Montreal, in a trenchcoat and with a mohican haircut, and opened fire randomly.

One young woman was dead, several people were in critical condition, and more than a dozen others were injured by the time his rampage ended with his own death.

Police arriving on the scene exchanged fire with the gunman, but they believe Gill put a gun to his head and killed himself.

"He looked really mad... He looked like he really wanted to kill people," student Mathieu Dominique told the Canadian Press.

'Life sucks'

Gill's own postings on the site continued until 1041 (1441 GMT) Wednesday, only a few hours before he opened fire at Dawson College.

They said he had been drinking whisky, and that his mood was "crazy" and "postal".

A photo allegedly showing Kimveer Gill, 25, named as the gunman who fired on a school in Montreal
Gill said he wanted to die in a hail of gunfire

There was little information on the killer except what he himself posted on his web profile, including what appeared to be his personal philosophy: "Work sucks... school sucks... life sucks."

The site carried numerous pictures showing the future killer dressed in a trenchcoat, brandishing a gun and a hunting knife, and in a red and white mask.

The pictures appeared to have been taken in a bedroom, which was adorned with gangster and horror film posters.

Some bore slogans expressing his anger.

One was a mocked-up gravestone with the epitaph: "Kimveer. Lived fast died young. Left a mangled corpse."

Another slogan proclaimed: "Life is like a video game, you gotta die sometime."

Massacre game

And it appeared Gill delighted in video games celebrating death.

Under "likes" he expresses admiration for Postal Dude, the player's character in the controversial computer game Postal.

A photo allegedly showing Kimveer Gill, 25, named as the gunman who fired on a school in Montreal
The killer had had no dates recently

The game's title derives from the American expression "going postal", used to refer to someone who goes on a shooting spree to exact revenge for some perceived slight or injustice.

The game, which has been banned in some countries, involves a series of mundane tasks that culminate in a bloodbath.

He also said he liked to play Super Columbine Massacre, an internet-based computer game based on the 1999 shootings at a Colorado high school in which 13 people were killed.

He posted the results of numerous "about yourself" quizzes on the site, one of which concluded that: "Your life is bleak and sinister. You feel anger at the world and you feel like the victim... However deep down you are lost and crying out for help."

In answer to a survey he said he had no fears, and that the goal he would most like to achieve this year was to "stay alive".

Other answers included: Have you ever been in love? "Yes"; Do you get along with your parents: "No"; In the past month have you been on a date: "No"; How do you want to die: "Like Romeo and Juliet, or in a hail of gunfire."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

黄根成:会议期间禁止户外示威 新加坡已相当开放 但更关注安全问题


● 陈能端




  黄根成表示,他明白有些人觉得新加坡应该更开放一点,让公民社会组织(Civil Society Organisation)举行示威,但他重申这些利益团体并非没有发表意见的管道。



   他强调,自纽约九一一恐怖袭击和我国逮捕回教祈祷团成员等事件后,新加坡就一直非常关注国家安全课题。“即使到了今天,回教祈祷团在本区域依然相当活 跃。由于这些原因,我国不能为了让外国人在街头游行而改变法律,做出妥协。我国必须一视同仁,不管是新加坡人还是外国人,他们的举动得符合本地法律。”