Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Present State of My Life with Cheryl and Cats

"And I'm gonna ride this feeling as far as it goes
I'm gonna ride this feeling
I don't know, I don't know
Whether I'm flying or falling
But I'm gonna ride this feeling"

Ride This Feeling (2012) by Kate Miller-Heidke

I can't sleep, so here I am.

Yesterday was a few hours ago and she is currently sleeping soundly under a very substantial amount of fabric, just several feet away from where I sit. We were at a vegetarian restaurant earlier where we had a large salad of a delicious fern the locals call "midin" and batter-fried butter mushrooms. Then, we paid a visit to my go-to booze guy and got ourselves a Chardonnay and a Riesling. We plan to keep the Chardonnay for the 5th of November but we opened the Riesling as soon as we had it chilled. It was very quaffable and we had it over the second half of Sideways (she fell asleep halfway through it the night before) and for all of Jiro Dreams of Sushi - all while cuddling on our extra-wide new slipper chair which we bought for movie nights. For weeks, we were out hunting for a nice small-sized settee but when we saw this slipper chair at Courts - and having test-driven it - we fell in love with it and gave it a home.

The Loveseat™.

Last week, Cheryl moved her whole life and her two cats from Singapore to come live with me in Kuching. She left her job and said goodbye to all her friends, and it felt simultaneously gratifying and terrifying that I am worth that much to her. In just the last few days, she managed to transform our glorified bachelor pad into a home (it has a shoe-rack and everything now), making me realise just how empty and frigid the house really was.

Mikey and Sophie
Sophie (right) is a red classic tabby Maine Coon. Mikey (left) is half Ragdoll, half rug.

Her cats, Mikey and Sophie, faced a month-long sentence at the state quarantine centre for the crime of being flown in from Singapore but I somehow managed to arrange for home quarantine for them after a few calls to the vice director of the veterinary department - I am always surprised with what you can get if you take the time to talk to the right people. They are gorgeous, her kitties, and she loves them like a mother.

I have always talked about getting a cat. Now, I have two. It's like all my dreams are coming true.

Cheryl with chalkboard
Taken on the evening of her bachelorette party. Hence the fluffy tiara.

Am I happy? Yes. Yes yes yes. I have never felt more loved than right now, and I wish I can make her feel just as adored, wanted and needed. In a few minutes, I am going to crawl under the covers and hold my fiancée close to me, a rehearsal for all the nights to come for the rest of our lives. I just picked up my new identity card from the office of the National Registration Department and it has three notable changes from the old card. One, it has a more recent picture of me. Two, instead of Buddhism in the religion field, I am now officially an atheist. Three, it sports my new address in Kuching. Cheryl's new identity card carries the same address, and with them, we can now be married in this city.

That will happen in less than two weeks. Remember, remember, the 5th of November and all that. There was a time when I cannot imagine myself marrying anyone. Tonight, I cannot imagine not marrying Cheryl.

Mikey and me
Mikey and I.

Mikey winking
Mikey winking.

Mikey tired from pole-dancing
Mikey, who had fallen asleep while pole-dancing.

k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My First Bible

"I'm sorry I have to say it but you look like you're sad
Your smile is gone; I've noticed it bad
The cure is if you let in just a little more love
I promise you this, a little's enough"

A Little's Enough (2006) by Angels & Airwaves

I knew two boys in Primary School, both named Chiew. They were best friends and I would later go to the same high school with the pair. They were also the first two Protestant Christians I have ever encountered in my life. For the ease of narration, I shall call one of them Chiew One and the other Chiew Two, and while I never learned very much about what Christians actually believe in back in those days of yore, my interactions with the two of them was what kindled an interest in me for this offshoot cult of Judaism which, at the risk of understating it, got massively out of hand.

When I was either fourteen or fifteen, the Chiews invited me to some kind of a nighttime Christian meet held on the quad of another high school - and since that high school was within biking distance from where I live, I went. At that point in time, the only thing I knew about Christianity was that it's all about some beardy chap called Jesus who was born of a virgin. That was it. I did not even know Christians believe that the man died for the sins of humanity and then came back to life! I attended because the Chiews were performing and I wanted to go show my support. Also, I wanted to meet girls because I was a teenager.

Chiew One played God and from what I could tell, he was refereeing a kung fu showdown between Jesus and Satan (who was portrayed by some Indian guy dressed in all black and that's totally not racist). My memory is a bit fuzzy here but Chiew Two was either the messiah or an extra in the Devil's posse. I did remember that the referee was totally playing favourites and gave Jesus an extra life when his white-clad ass got got handed to him by Satan and his crew. And since I knew next to nothing about the Christian mythos and did not understand the context of the skit, it felt a bit wrong to me when everyone cheered at Jesus' eventual victory after the referee's unfair intervention in reviving Jesus. Err, guys? The whole fight was rigged!

After the bit and many others I have now completely forgotten, Chiew Two approached me at the end of the night and asked me what I thought about the show. I do not remember what I said but I do remember shamelessly asking him if he would give me a Bible. Maybe I wanted to know more about Jesus and Satan. Or maybe I wanted to see if there was really kung fu in the Bible - I don't know.

"Promise me you would take good care of this," he told me as he placed a Gideon Bible with golden covers into my hands. "Do not deface it. Do not tear it or burn it or throw it away."

I tried to read it but the first few pages of Genesis was so blah that I put it away for years before opening it again. But I kept my promise to my friend who made a gift of his faith to me - I never mistreated the book.

Chiew Two would leave in the middle of high school to study in Singapore as an ASEAN scholar while the more intelligent Chiew One (who had always beaten his same-named pal in class ranking) stayed on. With his bestie gone, I became Chiew One's new best friend, and we stayed that way until one day, I let slip to a whole lot of people that he wore hand-me-down undies from his elder brother because I was a moron and a bad friend. We never quite recovered from that, he and I. Now, there is not a lot I can recall about him but I do remember that he became the president of the Christian Fellowship in my school. One day, while we were sitting in class, he said this to me,

"Mary was as virgin as my mother."

Yes, the president of the Christian Fellowship in my school was secretly a blasphemer, and possibly a closeted unbeliever but I did not think very much about it at the time. Three years later after I enrolled in med school, I started reading the Bible in earnest - the very same one that Chiew Two gave me. I had brought it with me to India with me and it came in handy when I began to question my own faith in Buddhism, and wanted to explore what other religions have to offer. I finished reading the Old Testament, feeling uncomfortable with a lot of things it said and what they mean, and I was reading the New Testament, thinking how incongruous it was compared to the older books when his words echoed to me from that classroom, ringing out as clear as the day he said it,

"Mary was as virgin as my mother."

And just like that, I realised a very simple and useful truth: I don't have to believe. And that had made all the difference in my life.

P.S. I still have that gold-covered Gideon Bible.

Changed his mind,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Portrait of Christian Evil

"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Steven Weinberg

This story originally had another title. It was "One Week with a Preacher-Nephrologist" and I meant it to be a humorous account of my short stint in the Nephrology Department working under the tutelage of an unlikely mentor: a skeletal, bespectacled Christian gentleman who is the picture of frugality and modesty. For the purpose of this piece, I shall refer to him as Dr K. Before this, I have known him as a deeply religious Christian man who runs a cell group that meets every Friday down at the OB/GYN clinic and prays with Christian patients by their bedsides. I spent a week this man, and what I learnt about him thoroughly rearranged my impression of him, and this story turned out darker and more disturbing than I expected.

The Beginning

Day one. I met him at the Haemodialysis Unit where he was looking at a patient's case note and then remarking to a nearby Medical Assistant, "This patient's name is Musa. Did you know that the Nabi Musa of the Qur'an is the same person as Moses in the Bible?"

When I introduced myself as the House Officer who would be tagging along with him for the week, his first question to me was, "Have you come to know the Lord, Jesus?"

Mental note: this is a man so immured in his faith for Jesus that he filters the entire world through it, every second of the day.

"I have been to church when I was in med school. And I've read the Bible," I said guardedly. I imagined that if I sprung the 'A' word on him, I would probably be on the receiving end of yet another sales pitch of the Good News (for the bajillionth time). That is thoroughly unacceptable, especially on a Monday morning.

"So which denomination do you belong to?" he pressed on cheerily. Crap.

"None," I admitted. "I have not accepted Jesus. I went to church and read the Bible because I was seeking for truth in religion in my younger days - I investigated Buddhism, Christianity and Islam - but decided that none of it is really suitable for me."

There was a beat, possibly imagined, before he said, "Praise the Lord! A young man in search of the Truth! Did you know that in the Qur'an, in Surat An-Nisā' verse 171, Jesus was referred to as 'kalimatullah', the Word of God, in agreement with the Bible?" I recognised that this is an opening strategy often used by missionaries in attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity by elevating Jesus from prophethood to some suggestion of divinity - so I don't know why he brought it up to me. Anyhow, I know the counterargument by Muslims but I fact-checked it on the web through my phone just to be sure. The Arabic interpretation of the An-Nisā' verse is that Nabi Isa or Jesus is a word (or message) from Allah, rather than The Word of Allah or God, and that John the Baptist is also known as a word from Allah (Surat 'Āli `Imrān verse 39), so there was really nothing special about the reference. What I find even more ridiculous about this is that the verse in An-Nisā' is actually a very specific caution to Muslims against thinking that Jesus is the son of God: "Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son."

This is your brain on Christianity
"Oh, I see your problem there. It's lodged in your frontal cortex."

Addendum to mental note: the Christian lens by which he filters reality also distorts it to fit his worldview.

By the time I looked it up, he had moved on to some other point. He was telling me an anecdote thirteen years ago about how he, back when he was just a Medical Officer, had a teenage patient who tried to commit suicide by drinking Paraquat (a herbicide) due to relationship woes.

"She had a very severe case of ARDS on top of other organ failures, and she could not possibly have survived it," he said. "If you have read the literature on Paraquat poisoning, you'd know that no one recovers from this level of morbidity. She was struggling with every breath and I went to her and told her she had three choices: she could give her life for her boyfriend for whom she had attempted suicide, her grieving parents, or Jesus Christ. She nodded 'yes' for Jesus and I prayed with her. The next day, her lungs miraculously cleared up and she could breath freely without oxygen support! And this is not the only time this had happened."

"Wow," I said, avoiding from questioning his then-clinical impression of the case. "If this sort of recovery was never recorded to happen, did you write it up as a case study and publish it so it can be discussed?"

"No, I never thought of doing that."

Addendum #2 to mental note: He is unaware of confirmation bias. He accepts the answers he likes, and automatically rejects all other possibilities.

This is going to be a very long week.

The Daily Routine

"Puji Tuhan" or "Praise the Lord" is a phrase which he punctuates almost every one of his sentences with. Every morning, I would meet him at the Haemodialysis Unit (or the HDU as it is facetiously called, because our hospital doesn't actually own a High Dependency Unit) where he would give me some Young Earth Creationist material to read. This started after he discovered that I subscribe to the theory of evolution alongside the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (more on that later).

"You must have a personal relationship with Jesus," he repeatedly told me. He would say it randomly during conversations, sometimes as an orphaned remark to break lulls in our conversations while we are walking along some corridor or riding the elevator. Another thing he liked to say was, "I am not going to be able to teach you much about Nephrology - you can learn that from anyone or any book. I feel I can teach you more about Jesus."

He also told me on many occasions - usually when I question an assertion he makes or raise contrary evidence to his Young Earth Creatinism worldview - that I would "make a very good Christian," presumably because he had misappropriated interest in science and scepticism as descriptors for the sheeps of Christendom. This had happened to me multiple times before and it always annoyed me. There was one time when he discussed about early church history with a Christian patient and was telling her that their religion rose to prominence under the patronage of a Roman emperor whose name he had trouble remembering.

"Constantine," I volunteered. He beamed at me and praised my knowledge.

"Are you a Christian too?" the woman asked.

"No," I said.

Anyway, after the daily morning meeting in the "HDU", we would head for our morning clinical rounds in the wards where we would review patients and plan their treatment course. He would ask new patients referred to us if they know Jesus, and if they say yes, he would always spend a minute by their bedside holding their hands and praying for them while I stood silently by, watching, fact-checking some creationist claim he lobbed at me that morning, or texting my fiancée in Singapore. There was this one patient in particular who was admitted because of a leg infection causing a state of shock and that had injured his kidneys. The patient was well on the road to recovery. Even though he still needed to be hooked up to a respirator, his kidney functions were improving day by day and every morning, when I read to Dr K the latest lab results, he would remarked joyously: "Praise the Lord!" and pray with that patient some more.

One morning, we found another patient in his bed, and learned that he had expired overnight from respiratory failure. I suspect that this is one patient that Dr K will not remember, alongside the countless others for whom his prayers have failed.

His Young Earth Creationism

"Did you know the Earth is only 6000 years old?" he told me when he discovered my love for science, referencing the Ussher chronology which calculated the age of the Earth based on Biblical genealogy because he is a Biblical literalist who holds the book as a completely factual document, talking snakes and all. He believes that True Science™ agrees with the Bible and like many creationists, he would try to overwhelm me with a continuous stream of claims contradicting the modern scientific view that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, dinosaurs roamed the Earth more than 200 million years ago, and that evolution theory is well-supported by multiple lines of evidence. He was a full course dinner of pseudoscience: the catastrophic flood causing the apparent fossilisation of prehistoric creatures, an inconsistent atmospheric composition caused by Noah's flood rendering radiometric dating unreliable, evolution violating the third law of thermodynamics, et ceteras.

My strategy is to firmly stop him after he had presented one claim and tell him that I need to investigate and read up on it first before he throws me another claim to deal with. I have a healthy respect for the limitations of my knowledge and I always look shit up, particularly if it involves a field I am not trained in.

One of the things he brought up was that dinosaur DNA had been retrieved from fossils as evidence that dinos couldn't possibly have lived millions of years ago because DNA would have broken down over that period of time and the retrieval of ancient DNA (or aDNA) is only feasible up to an upper limit of 1 million years ago. He also mentioned an experiment where an ancient bacteria, supposedly hundreds of million years old, was resurrected. His argument is that if the Earth is young, there couldn't possibly be enough time for significant evolution to happen.

So, I went home, trawled the internet for everything I can find on aDNA and discovered that Dr K's claim that dinosaur DNA had been recovered from fossils is a lie. The closest science papers I can find relating to the subject is Schweitzer et al's discovery of soft tissue preservation in a fossilised bit of a T. rex, supposedly gender-specific tissue that supports the relatedness of dinosaurs to birds, and sequenced proteins from mammoth and T. rex fossils - but no DNA. Previous claims of dinosaur DNA retrieval could not be replicated and were most likely contaminations. When researching Dr K's ancient bacteria resurrection claim, I got an even better insight into his mental processes. The original paper by Kaçar and Gaucher described how they spliced a 500 million year old gene (Elongation Factor Tu, or EF Tu) into a modern E. coli's genome, and the ancient gene was actually was actually reconstructed via phylogenetic analysis, rather than something they found in a glacier somewhere. Dr K likely got his information from second hand sources with a creationist bias, probab'y misinterpreted by overzealous non-scientists and mangled by hearsay. This is why one should always read science, and not read about science.

I confronted him the next day with all these references loaded up into my phone, and after showing him how he got this wrong, he simply shrugged, conceded dismissively that the dinosaur DNA he read about could really just be modern contamination, and immediately tried to unload another wagon-ful of creationist claims on me. The fact that something he told me the day before with so much conviction was shown to be wrong did not faze him one bit. Being in error did nothing to make him question his sources of information, or re-examine the veracity of his other strongly held convictions because - it's obvious, isn't it? - he only wanted to turn me to his worldview. I would go on to refute several other claims of his (each time after diligent research) but to no avail.

Addendum #3 to my mental picture of this man: He refuses to question his own beliefs, even in the face of disconfirming evidence.

His intellectual dishonesty eventually got to a point of laughable obviousness. There was an instant where I told him that I had looked up a point he made and said that what he claimed was inaccurate - his immediate reaction was to explain how I had gotten it wrong instead and by reflex, I whipped out my phone from my pocket to check for bullshit. That simple action was enough to instantly make him change his tune; admitting that I was correct before I could even prove him wrong.

On the last day of I worked with Dr K, finally having enough, I decided to go on the offensive for the first time. I asked him if dinosaur fossils are created by rapid sedimentation due to the Flood, why are the different species organised neatly by geological layers e.g. you won't find human remains in a deeper strata than a velociraptor's bones? How can you explain the genetic diversity within individual species in modern times when only seven of every clean animal and two of every unclean animals were rescued on board the ark? How did plant life survived 40 days and 40 nights submerged under water, and what did the herbivores ate when they left the ark? Why are kangaroos and koalas only found in Australia, and how did they even crossed the sea to get there? I just dumped an avalanche of blatant logical inconsistencies evident within the Flood myth onto him, and he could not address any of them satisfactorily.

One of the most hilarious claims he made was based on Genesis 1:6-7 which described water above and water below, separated by the "firmament", as an explanation for why the lifespans of human beings before Flood would last for many hundreds of years - because the water in the sky is blocking more of the deadly radiation from space compared to modern times.

"As in, there were more clouds back then?" I asked.

"No, there was a layer of water in the sky,"
he answered.

"You mean there was a sea of liquid water suspended in mid air? Defying gravity?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"Yes," he said, without any trace of irony whatsoever. "The Bible is truth. Creation science is bound by what the Bible says. We simply cannot have explanations which contradict it."

Finally, I wearily explained to him how unacceptable that is to me - how it flies in the face of scientific integrity to simply assume that the Bible is accurate and truthful, and decide that you would only accept evidence which fits the Biblical stories. That is a clear bias. "Supposing," I say, "that Muslims decide that scientific evidence should only be researched and interpreted through the verses in the Qur'an, which they consider to be absolutely true, what do you say to that then?"

He thought about it and sheepishly admitted that Creation science "is a matter of faith."

I took that as a victory.

The Subtle Evil of Faith

In the afternoons, he would be working in the HDU, doing paperwork, seeing patients or downloading more creationist material to drown me with. I walked in one day and found him speaking earnestly to a Chinese man, an end stage renal failure patient on dialysis, while illustrating the content of his speech on a piece of notepaper. I listened in on their Mandarin conversation as I helped Dr K with data collation for his Paraquat poisoning study. When they concluded the consultation, Dr K gave the patient the piece of paper he had been doodling on. I excused myself and exited the room right after the patient left, finding him in the waiting area. Quietly, I asked to take a photograph of the note Dr K gave him.

Jesus Note
I have totally seen that diagram before back when door-to-door
Christians visited me in my hostel room in college.

On the paper was that popular diagram which Christian proselytisers like to use to illustrate their religion: the image of a river of sin separating man from God, with Jesus on the Cross as the only way bridging the divorce. The sentences below the diagram can be translated as such,

"Jesus: I am the way.
Jesus, ah! I admit my sins. Thank you for your holy blood which cleanses my sins. Please bless me. Amen."

He had told the patient to recite it (and the patient, in typical Malaysian Chinaman fashion, asked how many times he should chant the lines). Dr K was attempting to convert his patients to his religion - people who typically live on the lifeline of regular dialysis, when nothing short of a kidney transplant gives them any chance of recovery. Is it not unethical to target patients who are suffering and perhaps, grasping at straws? Isn't it no better than deathbed conversions? I asked for the opinion of a Christian colleague of mine: he believes that it is not wrong for Dr K to offer spiritual comfort to his patients.

During Wednesday clinic, I noticed that he would ask some of the patients who see him there if they had given any thought about what he told them about Jesus in previous consultations - and most of them would just awkwardly laugh it off before asking him actually pertinent questions about their conditions. I learnt then that he was not just offering an option of spiritual comfort to his patient; he was actively badgering them about converting! Even when they are fine with whatever religious beliefs they hold and wasn't looking for an alternative! This revelation soured my impression of him completely, and stripped whatever modicum of respect he still commanded in my eyes. But it gets worse.

On Friday, I accompanied him to the Intensive Care Unit where he was seeing a young Muslim teenage boy who was very ill from yes, Paraquat poisoning.

"I asked him if he would give himself freely into the arms Jesus,"
he told me. "The boy nodded yes, and I prayed with him."

This is a despicable act and it breaches any standard of professionalism and ethics that medical practitioners are expected to uphold. He had, without the consent or knowledge of the boy's Muslim parents, opportunistically approached a dying child and converted him to Christianity. This is when the final realisation hit me: his conviction that he is right, that his faith is the only "true" faith and that he is performing God's bidding was what made him feel righteous even when he acted so disgracefully and ignominiously - for what is mundane, mortal morality when compared to the will of the divine? Isn't he, a servant of God, above it all?

I saw it and recognised that it's the same mad certitude in the smile of a Muslim terrorist when he flew a passenger plane full of innocent men, women and children into a skyscraper filled with even more innocent men, women and children, believing in his dying breath that he did what his deity wanted him to do. The true face of evil does not look into a mirror and see evil reflected within, but see instead the face of a saint, a martyr, the proverbial man of God. Dr K had succeeded in convincing me that I would never ever want anything to do with faith or his Jesus Motherfucking Christ.

Last Wednesday, on the 12th of September, 2012, the boy died.

The Nephrologist will tell future House Officers apprenticed to him the story about a young person dying from Paraquat poisoning and how his faith and prayers miraculously saved that one girl, thirteen years ago.

Saw the pavement stones on the road to hell,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Will Now Hear What I Really Sound Like

"A speech is like a woman's skirt: it needs to be long enough to cover the subject matter but short enough to hold the audience's attention."

Author unknown

I have very little stage experience. The first that I could remember was in kindergarten where I was suppose to be a wind-up toy coming to life at night in a little girl's bedroom - I had Groucho glasses on for some reason and as it was a preschool production, porn did not ensue. When I was 15, I sang a song on stage during a Buddhist camp. I sang Miss You Like Crazy by The Moffatts (shut up, we all went through those years), beating an older guy who roped in a friend to play the guitar as he garroted Green Day's Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) with his vocal cords. My voice broke the following year, thus ending my budding musical career. When I was 16, I got roped into some kind of personality pageant in another Buddhist camp where I answered some Miss Universe-type questions and danced on stage with a really hot 13-year-old. I won that too, haha. And it's not creepy if the girl's age is my age divided by two plus sev... holy shit, it was creepy!

What I consider to be my best stage achievement was when I was 17 and was involved in organising a Buddhist meet. I was put in charge of coming up with games for the younger kids and designing the programme booklet. A buddy of mine was suppose to emcee and after he showed everyone how excruciatingly bad he is in the first few minutes, I simply stepped in, relieved him of the microphone, and took over the job for the next 8 hours, and the head organiser of the event came up to me and basically said, "This whole thing would have sucked without you". As you can see, I had an excess of confidence back in those days but I have lost most of it after my vampiric second ex-girlfriend siphoned all self-respect and dignity out of me between 2004 and 2006.

The freethinking and sceptical community of Malaysia does not have any official leaders and as I was the liaison for my side in the recent debate we had, I was automatically placed in one of the Very Important Poopyface seats.I later realise that I was expected to speak on behalf of perhaps one of the least understood demographic groups in our country. While I had appeared in front of crowds in the past doing many things, I have never given a speech in my life - so the fear of screwing it up was palpable.

Anyway, I just received the video recording of my speech in my mail, and for the first time, you, dear readers of my blog, will hear how I really sound like in real life. Prepare for disillusionment,

On my right was Le Fiancée™. Pastor Samuel, who gave us permission to use his church, was seated left to me.

You can read the original script of the speech here.

The podium was a bit low so I was compelled to hunch over it just so I can read my note. I didn't intend to achieve much. I just wanted to appear affable, relatable and human, which is how most atheists are really like in real life in an attempt to mirror the contents of my statement. That is also the reason why Willie, our debater, did not focus his arguments in attacking the worldview held by his Christian opponent (and half the audience) but instead, opted to simply explain where we are coming from. We did not seek to turn anyone to our side. We sought to be heard and understood.

Aaanyhow, there is now video evidence of my existence on the internet! Kok Sen Wai 1, Jesus 0. To all you faithful believers who kept your faith in me in spite of the lack of proof, unanswered prayers comments, and prolonged droughts of new blog posts; you are all vindicated! To all you Kok Sen Wai sceptics, agnostics and unbelievers - kindly suck it.

P.S. The last time I was seen on stage was in 2009 when I got accidentally cast as the lead in a sketch for my med school's Annual Night. You can read about that here, if you are one of my stalkers.

RELATED POSTS: The First Ever Atheist Versus Christian Debate in Malaysia, where you can watch the debate proper.

No Winston Churchill,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, September 07, 2012

The First Ever Atheist Versus Christian Debate in Malaysia

"I treated the Bible not as the word of God. I treated the Bible as a historical book, not just claiming that everything it says is accurate - although I do believe it."

Samuel Nesan, Supervising Manager
and Debate/Dialogue Representative
of the Young Apologist group

On the 25th of August 2012, two unprecedented and minimally historical things happened for the freethinking community of Malaysia. One, this is the first time we have come out to debate a theistic believer on question of God's existence. Two, this is the largest meeting of atheists to date in our country, which is not saying a whole lot since past secular soirees were typically held in places where alcohol floweth freely and attendance were in the range of about two dozen atheists, tops. It was jointly organised by the Young Apologist group (an organisation that seeks to explain the Christian God through logic and evidence) and the Malaysian Atheists, which I represented in a managerial capacity - which is to say that Chan Ju Ping hooked up with them and then left me to liaise with the Christian side as he go traipsing through some Sarawakian forest on a research trip. The bulk of the heavy lifting were done by the Christian side though since they had to arrange for the venue of the debate, provide the sound system, and supply a moderator slash timekeeper - but hey, they challenged us to debate in the first place, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Me? I just had to round up fifty atheists and get them to go to a... church. Yeah.

Incidentally, the video recording of the event (sans the introductory statement I gave) just hit YouTube earlier this week. The debaters were,

Samuel Nesan
Mr Samuel Nesan, a Christian apologist with a Bachelor in Theology from the Bible College of Malaysia.

Willie Hand
Mr Willie Poh, an atheist lecturer at the Multimedia University with a B.IT (Hons) Software Engineering, whatever that is.

The motion of the debate was worded simply: Does God Really Exist? "God" in this context, is defined as the Christian God as described by the Bible. The format of the debate was arranged thus,
  1. Opening statements from Sam and then Willie. Here they lay out their arguments.
  2. Rebuttals from Sam, followed by Willie's. Here they poop on each other's arguments.
  3. Cross examination, where they asks each other questions to clarify or to obfuscate each others' positions.
  4. Response segment, where they "respond" to the cross-examination they received, after they have already answered the questions during the cross examination itself. Yeah, I don't get this either.
  5. Summaries from Sam. Willie got the last word.
  6. The Q&A round, where written questions from the audience were collected and vetted by representatives from either side of the debate. I was the guy from our side, and I chose questions which were coherent and those which brought up issues not addressed within the debate proper.
The video recording were divvied by segments into ten easy-to-digest bits. The video quality is a bit iffy but the audio can be understood (depending on how tolerant you are of the Malaysian accent, of course). You may notice that the speakers repeatedly references "Dr Kok". That would be me.

So, since my opinion was repeatedly sought after during the debate, I will be writing short bit of commentary for each part, bringing up some highlights, and breaking Mr Samuel's arguments down into chewy bite-sized pieces.

Part 1: Opening Statement by Samuel Nesan

Okay. He brought up four arguments for the existence of the Christian God.
  • Argument from (Messianic) Prophecies: God as described by the Bible is real because it made predictions about the coming of Jesus; prophecies which are later corroborated within the same book.

    This is circular reasoning because you are using the Bible to prove the Bible to be true. There is also a major unstated premise built within it assuming the Bible to be a reliable record of such prophecies and their subsequent alleged fruition without providing any proof or evidence in support of that premise, therefore begging the question. This is the same book that talks about talking snakes and a guy who can turn water into wine, mind you. If it's published today, you'd ask if J. K. Rowling wrote it.

  • Argument from the Limits of Science: God is spirit and exists outside of space and time, so science can't be used to investigate the claims of God's existence.

    This is not so much an argument for the existence of God as it is saying you can't prove he doesn't. This is true. But then again, science can't prove the existence or non-existence of anything if you claim it lies outside of the material world. I can tell you that Batman exists but he lies outside of space-time too - does it automatically make his existence more plausible? Nope. This is also an example of Samuel trying to have his cake and eat it too as Christians also claims that their God physically flooded the whole damn world at some point. You'd think that that would leave a lot of indisputable evidence but modern geology have completely ruled out all possibilities of a global flood. And if you have trouble understanding geology, ask yourself this: how did the koalas and kangaroos knew they were suppose to live only in Australia - and no where else - after they disembarked from the ark? Why did all the polar bears go north while all the penguins go south? And if we can't find evidence for one of the most awesome of God's physical miracles in our material world (but instead find evidence against the events described within the Bible), then we must be honest and admit that the Bible is not a completely factual document and this should throw all of claims of Jesus' alleged miracles into the same sceptical light (to go back to Sam's first argument and kick it between the legs).

  • Argument from Experientialism: I feel God is real.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Okay. Willie's response to this is eloquent and elegant - or at least it would be eloquent and elegant if he actually finished his point before his time ran out during his turn to rebut so I'll reproduce it here. He told a story about how he, after watching a horror flick like Paranormal Activity, would be afraid of the dark and would feel a presence behind him when he's in bed. Does it mean that there was really a ghost or spirit behind him just because he felt it there? And why did the spook only started haunting him after he just saw a scary movie? Likewise, when a Christian says he or she feels God presence or love, does it mean that this God they describe necessarily exist? And why do they only have this feelings after reading the Bible? What about people who don't feel Jesus but feels the spirit of another deity from another religion instead? What about people like me who feels that God doesn't exist?

  • Argument from You-Can-Feel-God-Too: If you are truly sincere in accepting him into your heart!

    When I was in med school, I went to church for a bit. I read the Bible and tried inviting Jesus into my life sincerely as advised by my Christian friends. I felt nothing. Okay, that's not strictly true because I felt stupid doing that. So, if Samuel can use his experience as evidence, I can too.

Part 2: Opening Statement by Willie Poh

Part 3: Rebuttals by Samuel Nesan

He brought up the fine-tuned universe argument and argument from morality but since he did not go into them, I shall not either. Here are the most egregious points he did make,
  • According to Genesis 3:1-24, man had fallen and therefore cannot see God even if he's in front of our eyes.

    Yeap, this is a prime specimen of argument from scripture. This is only a valid argument if you can prove that the scripture you are referencing to be a reliable source of information which, as the Flood story showed, it is not. Can Samuel show us evidence that the events described in Genesis 3 really happened? Show us one talking snake, will you?

    I can't believe we have to argue that there's no such things as talking snakes to grownups.

  • Hell is just a place of eternal separation from God, not really a hellish torture chamber as depicted in medieval arts.

    Revelations 21:8 describes hell as a "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone". Matthew 13:49-50 says hell is "the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth". Revelations 14:11 claims people who have rejected Christ would be "tormented with fire and brimstone" and that "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night". I don't know about you but hell sure doesn't sound like a day at the spa to me.

  • The universe is unimaginably vast and old even though he only needed one planet and a few thousand years for his purpose because God is fucking powerful and he can do whatever weird thing he wants that makes no sense.

    This is basically the "God works in mysterious ways" gambit.

  • God does not break the laws of physics but intervenes through the laws of physics.

    Matthew 14:25
    had Jesus walking on water. In Exodus 14:21-22, God had more fun messing about with fluid physics by parting a damn sea. Jesus totally violated the conservation of mass when he multiplied the bread and fishes in Mark 6:41-44. Between this and the hell thing, I am starting to really wonder if Samuel have even read the Bible.

  • Evolution is not provable.

    E. coli is a bacteria and one of its defining characteristic, differentiating it from the pathogenic Salmonella, is its inability to utilise citrate as a source of energy under oxic condition. However, after growing more than 30,000 generations of these bacteria on a medium that is citrate-rich, they evolved the ability to do what they couldn't. Evolution is proven. In a lab. On a petri dish. And in my line of work, I fight the evolutionary progress of bacteria daily as they evolve resistance to the antibiotics I prescribe for my patients. Just to put it into perspective, this is what we all learnt in med school: In the 1930's, Neisseria gonorrhoeae was treated using sulfa drugs, which it quickly developed resistance to. In the '40s, penicillin became the drug of choice but doses had to be continually increased in order to remain effective. In the '70s, penicillin and tetracycline-resistant gonorrhea emerged and fluoroquinolones were then used - but soon, resistance to this antibiotic emerged as well. Since 2007, we've been using third-generation cephalosporins, (i.e. ceftriaxone) and reports of a cephalosporin-resistant strain had emerged as well. Evolution is not only provable, it is an everyday problem for me.

  • I believe in microevolution, not macroevolution.

    Microevolution is basically the changes in gene frequencies within a species or population while macroevolution occurs at the level of species or above it, resulting new species. What evolution-denialists like Samuel Nesan do not understand is that microevolution occurring over vast amounts of time results in macroevolution. Francis Collins, American physician-geneticist, head of the Human Genome Project and the current Director of the National Institutes of Health, said: "Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things." He is also an Evangelical Christian.

    One of the most dramatic examples of evolution in the fossil records is the Archaeopteryx, which was caught in the dramatic act of evolving from theropod dinosaurs into birds. My favourite example of evolution is how dog-like terrestrial hoofed carnivores called Pakicetids evolved into the modern whale.
    If you're interested, I have written about the evolution of the human appendix to bookmark the first successful appendicectomy I performed: The Most Dangerous of Worms.

Part 4: Rebuttals by Willie Poh

Part 5: Cross Examination of Willie by Samuel, and Vice Versa

In this segment, Samuel gets to ask Willie the hardest questions he know on the atheistic and scientific worldview we hold,
  • Question 1: Samuel brings up his beef with "macroevolution" by asking how life comes from non-life.

    This illustrates perfectly how little Samuel understood about the theory of evolution. The theory explains the complexity and diversity of life, but makes no statement on how life began so his question, while being an important one, is irrelevant to his objection to evolution - something I felt Willie should have highlighted to avoid perpetuating that misconception in his audiences' minds. The study of the origins of life is called abiogenesis and as Willie pointed out, the correct answer is "I don't know" and not "Goddidit". Willie referenced - though he did not name - the Miller-Urey experiment where replicating the conditions of early Earth, they were able to create amino acids (organic compounds) from inorganic compounds. In fact, they were able to synthesise more types of amino acids that the original twenty that all life on Earth requires. Joan Oró found that through a similar experiment, he could synthesise adenine from inorganic material - and this is a big deal because adenine is one of the 4 nucleotide bases that makes up RNA and DNA (the molecular genetic code of all life), and forms adenosine triphosphate (the energy currency of all life). As for how all these organised themselves into the first organisms, I would give a better answer than Willie's: We are working on it.

  • Question 2: How do you explain hauntings, demonic possessions, exorcism, shamanism, voodoo and other claptraps that I also believe in besides Jesus?

    Even if all these things are true, it still doesn't mean that God exists. It's baffling that Samuel would even bring all these up. Fact is, all these are claims. All we have to show for it are eyewitness accounts, crappy video and audio recordings, and a whole fat lot of non-reproducibility. As Willie said, many have tried their luck with James Randi's One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and could not even past preliminary testings once the confounding factors were removed. What we sceptics are saying is this: please prove to us that there is even a consistent, reproducible, unexplained phenomenon happening before asking science to describe and explain it.

  • Question 3: Are you saying that I - a believer of a cosmic superbeing out of space and time who impregnated a virgin Jewish girl in order to be born to get himself killed in order to forgive me of my sins which was caused by ancestors of mine ate a fruit after being duped by a talking snake - am delusional?

    Unfortunately, I can't medically say that Samuel is delusional. The psychiatric definition of a delusion is an unshakeable and irrational belief in something untrue which defy normal reasoning even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute it, with the caveat that that belief is not something cultural or religious which may be seen as untrue by outsiders. One thing that struck me in Psychiatry 101 back in my med school days is that a religious belief is virtually indistinguishable from a delusion, and it's only excluded because a person's surrounding community believes in the same thing too.

  • Question 4: Is atheism scientific?

    Willie said yes. I say it can be. Atheism is statement of disbelief in a god or gods. If you are an agnostic atheist like me who recognise that the existence of an omnipotent creator outside of space and time is an unfalsifiable claim (and is therefore a claim that cannot be proved or disproved by science), the only logical and honest position you can assume towards it is one of agnosticism. But I am also an atheist because I don't believe that there is such a being due to the lack of good evidence or reason to do so. In this case, I am also being a sceptic and scepticism is scientific.

The second half of this video is Willie turning the tables in Samuel with some cross examination of his own. Here are Willie's questions, Samuel's answers, and my critique of his answers,
  • Why are the awesome miracles only found during Old Testamental time, while modern alleged miracles are low-key and easily disputable? Samuel said miracles now are still awesome, by his standards, and that money-grabbing televangelists are a proof (haha) of that.

    Samuel essentially evaded Willie's question completely by applying his own definition of awesome to Willie's question, after Willie specifically defined awesome as the amount of physical effect a miracle has on the material world. If you like, here's a diagram I drew to illustrate how descriptions of miracles tended to be more epic in the past than they do now, and this is because you can make claims of anything happening in the past and if it happened far enough back in time, you can avoid pesky sceptics like me investigating that claim effectively.

    And just to bury Samuel's point further, I present to you the case of Peter Popoff, a once famous Christian faith healer who was making 4 million dollars a year healing people on TV - he was utterly dethroned by James Randi when his seeming-ability to guess people's personal info and even their illnesses came from a radio feed from his wife, the transmission of which was intercepted by Randi and recorded. You see, Popoff's wife and her aides gather information about audience members from conversations and prayer request cards filled out before service, and then beam them into Popoff's ear by radio. Other tricks he pulled including seating audience members who can actually walk (albeit with minimal aid) in wheelchairs, giving the illusion that he can make wheelchair bound individuals walk again. These are simple cons, but Christians' credulity, as demonstrated by Samuel in referencing the powers of televangelists, predisposes them to simply believe in such claims of miracles unsceptically and indiscriminately. Samuel asked at some point during the debate: How much evidence would be enough? And my answer is: definitely waaay more than what Samuel considers to be enough.

  • Jesus appeared to Paul in a blinding flash of light and he allowed Doubting Thomas to feel his wounds in order to prove to them he is God, so why can't don't we modern sceptics get the same evidence from Jesus? Samuel said that even if Jesus appears to us, we would not be able to see him because of The Fall™.

    It was a spectacular act of Samuel shooting himself in the foot and demonstrates how muddled his internal logic is regarding Biblical non-explanations. Both Paul and Thomas were "fallen" too. They too are mortals on Earth who lived long after mankind's alleged fall from grace. So were Moses, Abraham, Lot and all the Old Testament prophets who had dealings with God or his agents.

  • If you pray and it changes God's mind, then he is not omniscient. If you can't change God's mind, then why bother with intercessory prayers? Samuel said you shouldn't ask for stuff when you pray but instead say "God, let your will be done."

    Here is a further example of Samuel's incoherent and inconsistent faith. One moment, he said you shouldn't ask God to do things for you in your prayer but when Willie asked if he would pray to God to save his loved ones, he suddenly said he would. Also, to dispute Samuel's initial point using the Bible, Matthew 22:21 had Jesus saying, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Jesus said you can totally ask for any stuff ("all things") and you shall get it ("ye shall receive") so long as you have faith ("believing"). However, that itself is its own little problem and you can read more about it here in this short piece titled: The Problem with Matthew 22:21.

  • Why choose Christianity and not other faith? How vigorously have you sought out other faiths? Samuel said Christianity is truer than the other religions, and that came from him pursuing a Masters in Comparative Theology.

    From Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, an interdenominational Protestant seminary. Yeah, those guys are totally going to be impartial. Also, Christianity is truthier than other faiths? Citations please.

Part 6: Samuel's Response to the Cross Examination

Here, Samuel responds to the answers given by Willie to his questions and in doing so, he made a few points, which I'll get cracking on,
  •  Atheists have double standards for expecting Christians to shoulder the burden of proof from the Christian God's existence.

    Duh. You claim God exists, you prove it. If I claim an invisible STD fairy is the entity that causes the herpes, and then you'd expect me to prove its existence, wouldn't you? And if you can't prove that the STD fairy doesn't exist, does it mean that claims of its existence automatically has validity?

  • The film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is fact. A girl died from demonic possesion.

    No, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a movie loosely based on Anneliese Michel, who died from malnutrition and dehydration from almost a year of semi-starvation while the rites of exorcism were performed - one or two sessions each week, lasting up to four hours, over about ten months in 1975 and 1976. Her story is actually a cautionary tale against trusting in the supernatural. Here is a list of accounts of more than a thousand human beings harmed (with more being unreported, I'm sure), and in most cases, fatally. And it all happened because people like Samuel gullibly believe in exorcism.

  • Something something something genetic fallacy!

    Listen to what Samuel described as a genetic fallacy that Willie allegedly made. He said (quite unintelligibly) something like this: "You are making a genetic fallacy, just because we are born in a certain place and a certain time, therefore we have no reason to believe in religion. Something is wrong because of the origin; the answer is wrong just because of the way it came forth." I wish he could have been more coherent so I can at least see what he meant by Willie committing the genetic fallacy. If I have to guess, it had something to do with Willie explaining why Samuel is not delusional by society's standards in believing the things he do, citing Samuel's surroundings, his upbringing and his community as the reasons. Willie is not saying that Samuel's beliefs are wrong because his situation is wrong or evil.

  • Christians have to shoulder the burden of proof for God but atheists/agnostics are not shouldering the burden of proof from evolution. Willie is committing the fallacy of special pleading!

    Um, no. Look at the choice of antibiotics that is prescribed to treat you when you get an infection, and the importance of completing the course of medication - that's evolutionary theory applied to the real world. Look at Tiktaalik, a Devonian lobed finned fish evolving into a land-dwelling four-legged creature with adaptations for terrestrial living - you can touch the damn fossil. It's real. There's a wealth of transitional species in the fossil records bridging major groups of living creatures if only you would take your face out of your Bible and look. Can I see Jesus? Nope. Can I touch his crucifixion wounds like Thomas allegedly did? Nope.

  • 90% of the world believes in God. Therefore we are not delusional and there's something to it.

    Since he likes bringing up logical fallacies, I'll do one: Samuel is committing the argumentum ad populum, or the argument from popularity. Just because lots of people believe in something doesn't say anything about whether it is true or not. There was a time that most, if not all, people in the world believed that the sun goes around the Earth. So yes, most people in the world can be wrong about something.

Part 7: Willie's Response to the Cross Examination

Part 8: Summary from Samuel Nesan

Part 9: Summary from Willie Poh

Part 10: Questions and Answers with the Audience

I was the representative from the godless team who, with the cooperation of a bloke from the other side, selected the questions that I felt would be pertinent to the debate, bring up points not explored by the speakers. I discarded those which are blatantly trying to make a point and those that resembles more like a novella in length than a tweet. Here's where I have culled a selection of queires to comment on which I feel were not satisfactorily addressed,
  • If humans are created in the image of God, why are there congenital deformities?

    This one was obviously written by a certain six-fingered atheist musician I know in the audience (he has pre-axial polydactyly, to be exact) and he told me that to date, no believer could answer it satisfactorily. Samuel fell back on his personal go-to non-answer for everything that's wrong in the world today: The Fall™. I have personally scoured the Bible to look for the Christian answer to this question and I have not found any. What I did find however, was Leviticus 21:16-21 which says, "The Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron: 'For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord." What this tells me is that the Christian God that Samuel worships is a discriminatory asshole (Jesus notwithstanding) who tells handicapped, deformed, and little people to not touch his food. So, I am always amused when people pray to the Christian God to help people with these conditions.

  • What scientific literature have you (Samuel) read on evolution and can you explain it satisfactorily what the theory says to demonstrate your understanding?

    Samuel's answer here truly demonstrates how he really have no idea what he's objecting to. You can see here that he admitted how he had not even finish reading Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which is 150 years behind time on the current understanding of evolution. He also did not take up the challenge of explaining or defining the theory to display his understanding. So, the reason why he kept parroting the fact that there's no satisfactory evidence to support biological evolution is simple: he simply did not bother to read about the evidence.

  • Why do you (Samuel) have no problem believing in microevolution over short periods of time but balks at the thought of macroevolution in geological (read: massively long) timescale?

    Sam went into how we can't explain life came from non-life again, further cementing the obvious: he has no idea what evolution is. Evolutionary biology, as conceived by Darwin and understood by scientists today, is the explanation for the diversity of life, not its origin. The principles driving microevolution and macroevolution is identical - both operates via natural selection where environmental pressures dictates what genes would best help an organism survive and pass it on to its progeny. To say you believe in one and not the other is like saying "I believe that a bus would arrive at its next stop in 10 minutes but I don't believe it can reach the next city is 10 hours." And to answer Samuel's quibble that there is no clear definition of biological evolution, Biology by Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes defined it as "any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next." It is elegant but non-scientists may find it cryptic. In fact, Darwin himself would not immediately understand it as he never knew about DNA or what "allelles" are.

    Douglas J. Futuyama had a longer definition and he describes evolution as "change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."

  • I know about microevolution but DNA can only decrease in information, but wouldn't a monkey evolving into a human needs an increase in the complexity of its DNA?

    This one clearly came from a Christian - describing human evolution as monkey-to-human instead of saying we came from a-common-ancestor-which-gave-rise-to-both-humans-and-monkeys was a dead giveaway. Modern monkeys are our genetic cousins, and you wouldn't say you descended from a cousin, would you? It also made two unsupported assumptions (a) DNA can only lose information, not gain and (b) a human is more complex compared to a monkey.

    I'll tackle the second one first. The idea of "higher" or "more-evolved" lifeforms is tricky to quantify. The marbled lungfish has 133 billion base pairs in its genome. Paris japonica (a flowering plant) has a genetic code that is 150 billion base pairs long. A single-celled freshwater amoeboid, Polychaos dubium, has a documented 670 billion base pairs in its DNA. Humans? We have a paltry 3 billion base pairs. The point I am trying to make is that "complexity" is irrelevant to the survival or evolutionary fitness of an organism. It's how well-adapted that organism is to its environment.

    The first assumption is plain wrong. I'll illustrate with one simple, relatable example: the dog, or as I like to call it, the Canis lupus familiaris. It's Latin name informs you that it is a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and indeed, dogs can still interbreed with wild wolves. There is an estimated 150 to 600 breeds of dogs worldwide with vast diversity in morphology from Great Danes to Chihuahuas to French Bulldogs, all of which were bred from the plain vanilla gray wolf stock. This is a clear demonstration that information (in this case, body shapes, colours, fur-length, etc) within DNA codes can be increased. If that's not what you meant by information, then please define it.

  • Why is evolution reasonable when it causes racism i.e. white men killing aborigines?

    The person who posed this question is the same person who posed the above, and it demonstrated the same sloppy thinking style. I bring this up because I was dissatisfied with Willie's answer and wishes to smack him in the face with a panda for missing the obvious. On the Origin of Species, Darwin's book, was published in 1859. Is the questioner saying that racism did not exist until the mid-nineteenth century?

    Aside from plain crazy talk, the questioner is also committing an appeal to consequences, a blatant logical fallacy, in that he or she supposes that the consequence triggered by any fact or claim has any bearing on its truth value. When someone falls from a skyscraper to his or her destiny as a red stain on the streets below, does it mean that the laws of gravity is "unreasonable"? Passages from the Bible were historically used to justify slavery and racism, does it mean that... oh wait, the Bible actually go into specifics on how to buy slaves, how to bequeath slaves to your heirs, and how you shouldn't be punished if your slave didn't die immediately from your beatings. Unlike the theory of evolution, which makes no statement of what races are more primitive or less deserving of rights, the Bible openly tells you the etiquette of being a slave and a slave-owner, with not a single passage condemning the practice of slavery.

  • Do you believe in free will? Doesn't the omniscience of God negates free will?

    I have nothing to add to this. I just want to bring this up because Samuel plain didn't understand the intent of the question and Yoshua the moderator (he himself a Christian), outright told Samuel that. You'd notice that there's no moderator from the atheist side and while we requested that an atheist representative (yours truly), be inserted into the question selection process for the Q&A round, we had opted not to stick a someone sympathetic to our worldview in the moderator's seat. It's win-win. Either the Christian moderator is completely impartial (good), or is biased towards the Christian side (good, because it would make us look like we were being unfairly treated).

  • Can morality exists without God?

    Willie answered this ably. I would add that other than the obvious fact that no one (to my knowledge) in the atheist community is going around robbing, raping and killing just because they don't believe in God. Morality is also found in animals and one of the most dramatic examples I've found is an experiment by Masserman et al with rhesus monkeys where he rigged up a food dispensing mechanism for them that, when operated, also delivers an electric shock to fellow monkey. They found that most rhesus monkeys would rather starve than reap benefits from the suffering of another member of its species. No god required, unless you think the monkeys were feverishly reading the Bible when the researchers' backs were turned.

  • Samuel's response to the above question.

    This is what I consider the absolute highlight of the night and thought it deserved its own bullet point. Samuel brought up Adolf Motherfucking Hitler and that automatically aroused laughter from the unbelievers in the audience before he even elaborated on his point. Several atheists (including me), immediately brought their palms to their faces. We do that because we have heard this a million times and we know exactly what's coming. While Samuel did not want to characterise Hitler as an atheist, he also said, "I don't believe he's a believer."

    I do not want to comment on what Hitler really believed or did not believe in, but this is what he said in Mein Kampf: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." He also said in a 1922 speech, "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter."

    Samuel also tried to link the theory of evolution to Hitler's motivation by saying "Hitler believed in the survival of the fittest" when the Nazis actually banned works on Darwinism. In fact, Hitler said this about atheism in October 1934 in a speech in Berlin: "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

    Then finally, Samuel trotted out his most egregious point of the night. He said, "Without God, morality is subjective." That is patently untrue. According to the Bible, God is most definitely not an objective source of morality. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. One of them was "Thou shalt not kill." If this is an objective law of morality, it means that under no circumstances are anyone allowed to take another person's life but within the same Biblical book, just some chapters ahead, God commanded the Levites (Exodus 32:27) to "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." 3000 people were murdered. In fact, God is so bloodthirsty that he gave Jephthah victory in battle in exchange for him burning his own daughter as an offering to Him (Judges 11:30-31, 11:34-40). And if "Thou shalt not kill" is truly an objective moral law - emphasis on objective - then God is immoral if he breaks it, regardless of context. And boy, just between the Flood which wiped out most of humanity, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Plagues of Egypt, he certainly act as if killing is a-okay if you're a cosmic super-being. Objective morality, my comfy ass. The God of the Bible is the greatest moral relativist I know.

Commentator's Note

And I'm done. The reason why I chose to sit down and write this commentary to accompany the videos is because I want to demonstrate how ineffectual debates are in conveying knowledge and accurate information, and to illustrate the fact that debates are really just popularity contests where two talking heads play he-says-she-says.

Even so, I think Willie did an amazing job explaining the atheistic position and refrained from saying anything untruthful. We knew that this is going to be recorded and it simply wouldn't do for us to perpetuate any falsehoods.

At the end of the night, some Christian youths approached Willie with what he thinks are genuine and sincere questions about science (I said "he thinks" because I wasn't there), and you wouldn't believe how delighted he was. It's the teacher in him, methinks. I also heard unconfirmed reports about a fence-sitter in the audience who fell off the fence into our lawn, but I am naturally sceptical of hearsay. But you already know that.

RELATED POST: My introductory speech before the debate.

READ ALSO: Mr Pepper Lim's write-up, Debating God’s Existence 25.8.12. He was responsible for organising the video recording of the debate.

Part of minor secular history,

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