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Category: Current Affairs (Page 1 of 76)

Activism and Reason

Imagine the following scenario: Someone you know and like, perhaps a Facebook friend, asks you to sign a petition to ban the rhino horn trade in South Africa. Your friend tells you that South Africa is one of the few countries that permits the sale of rhino horn and that if you do not act on this issue you are being silent in the face of evil, and complicit in the deaths of thousands of rhinos. You care about animals and the environment, so this seems like a no-brainer. It is obviously the right thing to do, and you sign.

But was it the right thing to do?

In 2009, responding to immense international pressure, including such petitions, South Africa enacted a complete ban on the taking and sale of rhino horn. Before the ban, farmers harvested the horns of rhinos on their properties, tranquilizing the animals. This caused no harm or pain to the animal, and allowed the horn to grow back. Since the sale of horns was a major source of income in a poor country, farmers protected their rhinos and increased herd sizes through careful management, feeding and breeding programs.

White rhinoceros

After the ban, the fall in supply caused horn prices to skyrocket. This encouraged poachers, who until then had had no reason to target rhinos. Rhino deaths from poaching rose rapidly after 2009, growing from a few dozen per year before the ban to consistently over one thousand per year by 2013. In the twenty years before the horn prohibition, the white rhino population in South Africa had quadrupled. In the eight years after the prohibition, the  population had fallen by 15%. Poaching was a major contributor, but so was the fact that farmers no longer had a reason to protect and breed them.

Eventually, reality and common sense prevailed. South Africa lifted the ban in 2017, prompting further outcry from environmentalists. Just two years later rhino deaths from poaching had fallen by nearly fifty percent, and the rhino population had begun to recover.

Activism is great. We should all be working to make the world a better place. But activism which is not based on accurate information and careful thought is likely to do more harm than good.

Adapted from an article at

Science and Young Earth Creationism

Over the last few weeks I have seen several social media posts from apparently well-meaning Christians beginning with the words “Scientists can’t explain …”

Usually the posts claim that some feature of natural history cannot be accounted for by evolutionary biology. On closer inspection, these posts inevitably turn out to mean, not that scientists can’t explain x, y or z, but that the person posting can’t imagine an explanation, assumes one doesn’t exist, and hasn’t actually asked any scientists.

It is perfectly fine, of course, to claim that your religion requires you to believe certain things. Not so fine, and certainly not a witness to truth, if the things it requires you to believe are clearly contrary to reality. But even that is understandable as long as you don’t go on to claim that doctors, scientists and other researchers are evil and corrupt because they don’t see things your way.

Also not fine is claiming that the “science” done by members of your religious group is the real non-corrupt, objective science, because it conforms to the Bible, or some other religious text. Whatever you think your religion tells you, the earth does not rest on a turtle’s back, the earth is not flat, the rest of the universe does not revolve around it, and it is not 6,000 years old.

Sometimes people who make these claims insist that they do so on the basis of Scripture, and that those who disagree with them are anti-Bible. There are a number of issues with this.

Firstly, as I noted above, it is fine to believe something because you think your religion requires you to. But trying to find evidence to support views you already hold is not science.  Science is open-ended. In science, the evidence comes first, and belief is based on the evidence, and is always open to change. In Biblical or other kinds of fundamentalism, the belief comes first, and then evidence is gathered to support the belief. That is not science.

Second, when people who do this claim to be “trusting the Bible,” or “defending the Scriptures,” they are really doing nothing of the sort. They are defending their way of reading the Scriptures, or their pastor’s, or the sub-group of Christianity they belong to. In particular, they read the Bible as if it was their word, not God’s, and as if God was required to communicate through the methods and styles of writing common to our culture and no others.

In Christian fundamentalism, this generally takes the form of ignoring the almost universal use of story-telling as a way of conveying important truths. You would think this would be obvious to Christians, since Jesus did precisely this when he spoke to His followers in parables. In the late-twentieth century and contemporary West, we rely more on direct instruction, to the point where we regard any other method of teaching as odd, or as not actually teaching at all. But telling stories to teach truths is often very effective. I remember my mother telling me the story of the boy who cried wolf. This impressed upon me the fact that if you lie regularly, eventually people will not believe you when you tell the truth, and did so in a much more powerful and memorable way than if she had simply told me that telling fibs was bad.

Another issue fundamentalists have is that they do not understand differences in forms of expression and figures of speech. When we read that Jesus said of Herod “Go and tell that fox” we know immediately, and without having to be told, that Jesus was describing Herod’s character, not claiming that Herod was in fact a small furry carnivorous mammal with a bushy tail. We know this because we recognise His words as metaphor, a common figure of speech in English, and one we share with some ancient cultures. Other examples you might have heard include she is an angel, the world is a stage, he has a heart of gold. We know without even thinking whoever says this is not suggesting that anyone’s heart really is made of gold. But what if we did not use or know of metaphor?

In that case, some people might say “Well, that’s just silly. We know from history that Herod was a human being, and in any case, animals of any sort do not run human societies. This proves the Bible is full of fairy tales and can be safely ignored.” Others, like people who claim the Earth is flat, or that it is 6,000 years old, might say “I don’t care what lying science and history say. The Bible says Herod was a fox, so he was a fox. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

But hopefully there would be others who looked closely at the languages and cultures of the Bible, and noted that this kind of expression was often used as a kind of comparison, and did not imply that Herod was really a small furry animal, or that someone’s heart was actually made of gold. Sadly, it is also likely that these people would then be accused by others of denying the power of Scripture, and being anti-Bible.

Is this a new way of reading the Bible? Not at all. Through most of history the Church has been careful to try to understand Scripture as the word of God, not simply to be interpreted in the ways that are easiest or most obvious to us, but taking careful note of differences in language and culture, so that we are not blinded by our own narrow perceptions and background.

Origen of Alexandria (185-232), writing about heretics who arrive at their own interpretations of Scripture which vary from the teaching handed down by the Apostles, says:

“Now the reason of the erroneous apprehension of all these points on the part of those whom we have mentioned above, is no other than this, that holy Scripture is not understood by them according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning….

Nor was it only with regard to those Scriptures which were composed down to the advent of Christ that the Holy Spirit thus dealt; but as being one and the same Spirit, and proceeding from one God, He dealt in the same way with the evangelists and apostles. For even those narratives which He inspired them to write were not composed without the aid of that wisdom of His, the nature of which we have above explained. Whence also in them were intermingled not a few things by which, the historical order of the narrative being interrupted and broken up, the attention of the reader might be recalled, by the impossibility of the case, to an examination of the inner meaning. But, that our meaning may be ascertained by the facts themselves, let us examine the passages of Scripture. Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars — the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. The departure of Cain from the presence of the Lord will manifestly cause a careful reader to inquire what is the presence of God, and how anyone can go out from it. But not to extend the task which we have before us beyond its due limits, it is very easy for anyone who pleases to gather out of holy Scripture what is recorded indeed as having been done, but what nevertheless cannot be believed as having reasonably and appropriately occurred according to the historical account.”

In other words, while holding to a strong view of the truth and inspiration of Scripture, Origen says that we must be careful of imposing literal meanings on texts whose primary meaning is allegorical, whose truth and power are conveyed in story-telling. Origen goes so far as to say that God permitted things to be written in the Scriptures which appear contradictory, or are counter to what we know of the world, in order to pull us up and make us think more deeply, and not simply to take our first or easy impressions for granted.

Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430), explained why this was so important in a dissertation about the days of creation, which he recognised could not have been literal days: “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”

Augustine, who is regarded by Protestants, Catholics and the Orthodox family of churches as one Christianity’s great teachers, had the same reason for concern about literal interpretations as I do. That is, they make Christians and the Christian faith look either stupid or dishonest because they are not based in sound and careful reading of the Bible, and ignore or distort what we know about the world.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

First, the claim that all fossils were laid down on Noah’s flood. This floats around Facebook with frustrating regularity. There is no basis in science or reality for this claim. Fossils can be formed in a variety of ways. For example:

Permineralisation: This common type of fossil preservation occurs when minerals dissolved in groundwater seep into the spaces within the organism’s remains. Over time, these minerals crystallise and form a rock-like copy of the original organism. This process often preserves hard tissues like wood, bones, teeth, and shells.

Permineralisation Fossil

Moulds and Casts: When an organism is buried in sediment, its remains may completely dissolve over time, leaving behind a hollow space in the rock called a mould. If this mould is later filled with minerals or sediment, it can create a cast, a replica of the original organism’s shape.

Mould Fossils

Carbonisation: This process occurs when an organism is buried and subjected to pressure and heat, tissues to break down and release gases, leaving behind a thin film of carbon. This process often preserves soft tissues like leaves and insects.

Carbonisation Fossil

Unaltered Preservation: In rare cases, organisms can be preserved in their original state with little or no alteration. This can happen if they are trapped in amber, tar pits, or ice, which prevent decomposition.

Unaltered Fossil

Of course, fossils can be formed in flash floods, which deposit layers of sediment on top of rapidly killed plants and animals. But does the fact that such fossils occur around the world prove there was a single, massive, world-wide flood? Not at all. Humans and animals live in higher numbers near sources of water; oceans, rivers, and lakes. Wherever there are sources of water, there are also floods, especially on large flood plains like those of Mesopotamia. This accounts for widespread flood-related fossilisation, and for widespread stories of floods. There is no geological evidence for a single, massive flood which occurred 6,000 years ago and which covered the entire Earth. You can read more about this in this article on the National Center for Science Education website.

Another claim sometimes made by young-earth creationists is that some creatures, or some aspects of their body shape or function, are so complex that they could not have evolved in the time available. Usually this takes the form of suggesting that a function could not work unless a number of features were in place, that the individual parts serve no purpose or have no function on their own, and that they could not all have suddenly appeared via mutation at the same time. Some such features are alleged to be the human eye, the genitals of the male sperm whale, and the flagella or tails that are found in some plant and animal sperm cells and in multiple types of micro-organisms including Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.

Another such claim that has recently circulated on social media is that bombardier beetles could not possibly have evolved because their defence mechanism is an example of “irreducible complexity.” Bombardier beetles’ defences consist of spraying from separate glands two sets of chemicals which combine with each other and react to form a hot, irritating jet which can be squirted at predators. You can see how this is used at about 1:25 in this video:

Like many claims by young-earth creationists (people who believe the world is no more than about 10,000 years old) this one begins with the words “Evolutionists can’t explain…” As usual, this simply means they haven’t asked any.

One of the bombardier beetle’s glands contains hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide (sometimes used as hair bleach or in mouth rinses) is a normal metabolic by-product in insects, and various quinones are used to keep insects’ chitin in good condition. These are common to almost all beetles. Many types of beetles have developed a second gland. Duplication of an existing feature is a very common form of mutation, so there is nothing unusual about this. The chemicals stored in those second glands have changed over time so that many can be used as a deterrent to predators. Some beetles, stink bugs for example, can squirt those smelly or irritating chemicals at any perceived threat. It is only a tiny step from there to the chemicals found in the bombardier beetle’s second gland, catalysing enzymes which when mixed with hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone cause a violent exothermic reaction which creates the hot irritating mixture sprayed at approaching predators.

Young-earth creationists claim that the bombardier beetle’s defence system is irreducibly complex because each component is useless on its own and therefore it could only have been created as a complete system. As we have seen, this claim is false. Each component is present in multiple other beetle species, and is useful in its own right. Various combinations of those components occur in other beetles, such as stink beetles. Other creationist claims of irreducible complexity show similar faults; ignorance of related species, of genetics, of how evolution works, or simple rejection of facts which do not fit what they believe to be the Bible world view (a process described by Australian geologist Ian Plimer as “telling lies for God”).

The problem here is not science. Nor is it scientists. No matter what you read on social media, most scientists are people of integrity. Many of them are Christian. Many also belong to other religious groups; Judaism, Shinto, Hinduism, for example. They do not have an agenda to “impose the Darwinist theory.” Nor is the problem mainstream Christians, who know they have nothing to fear from truth, no matter where it is found, and are happy to let science be science. The problem is a tiny group of fundamentalist Christians, a few of whom also happen to have degrees in science, but for whom faith in the Bible, actually faith in their own narrow reading of the Bible, determines their view of everything else.

The tragedy is that fundamentalists’ belief they are standing up for the Bible is entirely mistaken. They are standing up for a minority and very peculiar way of reading the Bible. And perhaps even worse, their commitment to this way of reading the Bible seems to be taken as permission to misrepresent science. Perhaps it is just self-deception. They believe the Bible says X, so X must be the case, regardless of observable reality. But either way it is deception, and deception can never serve the Kingdom of God. As St Augustine noted 1500 years ago, the result is that people come to believe that Christians are stupid or dishonest, or both. Young earth creationism is the very opposite of evangelism.

The Status of Local Government in Australia

A little summary of the role and status of local government in Australia, for anyone who is curious or confused:

“Sovereign citizens” claim that local councils have no legal authority because they are not mentioned in the Australian Constitution. Sometimes they use this claim as an excuse not to pay rates or local Council fines. They are wrong.

In Australia, local governments and local councils are established and governed under State legislation, not the Federal Constitution.

Each state has its own Local Government Act which defines the rules and operations of local Councils. Because the Acts vary from State to State, the specifics of their legal status can vary slightly across the country, but some general principles apply.

To put this simply, each state’s Local Government Act serves as the legal framework for local government in that state. The Act outlines their structure, functions, and powers.

Local governments do not have inherent legislative power like State or Federal governments. They exercise delegated power granted by the State Acts, allowing them to make local laws (called bylaws) within their local government area, and within specific areas of law.

Councils are a body corporate, meaning they act as a single entity separate from their individual members (Councillors), and that they are legal persons – a necessity for them to own real property. This does not mean they are “just a corporation.”

Councils generally comprise elected representatives (Councillors) and a dedicated works and administration team led by a General Manager or CEO.

Across all states, local governments usually have three core functions:

• Providing for the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

• Representing and promoting the interests of the community.

• Providing for the peace, order, and good government of their municipal area.

Their rights and responsibilities are wider than just “roads, rates and rubbish.”

Because local Councils are established under State legislation, they are bound by State laws. This means local bylaws cannot contradict or duplicate State or Federal laws.

Various mechanisms exist to ensure local governments operate responsibly, including community consultation, oversight by State Ministers, and the courts. Citizens are welcome to attend Council meetings, and to have input into local government policies and decisions.

Israel Chats to Hamas

Israel: What do we need to do or give you to help you become a peaceful, prosperous neighbour?

PA: Land.

Israel: You already have Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Jewish people.

PA: We want more.

Israel: How about we give you the Gaza Strip? There are thousands of greenhouses. All the infrastructure is already in place. The beaches are beautiful. It could be a new Monaco or Singapore.


Israel: Hang on. You are still attacking us.

Hamas: Yes.

Israel: But what about peace?

Hamas: There will be peace when you are all dead.

Israel: That really doesn’t work for us.

UN: Can’t you at least meet them half-way?

Hamas: Sends thousands of bombs and rockets at schools, hospitals, shopping centres.

Israel: Please don’t do that.

Hamas: We will only stop when you are all dead. And not just you, every Jew everywhere.

Hamas: Attacks through massive tunnel network. Kills young people at music festival, burns children to death, kidnaps, tortures, rapes, murders entire families.

Israel: You have passed the line of hate and aggression we can tolerate. Hamas has to go.

Hamas: Hey, you’re not supposed to fight back. That’s racist!

Hamas: Let’s have a ceasefire. We only want peace.

Israel: Will you keep the ceasefire?

Hamas: Yes

Israel: You didn’t keep the ceasefire.

Hamas We meant we will keep the ceasefire once you are all dead. But you have to stop fighting back. It’s not fair.

In no other war, ever, has any state tolerated for so long the relentless attacks of an enemy sworn to its destruction. In no other war ever has any state taken so much care to avoid civilian casualties. In no other war ever has any state continued to provide medical care, water, and food to a group determined to destroy it and murder its people.

Israel’s ongoing aid to Gaza.

Why Israel is winning, and the people of Gaza will be better off when they do.

The Truth About Gaza

I have seen a version of this before, but it is worth re-viewing:

We have been lied to. This is the message that went across the Arab world suddenly after October 7th events and the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Suddenly we discovered the Gaza, which is inhabited by 2 million people, has 36 hospitals. There are Arab countries with 30 million citizens and do not have this number of hospitals.

Suddenly we discovered that Gaza was getting water, electricity, gas and fuel for free from Israel. Of course, there is no Arab citizen who does not pay water, electricity and fuel bills.

Suddenly we discovered that Gaza was receiving 530 million a month from Qatar alone, and 120 million a month from UNRWA and 50 million a month from the European Union and S30 million a month from America. There are Arab countries drowning in debt and cannot find anyone to help them, even with 51 million.

Suddenly we discovered that Gaza was not besieged and all goods were entering it as we foreigners and people of foreign nationalities. Its residents were travelling to Egypt and from there to the rest of the world, and there’s many examples for that.

Suddenly we discovered that Gaza was living better than many Arab countries and its people were living better than many Arab peoples.

Suddenly we discovered that our minds were besieged by a propaganda lie about what is going on in Gaza.

Suddenly we discovered that the children in Gaza are not children as we usually think, but children of terrorists with machine guns and suicide belts who underwent special training by Hamas.

Suddenly we discovered that the schools, hospitals and mosque in Gaza are organized by terror headquarters and ammunition warehouse with Hamas underground tunnels.

Suddenly we discovered that in Gaza there is an underground metro of Hamas that stretches for 500 kilometers, which Israel can only invade.

Suddenly we discovered that the supposedly doctors and teachers in Gaza turned out to be active Hamas terrorists.

Suddenly we discovered that rockets and mortars are kept in children’s rooms in Gaza homes.

Suddenly we discovered that Hitler and his book Mein Kampf were very popular in Gaza and its translation into Arabic was in almost every home in Gaza or a portrait of the author.

Suddenly we discovered that Hamas leaders live a life of luxury with multi-storey mansions with swimming pool and premium German cars.

Suddenly we discovered that there is no Israeli siege on Gaza because it still borders its Muslim sister Egypt.

Suddenly we discovered that most of the citizens in Gaza support Hamas and other terrorist groups, elected Hamas in democratic elections and celebrated the massacres on October 7th.

Suddenly we discovered that what is called journalists in Gaza who work for Western media like CNN, AP, Reuters and other turned out to be Hamas terrorists who participated in the massacre on October 7th.

Suddenly we discovered that what is called peace activists and workers of international human rights organizations of the UN, the Red Cross and WHO turned out to be terrorists and corrupt people of Hamas. Other turned out to be Hamas terrorists who participated in the massacre on October 7th.

Suddenly we discovered that most of the leaders of Hamas are a billionaires, some of them richer than President Trump with a net worth of four to S5 billion each, and that most of them do not live in Gaza.

After Hamas started the war on October 7th, moving from its customary daily rocket fire at civilians to a full-scale terror attack on Israel, the wider world has started to discover the truth about Gaza, with much of this information coming from the Arab world.

Hamas doesn’t care for the people of Gaza. Hamas doesn’t care for the Palestinian people. As their own charter has stated from their inception, their sole purpose is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews everywhere.

Why Israel Must Remove Hamas

If you have half an hour to spare, or even if you don’t, watch this video. It answers a whole range of questions about the Middle East, including why Israel cannot stop its response to Hamas’ horror attacks until Hamas is completely defeated.

There is one section of the video where Douglas and his crew have to stop because of an incoming rocket. Douglas comments “It’s been happening all day.” These are rockets fired from Gaza at random or at civilian targets. This has been happening almost every day since since Gaza was handed to the Palestinians on the promise of peace in 2005. Israel has been under constant attack by Gaza for nearly twenty years.

There is a massive contrast between this ongoing, deliberate, brutal attack on homes, schools, hospitals, and shopping centres by Hamas, and Israel’s leaflet drops, door-knocks and putting its own servicemen and women at risk to avoid civilian casualties. See my earlier article on the recent history of Israel here. But first, watch the video.

What Makes Fraudulent Fraudulent?

Climate scientist Dr Judith Curry has published an analysis of the extraordinary judgement against Mark Steyn, who described MIchael Mann’s fraudulent hockey stick as fraudulent. The court ordered Steyn to pay $1 million in punitive damages.

I have followed this discussion and the court case for years. When you are a major public figure and media influencer, as Steyn is, you really do need to be careful in the language you use. It is fine to crtiticise ideas and theories, and fine to ask where people got their data, and how the data was interpreted. It is fine to come to a different conclusion. Describing something as fraudulent, however, implies dishonesty – misrepresentation of data and deliberate deception.

In this case, though, it is clear there really was misrepresentation of data and deliberate deception. Read Dr Curry’s article and see what you think.

Love and Mercy

Brian Wilson posted this on Instagram about four hours ago. I am sad to hear this news. If you haven’t seen the movie Love and Mercy, take the time to watch it. It has music and drama, and is a moving true-life (and lasting) romance.

“My heart is broken. Melinda, my beloved wife of 28 years, passed away this morning.

Our five children and I are just in tears.

We are lost.

Melinda was more than my wife. She was my savior.

She gave me the emotional security I needed to have a career.

She encouraged me to make the music that was closest to my heart.

She was my anchor. She was everything for us. Please say a prayer for her.

Love and Mercy


Living in the End Times? Not so much

Bad news overwhelms us, the future looks grim. The media tells us “Be worried. Be scared.”

In reality, most people are safer, healthier, and better off than at any previous time in Earth’s history.

“Have we just lived through one of the best years in human history? As we look at 2023 through the rearview mirror, I think that’s a defensible claim. In fact, the same thing could have been said at the end of pretty much every year since the beginning of the millennium (with the exception of the disastrous pandemic years of 2020 and 2021). Never before have so many people lived in affluence, safety, and good health.

And yet, it doesn’t feel that way. There’s so much horror and misery in the world—look at the situations in UkraineGazaSudan, and Yemen alone—that it is hard to believe that, on average, this past year was probably the best year ever. So, if life is better than ever before, why does the world seem so depressing?

One culprit is the media. Every good editor knows that “if it bleeds, it leads.” If the newspapers only focus on awful things and ignore all the good stuff, is it any wonder that people end up believing that the world is going down the drain?”

Read more at Quillette. The Seven Laws of Pessimism.

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