Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pastor faces execution

Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will be hanged, as ordered by an Iranian court. His crime was his action to challenge the regime of requiring schools to teach Islam. This is similar to many countries which require schools to teach Christianity. Luckily we do not have to be hanged even if we object to education being improperly used for religious purposes. But not in Iran. Preaching Christianity and opposing Islamic teaching there will lead to death sentence. We now call it uncivilized, against humanity and religious freedom. However, this is exactly what Christians have been doing for two thousand years. See how the reverse is true when you are sitting on whichever side of the fence. This simple fact reveals the religion delusion.

The to-be-hanged pastor case comes with a twist. The court offers him a choice, renounce his Christian faith to escape the death sentence. I wonder how come Islam is so generous and forgiving, just like Christianity's repent and be saved. It turns out that the pastor is of Islamic ancestry, and that he had been a practicing Muslim before 15. I guess it could simply mean that he was born in a Muslim family. This is another religion delusion: you automatically believe what you are born with. Infants do not have a choice and do not have religious freedom. They are not taught Christianity as a new born baby but are born with the Christian gene. Similarly, pastor Nadarkhani would have been born with Islamic gene. But he defected at 15. So there is human rights and freedom of the mind after all. You can have a choice of not being a Muslim, and similarly not being a Christian. To coerce anyone to change his belief with life threatening punishment, or with whatever delusion, is a crime.

Pastor faces execution in Tehran for apostasy
By Martin Fletcher and Ruth Gledhill - Timeonline
Thursday, 29 September 2011 at 12:02 PM

The Foreign Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened last night to try to save a Christian pastor in Iran who has refused to renounce his faith to escape a death sentence.

An Iranian court gave Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, a third and final chance to avoid hanging, but he replied: “I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.” The panel of five judges will decide within a week whether to confirm his execution for apostasy, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, his lawyer, told The Times. William Hague said he “deplored” Pastor Nadarkhani’s plight, and a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomat telephoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires in London to protest. “This demonstrates the Iranian regime’s continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom,” Mr Hague said. “I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani, who has no case to answer, and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, broke his silence to express “deep concern” at the sentence faced by Pastor Nadarkhani, and at the persecution of religious minorities in Iran generally. Sources said that Christian clerics and advisers had been working hard behind the scenes to save the pastor’s life, but had sought to avoid “megaphone diplomacy” in case it did more harm than good. The US Department of State has also condemned the Iranian judiciary for demanding that Pastor Nadarkhani renounce his faith or face execution. “While Iran’s leaders hypocritically claim to promote tolerance, they continue to detain, imprison, harass and abuse those who simply wish to worship the faith of their choosing,” it said.

Pastor Nadarkhani, a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran and the father of two young boys, held services in underground “home churches” in Rasht, a provincial town about 150 miles northwest of Tehran. In 2009, he challenged the regime’s insistence that all schools should teach Islam. He was arrested in October that year and has been imprisoned in Rasht ever since. He was sentenced to death for apostasy by a court in Rasht last year.

The Supreme Court of Iran upheld the sentence last month, but with two provisos — it asked the court in Rasht to check that he had been a practising Muslim at 15, the age of maturity, and to give him three chances to recant. Pastor Nadarkhani denied ever having been a Muslim, but the prosecution argued successfully that he was of “Islamic ancestry”. However, he refused to renounce his faith at three hearings this week.

At yesterday’s closed session, Mr Dadkhah argued that the Iranian constitution permitted freedom of worship, that the penal code did not identify apostasy as a crime and that Iran had signed international conventions banning religious persecution. Mr Nadarkhani’s conviction appeared to be based on fatwas issued by Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, Iran’s past and present supreme leaders, but other senior Ayatollahs have challenged the ruling.

Mr Dadkhah said he was “95 per cent” confident that “reason will prevail” and his client would escape execution, but acknowledged that the five judges — two of them clerics — warned that they would have to take “specific actions” if Pastor Nadarkhani did not renounce his faith. The pastor supporters in the West are far less confident that he will avoid the fate of the Reverend Hossein Soodmand, the last Christian to be hanged for abandoning Islam, 21 years ago. Andrew Johnston, advocacy director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “[We call] on international actors to take up Pastor Nadarkhani’s case with the Iranian authorities without delay. His life is in the balance.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Great Mysteries Re-examined
by Charles Cazeau and Stuart Scott Jr.


When I first saw this book, I thought it was about the ancient mysteries and it would be again another interesting book on stories with secrets and excitement. However, the reverse is true. It is meant to be a myth breaker and it tries to expose the superstition and the incorrect perception on hearsay or deliberate lies.

The topics covered are very wide, including ancient relics like the pyramids and other megalithic structures, and also aliens, unidentified flying objects, Easter Island, Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, monster sightings, Loss Ness and Noah's Ark. The technique used by the authors is the scientific method of fact gathering and verification, validity of assumptions and logical thinking. The book uses an entire chapter to explain the method and the general fallacies found in pseudo-science. On facts, it is important to examine whether there are factual errors, contradiction, distortion or exaggerations. Assumptions may be wrong and must be tested. When too much assumptions confuse a topic, the Occam's Razor principle is always useful. On logical deduction, the process may fall wayside owing to hasty generalization, argumentum ad hominem, or appeal to pity, authority or faith. Each topic is unique but all can be analyzed under such principles. I note two topics which are easier to understand.

The Bermuda Triangle

The popular belief of the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle powered by the press mainly converges on six points. 1. There is an abnormally high rate of disappearances there. 2. All disappearances take place in or very close to the Triangle. 3. In all instances the weather was good. 4. Very few of the ships and planes disappearing gave any hint of trouble. 5. Despite intensive search, not a trace was found. 6. There are abnormal magnetic force there; compasses point to true north instead of magnetic north.

A detailed research by the authors based on records and statistics reveals the following:

- The average number of incidents connected to the Triangle region is about 2.5 per year. According to the records of the US Coast Guard, on 1975 alone, the number of sunk or capsized boats was 5600, 1300 were on fire, and another 1000 lost direction. Accidents as they were regrettable, were nowhere near abnormally high.

- The area of the Triangle is wide, but the Atlantic ocean is much wider. Of the cases examined by the authors, only 63% were actually in the Triangle, and 37% were not.

- Of the cases examined in detail, only 26% reported good weather. 52% recorded prevailing bad weather and 22% didn't show the weather condition.

- 12% of the ships and planes complained of trouble. 61% did not complain. Another 27% were unable to communicate; they could be in deep trouble with radio failure.

- There are definite records of debris, wreckage, oil slick found in 10 cases. In the vast Atlantic Ocean and being battered by severe storm, wreckage was difficult to be found.

 - True north and magnetic north are fixed locations. If one can draw a line connecting these two locations and extend it southward, it will pass through the Triangle. All locations along this line will have compasses pointing to true north.

The verdict: All we hear from the press are exaggerations aiming to boost sales.

Noah's Ark

All historians agree that this biblical legend may have some truth in it. Although there is no geographic evidence of a world wide flood less than 5000 years ago, there are records of floods in every ancient civilization. Flooding is a common natural disaster. The ancestors of the Israelis were living near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers a few thousand years ago, and there were frequent floods in the river plain. There could be survivors from an unusually severe flood, having built a good boat for his household and livestock. The legend might be derived out of respect of the lucky ones. However, biblical teachings and the ongoing myth present a distorted picture. The authors examined the stated facts and argued on the unreasonableness.

- The bible told the exact magnitude of the flood: Water covering the entire world, even the highest mountain with 22 feet of water to spare. (Genesis 7:20). This would amount to more than a billion cubic miles of water. There is simply not enough additional water in the entire earth for such disaster 5000 years ago. Even if it did, where would such large amount of water go. It would not be possible for such amount of water to drain or evaporate in a matter of months.

- The bible supposedly recorded the exact dimension of the ark (Genesis 6:15), about 450 x 75 x 45 feet, with a volume of 1.5 million cubic feet. This is an enormous boat by today's standard. Just think of the amount of wood and labour required. This is an impossible task for the 8 members of Noah's family.

- Even if there was such a large boat, it could not accommodate a pair of all animal species. Calculations based on very cramped condition revealed that a few thousand pairs of small animals might be squeezed in. Even if all of them survived, it would not be possible for them, in a span of 5000 years, to evolve into millions of different animal species we now have.

- The water came down for 150 days, and it receded in another three months. (Genesis 8:3) This meant the ark was isolated for more than 250 days. It is assumed that there were food and water to last for the period. 250 days is a very long time. The amount of supplies for the large number of animals should have occupied considerable space. There was also the task for the caring of a few thousand animals, including feeding and clearing of waste; all done by eight people. Another impossible task.

- All people on earth died except Noah's family. That means all people on earth today are descendants of Noah. In a span of 5000 years, it is not possible that human beings evolved from Noah's gene into many different races with different skin colour, built and outlook.

It may not be fair for such logical reasoning to be applied to a religious myth. A religious myth is supposed to be illogical just supported by faith. To believe it no matter what is called a virtue. It seems to me that the authors just saw the similarities of these subjects with other mysteries. They are all in their own way exaggerations, distortions and misrepresentations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Democracy and Economic Growth

This is an inspiring TED presentation on democracy and economic growth.  The presenter is professor Huang Yasheng 黃亞生.  He is now the professor of political economy and international management at Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The topic as it looks appears to be controversial.  He is staging the political structure of China and the resultant economic growth.  We all know the success in economic growth in China.  But is it a result of her political system or otherwise?

The strong government scenario in the Shanghai model has been cited as an example.  The government-led expansion of infrastructures was very efficient, at the expense of livelihood of many citizens.  It could be thought that balancing the importance of infrastructures with economic growth facilitated by a strong government would be an advantage.  Nevertheless, statistics on many countries show otherwise.

Another more direct question is whether democracy is bad for economic growth.  There are many examples that democracy led to prolonged arguments thus hindered the efficiency of decision making, and led to compromised watered-down policies.  However, there are also statistics showing the long term growth of democratic countries having an advantage over authoritarian governments.

The success of China, over India in particular, is her human capital.  You may refer to the video for more figures and arguments.  The basic concept, against the general impression that the literacy level in China is low, which is not correct, is that the quality of human capital in China is better.  You may argue that there are a lot of India scholars all over the world with good achievements.  The truth with India is that she focused on tertiary education but the basic education is severely insufficient.  You may have heard from the news that Hong Kong people are keen on helping the education of poor children in rural China.  However, as a whole, the literacy rate in China in 1990 is already 78%.

With regard to the effect of the political system, professor Huang proposed that we have to focus on the dynamic of political systems rather than a static ideology.  Economic growth is about change, and it has to be compared with changes ongoing.  Coupled with the fast economic growth in the last several decades, China was undergoing changes in her political system from an authoritarian government to a relatively less authoritarian government.   Reforms were carried out to provide some economic autonomy to provinces as well as rural areas.  However, the challenge ahead for China is whether the direction of reform can be maintained.  For the pace of economic growth to sustain, the people must continue to be able to share the benefits of growth permitted by a more open political system.