The Human Race


The thinking ape
200,000 years ago

Our species, Homo sapiens, is ridiculously young. We have only existed for a fifth of a million years. In that time we have expanded from our African birthplace to reach every continent, and even outer space. Our activities have precipitated the sixth mass extinction and unleashed the fastest episode of climate change in Earth’s history. Yet we are also the only species that has ever managed to piece together the history of Earth.

See other: History of Life

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Conversations: Moderates and Morality


Helena
Even if a belief in God had a reliable, positive effect upon human behaviour, this would not offer a reason to believe in God. One can believe in God only if one thinks that God actually exists.

Sappho
Good point. Even if atheism led straight to moral chaos, this would not suggest that the doctrine of Christianity is true. Islam might be true, in that case. Or all religions might function like placebos. As descriptions of the universe, they could be utterly false but, nevertheless, useful. The evidence suggests, however, that they are not only false but dangerous.

Zoe
Slow down! Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, et cetera, cannot be categorized as fundamentalists. In fact, when talking about the good consequences that religious beliefs have on human morality, most people of faith follow the example of religious liberals and religious moderates. Consider Christians the world over, rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, or because the miracles recounted in the Gospels are convincing, liberals and moderates tend to talk in terms of the good consequences of believing as they do. Such believers often say that they believe in God because this “gives their lives meaning.” Continue reading

Conversations: Doing Good for God


Lysandra
What about all of the good things people have done in the name of God? It is undeniable that many people of faith make heroic sacrifices to relieve the suffering of other human beings.

Helena
You’re right. But is it necessary to believe anything on insufficient evidence in order to behave this way? If compassion were really dependent upon religious dogmatism, how could we explain the work of secular doctors in the most war-ravaged regions of the developing world? Many doctors are moved simply to alleviate human suffering, without any thought of God. Continue reading

Unless you are the Mongols


The Mongols are a civilization that are known for being the exception to many historical phenomena.[1] Listed below are some of the most important of those exceptions in a generalised form:

  • Nomads: The downside is that you have to move around a lot because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it hard to build cities, unless you are the Mongols.
  • Civilization: Certain conglomerations of humans are seen as civilizations, where as, say nomadic cultures generally aren’t. Unless you are, say it with me, the Mongols.
  • Early Cities: The city-state period in Mesopotamia ended around 2000 BCE, probably because drought and a shift in the course of rivers led to pastoral nomads coming in and conquering the environmentally weakened cities, and then the nomads settled into cities of their own as nomads almost always will, unless, wait for it, you are the Mongols.
  • Persian Empire: Let’s start with the Persian empire, which became the model for pretty much all land-based empires throughout the world. Except for, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • Silk Road: […] with the growth of the Silk Road, the nomadic people of Central Asia suddenly become much more important to world history. Much of Central Asia isn’t great for agriculture, but it’s difficult to conquer, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.

“A tiger wearing a bell will starve.” – Mongolian proverb

  • Early Christianity: Both Herods ultimately took their orders from the Romans, and they both show up on the list of rulers who are oppressive to the Jews, partly because there’s never that much religious freedom in an empire, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols… or the Persians.
  • Early Islam: It’s common to hear that in these early years Islam quote “spread by the sword”, and that’s partly true, unless you are — wait for it — the Mongols.[2]
  • Dark Ages: [The Abbasids] hailed from the Eastern, and therefore more Persian, provinces of the Islamic Empire. The Abbasids took over in 750 and no one could fully defeat them; until 1258, when they were conquered by, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • Islam in Africa: Until then, most of the people living in the East had been hunter-gatherers or herders, but once introduced, agriculture took hold, as it almost always does. Unless, wait for it, you’re the Mongols.
  • Imperialism: So by the end of the 19th century, most of Africa and much of Asia had been colonized by European powers. […] Notable exceptions include Japan, which was happily pursuing its own imperialism, Thailand, Iran, and of course Afghanistan. Because no one can conquer Afghanistan, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.
  • World War II: So, not to sound jingoistic, but the entry of the U.S. into the war really did change everything, although I doubt the Nazis could’ve taken Russia regardless. No one conquers Russia in the wintertime, unless you are, wait for it, the Mongols.

“A donkey that carries me is worth more than a horse that kicks me.” – Mongolian proverb


[1] Green. J. (2012) Crash Course World History

[2] Actually, as usual, the truth is more complicated. Many people, including the Mongols, but also including lots of people in Central and East Asia, embraced Islam without any military campaigns.

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Women are paid less than men for the same work in every U.S. State.

In 2008 a lock of Jane Austen’s hair was sold at auction for £5,640.

In Japanese, two different sets of characters spell out the word danshoku meaning either warm colour, or male homosexual sex.

The biblical book of Esther contains neither the word God, Lord, Jesus, nor Jehovah.

Many of the indigenous people living close to the banks of the Zambezi river (the fourth longest river in Africa which has its source in former Zambia and flows through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) carry dogs in their canoe in case of a crocodile attack.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Faith and Infelicitous Facts


‘Examples of God’s failure to protect humanity are everywhere to be seen. The city of New Orleans, for instance, was recently destroyed by a hurricane. More than a thousand people died; tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions; and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Hurricane Katrina struck shared your belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while Katrina laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Do you have the courage to admit the obvious? These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend. […]

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. These pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran. Indeed, their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence: their women walked veiled before Him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace. It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. It is time we acknowledged how disgraceful it is for the survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs.

Once you stop swaddling the reality of the world’s suffering in religious fantasies, you will feel in your bones just how precious life is—and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

One wonders just how vast and gratuitous a catastrophe would have to be to shake the world’s faith. The Holocaust did not do it. Neither did the genocide in Rwanda, even with machete-wielding priests among the perpetrators. Five hundred million people died of smallpox in the twentieth century, many of them infants. God’s ways are, indeed, inscrutable. It seems that any fact, no matter how infelicitous, can be rendered compatible with religious faith.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 18

International Condom Day


International Condom Day seeks to promote the use of condoms as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

It is an informal observance celebrated in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. The holiday is also promoted by the AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV through safe sex practices.

The simple fact is that scientific research demonstrates that condoms are an effective and important tool in the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections. Let’s consider some interesting nuggets of that large body of research:

  • When it comes to HIV, using a condom makes sex 10,000 times safer than not using a condom. – Carey, Ronald F., et al. (1992)
  • There is no medical reason why someone can’t use a condom. Even people with latex allergies can use them — there are latex-free condoms made of polyurethane and polyisoprene. – Hatcher, Robert A., et al. (2007)
  • Condoms have been around a long, long time. The earliest known illustration of a man using a condom is a 12,000–15,000-year-old painting on the wall of a cave in France. – Parisot, Jeannette (1985)

Who binds with chains the poet’s wit,
The navvy’s strength, the soldier’s pride,
And lays the sleek, estranging shield
Between the lover and his bride.”
― George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

  • Condom availability in places of need around the world is increasing significantly, with 25.8 million female condoms provided through international and nongovernmental funding sources in 2009. Condom distribution increased by 10 million between 2008 and 2009. – UNAIDS (2010)
  • The condom is one of the most accessible and inexpensive forms of birth control available. The cost of condoms is as low as $0.04 per unit. – UNAIDS (2010)
  • Only 39 percent of American high school students are taught how to correctly use a condom in their health classes. Programs that teach young people about abstinence as well as contraception help youth to delay first sex and use condoms and other forms of contraception when they do have sex. – Kirby, Douglas. (2007)

“Staying in Africa, I think it will one day be admitted with shame that it might have been in error to say that AIDS is bad as a disease, very bad, but not quite as bad as condoms are bad, or not as immoral in the same way.” – Christopher Hitchens

And consider these other quite interesting facts about condoms:

  • An average condom can hold a gallon of liquid. (The average healthy man over 24 produces a tablespoonful of 15 millilitres of sperm in a single ejaculation.)
  • The oldest known condoms (that is to say, as in the oldest ones physically found) were discovered in a toilet in Dudley, England and were made from fish and animal intestine. They were dated around 1640.
  • The term used by medical professionals and safer sex educators to refer to the phenomenon of decreased condom use is condom fatigue.

“Use a condom. The world doesn’t need another you.”
― Carroll Bryant

  • 5 billion condoms are used every year, worldwide.
  • The Chinese hold the world record for creating the largest condom. During the celebration of the World population Day in 2003, the people of Guilin, China, made a 80 meter x 100 meter condom and placed it on top of a hotel.
  • The formal Danish word for condom is Svangerskabsforebyggendemiddel; whereas the Greeks employ the beautiful word προφυλακτικό.

“It’s the strange thing about this church, it is obsessed with sex, absolutely obsessed. Now, they will say we with our permissive society and our rude jokes, we are obsessed. No, we have a healthy attitude, we like it, it’s fun, it’s jolly, […] it’s a bit like food in that respect only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic Church in a nutshell.” – Stephen Fry

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Duke William IX of Aquitaine fantasized about establishing a convent of prostitutes.

Miniature of William from a 13th-century chans...

Miniature of William IX of Aquitaine from a 13th-century chansonnier.

Many of the indigenous people living close to the banks of the Zambezi river (the fourth longest river in Africa which has its source in Zambia and flows through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) carry dogs in their canoe in case of a crocodile attack.

Romans brought heated bathrooms, glass windows, swimming pools, temples, aqueducts, proper writing, chariot races, kid’s dolls and good wine to Britain.

Saudi Arabia applies strict rules of gender segregation, banning women from driving and requiring them to have permission from a male guardian before travelling or receiving medical care.

The Japanese language has three different characters pronounced kami, this homophone can mean ‘God’, ‘hair’, as well as ‘paper’. The phrase kami sama is another way of saying ‘God’, whereas the phrase kami san means ‘person running through store’.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts