What God can tell us about the true colour of the mystery dress

The world is abuzz with mystery and solutions for the age-old question: Is this dress white and gold or blue and black?

A dress of indeterminate colours

 

Spoiler alert: The correct answer is that it is neither.

The question is a psychological trick, mixed with a dash of optical illusion. You are asked to select between two options:

  • White and gold; or
  • Blue and black.

Clearly the darker bits are not black, but they do look kind of like poorly lit gold. And clearly the lighter bits are not white, but they do look blueish. So what is happening? It is a three step process:

  1. Our brains are hard-wired to find patterns, so the first thing we notice out of either answer is the parts that are correct.
  2. The second step in the process is to fall victim to power of suggestion to convince ourselves that the incorrect part of each answer is also correct, because after all, those are the only options presented to us. There is a dash of the Checker Shadow Illusion at play here too.
  3. The third step in the process is that everybody forms an opinion about their interpretation and argues about it.

Come to think of it, this is almost exactly how religion works.

Islam: Religion of violence or religion of peace? The definitive answer

Islam is a  hot topic right now, and with the rise of extremists and islamophobes who claim that the religion is all about violence (and for practically the same reasons), I decided to do a little bit of research and find out the answer for myself.

So, is Islam violent or peaceful? I picked out in a selection of three verses from the Qur’an which appear to support violence:

  1. Surah 2, verse 191: “And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.”
  2. Surah 4, verse 74: “Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world’s life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.”
  3. Surah 61, verse 4: “Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure.”

Some pretty solid stuff there. But it isn’t fair and balanced reporting if I don’t also mention three verses that refer to Islam as a religion of peace:

  1. Surah 2, verse 256: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.”
  2. Surah 9, verse 6: “And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and afterward convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not.”
  3. Surah 41, verse 33: “The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend”

There’s probably a whole lot more, but I decided to limit my search to three of each because I’m not a religious scholar and I write this blog in my spare time. This was enough to prove that this approach will not provide a definitive answer, especially since the verses were all cherry-picked and taken completely out of context.

This got me thinking that maybe Islam is not a religion that promotes violence or peace. Maybe, just like other 1,000+ year old religions based on a text filled with archaic and often contradictory verses, it is just a religion followed by a large number of people and open to their individual interpretations. Some of those people want to kill every non-Muslim and put the world to fire and sword, and some of those people want to live in peace and harmony with all mankind, and probably most fit somewhere in the middle.

And so it comes to pass that the people who want to kill every non-Muslim and put the world to fire and sword read the Qur’an and look for the verses that can be interpreted as saying “kill every non-Muslim and put the world to fire and sword”. And the people who want to live in peace and harmony with all mankind read the Qur’an and look for verses that can be interpreted as saying “live in peace and harmony with all mankind”. And each do their thing while claiming the Qur’an as their authority to do so.

I guess the real message here is that we shouldn’t lump all Muslims together as a homogenous group (i.e., the basic definition of bigotry), the same way we don’t lump all Christians together as a homogenous group.

Atheism vs Agnosticism

What is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?

On a practical level, almost none. An atheist is one who believes that there is no form of god or creator or other kind of deity. An agnostic is one who does not know if there is a god or creator or other kind of deity.

I am technically agnostic, though I use the terms atheist and agnostic interchangeably to describe myself. If you could provide evidence of the existence of a god of some description, then I would be happy to believe it. Thus far, nobody has. So in the absence of the evidence of any particular deity, I assume what seems the most likely scenario: that there is none.

For those people who are religious and find this agnostic/atheistic  belief system difficult to understand, think of it this way: If you are a Christian, and find Hinduism a bit silly with all of those weird gods with funny animal heads and eating rules that allow sheep but not cows to be eaten even though they are almot the same thing, just imagine what a Hindu thinks of your weird god or three that is also one depending on who you ask with eating rules that encourage cannibalism of your own god (or son thereof) through a magical transmutation that occurs once a week in church. It’s like listening to a person speak in a different language; you know that the other person knows what they are on about, but to you it is just a bunch of meaningless, silly-sounding jibber-jabber (side note: the funniest sounding language to any monolingual English speaker is Dutch, by a country mile).

Being outside religion, I find them all equally silly. That’s why I assume that there is probably no god, instead of a whacky, vengeful, yet apparently loving nutter who only raises more questions than he/she/it answers (who created god? If god could have always been here, why couldn’t the Earth have always been here? etc.). The copout answer to all of the difficult questions always leads back to the equivalent of “the lord works in mysterious ways”. This is an answer that sounds suspiciously like “because I said so” and leaves the secret three-year-old inside me – who is screaming “why? why? why?” at every mystery – wholly unsatisfied.