The day I’ve had.
Cold, so very bitterly cold. Anyone who’s been any closer to outside than their own bedroom knows it’s been cold enough to freeze the smile of a Catholic priest in an orphanage. Cold enough to make people who should know better wear beanies. You get what I’m saying; coldness.
Walking down Kilburn high road (note to foreign types; Kilburn high road is a shopping street in London that contains a pub called The Cock, and this is all you need to know) I noticed a couple of trestle tables with brightly coloured pamphlets. A few people stood behind these tables, picking up a sheet from the ground. Initially I thought they’d been breakdancing, poppin’ some sweet moves in the grindstreet dustcore scene, yo.
Nope. Muslims! They’d been praying to their God, and the pamphlets had titles like “Miracles of the Qur’an (Facts that science reveals)” and “The Qur’an’s Scientific Accuracy Reverts British, French and Thailand Scientists to Islam”. I had no intention of stopping to talk, but I mused over the pamphlets to select the most potentially amusing, and as soon as my hand met paper . . .
“Are you a Christian?”
“No, I’m an atheist.”
“Ok, well, give me a minute and I’ll prove to you God exists. Meanwhile, this poor deluded wretch here will deluge you with an even worse understanding of theology than we possess.”
I’m paraphrasing, but only the very last bit. He literally told me he could prove God would exist. And so it began.
The shash I had to put up with defied belief, except sadly it literally defied nothing of the sort. There’s something especially bleak and earnest about the Islamic proofs for God and those who promulgate them, more so than with Christianity; a mentality that brooks no argument or dissent, a mentality unable to spot its own contradictions. It’s all rooted in the Qur’an, apparently. I spent a good while being told that the Qur’an is perfect and beautiful and therefore must be written by Allah (I’m not going to go into the various refutations I offered. You know how I roll, and you know I wouldn’t leave nonsense like this unchallenged, so just rest easy kids.) A LOT of stuff was spoken about the Qur’an and how it functions as its own self-fulfilling proof for, well, itself. Scientific facts came up, of course. That tripe about embryology (with helpful reference to diagrams and Qur’anic verses); stuff about the big bang and evolution. I refuted and refuted and it, of course, made no difference at all.
It was a similar situation to my sojourns at Speaker’s Corner. Unregulated public debate can be great. But it can also be immensely frustrating. Even with one person questioning I was often simply not allowed to respond or clarify a point, and I’d have to drag debate back to issues raised several minutes earlier that I’d been sidetracked from. I’m not sure if this was a conscious tactic or just enthusiasm, but it quickly got wearing to the point that I had to ask one guy – far more smug and irritating than the others, seemed to think that most scientists believe in a creator therefore I have to work very hard to refute such claims (he also said he didn’t know about science, as if that lent weight to his scientific arguments) – to moderate his etiquette. The main speaker was older and more restrained, tolerably decent. Hopefully he doesn’t regularly encounter people who reel off brief, condensed and accurate explanations of stellar nucleosynthesis, 2nd and 3rd gen stars and abiogenesis – he seemed confused as heck by a lot of my science (“DNA can’t form by itself! Where did it come from?”)
The middle guy was about my age, a recent convert, and he hates evolution. He asked why there were no fossils showing stages between different animals, and I quickly discovered that his research on the subject had never really happened. I implored him to look up transitional fossils. I mentioned retroviren. I dispelled all the old lies we encounter every day, and it made no difference.
It was thoroughly disheartening. I felt so sorry for him, felt a keen sense of loss on behalf of reasonable people. We broke off our debate so he could pray again, and I wanted, so badly wanted, to say “It’s ok. You don’t need to. There’s more going on. There’s a library down the road, let’s go exploring!” but of course I did not. He’s been lied to and indoctrinated by others (“Evolution is atheist propaganda!”), fed religious poetry that ignorant fools have perverted into gross infantile science. He deserved better.
It was in that frame of mind that I watched Avatar. I can’t say I recommend it.