Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bringing an End to Stoning

 A woman being buried for stoning Iran. A woman stoned dead in her hole in Afghanistan.

The Arabic word zina' that is often translated by the word 'adultery' really means something more than that - any sexual relations between a woman and a man who are not bound to each other by a legal marriage (from adultery to rape), and as long as slavery existed, intimate relations between a man and a slave who did not belong to him or was married to another. The Qur'an does not prescribe stoning to death for adultery. Nevertheless, in many Islamic countries to this day, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Saudi Arabia women are regularly stoned to death. 

A comparison of the Code of Hammurabi, Deuteronomy and Islamic scripture shows that the plight of women became substantially worse under Deuteronomic law and that this harsh violent law, which was effectively suspended by the Sanhedrin in the time of Jesus, was revived by Muhammad taking Deuteronomy literally, so that it continues to be a cruel and unusual violent homicidal punishment, aimed principally at women, in Islam to this day. By contrast, in Western democracies, adultery is not a crime at all, and is simply, as it should be, a matter for civil mediation. There is an urgent need for all the people of the world to stand up and say stoning for adultery is a diabolical crime which has no place in the world today or in future. Deuteronomy which is the source of the cancer should be abrogated by the Jews and all Muslim authorities should declare the hadith on stoning to be abrogated. The Jews, Christians and Muslims all need to apologize to the women of history and come together to make atonement for this diabolical miscarriage of natural justice.

The Code of Hammurabi sets out drowning for adultery but provides for forgiveness. A virgin ravished in her father's house is blameless but the man is put to death. A women accused of adultery without proof can swear her innocence and if others accuse her without proof she can plunge in the sacred river for her husband's sake. All in all it is a matter of civic remedies with provision for mediation.

129. If a man's wife be caught lying with another, they shall be strangled and cast into the water. If the wife's husband would save his wife, the king can save his servant.
130. If a man has ravished another's betrothed wife, who is a virgin, while still living in her father's house, and has been caught in the act, that man shall be put to death; the woman shall go free.

131. If a man's wife has been accused by her husband, and has not been caught lying with another, she shall swear her innocence, and return to her house.
132. If a man's wife has the finger pointed at her on account of another, but has not been caught lying with him, for her husband's sake she shall plunge into the sacred river.

Deuteronomic law has more patriarchal emphasis with greater blame on the woman and no provisions for forgiveness, because adultery is perceived as an evil act in the sight of God and Moses’ commandments in the manner of the idolatrous nations. If a man marries and hates his wife claiming she was not a virgin, she shall be stoned to death unless the parents can show the tokens of virginity, in which case the husband is merely fined and must keep her. If a man is found lying with a married woman they shall both be put to death. If a man lies with a betrothed woman in the city they shall both be stoned because she did not cry out. Only if she is sexually assaulted in the fields will the man be killed and the woman freed. Bearing in mind the origin of Deuteronomy, found in questionable circumstances during a temple renovation many centuries after Moses, and the fact that the Sanhedrin had effectively quashed the death penalty by the time of Jesus, claiming it could be ordained only by God and not a mere human, these passages should rightly be abrogated.

22:13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

22:23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die. But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.

Islamic Sharia presents a confused violent sequel to Deuteronomy, still culminating in cruel and unusual homicides today. The Quran does not prescribe stoning, but states that the punishment for indecency among women is confinement to death, with allowance for repentance, and 100 lashes for fornication. Four witnesses are required to testify and provision is made to punish false witness.

4.15 And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them. And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

24.2 (As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement. The fornicator shall not marry any but a fornicatress or idolatress, and (as for) the fornicatress, none shall marry her but a fornicator or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers.

24.4 And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses, flog them, (giving) eighty stripes, and do not admit any evidence from them ever; and these it is that are the transgressors, Except those who repent after this and act aright, for surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And (as for) those who accuse their wives and have no witnesses except themselves, the evidence of one of these (should be taken) four times, bearing Allah to witness that he is most surely of the truthful ones. And the fifth (time) that the curse of Allah be on him if he is one of the liars. And it shall avert the chastisement from her if she testify four times, bearing Allah to witness that he is most surely one of the liars; And the fifth (time) that the wrath of Allah be on her if he is one of the truthful.

However in Sharia the situation becomes violently homicidal, with anecdotal hadiths prescribing stoning, as in Deuteronomy, even though it doesn't appear in the Quran. The Hadith say Muhammad ordered stoning and performed it himself, and that it was somehow accidentally left out of the Quran on the day of his demise, when a goat ate it. The hadith claim stoning first occurred when Jews came with a couple caught in adultery and Muhammad insisted on the Deuteronomic punishment even though the Jews insisted they said they only gave lashes, and the death penalty had been quashed for 600 years among the Jews. The hadith have Caliph Umar who passed many misogynistic edicts against women, saying he feared that in times to come men would say that they find no mention of stoning in God's book and go astray in neglecting an ordinance "which God has sent down".

The Hadith say Muhammad ordered stoning and himself performed it and that it was somehow accidentally left out of the Quran, which specifies only flogging, ostensibly because it was written on a note which Aisha had under her pillow along with the provision on breastfeeding adults and a goat ate it when Muhammad died (Ibn Majah 3:9:1944).

Jews came to the Prophet and said, "A man and a woman of our nation have committed adultery." The Prophet asked them, "What does the Torah says about pelting stones?" They replied, "We humiliate them and give publicly to their evil act and punish them by flogging." Abdullah bin Salam said, "You are telling a lie. Bring the Torah which also ordains pelting stones." So they brought the Torah and one of them having covered his hand the verse relating to the pelting of stones read out the verse preceding it and the verse after it. Abdullah bin Salam said, "Take off your hand." And the verse about pelting stones was seen clearly. The Jew said, "Abdullah bin Salam is right. The verse about pelting stones is there." Then the Prophet directed that both the committers of adultery be stoned to death and they met their fate (Bukhari 2:23:413, 4:56:829).

Umar in his reign as Caliph recalled that "God sent Muhammad and sent down the Scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning, we read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle stoned and we stoned them after him. I fear that in time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God's book and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance, which God has sent down. Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, tr. Guillaume, p. 684)

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Ecology of Religion

Global distribution of societies that exhibit beliefs in moralizing high gods (blue) or not (i.e., atheism or beliefs in non-moralizing deities or spirits in red). The underlying map depicts the mean values of net primary productivity (i.e., the net balance of monthly consumption relative to production of carbon dioxide by living plants) in gray scale. Darker localities reflect places with greater potential for overall plant growth.

A key paper this week "The ecology of religious beliefs" from PNAS ( shows the ecological basis of moral deities in harsh environmental and social conditions. Notice that moral deities are not universal and that in regions of high natural abundance they do not emerge from the social milieu, so the notion that religion and 'pro-social' morality are somehow bound together is an illusion.

The study shows that belief in moral high gods correlates inversely with natural resource abundance and peaks in societies with several levels of political hierarchy as opposed to egalitarian cultures.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Religion of Nature and the Nature of Religion

The other day I was looking at the "History of Pornography" series and came upon "Fanny Hill" as the first pornographic novel in the Age of Enlightenment. As it turned out, the author John Cleland was an avid deist. This led me into the deist ideas of a creator God that didn't intervene in nature after 'His' creation. Deists were a rationalist movement in the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century that rejected the superstitious nature of miracles, the literal interpretation of religious scripture, Jesus' divine nature and the Trinity, in favour of a notion of deity that was grounded in rational exploration of God in the form of a creator that left nature to run its course unimpeded, once the creation had been set in motion. Despite this, many deists were regarded by their traditional Christian counterparts as irreligious, even though they tacitly believed in God.

Deism was a unique product of the rise of scientific rationality at a time when the presumption of God as a de facto creator of the universe was still almost universal. However two things eclipsed deism as a product of the hopeful Age of Enlightenment. Firstly it depended on a creator deity setting in motion a mechanistic Newtonian universe. This attitude successively gave way to more intellectually precise notions of scientific naturalism that nature itself is necessary and sufficient to describe life and the evolution of the universe. Secondly, the deist belief in the existence of a true source religion uncontaminated by subsequent fallacies spawned by a controlling priesthood and free of the distortions of revealed scripture and superstitious and miraculous confabulation proved to be an illusion. Instead it was found that religions worldwide displayed strong elements of irrational superstition and fear of the unknown, attributed to a miraculous deity,  deities or spirit beings. The rational basis of religion on which the deist premise depended was thus undermined.

Ironically, in the 21st century, it is as if the clock has moved both forwards and backwards at the same time. We see an even sharper division between scientifically and humanistically-minded people on the one hand coming to their own intellectually astute conclusions about the universe, many of whom have very high ethical standards for life and on the other hand increasingly literalist religious believers who discard rationality, good judgment and adequate safeguards for trust in beliefs, to embrace slavish religious imperatives often containing violent attitudes of a collectively psychopathic nature.

In Western society apologists for religion will note that there are good Christian communities that bring about a sense of social conscience and belonging, but Christian assumptions are also at the expense of a sense of ultimate confidence in our goodness of  nature depending on salvation to cure all from the sins of selfish expedience. However in the Muslim world, fundamentalistic attitudes have become ascendent in both Sunni and Shiite followings, leading to a literal interpretation of the scripture and law taking Islam back to the three generations of Muhammad in the seventh century and asserting that we are all to be slaves of God under punishment of death for apostasy, justifying psychopathic violence against Sufis, Amadhis, Yazidis, followers of other religions and democratic society alike.

Our ideas of god as a potential cosmocrater, or cosmic creator of the universe changed irreversibly in the twentieth century with the discovery of dynamical chaos, quantum reality and relativity. No longer is the universe seen as a divine Newtonian clockwork. The Pope recently stated that acceptance of evolution need not be inconsistent with creation, effectively conceding to nature the incontestable evidence of evolutionary change, while assigning to God the technical loophole of the 'big bang'. The difficulty with this idea is that the creator God is left with little meaningful relationship with the universe today. Although the finer details of the cosmic origin are still being researched, we know the universe began in a state of high symmetry and low informational content, in which principles of complex symmetry and symmetry-breaking are key, and that the subsequent processes leading to life on Earth have been complex unstable interactions, bringing both chaotic unpredictability and quantum uncertainty into play in the formation of galaxies and solar systems and subsequently, biogenesis and the evolution of life into conscious organisms. So the conditions at the cosmic origin no longer play out in a Laplacian determinism, which a creator God could induce to bring our personal lives, crises and moral tests omnipotently into being.

Once the laws of nature have adopted the symmetry-broken form we see in the standard model of particle physics, the evolutionary complexification of life becomes a product of the hierarchical interaction of the four forces of nature, to form the fractal architecture of molecular matter, resulting in natural interactions leading to biogenesis, life and evolution, including the opposing influences of mutual selection effects shaped by environmental interactions and stochastic mutational changes brought about ultimately by quantum uncertainty.

The only way a deity could continue to intervene in this evolutionary process would be to play dice with the universe, as Einstein denied, by casting the lot in each individual quantum encounter, which remains unpredictable under the probability interpretation of quantum mechanics. But here we find every statistical measure of quantum uncertainty and quantum entanglement conforms ultimately to the probability interpretation, with no evidence of divine intervention upsetting the odds. In the world of our experience misfortune and ill-health strike naturally with blind justice. There is no evidence for divine intervention to punish the criminals and uphold the virtuous. Indeed it would make no sense in a natural world that must needs contain predators and herbivores, just as it contains plants and animals.

Rather than imposing our naive ideas of creation onto the universe, we are better served by developing our understanding of existence from how we actually find the universe and nature to be in the world around us, without overlaying over the facts with preconceived notions based on naive attitudes of fixed belief and undiscerning superstitious faith in a divine power.

Central to the dilemma of existence is the nature of life, death and mortality. Understanding the natural condition of mortally reproducing life brings us much closer to gaining the depth and breadth of insight we need to be able to become a meaningful part of the universe and to come to terms with our own existential condition. Since we are mortal biological organisms there is no point in selfish aims which ultimately lead nowhere. We will gain ultimate satisfaction only by giving our all to the benefit of life and its immortal continuity.

This ultimately delivers on the moral issues posed both by Buddhism (enlightenment from grasping egotistical desires) and monotheism (leading a virtuous sinless life in the eyes of God). Furthermore, we learn that morality is a local process that is a functional part of a vital society, increasing intra-social cooperation to aid social vitality and inter-social dominance, but the universe is in no way a moral dictatorship - a cosmic stage for God to give humanity a moral test of judgment and faith in religion under pain of eternal damnation. We also learn that sin is not all bad and virtue is not all good - natural change involves both defection and cooperation mediated through astute tests of trust, in a climate of strategic dissimulation - Machiavellian intelligence - which gives us the complexity and diverse diplomatic survival niches of human society, accompanied by degrees of both altruistic punishment and discerning forgiveness.

When it comes to the meaning of life, we need to realize that, although we are mortal, sexuality provides the ultimate immortal altruistic antidote to individual mortality. Sexuality transcends parthenogenesis, inducing an almost endless source of variety through genetic recombination. While we are individually mortal, we are part of the immortal enchanted web of life, generating new forms of conscious being through sexual reproduction, in which our own genetic identity provides an equal half share along with that of our sexual partner.

We also need to learn from nature about our original virtue. The evolution of emotional responsiveness in mammals has enabled the formation of societies whose mutual altruism extends far beyond narrow kinship boundaries. Although we are capable of selfish expedience, jealousy, anger and even violent hatred, we are also capable of sexual, familial, comradely and selfless love and empathy for others in plight and feel most at home in a climate of belonging, in which we are a part of a mutual fabric of caring support - an evolutionary endowment of being small bands of people surviving together in the wilderness.

Some of the finest attributes of caring and sensitivity to others, as well as creative art, music and family life, come from the astute processes of sexual courtship, particularly those of women astutely choosing good partners to father their children, given the huge investment of the human female in pregnancy, birth, lactation and early child-rearing. Thus, rather than being lustful sinners to the core, we are a palette of emotions, which in the balance, provide evidence of our original virtue, which has sustained us into compassionate existence in the world of tooth and claw.

Beyond the narrow confines of sexual reproduction and parenting, to fulfill our place in the sacred web, while we are here, we also need to cherish and replenish the Earth in its natural diversity, because, although individual incarnation is mortal, the passage of the generations of life is perennially immortal, so long as the Earth shall live and be hospitable to life. We also gain fulfillment in life by playing our part in the pursuit of understanding, social caring, and creative expression of our cultures so that society and the world becomes, at least in some small way, a better place, through our presence in it. All of these provide the essential meaning of life as a creative process.

The key learning point is that sexuality is the generator of all complex life and absolutely necessary for us to come into the world as incarnate sentient beings. We trade off mortality for life's complexity and abundance. Without recombinational meiosis we could never have become complex multi-celled organisms. Sex is thus sacred and sacrosanct in the passage of the generations. While God is an uncertain proposition, sex is our certain foundation, and the key to our becoming and belonging.

Sexual incarnation might seem to be an endless round of menial animalistic reproduction, but it is far more than this. It has an intrinsic psychic dimension, because each conscious being is a novel evolutionary manifestation of the processes which invoke sentient consciousness - the ultimate mystery of existence. At the same time we are collectively evolving into a state of deepening awareness of life the universe and everything when we step back form the pressures of trying to feed ourselves to survive and the distractions of internecine inter-social and inter-religious strife. This coming to an inner knowledge of the world may be the key to the cosmic destiny of the universe - Gnosis or 'knowing'.

We can seek spiritual fulfillment in a variety of ways, many of which are quite direct, from meditation to psychedelic reverie. These avenues frequently lead to full-blown mystical experiences of a religiously formative nature. We can learn from these experiences, and they form the sang raal of spiritual experience from which all the major religious traditions have been borne. We therefore have a conscious avenue to explore the ultimate mysteries of existence and need to deal with these with the same spirit of open mindedness that is the hallmark of scientific discovery.

Ultimately we come to the cosmic question. What is the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, if, although it is in principle immortal, it will nevertheless ultimately be extinguished by the solar system being consumed by the Sun, or the eventual universal heat death or big crunch. There are two types of answer to this question.

One explanation lies in the universality of cosmic consciousness - the idea that all conscious beings are a manifestation of the cosmic mind, bundled up in a constrained form in each mortal biological being. Clearly the biota, with their complex brains, are the one place where we know complex intelligent conscious life can become manifest, but our experience of the world comes entirely and directly through our subjective consciousness, so it also appears to have an existential status as fundamental as the universe. Existential reality thus appears to be a complementarity between subjective consciousness and the objective physical world, just as wave and particle aspects are in physics. The brain processes supporting subjective consciousness appear to be highly unstable whole brain states attuned to be arbitrarily sensitive to changing circumstances in the world around us. The brain appears to use edge-of chaos dynamics and may also use quantum entanglement among brain wave excitations in these uncertain states, enabling our subjective conscious experience of free-will  to influence the fate of the universe around us through our actions.  There may even be forms of entanglement over space-time between the conscious experiences of disparate sentient beings similar to the forms of entanglement that we have discovered in quantum phenomena. Hidden quantum entanglement within an eternal universe at large has also been proposed to explain the nature of elapsing time that is key to the changing events around us in real time.

The other explanation lies the eternal relativistic conception, that life, in addition to being a perennially immortal passage of the generations in elapsing time, once it has come to climax is eternally present in space-time, which is itself eternal, extending from cosmological alpha to omega, so the fact that conscious life has come into being in the universe during some epoch mid-way through its evolution gives life its eternal 'meaning' and 'purpose' in a universe becoming conscious of itself. Religious believers may thus seek the eternal in an 'afterlife' because we sense that, in the completion of the universe, all we have done and will ever do is imprinted and encapsulated in this eternal nature of existence. The never-ending nature of heavenly bliss is basically a vision of this eternal unchanging reality.