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The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death

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Heaven may not be what you imagine

Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.

In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.

Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)

Written by mikemagee

13 April, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Which Bits of Scripture are Literal and which Allegorical?

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Richard Dawkins and Jonathan SacksProminent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks met in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

“How do you decide which bits [of scripture] are symbolic and which bits are not?” asked Prof Dawkins at one point during the discussion.

“Very simple,” replied the Chief Rabbi.

“The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: if a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally.”

Christians take note. The Old Testament is the scripture of Jews. Maybe the Rabbis can be expected to know it better than TV evangelicals.

Written by mikemagee

16 September, 2012 at 5:27 pm

No Relationship Between the Level of Sacrificial Behaviour and Religiosity

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Sacrificing to God Game

Physorg.com reports that Professor Paul Frijters and World Bank economist Juan Baron, economists at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the World Bank in Washington found a pervading and persistent “default belief” among believers and nonbelievers in bargaining with the unknown, and it was greater in times of uncertainty. Professor Frijters said:

There seems to be a default belief that people can bargain with the unknown, and they need a lot of evidence to the contrary before it fades away. Much like some cultures dance for their gods in order to get rain, Western participants will spend money on problems even when that expenditure has no demonstrable effect. Even when witnessing hundreds of occasions where it made no difference, they keep sacrificing large portions of their income to the perceived source of the problem. Only if they personally experience dozens of disappointments will they slowly stop sacrificing.

Professor Frijters said the study was an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that will be revealed in a book due later this year called An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

In it, 500 participants played a game in which the price for the goods they “produced” was determined by a source of uncertainty called Theoi. Although the price was set completely at random for each of 20 rounds, the participants had the option of contributing some of their produced goods to Theoi. At the start, the average participant donated half of all production towards Theoi, even when there was no relationship between the level of sacrifice and the market price. Professor Frijters said:

Even after 20 rounds, the average participant still donated a quarter of all production. There were no participants who didn’t donate anything for all 20 rounds, and there were very few who didn’t donate anything the last 10 rounds. The wish to sacrifice was very strong. In an experiment where the level of sacrifice was set initially at 10 per cent, nearly all participants changed the level to much higher. Aggregate sacrifices were over 30 per cent of all takings in the main experiments, and only slightly lower if we didn’t use a human name for the uncertainty in price (like Theoi) or if we allowed participants to see what others experienced. Sacrifices only really dropped when the level of uncertainty was lower.

General findings were:

  • there was no relationship between the level of sacrificial behaviour and whether participants belonged to a recognised religion
  • engineering students donated more than economics students
  • participants who were selfish towards others were also less likely to sacrifice to Theoi.

The authors conclude that “any important source of uncertainty” will witness the development of a religion around it in which people sacrifice towards its perceived source.

While this is only a summary by an online agency of the paper, if it is at all accurate, the findings are terrible. The authors totally lack any scientific credibility on this evidence. Their choice of the word Theoi (Gods) suggests they had already a conclusion in their minds when they chose that as the name of this mysterious agent.

It seems the subjects’ knowledge of the mechanics of the game was simply that they could donate some of their money to Theoi (“a sacrifice”) before it decided upon their winnings. To be told that is to imply that the “sacrifice” might influence the outcome. It is therefore quite natural to any inquisitive human being to conduct a series of experiments to determine what the optimum “sacrifice” is. For most people it would simply be a matter of “suck it and see”, and in only 20 tries there is little chance for anything more sophisticated, anything approaching a scientific method. So, on the information provided in the summary, Professor Frijters and Juan Baron have presupposed an outcome—everyone believes in a supernatural agent, so must be at heart religious—and have not even been clever enough to disguise it, by using words like gods and sacrifice that give away their thinking. The subjects, whether atheists or believers are simply trying to get a clue about what strategy will give the best rewards in the game. The superimposition of gods and sacrifice are simply in the minds of the experimenter. One would hazard a guess that they are themselves religious believers!

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2012 at 12:42 am

Was Jesus an Essene?

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An Essene Leader Proselytizing Jews Worried about God's day of vengeance

The evidence is too scrambled and distorted with age and intention to sort out the certain truth, so we have to find the best hypothesis. It is that, if Jesus was historical, he was a senior Essene. The scrolls say that when the End approaches (the apocalypse) the Essenes must try to bring into their fold as many righteous Jews as they can. Essenes considered themselves as the righteous Jews, so it meant finding Jews willing to join them in view of the impending day of God’s Vengeance. To do so, the Jews willing to had to repent with sincerity and not sin until the kingdom came (the apocalyse again). So Essenes had to go out as evangelists proselytizing ordinary Jews.

Leading Jews were highly conscious of the uncleanliness of the unrighteous mass, but they were required to be humble, so the duty of proselytizing fell upon the senior Essenes above all. The gospels are versions of the attempt of the leaders, John the Baptist, Jesus and then James the Righteous, with Jesus central for Christians, to convert Jews to their cause. Jesus plainly expected the End when he and his apostles were in the Garden of Gethsemane. The End did not come, and Jesus was crucified as a usurper of the emperor’s right to rule. Essenes removed his body for a decent burial according to Essenic tradition, but the followers, converts, not lifelong Essenes, thought he had arisen. Thus began Christianity. This reconstruction has the advantage of accounting for the data without requiring God’s intervention.

More…

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19 August, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Albert Einstein’s 1954 Letter Concerning God

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… The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,
Yours, A. Einstein

Written by mikemagee

15 August, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Is David Barton a Typical Christian Apologist—a Liar?

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Amateur Historian, Barton, Shows off Some of His Collection of US History

The Christian Historian

According to Time magazine, David Barton is one of the most influential evangelicals. He presides over the WallBuilders, a company he owns in Aledo, Texas. Allegedly, he gives 400 speeches a year, advises the federal government and state school boards, and testifies in court as an expert witness. He was for long the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and is a frequent guest of Glenn Beck, the outlandish Mormon chat show host. It should not therefore be surprising that his vision of America as a nation infused from the start with Christianity is popular with churches, Christian schools and universities, Mitt Romney, the GOP and a plethora of other elephantine celebrities—Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. Huckabee said at a conference:

I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans will be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it.

Sounds typically right wing hypocrisy in view of the GOP’s supposed libertarian principles. Still, Barton’s supporters call him a hero, while his detractors think he is sowing confusion and misinformation.

One way that he does it is by writing “Christian history” books about the founding of America, lately one called The Jefferson Lies which made The New York Times best seller list. He boasts he has collected and analyzed 100,000 documents from before 1812—original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas. Barton’s popularity notwithstanding, conventional wisdom begs to differ!

Critics accuse Barton of misinterpretations and errors, says Thomas Kidd writing for World Community, and even some conservative Christian scholars are now openly questioning Barton’s work. Readers of the History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies as the “least credible history book in print”. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, writing a column syndicated by National Public Radio, points out David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University not in history, and has only published one peer reviewed article.

It seems that Christian Education frankly must mean lying (see Liars for Jesus, by Chris Rodda). Honest researchers, historians included, try to tell the truth, but Barton has qualified critics who say he tells lies, damned lies, and cannot understand statistics. Barton is being criticized by many scholars and historians, not simply for taking a different view of American history but for changing historically documented facts to further his own agenda. He is accused of cherry picking old documents on American history, selectively quoting them to make them say what he wants them to say, a popular ploy of Christian apologists, utterly dishonest but approved by most gullible evangelicals. Critics find his work riddled with unjustified historical revision with which he has misled millions of credulous Christians and gotten rich in the process. Such consistent misinterpretation cannot be other than deliberate, historians say. He is even alleged to have tried to silence critics through the courts, using his ill-gotten wealth.

Some Critics and Criticisms

Jay W Richards of the creationist Discovery Institute has spoken on the same platform as Barton at Christian conferences, but openly said Barton’s writings so troubled him he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess his work. Many concurred with Richards.

Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton, in his desire in The Jefferson Lies to portray Jefferson favorably for Christians, omits obvious evidence that Jefferson was in no way an “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity”.

Gregg Frazer of the Master’s College, exposed factual claims in Barton’s video, America’s Godly Heritage, as being at least dubious. An example is the statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians’ ”. Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University went further, saying Barton’s ideas of Jefferson’s religious views are “unsupportable”.

One of the “myths” about Jefferson, Barton told Huckabee on Fox News, is that Jefferson was a religious skeptic. Barton argues that for the first 70 or so years of his life, Jefferson was a “conventional Christian”, although he did express doubts in his final 15 years. As evidence of the third president’s religiosity, Barton, showing Huckabee an original document signed by Jefferson, explained:

Jefferson, unlike the other presidents, closes his documents: “In the year of our Lord Christ”.

He did not point out that Jefferson was adding his signature to a pre-printed form required by law. Barton goes on to say that Jefferson started church services at the Capitol, that he ordered the Marine Corps band to play at the services and that he funded a treaty to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians—three claims that experts say are demonstrably false.

Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of the evangelical Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, named their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, plainly challenging Barton whom they argue “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances”. Regarding the nature of Jefferson’s faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians—Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity:

  • he didn’t see Jesus as God
  • he didn’t believe that Jesus performed miracles
  • he dismissed the Trinity.

Jefferson even decided to write his own version of the gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, a task he considered as “taking ‘diamonds as if from a dunghill’, picking out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule as the diamonds. The dunghill was the virgin birth, the Resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission”, and so on. Thus, ending his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson has nothing to say about the core of Christian belief, the Resurrection, simply writing:

There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

Barton insists that Jefferson not only bought a copy of the Bible, but invested in a 1798 edition, showing his philosophical support for the sacred text. Doubtless, he wanted a copy to write his own version of it! But he claims Congress published the first American Bible in 1782, and intended the Bible to be used in public schools. Barton is quite wrong in these facts and his conclusion. Congress did not publish or pay for the 1782 Bible. At the request of Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitken, Congress agreed to have its chaplains read for errors the bible he was printing at his own expense. Honest historians agree it was not a government promotion of religion.

Like many of his kind, Barton seems to think that the Americans of 300 years ago are simply modern Americans in old fashioned gear. He utterly fails to comprehend the changes brought about by the passage of time, and therefore cannot make allowances for changing manners and ways of thinking. For example, Jefferson owned nearly 200 slaves, but Barton says he wanted to free them, as any devout Christian would—omitting that Jesus Christ never condemned slavery, nor did Paul who advised slaves to accept their situation—but he could not because in Virginia it was illegal to free them. Barton claims:

Had his plans been followed, Virginia would’ve ended slavery really early on. They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense.

Critics say Barton “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery”. They mean he deliberately or incompetantly omits the section of Virginian law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton moved the goalposts, claiming now that Jefferson was too poor to free his slaves. Warren Throckmorton adds:

Mr Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern day evangelicals could love and identify with. The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson. It’s not getting him right.

Barton accuses Throckmorton and Coulter of being “academic elitists” posing as the “sole caretakers of historical knowledge”, and hostile toward his “personal religious beliefs”. It is a popular apologetic ploy to denigrate proper scholars in defense of Christian falsehoods.

The Rev Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati and president of Cincinnati Area Pastors, is boycotting the publisher of Barton’s book, Thomas Nelson. He says that by whitewashing Jefferson, and through him all the other slaveholding founders, Barton is rewriting history to make it palatable for white Christians today. He says frankly:

Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans. He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body. All in their hearts they [Right wing evangelicals like Barton] are saying, “If we could just go back there, America would be right”. Right for who? Not for blacks, not for women, not for Native Americans. Only for white men.

Anyway no Christian golden founding age ever existed. John Fea, an evangelical himself, chairman of the history department at evangelical Messiah College and author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, says:

None of the founders were necessarily interested in promoting a specifically Christian nation. Many of the founders believed in something akin to separating church and state even though they didn’t use those terms. And in fact, most of the people in America were not regular churchgoers. So what is that great culture that we’re returning to?

Barton’s reply is:

I’m not trying to throw the nation back 200 years. I don’t want the technology to go backward, I love the health [care] stuff we got now. What I try to use is principles that are timeless.

He loves ObamaCare?! And what about the timeless Christian principle, indeed necessity that Christians should give all they have to the poor!

“Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Mark 10:21-22

It means that Jesus required the rich to give all of their wealth to the poor to be saved. The treasure in heaven is obviously not gold nuggets or silver dollars, it is salvation itself, but the rich man preferred his material wealth to salvation. They all do! Not one of them can be a Christian and be rich. Jesus is quite clear about it. No rich Christian can be a Christian!

Christian Social Engineering or Building Tomorrow’s Dark Age

These scholars criticizing Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics, who agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but reject the notion of a concoction called “Christian history” as something other than and superior to “history”. It ends up with books and videos full of “embarrassing factual errors, selective quotes, and misleading claims”. Barton finds the Constitution is a not a secular document, but is filled with biblical quotations. He told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network:

You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause. Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document. We’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.

When you do as he says you find that none of this is true. The Constitution of 1787 does not speak of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. It is the First Amendment which mentions religion. John Fea says Barton is peddling a distorted history that appeals to conservative believers.

David Barton is offering an alternative vision of American history which places God, the providence of God, Christianity, at the center.

Fea sees Barton is a danger because he’s using a skewed version of the past to shape the future for political reasons:

He’s in this for activism. He’s in this for policy. He’s in this to make changes to our culture.

In short, it is cavalier social engineering with no thought for the future success of the USA, merely that it should be right wing and evangelical. For example, in 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to publish more conservative and Christian friendly school history textbooks. David Barton was one of the board’s advisers. Later on the God show Chapter and Verse, he said it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids get through the entire curriculum, then another 10 years before those kids get elected to office and start doing things:

So we’re talking 30 years from now. But, it’s in the pipe coming down.

Asked about this, Barton agreed he wanted to shape future leaders like any educator, but he didn’t see himself as a particularly influential person, but just that “I’m going to be an active citizen and be involved and do everything I can to help move these principles forward.”

Barton even thinks the Founding Fathers had amazing powers of prophecy. It was prophecy to exceed the bible itself, as Charles Darwin was not born for another quarter of a century, in 1809, and it was three quarters of a century before he published his theory of evolution in 1859. He said on TV they opposed the theory of evolution:

You go back to the Founding Fathers, as far as they’re concerned, they already had the entire debate on creation-evolution. And you get Thomas Paine, who’s the least religious Founding Father saying, ’“You’ve got to teach creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that”.

It all goes to show that Christians will believe just anything that suits them!

Update: As this article was being composed Thomas Nelson decided to stop publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. See Warren Throckmorton”s website.

Written by mikemagee

10 August, 2012 at 1:46 am

Why Did the English Levellers Think the Bible was their Guide?

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Levellers Day: Still Celebrated

Prominent historian, Christopher Hill (The World Turned Upside Down, 1975), reports the words of a Leveller in Chelmsford, which show that English workers at the time of the English Revolution, around 1650, considered the Bible to have been a working man’s political, even revolutionary, handbook! The Levellers believed in the sovereignty of the people, were committed to religious toleration and wanted democratic control of the army through representatives called “Agitators”. He wrote:

The relation of master and servant has no ground in the New Testament. In Christ there is neither bond nor free. Ranks such as those of the peerage and gentry are ethnical and heathenish distinctions. There is no ground in nature or scripture why one man should have £1,000 per annum, another not a pound. The common people have been kept under blindness and ignorance and have remained servants and slaves to the nobility and gentry. But God hath now opened their eyes and discovered unto them their Christian liberty.

Sadly, now God has closed the eyes of millions of US Protestants, who think that the bible, far from favoring the poor, favors the megarich, while the poor deserve to be abandoned economically if not and physically mistreated—and so they vote Republican. The contrast between the actual practical morals of Christ, and this US version of Christianity, championing people abuse and oppression, has largely been brought about by right wing political schemers calling themselves pastors, for their own gain, and to confuse and disarm the poor. It has been done by telling believers:

  1. they need to interpret the bible in an absurdly complicated way for it to be read as inerrant, which they teach it necessarily is because it is God’s own work, and God cannot be wrong, and so it has to be read the way the pastors say!
  2. to direct their attention to Paul and away from Christ because the Jesus Christ of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, is perfectly easy to understand, and very pointedly favors the poor, whereas Paul is much more confused and confusing, so suits the obfuscating vicars and ministers all the more.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ blessed the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers, and offered no blessings at all for the rich in spirit, the arrogant, the cruel and the troublemakers. To be blessed meant to be made holy so that they would be guided by God into His kingdom. It could not be plainer that Jesus favored the poor to the exclusion of the rich. Indeed, Christ tells a rich man he has to give his wealth to the poor to be saved. So riches are no blessing, rather they are the way that those who are not blessed betray their greedy cruel natures to the world at large.

Written by mikemagee

30 June, 2012 at 1:43 am

The God Debates, a New Team Blog on WordPress

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A Goddess of Pure Goodness and Innocence

Hugo Gatsby, the leader of a new team blog, the God debates, on wordpress.com, says his aim is to provide high quality discussion on important questions, drawing on a panel of eleven others. So far, there is not much there but he and his team have been diligently posting on other relevant blogs including this one to create interest, and they have succeeded. In return I made a couple of comments on the discussion on their page called Recommendations, unfortunately but predictably, being taken over by the tedious ignorance of the creationists. Hugo will have to curtail this dreary, mindless fundamentalism if he is to achieve the “Genuinely Intelligent Discussion on Theological Questions” his subhead promises.

These are the two relevant points I made…

Good and Evil

We all are serving someone or something—a good question to reflect upon would be—who or what are you following and what defines your purpose? Every person acts in their own best interest… there are “Good” and non-destructive ways to act in your own self interest and the interest of others and there “Evil” and destructive ways to act in your own self interest and the interest of others… choose wisely my friends.

Comment at The God Debates

We are all serving two things ultimately. Our own interests, and other people’s interests. If all of us choose to serve only our own interests then society must collapse because society is a way for people to serve each other. We would revert to being solitary animals, mutually antagonistic, scared, timid, primitive.

By serving other people’s interests we are helping to preserve society, and by so doing we are helping ourselves, the point of society being mutual aid, and therefore being served by carers and sharers, receiving the empathy and security of our fellows, cooperation, help, companionship, and so on in the complex of practical assistance and emotions called love. What is “good” preserves this benevolent system, and what is “evil” harms it.

The choice is the entirety of morality, and requires no supernatural being, merely the response of society, approval or disapproval, praise, admiration and reward for doing good, and disgust, condemnation and punishment for being wicked.

Traditional religion provided these responses, but modern society uses democratic means of selecting its representatives, so that supermen are not needed. One therefore has no need to choose between belief in a god or not, because it is irrelevant provided that everyone accepts that religion is a private matter.

Arguably, religion always has been a set of myths to exemplify the practical choice we have and to encourage the choice of the Good. The Persian religion, from which much of Judaism and Christianity comes, came down to choosing to follow the good god, Ahuramazda, or the bad god, Ahriman, in the course of one’s life, expressed as choosing the Truth or the Lie. All the rest is a metaphorical or allegorical illustration of our choice.

Atheism

A-theist… “no god” or “without god”. Curious way to describe one’s self. Defined by opposition to something or someone you say doesn’t exist anyway. Why all the fuss over those who do believe? If there is no god, then why not let others believe what they want and leave them be? Why the “compulsion” to not only define yourself by what you don’t believe, but also convince others not to either? Sounds too much like “proselytizing” to convert people to the “non-religion” religion. Could it be that Atheism is actually a religion of no religion?

Comment at The God Debates

Surely you have noticed that atheism is a word used by theists, not one chosen by the atheists themselves. The proper distinction is between skeptic and believer. Skeptics require tried and tested evidence for them to believe, but believers make belief itself without the need of adequate evidence a virtue–faith! It is obvious that faith is no virtue but a scam when you realize that an equal faith could have you believing in fairies and goblins, alien abduction, Dionysus, Cthulhu, Dagon and so on. Indeed, the Hebrew god is quite likely to be their version of Dagon!

Lastly, the atheists have no love of trying to persuade believers of the errors of their ways, but do so because they are acutely aware of what the believers cannot seem to notice, the horrible consequences of religion in the world. Religions overwhelmingly want to be right and show it by making everyone accept their set of dogmata. It is hard to comprehend that people are so blind that they are completely unaware of their own faults, while blaming anyone else they can. The self righteousness induced by religion is among its worst features.

The Philosophy of Christianity

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The Test of Truth

What better test of truth do we have than the ablest men’s acceptance of it?

So asked the historian J A Froude in his 1851 essay, “The Philosophy of Christianity”. He was defending Christianity against the accusation of being intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune. In essence, he was arguing that the best minds could not have been wrong for 1800 years. Or, if they were, then we have no basis for believing anything, for whatever it is might turn out to be just as absurd, offensive and unfortunate.

Well, for good or ill, that is nevertheless what science does teach. Science has to be corrigible or it cannot make progress. So what is true today, may not be true tomorrow. Science determines what is true by testing its ideas against reality. If they can predict reality—if the ideas work—then they are considered true, but not otherwise. A Christian has the idea that there is a mighty personal power in the universe that can do what it likes. Science would want to know how that can be tested.

One way would be to say, God answers prayers and therefore changes reality. We can test that. Yet no such test of the effectiveness of prayer has ever produced a convincing result. When they have seemed to, a fault in the method has been found skewing the results. So the idea of God has not so far been confirmed by science, and consequently scientists cannot accept the idea of God. For the corollary of testing is that we do not believe what is not shown to be true. It is called skepticism. The Christian understands it for they are skeptical of all other claims of divinity other than those of their own gods.

So, by this process of incremental testing, science accumulates knowledge. The increments are most often small ones, but sometimes a basic idea might need to be changed and then a large step is necessary, called a paradigm shift. But rarely is any new truth far removed from an older one, and always it must be a better one, more precise or comprehensive.

Religions are not generally corrigible, but, on the contrary, claim to be permanently fixed by the all encompassing power of the universe called God. It is not strictly true, of course, authorities like the pope or some council somewhere do change religions, and, besides that, they evolve from generation to generation, therefore imperceptibly to each in its day. As it is fixed by God, at least notionally, it needs no criterion of truth. A religion is accepted by a child or convert as being true—they are assured it is the only truth—and thereafter there can be no basis for questioning the truth of it.

Even so, Christians are allowed and perhaps encouraged to doubt, as long as the doubt is not itself allowed to change belief. It is not therefore a genuine doubt, for a real doubt can be resolved in one of at least two opposite ways. To be genuine, doubt must frequently lead to a loss of faith, something the local priest or pastor cannot allow to happen for that is to let a church member fall into sin and hell fire, a serious matter, they think. Consequently, the doubt of the Christian is to be countered by a firm application of faith bolstered by the assistance of the ablest of church men in accepting “the truth”. In short, Christian doubt is spurious. It is a mere test of a faith which once applied generously should cure the patient.

Knowing No Better

As churches have no criterion of truth other than faith, Froude’s criterion is the one they always have used. It is the reason why religions base themselves on authority—the judgement of the ablest of the men among them. It is not therefore an objective criterion of truth, but the opposite—these able men accept the truth they have been taught, and have no other criterion than what they have been told. It is biased, and there is no way of rebutting the bias in it except by contradiction. Yet throughout that 1800 years, it was the only “truth” available, so even the ablest did not notice the bias or felt unwilling to contradict it, probably for love of their mortal lives, the lure of heavenly bliss notwithstanding. Had we been in the same situation, with no alternative to the “truth” offered us besides death, we would have been the same.

So, the modern skeptic ought not to scoff at the Sumerians “feeding” their gods because it was their duty as god’s slaves to do so, and if the priests always looked well fed, it was because the gods looked upon them favorably! They ought not to scoff at Abraham being willing to sacrifice a child to his god because that is what Canaanites did, according to their beliefs, and as many were poor and could not afford to support large families, they might have been grateful that their gods were pleased to take back a child. Nor ought we to scoff at a medieval Catholic peasant brought up to the “absurdities” of Christianity for those were all they were allowed to know, for they could not read their bibles for themselves, unlike the modern Protestant who chooses not to and therefore believes everything except what Christ taught them. We are entitled to scoff at them.

The modern skeptic scoffs at those who now should know better, but prefer to put their heads in a bucket because Christ sounds more like a liberal than a libertarian. These people do not want to know the truth but still want to profess “the truth” as they define it. Today we have proven methods of investigating the truth of things, and we have criteria for truth so as to test that it indeed is. It is those who are perverse and refuse to consider the progress we have made in investigating reality who deserve the disdain of the scoffers. Whatever the ablest once thought, though wrong, was excusable then, but it is inexcusable now.

Possibly primitive people took it for granted that the earth was flat, but by the time of the Greeks of Alexandria, it had been proven to be a sphere. We are justified perhaps in scoffing at those after then who still believed in the flatness of the earth, depending on their level of education, but we are led to believe that many even of the ablest men still believed it. Of course, a reason for the lamentable education of everyone except the very rich, and even some of them, was that the Church had refused to copy any books it deemed superfluous—most of them except Latin and Greek grammar books for priestly education, bibles and devotional books. It suggests how dangerous and destructive mere faith is.

Contrary to Froude therefore, the ablest men are not necessarily right and can be utterly wrong en masse when alternatives are forbidden and scholarship is considered subversive. It is those who were willing to speak up for alternatives to “the truth” whom we can thank for the modern world’s achievements.

Good and Evil

Yet “the truth” persists in the face of truth, and we are held back by a large number of people who will not let go of medieval religion, even in the knowledge of the technological sophistication achieved in our world. Matter was the source of evil. The Persians had solved the problem of theodicy by conceiving a wicked god whose aim was to spoil everything the good God did. These were metaphors for the bad and good behavior that humans could choose between—we were meant to choose good and reject wickedness. We ourselves had to choose with every decision we made and act accordingly. Given sufficient people choosing “good”, the world would be good.

Unsophisticated people cannot understand abstracts and have to think they are like real solid, perhaps living, beings, albeit supernatural—they are out there! So the metaphors always became actual entities for the simple. As is the inevitable rule dictated by opportunism and human selfishness, the simple creed, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”, was changed. The individual was not directly to blame by making the wrong choices, instead the wicked entity had infected the material world, which was therefore contaminated with wickedness. Choices still had to be made, but the presumption was that worldwide pollution left everyone compromised. In Christianity, it became “Original Sin”.

The ablest men could now have little or nothing to do with the material world. They were safer withdrawing from it rather than trying to make the right choices while living in it. They had to be devout, had to exercise their minds with prayer and incessantly praising God, so as to leave no room for anything but God, and thereby cease to be a normal human to ensure entry into God’s angelic kingdom after death. Real life and the real world had no purpose, unless ceaseless other worldly devotions are considered it. Needless to say, if everyone did that, then we should all die. But many of the ablest did just that, albeit many with an utter lack of sincerity, paying lip service to piety while fully enjoying the temptations of the sinful world.

The crucifixion of the good God while visiting the earth as a man had saved all believing Christians from the wickedness around them, so they might as well seek high office, palaces, good food, fine wines, seraglios, and so on, while they were here, content in the knowledge they already had the key to the Pearly Gate. Though their own God while on earth had blessed poverty and damned the rich, they saw no incongruity, continuing to think they had been saved by their belief, even though they made no effort to act upon the moral instructions the incarnated God had issued from his own mouth.

The material world was a world of disease, decay and death, a world in which entropy inevitably increased, but another world free of entropy awaited simply for accepting “the truth”. Matter is the cause of evil, and Christianity is the cure. Mere belief in Christ, a savior, is the magic salvific thought. No choice of good deeds over evil ones was necessary, and so nothing in the wicked world could, in fact, change. There was no will to do it, as there had once been. Reward came after death. That was it.

Christ taught an admirably practical philosophy, but Christians sidelined it. Now, not only is Christianity intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune, it is the ultimate scam.

Quack “Scholars” play to the Christian Gallery over Talpiot Tombs and Ossuaries

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Original Sketch Jonah Ossuary

Professor James D Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has inspected by robotic camera an apparently undisturbed first century tomb in Jerusalem. It contains limestone Jewish ossuaries, boxes into which the bones of the dead were placed after their flesh had decayed from them. Greek inscriptions and in some cases images suggested to Tabor that the tombs were Christian. Thus a four line Greek inscription on one ossuary speaks of God “raising up” someone, and a carved image on another ossuary could be a fish with a human stick figure in its mouth, an image evoking the biblical story of Jonah.

Sign of Jonah

The sign of Jonah, as mentioned by Jesus—according to Matthew and Luke but not Mark, the earliest gospel—is interpreted as his resurrection. Jonah images in later Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs pesumed to be symbolizing the Christian resurrection hope. Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art, and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.

This ossuary with the speculative Jonah image has other puzzling engravings, believed to be linked with resurrection. On one side is the tail of a fish disappearing off the edge of the box, as if it is diving into the water, although the lower half is not obscured by any symbolic water but merely because it is obscured by some other object in the tomb! There are more small similar “fish” images around its border on the front facing, and on the other side is the image of a cross like gate or entrance, which Tabor interprets as the notion of entering the “bars” of death, which are mentioned in the Jonah story in the Bible. Tabor remarked:

This Jonah ossuary is most fascinating. It seems to represent a pictorial story with the fish diving under the water on one end, the bars or gates of death, the bones inside, and the image of the great fish spitting out a man representing, based on the words of Jesus, the sign of Jonah—the sign that he would escape the bonds of death.

Jonah's Fish Swam Head Down. Is it a Miracle? Or an Amphora?

Among the approximately 2000 ossuaries that have been recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, only 650 have any inscriptions on them, and none have inscriptions comparable to those on ossuaries 5 and 6. Less than a dozen ossuaries from the period have epitaphs but, according to Tabor, these inscribed messages usually have to do with warnings not to disturb the bones of the dead. In contrast, though the epitaph’s full translation is uncertain, he concludes:

This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

The first three lines are clear, but the last line, consisting of three Greek letters, is not clear. It could be:

  • O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up
  • The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place
  • The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead]

Beyond the possible Christian connection, Tabor noted that the tomb’s assemblage of ossuaries stands out as clearly extraordinary in the context of other previously explored tombs in Jerusalem:

Everything in this tomb seems unusual when contrasted with what one normally finds inscribed on ossuaries in Jewish tombs of this period. Of the seven ossuaries remaining in the tomb, four of them have unusual features.

There are engravings on five of the seven ossuaries inspected:

  1. an enigmatic symbol on ossuary 2, possibly stylized Greek or Hebrew letters reading Yod Heh Vav Heh or YHWH, though interpretation is speculative
  2. an inscription reading MARA in Greek letters on ossuary 3, which Tabor translates as the Aramaic feminine form of “Lord” or “Master”, in other words Lady or Mistress
  3. an indecipherable word in Greek letters on ossuary 4, possibly a name beginning with JO…
  4. a four line Greek inscription on ossuary 5
  5. a series of images on ossuary 6, including the large image of a fish with the stickman supposedly emerging from its mouth.

Talpiot Tombs

The tomb itself is dated before 70 AD, on the assumption that ossuary use in Jerusalem ceased then when Romans destroyed the city. Accordingly, if the markings are Christian, they are the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found by several centuries. They must have been made by some of Jesus’s earliest followers, within decades of his death and predate the writing of the gospels. Tabor said:

If anyone had claimed to find either a statement about resurrection or a Jonah image in a Jewish tomb of this period, I would have said impossible, until now. Our team was in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, but the evidence was clearly before our eyes, causing us to revise our prior assumptions.

The discovery is published in The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity, which Tabor has co-authored with the sensationalist film maker for The Discovery Channel, and now somehow, professor of religion, Simcha Jacobovici, as Tabor’s gushing enthusiasm shows. Simcha Jacobovici has made several pseudo-historical pot-boiling books and films before, including the Jesus Family Tomb, but none of them pass muster. He has been compared with Dan Brown, author of the novel, The Da Vinci Code, the significant difference being that Brown claims only to be a novelist. That Jacobovici approves of the comparison must mean something, but Jacobovoci seems to have fooled people who should know better He is the “Naked Archaeologist”, a self publicist and opportunist, not a scholar.

Most proper scholars are skeptical of any Christian archaeological remains from so early a period. Moreover, this tomb is close to the tomb that Jacobovici sold to those willing to buy it as “The Jesus Family Tomb”. It too had in it inscribed ossuaries that had some of the names of Jesus’s associates or family, including one that reads “Jesus, son of Joseph”. These were common names at the time.

The tomb containing the new discoveries is a modest sized, carefully carved rock cut cave tomb typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 BC until 70 AD. It was revealed in 1981 by builders, and is now several meters under the basement level of a modern condominium building in East Talpiot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem less than two miles south of the Old City. Archaeologists at the time were able to examine it and its ossuaries only briefly, to take preliminary photographs, and to remove one pot and an ossuary, before they were forced to leave by Orthodox religious groups who oppose excavation of Jewish tombs. Tabor points out:

Context is everything in archaeology. These two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, were part of an ancient estate, likely related to a rich family of the time. We chose to investigate this tomb because of its proximity to the so-called Jesus tomb, not knowing if it would yield anything unusual.

The ossuary taken, that of a child, is now in the Israel State Collection. It is decorated but has no inscriptions. The archaeologists mention two Greek names but did not notice either the newly discovered Greek inscription or the Jonah image before they had to leave. The tomb was re-sealed and buried beneath the condominium complex on what is now Don Gruner Street in East Talpiot.

The adjacent “Jesus tomb”, was uncovered by the same construction company in 1980, just one year earlier. It was thoroughly excavated and its contents removed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. This tomb’s controversial ossuaries with their cluster of names, seemingly gospel, are now part of the Israel State Collection and have been on display in various venues, including the Israel Museum.

In 2009 and 2010, Tabor and Rami Arav, professor of archaeology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, working together with Jacobovici, obtained a license to excavate the current tomb from the Israel Antiquities Authority under the academic sponsorship of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Because of its physical location under a modern building, making direct access nearly impossible, along with the threat of Orthodox Jewish groups that would protest any such excavation, Tabor’s team determined to employ a minimally invasive procedure in examining the tomb.

Jacobovici’s team at the Toronto based Associated Producers used a robotic arm with high definition cameras, donated by General Electric. The robotic arm and a second “snake” camera were inserted through two drill holes in the basement floor of the building above the tomb. The team reached the ossuaries and photographed them on all sides, revealing the inscriptions. The Discovery Channel/Vision Television/Associated Producers provided funding.

More Likely Interpretations

Fish or Foul, an Amphora

Needless to say, the speculation that these objects and their interpretation, even if it is correct, pertains to Christianity just a few decades after the supposed crucifixion is rejected by most rational scholars. Mark Goodacre blogs critically about these Discovery Channel sideshows. Another critical website is Tom Verenna’s. The possibility of such a connexion is more likely if the crucifixion was earlier, say around 21 AD, and it is even more likely if the allusions reflect the beliefs extant among Essenes. All this is discussed at the Askwhy! website.

Model Fish? Judaea