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Posts Tagged ‘Hogwash

No Relationship Between the Level of Sacrificial Behaviour and Religiosity

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Sacrificing to God Game 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

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

Only the Rich Witches and Wizards Can Send their Kids to Hogwarts—Lehigh Blog

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Two members of The Economics Society at Lehigh, Anjan Gupta and Dan Maryanovich, run a blog, Centives, a collection of interesting economics studies like the New York Times bestseller, Freakanomics. One post was entitled, How Much Does It Cost to Go to Hogwarts?, one of a series which include also whether law school is worth the price of admission, and the economics of movie theater popcorn.

The authors found that a year at Hogwarts costs approximately $42,752, assuming the price includes tuition, based upon the average cost of England’s top boarding schools (so called “public schools”!) as well as estimated costs for all the items detailed in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, such things as robes, a plain pointed hat, dragon hide gloves and a winter cloak.

After just a few short days online, the blog had more than 18,000 page views and more than 400 re-tweets.

From our point of view, it is interesting. Only very rich people can afford to send their kids to train as witches and wizards, and those people purport to be Fundamentalist or at least Evangelical Christians. But they are just the ones who have tried to use their money and media connexions to run down the Harry Potter series as the stuff of the Devil. If they really believe this, they will not be sending any of their kids to Hogwarts.

One has to conclude that Hogwarts has no chance of opening a branch in the USA. So all the Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and other Right Wing Authoritarians opposed to Harry Potter must be campaigning to stop other people from enjoying a little magic or witchcraft. It is what we can expect of them. They regard it as their right to tell others what to do.

On the other hand, maybe, as followers of Leon Strauss, the founder of Neoconservatism and called by some a “Nazi Jew”, the rich Republicans are only pretending to be Christians for the sake of the ones in the electorate they want to gull into supporting them. Really, they are paying for their kids to get into Hogwarts so that they will have the skills and powers to keep the unwashed masses under control when the revolution comes! Only they have the money to pay the fees so that there is no chance anyone from the working class, or even from the middle classes concerned about whether they will be able to keep their jobs—in other words, the upper working classes!—will ever be admitted into the posh school for wizards.

Hogwarts is a rich man’s exclusive school not a truly public school. So today’s witches and wizards must be rich Republicans. Why then don’t their Christians followers kick them out as the real Satanists instead of harping on about liberals, who are only trying their best to do what Christ would have done?

Written by mikemagee

23 July, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Sir Colin Humphreys—The Mystery of the Last Supper

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Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, desperately Christian!

Desperately Christian!

Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, the Goldsmiths’ Professor of Materials Science at the University of Cambridge, is a metallurgist and materials scientist who claims in a book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, to have solved what F F Bruce once hyped as “the thorniest problem in the New Testament”. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke say that the Last Supper coincided with Jewish Passover, a Thursday, while John claims it was the day before, a Wednesday. Astronomical data, textual research and the emergence of a miraculously ancient Jewish calendar handed down by none other than Moses have convinced this Cambridge academic that Christ was actually crucified on 1 April, 33 AD—the greatest April Fool’s day of all time.

Humphreys says we can use “science and the gospels hand in hand” to prove that there is no contradiction in the two Last Supper days. His answer is a different calendar, but that is far from a new idea. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls various scholars have realized that the Essenes of Qumran, assuming that the scrolls are theirs, used a solar calendar different from the lunar-solar one used by the Jewish temple authorities. Since there is a mass of evidence that suggests that Christ was an Essene by culture, it seems quite likely that the apparent difference in the day when the Last Supper was held in the Synoptic Gospels and John offered a likely solution to F F Bruce’s thorny problem. Arguments were put forward in The Hidden Jesus, and on the AW! website, addressing questions like these, and the date of the crucifixion—which was actually in 21 AD! Even the pope in 2007, was ready to believe Jesus may have followed the solar calendar of the Qumran community. Humphreys says:

The problem with this is that under that system Passover would have fallen a week later, after both the Last Supper and Christ’s death

It seems that Humphreys knows details of the Essene solar calendar unknown to mortals. But then he is a Christian, and Christians have the gift of sudden certainty! Whatever suits their interpretation of their Christian belief system suddenly becomes certain! The Essene calendar turns out to be no use, so can certainly be discarded, the great scientist has decided. Instead, he suggests for the first time that another calendar was also in use, making three in use simultaneously!

The official Jewish calendar at the time of Jesus’ death seems to have been the one still used by Jews today, a lunar system in which days run from sunset to sunset. This was the calendar brought in by the Persians who colonized Yehud from Babylon in the fifth century BC. Working out quite how the Essenes and the Temple worshipping Jews managed to co-ordinate their lives when they had a calendar each is hard enough, but now a third one has emerged, it is getting rather silly.

Sillier still, Humphreys thinks it was “adapted from Egyptian usage at the time of Moses”. The Book of Exodus in the Old Testament says God instructed Moses and Aaron to start their year at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Humphreys argues that this system would have been an adaptation of a lunar calendar used by the Egyptians, in which the start of the year was changed to be in the spring, and conveniently it dates Passover in 33 AD to the Wednesday of Holy Week, already decided upon by Humphreys and his chum, Oxford astrophysicist, Graeme Waddington, in 1983. This then identified the date of Jesus’s crucifixion as the morning of Friday, 3 April 33 AD, which has since been widely accepted by Christians. If Jesus died on 3 April, the standard Jewish calendar of 33 AD would have placed his crucifixion on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. The Passover meal, however, falls on the 15th, supporting John’s account, but not those of the other gospels.

Plainly, this is God at work. It is a miracle. A calendar was handed down in a mythical story by a mythical being around 1300 BC, and suddenly pops up being used by the reincarnated God and his chums in the very week of his death just as he was about to cross into the promised land of God’s kingdom. Who could fail to be a Christian now?

It seems that by choosing the Wednesday of the Passover, Jesus was identifying himself with Moses. He then died on Nisan 14th, just as the Passover lambs were being slain according to the official Jewish calendar as well. Humphreys says with Christian assurance:

These are deep, powerful symbolisms and through the use of this calendar they can be based on objective, historical evidence.

So this is objective historical evidence of a mythical man, the preservation of a calendar over the astonishingly long time of a thousand years by illiterate slaves, who gave rise to a mythical empire, mythical kings, and then disappeared with scarcely a trace for hundreds of years before turning up in Persia! Professor Humphreys is a scientist and ought indeed to be capable of objective work, but he is first and foremost a Christian, a man brought up as a young earth creationist who confessed he was shocked to learn, only at university, that the earth was not young! He was chairman of Christians in Science from 1994-2001, and is associated with the Templeton Foundation.

Of course, all his best chums and coreligionists support him in his skulduggery. Alan Millard of Liverpool University gurgles:

By linking scientific knowledge with biblical study, Colin Humphreys gives a welcome demonstration of a way apparent contradictions in the gospel texts may be reconciled.

That is obviously so, were it true. Another chum and coreligionist, Hugh G M Williamson of Oxford University says these…

…suggestions are likely to have a significant impact both on scholarly appraisal and on the regular Christian appreciation of these climactic events of the faith.

Ah! This is more like it. Nothing here to do with scientific knowledge, objective or historical evidence, just an appreciation of these climactic events of faith.

No doubt professor Humphreys will get a Templeton prize for this, but many things remain puzzling, not least how a mythical being, Moses, was able to devise a calendar that was still in use 1500 years after his nominal lifetime—a double miracle to begin with. What is it about religions that saps people’s brains and sucks away any principles they ought to have had? Didn’t Humphreys think any lessons were worth taking from his discovery that the earth was not 6000 years young, and the author of Genesis was wrong. Christians think it is God, don’t they? Suddenly, they have to help the poor old chap out. He is a bit old, after all!

Science, as yet, has no way of turning myth into objective truth and history, so Humphreys’ theory can only be bunkum. The book, in short, cannot be worth reading. Even so, to help you make up your own mind, here are the chapter headings:

  1. Three mysteries of the last week of Jesus
  2. Dating the crucifixion – the first clues
  3. The problem of the last supper
  4. Can we reconstruct the Jewish calendar at the time of Christ?
  5. The date of the crucifixion
  6. The moon will be turned to blood
  7. The Passover puzzle and the calendar of Moses
  8. Did Jesus use the solar Passover calendar of Qumran?
  9. The date of the last supper: the hidden clue in the synoptic gospels
  10. Was the Moses calendar used in Israel at the time of Jesus?
  11. The Galilean Passover and the date of the last supper
  12. From the last supper to the crucifixion
  13. The last days of Jesus: an overview

Written by mikemagee

19 April, 2011 at 1:54 am

Proof of Creationism

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Bownessie, the plesiosaurus of Lake Windermere

This photograph is proof of creationism according to a creationist, Terry Hurlbut. It shows what purports to be a monster akin to the Loch Ness monster, called Nessie by journalists, except that this one is on Lake Windermere in the English Lake District. The press have dubbed it Bownessie.

It proves creationism because it shows that the dinosaurs and human beings lived together simultaneously, or rather they do now, so must always have done. It is therefore an evolutionist myth that the dinosaurs preceded humans by some 60 million years and so humans and dinosaurs never occupied the earth together. As they actually did—according to this proof, still do—live together, God created them all, once and for all, just as Genesis says.

Now, I confess that this photograph is a fake, made by me using photo retouching software in about half an hour. But there is a “real” photo which has been published in various newspapers like the Daily Mail, and which “experts” say may be a fake but they cannot tell! Well, the one above is a fake, and the one below is the genuine one.

Real Bownessie

I mean it looks real, so it must be proof of God. Mustn’t it?

Oops! I hope I didn’t mix up the photos.

Written by mikemagee

26 February, 2011 at 1:43 am

Is a Neocon Catholic Christian Lawyer a Contradiction in Terms?

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Christians are having a lot of fun at the expense of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. An example is some US lawyer who describes himself as a neoconservative Catholic.

He has a blog in which he and someone else sneer at atheists by featuring Richard Dawkins’ US associate, Josh Timonen, whom the RDF is suing for stealing its funds. The person in question denies the allegation, but will have the chance to demonstrate in court an innocent explanation of where the money has gone. Until he is unable to do so, he is legally considered innocent, and the charges are allegations, not affirmed facts.

Is the neoconservative Catholic author really a practising lawyer? Maybe. He is careful to use the adverb “allegedly” while speaking of the supposed theft, but his guest or partner whom he allows to speak in his own right on the same blog, assumes that Mr Timonen is guilty, despite his plea of innocence.

Of course, we have seen under the Bush years that neoconservatives haven’t a clue what legality means—torture is legal as long as it is suitably defined, international law does not exist being simply what Bush and the neocons say it is—and nor do they know what Christianity means for that matter. Bush and presumably all of those Christian neocons who supported him, and still support the far right of the Republican Party, think Christ said things like:

  • if someone steals your coat take his life in revenge
  • if a man hits you on the cheek blow out his brains
  • if someone forces you to walk a mile, cut off his legs
  • if you find a foreigner laying senseless on the ground, take the chance to rob him of his wallet, go rape his wife and daughters, kill them all, burn down his house, and blow up his village.

They are proud to torture and kill people without any process of law whatsoever, apparently because they know their Christian judgements must be right, so law is the Devil’s work, meant to interfere with God’s own Christian justice. Neoconservatives do not have suspects because to be suspect means to be guilty.

If they are serious about salvation, and they most probably use the whole notion of religion only to gull the gullible Christians who believe them, then they should go back and read the Christian gospels for themselves.

If they then seriously think that God, if that is who Christ is, approves of neoconservative ideology, then they truly are unfit to be lawyers because they plainly cannot comprehend English.

Written by mikemagee

31 October, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Christian Lawyer: US Supreme Court Discriminated Against Christians

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An appeal from two Colorado Christian high schools that wanted the University of California (UC) to grant them credit for religious courses, has been rejected by the US Supreme Court for using textbooks, UC says, that replace science with the Bible.

UC requires certain high school courses for admission and it reviews their content to make sure they cover subjects that incoming students need. University officials said some of the Christian schools’ classes in biology, history, English and religion didn’t pass the test—a conclusion that the schools blamed on religious discrimination. The Association of Christian Schools International and co-plaintiff Calvary Chapel Christian School accused the university of violating freedom of speech and religion for refusing to honor the courses applicants take in high school when considering admissions eligibility. The justices, however, denied them a hearing without comment.

The association’s 800 high schools in California teach “standard course content” and “add a religious viewpoint in each subject… as an integral part of their reason for existence”, the group’s lawyers said in their Supreme Court appeal, but a federal judge said experts testifying for the university refuted those claims in reviewing their textbooks. They did not meet academic standards.

Biology texts teach students to reject any scientific evidence that contradicted the Bible. A history text declared the Bible to be the “unerring source for analysis” of past events, and gave short shrift to women, non-Christians and some ethnic groups. An English literature course did not require students to read novels or plays, but instead presented an anthology, Classics for Christians, that “insists on specific interpretations” of excerpted works.

The assessments showed that the university had rational grounds for denying college preparatory credit for the courses, US District Judge James Otero said in a 2008 ruling. Judge Ortero said the schools had failed to prove religious intolerance. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld his decision in January. A three judge panel said the evidence showed that UC has approved other high school courses with “religious content and viewpoints”, and classes that used religious textbooks, as long as they met academic standards.

Lawyers for the Christian schools denounced the ruling:

In the Ninth Circuit, religious speech in religious schools is less protected than commercial speech, flag burning and pornography.

While Calvary’s attorney, Robert H Tyler of the Murrieta firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said the ruling was a “green light to discriminate against Christian viewpoints”.

UC officials praised the court decisions and said the university has similar rates of approval for courses in religious and secular schools.

Written by mikemagee

15 October, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Baby Boomee Retirers to Discuss Experiences with Researchees

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I just read:

Researchers Leisa Sargent and Paul Evans are calling for recent baby boomer retirees to discuss their experiences.

Just why are the retiring people called retirees and not retirers, and the booming generation called baby boomers and not baby boomees? Why, indeed, is this silly construction “-ees” used at all, except where the person being described could be either delivering or receiving some action. If it is to be more generally used, why are the two workees who made the call here not researchees? When people do research, they are researchers, sure enough, and when people have retired, equally surely they are retirers, not retirees, just as those who like adventures are adventurers, those who announce TV shows are TV announcers, cowboys are horse riders not horse ridees, and people who have escaped from somewhere are escapers not escapees!

Where does it end? Will people competing become competitees, people dining become dinees, people walking become walkees?

Maybe I am typing into a computee!

Written by mikemagee

12 October, 2010 at 1:26 am

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The Pope an Enemy of Humanity

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Richard Dawkins’s speech delivered in Whitehall at the London rally against the Pope, 18th Sept 2010, was shorter than the full text, mostly because the rally was so huge—an estimated 15,000—that the speeches started late and had to be curtailed. This is the original speech from Dawkins’s own website:

Should Joseph Ratzinger have been welcomed with all the pomp and ceremony due to a Head of State? No. As Geoffrey Robertson has shown in The Case of the Pope, the Holy See’s claim to statehood is founded on a Faustian deal in which Mussolini handed over 1.2 square miles of central Rome in exchange for Church support of his fascist regime. Our government chose the occasion of the pope’s visit to announce their intention to “do God”. As a friend has remarked to me, presumably we should expect the imminent hand over of Hyde Park to the Vatican, to clinch the deal?

Should Ratzinger, then, be welcomed as the head of a church? By all means, if individual Catholics wish to overlook his many transgressions and lay out the red carpet for his designer red shoes, let them do so. But don’t ask the rest of us to pay. Don’t ask the British taxpayer to subsidize the propaganda mission of an institution whose wealth is measured in the tens of billions: wealth for which the phrase “ill-gotten” might have been specifically coined. And spare us the nauseating spectacle of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and assorted Lord Lieutenants and other dignitaries cringing and fawning sycophantically all over him as though he were somebody we should respect.

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.

The unfortunate little fact that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth has been the subject of a widely observed moratorium. I’ve respected it myself, hitherto. But after the Pope’s outrageous speech in Edinburgh, blaming atheism for Hitler, one can’t help feeling that the gloves are off. Did you hear what he said?

“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews… As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century…”

You have to wonder about the PR skills of the advisors who let that paragraph through. Oh but of course, I was forgetting, his senior advisor is that Cardinal who takes one look at the immigration officials at Heathrow and concludes that he must have landed in the Third World. The poor man was no doubt prescribed a bushel of Hail Marys, on top of his swift attack of diplomatic gout—and one can’t help wondering whether the afflicted foot was the one he puts in his mouth.

At first I was annoyed by the Pope’s disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists, but then I saw it as reassuring. It suggests that we have rattled them so much that they have to resort to insulting us, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal.

It probably is too harsh to expect the 15-year-old Ratzinger to have seen through the Nazis. As a devout Catholic, he would have had dinned into him, along with the Catechism, the obnoxious idea that all Jews are to be held responsible for killing Jesus—the “Christ-killer” libel—not repudiated until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The German Roman Catholic psyche of the time was still shot through with the anti-Semitism of centuries.

Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today. You cannot have it both ways. Either you have 5 million British Catholics, in which case you have to have Hitler too. Or Hitler was not a Catholic, in which case you have to give us an honest figure for the number of genuine Catholics in Britain today—the number who really believe Jesus turns himself into a wafer, as the former Professor Ratzinger presumably does.

In any case, Hitler certainly was not an atheist. In 1933 he claimed to have “stamped atheism out”, having banned most of Germany’s atheist organizations, including the German Freethinkers League whose building was then turned into an information bureau for church affairs.

At very least, Hitler believed in a personified “Providence”, presumably akin to the Divine Providence invoked by the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich in 1939, when Hitler escaped assassination and the Cardinal ordered a special Te Deum in Munich Cathedral:

“To thank Divine Providence in the name of the Archdiocese for the Führer’s fortunate escape.”

We may never know whether Hitler identified his “Providence” with the Cardinal’s God. But he certainly knew his overwhelmingly Christian constituency, the millions of good Christian Germans with “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles, who actually did his dirty work for him. He knew his support base. Hitler most certainly did “do God”. Here’s part of a speech he made in Munich, the heart of Catholic Bavaria, in 1922:

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who—God’s truth!—was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”

That is just one of numerous speeches, and passages in Mein Kampf, where Hitler invoked his Christianity. No wonder he received such warm support from within the Catholic hierarchy of Germany. And Benedict’s predecessor, Pius XII, is not guiltless, as the Catholic writer John Cornwell devastatingly showed, in his book Hitler’s Pope.

It would be unkind to prolong this point, but Ratzinger’s speech in Edinburgh on Thursday was so disgraceful, so hypocritical, so redolent of the sound of stones hurled from within a glass house, I felt that I had to reply.

Even if Hitler had been an atheist—as Stalin more surely was—how dare Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their horrific deeds? Any more than Hitler and Stalin’s non-belief in leprechauns or unicorns. Any more than their sporting of a moustache—along with Franco and Saddam Hussein. There is no logical pathway from atheism to wickedness.

Unless, that is, you are steeped in the vile obscenity at the heart of Catholic theology. I refer—and I am indebted to Paula Kirby for the point—to the doctrine of Original Sin. These people believe—and they teach this to tiny children, at the same time as they teach them the terrifying falsehood of hell—that every baby is “born in sin”. That would be Adam’s sin, by the way, Adam who, as they themselves now admit, never existed. Original sin means that, from the moment we are born, we are wicked, corrupt, damned. Unless we believe in their God. Or unless we fall for the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. That, ladies and gentleman, is the disgusting theory that leads them to presume that it was godlessness that made Hitler and Stalin the monsters that they were. We are all monsters unless redeemed by Jesus. What a vile, depraved, inhuman theory to base your life on.

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity

  1. He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell—and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.
  2. He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.
  3. He is an enemy of women—barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. What other employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of sex, when filling a job that manifestly doesn’t require physical strength or some other quality that only males might be thought to have?
  4. He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
  5. He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican.
  6. He is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem-cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition.
  7. Less seriously from my point of view, Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly endorsing a predecessor’s dissing of Anglican Orders as “absolutely null and utterly void”, while shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.
  8. Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, he is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority—his authority.

Maintaining Personal Religious Convictions—Some Approaches

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W K Clifford (1879) proclaimed “it is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”.

Martin Smith of Glasgow University, Scotland, thinks he has found some reassurance for the theist who is interested in personally reconciling their religious beliefs within their own mind, when confronted with various kinds of criticism. He has nothing, though, for the evangelical interested in spreading their religious beliefs to other people.

If Smith’s views are right, religious beliefs from the believer’s own perspective need never exceed the authority of available evidence. Religious belief perhaps exceeds the authority of available evidence in Clifford’s view, but that need not trouble a religious believer.

One arm of Smith’s argument rests on what Wittgenstein wrote in On Certainty—inquiry has to stop somewhere. Certain things have to be accepted without inquiring into—the so called “hinge propositions”, which have to be free from doubt:

…the questions that we raise and our doubts depend upon the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that some things are indeed not doubted.

If a proposition supports or undergirds our practice of inquiry in this way then it can be accepted without the need for evidential support. A belief in the existence of the external world plays this kind of role vis a vis ordinary empirical inquiry. Well, Gödel proved the same thing mathematically, but while it is true that a set of propositions cannot be self contained, it does not mean that all sets are equally useful. Geometry is an example. Euclidian geometry seemed to be appropriate for notions of a flat earth, but others were discovered, not so generally useful in everyday life, but valid still, and useful in special circumstances. The point is that we have an external world to apply them to, to test them objectively.

Belief can be criticized as being factually false, or as being unjustified or irrational. Plantinga described the first as the de facto criticism, and the second as the de jure criticism. The second might be a valid criticism, though the belief is true. The belief is simply held on poor grounds. Prominent examples of de jure criticisms are:

  1. Freud who argued that religious belief was wish fulfilment—the wish in adulthood for the security and protection of the father of childhood.
  2. Marx who thought religious belief was a delusion induced by a ruling class to keep hoi polloi quiet.
  3. Nietzsche who said religious belief was the resentment of the oppressed, buttressing the weak and self righteous.

In each case, though the reasons for belief were soundly criticized, the belief could still be true. An argument then emerges that the justificatory status of religious belief cannot be argued while suspending the question of its truth—so Alvin Plantinga (2000). Religious belief, if true, is necessarily justified, and so the de jure argument is futile. Smith tells us Plantinga goes on dubiously to maintain that religious belief is justified, irrespective of whether it is true!

God and the External World

Anyway in developing the argument, Smith sees parallels between belief in God and belief in the external world, and thinks neither belief can be defended. Essentially, he says both require a prior belief in them, and so any empirical evidence for either really begs the question.

Though a priori defenses of God were once generally accepted, now only a few diehards find any value in them. To defend their belief in God, theists now cite quasi empirical evidence, such as having felt the presence of God, or some other supposed experience of Him, types of revelation, direct experiences the theist interprets as being direct evidence for believing in God. It places no credence on faith, if faith is believing without evidence. Many ordinary religious believers claim evidence for their convictions. Faith then is simply a conviction, immovable once established on the basis of some evidence.

An atheist would be unpersuaded by any such religious experiences. Unusual and moving experiences like these can be accepted as genuine, but provide no evidence for God. They are wish fulfilments caused by insecurity, delusion or mundane, human foibles. The theist argument begs the question—such experiences could not be attributed to God without already believing in God. Question begging is not a sound method of arguing, and nor is evidence which begs the question.

Catholic Cardinal, John Henry Newman, found that such skepticism about religion goes too far, for, if true, it is equally true of the real world. Examples of empirical evidence for it also seem to assume it, and are also begging the question. So belief in an external world may be just faith.

To illustrate, Smith asks us to imagine a real world skeptic who sincerely believes there is no external world. For him, all reality is generated by the mind. He would not be persuaded by perceived evidence because, though the perceptions are real, they are not evidence for an external world, but are always explained as phenomena of the mind. So arguing from such evidence simply begs the question just as it did in arguing for God. The externality of the experiences assumes they are from the outside world, when they are entirely sensed internally. As begging the question in argument is invalid, and so is evidence for God which begs the question, then the same is true of evidence for the real world that begs the question. It is just as false, Smith thinks.

The question of whether the external world exists cannot be solved without first settling the question of how the relevant evidence is to be interpreted, but we cannot settle the question of how the relevant evidence is to be interpreted without first settling the question of whether the external world exists.

The dispute is a dispute over a world view. A world view is a secular expression for a set of views held by someone which lets them think coherently. It is what religion offers to the religious. So the disagreement is equivalent to one between religions. The opposing world views offer no common ground as to how evidence should be evaluated.

So far, Smith has been arguing, as philosophers do, and as Descartes did, from the viewpoint of a single mind surveying the landscape to decide whether it was real or just a figment of the observer’s mind. Such views are therefore subjective ones. The real world skeptic’s argument necessarily is subjective because he accepts only his own mind as producing the sensations experienced. The one who accepts the external world accepts that there are other minds in it, who can arrive at common answers to problems by comparing each of their experiences. When they agree about some event in the real world, they can accept it as objectively true. Objectivity is a social agreement about a common observation.

That the real world skeptic cannot accept evidence for the external world does not mean it is not real evidence, but Smith says its problem is that it is not “transparent”. Not everyone can appreciate it. But the believer in objective truth can easily test the real world skeptic’s sincerity by asking him to prove his conviction that the real world is simply some sensation in his mind by asking him to jump in front of a tube train, or from a multistorey car park. If they refuse to do it, then they are showing their conviction is not sincere.

That is the point at which the evidence becomes transparent even to the real world skeptic. To maintain skepticism thereafter is simply to be a fraud or a madman. Smith’s real world skeptic argument is invalid, so it is not counter to the criticism of the arguments of believers. Believers in God cannot turn round to their tormentors and say, “OK, then prove yourself by doing so-and-so”, though they try to use Pascal’s wager instead. The point of the real world case, is that it immediately resolves the issue, whereas Pascal’s wager, like most religious arguments, is deferred until we die. We have to buy the religious pig in a poke to get a chance of knowing the answer, but the odds remain on us knowing nothing after death, as we knew nothing before we were born.

Written by mikemagee

4 August, 2010 at 9:39 pm