11/30/08

Reductionism Ad Absurdum

Atheism’s reductionist, or absolutely materialistic, sect’s conceptualizations have produced many fascinating, or fascinatingly myopic and fanciful, arguments.

Reductionism refers to the analysis of something into simpler parts or organized systems…the oversimplifying of something complex, or the misguided belief that everything can be explained in simple terms.
As the philosopher Fox Mulder put it, “what are we but impulses, electrical and chemical, through a bag of meat and bones?”
Or, as the philosopher Ren put it in referring to Stimpy as a “bloated sack of protoplasm.”

To read/Or not to read


I wanted to offer a quick thought on the atheist [pseudo] counter-argument against the scientifically verifiable fine-tuning of the universe. From its very inception the universe consisted of many very finely tuned variables.
Let us consider any of the variables as a tape measure that stretches from one end of the universe to the other. Let us further imagine that there is a mark at one spot on the tape measure. If you were to move the spot one inch in either direction life would never have existed, various elements essential to life and the very make up of the universe would not exist. This is true of any of the various variables. There is a list of 47 such variables available here or here as a PDF file.

Benjamin D. Wiker described fine-tuning, as the anthropic principle, as follows (in his article, Does Science Point to God?: The Intelligent Design Revolution):
“In short form, it is the discovery that the universe appears rigged, astoundingly fine-tuned, suspiciously calibrated as part of some kind of a conspiracy of order to produce life–indeed intelligent life. This fine-tuned conspiracy occurs on all levels, from the fundamental constants governing the formation of all the elements in the cosmos, to the extraordinarily precise relationship of planets in our solar system, to the delicate balances on our own planet.”

The [pseudo] counter-argument is fascinating and fallacious: it is fascinating in that it is an argument from worldview adherence and fallacious for the same reason, it presupposes reductionism.



Note that the particular atheists who hold to this reductionist-absolutely materialistic argument answer all of life’s and the universe’s deepest questions (and oft the shallow ones as well) in the same way. Whether it is why there is something rather than nothing, or how and why the universe came to be, or how and why life came to be the answer is the same: it just is, it just did, it is just there and that is all.

Oh, you were wondering what the [pseudo] counter-argument is: it is simply to state that that the scientifically verifiable minutely fine-tuned universe is irrelevant because if it were alternately tuned other life forms would surely have arisen. Another [pseudo] counter-argument, or another portion of the one just mentioned, is that if there are multiverses and that each surely has its own fine-tuning and produced its own sort of life (not life as we know it).[1]

The presupposition is that the Big Bang was an arbitrary explosion of arbitrary materials and thus, this view forces the conclusion that fine-tuning, regardless of just how fine-tuned it is in its intricate minutia, is arbitrary.

Yet, the scientifically verified fine-tuning of the universe ought not discount just because some atheist activists build a façade of scientific respectability around their worldview adherence and believe that life is a cosmic accident.

The reason that I refer to a “[pseudo] counter-argument” is that it denies scientifically verifiable minute fine-tuning, it presupposes reductionism-absolute-purposeless-materialism and it denies the scientifically verifiable minute fine-tuning not on a scientific basis but due to the fact that reductionism-absolute-purposeless-materialism is presupposed.

[1] Of course, there is not only no evidence whatsoever for the multiverse but it is also illogical, see Cosmology, Part II: Book, Chapter and Multi-Verse.

Continue reading Reductionism Ad Absurdum...

11/29/08

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 7 of 7

This is part seven of a seven part essay which is a critique of Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker’s attempts to criticize the Bible in the form of his “National Bible Week Poster.”[1]
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity:
The next section takes direct aim at “Jesus Christ” the first subsection of which is “The Prince of Peace.” Making reference to Matthew 10:34-35 the text is quoted as “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother…” Interestingly, for unknown reasons Cliff Walker neglects to reference or quote verse 36, “And a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.” We are not talking about world wars here and as far as one’s foes being those of one’s own household sadly, many of us can personally attest to the accuracy of this statement.

Next is the section “Stupid Gospel Tricks” which presents “The Fig Tree Enigma” and is the section into which Cliff Walker placed the most amount of effort, if it may be referred to as such. The reference to Mark 11:12-14, 20-21 is quoted thusly:
“The next day..., Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’...In the morning..., they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter...said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree...has withered!’”

Cliff Walker then lists “Points to remember” which are:
“Jesus was hungry.”
“He looked for figs on a tree.”
“But it was not fig season.”

He then offers us “Questions to ponder” and writes:
“If it wasn’t fig season, why would even a moron look for figs? Is killing a tree for not bearing fruit out of season a reasonable response by any standard? Matthew 21:18-21 (written after and based upon Mark) says it withered at once. Mark says they saw it the next day and then marveled. Something’s terribly wrong, here. Was Matthew possibly dissatisfied with a Jesus who’d take an entire day to wither a damned fig tree?”

Apparently, no one noticed this or figured it out for 2,000 years. If it is so clear that “even a moron” would not look for figs out of season why would Jesus have done it and why would the apostles record the event? Perhaps they are all moronic. However, the issue is that Cliff Walker apparently fails to recognize that Jesus’ actions were parabolic. Someone familiar with the Bible will note that the fig tree is symbolic of Israel. Take particular note of Luke 13:6-9 where Jesus tells a parable about a fig-tree that is not producing fruit:
“He also spoke this parable: A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard. And he came and sought fruit on it, and found none. And he said to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none. Cut it down, why does it encumber the ground? And answering, he said to him, Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and throw manure. And if it bears fruit, well; and if not, then after that you shall cut it down.”

Moreover, Matthew 24:32-33 refers to the fig-tree as indicative of times and seasons,
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree. When its branch is still tender and puts out leaves, you know that summer is near. So you, likewise, when you see all these things, shall know that it is near, at the doors.”

In any case, it appears that the issue was not the irrationality of seeking fruit before its time but that the tree was not producing fruit when it was supposed to. But how can this be considering that Mark 11:13b states “He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs”?
There are at least two reasonable answers here: either the parabolic action was meant to demonstrate that we aught to “be prepared in season and out of season” (2nd Timothy 4:2) another thing that someone familiar with the Bible would know or the reference is to the lack of ripe figs since, from what I understand, green figs are produced along with the leaves in April and then ripen in June—ergo, figs should have been present even in an unripe form and “out of season.”

The remark about Matthew being based upon Mark appears to be a reference to the “Q” document hypothesis. It is asserted that Q was a document from which Mark was written from which Matthew was written etc., etc. Of course, Q is not a document, not a manuscript, not even a fraction of papyri. Q is an ethereal concept, a fantasy document that no one has ever, never ever, seen. Eta Linnemann’s well rounded discussion of the “Q” issues is found as Adobe or html. I wrote on this issue and the Old Testament document hypothesis here.

But what is the issue between Matthew and Mark? What is “terribly wrong”? Nothing. Even within Cliff Walker’s criticism we see that it is nothing. He states that in Matthew the tree “withered at once” while in Mark “they saw it the next day.” Mark states that the actual tree actually “withered at once” this was how long it took the tree to wither. Matthew refers to when “they saw it” which was “the next day.” It withered in one day and they saw it the next.

In Conclusion:
Overall, what is terribly wrong with the poster is Cliff Walker’s overeager [pseudo] skepticism combined with his lack of basic biblical, historical, cultural, grammatical knowledge and reasoning skills. In the end he discredits himself while leaving the Bible resting easy.

[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 7 of 7...

11/28/08

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 6 of 7

This is part six of a seven part essay which is a critique of Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker’s attempts to criticize the Bible in the form of his “National Bible Week Poster.”[1]
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment:
Following is an odd section entitled “Uncut & Unsubtle” from which we are apparently meant to draw some undetermined inferences.

The first entry in this section is entitled “Before razors & bikini wax” and references Song of Solomon 7:2b which is quoted as “Thy navel is like a round goblet,...thy belly is like an heap of wheat.”

The next one is entitled “Sweet to the taste” referring to Song of Solomon 2:3 quoted as “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

Then “The magic hand,” again, a reference to Song of Solomon at 5:4 quoted as “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.”

Lastly in this section is “No comment” referencing Ezekiel 23:20 quoted as “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”
In this case, the chapter presents a metaphorical description of Jerusalem personified as “Oholibah” who was symbolically God’s bride but who committed adultery with other nations/gods.

Atheists cannot seem to make up their minds as to whether the Bible is too prudish or too blunt regarding matters of human sexuality.

The Bible is straight forward about sexuality after all, God did invent it sexuality (see my essay Too Sexy for My Theology? On the New Atheist Obsession with Sex and Christopher Hitchens – Too Sexy for Abstinence?).

Song of Solomon in particular is a book that revolves around two lovers describing and enjoying each other.


[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 6 of 7...

11/27/08

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving day (although I know that some of our readership is not in the USA).

I am certainly thankful each and every one of you and love you all very, very much.

aDios,
Mariano
Continue reading HAPPY THANKSGIVING!...

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 5 of 7

This is part five of a seven part essay which is a critique of Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker’s attempts to criticize the Bible in the form of his “National Bible Week Poster.”[1]
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Slavery: Spurns and Property:
The next section is entitled “Slavery Endorsed” and subtitled “Those who disagree spurned” (1st Timothy 6:1-5). Cliff Walker does not take into consideration that slavery in the Old and New Testament sense does not refer to Alex Haley’s “Roots” style Kunta Kinte abusing masters. Much of the “slavery” of those times may be better termed “servitude.” If one where to argue that this form of “slavery” was to be denounced outright it would be tantamount to arguing thusly in our day and age, “People should be free of the debt which they incurred. You lent to them but they should not pay you back.” In Greek this slavery/servitude is referred to as “doulos.”
The details of this issue are well drawn out and discussed in various fine essays such as:
“Defending the Bible’s Position on Slavery”
As well as, “...Does God condone slavery in the Bible?” in two parts:
“Intro and OT discussion”
“The issue of ‘slavery’ in the NT/Apostolic world (esp. Paul)”


Moreover, the apostles refer to themselves as slaves/servants. They too were doulos, which denotes willingness, by their own choice:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, greeting” (James 1:1).
“Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of our God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (2nd Peter 1:1).
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to the ones called in God the Father, having been set apart, and having been kept by Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1).

Paul elucidated the matter thusly,
“For though I am free from all, yet I have made myself servant to all, so that I might gain the more” (1st Corinthians 9:19).

We further learn the ultimate example of willing servitude, doulos slavery:
“For let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant [doulos], and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Next we consider “How to mark your property” (Deuteronomy 15:17), “…thou shalt take an [awl], and thrust it through his ear..., and he shall be thy servant for ever.” Fascinating, when we consider that nowadays people thrust awls through their ears just for fun, or fashion. This was simply a historical/cultural norm which signified the servant’s choice to remain a servant because he was that pleased with his “master.”
Deuteronomy 15:12-17 states:
“If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.”

In fact, if a “slave owner” so much as knocked one single tooth from his “slave’s” mouth they were to free them immediately with provisions with which to begin a new life (Exodus 21:27).

It is extremely difficult to remove ourselves from our modern, first-world country, a Starbucks on every corner, world and even attempt to imagine life in ancient times. This is particularly difficult for those who do not even make themselves aware that such an exercise in determining historical/cultural context is necessary but merely seek to read ancient documents as if they are hot off the modern press.

[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 5 of 7...

11/26/08

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 4 of 7

This is part four of a seven part essay which is a critique of Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker’s attempts to criticize the Bible in the form of his “National Bible Week Poster.”[1]
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice:
In the section entitled “Children” we are told “Beatings don’t kill kids” (Proverbs 23:13). I suppose that, logically, if a beating does not kill a kid then a beating did not kill a kid. Let us keep in mind that when reading, quoting and interpreting the book of Proverbs we are dealing with, you guessed it, proverbs. A “proverb” is “a pithy maxim, usually of a metaphorical nature; hence a simile (as an adage, poem, discourse): a byword, like, parable, proverb, an aphorism, a similitude.” To begin with spanking, even with a switch or “rod” is a tool that many parents have found useful. Yet, we must recall what a proverb is. For instance, the beginning of ch. 23 states:
“When you sit down to eat with a ruler, look carefully at what is before you; and put a knife to your throat, if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceitful food”

Yet, there is no indication of Jews wearing knives so that they could hold them to their own throats in case they were called in to dine with a ruler—this is a proverb.
Ultimately, we must keep in mind that the historical context informs us that this was a culture well acquainted with shepherds. Consider Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Shepherds utilized two basic tools: the staff and rod. The staff was used to guide the sheep and the rod was used to fight off predators and to break the legs of the sheep who had a tendency to stray. The rod was thus used to drive away destructive evils—the predators, and to bring intimacy—while the sheep’s leg was healing the shepherd would carry it on his back and thus build a bond that the sheep would not break again.

The next subsection on children states “Execute stubborn kids” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). This is certainly a favorite text from which the pseudo-skeptic builds enormous edifices of un-historical, un-contextual mockery. Notice Cliff Walker’s conveniently selective quotation:
“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son...Then shall his father and his mother...bring him out unto the elders of his city...And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.” [ellipses in poster]

He not only manipulates the text but fails to consider other texts that deal with the same issue. He is pushing the idea that stubborn kids are summarily executed. However the text actually explains what their stubbornness entails:
Verse 18 “…stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them.”
Verse 20 refers to the son as “stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.”

It is fascinating to note that when Prof. Richard Dawkins mentioned this text he referred to “disobedient children.”[2] When Sam Harris mentioned it he referred to children who “talk back to us.”[3] But, considering the immediate and greater context we note that the Bible refers to stubborn, rebellious, disobedient, gluttonous, drunkards who “smiteth” and curse their parents and have already been chastened (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9 and Deuteronomy 21:18). Thus, we are not dealing with little Johnny who refuses to put his toys away. Rather, the references are not to a little child but to someone who is stubborn in their rebellious, disobedience and is violently drunk to the point that they beat up their very own parents, lives off of their hard work in a gluttonous manner, then curses them, and has already been chastened. Moreover, stoning offenses does not mean that if you saw someone committing a stoneable offense you just executed them on the spot. Beginning at Exodus 18:13-26 we see a careful judicious system being established. For instance, reference to the two or three witnesses that were required are found in Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 2nd Corinthians 13:1, 1st Timothy 5:19 and Hebrews 10:28. These are a part of a very careful and restrictive system.
Furthermore, the Talmud (Sandedrin 71a) basically makes the point that such severe restrictions were placed on these commandments that “There never was, and never will be, a wayward and defiant son” or “stubborn and rebellious son.” Actually, Cliff Walker is well aware of this as he wrote, “The Pharisees, to their credit, interpreted this law so that it would be almost impossible to carry out… I have not studied any era of Christian history where the orders of either Moses or Jesus were invoked to justify the execution of one's own son!”[4] However, and of course, he also condemns the interpretation, as I discuss in another essay that I wrote responding to Cliff Walker, which is entitled, Relative Ethics and Absolute Condemnations.

Next is “Kids killed for mocking hero” (2nd Kings 2:23-24) quoted as:
“Some small boys came out of the city and jeered at [the prophet Elisha], saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And …he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore fortytwo of the boys.”

There is much implied in these two verses and much to be gleaned. The term used to denote the mockers refers to significance, importance as well as stature or age. They were in some sense lesser than Elisha in either social standing, stature, age or any combination thereof. Based on various Old Testament references, the mockers were between 12 and 30 years old (Isaac in his early twenties Genesis 22:12; Joseph seventeen yrs Genesis 37:2; army men between twelve and thirty 1st Kings 20:14-15). Elisha is likely to have been near their age. Elisha had just demonstrated his willingness, and miraculous ability, to help the needy as God’s representative. This event took place somewhere between Bethel and Jericho where Baal was worshipped. A large gathering of young men may denote that they were some sort of what we would term, gang. Elisha could have been bald(ing?) for various reasons including purposeful shaving as a sign of grief over Elijah’s departure (assumption into heaven). They may have been mocking his grief and telling him to get lost or, from their perspective, die. In any regard, there are various ways to look at this event. One is that of the social order of the day, a social order that was difficult to establish considering the occasional tendency of the Israelites to worship false gods. Another, and one that relates, is something quite foreign to us moderns and that is honor and respect. The gang of young men was besmirching the God of the Bible and His prophet in a land overrun with the worship of false gods who demanded human sacrifice among other “sacraments.” I understand that none of this will seem the least bit relevant when compared to the emotionally charged gut reaction that the pseudo-skeptic, and even believer, may feel. Some appear to be of the opinion that God is the ultimate pushover whom we ought to slap around at will and have His only response be, “Oh, come on guys.”

Our attention is next drawn to the idea that “God orders child sacrifice” (Genesis 22:1-2). The reference is to God asking Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. This comment is either a scholarly hoax or the utter bankruptcy of what Cliff Walker has to offer in the way of biblical criticism. Cliff Walker neglects not only to understand the text but he again neglects historical/cultural context. The text states that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and then told him not to do it. Why? Did God change His mind? In Abraham’s time human/child sacrifice was a common commandment of various gods. The God of the Bible was making it clear that He did not want, and would not accept, human/child sacrifice. This is why Jews, Christians (and by extension, Muslims) have never offered human/child sacrifices to the God of the Bible (and by extension, the Qur′an). I also dealt with Prof. Richard Dawkins’ mishandling of this text in my essay, Planting God More Firmly on His Throne, part 8 of 10.

Wait just a moment because next up in Cliff Walkers poster is, “Daughter: a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-32, 34, 39). I dealt with this text in quite a bit of detail in the aforementioned essay in part 9 of 10. The bottom line is that the text does not seem to state anything about Jephthah sacrificing his daughter and if he did, his actions were condemned annually (I also discuss this further in Relative Ethics and Absolute Condemnations).

If you are interested in a more detailed handling of human/child sacrifice in general see the section entitled “Child Sacrifice: Sanctioned and “the right thing to do”?” in my essay, Dan Barker’s Scriptural Misinterpretations and Misapplications.

[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster
[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), pp. 249-250
[3] Harris, The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos also Sam Harris, Sam Harris Takes On the Muslim Cartoon Controversy and His Critics
[4] ©1995-2006 Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, One Can Be Ethical And Moral Without God


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 4 of 7...

11/25/08

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 3 of 7

This is part three of a seven part essay which is a critique of Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker’s attempts to criticize the Bible in the form of his “National Bible Week Poster.”[1]
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty:
As we begin the sections that make reference to the Bible please note that Cliff Walker has discredited himself from condemning anything that the Bible states since he has written:
“I use the terms good and evil and right and wrong as shorthand, for the purpose of discussion, to describe how many people think. My current understanding of reality does not recognize any intrinsic good or evil.”[2] [italics in original]

Therefore, he is basing his condemnation on his opinions and what “many people think.” One must wonder: is he referring to “many people” with whom he is acquainted and who happen to agree with him? And what if “many people” disagree? Well then, in such a case what is considered good and evil and right and wrong would change.

In the section entitled “Women” we begin to get into the Bible itself and we are told that in the Bible the “Wife [is] listed among property.” Well, in that case I shalt no longer introduce my wife as “my” wife.

We are then told that “Christian women: be silent” based on a text in 1st Corinthians 14:34-35 which, as the book’s title informs us, was written to a particular people, at a particular time, in a particular place: the Christians of Corinth some 2,000 years ago. In that place and time there were complex interactions of cultures and myths such as Gnosticism and the worship of various Greek and Roman goddesses. In that case, Paul apparently seeks to prevent the teaching of un-biblical myths and seeks to ensure that women become well informed. The historical / cultural context of the fact that it was not a universal requirement for women to be silent is made all the clearer by the fact that, as seen in previous segments of this parsed essay: in the New Testament we find accounts of women prophetesses, disciples, deacons, teachers, etc.

Based on quite a bit of minutia, it may be that Paul was referencing those with whom he disagrees in a juxtapositional manner. For example in 1st Corinthians 6:12 Paul juxtaposes two positions:
“All things are lawful for me,
but all things are not helpful.
All things are lawful for me,
but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

Such appears to be the case in chapter 14 in the case of those who thought that only women should keep silent. The way this would work within the text is as may be seen by broking it up into verses:
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

- - -

33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
- - -

34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
- - -

36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?
37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Paul has been addressing the issue of disorder: each has a psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation, interpretation. Fine, just be sure to do these things for edification. If one, anyone, speaks in a tongue and there is no interpreter, they are to keep silent in church. When prophesying, judge each other and take turns “all prophesy one by one” and “let the first keep silent.” Keep in mind that prophecy does not necessarily refer to telling the future, but offering encouragement – “all may be encouraged.” Why this imposition of order? Because “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Next we find that some people offer a simple solution and say, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak…for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” Oh, really?!? “did the word of God come originally from you?” No, rather I, Paul, “write to you…the commandments of the Lord.” Therefore, keep order like I told you, take turns speaking and being silent “all” of you, both men and women.

We are next turned towards the Old Testament and informed that a “Woman must marry rapist” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Regardless of the poster’s preferred NIV reading, the Hebrew “taphas” refers to catching, handling, taking hold, grasping, etc. And “shakab” refers to lying down. There is actually no reason to think that the woman was raped. I performed a search of 13 translations and found 2 that translated as “rape”: the NIV and the NLT yet, context always determines meaning. The others read thusly:
KJV, “a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her.”
NKJV, “a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her.”
ESV, “a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her.”
NASB, “a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her.”
RSV, “a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her.”
ASV, “a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her.”
HNV, “a virgin, who is not pledged to be married, and lay hold on her, and lie with her.”
Young’s, “a virgin who is not betrothed, and hath caught her, and lain with her.”
Darby’s, “a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her.”
Webster’s, “a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her.”
RVR, “una joven virgen que no fuere desposada, y la tomare y se acostare con ella.”

Please be aware that the verse actually ends with a statement that “they are found.” What is that all about? Does it mean that he was raping her and did not get away with it? Nay, the text is referring to a shotgun wedding. The man and woman engaged in intercourse not only while she was a virgin but when they were not even betrothed. Therefore, they must now be wed.

Next we are told that “Virgin women are war booty” (Numbers 31:1-18). In the aftermath of war, and without the aid of the great and mightily benevolent UN, the women could have been left to fend for themselves or could have been brought into the Israelite camp. Moreover, the warriors and women were to remain outside the camp seven days in order to purify themselves.
Moreover, regulations regarding war captives were very strict. In the case of a woman, if a man wanted to marry her he had to give her time to recover from the shock of war, she was to be taken into the home and “shall sorrow for her father and her mother a full month” (Deuteronomy 21:13). But if after marrying her he wanted to divorce her he was to “let her go where she will. But you shall not sell her at all for silver, you shall not make a slave of her, because you have humbled her” (v. 14). Here “humbling” refers to her being depressed and or having lost her virginity (while married).

[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster
[2] ©1995-2006 Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, One Can Be Ethical And Moral Without God


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 3 of 7...

11/24/08

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 2 of 7

This is part two of my consideration of the “National Bible Week Poster” which was composed by Cliff Walker of Positive Atheism.[1] I am presenting this parsed essay in honor of National Bible Week (Nov 23-30).
To read/Or not to read


Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion

Quotes to Note:
The poster is presented in a webpage that quotes Helen Keller to the effect of:
“There is much in the Bible against which every instinct of my being rebels, so much that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to read it through from beginning to end. I do not think that the knowledge which I have gained of its history and sources compensates me for the unpleasant details it has forced upon my attention”

I, for one, could not agree more. I feel the same way about the evening news, particularly the local news.
There is much in the news against which every instinct of my being rebels, so much that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to watch it through from beginning to end. I do not think that the knowledge which I have gained of current events compensates me for the unpleasant details it has forced upon my attention such as the details of the latest murder, rape, child abuse, etc. And yet, I must consider if the news is evil for describing the brutal reality of humanity.

One of the quotations presented to us via the poster is from Thomas Paine and reads thusly:
“After the sermon was ended…I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard….I moreover believe that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system.” [ellipses in original]

As presented, the quotation is far too generic to be of any use. What was the sermon, what was its message? What was revolting: the sermon, its message or the recollection? In other words, did the sermon reveal some bit of unpleasant truth about Thomas Paine’s own heart and soul?
The statement about his believing “that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system” is a purely arbitrary argument from outrage and a non sequitur.[2] I may state that a child was shocked by being taught that she is a glorified animal whose ancestors were apes (or whom according to Prof. Richard Dawkins, is an ape).. That all life on earth came about when lightning struck a swamp. That the entire universe has no intrinsic purpose. That her life has no intrinsic meaning. That when she dies she will be annihilated, et al. May I then conclude that all of these statements are false based on nothing but a child’s reaction?

Another quotation comes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton who appears to completely lack a historical understanding of the Bible’s and Christianity’s positive effect on the manner in which women are viewed and treated. She is quoted as stating, “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”
Of course, it may be argued that “the Church” has “been the greatest stumbling block” in many areas and in many ways. However, as for the Bible:
+ The Bible states that both men and women were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27 also see Genesis 5:2).
+ New Testament teaches, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ…There is neither…male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
+ There are entire books in the Bible named after women (Esther and Ruth).
+ There were women Judges in the Old Testament (Judges 4:4).
+ In the Bible we find women prophetesses (Exodus 15:20; 2nd Kings 22:14; 2nd Chronicles 34:22; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:7-9).
+ Jesus showed Himself to be a servant of both men and women.
+ Jesus had male and female disciples.
+ In the New Testament we find women deaconesses (Romans 16:1-2).
+ We find women teachers, such as Priscilla who taught right along side of her husband Aquila (Acts 18:26).
+ Women taught the younger women (Titus 2:3-4).
+ The first disciples at the empty tomb were women (see Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). +Etc.

There is also a quote from Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who stated, in part:
“The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old.”

How quaint. Get with it Mr. Clemens/Twain! Today by 15 a child has viewed hundreds of thousands of images in technicolor of every sort of violence and sexuality imaginable, and some unimaginable. Today’s pop-culture encourages the youth to delve head first into all sorts of debauchery and besmirches parents whom even attempt to prevent them.
Of course, the Bible presenting, as it does, humanity with warts and all is perhaps not to be recommended to a youth in an unexpurgated form. Although, when it does present the warts, it does so within a moral context while pop-culture does not.


[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster
[2] Although you see how the New Atheist charge of “child abuse” is nothing new (see here, here, here and here).


Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 2 of 7...

11/23/08

Old Material on Dennett and the Mind

In the interest of preserving an old entry of mine that contains my thoughts on Dennett's memetic theory of the mind (which directly relates to his latest thoughts on religion) I'm drudging up an old post criticizing his position on the origins of the mind and our mental content (beliefs, etc...).

+/-

Ubiquitous Che got me thinking a bit about Dennett’s theory of the mind. The strange thing about this is that I actually wrote a draft a few weeks ago about memes, modularity and the unity of consciousness argument but gave up because a lack of direction/willpower. For those of you not in the know, Dennett has taken Jerry Fodor’s modularity theory of the mind to new heights after marrying it to Dawkins’ memetics. It’s probably to fair to note that Dennett does the heavy lifting for those gentlemen’s fine ideas.

Now, it probably isn’t a secret that I am fundamentally opposed to Dennett’s proposal. It is doubly fair to qualify the following to be in response to this question: Why in the world did nature suddenly produce and select consciousness? (Context here)

To begin with, what do we take to be an adequate explanation or answer to that question? Obviously we aren’t going to exhaustively answer the most probing of questions on an unpopular blog run by pretentious jerks, but it’s fair to say that we can probably just intuit a good explanation from a bad one. A good explanation for why your sister is sick in bed could look something like- “Because she ate a homeless guy’s sock”. A bad explanation for why your sister is sick in bed could look something like- “Because she hasn’t gotten out of bed except to vomit”. The latter gives evidence for the claim that she is sick, whereas we are looking for an explanation of why this vomiting/sickness might be happening. This may seem like a ridiculous thing for me to elaborate on, but this confusion of ground and consequent is quite common. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an answer like “because evolution produced it!!1 lol” to the question “why did nature select consciousness for survival?”. Moving on…

Modularity theories of the mind generally posit at least some “modules” that process information internally and perform some functions without reference to other external systems (a global workspace or other modules). Before my dualist constituency jumps on this theory, I must confess that it is probably true in a limited sense. Perception is probably one of these modules. This appears to be a mandatory operation (key point) of the mind that is generally inaccessible to the conscious mind (whatever that is). In any case, Dennett is arguing for more than just a few modules in the brain that explain some functions of the mind. Rather, he would explain the entire illusion of the Cartesian Theater in terms of memes (read: his version of modules) which, of course, would explain the mind in terms of evolutionary mechanisms (which would answer my question with a punch to my realist face).

Or would it?

Admittedly, this sort of thinking is a step in the “right” direction for functionalists. But a step in the right direction does not necessarily mean that it is true or accounts for certain facts that I take to be basic to my belief structure. I have a few problems with Dennett’s modularity theory that capitalize on this realist sense that I have. For one, I don’t experience rough transitions in my consciousness. That is, if my mind is really a set of modules that is determined by the atomic-meme (a basic cultural unit) then I should think that my mind wouldn’t “flow”. However, something appears to tie all these different facets (modules) of my mind together, and what better candidate than a Cartesian Theater? To put it differently, there may very well be some modules, but continuity suggests something fluid and all-pervasive (a global workspace). Furthermore, memes themselves are not intrinsically meaningful. To quote Angus Menuge at length:

If memes are like atoms, then they can interpret neither themselves nor other memes, and must always behave in the same blind fashion. Yet, in the case of all proposed examples of memes, it is obvious that the interpretation of a meme makes a difference to how it behaves. Consider the candidate meme, “Just Do It.” While this phrase may have been successful in promoting mindless hedonism, we are all glad it has not influenced those in charge of nuclear missiles…The context defining a meme’s interpretation is crucial to whether it will influence action. But…this presupposes an interpreter with a point of view.


Angus Menuge, “Intelligent Design, Darwinism and Psychological Unity,” Philosophia Christi 10 (2008):126.

This brand of argumentation is commonly known as the “Unity of Consciousness Argument". While I don’t claim to have said anything novel about the argument here, I do think that Dennett has completely missed the point of introducing memetics into modularity. Whether or not memetics is a serious, scientifically plausible (or useful) tool when it comes to the mind is left just as mysterious as before. At best, all Dennett has done is push the question back one further into something less tangible. Further, what are we really accomplishing given Dennett’s rather speculative theory? Despite it’s novelties, I’d say not much. Dennett wants to say that his memes provide all the firepower for our illusory Theater. But even if it did, does it solve the problems of endurance through time? Neverminding unity for a second, does it provide a reasonable account of rational mental states? His position, when coupled with his outlook on the natural (memetic) emergence of religion equates to something like:

D) Our mental content can be explained in virtue of our memetic history.

Unfortunately for Dennett, he belongs to the group “our” designates and is therefore subject to (D) the same as we theists are. So, either his memes explain our mental content (including his) or it does not. If it does, then the only reason Dennett believes what he does is because of memetic history. If not, then he has not explained our mental content. Either way, I’m not impressed with the proposal.

I think I’ll stick my realism concerning mental states for now.


Continue reading Old Material on Dennett and the Mind...

Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 1 of 7

In honor of National Bible Week (Nov 23-30) I thought it relevant to present a daily seven part consideration the “National Bible Week Poster” which was composed by Cliff Walker of Positive Atheism.

His poster, which he informs us is “suitable for framing,”[1] is meant to be a Bible-skeptic-atheist argument against the Bible. It is a phantasmagoric cut and paste concoction of random quotes, self-servingly selective Bible texts, attempted quips, and the typical mixture of non sequiturs, arguments from outrage, and general lack of historical, cultural and grammatical context.
To read/Or not to read

The segments will be parsed as follows:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Quotes to Note
Part 3: Women: Property, Silence, Rape and Booty
Part 4: Children: Beatings, Stubbornness, Mockers and Sacrifice
Part 5: Slavery: Spurns and Property
Part 6: Uncut & Unsubtle: Bikinis, Sweetness, Magic and No Comment
Part 7: Jesus Christ: Peace and Stupidity and In Conclusion


Introduction:
The poster begins thusly, “Many become Atheists after reading the Bible.”
Of course, this is a firmly ensconced well within the box thinking that is utterly meaningless. We could simply retort, perhaps just as meaninglessly, “Many become Christians after reading the Bible” or “Many Atheists become Christians after reading the Bible.”

The “Introduction” section in the poster states, in part:
“POSITIVE ATHEISM now urges an ‘If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em’ approach. We encourage non-Christians to examine the Bible and contact the local press. Celebrate National Bible Week by showing the Bible’s barbarity…Let’s take to the streets and shout these Biblical obscenities from the rooftops!”


The intro also states, “people think the Bible is good simply because they never read it.” [italics in poster].
Of course, this is another utterly meaningless statement and typical of Cliff Walker’s self-serving within the box generalizations. Again, we may simply retort, “people think the Bible is good simply because they have read it” or “some people think the Bible is not good simply because they never read it but instead rely on un-contextual pull quotes peppered with fallacious pseudo-skeptical assertions.”

Yet, rather than merely presenting assertions myself, we shall see if I can substantiate my claims as we go on.

[1] ©1999 by Positive Atheism’s Cliff Walker, National Bible Week Poster

Continue reading Positive Atheism - Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 1 of 7...

11/22/08

Charity - Secular Liberals vs. Religious Conservatives

While we have been on this subject a bit this bit of information seemed relevant especially since London atheist are assuring us that not one single pence of the £83,000 / $124,392.19 they have raised (as of Oct 23rd) will go towards helping anyone in any way.
To read/Or not to read

It now seemed appropriate also to note a study about donations in relation to secular liberals and religious conservatives.

Frank Brieaddy wrote an article entitled Philanthropy Expert: Conservatives Are More Generous, in which he notes:

“Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is about to become the darling of the religious right in America — and it's making him nervous.

The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities, irrespective of income.
In the book, he cites extensive data analysis to demonstrate that values advocated by conservatives — from church attendance and two-parent families to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for government-funded social services — make conservatives more generous than liberals.

When it comes to helping the needy, Brooks writes: ‘For too long, liberals have been claiming they are the most virtuous members of American society. Although they usually give less to charity, they have nevertheless lambasted conservatives for their callousness in the face of social injustice.’

He's a number cruncher who relied primarily on 10 databases assembled over the past decade, mostly from scientific surveys. The data are adjusted for variables such as age, gender, race and income to draw fine-point conclusions.

The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.
Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money.

‘These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago,’ he writes in the introduction. ‘I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book’

…liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard University and 2004 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, does not know Brooks personally but has read the book. ‘His main finding is quite startling, that the people who talk the most about caring actually fork over the least,’ he said. ‘But beyond this finding I thought his analysis was extremely good, especially for an economist. He thinks very well about the reason for this and reflects about politics and morals in a way most economists do their best to avoid.’”


Continue reading Charity - Secular Liberals vs. Religious Conservatives...

11/20/08

Gary DeMar - Audio

Here are links to some interesting audio
files from the Gary DeMar Show:

To read/Or not to read





Atheism's Stolen Morality
~~~ with Doug Wilson who debated Christopher Hitchens ~~~

The Gospel According to Atheism
~~~ with Larry Taunton of fixedpoint.org who set up the
debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox ~~~

Debating with the Village Atheist
~~~ with Joel McDurmon, the show’s title is a reference
his book The Return of the Village Atheist ~~~

Debating Atheism
~~~ with Regis Nicoll discuss the Brights sect of atheism ~~~

The Atheist Debate

The "Bright" Side of Atheism


Continue reading Gary DeMar - Audio...

11/19/08

“Billions and Billions of Demons”

This post comes forth from the oldie but goodie file.

“Billions and Billions of Demons” is the title of Prof. Richard Lewontin’s New York Times Book Review of Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark—Volume 44, Number 1 (January 9, 1997)

Following is the unabridged text of this very interesting article which is of wide enough scope to mention creationism, materialism, the Trinity, Prof. Richard Dawkins, et al. I have also provided Prof. Richard Lewontin’s footnotes (all ellipses in original):
To read/Or not to read


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Richard Lewontin

"But the Solar System!" I protested.
"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently: "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."
—Colloquy between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet

I first met Carl Sagan in 1964, when he and I found ourselves in Arkansas on the platform of the Little Rock Auditorium, where we had been dispatched by command of the leading geneticist of the day, Herman Muller. Our task was to take the affirmative side in a debate: "Resolved, That the Theory of Evolution is proved as is the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun." One of our opponents in the debate was a professor of biology from a fundamentalist college in Texas (his father was the president of the college) who had quite deliberately chosen the notoriously evolutionist Department of Zoology of the University of Texas as the source of his Ph.D. He could then assure his students that he had unassailable expert knowledge with which to refute Darwinism.

I had serious misgivings about facing an immense audience of creationist fundamentalist Christians in a city made famous by an Arkansas governor who, having detected a resentment of his constituents against federal usurpation, defied the power of Big Government by interposing his own body between the door of the local high school and some black kids who wanted to matriculate.

Young scientists, however, do not easily withstand the urgings of Nobel Prize winners, so after several transparently devious attempts to avoid the job, I appeared. We were, in fact, well treated, but despite our absolutely compelling arguments, the audience unaccountably voted for the opposition. Carl and I then sneaked out the back door of the auditorium and beat it out of town, quite certain that at any moment hooded riders with ropes and flaming crosses would snatch up two atheistic New York Jews who had the chutzpah to engage in public blasphemy.

Sagan and I drew different conclusions from our experience. For me the confrontation between creationism and the science of evolution was an example of historical, regional, and class differences in culture that could only be understood in the context of American social history. For Carl it was a struggle between ignorance and knowledge, although it is not clear to me what he made of the unimpeachable scientific credentials of our opponent, except perhaps to see him as an example of the Devil quoting scripture. The struggle to bring scientific knowledge to the masses has been a preoccupation of Carl Sagan's ever since, and he has become the most widely known, widely read, and widely seen popularizer of science since the invention of the video tube. His only rival in the haute vulgarisation of science is Stephen Jay Gould, whose vulgarisations are often very haute indeed, and whose intellectual concerns are quite different.

While Gould has occasionally been enlisted in the fight to protect the teaching and dissemination of the knowledge of evolution against creationist political forces, he is primarily concerned with what the nature of organisms, living and dead, can reveal about the social construction of scientific knowledge. His repeated demonstrations that organisms can only be understood as historically contingent, underdetermined Rube Goldberg devices are meant to tell us more about the evolution of human knowledge than of human anatomy. From his early Mismeasure of Man,[1] which examined how the political and social prejudices of prominent scientists have molded what those scientists claimed to be the facts of human anatomy and intelligence, to his recent collection of essays, Eight Little Piggies,[2] which despite its subtitle, Reflections on Natural History, is a set of reflections on the intellectual history of Natural History, Gould's deep preoccupation is with how knowledge, rather than the organism, is constructed.

Carl Sagan's program is more elementary. It is to bring a knowledge of the facts of the physical world to the scientifically uneducated public, for he is convinced that only through a broadly disseminated knowledge of the objective truth about nature will we be able to cope with the difficulties of the world and increase the sum of human happiness. It is this program that inspired his famous book and television series, Cosmos, which dazzled us with billions and billions of stars. But Sagan realizes that the project of merely spreading knowledge of objective facts about the universe is insufficient. First, no one can know and understand everything. Even individual scientists are ignorant about most of the body of scientific knowledge, and it is not simply that biologists do not understand quantum mechanics. If I were to ask my colleagues in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to explain the evolutionary importance of RNA editing in trypanosomes, they would be just as mystified by the question as the typical well-educated reader of this review.

Second, to put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out. People believe a lot of nonsense about the world of phenomena, nonsense that is a consequence of a wrong way of thinking. The primary problem is not to provide the public with the knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of, for that vast project is, in its entirety, hopeless. Rather, the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth. The reason that people do not have a correct view of nature is not that they are ignorant of this or that fact about the material world, but that they look to the wrong sources in their attempt to understand. It is not simply, as Sherlock Holmes thought, that the brain is like an empty attic with limited storage capacity, so that the accumulated clutter of false or useless bits of knowledge must be cleared out in a grand intellectual tag sale to make space for more useful objects. It is that most people's mental houses have been furnished according to an appallingly bad model of taste and they need to start consulting the home furnishing supplement of the Sunday New York Times in place of the stage set of The Honeymooners. The message of The Demon-Haunted World is in its subtitle, Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Sagan's argument is straightforward. We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of physical relations among material entities. The vast majority of us do not have control of the intellectual apparatus needed to explain manifest reality in material terms, so in place of scientific (i.e., correct material) explanations, we substitute demons. As one bit of evidence for the bad state of public consciousness, Sagan cites opinion polls showing that the majority of Americans believe that extraterrestrials have landed from UFOs. The demonic, for Sagan, includes, in addition to UFOs and their crews of little green men who take unwilling passengers for a midnight spin and some wild sex, astrological influences, extrasensory perception, prayers, spoon-bending, repressed memories, spiritualism, and channeling, as well as demons sensu strictu, devils, fairies, witches, spirits, Satan and his devotees, and, after some discreet backing and filling, the supposed prime mover Himself. God gives Sagan a lot of trouble. It is easy enough for him to snort derisively at men from Mars, but when it comes to the Supreme Extraterrestrial he is rather circumspect, asking only that sermons "even-handedly examine the God hypothesis."
The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration.
But of course, I might be wrong.
I doubt that an all-seeing God would fall for Pascal's Wager, but the sensibilities of modern believers may indeed be spared by this Clintonesque moderation.

Most of the chapters of The Demon-Haunted World are taken up with exhortations to the reader to cease whoring after false gods and to accept the scientific method as the unique pathway to a correct understanding of the natural world. To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test. So why do so many people believe in demons? Sagan seems baffled, and nowhere does he offer a coherent explanation of the popularity at the supermarket checkout counter of the Weekly World News, with its faked photographs of Martians. Indeed, he believes that "a proclivity for science is embedded deeply within us in all times, places and cultures." The only explanation that he offers for the dogged resistance of the masses to the obvious virtues of the scientific way of knowing is that "through indifference, inattention, incompetence, or fear of skepticism, we discourage children from science." He does not tell us how he used the scientific method to discover the "embedded" human proclivity for science, or the cause of its frustration. Perhaps we ought to add to the menu of Saganic demonology, just after spoon-bending, ten-second seat-of-the-pants explanations of social realities.

Nearly every present-day scientist would agree with Carl Sagan that our explanations of material phenomena exclude any role for supernatural demons, witches, and spirits of every kind, including any of the various gods from Adonai to Zeus. (I say "nearly" every scientist because our creationist opponent in the Little Rock debate, and other supporters of "Creation Science," would insist on being recognized.) We also exclude from our explanations little green men from Mars riding in space ships, although they are supposed to be quite as corporeal as you and I, because the evidence is overwhelming that Mars hasn't got any. On the other hand, if one supposed that they came from the planet of a distant star, the negative evidence would not be so compelling, although the fact that it would have taken them such a long time to get here speaks against the likelihood that they exist. Even Sagan says that "it would be astonishing to me if there weren't extraterrestrial life," a position he can hardly avoid, given that his first published book was Intelligent Life in the Universe[3] and he has spent a great deal of the taxpayer's money over the ensuing thirty years listening for the signs.

Sagan believes that scientists reject sprites, fairies, and the influence of Sagittarius because we follow a set of procedures, the Scientific Method, which has consistently produced explanations that put us in contact with reality and in which mystic forces play no part. For Sagan, the method is the message, but I think he has opened the wrong envelope.

There is no attempt in The Demon-Haunted World to provide a systematic account of just what Science and the Scientific Method consist in, nor was that the author's intention. The book is not meant to be a discourse on method, but it is in large part a collection of articles taken from Parade magazine and other popular publications. Sagan's intent is not analytic, but hortatory. Nevertheless, if the exhortation is to succeed, then the argument for the superiority of science and its method must be convincing, and not merely convincing, but must accord with its own demands. The case for the scientific method should itself be "scientific" and not merely rhetorical. Unfortunately, the argument may not look as good to the unconvinced as it does to the believer.

First, we are told that science "delivers the goods." It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most. Scientists and their professional institutions, partly intoxicated with examples of past successes, partly in order to assure public financial support, make grandiose promises that cannot be kept. Sagan writes with justified scorn that
We're regularly bombarded with extravagant UFO claims vended in bite-sized packages, but only rarely do we hear of their comeuppance.

He cannot have forgotten the well-publicized War on Cancer, which is as yet without a victorious battle despite the successful taking of a salient or two. At first an immense amount of money and consciousness was devoted to the supposed oncogenic viruses which, being infectious bugs, could be exterminated or at least resisted. But these particular Unidentified Flying Objects turned out for the most part to be as elusive as the Martians, and so, without publicly calling attention to their "comeuppance," the General Staff turned from outside invaders to the enemy within, the genes. It is almost certain that cancers do, indeed, arise because genes concerned with the regulation of cell division are mutated, partly as a consequence of environmental insults, partly because of unavoidable molecular instability, and even sometimes as the consequence of a viral attack on the genome. Yet the realization of the role played by DNA has had absolutely no consequence for either therapy or prevention, although it has resulted in many optimistic press conferences and a considerable budget for the National Cancer Institute. Treatments for cancer remain today what they were before molecular biology was ever thought of: cut it out, burn it out, or poison it.

The concentration on the genes implicated in cancer is only a special case of a general genomania that surfaces in the form of weekly announcements in The New York Times of the location of yet another gene for another disease. The revealing rhetoric of this publicity is always the same; only the blanks need to be filled in: "It was announced today by scientists at [Harvard, Vanderbilt, Stanford] Medical School that a gene responsible for [some, many, a common form of] [schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, arterio-sclerosis, prostate cancer] has beenlocated and its DNA sequence determined. This exciting research, say scientists, is the first step in what may eventually turn out to be a possible cure for this disease."

The entire public justification for the Human Genome Project is the promise that some day, in the admittedly distant future, diseases will be cured or prevented.[4] Skeptics who point out that we do not yet have a single case of a prevention or cure arising from a knowledge of DNA sequences are answered by the observations that "these things take time," or that "no one knows the value of a newborn baby." But such vague waves of the hand miss the central scientific issue. The prevention or cure of metabolic and developmental disorders depends on a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms operating in cells and tissues above the level of genes, and there is no relevant information about those mechanisms in DNA sequences. In fact, if I know the DNA sequence of a gene I have no hint about the function of a protein specified by that gene, or how it enters into an organism's biology.

What is involved here is the difference between explanation and intervention. Many disorders can be explained by the failure of the organism to make a normal protein, a failure that is the consequence of a gene mutation. But intervention requires that the normal protein be provided at the right place in the right cells, at the right time and in the right amount, or else that an alternative way be found to provide normal cellular function. What is worse, it might even be necessary to keep the abnormal protein away from the cells at critical moments. None of these objectives is served by knowing the DNA sequence of the defective gene. Explanations of phenomena can be given at many levels, some of which can lead to successful manipulation of the world and some not. Death certificates all state a cause of death, but even if there were no errors in these ascriptions, they are too general to be useful. An easy conflation of explanations in general with explanations at the correct causal level may serve a propagandistic purpose in the struggle for public support, but it is not the way to concrete progress.

Scientists apparently do not realize that the repeated promises of benefits yet to come, with no likelihood that those promises will be fulfilled, can only produce a widespread cynicism about the claims for the scientific method. Sagan, trying to explain the success of Carlos, a telepathic charlatan, muses on how little it takes to tamper with our beliefs, how readily we are led, how easy it is to fool the public when people are lonely and starved for something to believe in.
Not to mention when they are sick and dying.

Biologists are not the only scientists who, having made extravagant claims about their merchandise, deliver the goods in bite-sized packages. Nor are they the only manufacturers of knowledge who cannot be bothered to pick up a return package when the product turns out to be faulty. Sagan's own branch of science is in the same business. Anxious to revive a failing public interest in spending large amounts on space research, NASA scientists, followed by the President of the United States, made an immense fuss about the discovery of some organic molecules on a Mars rock. There is (was) life (of some rudimentary kind) on Mars (maybe)! Can little green men in space machines be far behind? If it turns out, as already suggested by some scientists, that these molecules are earthly contaminants, or were produced in non-living chemical systems, this fact surely will not be announced at a White House press conference, or even above the fold in The New York Times.

Second, it is repeatedly said that science is intolerant of theories without data and assertions without adequate evidence. But no serious student of epistemology any longer takes the naive view of science as a process of Baconian induction from theoretically unorganized observations. There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become "observations" we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view, and the experiments that produced them are not revisited. In the 1930s well-established and respectable geneticists described "dauer-modifications," environmentally induced changes in organisms that were passed on to offspring and only slowly disappeared in succeeding generations. As the science of genetics hardened, with its definitive rejection of any possibility of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, observations of dauer-modifications were sent to the scrapheap where they still lie, jumbled together with other decommissioned facts.

The standard form of a scientific paper begins with a theoretical question, which is then followed by the description of an experimental technique designed to gather observations pertinent to the question. Only then are the observations themselves described. Finally there is a discussion section in which a great deal of energy is often expended rationalizing the failure of the observations to accord entirely with a theory we really like, and in which proposals are made for other experiments that might give more satisfactory results. Sagan's suggestion that only demonologists engage in "special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble," is certainly not one that accords with my reading of the scientific literature. Nor is this a problem unique to biology. The attempts of physicists to explain why their measurements of the effects of relativity did not agree with Einstein's quantitative prediction is a case no doubt well known to Sagan.

As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan's list of the "best contemporary science-popularizers" includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market. Wilson's Sociobiology and On Human Nature[5] rest on the surface of a quaking marsh of unsupported claims about the genetic determination of everything from altruism to xenophobia. Dawkins's vulgarizations of Darwinism speak of nothing in evolution but an inexorable ascendancy of genes that are selectively superior, while the entire body of technical advance in experimental and theoretical evolutionary genetics of the last fifty years has moved in the direction of emphasizing non-selective forces in evolution. Thomas, in various essays, propagandized for the success of modern scientific medicine in eliminating death from disease, while the unchallenged statistical compilations on mortality show that in Europe and North America infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and diphtheria, had ceased to be major causes of mortality by the first decades of the twentieth century, and that at age seventy the expected further lifetime for a white male has gone up only two years since 1950. Even The Demon-Haunted World itself sometimes takes suspect claims as true when they serve a rhetorical purpose as, for example, statistics on child abuse, or a story about the evolution of a child's fear of the dark.

Third, it is said that there is no place for an argument from authority in science. The community of science is constantly self-critical, as evidenced by the experience of university colloquia "in which the speaker has hardly gotten 30 seconds into the talk before there are devastating questions and comments from the audience." If Sagan really wants to hear serious disputation about the nature of the universe, he should leave the academic precincts in Ithaca and spend a few minutes in an Orthodox study house in Brooklyn. It is certainly true that within each narrowly defined scientific field there is a constant challenge to new technical claims and to old wisdom. In what my wife calls the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Syndrome, young scientists on the make will challenge a graybeard, and this adversarial atmosphere for the most part serves the truth. But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.

With great perception, Sagan sees that there is an impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world, an impediment that is almost invisible to most scientists. Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face. Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn't even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one's prejudice. Carl Sagan accepts, as I do, the duality of light, which is at the same time wave and particle, but he thinks that the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost puts the mystery of the Holy Trinity "in deep trouble." Two's company, but three's a crowd.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

The mutual exclusion of the material and the demonic has not been true of all cultures and all times. In the great Chinese epic Journey to the West, demons are an alternative form of life, responsible to certain deities, devoted to making trouble for ordinary people, but severely limited. They can be captured, imprisoned, and even killed by someone with superior magic.[6] In our own intellectual history, the definitive displacement of divine powers by purely material causes has been a relatively recent changeover, and that icon of modern science, Newton, was at the cusp. It is a cliché of intellectual history that Newton attempted to accommodate God by postulating Him as the Prime Mover Who, having established the mechanical laws and set the whole universe in motion, withdrew from further intervention, leaving it to people like Newton to reveal His plan. But what we might call "Newton's Ploy" did not really get him off the hook. He understood that a defect of his system of mechanics was the lack of any equilibrating force that would return the solar system to its regular set of orbits if there were any slight perturbation. He was therefore forced, although reluctantly, to assume that God intervened from time to time to set things right again. It remained for Laplace, a century later, to produce a mechanics that predicted the stability of the planetary orbits, allowing him the hauteur of his famous reply to Napoleon. When the Emperor observed that there was, in the whole of the Mécanique Céleste, no mention of the author of the universe, he replied, "Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis." One can almost hear a stress on the "I."

The struggle for possession of public consciousness between material and mystical explanations of the world is one aspect of the history of the confrontation between elite culture and popular culture. Without that history we cannot understand what was going on in the Little Rock Auditorium in 1964. The debate in Arkansas between a teacher from a Texas fundamentalist college and a Harvard astronomer and University of Chicago biologist was a stage play recapitulating the history of American rural populism. In the first decades of this century there was an immensely active populism among poor southwestern dirt farmers and miners.[7] The most widely circulated American socialist journal of the time (The Appeal to Reason!) was published not in New York, but in Girard, Kansas, and in the presidential election of 1912 Eugene Debs got more votes in the poorest rural counties of Texas and Oklahoma than he did in the industrial wards of northern cities. Sentiment was extremely strong against the banks and corporations that held the mortgages and sweated the labor of the rural poor, who felt their lives to be in the power of a distant eastern elite. The only spheres of control that seemed to remain to them were family life, a fundamentalist religion, and local education.

This sense of an embattled culture was carried from the southwest to California by the migrations of the Okies and Arkies dispossessed from their ruined farms in the 1930s. There was no serious public threat to their religious and family values until well after the Second World War. Evolution, for example, was not part of the regular biology curriculum when I was a student in 1946 in the New York City high schools, nor was it discussed in school textbooks. In consequence there was no organized creationist movement. Then, in the late 1950s, a national project was begun to bring school science curricula up to date. A group of biologists from elite universities together with science teachers from urban schools produced a new uniform set of biology textbooks, whose publication and dissemination were underwritten by the National Science Foundation. An extensive and successful public relations campaign was undertaken to have these books adopted, and suddenly Darwinian evolution was being taught to children everywhere. The elite culture was now extending its domination by attacking the control that families had maintained over the ideological formation of their children.

The result was a fundamentalist revolt, the invention of "Creation Science," and successful popular pressure on local school boards and state textbook purchasing agencies to revise subversive curricula and boycott blasphemous textbooks. In their parochial hubris, intellectuals call the struggle between cultural relativists and traditionalists in the universities and small circulation journals "The Culture Wars." The real war is between the traditional culture of those who think of themselves as powerless and the rationalizing materialism of the modern Leviathan. There are indeed Two Cultures at Cambridge. One is in the Senior Common Room, and the other is in the Porter's Lodge.

Carl Sagan, like his Canadian counterpart David Suzuki, has devoted extraordinary energy to bringing science to a mass public. In doing so, he is faced with a contradiction for which there is no clear resolution. On the one hand science is urged on us as a model of rational deduction from publicly verifiable facts, freed from the tyranny of unreasoning authority. On the other hand, given the immense extent, inherent complexity, and counterintuitive nature of scientific knowledge, it is impossible for anyone, including non-specialist scientists, to retrace the intellectual paths that lead to scientific conclusions about nature. In the end we must trust the experts and they, in turn, exploit their authority as experts and their rhetorical skills to secure our attention and our belief in things that we do not really understand. Anyone who has ever served as an expert witness in a judicial proceeding knows that the court may spend an inordinate time "qualifying" the expert, who, once qualified, gives testimony that is not meant to be a persuasive argument, but an assertion unchallengeable by anyone except another expert. And, indeed, what else are the courts to do? If the judge, attorneys, and jury could reason out the technical issues from fundamentals, there would be no need of experts.

What is at stake here is a deep problem in democratic self-governance. In Plato's most modern of Dialogues, the Gorgias, there is a struggle between Socrates, with whom we are meant to sympathize, and his opponents, Gorgias and Callicles, over the relative virtues of rhetoric and technical expertise. What Socrates and Gorgias agree on is that the mass of citizens are incompetent to make reasoned decisions on justice and public policy, but that they must be swayed by rhetorical argument or guided by the authority of experts.[8]
Gorgias: "I mean [by the art of rhetoric] the ability to convince by means of speech a jury in a court of justice, members of the Council in their Chamber, voters at a meeting of the Assembly, and any other gathering of citizens, whatever it may be."

Socrates: "When the citizens hold a meeting to appoint medical officers or shipbuilders or any other professional class of person, surely it won't be the orator who advises them then. Obviously in every such election the choice ought to fall on the most expert."[9]

Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.

[1] The Mismeasure of Man (Norton, 1978). See my review in The New York Review, October 22, 1981
[2] Eight Little Piggies: Reflections on Natural History (Norton, 1993)
[3] I.S. Shklovskii and C. Sagan's Intelligent Life in the Universe (Holden Day, 1966) began as a translation of a Russian work by the senior astronomer, Shklovskii, but soon grew into a joint work
[4] See my "The Dream of the Human Genome" in The New York Review, May 28, 1992
[5] Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Harvard University Press, 1975); On Human Nature (Harvard University Press, 1978)
[6] There is, in fact, an array of life forms with both mortal and magical characteristics. The hero of Journey to the West is Monkey, possessed of considerable powers, but potentially vulnerable to men and demons alike
[7] For an illuminating history of this period, see James R. Green, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest 1895-1943 (Louisiana State University Press, 1978)
[8] I am indebted for my appreciation of this basic agreement between the contending parties to Bruno Latour, who allowed me to read an as yet unpublished essay of his on the dialogue
[9] Plato, Gorgias, translated by Walter Hamilton (Penguin, 1960), pp. 28, 32


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