Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another Update

Life has us in its throws of busyness. This coming week we are facing the following:

preparation for a move (Philo)
a move (Philo with help from Script and Biggums)
the starting of a month-long academic field placement (Script)
the commencement of spring semester's climax (Script & Biggums)
paper preparation for a summer in Palestine (Biggums and possibly Script)

Due to the above, and other factors that are not mentioned, our blogging priorities continue to lag. It is likely that a month from now that more time will be available (I speak at least for myself, Script).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update


After a solid week of tropical and subtropical weather, we arrived back on Saturday evening. Chicago does not look the same after our trip, and our tans are rather incongruent with the Chicago weather. We had a remarkable time. We snorkeled, sunbathed, read, beach combed, went on nature excursions, shopped, etc. I am proud to say that I nearly perfected the art of capturing lizards by hand, and I caught two (never mind the five that got away). I also was able to capture hermit crabs and intimately explore seashore fauna on a secluded rocky beach area.

I also had gualty time for thought and reading. I finished two books (The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan and God's Problem by Bart Ehrman) and cherry-picked three chapters out of another (Sacramental Commons by Hart). These books along with my cultural, biological, and geological observations and gatherings made this trip sort of a like a microcosm of the voyage of the Beagle. I look forward to sharing a number of my meditations as soon as I regain control of my school work and the domestic front.

The house and all inhabitants were found in pristine condition upon our arrival home. Again, thank you Philo for offering to house and pet sit last week. I am now trying to attend to sandy laundry while hanging on the lingering scent of sunscreen saturation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dream Off

Zee wrote me on Facebook with the following suggestion for the daily Sound Off: "The Bible has a number of examples of dreams having meaning. Do you think dreams have meaning? If you are a theist do you believe God has ever spoken to you through a dream?"

My understanding is that dreams are the result of one's brain trying to sort through things while you sleep. So, it seems to me that dreams can often have psychological importance, but their meaning comes from within, as opposed to coming from God. But, if a dream seems to have deep significance, and the dreamer has faith in God already, how could I ever convince her that the dream wasn't a message from God?

Using one of the earliest dreams I can remember as an example: I was trapped in a gorilla cage at the zoo, and the gorilla was chasing me around in circles. I saw my mother outside the cage in the distance, so I cried out for her. She merely turned and looked in my direction but did not come to my aid.

I learned not long ago that dreams like this are common among children, and they represent a fear of abandonment. I was four years old when I had this dream and would have just been starting nursery school. This would have been my first time on my own, the first time my mother left me behind.

After I got married, I had several dreams that followed the pattern of one example in particular: I am outside when I spot an impending storm moving in quickly off of a lake; the clouds are marvelous to behold, but menacing at the same time, as clouds associated with severe weather often are. I stare at the lovely clouds for a bit, and then realize that the very dangerous storm is heading right for me. So, I turn to run inside, but my feet won't move quickly enough, as if I were wading through tar.

Like my marriage, the storm was something I thought was pleasant at first, but then realized that it was a dangerous situation. But by the time I realized it, I felt trapped and unable to escape.

In either case, the dream was a meaningful commentary on my life at the time of the dream. If I believed in God, I could attribute that commentary as a message from God. If I didn't believe in God, then I attribute the meaning to my own psyche.

How would you answer Zee's questions? Also, feel free to share any meaningful dreams you may have had.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sound Off 03-03-09

I'm all for things that mean less work for me, so when Tandi suggested making a Sound Off requesting Sound Off suggestions...well, I'm hip.

What questions would you like asked in the next Sound Off.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sound Off 02-28-09

So Scrip and Biggums are on their belated honeymoon, and I wish them the best. My own honeymoon was a bit of a letdown. My now ex-wife wanted to go to Orlando, which didn't excite me all that much, but it wasn't like I had any better ideas. She was very much a type A personality, and I am type B; she wanted everything planned, I was content to go with the flow and be spontaneous. In short, there arose far more arguments than romance; it was a week-long battle of wills set to the tune of "It's a Small World After All".

Today's question:

(If you're married or divorced) How was your honeymoon?
Or...
(Whether you're married or not) What would you consider a perfect honeymoon?

Signing Out Until March 9th...

Hello All,

Biggums and I (Script) are leaving in two hours for a cruise on the Caribbean. It is unlikely that I will have internet access or the time for such access while away. Philo has kindly offered to stay at our place as a resident zoo keeper, so be sure to toss him a thank you on our behalf. With us gone, the number of new posts will probably drop a little, but we will see you upon our return.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sound Off 02-26-09

Is giving stuff up for Lent a Catholic thing? I'm not sure. When I was in middle school, I once gave up TV for Lent. It was a long 40 days when you couldn't watch the "Dukes of Hazzard". Greater love hath no man...

What, if anything, are you doing or giving up for Lent? If nothing, have you ever done or given up something in the past?

Butt[er] Morality

Kyle Butt, a contributor at Apologetics Press an online database of conservative Christian apologetic material, makes a number of pejorative statements that relate to atheism and ethics outside of a theistic framework. His article "Beware of Dawkins' 'Common Sense' starts out with the statement that Richard Dawkins' "atheistic assumptions" make it "impossible to arrive at a legitimate set of ethical judgments." Butt makes the faulty assumption that Dawkins is some type of a figure head for all atheists as he faults atheism in general for the views of Dawkins. This brief review of Butt's article will unveil the unjust criticisms that he makes of Dawkins and atheistic morality while emphasizing the humanity of pseudo-theistic ethics.

In The God Delusion Dawkins makes the point that indoctrinating a child in a religion is a form of mental child abuse. Dawkins then asserts that it is against "common sense" to teach a child to be religious. Regardless of what one's opinion is of Dawkins' position about childhood religious indoctrination, Dawkins unmistakably draws upon "common sense" as a source of morality. To Dawkins, common sense is a sufficient, though fallible guide to making appropriate moral decisions. Dawkins does not posit that common sense is perfect or incapable of misleading. He, as Butts points out, is willing to concede that common sense will sometimes lead us to think or observe the phenomenal in ways that are misleading due to evolved limitations.

Butts asks, "Should we trust our 'common sense' when making moral decisions?" The implied answer is, "No." Butts asserts that it is necessary to look to the "Truth revealed by the Creator" to establish morality. Butts then faults non-absolute moralities, like those of most atheists, for being non-absolute and hence illogical. What Butts fails to acknowledge is that there is no explicit and consistent ethical "Truth" in the form of a comprehensive and relevant ethical workbook for mankind. We have the Pentateuch, a smattering conglomerate of irrelevant laws and backward ethical assumptions. We have the Gospels which build upon and universalize the Jewish Scriptures but which are likewise limited in scope. How does possessing an infallible source of ethics serve one if that source is ethically oblique and often contrary to modern values? How does Butts, for example, establish women suffrage, civil rights, freedom of religion, and freedom of sexual choice from the Bible? These are ethical matters that he accepts, to some degree, but that are often contrary to biblical patterns of relevance to the same.

Infallible authority always borders on abuse. If one is not capable of being critical of a source, because it is deemed infallible, it is impossible to ameliorate an ethical conclusion that is otherwise based on the infallible source. What if, for example, the findings of science and medical research finally catch up with the pastoral world, convincing it that homosexuality is largely genetic and/or predetermined before birth? Will the fundamentalist pastor embrace the ethical implications of this, or will she continue to assert her majority perspective to the un-Constitutional deprivation of others from legal rights? Will she jettison the Bible as she should in the daylight of reason and moral burden? No, she will likely continue to hide herself from the devil's details in the guise of the "Creator's Truth" revealed by an ancient tribal numen and repeated by the homophobic Paul. But, that is another issue.

Butt's position on the absolute "Truth" would be bettered if he had a perspicuous written revelation. The fact is the Bible is so shrouded in interpretive red tape that it is foolish to assert that one actually relies on it for morals. Morals are relative, and it's high time that the Christian believer realizes and acknowledges that her ethics are not in line with the Bible—they exist regardless of the Bible's teaching. She is just as much reliant on "common sense" in moral judgment as the atheist. But, the atheist is in a better position because she is willing to accept that her standards are fallible and open to consideration. Amen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sound Off 02-24-09

People of many stripes--religious fundamentalists, environmentalists, atheists, etc.--feel that humanity is on the pathway to destruction or extinction. Today's question relates to these sentiments.

Today's question: Is humanity on the brink of extinction? How much longer does humanity have, and what will be the reason for the end of humanity?

Obviously, there are no right answers; share what you think is reasonable or what resonates with your gut.

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה – Pre-Marital Sex

In the previous ethical reflection on Pentateuchal legislation, I pointed out the inadmissibility of indirect evidence in biblical jurisprudence. In both testaments it was shown that direct evidence in the form of witnesses is required to indict a man of an accusation. I mention "man" in this previous sentence not to be sexist but rather because there are exceptions when a woman cannot invoke the need for witnesses to protect herself from punishment for promiscuity. One of these cases already covered relates to the "spirit of jealousy" and a trial by ordeal prescribed in Numbers 5 in which the accused wife is made to drink a potentially lethal or sterilizing solution to "determine" her innocence. The man who is suspected of being her accomplice is not required to submit to any trials by ordeal, and, unless there are witnesses to adultery, he gets away without consequence. The next case is prescribed in the following:

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a virgin: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth [the tokens of] the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech [against her], saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these [are the tokens of] my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred [shekels] of silver, and give [them] unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, [and the tokens of] virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

Tokens of Virginity

In case the reader is not familiar with this term, "tokens of virginity" (בְּתוּלִים, plural for virginity) refers to the custom of keeping a stained garment or sheet from the deflowering of a virginal bride. This sheet becomes an acknowledgement that the virgin bride's hymen was intact until the wedding night and hence is deemed an evidence of the bride's virginity. This passage presumes this practice which is otherwise not directly prescribed in the Pentateuch.

The quality of this evidence must be openly questioned. The hymen is a poor attestation to the virginity of a woman. The hymen does not always create a full obstruction and may even remain intact after years of intercourse. Additionally, the hymen will often break or tear from non-sexually related activities. Hence, the hymen is not a reliable barometer of sexual activity. Unfortunate for the Israelite bride, her life may depend on the integrity of her hymen—a membrane which she may have no control over. The admissibility of the "tokens of virginity" in this case represents a break from the general Pentateuchal requirement for direct witnesses and places many a potentially innocent bride at risk with no risk to any potential male accomplice.

The Elders..Shall Chastise Him

This passage does prescribe a punishment for the husband who wrongfully accuses his wife of pre-marital unchastely behavior. He is required to pay off a monetary fine and he is required to maintain his wife without the possibility of divorce. Though, honestly, divorce at this point seems a mercy to the wife, it allowed for her financial security in a patriarchal society where men owned property and the means of production.

Stone Her with Stones

If the "tokens of virginity" cannot be produced to absolve the bride of guilt, she is punished with loss of life. There are a number of telling descriptions here. Christians generally accept that pre-marital sex is forbidden in the Bible. Though they are partially correct in assuming this, few would be willing to accept the biblical qualifications for why the act is evil. This text plainly states that her fault is in bringing shame to her "father's house." Hence, the woman's action is not a violation of personal dignity or value as it is seen today in post-feminist cultures; rather, it is defined by the impact that it has on male or patriarchal prestige. In reference to this passage and others, Brueggemann (2002) states,

…the way in which the laws in Deuteronomy 20:14, 22:13-20, and 24:1-5 "construct" sexual roles of man and woman … are profoundly sexist. While evidences of partnership exist, for the most part the laws articulate the woman as the property of the man, certainly subordinate and without equal entitlement. The prohibition against coveting (Exod. 20:17, Deut. 5:21) thus parallels "wife" to "field," indicating the two prize possessions that are to be honored and respected as the man's possession (p. 192).

In the same vein, it is worth noting that Pentateuchal adultery is qualified by the marital status of the woman, not the man. Brueggeman (2002) notes,

Indeed, adultery committed by a man is not adultery if with an unmarried woman. The act is only adultery if it is committed with the wife of another man, whereby the affront is fundamentally against the husband of the woman… (p. 193).

The Pentateuch is hardly sexually egalitarian. It prescribes one set of standards, albeit both risky and strict, for the woman and then does not apply the same to the man. The married man is able to have sexual relations with any unmarried woman. The married woman must remain exclusive as the property of her one husband. The married woman can be accused at any time of infidelity and punished without direct evidence. The man can only be punished with direct witnesses to his misconduct.

I realize that most Christians distance themselves form the "old Jewish law" and now look to the "law of Christ" as their guide. They are often willing to accept the fact that the Old-Testament God is cruel and sexist, but the Jesus of the Gospel is merciful and egalitarian. I do not buy into this paradigm. If the Paul of the New Testament can declare, "…the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12), then truly Paul would not have accepted such a frame of God as bipolar or schizoid. The God of the Old Testament is the theologically the God of the New Testament. I know that Jews and Christians do not apply Deuteronomy 22:13-21 in their congregations, but I ask biblical theists to consider the ethics of a God who is partial against the plight of the woman. The atheist is morally free from the regressive implications of this passage, where the theist is forced to ignore the same.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sound Off 02-22-09

Today's Question:

Which of the contributors or readers of this blog do you identify with the most?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sound Off 02-21-09

Calling all Bible Scholars!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a Bible quiz. If you get time this weekend, I'd ask you to take a couple of minutes to answer their 50 question. Here's the link:

http://ffrf.org/quiz/bquiz.php. I scored 38 (not bad for an ex-Catholic, right?).

How'd you score? And, how jaded or out-of-context do you feel the correct answers were?

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה – Law of Witnesses

Pentateuchal jurisprudence is characterized by the inadmissibility of indirect or circumstantial evidence. That is, only direct evidence is permitted in legal matters, and this direct evidence is always in the form of two or more witnesses. Notice Deuteronomy 19:15:

One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established.

Clearly, punitive means can only be implemented in the presence direct evidence in the form of witnesses. Hence, any of the sins in the Pentateuch for which there are prescribed community punishments (e.g., Sabbath breaking, adultery, rape, murder, anal intercourse between men, etc.) can only acted against in the event that there are witnesses. Hence, if a murder is committed, the guilty party can only be punished by execution if she was seen committing the murder. If she is found with a "smoking gun" seconds after the crime, such evidence is inadmissible in a Pentateuchal court as indirect and circumstantial.

Rabbinic jurisprudence, building upon the inadmissibility of indirect evidence and the requirement for witnesses, develops extreme case laws as illustrations. In one Talmudic case, a murder is committed with a projectile weapon inside of a house. The supposed guilty party and the victim are in the house, and there are two people outside on opposite sides of the house. One of the outside people observes through a window the supposed murderer trigger the weapon in the direction of the victim. The other outside person observes the victim fall over and die after being impacted by the projectile. Neither observer sees the entire act with the guilty person triggering the weapon and the victim dying. The rabbis ubiquitously rule in this case that the supposed guilty party cannot be tried for murder because both her action and the death of the victim were not witnessed by two witnesses. This is an example of the developments of biblical jurisprudence.

As the scientific understanding of the human psyche has improved, it is well understood that events witnessed while under stress or while experiencing anxiety are quite unreliable. How often is a crime witnessed (e.g., hit-and-run accident) after which the observers' stories exhibit irreconcilable incongruence and extreme malleability? Modern courts now admit indirect evidence such as DNA, credit-card histories, Internet history, etc. to indict a criminal. Pentateuchal and deutero-Pauline jurisprudence (see I Timothy 5:19) do not allow such evidence under theocratic rule.

I recall discussing this with a Messianic lady while I was in the Messianic community while on a walk. For whatever reason, we were discussing rape and the biblical punishment for rape. I brought up the fact that a rape, in biblical law, would require two or more witnesses in order to be punishable. She objected to this requirement from every possible angle. What if there was DNA evidence to indict the guilty? What if the woman testified against the guilty as a sole witness? What if the guilty told someone about it after the fact? In every case this lady's sense of justice cried out against the limited horizons of biblical jurisprudence, finding justice only in a system that would allow indirect evidence and the testimony of one witness. This leads me to the next observation.

In my ongoing account of Pentateuchal ethical blunders, it will be noted that there are three instances in the Bible where non-witnessed based, indirect evidence is admitted to indict a "guilty" party. In all three instances it relates to female promiscuity with the same "evidence" having no relevance to the man. I find it ironic that the Israelites found loop-holes in the need for direct evidence and allowed indirect evidence in situations that relate to male control over female sexuality. I have already addressed one of these ethical blunders in my post on Numbers 5. Many biblical theists are not aware of this the biblical need for direct witnesses in order to indict the guilty. How odd, in my observations, that so many Christians are in support of the biblical death penalty but are unwilling to apply the biblical requirements for witnesses?

The biblical law of witnesses is another example of where biblical ethics are regressive and exhibit limited horizons. This is an example of where freedom from scriptures releases society into higher levels of justice and greater ethical accountability.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sound Off 02-20-09

The Darwin quiz was set up in the format of the game "Two-Truths, One-Lie" with two non-Darwin quotes and one Darwin quote. On a more personal note, we thought it would be fun to play a bit of "Two Truths." So, post three items about yourself. Write two true statements and one untrue. Hint: Mix up the order of your statements.

Today's Challenge:
Two Truths, One Lie

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About God I Learned From Watching "Stargate SG-1"

[The following is re-posted from my old blog at Scriptulicious's request]

Some people just don't get science fiction. They believe sci-fi is escapism for nerds, and they prefer stories that portray "real" characters in "real" conflicts arising from "real" situations. Personally, I love sci-fi, and believe that the majority of science fiction does deal with what's "real". The only difference is sci-fi treats "real" life in an allegorical way. Real issues of the here and now may be projected into a futuristic setting, but they are no less real. Take, for example, one of my all-time favorite sci-fi series: Stargate SG-1.

SG-1 is the story of a top-secret detachment of U.S. Air Force personnel who travel the galaxy through a network of interconnected stargates. These stargates allow instantaneous travel from one point in the galaxy to another by creating a "sub-space wormhole" between two gates. They were created by an ancient race of humans whom we now refer to as The Ancients. The members of SG-1 use the gate system to explore the galaxy, procure alien technologies, and combat the alien enemies of the earth.

The most piquant feature of earth's alien enemies is that they are in the habit of posing as gods. So, you could say that SG-1's prime directive is to protect the earth from false gods. While the false gods of the SG-1 universe included typical pagan deities such as Ra, Athena, Amaterasu, Yu Huang, Ba'al, etc., I propose that, since all gods are false gods, the lessons of SG-1 can be applied to any human religion. Here are some of those lessons:

Miracles Have a Scientific Explanation. Well, at least a science-fictional explanation. I grant you that SG-1, or any other science fiction story for that matter, tends to give some outlandish explanations for improbable things and events. Their scanners will often pick up "strange energy readings" or "an exotic form of radiation"; their laptop computers can interface Windows XP with completely alien operating systems; and, most curiously, the English language evolved identically on hundreds of different planets.

But the point is well taken: there is no magic, there are no miracles. However strange or improbable something might seem, it has a rational explanation. And, given a proper understanding of the scientific principles behind that improbable something, anyone can duplicate its effects. The SG-1 series starts out, in season 1, at a level of technology equal to modern day America. Ten seasons later, after a gradual accumulation of alien science and technology, we earthlings had garnered such miraculous abilities as intergalactic travel, teleportation "beams", force fields, cloaking devices, etc.

A Real God Would Not Concern Himself With Human Affairs. Even heaven is explainable rationally. The Ancients, the race who created the stargates, are conspicuously absent from the SG-1 universe. They were so technologically advanced that they were able to find a way to shed their mortal bodies and exist as energy in another plain of reality. This is a process known as "ascension".

While ascension provided the Ancients with eternal life and extraordinary powers, they followed a strict non-intervention policy with regards to the affairs of us mortals. The key insight of the ascended ancients is that, if all-powerful and all-knowing beings were to meddle in the affairs of ordinary humans, then they would necessarily rob us humans of any freedom to choose our own path. Robbing someone of their free will is immoral, a lesson that Yahweh, Allah, and Jesus seem impervious to.

God Does Not Care About Your Salvation. If ascension is the SG-1 equivalent to heaven, the Ancients, by dint of their no-meddling policy, had no intention of sharing ascension technology with us mortals. But the Ancients are not the only ascended beings in the galaxy. The Ori are another race of ascended beings (read "false gods") in the SG-1 menagerie. Unlike their Ancient cousins, the Ori rather enjoy meddling in human affairs and, what's more, have found a way to augment their power by feeding off the "strange energy" created by human worshippers. So, in order to increase the number of their worshippers, the Ori created a "bible" called The Book of Origin.

The Book of Origin is a collection of charming stories and moral wisdom that promises ascension (heaven) to anyone who follows the Ori religion. This, by the way, is an example of how religion piggybacks our notions of beauty and goodness. By this I mean that art and morality are human creations; but, throughout history, religion has usurped their authorship. Religion attempts to make us believe that god is the source of truth, of goodness, and of beauty.

However, in the hands of a god, truth and beauty have an evil underbelly: they are used as tools to awe and impress and, finally, subjugate humanity. The believer must proselytize her beliefs. If rational non-believers refuse to be proselytized, they are considered enemies of god and must be dealt with severely.

The followers of the Ori crusaded against the heathens in our galaxy. They used superior technology to instill fear and The Book of Origin to instill awe. They murdered those who refused to believe in the Ori as true gods. But the fate of the believer was almost as bad. The Ori had no intentions of ascending their followers.

God Is a Parasite. Not only are false gods not interested in sharing their power with mortals, but belief in god doesn't even benefit humanity. Here we have the most important insight of the SG-1 series: gods are parasites. Besides the Ori, another alien race posing as gods are the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld are a race of intelligent parasites, little snake-like creatures that attach themselves to the base of the brain of a human host and control the host's actions. The idea that a parasite can control the behavior of its host is not a fiction, it actually occurs in nature by means of what's called an extended phenotype.

In his book, The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins shows how an organism's genes can effect not just the organism itself, but the organism's environment as well. We can clearly see this when we look at a beaver dam or a spider's web. But since the environment of a parasite is its host, the parasite's extended phenotype often manifests itself as behavioral changes in its host.

Take, for example the nematomorpha, or horsehair worm. They live in the water as adults, but their larvae must incubate inside the body of a cricket. Once the larva matures, the cricket is driven to drown itself in the nearest body of water where the horsehair worm wriggles out of its host and into its new environment.

Like the Goa'uld, the gods themselves -- or at least the concept of gods -- are like parasites infesting the brains of human hosts and changing their behavior. The beneficiary of this behavioral change is not the host, but the parasite. Like a cricket driven to suicide, the host of a religious belief is driven to deleterious behavior. In the best of circumstances, the host merely wastes time and energy talking to an invisible man, donating hard-earned money to the church, and trolling the internet. But in the worst case scenario, the parasite can drive the host to the ugliest of atrocities: bombing abortion clinics, crusades and jihad, suicide bombings, 9/11.

~Philosobot

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sound Off 02-19-09

The Disevangelists have made a quiz. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and take your best shot. There are 10 "challenges"; each challenge contains one quote from Charles Darwin and two quotes from other people; correctly identify the Darwin quote in each challenge.

Use today's Sound Off to let us know how you scored (I only got 80%) and to give of us feedback.

Credit goes to Scriptulicious for compiling the quiz.

~Philo

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sound Off 02-18-09

William Dembski a leading Intelligent Design advocate made the following statement in his 1999 Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology:

[Scientific naturalism is not] to deny God. But it is to affirm that if God exists, he was marvelously adept at covering his tracks and giving no evidence that he ever interacted with the world. To be sure, there is no logical contradiction for the scientific naturalist to affirm God's existence. But this can be done only by making God a superfluous rider on top of a self-contained account of the world (p. 104).

Scientific naturalism is the unifying methodology of science. Dembski considers scientific naturalism to be a spiritual sickness and idolatry, and the above quote is an example of his critiques theistic evolution. For me, the salience of Dembski's statement is not in its application to theistic evolution but rather in what it suggests about evolution itself.

Dembski faults naturalistic evolution for the manner in which it veils God, making God out to be a "superfluous rider on top of a self-contained … world." Though evolution does not necessarily disprove the existence of God or gods, it does make the supernatural unnecessary. In the light of evolution, God becomes an unnecessary side to naturalistic processes. Dembski maintains that it is possible to maintain belief in God while believing in evolution, but such a belief is lacking in parsimony (p. 114).

Today's question:

What is the relationship between atheism and evolution? Why are some theists able to accept evolution and retain belief in God or the supernatural?

Devious, Dubious, Dogmatic Dembski

I just finished reading William Dembski's 1999 Intelligent Design manifesto entitled Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science & Theology. On the back cover a Rob Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas acclaims this work stating, "William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time…" Dembski echoes this idea throughout the book as he presents himself and the other fledging design theorists (he lists Behe, Wells, Meyer, and Nelson) as the architects of a post-naturalistic science, a science that is liberated from the "intellectual pathology" (p. 120) and "idolatry" (p. 99) of methodological naturalism.

Dembski states, "Although design theorists take the question Which is correct, naturalistic evolution or intelligent design? as a perfectly legitimate question, it is not treated as a legitimate question by the Darwinian establishment" (p. 117). Throughout this work Dembski asserts that "the empirical evidence is in fact weak" (p. 119) for biological evolution. Apparently he assumes that his readers will agree with this assumption. Ironically, even Behe advocate of Intelligent Design (ID) that he is, accepts biological evolution as a fact despite his dispute over the mechanisms. Science does not so much as seek "correctness" as it does utility. Which theory, naturalistic evolution or ID is more robust or more capable of producing fruitful venues of research? Which theory has provided the best framework for answers? Design theory went the way of the Neaderthal in the late 1800's because it failed to provide robust research venues, it failed to make predictions, and it failed to provide frameworks to interpret field findings.

Dembski posits that "design theorists" are capable of asking which model is "correct." As already stated above, this question has been settled. However, the "design theorist" is incapable of asking this question honestly because she is committed to a metaphysical dogma called "creation." Because the "design theorist" believes in creation and in a creator she is limited in her outcomes. She could accept naturalistic evolution by recognizing the non-overlapping nature of faith and reason, yet she does not. She limits her findings to the horizons of her dogma.

Dembski argues that the majority of the American population is against naturalistic evolution. He states,

According to a 1993 Gallup poll, close to 50% of Americans are creationists of a stricter sort, thinking that God specially created human beings; another 40% believe in some form of God-guided evolution; and only 10% are full-blooded Darwinists. It's this 10%, however, that controls the academy (p. 117).

Somehow, Dembski seems to imply, science is directed by democratic vote. He should know better than to argue this way. This statement suggests the he is trying to manipulate his creationist and/or Christian readers into an emotional response to assert their might to make right. Scary thought…

Dembski claims that ID has "no prior religious commitments." He asserts that the religious neutrality of ID is what makes it scientific and different than "scientific creationism" (p. 247). However, Dembski plays his cards earlier; displaying that there are religiously metaphysical boundaries to the religions than can be served by his ID feign "religious neutrality." For example, he categorizes Hinduism as a form of "religious naturalism" (p. 101) for the manner in which it makes its deities subservient to the laws of nature and not outside of the same. He asserts that any form of naturalism leads to idolatry (p. 101), and he defines idolatry in a strictly biblical sense (p. 99). How is ID to be considered religiously neutral when it makes formulates its metaphysics based on the Bible to the exclusion of non-biblical religions?

Despite Dembski's education, he does not seem to be aware of the basic principles of natural selection. He treats "design" in nature as though any sort of naturalistic causation is unreasonable and mathematically impossible. What he so conveniently ignores and fails to mention is that natural selection selects "design." Because of natural selection it is now understood that "design" no longer requires a "designer."


Monday, February 16, 2009

Sound Off 02-17-09

Today's question:

What is your favorite genre of fiction? Why?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sound off 02-16-09

If you aren't interested in reading the autobiographical tale that I just posted, I would still like to hear your feedback on a question posed at the end of the story. Namely:

How could there be such things as fate and prophecy, if we have free will? Do we even have free will?

You might have to be a theist in order to answer this, but I'd ask atheists to take a stab at it, too.

Confiteor

Confiteor is a Latin term meaning "I confess", and I've adopted it as a title for any post that pertains to autobiographical accounts of my "spiritual" journey from indoctrination to deconversion. You might liken posts like this to the "testimonies" of converted Christians, though there's nothing spiritual going on here. I don't know how many I'll write, or how often I'll write them, but I hope you don't find them too boring or self-indulgent, and that they give you some food for thought.

Prima Pars: Prophecy

I was raised Roman Catholic because my older brother didn’t know how to fistfight. That’s basically how it was explained to me, in so many words. According to my mother, Artie frequently got himself beat up in the Cleveland Public School system, which is why she looked into parochial schools for me. I was the “baby” of the family – about 15 years younger than my assertive and self-confident Sis, who would not be able to protect me from bullies as she had for my brother – who is a year older than she.

My family was not Catholic, except for my dad, who was lapsus – he had not darkened the doorway of a church since... well, I don’t remember him ever going to church, unless someone was getting married and, even then, it had to be someone very close. My mom, when asked, described herself as Protestant; I think her church was United Methodist, but I don’t know what she was before the United Methodist church was founded in 1968, two years before I was born. She hardly attended church services either. For the both of them, faith seemed a private matter.

But there are scads of Catholic schools in Cleveland and, still in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, they had all started accepting non-Catholic students. So, for a family like mine, looking for a private school, it was a fairly easy choice. Kindergarten at St. Benedict’s, 1st grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and 2nd-8th at Our Lady of Peace. I’m not sure why so many; I think the Diocese of Cleveland had been closing and consolidating parishes. The tuition bill was footed by my gramma D. She belonged to Eastern Star, the sister sorority of the Freemasons. This was somewhat ironic, because a Catholic can get himself excommunicated for affiliating himself with the Freemasons.

OLP apseBy 2nd grade, Our Lady of Peace (OLP) was the most gorgeous church I had ever seen. It had a baldaquin atop marble pillars. Beneath that was a bronze tabernacle, upon which sat two angel figures face to face, like the Ark of the Covenant. A realistic crucifix seemed to float in air between baldaquin and tabernacle, a grim reminder of the sacrifice required to expiate mankind's sinful nature. Its apse contained a vaulted ceiling on which a mosaic depicted angels dancing around a throne where sat the Madonna and Child in a field of azure strewn with stars. It was beautiful to behold, and for a seven-year-old like me, it fixed the imagination upon the transcendent.

In 2nd grade, most Catholic kids were making their first communion. The boys who made their first communion would eventually be allowed to serve as altar boys. These boys would partake in the strange and mystical rituals of the Catholic Mass beneath that azure vault. Garbed in scarlet cassock and white surplice, they would perform the mysterious tasks of the liturgical rites. The pomp, the circumstance, the occasional magic word in Latin thrown in for good measure. I was jealous, and I wanted in; and that meant, I would have to become a Roman Catholic.

After speaking with my parents, the pastor, Fr. Zepp, was uncertain if a Methodist baptism was valid. At least that’s what he said. So, he performed a special Mass to cover both my baptism and first communion. All for me, and me alone. I remember quite a number of parishioners showing up for this event, which would have been done during the course of a regular Sunday Mass. So, I was the star of the show, the center of all that pageantry. And, with the Blessed Virgin staring down as a witness, the first step of my plan to become an altar boy was completed.

I had learned a couple of things about that day much later in life. First of all, a Methodist baptism meets the requirements for what the Catholic Church would regard as a valid baptism. Consequently, I had been baptized twice, and had two sets of godparents. I can’t see how Fr. Zepp didn’t know this; I had learned it by high school. I suspect he didn't want to be certain I had a proper baptism so much as he wanted to make a show of me: come one, come all, see the amazing son of apostates return to the One True Faith! Religions love to parade their converts about, don’t they?

I didn’t learn the other thing about that day until I was in college. I was going to Borromeo, a now defunct seminary college. I was still in love with the Catholic rites, the mysteries of faith, and the eye-appealing architecture, and my plan was to carry that love to its logical conclusion: the Catholic priesthood. That’s when someone, I forget who, had told me about the “prophecy”. Apparently the nuns of OLP, the ones who witnessed the spectacle of my conversion (if a seven-year-old can be said to have a conversion), regarded it as an omen. They regarded it a miracle that someone so young would embrace the Mother Church, the one true body of Christ on Earth. Such a miracle betokened one of two things: either I would die in childhood, or I would grow up and become a priest.

Whoever told me about this prophecy seemed to believe in it, and was excited that it would come true since, although I failed to die young, I was in the seminary studying to be a priest. She seemed quite happy that prophecies could come true. However, I was quite disturbed. For some reason, I resented that the nuns should say such a thing; I resented that they thought God had such a narrow path set out for me. I had never thought about the implications of prophecy before. But if prophecies come true, can there be such a thing as free will? I wasn’t sure, but I felt like I had to prove the nuns, if not God himself, wrong. From that moment I knew that I most emphatically would not, could not, become a priest.

~Philosobot

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sound Off 02-14-09

In the spirit of the day, today's Sound Off is as follows:

What is love? From where does your definition of love derive?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Darwin Day, 2009

Hello All,

You may have noticed that we do not have any new material posted this morning. Our Darwin Day party was a blast, and we were up past our usual bedtimes. This was no usual party--it involved reading 150-year-old (and older) pericopae, interpretive art, and vocabulary words such as allele, Neaderthal, procession, and inbreeding (thank you Biggums).

We will probably not have our regular Sound Off feature or a post again until tomorrow morning. In the mean time, the following are a few pictures of the event.


Dar (short for "Darwin", our ferret) & Darwin Day ("DD") Cake



Philosobot Holding A Struggling Darwin



Dar (short for "Darling"), Biggums, and Huxley (our other ferret)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sound Off 02-12-09 (Darwin Day)

Today's question does not require any introduction other than that, in honor of Darwin Day, we think it fitting to ask the following:

How would the world be different today had Darwin not been born on February 12, 1809? How would science be different?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sound Off 02-11-09

Since many of the Daily Sound Off questions have elicited responses that are just short of essays, I thought I'd ask one today that can be answered in relatively few words:

What scientific or technological advance or invention would you like to see in your lifetime?

For example, would you hope for something remotely possible, like "the cure for cancer", or perhaps something out of the pages of science fiction like "a servant robot"?

Out of Africa

As we draw near to the bicentennial of the birthdays of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, I, like Scriptulicious and Uruk, wanted to write something about the real implications of our knowledge of evolution, as contrasted with the mendacious and vituperative implications concocted by the likes of Ben Stein, who has alleged that social Darwinism follows necessarily from Darwinism. (See Stein's film Expelled for context, if you can do so without paying). While I certainly hope that everyone still feels outraged by the inhumanity of the Holocaust, Stein seems to me to lack such scruples when he opportunistically uses the memories of the victims of Nazi genocide as an emotive argument for rejecting evolution.

Never mind the fact that, even if social Darwinism necessarily followed from Darwinism, that would not prove that Darwinism isn't true. Such an argument, though valid, is unnecessary because, as it just so happens, there is no causal relationship between the two. Social Darwinism is a flagrant example of what we call the "is-ought fallacy", a faulty inference that, since something is a certain way, we therefore ought to be that certain way. It is a fallacy because we can not logically derive "ought" from "is". If a person observes a bird that is eating some red berries, he would be foolhardy to think that he ought to eat them as well; the red berries could easily be digestible for birds but poisonous to humans. Equally absurd is the suggestion that, since nature selects by a process of "survival of the fittest", humans must therefore model their social policies on the same theme.

Moreover, "survival of the fittest" (a term coined not by Darwin, but by Herbert Spencer) is not even regarded as an accurate description by modern biologists. Does Stein think that scientists have made no further inquiries into the subject of evolution in the 150 years since On the Origin of Species was written? Even if they had not, Darwin himself understood perfectly well that evolution by natural selection is a non-teleological process (that is, a non-goal oriented process). In other words, evolution does not work to bring about a super-species that is superior to all other species; fitness only refers to a species' ability to survive, not its inherent worth. Thus, Scriptulicious's pet ferrets are every bit as well-adapted, and therefore "fit", as Scriptulicious himself.

Finally, consider the following short film, and how every person, every race, every nationality on this planet has a common ancestry. There was actually an Adam and Eve, but the real Adam and Eve differ from their biblical counterparts greatly, indeed they never even knew each other. We inherit our mitochondrial DNA from our mothers, and we can trace markers in our mitochondrial DNA to a "mitochondrial Eve" who lived about 150,000 years ago in modern-day Africa. We inherit our y-chormosome DNA from our fathers, and we can trace markers in our y-chromosome DNA to a "y-chromosme Adam" who lived about 60,000 in Africa. These facts are coupled with archeological evidence of the rise of civilizations and with our knowledge of the historical climatological conditions that would have forced our earliest ancestors to migrate from the cradle of humanity. The multifarious faces of humanity arose as a single species, a single race, from out of Africa.

It is serendipitous, I think, that Lincoln and Darwin share their birthdates. At Gettysburg, Lincoln eloquently stated that "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Thanks to Darwin, we now have a knowledge of evolution and genetics which prove this proposition of equality.


~Philosobot



Monday, February 9, 2009

Sound Off 02-10-09

Yes, I skipped a day.

Scriptulicious was telling me a story about how Biggums was talking to a guy about his religious experiences (feeling a supernatural presence, somehow). Scrip can fill in the details, but apparently she asked the guy about people of other faiths who had such experiences; were their experiences real? He apparently replied that "the mind can play tricks on you". So, she asked how he knew his religious experiences weren't just his mind playing tricks on him, to which he replied that "it was a matter of faith".

Today's questions are for theists, or "recovering" theists, only:

Have you had a religious experience? How do you know it was authentic, and not a delusion? Is there any better answer than "it was a matter of faith"? Are the the religious experiences of people from other faiths valid?

(Don't miss Scrip's new post, which I just bumped down)

The Apostle Paul and Social Mobility

I have rather frequently encountered Christian apologists making the claim that evolution and atheism are the foundations of the institution of slavery in America. Though this claim more often relates to eugenics and social Darwinism, the backbone running through this claim relates to institutional racism specifically in the form of slavery. I disavow social Darwinism as a dogmatic belief system. It is not and never was based on empirical science nor the theory of evolution. It is most unfortunate that Christians are often the party to attempt to make the connection between social Darwinism and evolution because it is Christianity that has a clear historical connection with slavery and later ethnic injustices in America. Before Christians criticize social Darwinism, I think it meet that the Christian consider Paul's advice regarding slaves.

Paul states in I Corinthians 7:17-24 reads:

But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called [being] a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use [it] rather. For he that is called in the Lord, [being] a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, [being] free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

In I Corinthians 7, Paul attempts to dissuade the Corinthians from changing their social status regard to marriage, conversion (Gentiles becoming Jews), and slavery. Paul clarifies that his instructions regarding marriage relate to, "the present distress" (7:26) and so it can be implied that Paul's instructions are limited to the "distress" of his generation. Don't forget that Paul is the earliest writer of the New Testament corpus, and he expected Jesus to return in his lifetime. In the above pericope, Paul instructs his readers to "abide in his [social] calling." Though this passage does not entirely imply that it is wrong to consider buying or obtaining freedom, it does nothing to ameliorate the practice or station of slaves in his readers.

In Colossians 3:22, it is stated:

Servants, obey in all things [your] masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.

Here the author of Colossians (a pseudo-Pauline reworking of Ephesians), maintains that the servant-slave must work for his master as though working for God. This instruction does nothing to address the status of slaves, and it became, in the Christian South, a basis of a code of slave ethics taught by the slave holder to the slave. A similar verse in the more-likely Pauline work of Ephesians 6:5 reiterates this theme.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 offers the following imperative regarding a slave that escapes from a master:

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, [even] among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.

It is interesting that despite the humanness of this passage that Paul in book of Philemon, returns the escaped slave Onesimus to his master. Paul here has an opportune moment to apply a biblical precept and demonstrate a biblical aversion to slavery. However, there is no such biblical aversion to slavery. Abolish was not served by Paul and his soft approach to slavery. His social ethics discourage social mobility and directly encourage the slave to stay where she is—serving the master as though serving God.

My Experience with Dawkins & Non-Belief

Dawkins first entered my library in the early spring of 2004 with the book The Blind Watchmaker. At the time I was in the midst of a crisis of faith regarding biblical depictions of the cosmos, the amassing examples of where the theory of evolution displayed more explanatory utility than various creation models, and the incongruence of the Bible and evolution. In reading creationist materials, Dawkins' name surfaced somewhat frequently as an example of an atheistic evolutionary perspective. I found him during one of my somewhat routine perusal of the science section in a local bookstore, and I brought him home.

The Blind Watchmaker was a mediocre read at the time. I recall attempting to read it cover-to-cover, but I found that it spent more time than I wanted on issues which I felt were peripheral to my concerns about the explanatory functions of evolutionary theory. If I were to read it again, I am sure that I would see it differently, but I recall putting it down not having found what I was looking for. In the April of 2004, Biggums and others may recall that I regained belief. I sent out a grand email apology to a number of congregants who used to meet at my house for Bible study and fellowship (including Biggums). In this email I explained that I had shown a lack of faith in God's character, and I apologized for the lack of ceremonial punctiliousness that this produced (e.g., I did not observe Passover on the correct timing). Bones of Contention and Buried Alive, both creationist books attempting to explain the evidences for human evolution, were on my immediate reading shelf, and I read them in fairly short intervals. The dishonesty and inability of the authors to place the evidence into a creationist model brought me right back to closet disbelief.

In the summer of 2004, I picked up Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale—probably my favorite of Dawkins. This book likely had the most influence on me of any of Dawkins' works. In it he presents case study after case study of present biota and their past analogues, and he places them within the context of the "molecules to man" path of evolution. Even though this work was not intended to inspire non-belief or atheism, I found this work to be particularly convincing. I must state, though, that Dawkins' contribution to my atheism is negligible.

I am not content knowing only one side of a debate. Tooting my own horn here a bit, I am very inquisitive and intellectually curious. I find a great deal of intellectual satisfaction and intrinsic reinforcement through understanding more than one angle of a debate (most people would too, if they tried it). If I had not had the experience that I have had in Christianity, Judaism, and, to a much lesser extent, Islam, I would not have found Dawkins' works to be convincing. My studies in religion have reinforced my intellectual curiosity; they have conditioned me to find intellectual satiation in constructively seeking coherence through confusion—the process of "not knowing" and yet studying until I find a cogent explanation or interpretive model. If I had read Dawkins without my background in religion and "creation science," I would not have been able to accept what he argues. I would have found that I needed to read and consider a lot of evidence from the angles of religion. Having already indoctrinated myself in many angles of religion, I had that, and Dawkins addressed many of these angles in salient way.

To further distance my non-belief from Dawkins, Dawkins was only one of hundreds if not thousands of books that have brought me to where I am today. The one book that has influenced me the most is, no doubt, the Bible. Next to the Bible, creationist literature is the second heftiest contribution to my non-belief. Third, I would ascribe a significant weight to liberal and critical biblical scholarship. The last category of influence might include Dawkins. This category would include the non-creationist science and philosophy literature that I have read. Dawkins is only one of maybe a dozen authors in this final category. Note, I have read much more conservative biblical scholarship and creation science in my life than liberal biblical scholarship or non-creation science.

I take a degree of offense to the role that many attribute to Dawkins in my atheism. I would more likely than not be an atheist today without Dawkins. He is a cherry on top, so to speak, but not the much-more-significant multi-layered cake and frosting which are beneath.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sound Off 02-08-09

Answer the question which applies to you:
  • (Atheists): What would it take to convince you that there is a God?
  • (Theists): What would it take to convince you that there is no God?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sound Off 02-07-09

At the risk of swaying anyone's answer to today's question, I'd like to state up front my view on the religious indoctrination of children. I feel that, if we teach young children that they are evil by nature, and that only through God's word can they be spared a fate worse than death in the fires of Hell, then the likely upshot is we have retarded their moral development. As a human child matures mentally, she is naturally inclined to acquire and fine-tune a sense of moral reasoning; but the admonishments of religious morality ("thou shalt not... or else") represent a less advanced stage of moral development and, since they are presented as absolutes and beyond questioning, they delay or even preempt more advanced stages of development. When such a child reaches adulthood, she may very well be incapable of restraining her "base and evil" nature, should her fragile bubble of faith burst.

Today's question: Is it wrong of adults to indoctrinate children into religion? Why or why not?

The Redemptive Message of Positive Atheism

One of the guiding principles by which we have directed the development of our articles and themes is the avoidance of framing atheism as an alternative dogmatic system to religion. That is, atheism is not an alternative worldview to religion; it is not a dogmatic system. It is a positivist system of reliance on what is empirically known and framing questions that can be answered within the context of the phenomenal world. In addition to this concern, we have also been somewhat discontent with the negative implications of atheism. Atheism is non-belief in God or gods. The atheism platform, so stated, is essentially negative: it is framed on the denial or negation of the supernatural. Though my blog post's title is somewhat a violation of our "no-alternative" axiom, I would like to posit a positive framework for atheism that I feel is essential to the survival and happiness of the human species.

Atheism is a denial of the supernatural. Atheist metaphysics are purely naturalistic—they allow no room for the supernatural; all is material. The most positive assertion for atheism I feel is metaphysical monism. It is metaphysical because it relates to the super-ontology of the cosmos. It is monistic because it denies the presence of pneumatic or supernatural existence. All existence falls into the matter-energy continuum of the cosmos. The matter-energy continuum is monistic; it affirm existence to be in the confines thereof and nowhere else. Metaphysical monism is the key to the redemption and/or preservation of our species.

Religion has conferred on mankind a fundamental sense of dualism in which the human is seen as possessing a bipartite nature consisting an earthly, temporal body and an eternal, ethereal, non-material spirit or soul. This dualistic or dichotomous view of humanity is a deeply ingrained belief in our religious-spiritual lives. Metzner (1996) states, "Spirit, we imagine rises upward, into transcendent realms, whereas nature, which includes bodily sensations and feelings, draws us downward" (p. 65). In this manner the human spirit is deemed to be superior to the "lower nature" or the "flesh." This dualism of the mind or the spirit at war with the flesh is expressed well in Paul's description in Galatians 5:17:

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

So, as Paul asserts, we are besought by two selves, two natures that vie to control the human. On the one hand is the "natural self, which is earthly and sensual, and tends downward," and on the other hand is the "spiritual or mental self, which is airy and ethereal, and tends upward" (Metzner, 1996, p. 66). The human self-ascribed dualism of spirit-matter holds ecologically disastrous consequences for both humanity and all elements of Earth's sensitive biome.

Metzner (1996) states the following:

…this dissociative split in Western humans' identity become clear when we reflect upon the fact that if we feel ourselves mentally and spiritually separate from our own nature (body, instincts, sensations, and so on), then this separation will also be projected outward, so that we think of ourselves as separate from the great realm of nature, the Earth, all around us. If we believe that in order to advance spiritually we have to go against, to inhibit and control, the natural feelings and impulses of our own body, then this same kind of antagonism and control will also be projected outward, supporting the well-known Western 'conquest of nature' ideology (p. 66).

The metaphysical monist is a step ahead of the dualist in this regard. The theory of evolution has broken down the hierarchy of being, the sacred scale on which God sat enthroned and beneath which humanity stands over the animal and plant kingdom as the vicar and image of God. Humanity is part of the animal kingdom; our natures are entirely of the Earth—we are not endowed with a spirit nature that we must pursue and edify. We, metaphysical monists, have the necessary cognitive paradigm to recognize and jettison our inherited life-destroying disassociation between a non-existent supernatural and material.

Metzner, R (1996). The psychopathology of the human-nature relationship. In Roszak, T. and Gomes, M. and Kanner, A. (1996) Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sound off 02-06-09

'If you want to retain readers/commentary at your blog, you may want to disallow referring to them as “typical ignorant Christians who do not think for themselves.” You may also want to suggest that contributors refrain from using the f word and other obscenities. And you wonder why participation has dropped off and you have failed to garner an audience? When those of opposing viewpoints are not accorded respectful consideration, they will go elsewhere for online fellowship.'

Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. They merely post their responses on their own blogs.

Seriously, I would ask everyone to accord respectful consideration to atheist opposing viewpoints, so long as they're sane and rationally justifiable. But as to the "f-word", and other obscenities...As long as I have a say, this blog will never censor other people's comments. We're all adults here.

I offer today's sound off not as a question, but as a command:

Be profane

Go nuts, people. Use this post as a depository for dirty jokes, foreign language vulgarities, slang terms for your favorite body parts, whatever your foul-mouthed little hearts desire. Get it out of your system, you'll feel good about yourself in the morning.

(C'mon, Biggums, this is your big chance to shine!)

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה

Psalm 19:8-11

vs.

Hebrew

English (APV)

8

תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה, מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ; עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה, מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי.

The Torah of YHWH is spotless, restoring the soul; the testimony of YHWH is established, making wise the simple.

9

פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה יְשָׁרִים, מְשַׂמְּחֵי-לֵב; מִצְוַת יְהוָה בָּרָה, מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם.

The precepts of HWH are straight, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of YHWH is pure, enlightening the eyes.

10

יִרְאַת יְהוָה, טְהוֹרָה--עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד: מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה אֱמֶת; צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו.

The fear of YHWH is clean, standing to futurity; the judgments of YHWH are truthful, righteous altogether.

11

הַנֶּחֱמָדִים--מִזָּהָב, וּמִפַּז רָב; וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ, וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים.

More to be desired are they then gold, and much fine gold, and sweeter than honey, and the honey comb.

The present structure of the book of Psalms begins with a meditation in Psalm 1 on the man who meditates on the Torah (Law) of YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah, IaHUaH, etc.). Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and the longest Psalm waxes eloquent as an ode to the qualities of the Torah of YHWH. Psalm 19 is then another ode to the reveled Torah of YHWH. The selection of Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 as celebratory meditations on the Torah are obviously intentional, and they reflect the post-Exilic fascination with the Mosaic Torah.

As an ongoing feature of this blog, I will offer regular posts related to the Torah of YHWH. The Torah is "the Law" in common Christian parlance. Canonically, it is the Pentateuch which consists of the "five books of Moses"--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Jewish terminology, Torah is larger than the canonical corpus or the "Written Law" as it includes the "Oral Law." My dealings with the Torah will relate to the "Written Law." I do this because I have found that the "Oral Law" though a significant source of Jewish identity and culture, is not exegetical. In other words, the "Oral Law" interpretations of the "Written Law" often burden the text with questions and/or legal issues that are not relevant to compositional contexts.

The term "Torah" though often translated as "Law" is better translated as "doctrine," "teaching," or "instruction." The term "Law" often carries negative connotations of legalism or whatnot that a Christian reader often will load it with. It may invoke images, for example, of the inferior, Jewish "old law" replaced with the "law of Christ." In fact the Christian reader might read my posts, critical as they are of Torah ethics, and find it easy to exonerate her God from the negative implications of Torah ethics. She might claim, "Jesus abolished the Law," or some other claim to distance from the "old law." If the Christian truly does believe that the Torah is inspired of God, even though she might believe that it is practically abolished for today, she is still asked to consider why her God would legislate ethically defunct precepts.

Psalm 19 makes the overarching claim that the Torah of YHWH (תּוֹרַת יְהוָה) is perfect or spotless. The term for "perfect" or "spotless" is the same used ceremonially in the Torah when a sacrificial animals is described. The animal must be spotless or without maculation. Torah in 19:8 refers to entire corpus of written Law. The passage from here breaks the Torah into additional categories. They are listed as follows with descriptors:

Testimony of YHWH (עֵדוּת יְהוָה )

established, making wise the simple

Precepts of YHWH (פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה )

straight, rejoicing the heart

Commandment of YHWH(מִצְוַת יְהוָה )

pure, enlightening the eyes

Judgments of YHWH (מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה )

truthful, righteous altogether

In our examination of Pentateuchal or Torah legalities and ethics, I will subject each to the above matrix of perfection, surety (establishment), straightness, purity, and truthfulness. It might just be found that we agree with the statement of "God" in Ezekiel,

וְגַם-אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם, חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים; וּמִשְׁפָּטִים--לֹא יִחְיוּ, בָּהֶם

Wherefore I gave unto them statutes [that were] not good, and judgments by which they should not live.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sound Off 02-05-09

So, speaking of rabbinical laws, please answer today's question. If you know of a serious answer to this, I'd like to hear it. If you don't, feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Why does God hate ham?

Moral Conundrum

Atheism is simply stated not believing in the existence of a God or gods. Any characterizations of atheism or of atheists that may be made beyond this point are not essential to the atheist platform. Yet, many often attribute a number of other ideologies or paradigms to atheism. For example, it is generally assumed that atheism has an inherent bias toward non-capitalistic economic systems. This is not true as demonstrated by the disagreement between Philosobot who leans more in favor of free-market capitalism and me who leans somewhat away from the same. In a similar vein Shermer (2006) defends capitalism as a healthy fitness-inducing economic system based on his application of evolutionary mechanics to economics. There are hence atheist representatives on many points of the political, economic, and moral spectrum. The issue of abortion is no different.

Though it might be immediately assumed that all atheists are in favor of pro-choice, abortion rights to women, this is not the case. As Philosobot and I are sometimes on different ends of the spectrum in our views, we disagree on the the matter of pro-choice or pro-life morality. We disagree on this issue and discuss it from time to time. Despite our polarity on this issue, we do agree that the issue is rather gray. The biblical theist might argue that our lack of a moral compass such as the Bible is the reason for the grayness that we perceive on this matter. To this I respond that the Bible is ironically quite gray on the matter of the moral or legal status of abortion.

Search from cover to cover in the Bible and there will not be found a clear and explicit imperative against abortion. Be she a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, etc. the theist today considers the abortion of a fetus to be the killing or the murder of an unborn person. However, despite the numerable case laws against specific murder situations (e.g., self protection in the dark, self protection in the light, accidental murder, deliberate murder, the finding of a slain person without an accused, the killing of a person by your ox, etc.), never is the issue of abortion addressed. For how outspoken the Christian community is against abortion, the Bible is oddly silent on this matter.

There is, however, one passage in the book of Exodus that touches on ethical priorities related to the modern moral dilemma of abortion. The passage is as follows:

And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:22-25).

The above passage is the only legal case that touches on the legal-ethical status of the unborn in the Pentateuch. Other passages touch on the ceremonial status of the new born--conferring an innately more impure status to the female infant over the male (see Leviticus 12); yet, none but this pericope contain legal-ethical material about the status of the unborn. Note, this passage is unclear. It is not clear as to whether or not the "...yet no harm follow," relates to the mother or to the infant, and a case can be made for both. In fact, the Jews, the masters of Pentateuchal jurisprudence, disagree on this matter.

The nearly uniform voice in Rabbinic interpretation of this passage asserts that the mother is the sole subject of harm. There is no consideration given for the unborn fetus--dead or alive. Philo and a number of Medieval Karaite Jewish interpreters favor the position that the injured party is the premature child. Both schools of interpretation raise significant textual arguments in favor of their positions; however, the text is markedly unclear over the identity of the injured party.

For the amount of attention and contempt that American Christians exhibit toward abortion or the pro-choice platform, it is ironic that the only passage in the Bible possibly touching on the ethical-legal status of the unborn relates to an obscure case law with conditions that frankly do not apply today. We no longer, for example, apply the Lex Talionis of "eye for eye and tooth for tooth" nor can we apply it in the context of modern punitive systems that rely less and less on corporeal punishment.

There are several significant moral issues that Christians adhere to strongly today that have mere hairs of biblical support. There is obvious biblical room for disagreement on the matter of abortion due to the silence of the Bible on the same. This again is an example of where the theist is really left "to lean on his own understanding" because the Bible is a poor and irrelevant ethical workbook. The Bible Christian theist with her Bible must use her own instinct, conditioning, and reasoning to forge her ethical conclusions on the issue of abortion. Maybe she will finally recognize how gray this issue is so that she will stop trying to use the arm of political clout to legislate black-and-white morality into the world of gray.


Review of Julian Huxley and the Idolatry of Evolution

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an online article entitled Julian Huxley and the Idolatry of Evolution by Gary Wolf. From what little I know of Wolf, I understand that he is a sci-fi author who frames his novels as criticisms of over-sized systems of multiculturalism and political correctness. In this article he attempts to characterize evolution as a religious dogma and in so doing he frequently mischaracterizes the scientific ontology of the theory of evolution itself. In this blog post I will make comments to some of Wolf’s mistaken points. Wolf’s article can be viewed here.

Wolf starts out his article stating:

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has come under increasing attack in recent decades within the scientific community, primarily as the result of a dramatic expansion of knowledge in the field of biology.

This idea that the theory of evolution is at the brink of extinction within the academic world has been made and repeated by creationists for nearly seventy years, if not longer (see Longest Running Falsehood). It is one of the longest running pseudo-claims made by “biblical biologists” or creationists of various stripes. Counter-creationists have adequately addressed the creationist claim of evolution’s imminent demise. Wolf’s use of this lie is an immediate slap to his credibility as it suggests that he is overly steeped in one side of the creation-evolution discussion.

Wolf asserts that evolution is idolatry and that the scientific theory has been transformed into a quasi-religious cult—leading to the “erosion of intellectual life in the West.” Wolf states the following:

In the thinking of many Darwinists, evolution has a quasi-mystical quality. We have all seen the evolutionary charts showing the development of creepy-crawly things into mammals; knuckle-dragging apes into modern humans. Man stands at the apex of the evolutionary pyramid.

The charts showing a knuckle-walking primate with a staged progression of intermediates that end with a modern, bipedal, white male were ideologically loaded and suggestive. Many evolutionists have jettisoned the use of such charts as they suggest that evolution is teleological (goal) oriented with humanity at the apex. It is also understood that this chart incorrectly suggests that white males are the apex of evolution vis-à-vis females and non-whites. Furthermore, evolution is not progression as daughter species are not to be seen as “more evolved” than surviving mother species. All species—from the paramecium to the pacaderm are equally evolved or have undergone an equal number of years of selective evolutionary pressures.

Yesterday Philo and I went to the Field Museum in Chicago. On the back of the Lucy display, facing toward the Neandertal and Sapiens displays, was the “knuckle-walker to modern man” icon. It had a large, red circle around it with a line slashed through the center. A comment was made next to it reiterating that the implications of this icon are amiss and the icon should be dismissed science education. I do feel that the icon is a very telling window into the cultural perspectives of its creators, and it can be studied as such; however, it is obviously an inappropriate or inadequate tool for teaching and illustration evolution. And, to the credit of evolutionists, it has been noted in mainstream science that the icon is faulty for over thirty years.

Wolf quotes from the prominent evolutionist advocate-author Lewin who is quoted in Wolf’s article as stating the following:

The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions dislodged humans from a position of centrality in the universe of things. Nevertheless, even if humans are accepted as the product of an evolutionary process in common with other species, it is still possible to view Homo sapiens as a special product of that process and indeed as its ultimate goal.[i]

Wolf highlights on the phrase “ultimate goal” and asks, “The goal of whom or what?” In doing this Wolf has crossed over into an ideological application of evolution that differs from the scientific theory. This ideological application of evolution is the idea of teleology or that evolution moves biota toward a predetermined goal. The scientific principles of evolution demonstrate that the process of evolution is dysteleological, that is, it is not goal oriented. The “end result” of selective pressure is not predetermined by the environment. There are limits to what evolutionary pressure can do, and these limits are generally set by prior adaptations and exaptations that an organism has at its disposal.

Why does Lewin make the “ultimate goal” statement? I do no have Lewin’s work available at the moment, but I am sure that Lewin was attempting to provide a scaffolding to the classical theist reader who believes that the deity has predestined with specificity. Additionally, Lewin only notes that it is possible that Homo sapiens is the end result or “special product” of evolution. Lewin is not dogmatically asserting that humanity is the apex or special product.

Science does not lead to the creation of dogma. Scientific epistemology is reality based, and its methodologies are always in pursuit of falsification. That is, scientific methodology is based on real-world, observable, empirically-obtained information. This information can either confirm or falsify an hypothesis, a postulate, or a theory. To dogmatically assert that humanity is the end, special product of evolution is to step outside of science, it is to make dogma. The dogma of humanity’s apex, or special product stature is not falsified by science, though scientific data does challenge this notion.

Wolf in proceeding in his article, makes two fundamentally false assumptions. First, he assumes that evolution is teleological with a goal in mind. Second, he assumes that humanity is one of the predetermined goals of evolution. By personifying evolution as a goal-selecting and human-oriented force or persona, Wolf is doing with evolution what scientists themselves do not do. Yet, these two personifications of evolution are the foundations of Wolf’s argument that evolution is idolatry. Wolf observes that goal selection and human orientation are attributes of a Judeo-Christian God, and depriving this God of such abilities and giving them to evolution is to make evolution into idolatry. Never mind that this argument is untenable in today’s intellectually-informed environment. I assume that this is why he reaches back to Julian Huxley.

Wolf relies heavily on Julian Huxley for his acceptance of the human-goal teleology of evolution. Though Huxley did often assert that evolution is dysteleological, Huxley often used the “language of progress” to describe evolution from “less evolved” or “primitive” to “more evolved” or “advanced.” Such language, he posted, was the merely the language of appearance, though it does appear likely that Huxley did maintain a belief in the human-centrism of evolution. Huxley’s teleological understanding of evolution was at odds with the scientific understanding of evolution in his day and in ours. Huxley’s understanding is often the way that people uninformed in the mechanics of evolution interpret evolution’s “progress.”

Evolution is a theory, not a law. The theory of evolution explains the mechanics of evolution, and it is open for ongoing discussion, postulation, and falsification. That evolution happened is beyond doubt, yet, the mechanisms are open for review. Furthermore, the mechanics are understood as dysteleological; they are not directed to a goal other than day-to-day survival and reproduction. Evolution is not idolatrous as it is not a replacement God or religion.