Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Jesus, Interrupted.

Bart Erhman is releasing a new book about the contradictions in the bible. If this one is anything as good a read as Misquoting Jesus, it's worth buying. Here's an excerpt of an excerpt from Chapter Four:

Why did the tradition eventually arise that these books were written by apostles and companions of the apostles? In part it was in order to assure readers that they were written by eyewitnesses and companions of eyewitnesses. An eyewitness could be trusted to relate the truth of what actually happened in Jesus' life. But the reality is that eyewitnesses cannot be trusted to give historically accurate accounts. They never could be trusted and can't be trusted still. If eyewitnesses always gave historically accurate accounts, we would have no need for law courts. If we needed to find out what actually happened when a crime was committed, we could just ask someone. Real-life legal cases require multiple eyewitnesses, because eyewitnesses' testimonies differ. If two eyewitnesses in a court of law were to differ as much as Matthew and John, imagine how hard it would be to reach a judgment.

A further reality is that all the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness. Names are attached to the titles of the Gospels ("the Gospel according to Matthew"), but these titles are later additions to the Gospels, provided by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions. That the titles are not original to the Gospels themselves should be clear upon some simple reflection. Whoever wrote Matthew did not call it "The Gospel according to Matthew." The persons who gave it that title are telling you who, in their opinion, wrote it. Authors never title their books "according to."

Moreover, Matthew's Gospel is written completely in the third person, about what "they"—Jesus and the disciples—were doing, never about what "we"—Jesus and the rest of us—were doing. Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about "him," not about "me." Read the account for yourself (Matthew 9:9). There's not a thing in it that would make you suspect the author is talking about himself.

With John it is even more clear. At the end of the Gospel the author says of the "Beloved Disciple": "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). Note how the author differentiates between his source of information, "the disciple who testifies," and himself: "we know that his testimony is true." He/we: this author is not the disciple. He claims to have gotten some of his information from the disciple.

As for the other Gospels, Mark was said to be not a disciple but a companion of Peter, and Luke was a companion of Paul, who also was not a disciple. Even if they had been disciples, it would not guarantee the objectivity or truthfulness of their stories. But in fact none of the writers was an eyewitness, and none of them claims to be.

Who, then, wrote these books?


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"Take your heart's candle and relight it"

Old Man Luedecke sounded off on the radio late one night while shopping hurriedly for a vacation. It was a simple but poignant song called I Quit My Job, about doing what you love:

I quit my Job

Oh bright minds of poverty
Hold on to your heart won liberties
And discard your store bought realities

Don’t let them take, the joy that you make
On your own

Work when you need to maybe
Don’t let ‘em bleed you baby
They do nothing more than feed you lady

Don’t let them take, the joy that you make
On your own

Don’t fuss, don’t fight it no
Take that wrong and right it ho
Can always live on rice and potatoes
Take your heart’s candle and relight it

I quit my Job,
I’m free today

Should be proud of where I am
All my friends work their dreams with their hands
And truly this is the promised land

Don’t kill yourself about making it
Just be takin it easy but be takin it
There’s enough out there who are fakin it

Don’t let them take, the joy that you make
On your own


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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Should tax-exempt churches influence elections?

This is a interesting comment on the erosion of church and state in American politics:

A push for politics in the pulpit

Comments (30)
By Henry Champ

The founding fathers of the United States understood the need for a clear separation of church and state. They even wrote the principle into the U.S. Constitution, hoping to prevent the terrible problems they'd seen when the walls between religion and government were erased in Europe.

Then, 54 years ago, Congress went further. They passed a law that banned political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

It was not designed as a punishment. The rules were set in place to distinguish between religious, educational and charitable institutions – which are entitled to tax exemptions – and political organizations, which are not.

The law was clear. Tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

The law has been tested in the courts many times. It has always been upheld.

Most of these cases came as a result of allegations that some preachers crossed the line.

There have also been efforts in Congress to repeal the law, although they must be described as half-hearted, given that so many lawmakers owe a considerable debt to one religious organization or another. Such efforts have never found significant public support.

Now, there is a new and altogether different challenge.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

The Alliance Defence Fund, based in Arizona, has organized a head-on confrontation. Arguing that clergy have the constitutional right to endorse candidates, the ADF is promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday. So far, several dozen conservative pastors from 20 states have agreed that on Sunday, Sept. 28, they will endorse candidates and political parties during their sermons.

"Many Americans' attitudes and actions toward slavery, child labour, civil rights and even the American revolution itself started in the pews of the nation's churches," the ADF says in its press release. "As pastors preached and taught biblical principles related to those issues and evaluated the politicians who promoted or decried them, their parishioners could decide their own stance in light of the scripture. Starting in 1954, that most basic right was ripped away from our pulpits."

ADF attorney Erik Stanley added: "For so long there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church.… It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society."

Not everyone agrees.

A group called Americans United For Separation of Church and State is fighting back. Their spokesman, Joe Conn, describes Pulpit Freedom Sunday as a "stunt" and says the event is part of an effort by the religious right to build a church network that will put their candidates into office.

Two Ohio-based pastors have also called for hundreds of clergy nationwide to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state. Their lawyer, former IRS official Marcus S. Owens, has urged the IRS to investigate ADF lawyers for "actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that.

"The tax system," he continues, "would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law."

Uncle Sam's quandary

This is a big part of the problem. What does the government do the morning after if 50 or so pastors have ignored the law, figuratively giving the finger to Washington?

There is no question the ADF is counting on some cover from the Bush administration, which has urged faith-based organizations to take a greater public role. Then there are those congressmen and women who have trumpeted their connection to the religious right. And the ADF certainly would be hoping that the more conservative Supreme Court may help.

Yet it's hard to believe the Supreme Court would overturn the IRS ruling. There are the daily examples of abuse by religious leaders who impose orthodoxy through the power of government in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

And if churches, any churches, got their hooks any deeper into elected officials in Washington, can you imagine the effect on social issues, such as sex education, the teaching of creationism in schools, the blockades of abortion clinics and same-sex marriage?

But the ADF has deep pockets and it has promised to be there for any pastor or church that faces legal problems should the IRS attempt to remove tax exemptions.

Another complicating factor, of course: This circus is being held right in the middle of the presidential race.


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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The simple falsehood at the heart of Expelled

PZ Myers gets to the point of why "Expelled! No intelligence allowed." is based on a fallacy:

Category: Creationism
Posted on: March 28, 2008 9:48 PM, by PZ Myers

I have to make this really, really simple for the "Hitler was an evolutionist" dimwits.

There is a central, incredibly obvious fact in Darwin's insight.

If members of a population die or are killed off, they will leave no descendants for subsequent generations.

It isn't razzle-dazzle genius. Any idiot can figure that one out — and many idiots have. Farmers have known it for millennia, when they set aside particularly fruitful seed stock or especially robust farm animals for breeding, and eat the rest. Nazis used this elementary logic when they decided to exterminate Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. Eugenicists used it when they wanted to argue for shifting the distribution of certain properties in a population.

It ain't "Darwinism". It's self-evident, obvious, selbstverständlich, apparent, évidente, transparent. The KKK knows it, farmers know it, dog and horse breeders know it, the Nazis knew it, they didn't need Darwin to spell it out for them. Blaming that on Darwin is awesomely stupid.

Darwin's real contribution, the one that had everyone smacking themselves in the forehead and wondering why they didn't think of it first, was the realization that the natural environment does the killing — that natural selection shapes heredity. The idea of culling populations is not only so easy that a hate-mongering cretin can think of it, but that weather, bacteria, viruses, parasites, predators, etc. have been doing it for eons, with no intelligence required, and that mindless microorganisms have been far greater agents of hereditary change than the worst the Nazis ever accomplished; does Charles Darwin also get the blame for that? Darwin realized that the environment has consequences and can shape the generation-by-generation passage of hereditary traits in populations, and that examination of the natural world reveals that it has been doing exactly that. He realized that ubiquitous forces that are so simple we take them for granted have been quietly and slowly sculpting our heredity since the beginning of life on earth.

When clueless creationists argue that Darwin led to Hitler, or worse, throw away buckets of money making elaborate propaganda films arguing such nonsense, it's worse than inane. It's as if they have completely missed the point of the idea they are damning.


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The world is becoming a safer place.

Steven Pinker delivers a TED talk on the history of violence throughout the world. He shows that violence has been steadily decreasing with civilization and technology, and lays low the myth of a 'happy savage'.


We do have it better than our parents.

Hans Rosling delivers a TED talk full of impressive statistics. His presentation illustrate humanity's progress in improving the quality of life throughout the world.



A transitional fossil between fish and amphibians.

Tiktaalik (pronounced /tɪkˈtaːlɪk/) is a genus of extinct sarcopterygian (lobe-finned) fish from the late Devonian period, with many features akin to those of tetrapods (four-legged animals).[1] It is an example from several lines of ancient sarcopterygian fish developing adaptations to the oxygen-poor shallow-water habitats of its time,[2] which led to the evolution of amphibians. Well-preserved fossils were found in 2004 on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada.

Tiktaalik lived approximately 375 million years ago. Paleontologists suggest that it was an intermediate form between fish such as Panderichthys, which lived about 380 million years ago, and early tetrapods such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, which lived about 365 million years ago. Its mixture of fish and tetrapod characteristics led one of its discoverers, Neil Shubin, to characterize Tiktaalik as a "fishapod" [3][4].