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28 December 2008

NOT a christian Nation, just a Nation of christians

I have been getting into numerous arguments with the local theitards about the nature of the US Government. Sadly they keep bringing up the whole christian Nation lie again and again. It's as if they feel that speaking a lie often enough will somehow make it true. The circles they run in making sure that the First Amendment only apply to them, and no one else are disturbing to say the least...

As such, I present to you an essay from Jim Walker. I can only hope that eventually we will have no need for this essay, and can agree that the government of the United States is secular (notice I didn't say atheist either!).

A few Christian fundamentalists attempt to convince us to return to the Christianity of early America, yet according to the historian, Robert T. Handy, "No more than 10 percent-- probably less-- of Americans in 1800 were members of congregations."

The Founding Fathers, also, rarely practiced Christian orthodoxy. Although they supported the free exercise of any religion, they understood the dangers of religion. Most of them believed in deism and attended Freemasonry lodges. According to John J. Robinson, "Freemasonry had been a powerful force for religious freedom." Freemasons took seriously the principle that men should worship according to their own conscience. Masonry welcomed anyone from any religion or non-religion, as long as they believed in a Supreme Being. Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, Lafayette, and many others accepted Freemasonry.

Treaty of Tripoli

The Constitution reflects our founders views of a secular government, protecting the freedom of any belief or unbelief. The historian, Robert Middlekauff, observed, "the idea that the Constitution expressed a moral view seems absurd. There were no genuine evangelicals in the Convention, and there were no heated declarations of Christian piety."

George Washington

Much of the myth of Washington's alleged Christianity came from Mason Weems influential book, "Life of Washington." The story of the cherry tree comes from this book and it has no historical basis. Weems, a Christian minister portrayed Washington as a devout Christian, yet Washington's own diaries show that he rarely attended Church.

Washington revealed almost nothing to indicate his spiritual frame of mind, hardly a mark of a devout Christian. In his thousands of letters, the name of Jesus Christ never appears. He rarely spoke about his religion, but his Freemasonry experience points to a belief in deism. Washington's initiation occurred at the Fredericksburg Lodge on 4 November 1752, later becoming a Master mason in 1799, and remained a freemason until he died.

To the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789, Washington said that every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."

After Washington's death, Dr. Abercrombie, a friend of his, replied to a Dr. Wilson, who had interrogated him about Washington's religion replied, "Sir, Washington was a Deist."

Thomas Jefferson

Even most Christians do not consider Jefferson a Christian. In many of his letters, he denounced the superstitions of Christianity. He did not believe in spiritual souls, angels or godly miracles. Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, Jefferson did not think him divine, nor did he believe in the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus. In a letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787, he wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god."

Jefferson believed in materialism, reason, and science. He never admitted to any religion but his own. In a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, 25 June 1819, he wrote, "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

John Adams

John Adams John Adams

Adams, a Unitarian, flatly denied the doctrine of eternal damnation. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, he wrote:

"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"

In his letter to Samuel Miller, 8 July 1820, Adams admitted his unbelief of Protestant Calvinism: "I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination."

In his, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], John Adams wrote:

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

". . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."

James Madison

Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

Benjamin Franklin

Although Franklin received religious training, his nature forced him to rebel against the irrational tenets of his parents Christianity. His Autobiography revels his skepticism, "My parents had given me betimes religions impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself.

". . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a through Deist."

In an essay on "Toleration," Franklin wrote:

"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England] and in New England."

Dr. Priestley, an intimate friend of Franklin, wrote of him:

"It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin's general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers" (Priestley's Autobiography)

Thomas Paine

This freethinker and author of several books, influenced more early Americans than any other writer. Although he held Deist beliefs, he wrote in his famous The Age of Reason:

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my church. "

"Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. "

The U.S. Constitution

The most convincing evidence that our government did not ground itself upon Christianity comes from the very document that defines it-- the United States Constitution.

If indeed our Framers had aimed to found a Christian republic, it would seem highly unlikely that they would have forgotten to leave out their Christian intentions in the Supreme law of the land. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution do we have a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any Supreme Being. There occurs only two references to religion and they both use exclusionary wording. The 1st Amendment's says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . ." and in Article VI, Section 3, ". . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Thomas Jefferson interpreted the 1st Amendment in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in January 1, 1802:

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

Some Religious activists try to extricate the concept of separation between church and State by claiming that those words do not occur in the Constitution. Indeed they do not, but neither does it exactly say "freedom of religion," yet the First Amendment implies both.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom:

"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."

James Madison, perhaps the greatest supporter for separation of church and State, and whom many refer to as the father of the Constitution, also held similar views which he expressed in his letter to Edward Livingston, 10 July 1822:

"And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

Today, if ever our government needed proof that the separation of church and State works to ensure the freedom of religion, one only need to look at the plethora of Churches, temples, and shrines that exist in the cities and towns throughout the United States. Only a secular government, divorced from religion could possibly allow such tolerant diversity.

The Declaration of Independence

Many Christians who think of America as founded upon Christianity usually present the Declaration as "proof." The reason appears obvious: the document mentions God. However, the God in the Declaration does not describe Christianity's God. It describes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." This nature's view of God agrees with deist philosophy but any attempt to use the Declaration as a support for Christianity will fail for this reason alone.

Article XI from the Treaty of Tripoli Article XI from the Treaty of Tripoli

More significantly, the Declaration does not represent the law of the land as it came before the Constitution. The Declaration aimed at announcing their separation from Great Britain and listed the various grievances with the "thirteen united States of America." The grievances against Great Britain no longer hold, and we have more than thirteen states. Today, the Declaration represents an important historical document about rebellious intentions against Great Britain at a time before the formation of our independent government. Although the Declaration may have influential power, it may inspire the lofty thoughts of poets, and judges may mention it in their summations, it holds no legal power today. Our presidents, judges and policemen must take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but never to the Declaration of Independence.

Of course the Declaration depicts a great political document, as it aimed at a future government upheld by citizens instead of a religious monarchy. It observed that all men "are created equal" meaning that we all come inborn with the abilities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." The Declaration says nothing about our rights secured by Christianity, nor does it imply anything about a Christian foundation.

Treaty of Tripoli

Unlike governments of the past, the American Fathers set up a government divorced from religion. The establishment of a secular government did not require a reflection to themselves about its origin; they knew this as an unspoken given. However, as the U.S. delved into international affairs, few foreign nations knew about the intentions of America. For this reason, an insight from at a little known but legal document written in the late 1700s explicitly reveals the secular nature of the United States to a foreign nation. Officially called the "Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary," most refer to it as simply the Treaty of Tripoli. In Article 11, it states:

Joel Barlow, U.S. Consul General of Algiers Joel Barlow, U.S. Consul General of Algiers
Copyright National Portait Gallery Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource NY

"As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular government. Barlow, along with his associate, Captain Richard O'Brien, et al, translated and modified the Arabic version of the treaty into English. From this came the added Amendment 11. Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate. The Senate approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797.

So here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all treaties do according to the Constitution (see Article VI, Sect. 2).

Although the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the U.S. government.

Common Law

Signers of the Treaty of Tripoli Signers of the Treaty of Tripoli

According to the Constitution's 7th Amendment: "In suits at common law. . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved; and no fact, tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States than according to the rules of the common law."

Here, many Christians believe that common law came from Christian foundations and therefore the Constitution derives from it. They use various quotes from Supreme Court Justices proclaiming that Christianity came as part of the laws of England, and therefore from its common law heritage.

But one of our principle Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, elaborated about the history of common law in his letter to Thomas Cooper on February 10, 1814:

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law. . . This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.

". . . if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

In the same letter, Jefferson examined how the error spread about Christianity and common law. Jefferson realized that a misinterpretation had occurred with a Latin term by Prisot, "*ancien scripture*," in reference to common law history. The term meant "ancient scripture" but people had incorrectly interpreted it to mean "Holy Scripture," thus spreading the myth that common law came from the Bible. Jefferson writes:

"And Blackstone repeats, in the words of Sir Matthew Hale, that 'Christianity is part of the laws of England,' citing Ventris and Strange ubi surpa. 4. Blackst. 59. Lord Mansfield qualifies it a little by saying that 'The essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law." In the case of the Chamberlain of London v. Evans, 1767. But he cites no authority, and leaves us at our peril to find out what, in the opinion of the judge, and according to the measure of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion obligatory on us as a part of the common law."

Thus we find this string of authorities, when examined to the beginning, all hanging on the same hook, a perverted expression of Priscot's, or on one another, or nobody."

The Encyclopedia Britannica, also describes the Saxon origin and adds: "The nature of the new common law was at first much influenced by the principles of Roman law, but later it developed more and more along independent lines." Also prominent among the characteristics that derived out of common law include the institution of the jury, and the right to speedy trial.

Christian Sources

Virtually all the evidence that attempts to connect a foundation of Christianity upon the government rests mainly on quotes and opinions from a few of the colonial statesmen who had professed a belief in Christianity. Sometimes the quotes come from their youth before their introduction to Enlightenment ideas or simply from personal beliefs. But statements of beliefs, by themselves, say nothing about Christianity as the source of the U.S. government.

There did occur, however, some who wished a connection between church and State. Patrick Henry, for example, proposed a tax to help sustain "some form of Christian worship" for the state of Virginia. But Jefferson and other statesmen did not agree. In 1779, Jefferson introduced a bill for the Statute for Religious Freedom which became Virginia law. Jefferson designed this law to completely separate religion from government. None of Henry's Christian views ever got introduced into Virginia's or U.S. Government law.

Unfortunately, later developments in our government have clouded early history. The original Pledge of Allegiance, authored by Francis Bellamy in 1892 did not contain the words "under God." Not until June 1954 did those words appear in the Allegiance. The United States currency never had "In God We Trust" printed on money until after the Civil War. Many Christians who visit historical monuments and see the word "God" inscribed in stone, automatically impart their own personal God of Christianity, without understanding the Framers Deist context.

In the Supreme Court's 1892 Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, Justice David Brewer wrote that "this is a Christian nation." Many Christians use this as evidence. However, Brewer wrote this in dicta, as a personal opinion only and does not serve as a legal pronouncement. Later Brewer felt obliged to explain himself: "But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all."

Conclusion

The Framers derived an independent government out of Enlightenment thinking against the grievances caused by Great Britain. Our Founders paid little heed to political beliefs about Christianity. The 1st Amendment stands as the bulkhead against an establishment of religion and at the same time insures the free expression of any belief. The Treaty of Tripoli, an instrument of the Constitution, clearly stated our non-Christian foundation. We inherited common law from Great Britain which derived from pre-Christian Saxons rather than from Biblical scripture.

Today we have powerful Christian organizations who work to spread historical myths about early America and attempt to bring a Christian theocracy to the government. If this ever happens, then indeed, we will have ignored the lessons from history. Fortunately, most liberal Christians today agree with the principles of separation of church and State, just as they did in early America.

"They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point"

-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835


Bibliography

Borden, Morton, "Jews, Turks, and Infidels," The University of North Carolina Press, 1984

Boston, Robert, "Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church & State, "Prometheus Books, 1993

Boston, F. Andrews, et al, "The Writings of George Washington," (12 Vols.), Charleston, S.C., 1833-37

Fitzpatrick, John C., ed., "The Diaries of George Washington, 1748-1799," Houghton Mifflin Company: Published for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, 1925

Gay, Kathlyn, "Church and State,"The Millbrook Press," 1992

Handy, Robert, T., "A History of the Churches in U.S. and Canada," New York: Oxford University Press, 1977

Hayes, Judith, "All those Christian Presidents," [The American Rationalist, March/April 1997]

Kock, Adrienne, ed., "The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society," New York: George Braziller, 1965

Mapp, Jr, Alf J., "Thomas Jefferson," Madison Books, 1987

Middlekauff, Robert, "The Glorious Cause," Oxford University Press, 1982

Miller, Hunter, ed., "Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America," Vol. 2, Documents 1-40: 1776-1818, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1931

Peterson, Merrill D., "Thomas Jefferson Writings," The Library of America, 1984

Remsburg, John E., "Six Historic Americans," The Truth Seeker Company, New York

Robinson, John J., "Born in Blood," M. Evans & Company, New York, 1989

Roche, O.I.A., ed, "The Jefferson Bible: with the Annotated Commentaries on Religion of Thomas Jefferson," Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1964

Seldes, George, ed., "The Great Quotations," Pocket Books, New York, 1967

Sweet, William W., "Revivalism in America, its origin, growth and decline," C. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1944

Woodress, James, "A Yankee's Odyssey, the Life of Joel Barlow," J. P. Lippincott Co., 1958

Encyclopedia sources:

Common law: Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 6, "William Benton, Publisher, 1969

Declaration of Independence: MicroSoft Encarta 1996 Encyclopedia, MicroSoft Corp., Funk & Wagnalls Corporation.

In God We Trust: MicroSoft Encarta 1996 Encyclopedia, MicroSoft Corp., Funk & Wagnalls Corporation.

Pledge of Allegiance: Academic American Encyclopedia, Vol. 15, Grolier Incorporated, Danbury, Conn., 1988

Special thanks to Ed Buckner, Robert Boston, Selena Brewington and Lion G. Miles, for help in providing me with source materials.

26 December 2008

A list of other made up people also not born on December 25th


Well, it's that time of year again where people get into a fervor over some imaginary guy born on the 25th of December. Without going into all the myriad of problems with the Jebus myth (i.e. No census, Herod already dead, no wisemen and if they had followed a star as described they would have ended up in India, accounts are written about a 100 years afterwards, lack of evidence, etc), I'd like to share some OTHER dieties that were also NOT born on the 25th.

Also, the link in the title is an interesting read, as well as a few others. I know that generally very few people read this blog, so for the most part it's really a way for me to collect links that I want to have easier recall to, such as this one. I also want to thank my "internet friend" Daniel Florien for this particular blog entry. It's really taken from his page, which in turn is from another friend of his. I've just moved a couple things around and added some slight commentary.

Okay, now on to the list!

Horus c. 3000 BCE
--born of the virgin Isis-Merion December 25 in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men.
--his earthly father was named “Seb” (“Joseph”).
--was of royal descent.
--at 12, he was a child teacher in the Temple, and at 30, he was baptized having disappeared for 18 years.
--baptized in the river Eridanus or Iarutana (Jordan) by “Anup the Baptizer” (“John the Baptist”), who was decapitated.
--had 12 disciples, two of who were his “witnesses” and were named “Anup” and “Aan” (the two “Johns”).
--performed miracles, exorcised demons and raised El-Azarus (“El-Osiris”), from the dead.
--walked on water.
--his personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever-becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.” He was thus called “Holy Child.”
--delivered a “Sermon on the Mount” and his followers recounted the “Sayings of Iusa.”
--was transfigured on the Mount.
--crucified between two thieves, buried for three days in a tomb, and resurrected.
--he was also the “Way, the Truth, the Light,” “Messiah,” “God’s Anointed Son,” “the “Son of Man,” the “Good Shepherd,” the “Lamb of God,” the “Word made flesh,” the “Word of Truth,” etc.
--he was “the Fisher” and was associated with the Fish (“Ichthys”), Lamb and Lion.
--came to fulfill the Law.
--called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One.”
--was supposed to reign one thousand years.
Inscribed about 3,500 years ago on the walls of the Temple at Luxor were images of the Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kneph the “Holy Ghost,” impregnating the virgin; and with the infant being attended by three kings, or magi, bearing gifts. In addition, in the catacombs at Rome are pictures of the baby Horus being held by the virgin mother Isis—the original “Madonna and Child.”

Osiris c. 3000 BCE
--Father of Horus, considered to be part of a triune godhead -- Osiris, Horus and Isis.
--Osiris was identified with nearly every other Egyptian god and was on the way to absorbing them all. He had well over 200 divine names.
--He was called the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods.
--He was the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who “made men and women to be born again.” --From first to last, Osiris was to the Egyptians the god-man who suffered, an died, and rose again, and reigned eternally in heaven. They believed that they would inherit eternal life, just as he had done .
--Osiris’s coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris’s star in the east, Sirius (Sothis), significator of his birth . . .
--Osiris was a prototypical Messiah, as well as a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the “plant of Truth.” . . .
--The cult of Osiris contributed a number of ideas and phrases to the Bible. The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the “green pastures” and “still waters” of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul to the body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death (the Tuat).
--The Lord’s Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning, “O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven.” Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer.

Attis of Phrygia c.1400 BCE
-- born on December 25 of the Virgin Nana (or sometimes Cybelem).
-- considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind.
-- his body as bread was eaten by his worshippers
-- his priests were “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.”
-- he was both the Divine Son and the Father.
-- he was crucified on a tree on “Black Friday,” from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth.
-- descended into the underworld for three days.
-- was resurrected on March 25 (as tradition held of Jesus) as the Most High God. -- reborn as the evergreen pine.

Zoroaster/Zarathustra c. 1000 BCE or earlier
--born of a 15-year-old virgin, Dughdhava and “immaculate conception by a ray of divine reason.”
--he was baptized in a river.
--in his youth he astounded wise men with his wisdom.
--was tempted in the wilderness by the devil.
--began his ministry at age 30 wandered around with twelve followers.
--baptized with water, fire and “holy wind.”
--cast out demons and restored the sight to a blind man.
--taught about heaven and hell, and revealed mysteries, including resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse.
--had a sacred cup or grail.
--was slain.
--his religion had a eucharist.
--he was the “Word made flesh.”
--followers expected a “second coming” in the virgin-born Saoshynt or Savior, who is to come in 2341 CE and begin his ministry at age 30, ushering in a golden age.

Mithra of Persia c. 600 BCE
--born of a virgin on December 25 in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds bearing gifts.
--considered a great traveling teacher and master.
--had 12 companions or disciples.
--his followers were promised immortality.
--performed miracles.
--the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
-- buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
--resurrection was celebrated every year.
--called “the Good Shepherd” and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
--considered the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” [Word] “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
--sacred day was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
--had his principal festival on what was later to become Easter.
--his religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”
--his annual sacrifice is the Passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement of pledge of moral and physical regeneration.
ALSO, the Vatican is built upon the papacy of Mithra, and the Christian hierarchy is nearly identical to the Mithraic version it replaced . . . Virtually all of the elements of the Catholic ritual, from miter to wafer to altar to doxology, are directly taken from earlier Pagan mystery religions.

Heracles c. 800 BCE
--born on December 25 to a virgin who refrained from sex with her until her God-begotten child was born.
--sacrificed at the spring equinox.

Dionysus c. 186 BCE
--born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger.
--a traveling teacher who performed miracles.
--rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.
-- a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification.
--rose from the dead on March 25.
--the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine.
--called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.”
--considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.”
--identified with the Ram or Lamb.
--His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” indicates he was hung on a tree or crucified.

Tammuz c. 400 BCE
--born to a virgin, named Mylitta, on December 25

Adonis c. 200 BCE
--born on December 25 was son of the virgin Myrha. (Almost certainly based on Tammuz).

Hermes
--born on December 25 was the son of the virgin Maia,
--member of a holy trinity Hermes Tris-Megistus.

Bacchus
--born on December 25, was crucified in 200 BCE.


Prometheus
--born on December 25, descended from heaven as a god incarnate as man, to save mankind, and was crucified, suffered, and was redeemed from death.

Some have claimed that Buddha was born on the 25th of December, which is not true from all I know of that philosophy. However, I can see how tempting it may be to add him in since he has started quite a philosophical movement, and let's face it, this is also a legend the christians stole from for a great deal of their philosophy, so here are a few things about him:
Buddha (Siddartha Gautama) c. 563 BCE
--born of the Virgin Maya (“the Queen of Heaven”)
-- announced by a star and attended by wise men presenting costly gifts.
--at his birth Brahma angels sang hymns.
--tempted by Mara, the Evil One, while fasting, but overcame the temptation, putting the Evil One to flight.
--taught in temple at age 12 and was able to match the wise religious scholars in their understanding.
-- He healed the sick; fed 500 from a small basket of cakes.
--walked on water.
--Buddha's disciple wanted to hear his lord preach so he started to cross a stream – he doubted and started to sink but he built up his faith and continued to walk across the water.
--came to fulfill the law and preached the establishment of a kingdom of righteousness.
--He obliged followers to live in poverty and to renounce the world.
--In his final years, Buddha was said to have 'crushed a serpent's head' and to have been transfigured on a mount ...'
--It was Buddha, not Christ, who first said: 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'

The same claim of the 25th is attributed to Krishna, however I think this one has an accepted birthday of sometime in July. Again I only copy this over because of some other interesting similarities that may have been borrowed (or just outright stolen):
Krishna c. 1400 BCE (possibly as early as 5771 BCE)
-- born of the Virgin Devaki (“Divine One”)
--his earthly father was a carpenter, off in the city paying tax when K. was born.
--birth was signaled by a star in the east and attended by angels and shepherds, at which time he was presented with spices.
--heavenly hosts danced and sang at his birth.
--persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants.
--anointed on the head with oil by a woman whom he healed.
--depicted as having his foot on the head of a serpent.
--worked miracles and wonders, raising the dead and healing lepers, the deaf and the blind.
--used parables to teach the people about charity and love, and he “lived poor and he loved the poor.”
--castigated the clergy, charging them with “ambition and hypocrisy . . . Tradition says he fell victim to their vengeance.”
--his “beloved disciple” was Arjuina or Ar-jouan (Jouhn).
--transfigured in front of his disciples.
--gave his twelve disciples the ability to work miracles.
--his path was “strewn with branches.”
--died on a tree or was crucified between two thieves.
--killed around the age of 30, and the sun darkened at his death.
--rose from the dead and ascended to heaven “in the sight of all men.”
--depicted on a cross with nail-holes in his feet, as well as having a heart emblem on his clothing.
--the “lion of the tribe of Saki.”
--called the “Shepherd of God” and considered the “Redeemer,” “Firstborn,” “Sin-Bearer,” “Liberator,” “Universal Word.”
--deemed the “Son of God” and “our Lord and Savior,” who came to earth to die for man’s salvation.
--the second person of the Trinity.
--his disciples purportedly bestowed upon him the title “Jezeus,” or “Jeseus,” meaning “pure essence.”

I guess the myth persists for so long because it just keeps getting recycled! It's like Hollywood is recycling all the good stories out there without even trying to stay with the original version?

17 December 2008

Santa vs. God

Just for fun during the holidays. I got this from a fellow blogee named Daniel Florien (you can reach his page by clicking the link in the title of this post). While I have always been atheist, he was at one time a devout christian, so he has quite the unique perspective. I just found this funny really.



Although, if you really examine the mythology, I'd say that Santa has a huge advantage over that god fellow. Santa sure as heck seems a lot nicer. The worst you get from him is having a lump of coal. That god fellow is decidedly much more unpleasant!

16 December 2008

The Big 3: Kicking Their Own Asses


Is it just me, or does it seem like the Big 3 execs went down to D.C. without even understanding why they are bleeding money like a victim of a threshing machine accident? Sure, they can build a good luxury car, and some baudacious trucks, but is that what consumers really want? With the way the economy is, can they even afford luxury vehicles? And when gas was at $4+/gallon, wouldn't fuel economy frighten consumers? Sure, gas is comparitavely cheap now, but I doubt it will actually STAY that way.

And the whole time, the Big 3 only did one thing: The SAME thing. It used to be that American industry was adaptable and flexible. Now it's a giant monolith that figures that reality needs to adapt to the company, not the other way around. Sadly, this mode of thought seems to affect not just the industry sector, but many other sectors that are suffering right now, and they can't think of any way to recover. Of course, with Congress handing out money like it was some sort of magic pixie dust, the situation isn't really doing anything to correct itself. If anything, the bailouts only further entrench the old way of doing things as some sort of viable "alternative" to adapting.

If you look at the attached chart, you can see that one thing the US is great at is just accepting no need to improve. The projection for California is there really as a cautionary tale. Even though California wants to impose the more fuel efficient standards, the US Auto Industry is fighting them, saying it will make them non-competitive against other countries. Non-competitive at what? Sucking? Even China has better fuel efficiency goals than California, and the US by far. Who exactly will want to our cars? And whose cars will you want to buy should fuel prices go back up?

Fuel economy aside, the average consumer would like to get some value for their money when they buy a car. Again, in this economy, most can't afford the luxury cars, so we are left looking at an economical vehicle. Have you driven an "economical" US made vehicle lately? I am more reminded of the Yugo than anything else at this point.

I used to be a "Buy American" kind of guy. I really enjoyed my cars, and drove the snot out of them. I didn't just buy a car, I owned it. Lately I can't invest that kind of money into something that doesn't inspire me, let alone function as well as other products on the market. So while the Big 3 execs expect different results from the same actions, I'm adapting, and got myself some fuel efficient cars that hardly ever need to go to the shop. They may not be the classic AMERICAN car, but they are good, solid vehicles that do what I ask of them. Who could really ask for more?

08 December 2008

Carl Sagan Quotes


I have been rereading Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World; Science as a Candle in the Dark, and I am just reminded that he was quite eloquent. Not only at expressing a wonder for science, but also at why some delusions just aren't worth clinging to. So here is a collection of some of his quotes that I am particularly fond of. If you have the inclination, please read the book too. If it's any consolation, I think he treats religion with a great deal more respect than I ever would.

#17 is one of my personal favorites. It really drives at the heart of the snakeoil business of religion.
  1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. [Carl Sagan]


  2. Such reports persist and proliferate because they sell. And they sell, I think, because there are so many of us who want so badly to be jolted out of our humdrum lives, to rekindle that sense of wonder we remember from childhood, and also, for a few of the stories, to be able, really and truly, to believe--in Someone older, smarter, and wiser who is looking out for us. Faith is clearly not enough for many people. They crave hard evidence, scientific proof. They long for the scientific seal of approval, but are unwilling to put up with the rigorous standards of evidence that impart credibility to that seal. [Carl Sagan]


  3. One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. it is simply too painful to acknowledge -- even to ourselves -- that we've been so credulous. (So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.) [Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection]


  4. Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us -- and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along. [Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection]


  5. I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true. [Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism]


  6. In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. [Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP keynote address]


  7. The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity. [Carl Sagan]


  8. You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985]


  9. A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. [Carl Sagan, Contact, pg 244]


  10. The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can't all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It's a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 162. ]

  11. What I'm saying is, if God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 164.]


  12. Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 166.]


  13. You see, the religious people -- most of them -- really think this planet is an experiment. That's what their beliefs come down to. Some god or other is always fixing and poking, messing around with tradesmen's wives, giving tablets on mountains, commanding you to mutilate your children, telling people what words they can say and what words they can't say, making people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, and like that. Why can't the gods leave well enough alone? All this intervention speaks of incompetence. If God didn't want Lot's wife to look back, why didn't he make her obedient, so she'd do what her husband told her? Or if he hadn't made Lot such a shithead, maybe she would've listened to him more. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn't he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why's he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there's one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He's not good at design, he's not good at execution. He'd be out of business if there was any competition. [Sol Hadden in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 285.]


  14. The Earth is an object lesson for the apprentice gods. 'If you really screw up,' they get told, 'you'll make something like Earth.' [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 286.]


  15. Part of my message is that we're not central to the purpose of the Cosmos. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), p. 420.]


  16. (When asked merely if they accept evolution, 45 percent of Americans say yes. The figure is 70 percent in China.) When the movie Jurassic Park was shown in Israel, it was condemned by some Orthodox rabbis because it accepted evolution and because it taught that dinosaurs lived a hundred million years ago--when, as is plainly stated at every Rosh Hashonhan and every Jewish wedding ceremony, the Universe is less than 6,000 years old. [Carl Sagan, _The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark_, p. 325]


  17. I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. [Carl Sagan, 1996 in his article In the Valley of the Shadow Parade Magazine Also, Billions and Billions p. 215]


  18. Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy. [Carl Sagan]


  19. In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed? [Carl Sagan, Cosmos, page 257]


  20. Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense. [Carl Sagan]


  21. Many statements about God are confidently made by theologians on grounds that today at least sound specious. Thomas Aquinas claimed to prove that God cannot make another God, or commit suicide, or make a man without a soul, or even make a triangle whose interior angles do not equal 180 degrees. But Bolyai and Lobachevsky were able to accomplish this last feat (on a curved surface) in the nineteenth century, and they were not even approximately gods. [Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain]


  22. We should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. [Carl Sagan, on secular morality]


  23. One prominent American religion confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914. Well, 1914 has come and gone, and - whole the events of that year were certainly of some importance - the world did not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended. There are at least three responses that an organized religion can make in the face of such a failed and fundamental prophecy. They could have said, Oh, did we say '1914'? So sorry, we meant '2014'. A slight error in calculation. Hope you weren't inconvinenced in any way. But they did not. They could have said, Well, the world would have ended, except we prayed very hard and interceded with God so He spared the Earth. But they did not. Instead, the did something much more ingenious. They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn't noticed, that was our lookout. It is astonishing in the fact of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all. But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough- mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration was needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry. [Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain]


  24. In a democracy, opinions that upset everyone are sometimes exactly what we need. We should be teaching our children the scientific method and the Bill of Rights. [Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan]


  25. It means nothing to be open to a proposition we don't understand. [Carl Sagan]


  26. There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny. [Carl Sagan, Cosmos television series]


  27. I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]

  28. If we're capable of conjuring up terrifying monsters in childhood, why shouldn't some of us, at least on occasion, be able to fantasize something similar, something truly horrifying, a shared delusion, as adults? [Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, p. 109]


  29. If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, p. 204 quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, by James A. Haught, Prometheus Books, 1996]


  30. If you want to save your child from polio, you can pray or you can inoculate....Try science. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, p. 30, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, by James A. Haught, Prometheus Books, 1996]


  31. Since World War II, Japan has spawned enormous numbers of new religions featuring the supernatural.... In Thailand, diseases are treated with pills manufactured from pulverized sacred Scripture. Witches are today being burned in South Africa.... The worldwide TM [Transcendental Meditation] organization has an estimated valuation of $3 billion. For a fee, they promise to make you invisible, to enable you to fly. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, p. 16, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt]


  32. In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century, and inquisitional torture was not abolished in the Catholic Church until 1816. The last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft and the necessity of punishment has been the Christian churches. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, p. 413, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, by James A. Haught, Prometheus Books, 1996]


  33. If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?....For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  34. At the extremes it is difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from rigid, doctrinaire religion. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  35. Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our own ignorance about ourselves. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  36. Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  37. Is it fair to be suspicious of an entire profession because of a few bad apples? There are at least two important differences, it seems to me. First, no one doubts that science actually works, whatever mistaken and fraudulent claim may from time to time be offered. But whether there are any miraculous cures from faith-healing, beyond the body's own ability to cure itself, is very much at issue. Secondly, the expose' of fraud and error in science is made almost exclusively by science. But the exposure of fraud and error in faith-healing is almost never done by other faith-healers. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  38. Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World]


  39. Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]


  40. Virtually every major technological advance in the history of the human species-- back to the invention of stone tools and the domestication of fire-- has been ethically ambiguous. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]

01 December 2008

Is science faith-based?

No.

Oh, you want details? OK then.

If you read any antiscience screeds, at some point or another most will claim that science is based on faith just as much as religion is. For example, the horrific Answers in Genesis website has this to say about science:
Much of the problem stems from the different starting points of our divergence with Darwinists. Everyone, scientist or not, must start their quests for knowledge with some unprovable axiom—some a priori belief on which they sort through experience and deduce other truths. This starting point, whatever it is, can only be accepted by faith; eventually, in each belief system, there must be some unprovable, presupposed foundation for reasoning (since an infinite regression is impossible).
This is completely wrong. It shows (unsurprisingly) an utter misunderstanding of how science works. Science is not faith-based, and here’s why.

The scientific method makes one assumption, and one assumption only: the Universe obeys a set of rules. That’s it. There is one corollary, and that is that if the Universe follows these rules, then those rules can be deduced by observing the way Universe behaves. This follows naturally; if it obeys the rules, then the rules must be revealed by that behavior.

A simple example: we see objects going around the Sun. The motion appears to follow some rules: the orbits are conic sections (ellipses, circles, parabolas, hyperbolas), the objects move faster when they are closer to the Sun, if they move too quickly they can escape forever, and so on.

From these observations we can apply mathematical equations to describe those motions, and then use that math to predict where a given object will be at some future date. Guess what? It works. It works so well that we can shoot probes at objects billions of kilometers away and still nail the target to phenomenal accuracy. This supports our conclusion that the math is correct. This in turn strongly implies that the Universe is following its own rules, and that we can figure them out.

Now, of course that is a very simple example, and is not meant to be complete, but it gives you an idea of how this works. Now think on this: the computer you are reading this on is entirely due to science. The circuits are the end result of decades, centuries of exploration in how electricity works and how quantum particles behave. The monitor is a triumph of scientific engineering, whether it’s a CRT or an LCD flat panel. The mouse might use an LED, or a simple ball-and-wheel. The keyboard uses springs, the wireless uses radio technology, the speakers use electromagnetism.*

Look around. Cars, airplanes, buildings. iPods, books, clothing. Agriculture, plumbing, waste disposal. Light bulbs, vacuum cleaners, ovens. These are all the products of scientific research. If your TV breaks, you can pray that it’ll spontaneously start working again, but my money would be on someone who has learned how to actually fix it based on scientific and engineering principles.

All the knowledge we have accumulated over the millennia comes together in a harmonious symphony of science. We’re not guessing here: this stuff was designed using previous knowledge developed in a scientific manner over centuries. And it works. All of this goes to support our underlying assumption that the Universe obeys rules that we can deduce.

Are there holes in this knowledge? Of course. Science doesn’t have all the answers. But science has a tool, a power that its detractors never seem to understand.

Science is not simply a database of knowledge. It’s a method, a way of finding this knowledge. Observe, hypothesize, predict, observe, revise. Science is provisional; it’s always open to improvement. Science is even subject to itself. If the method itself didn’t work, we’d see it. Our computers wouldn’t work (OK, bad example), our space probes wouldn’t get off the ground, our electronics wouldn’t work, our medicine wouldn’t work. Yet, all these things do in fact function, spectacularly well. Science is a check on itself, which is why it is such an astonishingly powerful way of understanding reality.

And that right there is where science and religion part ways. Science is not based on faith. Science is based on evidence. We have evidence it works, vast amounts of it, billions of individual pieces that fit together into a tapestry of reality. That is the critical difference. Faith, as it is interpreted by most religions, is not evidence-based, and is generally held tightly even despite evidence against it. In many cases, faith is even reinforced when evidence is found contrary to it.

To say that we have to take science on faith is such a gross misunderstanding of how science works that it can only be uttered by someone who is wholly ignorant of how reality works.

The next time someone tries to tell you that science is just as faith-based as religion, or that evolution is a religion, point them here. Perhaps the evidence of science may sway them. Perhaps not; it’s difficult to reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. But the next time they get on a computer, maybe they’ll take a slightly more critical look at it, and wonder if its workings are a miracle, or the results of brilliant minds over many generations toiling away at the scientific method.


*The irony of Answers in Genesis denigrating science on a website is not lost on me.

Article reproduced with permission from: Bad Astronomy Blog Copyright © 2008 All Rights Reserved.

A discussion about this article can be found here: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=106792

28 November 2008

James Randi Educational Foundation Forums

So, I finally decided to register for the JREF Forums and get more involved in that community. For a forum that is supposedly a beacon for skeptics and intelligent people, there sure are a lot of "wooists" there. Enough to almost depress me at how many there are on that forum alone!

Is "wooism" a form of mental illness? In reading some of the posts by the wooists there, I can't but help to thing that these people are deluded worse than the most foaming at the mouth lunatic. I know a lot of people like to believe in strange thing, but seriously? Some of the topics are just short of full blown paranoia and hallucinations! What the fuck is with some of those people? And the worst part is that you can't reason with them. Not in the slightest! If they said that sky was green, and you took them outside to show them a blue sky; they would find a way to deny it. So basically, all I can really conclude is that they are mentally ill.

As an aside, I must say that I really like the word "Woo" to describe the fringe lunatics. It's perfectly dismissive of their level of actual intelligence (versus the crafty intelligence they display with their woo). Although that lunatic fringe seems to be way too big for my liking... It's probably a result of the lack of critical thinking and the easy access to woo on the internet.

I guess that is why I ended up actually registering at the JREF Forums. We all need to take an active role in fighting the woo. So, what can we do?

Well, for one, take an interest in the public displays of woo. In most cases, people just don't know better, and just go with the thing they see the most. What we need to do is give people more access to critical thinking skills and real information. I suppose one thing to do is to get folks to watch Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Okay, that's my help to the skeptic community for today. Please do your part.

22 November 2008

More of my Daughter's Homework

In a continuation of my daughter's Lexus Eco-Challenge, they made a web page:
http://www.freewebs.com/wildstream/
Please stop in, take a look around and see what they are doing. Take the quiz even. There really isn't a lot of stuff there yet, so I hope they will get their act together though and chronicle all the things they are doing.

As for Global Climate Change (Global Warming, whatever you want to call it), I am still confused by those who deny it. Okay, I know that there are some aspects of the studies that didn't have the best data, and there are numerous unknown factors. But what do they hope to gain by denying it? Do they want to keep doing things like they always have? Do they think that pollution is harmless, like smoking was considered harmless? Do they just want to shirk their responsibilities as compassionate human beings, and leave that to their children and grand-children? Do they think it's fun to live inside a toilet?

Also, I have noticed that a lot of the deniers use poor science to back up their beliefs (which would perhaps indicate they are ill-informed and wrong). Those who talk about Mars and Pluto warming should look up the inverse square law, and realize that if the sun were wholly responsible, the amount of energy required would not only have heated the Earth, but fried it to a crisp! Those phenomenon are local phenomenon to those planets.

Even if we don't know the full extent of the causes of Global Climate Change, there is no way you can deny that the pollution we are pouring out isn't HELPING the situation! Wouldn't it just be more responsible from every conceivable angle for us to clean up our act? Is there any real harm in reducing our dependence on petroleum? Are we hurting things by doing our best to preserve the food chain? Does having a wide variety of species living on this planet cause harm?

I suppose those who deny Global Climate Change and wish to keep polluting are of the same ilk as "Flat Earthers" and other delusional conspiracy theorists... I just wish they weren't so prevalent and so destructive!

17 November 2008

We ARE Responsible

Just a short video that my daughter put together for a class of hers. She'd really appreciate traffic and feedback.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVuJXKXCG4c

What do you think?

16 November 2008

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

So said Carl Sagan. But why? And what is an extraordinary claim?

The origins of the saying can perhaps be found in Hume’s Maxim:

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish…

Replace “miracle” with “extraordinary claim”, and you have the basis of the quote that Carl Sagan popularized. And intuitively, most people would agree with it in principle. For example, if I told you I had cereal for breakfast, you would probably believe me. You know cereal exists and that people eat it for breakfast. Of course, I could be lying, but even if I were, I have not asked you to accept some new and extraordinary idea. (The fact that I lied wouldn’t mean that cereal somehow doesn’t exist any more.) However, if I told you that the cereal I eat every day will guarantee that I will never get sick and will live to be 100, you would probably want some evidence of that, and some pretty good evidence too.

Strictly speaking, all claims require exactly the same amount of evidence, it’s just that most "ordinary" claims are already backed by extraordinary evidence that you don’t think about. When we say “extraordinary claims”, what we actually mean are claims that do not already have evidence supporting them, or sometimes claims that have extraordinary evidence against them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence because they usually contradict claims that are backed by extraordinary evidence. The evidence for the extraordinary claim must support the new claim as well as explain why the old claims that are now being abandoned, previously appeared to be correct. The extraordinary evidence must account for the abandoned claim, while also explaining the new one.

Most people are probably unaware of the amount of extraordinary evidence required for most scientific claims. Not only must the experiments be written up in such a way that others can challenge the assumptions and be able to spot errors, but they must also be independently replicated. In addition, most scientific discoveries have provenance – that is, we know how and why we decided to test this claim in the first place. For example, a new drug may have a theoretical rationally as well as positive in vitro and animal testing before it is even tested on humans. Consequently, we already have reasons to suppose it might work. Compare that with much of alternative medicine, where we have no basis to suppose it works, and whose tenets we are pretty sure were just made up. In this case by “extraordinary evidence,” all we really mean is the same level of evidence that supports real medicine.

You can see than my claim I had cereal for breakfast is not extraordinary. We know cereal exists and people eat it. There are no other accepted or “proven” claims that you have to abandon to accept that I ate cereal for breakfast. The claim that my cereal will guarantee I will live to be 100 is an extraordinary claim. It is counter to all the other evidence we have that there is no one simple thing you can eat that will guarantee no illness and such a long life.

Examples of Extraordinary Claims

Part of the difficulty in defining what makes an extraordinary claim is this: claims that skeptics consider extraordinary, woos consider quite normal. Woos often consider that (for example) it is already a given that psychics exist, therefore anecdotal evidence is good enough for them. But psychics are scientifically implausible and have not been shown to be real. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real; it does mean we need extraordinary evidence to suppose they are. Woos start from the place that these things are already supported by evidence, and that’s where they go wrong. I’ve tried below to explain what is extraordinary about the following claims – what other claims, and what other implicit evidence, they contradict.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy is the definition of an extraordinary claim, It is initially extraordinary because it does not have provenance – that is, we know that Hahnemann didn’t derive the laws of homeopathy by experiment, he just made them up ad-hoc. Hahnemann made up the Law of Similars based on an observation of one thing (quinine / malaria symptoms), and this “Law” has not been replicated or confirmed. In fact, we now know the Law of Similars is false. We also know from every other piece of evidence we have, that when you dilute something it gets weaker, not stronger. Because of these two basic flaws, homeopathy requires stronger evidence than we would ask from other therapies. And yet with homeopathy we are expected to accept weaker evidence – anecdotes and non-blinded studies written by homeopaths. All well run double-blind tests show homeopathy is no more than placebo.

Incidentally, most alternative medical therapies suffer the same lack of provenance flaw – ie they were mostly just made up by ancient peoples with no knowledge of how the body actually works or of what makes us sick. Similarly, we are mostly offered anecdotes in place of evidence.

Astrology

Astrology is similar to homeopathy in that we know it was not derived by experiment, but was most likely just made up by people who saw pictures in the sky. (At least, no one has ever been able to show this explanation is wrong.) In addition, there is no plausible explanation for how astrology might work – ie what forces could alter a newborn’s personality in the precise ways claimed. Despite this lack of provenance and plausibility, we are still offered only anecdotes and appeals to science doesn’t know everything.

Jesus’ resurrection after 2 days

This goes against all the evidence that people do not come back to life, spontaneously, after two days. Modern medicine can bring people back from what would have been considered in earlier years to be “dead”, but not after 2 days of being dead with no modern life support to keep the vital organs working. In fact, it is probably reasonably safe to say it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that people cannot come back to life after being dead for two days. The evidence we are offered are accounts written decades after the event, by people who were not there when the events described were purported to have occurred. We are offered nothing but hearsay anecdotes from superstitious people with a clear reason for wanting others to think the story true. This is hardly acceptable evidence to counteract the fact that this never happens. Christians might ask, what evidence would a skeptic accept for such an extraordinary claim. The fact that even in principle you are unlikely to find extraordinary evidence 2000 years later, is hardly the non-believer’s fault.

Psychics

Psychic powers are extraordinary initially because of lack of scientific plausibility: that is, we have no known way for psychic signals to be sent and received. Lack of plausibility doesn’t mean something isn’t true, but it does make it extraordinary. The continued lack of good evidence for psychic powers, despite 125 years of looking, means that even more extraordinary evidence is now required to explain why the previous 125 years of looking were unsuccessful. For example, attempts to prove psychic powers with Zener cards were abandoned when the few positive results that were obtained were shown to have been achieved by cheating. Subsequent tests of psychics have resorted to tests that are easier to fudge – tests requiring judging to determine if the psychic got it right or not. The wiggle room this introduced results in less extraordinary evidence for this extraordinary claim that has been strangely shy to appear when properly tested (in a way that would truly be extraordinary evidence, if it worked). Instead we are left with lame guesses by the likes of Sylvia Browne and Allison Dubois, that are anything but extraordinary except in the sense that they are extraordinary bad.

Alien Visitation

Strictly speaking, alien visitation does not contradict other claims that are known to be true. It is theoretically possible that aliens exist and may hold advanced technology that enables them to travel across the galaxy. But the claim is extraordinary in that there is zero evidence alien visitation has actually occurred, despite at least sixty years of looking. In addition, there are rational explanations for many claims of alien visitation. There is no hard evidence of alien visitation, such as a crashed spacecraft with technology far advanced of our own.

Autism Spectrum and Human Evolution


This blog entry is all about personal experience and speculation. Just some idle cogitating and wondering about the prevalence of what most see as an ailment. So, are the varieties of autism "disorders" a sort of next step in human brain development?

First of all, you have to understand a couple things. In particular, how evolution works; as well as the varieties of the autism spectrum. I will not try to explain the entirety of evolution, it's been done before, ad nauseum. I just want to highlight that evolution isn't always a full step forward. Sometimes there are drawbacks in the next step that needs to be refined. The evolutionary process can even have lots of dead ends and false starts. That's how we get some strange things that apparently don't make sense. However, over the course of millions of generations, you can get a vastly improved model to deal with what the current environment needs to solve further challenges. Also, this is not meant to say that there is a goal of evolution, but a selective breeding pressure of humanity.

Also, describing the full spectrum of autism is beyond the scope of this post as well. My intent is to just focus on a couple things that got me to thinking along this line of thought. Basically though, autism can allow the brain to focus very deeply on a particular problem, or develop a skill to phenomenal levels (the so called "Rain Man" phenomenon).

Okay, if you know anything about the autism spectrum, there are numerous "disorders" that really don't carry a huge impact, while imparting the incredible mental focus of some autism characteristics. However, there are those who suffer a great deal under other autism spectrum disorders. Now, you take those individuals throughout the spectrum, and you contemplate the possibility of them passing on their genes. Those with the greatest disabilities obviously are at a disadvantage, while those who do not display these disabilities are at least not hindered by their condition. Cases like "Brainman" could even, through their notoriety and special skills, have their chances improved (although in his particular case we have another obstacle, but that's neither here nor there).

Take the left end of the spectrum as the "undesirable" end, and the right end of the spectrum as the "Brainman" end, and keep favouring the right with chances to contribute to the gene pool, and where does that take you in numerous generations? Possibly people that have a vast mental array at their disposal to be able to handle the incredibly complex world we have built for ourselves. Of course, that begs the question of exactly what environmental pressure is this particular mutation trying to fill? Considering that for millions of years, we've been a species that generally only handl;es things at walking speed, at a hieght of at most trees we climb, and in an area that we can cover during a long walk in a day... Let's just say that we're quite far removed from that. Even many thousands of generations back we started expanding out of that comfortable environment we had evolved into with our technology and already prodigeous brainpower.

In today's world, there are so many fields that require an all consuming dedication to study them just to understand the basics, let alone make contributions to the field. Evolution itself (as a field) requires not only understanding genetics, biology, chemistry, geology, astro-physics, etc. but surely many more fields. Then get into essoteric fields like quantum physics, and even the most brainy amongst us is seriously challenged to explain it. The type of dedication to delve into these matters though is displayed by certian autism spectrum behaviours. So perhaps at this point it's not the environment so much driving the next step of evolution, but our own understanding of the universe, and the need to delve deeper.

Anyway, just a random musing for today. Do you have any thoughts on the subject? And no, vaccines don't "cause" autism...

10 November 2008

THE MYTH OF SAINT PETER—the man who never was.


Barbara Walker, in her opus The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets. (1993. Harper and Row) wrote about the fancy and fiction of St. Peter who we may call “the man who never was”.

“The myth of Saint Peter was the slender thread from which hung the whole weighty structure of the Roman papacy. One solitary passage in the Gospel of Matthew said Jesus made a pun by giving Simon son of Jonah the new name of Peter, “Rock” (Latin petra), saying he would found his church on this rock (Matthew 16: 18-19).

Unfortunately for Papal credibility, the so-called Petrine passage was a forgery. It was deliberately inserted into the scripture about the third century AD as a political ploy, to uphold the primacy of the Roman see against rival churches in the east. [Reinach, S. Orpheus. New York, Horace Liveright Inc. 1930, 240].

Various Christian bishoprics were engaged in a power struggle in which the chief weapons were bribery, forgery, and intrigue, with elaborate fictions and hoaxes written into sacred books, and ruthless competition between rival parties for the lucrative position of god’s elite. [H. Smith (1952). Man and his gods. Little, Brown and Co. Boston, USA.]

Most early churches put forth spurious claims to foundation by apostles, even though the apostles themselves were no more than the mandatory “zodiacal twelve” attached to the figure of the sacred king. Early popes were often mere names, drawn from titles of Roman gods, such as Eleutherios or Soter, falsely inserted into an artificial chronology to simulate succession from Peter.

The real roots of Peter’s legend lay in pagan Roman myths of the city-god called Petra, or Pater Liber, assimilated to the Mithraic pater partum (Father of Fathers), whose title was corrupted into papa, then “Pope”. This personage had been both a Rock and a Father—that is a phallic pillar—in the Vatican mundus since Etruscan times, when oracular priests called vatis gave their title to the site.

Other variations of the pagan deity’s name were Patriarch (Chief Father), Pompeius, and Patricius (Patrick). Like Indian Brahmans, Roman “patricians” claimed a patrilineal descent from the god. Since his name also meant a rock, he was what the Old Testament called “the Rock that begat thee” (Deuteronomy 32:18).

THE VATICAN PHALLUS: The god’s stone phallus remained planted in the Vatican mount through the later stages of the Roman empire and well into the Middle Ages—perhaps even into the 19th century, when a visitor said Vatican authorities “kept in secret a large stone emblem of the creative power, of a very peculiar shape” [G. R. Scott. Phallic Worship. Associated Booksellers. Westport, Conneticut].

Medieval names for such an object—perron, pyr, Pierre—show that it was both a “rock” and a “peter”. Such was the ancient Pater’s phallic sceptre or pillar topped with a pine cone, the thyrsus of Pater Liber. Church authorities often converted a carved perron into a Christian symbol simply by placing a cross on its tip.


It is now certain that there was no St. Peter in Rome to “found the papacy.”[Reinach 240]. Stories about Peter were invented after the Roman see was well established. During the first five centuries of the Christian era, no one thought the bishop of Rome had a right to govern other bishops; there was no such doctrine as the primacy of the Roman see. “Christ neither founded nor desired the Church.”

Indeed, the Jesus of the Gospels would have had no reason to found a church, since his principal message was that the world was going to end almost at once."

Let's Get Something Clear


I may come across as particularly anti-religious and condescending. I will not deny that. But I do want to clear something up. I will not dismiss you as a human being because you buy into the delusion that is called religion. As a matter of fact, dedicate your life to it. Believe it with all your heart. Just don't ask me to participate!

I think that's the biggest failing of humans, and religious humans in particular. For some reason, they cannot comprehend that someone else does not follow their system, and they just MUST convince others to follow their understanding. Now, I will try to impart understanding of my point of view, however it is in response to the overbearing religious segment of the population. The surest way of getting me to STFU is to just stop making a public spectacle of yourself and trying to dictate this country, or even force your beliefs on others who don't want it. If you won't display the common courtesy of keeping your private beliefs private, I will not respect those beliefs to your face. I know it sounds rather tit-for-tat, and maybe it is. Rather childish, I know, but I am trying to point out hypocrisy.

I may speak out against your religion, but keep in mind that I am also speaking up for those minorities that so many conveniently choose to deny. What about the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Zoroastrians, etc.? Is their humanity not worth anything either?

I've had my property vandalized by religious nut cases, but I haven't had the sort of persecution the Jews endured in Nazi Germany. I'm just seeing a pattern of rhetoric and thought that the religious right is displaying that is eerily similar to those patterns. That alone frightens me into action. Just a quick random thought for today.