Class Warfare Blog

June 21, 2018

Parsing Romans 13

Many people have chimed in on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim last week that separating children from their parents was a biblical gesture, citing Romans 13 of the New Testament supporting his administrations policy of separating parents from children when people cross our border without permission. Some critics claim to prove that Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is theologically incorrect. What most people seem to ignore is the question of why Romans 13 exists at all, being an unnecessary theological statement, and a purely political one.

“Romans” was written in the late 50’s CE as best we can figure such things. This was well before Christianity was adopted as “a” state religion of Rome in the early 300’s CE and then as “the” state religion of Rome in the later 300’s CE. After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, the greatest persecutor, by far, of Christians was other Christians. Prior to that point, there were occasional persecutions of Christians by the Romans. These persecutions were exaggerated by the early Christians for effect, but they did occur. (Please keep in mind that the Roman empire was not a glitter and glitz parade that it is often portrayed as in movies, but a rather brutal authoritarian regime, one in which a blow to the face was the expected result of questioning authority.)

So, Christians of the time of the writing of Romans were trying desperately to not be singled out by the Romans for more extensive persecutions, examples of which abounded. So, the attitudes of Christian leaders were basically: keep your head down, obey the rules, pay your taxes, etc. not because the Romans had the right to rule but that they had the might to rule and exercised it regularly.  The only way Christians could be convinced to do this was to establish that they had the right to rule given to them by the Christian’s god, hence Romans 13 (which was a novel invention with no prior support in scripture … and before you start writing comments, consider that the Israelite and Judean rulers were “authorized” on as extensions of their god and only as long as they did God’s will; piss off the priests and you might be an ex-king in just a few days; the Romans were a pagan run civilization). Christians, however, had some real problems trying to fit in under this scheme as their religion forbade them from worshipping the Emperor, pagan cults, etc., all of which made them “trouble makers.”

It is not unfortunate that we are finally beginning to get a real grasp on the well-established conservative Christian view that modern government has outgrown its natural boundaries by usurping both the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency. This is bullshit, of course, because when you look back at how schools developed, they developed out of groups trying to provide a better education for their children than they could provide themselves. The bucolic view of fathers teaching their sons and mothers their daughters is all fine and good as long as all of these people were in the same place, but when fathers started leaving the home for work, as opposed to farming their own piece of land, this system no longer worked. Dad was “at work,” son was at home (and, of course, the girls didn’t count) so how much teaching could be done? So, groups of people, often springing out of church relationships found “teachers” and solved their problem by division of labor. These schools were “government” as much as anything was governmental when they were created but they weren’t governmental as we now look at things. They were merely collective. (This practice continues today, by the way.)

As warm and fuzzy as things sound, this system founded upon “the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency” would be about as well received today as a fart in an elevator. Basically, this is the libertarian view that we are all alone in this world, that we cannot depend on anyone else. Under this viewpoint, doctors are busybodies who should mind their own business and public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains, run by the government) is anathema. (Hey, if the Koch brothers are against it, you know it isn’t part of the Libertarian future.) Under this viewpoint collectivism is a dirty word.

But, then Christianity isn’t democratic in any way. It is the most authoritarian of systems, and all of the effing plutocrats want in on the power involved as recipients of the authority as middle men.

These people are dangerous, dangerous to any idea of collective behavior. It is astonishing that they even approve of church bake sales. Basically I think that religion is the horse they rode into town on and they will ride it until it drops, so anything goes when it comes to religion as long as it toes the line with regard to the authority structure in families and society in general (power needle points to men, white men, unquivering).

All hail the Libertarians!

 

 

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Will Science Ever Solve the Mysteries of Consciousness, Free Will, and God?

The above title is that of an article in Scientific American (July 2018) by no one less than the inestimable Michael Shermer. The subtitle is “Are consciousness, free will and God insoluble mysteries?”

Even more fascinating is Mr. Schermer’s answer: yes!

Actually, this answer is quite puzzling. In his piece Mr. Shermer quotes British biologist and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar who wrote: “Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.” This, I think is correct. The scientific ego is boosted by actual results and so scientists shy away from problems deemed intractable, unsolvable. But, until one tries to solve a problem, how does one know whether it is beyond them? And, even if it is beyond us now, how can we know it will be beyond us forever?

I am of the camp that we will understand all three and, in fact, have good starts on all three questions. The problem is not the issues themselves completely (labeled as “final mysteries” by Shermer), but involves the attitudes of the audiences receiving the conclusions.

For example, if you came up with an ironclad proof that the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god did not exist, how many people would say “Well, dang, and all along I though God was real. Foolish of me, don’t you think?” And how many would say “I don’t not believe such secular nonsense!” (Go ahead, guess; I dare you!)

The audience here has a different standard of proof than scientists have. If you accept something as proven only when it reaches the standard of a mathematical proof, no scientific proofs could be had at all, but if you establish the level of proof to be as good as “the sun will come up tomorrow,” then the Christian, etc. god is proven to not exist already (in short, the claimed supernatural powers are in conflict with one another). This level of proof is good enough for scientists who use no divine mysteries in their works, even though they may still participate in their local church communities (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of any god or gods).

Similarly, the general public will never accept the idea of a deterministic universe as they feel, that is feel in the first person, that they are “free” to make their own decisions. The idea that we are not free to do just that undermines all religions, social justice structures, etc. so do not expect the general public to accept that there is no such thing as free will. (I do not accept the deterministic arguments at this juncture as there are any number of problems with the current deterministic interpretations, including a signal-to-noise problem of immense size.)

It is rare that I find myself in disagreement with Michael Shermer, but one of the rock bottom principles in science is that authority has no place. So, in this case, our opinions differ.

June 19, 2018

GOP Family Values in One Photo

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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Maybe “Family Values” applies to White Families Only in the GOP universe. At least now we know who to vote for.

Sessions Cites Bible to Claim Every Law Must Be Followed Because Government Is an Extension of God

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:04 am
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You mean like when the Southern U.S. states seceded from the Union, Jeff? Or when the U.S. seceded from England? Or when the GOP ignored the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice under President Obama? Or that the rich avoid taxes through sketchy schemes rather than “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s?”

And this asshole is the Attorney General of the United States of America?

June 17, 2018

Ignorant or Duplicitous? … You Decide

I ran across the oft repeated quotation from Isaac Newton just now “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” This quotation is from the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), one of the most important scientific publications in the entire history of western science.

Like Einstein, Isaac Newton is oft quoted as an example of a scientist who “believed.” Exactly what they believed is often overlooked.

Isaac Newton was notoriously thin-skinned and he received a great many objections and criticisms from the publishing of the first edition of the Principia with dismay (like Michael and Beyonce, the book only needs its first name). One of the criticisms was that Newton’s work explained the motions of the planets so well there was no longer a need for God’s guiding hand to keep the planets moving in their perfect orbits. In a direct response to that accusation, Newton inserted a new paragraph into his second edition making it clear that he still believed all his laws had been created by God. In other words, he didn’t think such a statement was necessary in the first edition!

Make no mistake about it, Newton was a creationist. He did believe in “God,” but this was the mid to late 1600’s and the consequences of not believing were quite dire. Plus, what Newton actually did believe would not pass muster with the theists constantly repeating the quotation above.

From Wikipedia, “According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism. In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton allegedly rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul, a personal devil and literal demons.

Now, what do you call someone who rejects the trinity, didn’t hold with Jesus being called a god, didn’t believe in immortal souls (and therefore the afterlife, Heaven, Hell, etc.), the devil, and demons? Is there a Christian sect today which can check off all of those boxes? Like Einstein, Newton was at most a theist viewing nature as the only god worth studying.

Also, Newton’s “daily” Bible studies weren’t exactly orthodox. Also from Wikipedia:

“Newton spent a great deal of time trying to discover hidden messages within the Bible. After 1690, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704 he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said ‘This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.’”

So, those who quote the above statement incessantly as an example of a “scientist who believed” thus supporting the idea that faith and reason are compatible, are they ignorant or duplicitous? Personally I think more people grasp upon anything that supports their beliefs out of plain old confirmation bias than there are theists who actually know what is what and who are deliberately obscuring the truth to show The Truth™. This I believe is a consequence of evangelism. Few are equipped to do it correctly.

June 16, 2018

Lies, Damned Lies, and Economics

Apologies to Mark Twain for stealing his phrase and twisting it to make my title. (His line was that their were “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a recent post over at Naked Capitalism:

“A standard recommendation given to late-industrializing economies by the economic advisors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has been to refrain from imposing regulations on the labor market, or if such regulations are already in place, to abolish them.”

“In this view, labor rights and labor protection are more likely to create additional unemployment and informal-sector under-employment, particularly of unskilled workers or labor force entrants, than lead to higher wages and better working conditions. Right? So, esteemed policymaker, what you should do is simple: reduce already existing employment protection, resist those siren’s calls to higher minimum wages, and curb regulation. Later, once your economy has developed, you can bring back some of those “European-style” luxuries. After all, they are good for social peace.”

“Well, this story is as wrong as it is ubiquitous.”

If you want to learn more see Who Says Labor Laws Are “Luxuries”?

If you want to know who economists serve today, I urge you to follow the political dictum: Follow the Money. As to who the World Bank and the IMF serve, well that has been apparent from the get-go. They are like the charter schools who are saying they are serving minority children when all they are really doing is lining their pockets.

Oh, and while the WB and IMF are prattling their twaddle about the dispensability of labor protections, you might want to take notice that that is the program being executed here in the U.S. for the past 50 years. The abolishing of labor protections is not just for “late-industrializing economies,” it is good for all! Follow the money. The money going into the pockets of economists is coming primarily from one source: those who already have a great deal of money and for whom that is not enough and are willing to step on the necks of anyone in their way to even greater wealth.

 

 

June 14, 2018

What Harm Does It Do?

Often when the topic of religion comes up in online and other debates a point pushed is “It is harmless. What harm does it do?” I mentioned in a recent post that I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). As to what harm religion does, Professor Coyne offered this rather brilliant quotation:

“John Shimkus, a congressman from Illinois, went even further, quoting from the Book of Genesis when testifying in 2009 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the Earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’ [Genesis 8: 21– 22]. I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be toward his creation. . . . The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood. I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position. But I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

Arrogance on display. I get to punch this punching bag as he is from my home state.

Regarding “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over.” This is scripture according to this person. Christian scripture says no such thing. And we are not talking about Earth ending, we are talking about leaving enough resources for our children to have lives that are relatively full. If you are religious, do you want your children living in squalor and danger as they await the Second Coming?

Regarding “Man will not destroy this Earth.” Of course not, it is fucking planet. We do not have the means to destroy it. But we can make it almost impossible for it to support a population of people of any size if we keep going in the rapacious manner we have been going. We currently harvest nature’s bounty, for profit, until the harvested resource is all used up, then we go make money some other way. Think about all of the abundant fishing sites that no longer have any fish to catch or lakes that have had all of their water “diverted.” Think about soils so depleted they won’t grow anything any more. There are spots in the Gulf of Mexico that no longer support life (they are called “Dead Zones”) because of all of the agricultural chemical runoff funneled to it by the Mississippi River. None of these actions will “end the Earth” but a few more like them will end life on Earth as we know it.

Regarding “This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.” Scripture doesn’t say anything about destroying half of Florida or the coastal Northeast which will be underwater in less than 100 years. The Earth will not be destroyed, it says, but that claim doesn’t cover just the coastal plains; they can “die” any time.

So, according to this moron, our climate change playbook is to be a 2-2500 year old book that has not a single correct scientific fact in it. Ah, the power of faith, especially in an ignoramus with just enough brain cells to get elected to state office with the help of his Christian friends.

June 12, 2018

Giving Too Much Away

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:29 pm
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I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). This is quite exhaustive of the topic and very well written but last night I read something that gave me pause. here is the quote:

The second argument for faith is that it gives solace to the marginalized and destitute. And that’s no doubt true. When you see yourself as being without hope, there is consolation in thinking that God and Jesus are looking out for you (even if they’re not helping much), and in thinking that all will be set right in the next world.” (Emphasis added. SR)

I have read many comments like this but this time I realized that this is a concession I am no longer prepared to give. You see, this is just a part of the Big Con, the Big Lie, that is very prominent in Christianity. Your reward comes after you die, so just do your job, don’t complain, and don’t ask for a raise. Religions that don’t help coerce labor from the masses to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites just do not survive. Christianity has survived on this basis.

The consolation of having some false fairy tales to believe in is poor pay for all that was robbed of you throughout your life. I am not just talking about tithing or money given to churches in collection plates at services. I am talking about the billions of dollars not available to be spent on the poor or for education that go to tax breaks for religious orders and enterprises. I am talking about the wages one didn’t get or the abuse one suffered in the expectation of a heavenly reward after you die. If you had not that “consolation” while you were working, might you have gotten pissed off enough to demand higher wages? Might you have expected your governments, the collective “we,” to be more helpful than it has been?

I think we have to stop and think before we make such concessions to religion and faith. Often as not, even the innocuous offerings we might make are unsupportable.

I am not advocating that we disabuse dying elders on their death beds of their religious fantasies. That would be unkind. They have already made the bed they will go to sleep in. I do advocate disabusing young and the middle-aged people of their religious fantasies. Jerry Coyne does a quite good job of that in his book. Here are a couple more quotes to give you a taste of what he is offering so you can decide whether or not you want to read the book:

But consider how many questions religion once told us could never be answered—and were taken as evidence for God—and yet ultimately were solved by science. Evolution, infectious disease, mental illness, lightning, the stable orbits of planets: the list is long. Religious people often call for scientists to be “humble,” ignoring the beam in their own eyes, which see things like morality as forever inexplicable by science. How much more arrogant, and ignorant of history, to argue that our failures of understanding are somehow evidence for a god! And how much more egotistical to believe that that god is the god of your own religion!

In contrast, religion has never been right in its claims about the universe— at least not in a way that all rational people can accept. There is no reliable method to show that the Trinity exists, that God is loving and all-powerful, that we’ll meet our dead relatives in the afterlife, or that Brahma created the universe from a golden egg. Lacking a way to show its tenets are wrong, religion cannot show them to be right, even provisionally.

 

June 8, 2018

Other Ways of Knowing

In the on-going conflict between science and religion that either doesn’t exist (because the two are compatible) or shouldn’t exist (because the two are incompatible), science types, like me, are accused of scientism, the thrusting of science into areas of human discourse where it doesn’t belong and, more specifically, stepping on religion’s toes. How dare, the critics say, science tell us anything about morality or aesthetics or … religion?

There are, they say, “other ways of knowing” than science. With regard to religion, specifically. they mention: faith, dogma, scripture, personal experience, and revelation.

So, let’s look at this.

First, what we call science is what originally was called “natural philosophy,” which was a branch of philosophy, just like ethics, politics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, and aesthetics. When the scientific method was devised to make studying the natural world more effective, many of the categories of nature (chemistry—the study of the transformations of substances, biology—the study of living organisms, etc.) came to be called sciences. But the employ of the scientific method did not really remove those studies from philosophy. The scientific method can be employed in all kinds of studies that no one would call “sciences.” For example, history, or economics, or sociology, auto repair, or well, you name it. The scientific method is a way to generate new knowledge and can be employed in a vast number of places, even ethics.

So, to say that science is overstepping its bounds is foolishness. If it can be employed successfully it will because it is the only method so far that has demonstrated the ablity to create new knowledge.

Now, on the flip side we have the “other ways of knowing.” In turn:

Faith What is faith but an expression of belief. Both faith and belief are expressions of “knowing” things that are not generally accepted as being true by having evidence. So, where did this “faith” or “belief” come from? Who explained what it is that is to be an object of faith? Can that person be trusted? Are you sure they are not mistaken? How would you tell? This is not a way of knowing, it is a claim of knowing something that is not in evidence. Faith is not a way of knowing so much as it is a claim of knowing. It is an answer to the question “How do you know that?” “What do you know?”

Dogma The dictionary definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” Basically if a religion says you must believe something because it is true, but they do not attempt to prove the truth involved, that is dogma. Every church, and there are tens of thousands of them, has their own dogma. How can you tell which of them is indeed correct? Could none of them have been mistaken? How will you resolve contradictions between the various dogmas? In science there is no dogma, nor are there “authorities.” If you don’t accept something scientifically, you are free to examine all of the evidence and test it for yourself. The information/evidence is made public, along with the data and procedures used to acquire the data.

Scripture Scripture is just things written down. Most religions have some sort of scriptures. Most religions disagree with regard to the content of what was written down, so how does one tell whether their scriptures are real or true? Jewish scholars have now admitted that the first five books of their “book” are a fictional back story for their people. This is a form of wisdom literature as fairy tales used to be, that is precautionary tales as to what will happen to you “if …” simply told as if they had already happened as an implication that they could happen “again.”

It has been pointed out repeatedly that all of the books of the Bible have unknown authors who have unknown backgrounds. We not only don’t know who wrote those books, we don’t know why those books were written either. Without those “facts,” we therefore cannot tell whether the books were divinely inspired. Ask yourself, what are the signs in a writing that the writing was inspired by a god? If such signs exist, they could be highjacked by a gifted fiction writer to ends that we cannot necessarily perceive.

It is probably an act of desperation that many evangelical religion’s statements of faith indicate that their scriptures were true and correct in their original versions. (This is a dogma, by the way.) No one alive today has seen such an original document. The texts we have today were mostly created from translations of fragments of copies (of copies of copies …) that were centuries older than the dates they were claimed to be written. That most such fragments differ from one another proves that the copies have errors in them. So, how do we know what the errors are?

Personal Experience There are people who claim they have a personal relationship with a god, that they can feel “his presence.” I have talked with few people who make this claim but I would like to hear how they can tell what they claim they can tell from their feelings. I am willing to grant them their feelings, but not their interpretation. For example, many people can claim the feeling of “a powerful presence.” How is that interpreted as being male or female or is that just assumed? How can the feeling of “power” be interpreted? How do we know we are in the presence of, say, a powerful human? I suspect we read the clues of dress ($4000 suit, military uniform, etc.) and behavior (expecting orders to underlings to be obeyed instantly, etc.) or we know the identity of such a person ahead of time. So, if one is a believer ahead of time and feels a powerful presence when meditating or “praying,” the identification is assumed rather than established. No one seems to report a “feeling of power” associated with the words, “Hi, Bill, this is Yahweh.”

Revelation Revelations are second hand compared with personal experience. These come from people who claim “God told me … something or other.” The supposed apostle who helped create “Christianity the Religion” and who claimed he was an expert on Jesus, never met the man; he got all of his information through a great many revelations, or so he said. How can we tell whether these people are not deluded or liars? (Said apostle defended claims he was a liar in scripture!) There are many people who crave attention who make outlandish claims as to their education levels, job histories, friendships, and life experiences. Some of these charlatans are seeking political office or jobs and are often enough caught out in their lies that we all have heard stories to this effect. How can you tell who is and who is not telling the truth?

Also, in the entire history of revelation in your particular religion, has any objective knowledge been reported? Has a method to avoid the plague been told or how washing your hands leads to less disease or that there is a medicine in citrus fruit what will help prevent scurvy? Is this really a “way of knowing?” Do even the major prophets tell us anything we did not already know?

Back to Science Is there any form of increased knowledge that involves anything other than scientific enquiry? How about the other branches of philosophy? (My ethics teacher said that in 4000 years of ethical philosophy, we have not yet been able to define the phrase “is good.”) How about theology? How about apologetics?

In many of these religious and quasi-religious approaches the same people who tell us that “we cannot know the mind of god,” tell us exactly what their god was thinking and going when <fill in the blank here>. Clearly they are making that shit up.

The term “scientism,” is simply a pejorative. The people who write about it cannot even define it. It is an attempt to discredit science before it is applied to ideas they hold dear. Science is, indeed, a way of looking at things, but it won’t go away because of flabby arguments centered on the deliberate misuse of words like “faith.” Scientists do not have “faith” that the sun will show up in the morning sky, we have confidence that it will based upon thousands and thousands (millions really) of observations, in other words evidence. Religious faith is believing something based upon little or no evidence, scientific expectations are based upon pragmatic evidence, which is why science works and faith does not as “a way of knowing.”

So, the next time you hear or read the term “scientism,” or hear or read that someone “doesn’t have enough faith to believe in evolution,” you know you are in the presence of a purveyor of the Big Lie, someone who believes that there are mystical ways of “knowing” that we must acknowledge, even though they cannot show even the slightest reason for us to so believe.

June 5, 2018

The Bizarro World of Credit Ratings

Filed under: Economics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 1:09 pm
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I monitor my credit rating because, well, it is free and it might just catch an identity thief. I was rather taken aback a couple of days ago when my FICO credit rating dropped 11 points from the last rating. I had been involved in no credit deals, nor had my credit card balances gone up, nor … WTF? So, I went to the reporting site and looked at the “event” that caused such a significant drop in my credit rating. It took some finding but eventually I found out that the problem was that I had paid off my car loan. I didn’t pay it off early or anything special, I just made the final payment on a four year deal.

There was nothing else.

So, the successful completion of a credit transaction with no black marks associated with it, proving that I was a responsible user of credit, that I met my obligations, that I was trustworthy … was a negative. And now that I no longer had a $300+ dollar car payment every month, I had that much more disposable income to engage in other transactions, if I were truly worthy, which I was not in the eyes of the people creating the algorithms of these rating services.

Welcome to the bizarro world of credit reporting and ratings. And we have given over power to these idiots to rule over whether or not we “qualify” for a credit transaction.

Keeping us enslaved in debt is part of the control mechanism that coerces our labor to serve the interests of the elites. Apparently making credit ratings incoherent is also part of the plan.

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