Uncommon Sense

March 30, 2016

Bad Science from Bad Religion

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 3:13 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I heard a scientific argument regarding the scientific feasibility of the Christian Virgin Birth recently. here it is:

At the appointed time Jesus came, born of a virgin. Don’t laugh; it’s true, and medical documentation proves the importance. The blood of the child in the mother’s womb is 100% the blood of the father. Thus if one chooses to believe the true gospel, that person believes in the virgin birth. It was prophesied in several places in the Old Testament. The virgin birth meant that the blood in Jesus Christ’s body was not from the creation of Earth and creation of Adam. It was sinless, heavenly blood.

I will not ascribe it to anyone in particular, even though I know who this is. I use this as an example of where faith goes astray. It does so through belief, namely the belief that some preacher man knows what the heck he is talking about.

As children learn in basic reproductive biology, a sperm and an ovum join to create a cell which has half of the DNA of the father and half of the mother. The first cell has this DNA, and then the next, and the next. If this is done sufficiently often without interruption a viable zygote forms and eventually a baby. This baby may “take after” his mother or his father but is not identical to either of them. His blood is his blood, each and every cell in it has DNA from both mother and father.

“The blood of the child in the mother’s womb is 100% the blood of the father.” Where this comes from I do not know. Maybe someone misheard a statement that had some truth in it and then took it and ran with it. A scientist would have looked for confirmation. A paper containing this “fact” would get reviewed and corrected. But preachers don’t have such a support system; they only have divine guidance.

Belief is easy when it supports what one wants, but that doesn’t make it so.

And, the Bible is full of claims for “blood magic” that are similar to this. There are blood sacrifices. People are required to not eat meat with blood in it. Blood can carry sin with it. Children can inherit “bad blood” from their parents. Women are “unclean” while menstruating. All of this “magic” has been shown to be mistakes (along with all other magic), so why is it still prominent in the Bible? Why do some insist that blood magic is real because “the Bible tells me so.”

March 29, 2016

Religious Liberty Runs Amok

The latest code words for the religious wishing to be able to discriminate illegally is “religious liberty.” The Constitution guarantees all of us the right to practice our religion without government interference. Unfortunately, the religious are now trying to impose their “rights” onto the secular government and onto us.

Basically, owners of businesses are claiming the right to refuse service to anyone that would violate their religious beliefs. This can include the businesses own employees. In a case before the Supreme Court a number of businesses say that being required to provide contraception services as part of mandated government health care provisions violates their religious proscription against artificial birth control. This is in spite of the fact that a specific religious proscription of artificial birth control, 98.2% of Catholic women surveyed volunteered the fact that they used artificial birth control. What this means is these business are arguing that the government needs to help them to enforce a religious prescription that the Church itself cannot enforce and enforce it on their employees whether or not they are Catholics. Amazing!

I have a novel idea: if you can’t do business without violating the law, pick another business.

If you are an Ultraconservative Jew who can’t interact with women or be in close proximity to women, don’t open an lingerie shop. If you are a Mormon who cannot drink coffee, don’t buy into a Starbucks. If you are a Buddhist who is forbidden to eat meat, don’t buy a McDonalds franchise. Seems simple enough.

If you truly accept the tenants of your faith, accept the limitations and don’t force the rest of us to enforce your chosen limitations on others.

Basically, it comes down to the idea that religion should not be used as an excuse to refuse service to anyone via a legal commercial enterprise. If you decide to go into business, you are accepting the premise that our government (which equates to all of us collectively) sets the rules and if you cannot abide by those, do something else.

You have the personal freedom to exercise your religion as you see fit; you do not have the collective right to make us exercise it as you see fit.

March 28, 2016

Further Notes on the Desire for a Christian Nation

Some of the religious in this country claim that we are a “Christian Nation” and should be declared to be so. To support their claim they argue that we were born as a Christian Nation. Were we “born” as a Christian nation? Just what do they mean, though? I have some further thoughts on this interesting claim.

It is undeniable that many of the colonies that became the United States declared themselves to be Christian states as did many of the cities residing in those states. Just what did this look like, though? Some of these states had laws requiring attendance at worship services, for example. Apostates were not allowed to hold public office. Many had laws making “blasphemy” punishable. Some had religious toleration laws, though, but they didn’t extend to Catholics or Jews. Being a dissenter was punishable in some states (if you weren’t burned alive in your church before the law got onto you). Some colonies and even some of the Constitutionally-created states collected “tithes” for distribution to the state religion. (Why “pass the plate” when you can use governmental confiscatory power?) All of these were eventually dispensed with for some reason or other.

The fly in the ointment and the eventual undoing of this sort of religious support was the problem of denominations. If the United States was to become a single political entity, which of the various denominations would become the “state sponsored religion?” Was it to be the Unitarians, or the Congregationalists, Quakers, Anglicans, Lutherans, or…. What about the Jews and Catholics?

If you were to take this practice into our modern era, what would it look like? Democratically, we could solve the problem of choosing which denomination of Christianity to support by choosing them all. Each would receive part of the government tithe according to the relative numbers of members of each of those sects. The first problem would be determining those numbers. We have an authorized process, the Census, that occurs every ten years to make such counts, but by what criteria? Do we allow people to self select? Then do we list the tens of thousands of Christian sects to choose from or do we narrow those choices? Do we let the religious groups themselves determine their own numbers of believers? That would probably end up with totals exceeding the entire population of the country by a large margin as Christians are well-known to be cheaters. (Hey, that is not an opinion, just a fact. Otherwise how can you have 98.2% of all Catholic women volunteering that they have used the artificial birth control methods banned by their church? How can you explain the overwhelming numbers of Christians in our prisons? I could go on; don’t make me.) I don’t think that would work as a way to determine each denomination’s share of the loot. I won’t even address how the various sects would want their denomination’s share to be distributed as that would be even more confounding.

The next problem would come when evangelicals find out that part of their tithes is going to Catholics. Catholics constitute the largest share of the membership in Christian churches, so they would get the largest share of the tithe. Mormons also claim to be Christians, so evangelicals would be supporting Mormons.

The history that shows that religions get fat and lazy and more autocratic when living off the government teat is another problem in that a religion that does not support the current government when receiving government funds will soon find their authority being nibbled away by offended bureaucrats and party loyalists. Anti-establishment religions would soon change their tune or fade away.

Now, what share of this government tithe should atheists and non-believers get? A great many Christian apologists claim that atheism is a religion, so…. And, of course, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Hindus, etc. are not Christians, so they would be frozen out (presumably along with the Atheists). And since this would not be “taxation without representation” as they have had representatives, just Christian representatives, they would have no gripe there or will there be a call for representatives by religion? And one might want to be a bit more respectful of American citizens who are not Christians. Do we really want to be undermining their loyalty to the USA?

Maybe we should limit the tithe to just the Christian citizens. But then you would see a mass exodus from Christian churches by people wanting to avoid the tithe. Ouch, that would hurt.

Hey, you religious, do you really want a Christian Nation?

Now about the changes we would need to make to our laws. What penalty should there be for taking the Lord’s name in vain? What exactly does that mean, anyway? If you pray for divine intervention and nothing happens, isn’t that prayer in vain? Should that be punished? I am getting confused here.

The Answer is Easy, Once You Know the Question

The primary season voting data we have so far clearly shows that Hillary Clinton is more popular with the old, while Bernie Sanders is substantially more popular with the young. Hillary Clinton’s message of slow, incremental, don’t rock the boat change appeals to an older audience. Bernie Sander’s message of “the system is broken, and we do need to fix it; we need a revolution” resonates with people whose lives haven’t yet solidified, the young.

So, the question is: do you want to vote for the past or the future?

This is a serious question. Those of you of a more conservative bent prefer to preserve the status quo; you are not that amenable to change. Change may be good, but…. Those of you of a more liberal bent, are more accepting of change. The only constant is change….

So, is the current status quo worth defending? Or is “better” still possible, possible enough to overcome your fear of change for the worse?

At this stage of my life (I will be 70 this year) I am inclined to cede to the will of the young. It will be their world shortly and no longer mine. They do not like what we have done to their country. They want something quite different from “you are on your own, get what you can.”

Vote for the future—vote Bernie.

March 26, 2016

Should Mother Theresa Be Canonized?

The above title has been atop a public debate in the N.Y. Times for the last couple of days. The answer is simple: who cares who Catholics put into their Hall of Fame? Put her in, don’t put her in … meh.

Like baseball’s Hall of Fame, and the Academy Awards of Hollywood, there is a vanity press flavor to all of these things. Basically, they are a way to “sell newspapers” or whatever the modern equivalent is (sell content?). I wonder how many non-Catholics chimed in on the “debate?” I don’t wonder enough to actually go look, as all of these such things are major or minor distractions from the real news. The “real news” isn’t even available anymore. Did you know that we were conducting the world’s largest ever war games in South Korea recently? Neither did I. Not Reported … it was real news.

And, I predict that if she is so inducted into their hall of fame, that there will be a run on plaques, bobble-head dolls, and other graven images of here for Catholics to worship (despite the scriptural prohibition) because the whole endeavor is all about marketing. Otherwise, why would you do it?

March 24, 2016

Sign This, Bitches!

A Supreme Court case is once again bringing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, into the headlines. According to the N.Y. Times, “The case, Zubik v. Burwell, is a collection of lawsuits by religious nonprofit organizations challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer health plans provide free contraceptive coverage to female employees. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. The challengers, which include religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, and social-service groups, want the same exemption. So the government offered them a special accommodation: Notify their insurer or the government in writing that they refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, at which point the government takes over.

“But this was not enough for the challengers, who say the notification process itself forces them to be complicit in what they consider a sin. They sued under a 1993 federal law that prohibits the government from “substantially” burdening religious freedom unless it can show the law furthers a compelling interest that can’t be achieved by less restrictive means.”

These “religious organizations” have been blithely signing “forms” that could be used to support all kinds of sinful activities for generations and there was not a peep out of them. But now they have to sign an insurance form! Oh, the inhumanity!

Just signing a form makes them complicit in sinful behavior? WTF? They readily sign forms every month that could be far, far worse; they are called pay checks. Their employees can take the money they are paid and buy birth control pills with it. They can donate money to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They can but illicit drugs. They can hire prostitutes. And yet, these “religious organizations” have been blithely signing “forms” that could be used to support all kinds of sinful activities for generations and there was not a peep out of them. But now they have to sign an insurance form! Oh, the inhumanity!

Will no one stop this persecution of religion?

March 23, 2016

Philosophy Unchained … from Facts

I was reading an obituary in the N.Y. Times written for a Harvard philosopher whose “influence ranged widely across many fields of thought, including mathematical logic, philosophy of mind and language, epistemology and metaphysics,” Hilary Putnam.

The obit stated “Early on, Professor Putnam studied with Hans Reichenbach, a leading proponent of logical positivism, the school of thought, now in disrepute, that maintains that the only basis of knowledge is that which can be scientifically verified. But Professor Putnam argued against it, offering a course at Harvard in “nonscientific knowledge,” encompassing the wisdom that comes from aesthetics, ethics and religion.

Ah, “the wisdom that comes from aesthetics, ethics, and religion.” And, what, pray tell, is that exactly? Aesthetics is an attempt to provide structure for what people “like” to see, hear, taste, etc. Are there any absolute aesthetic principles or are these just pronouncements about “what I like” by this or that person? Ethics, a study of various systems of ethics created by various people and institutions that, again, seems to be statements about “how I want other people to behave.” There is even a strong core of what is called “situational ethics,” which is telling in itself that while there may be agreements here and there, none of the agreed upon statements are strong enough to say they are factual. And, then … religion. Is their any congruence that we can point to between or among the world’s religions that we might be able to point to as being universal wisdom. I suggest not. (I keep challenging anybody to make a clear, definitive statement of what “Christian ethics” are. I especially would like to know what makes them Christian, as all such utterances I have encountered to date pre-existed Christianity.)

The obituary went on to highlight a favorite tool of this worthy philosopher, that of the “thought experiment.” This was the description of one such experiment he made prominent:

In a 1975 paper called “The Meaning of ‘Meaning,’” Professor Putnam further illustrated his argument with a famous thought experiment called Twin Earth. He imagined a planet alongside our own that was a facsimile in almost every way, including holding a replica of each person. The only difference on Twin Earth was its water. Though it looks like H2O, tastes like H2O, fills the lakes, rivers and oceans and performs the same functions as H2O, Twin Earth’s water had a different chemical makeup, abbreviated as XYZ.

“Therefore, if an earthling named, say, Oscar, were to travel to Twin Earth and visit his doppelgänger, Twin Oscar, when they referred to water, they would actually be talking about two different things, even though they appeared to be the same. Because Oscar and Twin Oscar are identical in every way, including their thoughts at a given time, Professor Putnam argued, meaning cannot simply be a function of what is formulated in someone’s head.

A logical positivist could have pointed out the obvious error in Professor Putnam’s “Twin Earth” thought experiment. His mistake is in building his two Earths with one difference: in the invented Earth, water has a different chemical structure, unspecified other than as XYZ. Had the professor known a little bit of chemistry, he would have known that what makes chemicals different is their chemical structure. If you have a substance whose formula is different from H2O, it is not water, nor does it behave like water. There are variants of water in which the hydrogen atoms are replaced by isotopes that are rarer forms than “ordinary” hydrogen. One such is “heavy water” in which the hydrogen atoms are replaced by deuterium atoms (making the molecule heavier, but keeping its molecular structure quite the same as ordinary water). If you were to drink this smallest variant of the substance water, it would kill you. What the professor describes is an impossible magical “different water” and therefore any conclusion he might come to from this experiment is quite bankrupt. When we think water we are referring to just one chemical substance which cannot be anything else. And this we have formulated in our heads.

The author of the obituary claims that logical positivism is in “disrepute” and I suggest that that is a problem. The source of the disrepute comes from those who wish to engage in magical thinking and have things they way they want them to be rather than what they are.

In the U.S. right now there is massive anti-intellectual sentiment. Just look at our politicians who begin every sentence on a scientific topic with “Well, I am no scientist, but …” Just look at the people who are trusted to lead our governments. President Obama is an outlier, most of the rest are what might be charitably characterized as “far from brilliant,” and Representative Louie Gommert of Texas … well he is an outlier, too, but closer to the norm than is the President. We would be better served if we took a longer look at the merits of logical positivism. And we will be better served, I predict, now that scientists are spending more time investigating things like ethics, wisdom, knowledge, religion, etc. Long the purview of “social scientists” these topics will benefit from some rigorous scrutiny from real scientists. And, possibly much like biblical archeology, some of these topics may disappear altogether as being no longer necessary or defensible.

March 19, 2016

John Locke Was a Socialist, Like Bernie Sanders!

While I have been researching a post on the claim that we were created as a Christian Nation (We were not; in fact the Constitution was a repudiation of all of the Christian States that had been formed, the details of which are a nightmare, but that is for later.), I ran across this quote of John Locke’s (in summary as those folks were even more wordy than I):

… that no man can have such a “Portion of the Things of this World” as to deprive “his needy Brother a Right to the Surplusage of his Goods…. As Justice gives every Man a Title to so much out of another’s Plenty, as will keep him from extream want where he has no means to subsist otherwise….”

For those of you who do not recognize the name, John Locke was the political theorist most influential on the Founding Fathers as well as many, many other politicians around the world. The quote above runs counter to American acquisitiveness/greed and hence the book it was taken from, after having been published in America in 1773, didn’t see another edition for 164 years.

Many now alive would not recognize the rights that were being discussed then. Property rights were not absolute as they are now. If one owned a large amount of land, but didn’t “improve” it by planting crops or orchards, etc. others had a right to go onto that land and use it. Others could go onto your land to collect firewood or to graze livestock, just not the parts you had “improved.” The “freedom of speech” was nothing like it is now, etc. I will write more on this later.

For now, Locke’s quote establishes him as a socialist to the left of Bernie Sanders which is not surprising as Senator Sanders isn’t much of a socialist. He is a democratic socialist which means all aspects of sharing the “Surplusage” require approval by a majority of the people’s representatives.

Locke would be appalled by the modern amounts of wealth subverted by the few. I say subverted, rather than accumulated, as Locke would have a man’s wealth determined by his own labor. The idea of the growth in a man’s wealth being determined by the amount of his wealth was an idea still in its infancy. Hereditary “lords” had been able to pull this off by basically enslaving large swaths of the population (as serfs) but they were a very, very small population and could be considered an aberration. Great wealth accumulated by others was even more rare. (Hereditary lords had a practice of picking off such wealthy commoners. They often encountered legal problems or, gasp, were accused of treason and, ‘poof,’ there went their fortunes.)

Locke would be likewise appalled at the plutocrats blaming the poor for their state (Lazy! Get a job! Start a business! Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Look in a mirror.)

So, the most significant political influence on the Founding Fathers was inclined to policies that “share the wealth,” now known as “redistribution of wealth.” He was in favor of governmental welfare (not just church-based charity). This opinion was based upon both the Bible and natural Law, two sources lauded by the plutocrats. I am surprised they haven’t banned his books.

March 17, 2016

You Will Be Hearing a Lot Less About Marco Rubio

On the N.Y. Times Opinion Page (Internet Edition) there is a sidebar entitled “Latest from the Opinion Blogs.” On this list you will find links to “recent” posts by Times columnists. Today’s list (March 17, 2016) list posts from March 17, two from March 16, March 15, March 11 as one would suspect, but as one nears the bottom of the list one encounters “You Will Be Hearing a Lot More About Marco Rubio” by Frank Bruni, dated March 11, 2015. That’s right … 2015. How a year old column could be considered “latest” is a question. In fact I wrote the editors a couple of months ago about this and received no reply. I wondered if they would take it down on its one year anniversary (obviously not). And now that the motivation for the post, Marco Rubio’s presidential run, has become moot, I wondered if it would be taken down, or at least replaced by a column on Senator Rubio’s future prospects as he is not running for re-election to the Senate, but no. (Senator Rubio may run for President again in 2020 but that is not the subject of this post.)

In an era that has had the Fairness Doctrine removed from television news and newspapers having been gobbled by large corporate owners there are complaints that the biases of news outlet’s owners are “showing.” Breitbart’s online organs have been roiled by resignations of several of its reporters over a pro-Donald Trump bias they perceived in management and Brietbart is hardly a paragon of journalistic integrity. The Times, itself, was queried regarding a perceived bias against Senator Bernie Saunders and the Public Editor responded with a yes, there appears to be an unevenness to the coverage of Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. (The top listing in the Latest from the Opinion Blogs today is “Were Changes to Sanders’ Article “‘Stealth Editing?’” for example.)

So why is a year-old blog post feature the name of a prominent Republican candidate still on a “Latest From …” list? Why, indeed?

March 3, 2016

Kochs Won’t Spend to Stop Trump

The Koch brothers have announced that they won’t spend freely from their almost $1 billion political war chest to “Stop Trump.” Well, that is quite a surprise. Imagine that! The people who want to cripple the federal government so badly that it can’t oppose anything they want to do as businessmen, won’t oppose Donald Trump’s attempt to be elected President!

Tells you everything you need to know about the political motives of the plutocratic class, now doesn’t it. If you are an ordinary citizen you can count on … things not going better with Koch.

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