Uncommon Sense

June 30, 2019

Why and What Questions

In the comments section of one of today’s posts a short discussion occurred over questions we want answers for, with one philosopher preferring to focus on “why” questions. Part of my response to that factoid was that asking “why” rather than “how” questions explains more about us than they do nature. Our need to know “why” is basically a god seeking effort. Our need for a god is the source of our need to know why. Nature is completely impersonal. There are no “whys” which is why science focuses on “hows.”

I remember being in college and studying “modern” physics (50 years ago!), relativity being one part of that course (which was from 50+ years prior). I remember being astonished that if you continuously fed energy into an object in an attempt to make it go faster and faster, more and more of that energy would be converted into mass rather than into faster motion (acceleration). There are equations. In order for an object to travel at the speed of light, it would have to have infinite mass. (Often these equations “break down” at or near the boundaries of their application, and since this cannot be verified near those limits, it is conjecture only, IMHO, of course.) Since the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit, of course the added energy would have to be converted into mass, otherwise where would it go? If the energy just leaked away, then it wouldn’t have been added to the object then, would it? If the object accepts the energy, it gets more and more massive, and less and less faster as it approaches the speed of light.

Gosh, I would sure like to know “why” the speed of light is the fastest any thing or field or whatever can travel in this universe! (Along with “why does quantum mechanics work” and . . . and. . . .)

But this “why question” is just a colloquial way of stating the question. One does not go after “why” if one really wants to know what is going on. Scientists only ask “how” questions for this reason. If you go about asking “why” questions, you end up like philosophers, feeding into pre-existing ideas of nature (and Beyond!). Those philosophers, for example, who make attempts at proving the existence of gods via argument (Foolish, foolish philosophers!) always end up with arguments that do not point to their god. Just like those who claim that their god is what caused the Big Bang, they don’t consider that whatever caused that to occur (if there was a cause) didn’t need to be Old Yahweh or Jesus or Love (God is love, you know) or the property of ineffability, or asitey or <fill in any other god power here>. The philosophical arguments never end up at “God” but all claim that they do, which makes them foolish. Searches for answers to “why” questions only leads to answers that tell us more about who we are and not about the thing being questioned.

So, a scientist wants to know how it is that the speed of anything (or nonthing) is limited to any value at all. (A current TV adaption of a popular Science Fiction universe shows off a slow zone, in which the top speed limit is way slower, restricting the movements of spaceships, even communications. This is caused by some unknown alien technology, because we haven’t got a clue how such a speed limit could be imposed.)

If we can figure out “how,” we get closer to understanding the way things actually are.

And, ultimately, the universe doesn’t care. It has no “whys” so cannot surrender them to our investigations or introspections. That we want the answer to “Why?” indicates we are all closer to being two-year olds than mature adults.

<This concludes the most furious day of posting I have had in a very, very long time. Steve>

Evolution of the Gods—God and Satan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:08 am

It seems that John Branyan cannot seem to grasp my argument regarding Satan and that a final battle on the plains of Armageddon between the forces of good and evil, must be some kind of joke because on one side you have an all-knowing and all-powerful god who can vanquish his enemies with the flick of a finger. I usually assume that any misunderstanding is my fault but I suspect that Mr. Branyan cultivates a certain imperviousness to serve his own ends (what those are isn’t clear to me).

The last question I put to him in the comments today was “Why does Satan exist? What can Satan do that Old Yahweh cannot?”

In answer to this, Satan has god-like powers. In the Bible it infers that Satan can fool Yahweh and can actually thwart his will. But, of course, Satan isn’t a god, he just plays one in church communities. Honestly, why is Satan still around?

Here is an excerpt from the listing under Satan on Wikipedia: “A figure known as “the satan” first appears in the Tanakh as a heavenly prosecutor, a member of the sons of God subordinate to Yahweh, who prosecutes the nation of Judah in the heavenly court and tests the loyalty of Yahweh’s followers by forcing them to suffer. During the intertestamental period, possibly due to influence from the Zoroastrian figure of Angra Mainyu, the satan developed into a malevolent entity with abhorrent qualities in dualistic opposition to God. In the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, Yahweh grants the satan (referred to as Mastema) authority over a group of fallen angels, or their offspring, to tempt humans to sin and punish them. In the Synoptic Gospels, Satan tempts Jesus in the desert and is identified as the cause of illness and temptation. In the Book of Revelation, Satan appears as a Great Red Dragon, who is defeated by Michael the Archangel and cast down from Heaven. He is later bound for one thousand years, but is briefly set free before being ultimately defeated and cast into the Lake of Fire.”

As usual there are more questions created than answered as soon as you delve into the back story of such a being. So . . .

  • Why would Old Yahweh need a prosecutor? To find out facts he already knows?
    • Why would suffering (torture?) be the preferred mode of examination? Has neither Satan nor Yahweh any truth serum at hand? You can lie to God?
    • “Dualistic opposition to God” spills the beans. Satan is the fall guy for anything bad that happens so that Yahweh doesn’t get blamed, even though He repeatedly admits he is the source of all good and evil.
    • Why would Yahweh create a posse of fallen angels to “tempt humans to sin and punish them”? There aren’t enough temptations that exist naturally, that he has to poke the bear over and over?
    • If, in the Book of Revelation, Satan is bound for 1000 years (now eclipsed) and then “ultimately defeated and cast into the Lake of Fire” why would Yahweh treat his trusted servant like this? And, clearly, if you ask any evangelical if Satan has been vanquished, they would say no (or maybe Hell, no!). Defeated? For doing what Yahweh wants him to do?

Getting back to my main point. Yahweh created Satan. Satan knows this. Yahweh can uncreate Satan. Satan knows this. If Satan actually opposed the plans of Yahweh, Satan would cease to exist. Satan knows this, too. So, why does Satan appear to oppose “God’s Plans”? It can only be because Satan believes that’s what Old Yahweh wants him to do. (And where did he get the idea to oppose his master? Was there some miscommunication? Aren’t angels perfect beings, created by their perfect master?) So, should Satan be blamed for anything he does . . . in his master’s name?

I don’t think so.

So, the Cynical Old Bastard in Charge (that’s translated from the Hebrew, I believe, not Aramaic) keeps Satan around as a fall guy, just to take any blame for any evil that befalls humans. Satan knows his job evaluation will be based upon how well he does his job, so he performs it to the letter. (How could he not he is as near perfect a being as Yahweh could make?) And for doing his job well, he is villainized, excoriated, cursed, and given no props by Yahweh worshipers.

I’ll tell, you, there is no justice in the world.

John Branyan thinks that because Yahweh’s plans are opposed doesn’t mean that Yahweh is not “all-powerful.” If that is so, then that opposition is part of Yahweh’s plans and therefore He owns it.

What a scam!

Evolution of the Gods—Reason and Faith

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:09 am
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I have written about how it is relatively easy to come up with animistic religions by having a somewhat overactive agency detector, a feature that provided us an evolutionary advantage by making us less susceptible to predation. The roots of religion, therefore, are quite understandable. How we got to “now,” however requires some more consideration.

For example, over time we have reached a place in which “reason” is set in opposition to “belief” and “faith.” I don’t think this can be laid at the feet of reason for why this is so. So, was reason, ever, the enemy of faith/belief?

We only have written records going back some 5000 years or so, which defines what we mean by written history. Those records show that people had religious faith and used reason for that entire time . . . that is, some people, not all people, did this.

History is punctuated with any number of episodes in which religion ran up against faith. For example, Socrates was executed in 399 BCE (given the grace of being allowed to commit suicide) “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state” and of “corrupting the youth” thereby. Since this sort of prosecution (by secular and/or religious elites) happened a great deal, there was a decided downside of using reason applied to the gods. The Spanish Inquisition (and many of the other inquisitions) kept meticulous records of the numbers of people they tortured, executed, and executed by torture for being “heretics.” Some of the records show ordinary people being naively quite atheistic in their “interviews” with the Inquisitors of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Apparently they had been counseled by their lying eyes and not so much by their incompetent priests.

In the Abrahamic faiths, disdain for reason was hard-wired into scripture. Numerous bits and pieces of their holy books encourage rejection of reason as a guide for one’s life. This, of course, is understandable because religion is a social control mechanism, endorsed by the elites. If a religion is not endorsed by the elites, it doesn’t last long. (Yes, yes, there were folk religions, but did many of them survived the onslaught of the well-heeled, well-organized campaigns for state religions?)

So, the curious thing, in my mind, was how vigorously religious apologists pursued “reasons” why their faith was the One True Faith™ and their god(s) were the One True God(s)™. In the western tradition, the Greek philosophers starting arguing for (and against) gods, well back before the Common Era.

Epicurus (341–270 BC) has attributed to him (it might, however, been part of a campaign to smear Epicurus as an atheist—theists apparently lie a lot) the argument: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Plato and Aristotle, amongst others, both made arguments for the existence of gods. So reason was being applied to faith thousands of years ago if the historical record is to be trusted.

Fast forward over much of the “Dark Ages” and we reach Saint Anselm (1033-1109 CE). Anselm became a Doctor of the Church and a Saint for using reason to support the case for the existence of his god. His go to argument was the ontological argument.

So, rather than there being an antagonism between reason and faith, as it seems is almost always the case now, reason was good if it supported religious faith, bad if it did not. This is much like Republicans being in favor of smaller government, except when it comes to war making, control over women’s bodies, doing favors for businesses and rich people, etc.

Religion was always suspicious of reason because reason required no intermediaries (especially their intermediaries). Reason could go on inside someone’s head and you wouldn’t even know it! This did not contribute to the elite’s control over society, so was looked upon with suspicion . . . except where the tame reasoners could be trotted out on their leashes.

It is the same today. Christian apologists make fair incomes by going around and applying reason to their faith and coming to the conclusions that: god exists, faith is good, atheism is bad, etc. Science is declared to be atheistic because it is based solely upon reason, but the apologists are holy men for doing the same.





Evolution of the Gods—Powers

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:04 am
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I have written about how it is relatively easy to come up with animistic religions by having a somewhat overactive agency detector, a feature that provided us an evolutionary advantage by making us less susceptible to predation. Over time these animistic gods, who were everywhere, literally, morphed into locality gods. These gods were not just the god of a brook, or the god of a tree, but the god of an entire region, even the oceans.

No better evidence exists, I think, for the social construction of gods by humans, than the social competition between gods. If gods have specific venues (trees, rocks, brooks) one can still see some competition. A flooding brook might gouge the land during its flood stage and humans could interpret it as a battle between the god of the brook and the god of the meadow it flows through. But these are relatively minor affairs, nothing at all reaching the scale of the dispute between the Hindu and Muslim religious in India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, but it was a “fight between the gods,” nonetheless.

I am reminded of the campfire scene in the first Arnold Swartzenegger Conan the Barbarian movie, in which Conan and his sidekick (did he have a name?) argue over whose god is the stronger. I guess they got tired of checking to see who had the longer dick.

Obviously if there is a large scale dispute between one village and another and a faction in one village is trying to drum up passion for battle with that other village, they might claim that they worship the “wrong gods” over there. This is but one form of social competition that led to one god becoming ‘stronger” than another.

There is a logical ending for such social competition for who has the strongest god, and that is, of course, the One True God™ concept, begun by Zoroastrians (?), who then taught Hebrews, who then carried things to extremes.

But prior to that point, there had to be discussions of the “powers” of the competing gods. And in the normal human practice, things expanded over time. (How big was the fish you caught? That big, really?) So, gods needed to be strong, then stronger, then strongest. (My god is so strong, he can create a rock your god couldn’t lift.) They had to be smart, supremely smart, all-knowing). They had to be good, better, best, “all-good,” and so on.

Of course, these god powers conflicted with one another. Epicurus’s argument (maybe) that: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” points out many of these conflicts. The following quote also points to problems of this god being perfect, sufficient unto himself, etc.

They tell us it is our sins that force Him to punish us. I will answer that God, according to yourselves, is not immutable, because the sins of men compel him to change his conduct in regard to them. Can a being who is sometimes irritated and sometimes appeased, be constantly the same?”—Jean Messlier

The problem is that these claims weren’t run through God Central for fact checking and consistency checking, but it is conceivable that the Earthly Powers of The One True Religion™ might not have cared. They seemed often to favor quantity over quality (consider the definitions and examples of miracles in Catholic investigations for sainthood).

I have pointed out that if the Christian god is “all-powerful” and “all-knowing” then there could be no opposition to his plans. The idea of a final battle on the plains of Armageddon is ludicrous when on one side is a being who will know the plans of the “opposition” before they do and can thwart them with mere thoughts. In fact, why would such a god create human beings or angels, etc, in the first place. What “needs” could it have that creating such beings could satisfy.

So, over time, the powers of gods have expanded. They have expanded in scope in that gods were first confined to trees and badgers and such, but now pervade the entire universe. (If a multiverse is discovered, their gods will expand there, too.) They have expanded in power, too. From a tree being able to crack a rock with its roots, the Christian god can create billions of billions of stars and planets in a day. These expansions are signs of the social competition between adherents of the various gods over time and expose the fictional roots of all such gods.

Immutable gods? My ass. Wait until you see GOD, v 12.7 Coming Soon!

Artistic Licentiousness

I was reading a review of John Barton’s latest book, A History of the Bible, and was struck by the accompanying eye candy, namely the “The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man” (1615) by Jan Brueghel and Rubens (I assume Peter Paul Rubens). Certain things draw the eye. Being a man I had to check out Eve’s boobs and whether Adam’s penis was on display (just for comparison purposes), but after that, a number of things were interesting.

The “serpent” (above Eve’s head) is portrayed without legs. How then could Yahweh strip him of that form of locomotion to require it to “. . . crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Granted, he didn’t have to remove its legs to effect the curse (babies crawl and they have legs) but it seems that this is the case. The Bible doesn’t say “snake” which it could have, so “serpent” leaves us guessing a bit.

And, there are people who claim that the “serpent” was just Satan in disguise and . . . wait a minute, how could Yahweh be fooled by a disguise? And Satan was obviously not required to “crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” as evidenced by the Book of Job, so were serpents unnecessarily cursed here?

Back to the painting.

Where are the fucking dinosaurs? The Answers in Genesis people are plenty pissed that Brueghel the Elder left out the dinosaurs. Oh, what . . . you say dinosaurs weren’t discovered until the 1800s and so there was no way Brueghel and Reuben could have painted them in the 1600s? All they had to go on was the Bible for information and the Bible doesn’t mention any fucking dinosaurs? Oh, that’s going to piss of the AIG people even more.

Any why was the forbidden fruit always figured as an apple. All indications were that it was a fig, but I guess they didn’t give a fig for Biblical accuracy, either.

And what happened to the lamb? There was supposed to be a lamb in the painting. It was last seen lying down with that lion. Wait a minute, that lion has a bit of a guilty look on its face, no? I wonder why they painted it that way?


June 26, 2019

The Mass Defect . . . For Physics Geeks Only

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I have wondered a great deal about how atomic nuclei get formed. We are still learning about this and modern theories differ from ones of just a few years ago. Here I am interested in a detail and just so you know the context, here is an example:

A carbon-12 atom is approximately 0.8% lighter than the individual component particles that were fused together make it up (6 protons and 6 neutrons and 6 electrons). The way carbon nuclei are formed is through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium and then helium into carbon; the energy released is what powers most types of stars in both their normal and red giant phases, and the “lost mass” is where that energy comes from (E = mc2). This is how most types of “binding energy” work: the reason it’s harder to pull apart multiple things that are bound together is because they released energy when they were joined, and you have to put that amount of energy back in to free them again. My question involves what you actually get when you fuse them together. Is it like textbook diagrams, a bunch of round particles glued together or do they become something new?

In textbooks nuclei are often represented this way, because it is easy to draw, not because it is accurate. First, there is no color at this depth, not are there any hard edges, so all particles would be very fuzzy and rendered in grey, but that wouldn’t be pretty, now would it?

My simplistic interpretation was that the six fundamental particles in this example were “fused” (means “melted) together to make a new single particle, an atomic nucleus. The protons and neutrons themselves were no longer there, but whatever constituent particles that made them up (quarks and whatnot) were now combined in this new single particle.

There were some issues to be resolved, however. For one, the more particles that get fused together, the more the mass defect was. This made sense, but “how much more” did not. Here is a graph showing the mass defect (also called the nuclear binding energy) as a function of the number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) involved.

You can see from the graph that at first, as the number of nucleons being fused together increases, the mass defect per nucleon increases rapidly with it, but it inexplicably decreases between helium-4 and lithium-6. And then the increases get smaller and smaller as more nucleons become involved until it actually decreases from iron-56 onward, a clear example of “diminishing returns”!

My initial idea that some particle had to be spit out to account for the lost mass is blown out of the water with these facts. If a particle or particles, had to be spit out the loss in mass (aka binding energy) per nucleon involved would increase stepwise in a linear fashion.

In addition, if you repeat the reactions over and over, you get the same amount of energy produced. This regularity is hard to explain if the energy just comes from a pool of energy contained in the protons and neutrons, so we need to look at what these particles actually consist of.

The Insides of Protons
This is a topic that is still under development, but just recently physicists have calculated out where, according to theory, the mass of a proton is distributed. According to quantum chromodynamics theory, or QCD, the proton’s mass can be calculated (at 938 million electron volts) which agrees with measurements. But it turns out that only 9 percent of the proton’s mass comes from the masses of the constituent quarks. So where does the rest of the mass come from? According to the calculations, 32 percent comes from the energy of the quarks zipping around inside the proton! (E=mc2 again). Other occupants of the proton, massless particles called gluons that help hold the quarks together, contribute another 36 percent via their energy. The remaining 23 percent arises due to quantum effects that occur when quarks and gluons interact within the proton. Well this blows away all of our first intuitions regarding protons being little spherical bits of matter, hard bits. It seems that protons are mostly pools of mass-energy.

Presumable neutrons are much like this also, the masses of neutrons and protons being almost identical.

So . . .
So, my question is, during a fusion reaction, how does the process know when it has bled out “enough” energy to hold the constituent particles together? In addition, how does the reaction know when to stop? And, how do the particles know when to leak mass energy at all? (Realize these “reactions” happen at immensely high pressures and temperatures, conditions that usually result in energy being injected into particles, not prised out of them.) If there were some particle or particles spit out, taking mass and energy with them, a coherent process flows easily out of that, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Quarks do not get spit out of fusing nuclei. It is hard to imagine the massless gluons carrying away much energy. In more mundane processes, chemical and/or ordinary physical ones (mechanical, etc.), the processes are controlled fairly simply. When a process needs energy to proceed, as the energy is added, nothing occurs until the right amount accumulates and then, Bam! it happens. If energy is being produced, attractions are broken and new stronger attractions made, the difference between them accounts for the energy involved. In the case of a dropped object, the attraction is gravity, the object falls from one elevation to another closer to the Earth and is stopped by an obstacle (e.g. the floor). The energy of movement the object displays is exactly accounted for by the change in attraction of the Earth for the object (the attraction got ever so slightly stronger, but the amount the object could fall due to that attraction got substantially less).

So, what the heck is going on in nuclear fusion reactions? Are the protons and neutrons still there, but being less massive versions of each? If so, then there are as many protons and neutron masses as there are nuclei (the masses of those particles would have to be variable according to the data in this scenario). Are there particles involved that we haven’t discovered yet? How does the reaction know when enough energy is released?

Damn, inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and did you notice that my title with “For Physics Geeks Only” got some of you non-geeks to read this far? Pretty clever, eh?

Evolution of the Gods—Why Monotheism?

The Hebrews invented monotheism by all accounts. Prior to the invention of monotheism, everyone was in some form a polytheist. (I know this is not strictly accurate but I am not chopping details at the moment.) Now, it wasn’t exactly the case that polytheism did not work. It worked very, very well for what religions do. All of the positive benefits of, say, Christianity, can just as easily be attributed to polytheism, but polytheism actually offers more. The “more” in this case is religious tolerance. If one traveled in the ancient world, one ran into batshit crazy beliefs of all stripes. People believed the world was created by a god vomiting, or a god masturbating, etc. But people were used to different beliefs because they themselves “believed” in multiple gods. (The word belief is maybe a bit loaded for this situation. Gods were part of the fabric of society. Not believing in them was similar to not believing in goats or streets or armies. Not believing was not much of an option. )

The Romans made a great deal of hay out of this as they were a typical smash and grab civilization (their continued existence was based upon looting), different from others only with regard to the sheer size of the effort, and the first thing they would do when they conquered a people was to define a correspondence between the gods of the conquered people and the Roman gods. The Romans felt, rightly I think, that if people were forced to worship strange gods they would resist Roman rule more than if they were allowed to keep their own, comfortable, well broken in gods. So, the Greeks had a messenger god (Hermes) that was equated to the Roman messenger god, Mercury. Any conquered people who had a messenger god would be told that the Romans also worshiped “their god” but they just called him Mercury. Since they worshiped the same gods, they were less alien to one another and the assimilation could begin. The Romans invested a great deal of effort in doing this, keeping extensive records on these correspondences (in the Office of Cults, or some such bureaucratic group).

So, polytheism was perking along quite nicely, and the Hebrews were not different in this. The conversion of their religion from polytheism to monotheism shows up quite clearly, even if all you have to study is the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament). So, I know this is quite a long set up, but my question is simple: why monotheism?

It is now clear that this transition to “pure” monotheism began in the late seventh century BCE (thousands of years after the supposed times on the earlier OT). The effort lead to the first written Hebrew Bibles a couple of hundred years later, written by the same kinds of people. So who were these people? My guess is that I don’t think you will be surprised to find out that it wasn’t the common people. They couldn’t read or write and weren’t interesting in much more than the survival of themselves and their families. The only people capable of such a campaign were the elites. As the story is told (in Kings, if memory serves) the “priests” “discovered” an “old” document that clarified their religion for them. The King, being a representative of God on Earth (an anointed king, that’s what that means), had this document read from the ramparts of his city, and ordered all of the people to come, hear, and pay heed. If the Bible is to be believed, the message didn’t get out into the hustings at all quickly, nor was it enforced well, as polytheistic practices continued for centuries after this event.

So, this “found” document. What was it? It was a declaration of pure monotheism and the rites need to follow it.

So, one answer to the “why?” question is simply to say that God revealed His true desires this way . . . but that is a specious response. Why did he wait so long? Why wasn’t it clear from the beginning? Why was the worshiping of “false gods” tolerated for so long? And so on. Even the fundamentalists who believe that the Earth is only a bit over 6000 years old would be hard pressed to explain why Yahweh waited until about 2600 years ago to explain the rules of the game.

So, why monotheism, really?

Polytheism has religious tolerance built into it. Monotheism has religious intolerance built into it. When you worship the One True God™ all other gods are false gods. Worshiping them becomes abominable (literally). Your worship is right and correct, theirs is wrong headed and it undermines the worship of the One True God™. Recall that the Christians did not get in trouble with the Romans because they worshiped the OTG™. They got into trouble because they wouldn’t add the emperor to the list of gods to receive worship. What was a simple thing for polytheists was an immensely troubling thing for the Christians. The Christians, in addition, found themselves tying themselves into knots to preserve the illusion of being monotheistic, creating bizarre concepts such as the Trinity. All of the “other” gods and demigods got makeovers or erased. (If Satan isn’t a god, a being powerful enough to oppose Yahweh and still exist, then what is a god?)

Monotheism does cause problems but it also increases team member commitment to the team.

So, why? Why did the elites care to make this change? The obvious answer is power. Later when Christianity became a state religion of Rome, a whole bunch of pagan temples, pagan land, pagan wealth flowed into the hands of the elites. The more lands you got, the more money, the more power you had. (Consider the display of wealth that is the Vatican, all considered “necessary” for the Pope who is a head of state.) Prior to this Roman adoption, Christians didn’t have churches. Afterward they did. The Romans insisted they have “temples” just like all of the other cults.

So, the Hebrew elites (all were religious because you could not be an elite and not be a religious figure) pushed this change and the more power they gathered to themselves, the more they pushed it. (You don’t go faster hitting the brake pedal.) That power was really just in the central halls of government (palaces and temple) but most everybody prefers to be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small one in a big pond.

There really is no other reason. To make it a theological decision, instead of a political decision for example, there is much more to explain, as indicated by some of the above with little in the way of ready explanations. Granted this monotheism brought down criticisms of fanaticism and worse, but Jews tended to be fairly highly regarded because of their consistency. Of course, the Roman elites rarely encountered “ordinary” Hebrews outside of battles and then Roman soldiers were the only ones allowed to touch them. The Roman elites interacted with priests, rulers, merchants and the like. They didn’t even collect their own taxes, they sold the tax receipts to entrepreneurial Hebrews (as tax farmers), which is why “tax collectors” were widely despised. So, the regard for Jews by “the Roman elites” was of the “Jewish elites.” Those rich/powerful people, they sure stick together. This seems to be rooted in their common pursuit of ever more political power.

June 20, 2019

The Sodfather with Variations

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 9:19 am
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The Chicago White Sox (a Major League Baseball team) has a Head Groundskeeper who by reputation is one of the best, if not the best, at that job. He is so good that the Chicago Cubs hired his services to remake their field several years ago. This man has been given the wonderful moniker of The Sodfather.

This is a play on “The Godfather,” the title of a series of books by Mario Puzo and the Hollywood movies made from them. The eponymous character is the head of an organized crime family and anyone who has seen the first movie can recall Marlon Brando’s whispery statement “All I want is a little respect.” This was in reply to some person asking The Godfather for a favor. But it wasn’t just ethereal respect that was required as payment for the favor. At some later time the Godfather would ask for a return favor, and if this were not immediately granted, well, that person might end up “sleepin’ wit da fishes” wearing cement overshoes.

Okay, this post is not about The Godfather, but on the clever wordplay involving that name, in the form of The Sodfather. Never being one to leave well enough alone (or even capable of that), I decided that other possibilities must exist, and so. . . .

The head of the world’s most prominent robotics firm could be . . . The Botfather, no?

The world’s best police inspector must be . . . The Caughtfather.

The person who sells burial sites at the world’s largest cemetery could be The Plotfather, no?

Now that you have the idea, see if you can identify who deserves the following monikers.

The Plotfather (#2)

The Hollywood freelancer who swoops in and rescues movies with bad plots.

The Cotfather

The guy at the homeless shelter who assigns beds.

The Gotfather

The billionaire who dies with the most toys.

The Hotfather

The male parent of a teenaged girl whose friends all think her father is really attractive.

The Jotfather

The guy in your office who always . .  always . . . takes notes.

The Lotfather

The primary salesman in a new housing development.

The Bonmotfather

The guy at work who is always uttering lame witticisms. (I know it is pronounced “bon mo,” this whole thing is more than a bit of a stretch.)

The Notfather

The executive at a health insurance corporation in charge of making up reasons why your claim is not covered under your insurance policy.

The Potfather

This one is too easy; I’ll let you have this one.

The Quatfather

The world’s leading producer of kumquats.

The Rotfather

The guy who owns the world’s largest kimchi plant.

The Sopfather

The uncle in your family who cleans his plate (and even his wine glass) with bits of bread.

The Totfather

The uncle who won’t leave a family gathering without one more small drink “for the road,” and one more, and one more. . . .

The Whatfather

The deaf relative who responds to everything spoken his way with “What?”

The Zotfather

The anteater who fathered the anteater in the BC comic strip.

Now that you know the game, it is all up to you! (Please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me. And please don’t attribute misogyny to me because there are no women on the list. The play was on the Godfather, remember. When “The Godmother” becomes a cultural touchstone, I will continue. You can count on that.)


June 19, 2019

Check It Out—The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:59 am
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Every once in a while I run across a truly remarkable web site that I just have to share. Such is The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Bruce was an evangelical minister for a very long time (25 years) and has quite some stories to tell. He has become an atheist, not from some intellectual effort so much as by just realizing that he had lost his faith. He is honest to a fault and calls a spade a spade. Here’s a taste from:

Understanding Evangelical Christianity: It’s All About the Benjamins:

Evangelicals love to tout the notion that they give more money to charitable causes than secular people do. Take that, Bruce! Well, here’s the problem with this “fact: Evangelical charitable contributions include the money they donate to their churches and other religious organizations. If, as I assert, Evangelical churches are fundamentally clubs, and that congregations pay their membership fees weekly by giving money to their respective churches, then most of the “dues” stay inside the church. Take a look at the average church’s financials. Not the annual generic bullshit summary they put out, but the actual income/expense statements. What you will find is the most church income goes towards buildings, utilities, insurance, salaries, benefits, equipment, and programs that typically only benefit club members. It is not uncommon to find that a church spends less than ten percent of its income on actual ministry outside of the four walls of their sanctuary. The bigger the church, the less percentage-wise that is spent on doing meaningful work in the community. A megachurch might talk up the fact that they spent $1 million helping the “least of these” — laudable, to be sure — but $1 million out of a $25 million budget is what? Four percent of the church’s budget. In other words, ninety-six percent of the church’s income is spent in-house. Which is their right to do. Clubs have a right to spend their monies as they see fit. After all, clubs exist to benefit members, not people outside of their memberships. The issue I have is the unwarranted trumpeting of all the “good” Evangelical churches purportedly do in their communities. (If you are inclined to fire off an angry email to me that says your church and pastor are “different,” please send me copies of your church’s income/expense statements — full statements, not a summary. So far, not one Evangelical has done so, but, hey, maybe you’ll be the first.)

I highly recommend his site to you if you have an interest in this topic.

June 18, 2019

Prayers Are Needed

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

The Ontological Argument for the existence of a god has been on life support since it was first published sometime after the year 1000 by Anselm. Since then, it has be re-imagined in quite a number of forms because whenever its existence is made known to a fair number of people with more than two brain cells to rub together it has been hacked to death.

All snark aside, this logical proof was designed by believers for believers as some sort of intellectual cover. Why it is needed may be due to apologists and philosophers simply needing something to talk about.

The latest incarnation of this argument (it has a long history and I will not bore you with it) has been made by philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Here it is:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and (a Definition)
    2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world. (a Premise)
    3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness. (a Premise)
    4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
    5. Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
    6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

Now, a common “flaw” in such arguments (Apologists think of it not as a bug but as a feature!) is to slip a premise into the argument that, if accepted, requires the conclusion desired.

In this argument the stealth premise is #3. By claiming as an unadulterated truth that such a being is possible, if you combine that with the definition of what is possible, you define a god into existence.

The reply to “It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.” is simple: no it is not. Not even in your imagination can you come up with such a being. (Even Thanos has flaws.)

Any argument that says that “something is possible, therefore it exists” can define into existence anything at all: unicorns, Bigfoot (Bigfeet?), fairies, elves, etc.

So, try an experiment. (Hear Rod Serling’s voice as a voice over and it is really dramatic.) “Imagine, if you will, a being which is maximally great in any attribute you want.” What prevents you from imagining a greater being? (You say “god,” I say “god’s mother.” And if you do not think the Abrahamic god didn’t have a mother, you haven’t done your homework.) What actually prevents you is the philosopher saying “If you can imagine a greater being, then you weren’t imagining a maximally great being in the first place!” so you start over. No matter what you come up with, you will be able to imagine something greater. Think about childhood bragging (this may just apply to boys as I have no experience being a girl). If a member of your group brags that so-and-so is the greatest baseball player ever, another says “No he is not, so-and-so is.” And off we go. There was never an end to such imaginings.

Think about the largest object in nature. The Universe has to be the maximally greatest thing in existence. Then the kid says, “No, it is two universes.” And another says “Three! And a fourth says it is the Multiverse! And a fifth says “two multiverses!”

The problem here is that a maximally great anything is not definable or imaginable because we have scales of comparison. For the longest time, the fastest time any person had run a mile in was just over four minutes. That was thought to be a barrier, that no one could run that distance any faster. Then someone did, and a lot of others quickly copied that feat.

Now, you could argue that zero seconds would be the fastest possible time to run any distance. But nothing can move in zero seconds, so some time is needed, so make it 1/10 of a second. Then the Flash is born and he can do it in 1/100 of a second. And then we are back to carving time down to a smaller and smaller bit. The scales are continuous, they don’t end anywhere. (They start but they don’t end.)

By claiming that “It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness” they are basically saying “my god is possible.” But this is not a premise. It is not “obviously true” to anyone except believers. And starting a “proof” of the existence of your god by saying “my god is possible” is a pretty big leg up on “my god exists,” especially if you are going to define the gods unimaginable powers into existence, too.

Hopefully, this silly argument is on its last legs (although it appears as a prime example of a “zombie idea,” and idea that doesn’t die) but theists are probably forming prayer circles right now to ensure that it survives. Prayers are definitely needed as all natural cures have been exhausted.




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