Uncommon Sense

November 29, 2019

How Many Angels Can Dance Upon the Head of an Academic Argument

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:35 pm
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In discussions of the New Testament (NT) gospels, it is claimed by scholars that a document was used by both Matthew and Luke to flesh out (no pun intended) the gospel of Mark. This document was given the name Quelle, or Q for short, from the German word for source. No evidence exists in the archaeological record for such a document. No one has referred to it, nor have any fragments of it been discovered. The document is claimed to contain sayings of Jesus that include wisdom sayings, prophecies and other things. Some have been so adventurous to reconstitute the contents of the document.

There is a competitor to the Q theory, and that is that both Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, but then Luke “copied” from Matthew, which is the source of the material that Luke and Matthew share that does not come from Mark. This idea occurred to me and I wasn’t surprised that I was not the first.

In any case, there are robust arguments for both of these arguments and the “Q” people seem to be in a majority.

I have not, however, seen an analysis yet that has occurred to me. Here it is.

Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke contain nativity segments (birth of Jesus). Neither Mark, nor John, do this. Scholars seem to have reached a consensus that both nativity segments of those two books are bogus, fictional.

Matthew seems to have been written before Luke, so it could have been available to whoever wrote Luke. (The only thing we know about the authors of the gospels is that they were not the people whose names are on them . . . well, it is also known that there were more than four people writing them, but possibly some of those may have just been editors/redactors.)

So, what are the odds that both the writer of Matthew and the writer of Luke had the same thought that what the gospel of Mark needed was a (fictional) birth narrative and each wrote one? Let’s look at what they wrote.

There are a handful of similarities between the two. Obviously Joseph, Mary, and Jesus have to show up. The others are: conception by the spirit of god, no donkey shows up, Herod the Great is mentioned, and the birth took place in Bethlehem. On the rest of the details, many, many details, they differ. One mentions a guiding star, the other does not; one says Jesus was born in a stable, the other says a house; one says there was a visit by magicians (Magi) and the other says the visit was by shepherds, and so on. Surely these seem to be written independently, no?

But, think about someone who is capable of writing such a document and who finds the gospel of Mark lacking, and then who acquires a copy of Matthew, what would come into their mind? For one, it might be “I didn’t know you could just make stuff up and insert it!” Another might be “If Matthew were divinely inspired, if I am going to use his stuff, I better copy it exactly.” And maybe “Jeez, he did a shit job of his additions, I can do better.” Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall for that first writing session?

Matthew was thought to be the first written gospel by the church for a very long time. It includes the Sermon on the Mount and other desirable material. It flows logically and literally better than the other three, etc. But Matthew was not first. It was probably second, and a lot of stuff was added to what he included from Mark (which was most of Mark).

If the writer of Luke knew that Mark existed well before Matthew, he could not have not noticed that a great deal more information had been included. And he cannot have considered those additions as “word of god, divinely-inspired” texts, because he felt free to edit the pieces of Matthew he did include. Pieces got chopped up and moved around a great deal.

So, why would an author, who has decided to plagiarize (a word not used then) and improve upon Matthew have made so many changes, some of which were poorly done? Well, if you are going to plagiarize another’s writing, what would you do? Just lift out whole chunks of the stolen stuff and drop it in? This was done with Mark, but Matthew established that this was okay by doing the same. Luke still made minor changes if the stuff clipped from Mark. But if one didn’t want to be caught stealing wholesale, one had to disguise what they are doing somewhat. Rewrite some of this, reword some of that, cut out this, include that, these are the orders of the day. To do less, then one should just use Matthew, instead of Mark and leave it at that. One wanted to have to change what Mark or Matthew had written to do the project at all. That both Matthew and Luke copied most of Mark, they couldn’t have considered it fallacious, just in need of tightening . . . and expanding.

And, the clear fact that the birth narrative in Matthew was fictional would support my imagined approach of Luke. Well, did Luke know that Matthew’s birth narrative was fictional. If Luke’s sources were just Mark and Q, there is nothing in Q, according to the Q advocates, regarding a birth narrative. So, where would this information have come from? There are no other sources of birth narratives other than Matthew and Luke, period. So, if Luke had enough brain cells to rub together, he would realize that the birth narrative of Matthew was added fiction, serving the purpose of fleshing out the story. And, if it was fictional, changes in it would disguise that the idea for it came from Matthew and also would allow for the correction of some errors perceived. Of course, local knowledge is never perfect, and things Luke thought were the facts, might actually have been errors and “correcting” Matthews factual errors may actually have inserted different errors in place of the perceived ones. (There are errors, oodles of them.)

So, until some concrete evidence for the existence of Q is found, I will continue to think of it as a hypothetical document invented to plug holes in hypothetical arguments over the gospels.

The gospels and the book of Acts of the Apostles are the only place any mention of an historical Jesus are made. (Yes, there are references to Jesus in a few other sources, but those references cannot be distinguished as being distinct from descriptions of the beliefs of Christians.) These earliest gospels were written after the fall of Jerusalem in the early 70’s CE, so way after the claimed birth, death, and rebirth of the main character. And the others are placed after to well after the first gospel, Mark. How likely are the “facts” to have been preserved when the communication system of the region (not counting the Romans) was gossip. More likely was that the gospels were written from agendas that cropped up in the early church and were not intended as historical documents at all.

Many claims are placed at the feet of a robust oral tradition preserving the facts of Jesus’ life, but that belief also has a great many holes in it, so set that on the shelf next to the Q document. (As I have wondered before . . . if you believe your god walked the Earth and you were one of his chosen companions, wouldn’t you get a wealthy believer to pay for a scribe to record everything you could remember about the man-god? And there were over ten surviving people in that situation, possibly over twenty (all of the unnamed women and people Jesus visited and stayed with and . .  and . . .). Oh, the disciples? The only place they are mentioned is in said gospels and Acts. The “pillars” of the church (Peter and James) are mentioned often enough in other works of the NT, but these people were mentioned as leaders of the Jerusalem sect of the nascent Christian church, not as disciples.)

Actually Giving Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:49 am

Yesterday I had a back and forth with Professor Taboo in which I had an idea. Here is what I said then:

I am tired of those claiming that atheists have nothing to give thanks for on Thanksgiving day. What if we were to have a tradition that on Thanksgiving Day, we would write notes to all of those people in our lives we owe thanks to. Doctors who helped us survive: tow truck drivers who pulled us out of a snowy bank, bankers who helped us get out from under a dicey loan, lawyers who defended us in court against false charges, and so on. Think of millions of these notes being sent via snail mail, email, and whatnot.” (Yes, I quoted myself!)

I am sure that Hallmark and American Greetings and all of the other “card” makers would get on board with this! Think how you would feel when over a few days span, everyone who is thankful for what you have done has written you and you get a ton of mail. And, if you get no mail at all, society is basically saying you need to get your pitiful life in order and help a few others. I am sure the postal service would not look askance at this tradition.

I am sure that this “feel good” exercise would be diluted by every fricking commercial vendor thanking each and everyone of their customers, but we could disabuse them of doing that on a mechanized scale.

Currently, we currently “give thanks” by gorging ourselves on too much food and drink and watching parades, dog shows, football games, and whatnot on television. How is any of that “giving thanks”? (“I am thankful I can afford to buy too much food on occasion and can afford to have cable and a wide-screen TV to watch meaningless things thereon.” WTF?)


November 28, 2019

From What Planet. . . ?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
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Diane Ravitch’s blog today shared a lecture (often called a sermon) by Rev. Dr. Charles Foster Johnson (J.M. Dawson Lecture on Religious Liberty, “Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America,” Baylor University, October 7, 2019).

Everything was perking right along until . . .

The corollary to this God-given religious liberty is the principle of the strict separation of the church from the state. In our work in Pastors for Texas Children, we refer to religious liberty as a gift from God to all people, and note that James Madison did not make it up. God did. Madison took an eternal spiritual truth that God authored and wrote it down in an extraordinary sentence that comprises the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

Hit the brakes! WTF?

Religious freedom is a “gift from god?” This is yet another example of everything we label “good,” being automatically labeled as a gift from their god.

The worship of this particular god resulted in the religions that basically say “believe or be tortured forever; obey or suffer the consequences.” The Israelites were never told “you are free to worship whatever god you choose in what ever way you choose, so sayeth God.” They were told to obey Yahweh or else. The same holds true for Jesus worshipers; believe or suffer everlasting torment.

How the fuck is this “religious freedom”? How is this “the state shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Israeli was a theocracy at the time. Rulers ruled by warrant from their god, period. If a ruler had a falling out with their god or even their priests, they should pack their bags because they were toast, sometimes literally. This is the polar opposite of what religious freedom means.

The history of the various churches involved show heresy to be a crime, often to be punished by death. The church often captured citizens and tortured them, prosecuted them, and executed them, and the various “states” were fine with that. There certainly was no church-sanctioned “religious freedom,” and the United States was the first nation to be built upon this premise (amongst others). This desire was founded on wanting to avoid the religious wars of Europe, which were promulgated by state-imposed religions. Poor England was whipsawed multiple times as its monarch oscillated between Catholic and Protestant faiths; those in ascendance could be in hiding in a very short time.

Religious freedom labeled as a gift from god, my ass. If one can consider something ripped from desperate grasping hands a gift, then this might be believable.

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him . . .” (Jesus, KJV)


November 27, 2019

The Truth About Sodom and Gomorrah

Filed under: History,Religion,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:57 am
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I have seen other programs under the rubric of “Buried Secrets of the Bible,” and blogged upon episodes, but this new series stars Albert Lin, the likable new star for Nat Geo programming. The charming Mr. Lin has appeared in a series on the Maya, Lost Cities and a couple of others, I think. In any case, this series is using his tool set to investigate events in the Bible to see if there is any archaeological basis for the stories in the Bible. Very little time is spent on the theology involved. Mr. Lin’s tool set is to use LIDAR (from both plane and drone) and satellite imagery to identify hard to see from the ground archaeological sites, then he goes exploring.

These shows are, I suspect, a gold mine because if they avoid offending righteous believers, they pick up the “see everything in the Bible is true” crowd and at the other end are the curious science types looking to see what advances in archaeology are to be had. NatGeo, of course, blends in a soupcon of beautiful cinematography to make it very tasty to the eye.

Okay, so last night Episode 2 was on Sodom and Gomorrah. Was there any truth to be discovered about that story?

After some scene setting, the final segment was about an archaeologist who had discovered a site, or decided he could identify the site, as the ruins of the city of Sodom. The ruins were properly placed in time, they had the outward characteristics as described in the Bible and as were known to exist at the time. The site was quite near the Dead Sea. This city had been turned into a “pile of rubble” in some sort of catastrophic event, which involved the tumbling down of buildings, extensive fire and then 700 years of no further occupation after the event. Various possible causes were considered, but the archaeologist involved felt that the possibilities were quite limited because of some of the artifacts. These were pieces of clay pottery that had been exposed to extreme heat, to the point that the pottery melted. The only known sources of such temperatures were nuclear explosions or meteor strikes, so the working hypothesis was a meteor strike. Part of the meteor (they seldom are just a single object) could have exploded over the Dead Sea resulting in a giant wave of salt water flowing over the arable fields supporting the city, resulting in fields that no longer supported crops, which would explain the 700 year historical gap. Another part of the meteor, striking the ground or exploding above ground would account for the shock wave causing the tumbling buildings and fires.

Using LIDAR and satellite images, Mr. Lin’s team created a 3-D representation of the city site and using false colors, they picked up what appeared from the ground to be a giant cistern for water, but from above looked exactly like an impact crater from a small, but potent, meteor strike. Ta da. The cistern idea wasn’t very good unless it were underground as water exposed over that large of an area would evaporate too quickly. To confirm that it was indeed a meteor crater, an excavation study will have to be done. If confirmed then a story of massive destruction involving “fire and brimstone” from the heavens will have an historical event underneath it.

Very cool.

And, let’s entertain the idea, for the moment, that this scenario, or one like it, were true.

This is a tragic event. An entire city of thousands of people with their animals were wiped out by an “act of nature.” So, residents of that city who had been away on trading trips or nearby relatives of those living there would be faced with the horrible remains. People from safely far off would describe the fiery death of the city. The survivors would be left with tremendous losses and questions that couldn’t be answered, the primary one was “Why?”

The fact that the “why” question could not be answered didn’t stop some of the religiously minded. They connected dots that existed mostly in their minds, including: this was a horrible destruction rained from above, therefore it must be an act of their god, a godly punishment. And since the destruction was so vast, the reason for the destruction must have been heinous. But in the Old Testament, the only real sin is disobedience. People are punished for disobedience because, well . . . why, boys and girls? Because religions exist to control the masses to serve the interests of the secular and religious elites, that’s why. And obedience is always what they demand and disobedience is what they always punish.

So, the inhabitants of these cities are declared to be depraved because their punishment was so severe. Stories were invented to show how depraved they were including attempts at angel rape. (Which brought to mind Arlo Guthrie’s masterpiece “Alice’s Restaurant” and “. . . mother rapers and, and father rapers, sitting right there on the Group W bench . . .”) How it is that angels couldn’t protect themselves from puny, human angel rapists is beyond me. (Were I one of those angels, I would pull out a fiery sword and lop a few heads off and see if their mood changed at all.)

And, of course, the topper is the story of Lot’s family. Lot, son of Abraham, is the only righteous person in the entire city, so angels come and tell him to get his family the heck out of town and don’t look back. And as they are descending the hill of the city, the destruction began, and one of Lot’s family couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a peak and got turned into a pillar of salt. (Another example of the punishment not fitting the crime, but that is the norm for the Bible.)

Now, who was selected to be the disobedient one? Ah, Lot’s wife. Silly woman. She might have been righteous and tight with god, but she also made a good object lesson and the topic of the lesson is? Disobedience! (Ah, you were paying attention!) Silly woman. Women are so flighty and undependable. Tsk, tsk. That will teach them to stifle their curiosity.

So, it wasn’t enough for the people of these cities to be destroyed by a random cosmological event, but in the aftermath, religious assholes smeared their city and all of the inhabitants and their families for ever and ever, Amen, with made up stories of their depravity. Well, I guess they just got what they deserved . . . not!

Oh, and if the narrative doesn’t hold up, then we are left with the prospect that the entire story is made up, aka fictional, which makes the religious who wrote it, thinking it a great teaching story, even bigger assholes.

A New Version of “If Their Lips are Moving . . .”

Filed under: Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:42 am
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I read that the only Dutch-speaking fact checker working for Facebook has quit in protest in Facebook’s policy that it will not fact-check political ads.

I applaud the decision as one of personal integrity but it will mean next to nothing to Facebook as they . . . do . . . not . . . care. Actually they care about making money, but fact checking, preserving people’s privacy, etc. not so much.

This serves merely to bring up my question: Are there still people who believe that you can learn anything of value from a political ad, enough so that they are worth watching? These “advertisements” are exactly what they are as used in commerce—misleading statements that are trying to sell you something. The whole modern practice of advertizing grew out of what was called at the time . . . propaganda. (I kid you not. And this was before propaganda was seized upon for political use in a major way.) And, ironically, modern economic theory is based upon “buyer” and “seller” having the same information, which means there should be no need for advertising, certainly not the deceptive kind.

I stopped watching/listening to political ads years ago. There is no upside. Well, there is the upside that politicians will waste their money producing the damned things.

So, I recommend to you that you should also eschew political ads as they are misleading propaganda that have very little up side and a big downside. They are hardly worth fact checking as most would not pass muster.

The old joke was: Question: How can you tell a politician is lying? Answer: His lips are moving. Maybe we need an update on this: the modern version is: Question: How can you tell a politician is lying? Answer: When you hear/see him saying “I am <name> and I approve this message.”



November 25, 2019

Impossible Burger . . . Possibly?

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:17 am

The irony is palpable. The “health industry” is telling us in a loud voice that we should eschew “highly processed foods” in favor of using fresh ingredients, cooked to eat . . . and at the same time we are also urged to consider hamburger substitutes, such as is being served in the Burger King Impossible Whopper.

The commercials for the Impossible Whopper make it look very appetizing. The burger glistens with fat as if right from the grill. The edge of the burger patty is irregular as if it were formed by hand. Yum. So, I tried one. In appearance, not so good. the patty had a very regular edge, as if it had been extruded through a die (which I suppose it had) and glistening fat was nowhere in evidence. The color was closer to grey than the brown and black version (often with a pink interior) shown in the advertisements.

The aroma was minimal and the texture not bad. The flavor compares with ordinary burgers, so quite an accomplishment. If burgers were ranked on a scale from exquisite a la Bill’s Place in San Francisco used to make to dog meat burgers (mostly filler), this one would be near the middle of that scale, so mediocre, but not in a bad way.

I have always felt that vegetarians should be creating their own dishes (Porcini Mushrooms and mashed potatoes, yum!), not trying to mimic meat dishes, but I realize that to get the majority of people to come along with a more environmentally favorable diet, some copycatting is going to have to occur.

So, as copycats go, the Impossible Burger is meh, but a good deal farther along that road than the lamentable “garden burger.” And it is, without fear of contradiction, a highly processed food. I have no idea how nutritious it is.

I think a lot could be done to ameliorate the woeful environmental record of the meat industry, first would be to eliminate factory ranching of cattle and pigs and the like and go back to free range everything. This would not only reduce the carbon footprint of the industry but would save soil and has many other benefits. The increased cost of meat and fowl produced that way would also lower its consumption.

No Respect for Goliath

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:11 am
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I was watching an NBA game the other day, one involving the Dallas Mavericks, specifically so I could watch their new star, 20-year old Luka Dončić from Slovenia. I was not disappointed. He is not only really, really good but he is a likable young man also.

He doesn’t, however bear any responsibility for the comments of those broadcasting the game. They used visuals to show that only three players had averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds in their first seasons. None of the three was Wilt Chamberlain.

For the record—in Wilt’s Rookie season, 1959-60 he averaged 37.6 points per game and 27 rebounds per game. To show that was not a fluke Wilt averaged 38.4 points and 27.2 rebounds per game the next season and then in 1961-62 he averaged 50.4 points and grabbed 25.7 rebounds per game. Many of these are still all-time records, as is the 55 rebounds he grabbed in one game. (Bill Russell claims he had the best seat in the house to observe this performance, so this wasn’t some stat put up against a lame opponent.) Now a great many people will say that that was a different era, which is was, but along with the positive attributes there were negatives. In that incredible 1961-62 season it wasn’t as if they weren’t trying to stop Wilt—he lead the league in free throws shot. As just one example consider this quote “Half the fouls against him were hard fouls … he took the most brutal pounding of any player ever.” That was from Boston Celtic Tom Heinsohn, one of Wilt’s most fierce competitors, with regard to an NBA Finals series.

So, why the disrespect? Chamberlain said himself, that “no one roots for Goliath” even though he was not the largest player in the league by any measure (but was most likely the strongest ever to play).

Dončić is a 6´ 7ʺ guard-forward and his numbers are quite extraordinary, but commentators should know better than to claim that only three people had better numbers for some stretch without mentioning Wilt.

Nobody had better numbers than Wilt, except for free throw percentage. Wilt even led the league in assists one year. Wilt had 30.1 points per game, 22.9 rebounds per game and played 45.8 minutes (out of 48) per game for his entire 15-year career! No other player could come close to his endurance, nor could they even try out of fear of breaking down (load management my ass).

If you are going to quote US professional basketball statistics, always, always, always start with the most prolific player in NBA history. Have some respect.

November 21, 2019

Stupid Watergate II

Comedian John Oliver has tagged the current goings on in the White House as “Stupid Watergate II” and it seems fitting. I mean, if you get conned by an expert, there is some respect for the finesse used to con you. Being conned by idiots allows no such ego protection.

In any case, I remember the televised Senate Watergate hearings (begun May 17, 1973 . . . remember Nixon resigned August 9, 1974, so this was a long process). What I do not remember is the denigration of the process and character assassinations that we are now hearing. It seemed that the hearings were run with some effort to simply discover the truth. The committee chair, Sam Ervin of North Carolina and ranking member Howard Baker of Tennessee seemed not to be at loggerheads all of the time, but worked together quite well.

(Possibly that four of the seven members were from the South may have brought some Southern manners to the affair, but . . . or that those were Senate hearings while we are now watching House proceedings . . . or . . .)

Are my memories just really cloudy or was there just more decorum back then?

November 18, 2019

When Punching …

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:49 pm

… make sure you are not punching uphill!


Ah, It Is Called Promiscuous Teleology

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:44 am
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I ran across this very interesting blog post by George Hargrave (Promiscuous Teleology: Mislead By Our Evolutionary Past). Here are a number of excerpts:

“Humans, in particular children, frequently view and interpret the world in terms of purpose. They attribute something’s existence to its role or telos rather than its causal necessity. If you were to ask a child, ‘Why do mountains exist?’ they are more likely to respond, ‘so that animals have something to climb,’ than they are to with a more careful response that considers how they were actually formed. This cognitive bias — where humans use heuristics in an attempt to award a purpose or role to everything — is called ‘promiscuous teleology’.”

“The purpose-seeking psyche of humans is an evolutionary by-product of an historical struggle for survival that generously rewarded teleological rationalisations.”

“The perils of this cognitive tendency extend to religion also where its prominence has contributed to the propagation of beliefs in the supernatural. Even today only 47% of Americans believe Darwin’s theory of evolution to be true, with the other half opting for a belief in creationism and a transcendent deity.”

“Purposes are something reinforced by evolution and seemingly created by evolution.”

Scientists, actually natural philosophers, were not immune to this fallacy. Aristotelian physics, for example, claimed the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) were striving to reach their natural place in the universe. A rock fell not because of the forces of gravity but because it strived to reach its natural place. This is why I refer to Aristotle as a natural philosopher, rather than a scientist. Philosophers start with thoughts, add more thoughts, and conclude in thoughts with an occasional sprinkling in of evidence. Sciences, by contrast, have thoughts but immediately try to link those thoughts to observable behaviors that can tell the scientist whether their thoughts are any good as a description of nature. Scientists have a full-time arbiter of their ideas (nature) whereas philosophers have only their thoughts. (This is why philosophers are professional disagree-ers. To agree with their colleagues would leave them with nothing to say.)

So, purposes are something reinforced by evolution and seemingly created by evolution. I can hear apologist heads exploding all the way from here.

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