Uncommon Sense

January 18, 2022

People are Good? Stop the Madness!

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:28 am

An orthodox rabbi made an astounding proclamation recently, but the good man, Dennis Prager, will set him straight.

The Rabbi claimed that . . . wait for it . . . that people are good. Oh, the perfidy, the obtuseness, the betrayal of Judeo-Christian ethics and morals!

Accord in Prager:

With regard to Judaism, the Torah completely rejects the notion that man is basically good. God Himself states that “the will of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21) and that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

For a rabbi to assert that man is basically good is to assert that God was wrong. I am used to secular people saying that, not Orthodox rabbis.

Ah, preaching to the choir, again, Dennis. But Genesis also said other things. For example, at the end of the sixth day of creation, the Torah says “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Every thing, that phrase includes the people He had made, no? How did they get from being “very good,” noy just “good” mind you, in chapter 1 of Genesis to being the bearer of only evil thoughts in chapter 6? How is Yahweh not responsible for His flawed creation? Why is he blaming everyone around him, but not Himself?

And why is Mr. Prager, along with all of the other “religious authorities,” claiming that the evil characterizations of scripture are valid, but not the good characterizations? Gosh, do you think they have an incentive to promoting the disease they claim only they have the cure for? Do you think?

January 12, 2022

Another Book Recommendation

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:46 pm
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I am only part way through this one but it seems too good to keep to myself. If you, like me, are an atheist, then I think this is a must read book. The reason: well, the author says things exactly as I have been thinking them for quite some time, but almost never am I that blunt.

The book is “The Praying Ape: How Evolution Explains the Strange Phenomenon of Religious Belief” by Allan Lees.

Here is a taste.

Right out of the box, the introduction begins:
“There is one very curious fact about the human race that few people notice: alone among all the other animals on the planet, our species lives largely in an imaginary world. All other animals live in the real world, a world of predators and prey, of hunger and satiation, of inclement weather and shelter. We, on the other hand, see gods and goblins everywhere. We conjure “reasons” for events that are in fact entirely unconnected with our fantastical imaginings. We believe if we mutter ritual incantations and make suitable genuflections these actions will result in some gift being bestowed or some boon being granted by one or more invisible magical creatures for which there has never been the slightest shred of evidence and the existence of which would be contrary to everything we know about how the universe actually works.”

Later he says:

“While lamentable intellectually, it may be necessary emotionally for the vast majority of our species to indulge in this self-deception in order to be able to function adequately on a daily basis. Our minds may simply be incapable of dealing with reality in any meaningful way. Thus superstition, and by extension religious belief, may be a necessary mental crutch upon which most people hobble through life.”
“In conclusion, therefore, we can see that there are no viable arguments to be made for religion, regardless of whether one is pleading morality, utility, causality, or subjectivity. The only other potential argument would be from evidence but this is not a proposition available to religionists simply because there never has been any evidence in favor of whatever superstitious and supernatural beliefs have been invoked across time and place. No religion has ever produced anything even remotely approaching tangible evidence or even secondary or tertiary evidence of the existence of any form of invisible magical creature or “grand plan” or a plausible mechanism by means of which such a creature could create the universe in which we live.”

This book is highly recommended.

January 4, 2022

Government is No Replacement for Religion (Thank God!)

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:46 am
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All evidence to the contrary, there are people who espouse the idea in this piece’s title. In an online article entitled “We Must Stop the Progressive Doctrine of More Government and Less Religion!” by Star Parker on Dec 29, 2021, the author says the following: “One great mystery is the persistent refusal of those on the left to abandon what is clearly not true. That is, that the means for reducing the burden of poverty is more government spending.”

Silly progressives!

She goes on to say “As Americans allow themselves to be convinced that government is the answer to their lives, they become more likely to abandon faith and religion, which provide the light and principles for individuals to take control of their own lives.”

Basically she is saying government (all of us acting as one) is no substitute for religion when it comes to poverty (and every other social aspect of our society).


Hey, you don’t need permission, if your religion can provide the antidote to poverty, fire away. Do it. What are you waiting for? Why whine that bad, old government is undermining your religious beliefs when your religion has all of the answers? Hey, put up or shut up. If religion has the answer to poverty or any other social ill, they should execute their plan and do away with it. Then there would be no need for government intervention, right?

This sounds much like the Catholics whittling away at the contraceptive coverage in Obamacare because they couldn’t enforce their ban on contraception in their own church’s memberships.

The religious are oh, so quick to use government power when it is in their favor and then decry the influence of “big (bad) government” when it is not.

If you can solve these problems, do it. If not, how about shutting up while we try to find something that actually works.

I hate whining.

Life After Death—You Just Have to Believe!

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am

An author I just read claims to “believe” in life after death, amongst a number of other things based upon his ability to “sense” electricity, but I am going to set that aside. In his diatribe about how consciousness survives death the author pointed out that “Researchers say there’s evidence that consciousness continues after clinical death.” This is true. But as someone who has gotten exercise from jumping to conclusions, I don’t think the author read the article closely enough, or based his thinking on what a “science writer” wrote interpreting those results.

Most of us think that when we die, the “light goes out” as when a light switch is thrown. One second you are alive, the next you are dead. The scientific findings showed, conclusively I think, that dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe. And, using “clinical death” as a standard of comparison is iffy at best. We have more than one definition of when a person is “truly dead,” in fact I think there are many. Why is this? Possibly this is because dying is a process that takes more time than we are inclined to believe.

It was not that long ago that burial crypts had bells installed in them because people interred in them “came back to life” and were trapped in those crypts. The bell was a way to signal for help.

Being dead and being in a deep coma are easier to distinguish today because of modern instrumentation, EKGs, etc. In the past, well, mistakes were made. Some of these were labeled “resurrections.” Here is a sure test. If you think someone is dead, wait a week and check again. I have heard of no accounts of people being resurrected after a week of time, except in horror novels.

It is extremely unlikely that consciousness survives death. I mean really, really, really unlikely . . . really! Think about it. Every night when you go to sleep you become unconscious. Why is that? You are alive, no? So, why do you lose consciousness? Where does your consciousness go? Apparently some physical part of your body has some maintenance or other to do to support being conscious the rest of the day. Having gone more than a whole day without sleep, I can attest to unpleasantness associated with that and would not want to have extended that experiment longer than one day.

It seems clear, from disease and injury studies, that the seat of our consciousness is our brains. Upon death, our brains, along with all other tissues of our bodies, decompose. That is a technical term for “turn to goo.” Our muscles no longer work and neither do our brains as their structures have turned to goo. A brain dead for any time no longer has the capacity to do what it did while you were alive, so how is one’s consciousness supposed to be supported? Where does it reside?

It seems to me that beliefs in consciousness after death are residuums of the belief in souls, which are manifestations of beliefs in an afterlife, which became the domain of religions. The soul provided a mechanism by which one could carry on after dying. But nature tells us over and over than “life continues after your death, it just doesn’t involve you.” Some people find this fact dismaying. I think those people need to get a grip on reality. Believing in things untrue get you nowhere. I am constantly surprised that people say that religious beliefs are “consoling.” How can something you know is not true be consoling. (Every time I hear someone say “I know <name of loved one here> is up there looking down upon us . . .” all I feel is sadness, that people cling to such beliefs.

December 16, 2021

Equal Protection Under the Law

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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Conservatives, especially conservative SCOTUS justices, would like nothing more than to repeal Roe v. Wade and turn the issue over to the states.

They are claiming this is the “democratic” thing to do.

Political cartoonists are our modern court jesters, but that doesn’t mean they play fair.

But this is not the issue. The issue is whether there is equal protection under the law. If this issue is detailed to the states the following scenario is very likely to happen. In one hospital, a woman receives a safe abortion, paid for by her medical insurance, and is released into the care of her family. Twenty miles away, a doctor giving a woman an abortion is arrested and charged with murder. So is the woman who hired the doctor to do the procedure, so is her husband for driving his wife to her medical clinic.

The difference? In the twenty miles separating the two facilities is a state border.

The federal government has stepped in over and over . . . and over, to make policies consistent across state lines to ensure “equal protection under the law.”

There are only a few issues over which it has demurred, e.g. capital punishment, although it has restricted the methods by which capital punishment can be imposed.

Surely the legality of the procedure is a matter of interstate commerce, no? Can a legal procedure in one state carry a death penalty in another?

Instead of turning it over to the states, we would be much better off to do what Canada has done; it forbade legislation on the matter, declaring it a personal matter, not a public matter. Canada has no laws, other than the health and safety laws governing all medical procedures, on the topic . . . none. And I just can’t believe that all Canadians are going to Hell because of their sensibility.

December 13, 2021

Beyond Space and Time?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:39 am
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I am sure you are aware that Judaism was under heavy Hellenistic influence in the first centuries BCE and CE. Since Plato was such a towering figure in Greek philosophy Platonism got into Jewish thinking at this time.

Here is a comment made about the Epistle to the Hebrews a ways back:

“I will quote Marcus Dods from his 1910 commentary on Hebrews in the Expositor’s Greek Testament, for he lays out the Platonic principle very succinctly: (The author’s focus on the “heavenly” represents) the contrast of this world and heaven, between that of the merely material and transient, and the ideal and abiding. Things of this world are material, unreal, transient; those of heaven are ideal, true, eternal. Heaven is the world of realities, of things themselves, of which the things here are but copies.” (Source: W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist?)

So everything in Heaven is perfect? This seems to be the opinion of most Christians. Aye, there’s the rub.

If everything is perfect, then there can be no time. For if time passes, things change; if something which is perfect changes it can only become imperfect, hence there can be no time.

Similarly there really can be no space, either. If you are in Heaven and want to move, even slightly, say to get a better view of those being tormented in Hell, then the view you had wasn’t perfect, which it must be. So movement cannot be allowed in a perfect Heaven because there is no need of it. One place cannot be better than another and everything be perfect.

And, atheists, like me, have scoffed at the “God is beyond space and time” trope, but if it is true, would you want to be there with Him? Not only would there be no time or space, there would be no movement, no change, everything is perfect, remember.

Heaven would be as boring as all get out, and the miracle of it is that this god would not allow you to recognize that fact, because if he did, He would be admitting that Heaven was not perfect.

So, why did Jews and Christians chase this particular rabbit down this particular rabbit hole. It doesn’t end well, certainly. Oh, not to worry? It is all made up. Ah, now it makes sense. Nonsense made up by people chasing their own tails, producing tales that millions of “believers” chase today. Hmmm.

December 8, 2021

Circumstantial Arguments for the Basis of Christianity

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:08 am
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I have been reading Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (by Various Authors). And I was struck by one of the chapters that lays out a perfectly acceptable scenario for the creation of Christianity that doesn’t involve gods, magic, or even a human Jesus. Since the orthodox case for the creation of Christianity basically claims “How could it have occurred otherwise?” a reasonable approach is to explain how it could have. (There are thousands of religions based upon “beings” that do not exist (according to Christians) so one cannot claim we are not capable of such syntheses.) Here is the segment from this book.

In Chapter 6, “Pauline Origin of the Gospels in the Wake of the First Jewish-Roman War,” by R.G. Price (not to be confused with R.M. Price, who is one of the editors and contributors to this compilation), the author puts forward his take on how Christianity got started.

I will put forward here what I believe is an account of Christian origins that is supported by the evidence. Certainly, there will be details here that merit debate, but I believe this outline is one that deserves serious consideration.

In the early first century, there were widespread beliefs among Greeks, Romans, and Jews that a “new age” was dawning in which the so-called Roman age would come to an end and a new race of man would rule the world. We see speculation about this new age in the writings at Qumran, in which the Qumranic writers put forward prophecies about how Jews would become the new dominant race of man, aided by both a priestly messiah and a military messiah, who would call down the armies of heaven to aid them in a final battle to overthrow Roman rule as described in the famous Qumranic War Scroll. We see that the teachings of these Qumranic writers relied heavily on scriptural divination, the supposed finding of hidden prophecies in the Jewish scriptures, and the reinterpretation of ancient Jewish texts to find new meaning in them and to “discover” the “true nature” of various figures from the Jewish scriptures.

It is from these types of practices that many of the apocalyptic works of the second century BCE through first century CE are derived. We find stories from figures such as Enoch, an obscure individual from Genesis, who was reinterpreted in this period as a semi-godly figure who travelled up to the heavens and recorded the mysteries of the heavenly powers. Enoch was eventually revealed as the savior himself—the “Son of Man.” We find at Qumran a description of Melchizedek, another person from the Jewish scriptures, who was now being interpreted as an eternal heavenly high priest, whose real identity had been kept hidden and secret, only now to be revealed by the prophets. Melchizedek is called Elohim, God. It is said that he would judge the world, atone for the sins of the world, and that he would bring about the final defeat of Belial–Satan. Melchizedek combines the features of God, the priestly messiah and the war messiah all into one.

It is from these types of practices and scriptural interpretations that a cult worshiping a Melchizedek-like interpretation of Joshua emerged. Joshua is the one who led the Jews into the promised land. Yehoshu’a, the one whose name means “YAHWEH is salvation.” It was this new Yehoshu’a, revealed by prophets through the scriptures, who was going to be the heavenly messiah who would bring about salvation for the Jewish people at the end of their present age, according to this small millenarian cult.

Paul became a part of this cult, but Paul was a Hellenized Jew. Paul’s vision was not one of a new Jewish dominance, but rather of a new savior who would bring about salvation for all people, not just Jews. Paul developed his particular theology. We do not know how much of Paul’s theology was unique to him and how much came from the pre-existing cult of Yehoshu’a, but certainly some aspects of Paul’s teaching were unique to him. Paul taught that Yehoshu’a, now Iesous in Greek, delivered himself as the ultimate final sacrifice, thereby overcoming death and leading the way into the new promised land of heaven itself. Iesous had set in motion the coming destruction of the corrupt material world and the raising of the souls of the dead. The souls of the righteous who had faith in him would then join Iesous in the new heavenly Jerusalem once the material world had been destroyed.

Paul promoted this cult through mystery practices that involved the use of images of the Crucifixion of Iesous and teachings about the death and resurrection of Iesous that were familiar to Greeks who had worshiped the mysteries of the death and rebirth of Dionysus. Paul presented sometimes strained interpretations of the supposedly prophetic Jewish scriptures to his Greek audience in support of his teachings.

During a time of growing tensions between Jews and Gentiles, Paul taught a message of reconciliation and peace. Paul promoted the Jewish messiah as a universal savior for all people. Paul presented Christ Jesus as a mystery—a mystery to be grasped only through faith. It was Paul who taught the primacy of faith over the law. It was Paul who was in conflict with the Jewish authorities. It was Paul who suffered arrest and abuse. It was Paul whose message was not understood by the pillars of the Jesus cult.

Paul died shortly before the outbreak of the First Jewish-Roman War, or perhaps even during the war. Paul’s message of peace and reconciliation had not been heeded. The result was not a glorious new age for Jews—it was the decimation of the Jewish people and the destruction of the Temple.

In the wake of these events, one of Paul’s companions produced the story that we now call the “Gospel of Mark.” This story makes extensive use of the Jewish scriptures and letters of Paul to construct an allegorical narrative filled with hidden meaning. Virtually every scene is constructed from references to the Jewish scriptures. Virtually every teaching of Jesus comes from the letters of Paul. The Gospel of Mark is written by a master of both Jewish and Greek prophetic literature, following in the footsteps of the Jewish authors of pseudo-Orphic and pseudo-Sibylline works such as Testament of Orpheus and the Sibylline Oracles.

It is unknown how this story circulated or came into the hands of the writer called Matthew. But when the writer called Matthew read the story, he recognized some of “Mark’s” references to the Jewish scriptures. Matthew, for unknown reasons, expanded the story and built upon the scriptural references used by Mark. When Matthew recognized Mark’s references, he called them out, stating to his readers that such events, “fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophets.” Matthew also created his own new narratives using scriptural references like Mark had, but calling his references out again with the claim that such events “fulfilled” the words of the prophets. Matthew changed Mark’s narrative to be less hostile to Peter, James, John, and the other disciples. Matthew’s Jesus was no longer a mystery, but now a clear teacher. Matthew’s narrative points out the relationship between Jesus and the Jewish scriptures, and in Matthew’s narrative Jesus’ teachings are expanded upon and explained. It is unclear whether the writer of Matthew thought that Jesus was a real person or not, but the writer of Matthew certainly knew that he was fabricating his own narrative.

It was Matthew’s expanded and clearer narrative that gained prominence and broader circulation. It was Matthew’s narrative that seemed far more realistic.

Some wealthy Greek named Theophilus heard some of the stories about Jesus and sought out further confirmation of the claims. This Theophilus consulted the person now known as Luke, likely sometime around the end of the first century. This “Luke” likely believed that Jesus was a real person. Luke worked from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew as well as the letters of Paul, and likely other historical sources such as the works of Josephus, to produce what he believed was a historically credible account. Luke understood that the writer of Matthew had used the account we now attribute to Mark and that Mark had used the writings of Paul. Luke viewed the writings of Paul as more authoritative than the writings of Mark and the writings of Mark as more authoritative than the writings of Matthew. Thus, when the writer of Luke saw overlap between these sources, he often followed the source that he deemed most authoritative. Luke cut out some of the elements that seemed most unlikely, such as Jesus cursing the fig tree and walking on water. Because Luke viewed Matthew’s work as the least credible, he was not compelled to closely follow the material unique to Matthew, but did structure it as best he could into a more believable narrative that more closely followed Mark’s original flow. Luke then likely sold his story, along with Acts of the Apostles, to Theophilus, knowing that he was wealthy and would be able to pay for it. The type of work that Luke had done in producing his “well researched account” would have been laborious and certainly warranted payment. Works such as this could command around a year’s income for an average Roman at this time. After having paid for these writings, Theophilus may well have sold copies of them in the Roman book market to offset his costs, thus bringing them into wider circulation.

At this point, the Gospel narratives had likely started to circulate in the Roman book market. Some opportunistic writer, now known as John, sought to render his version of the story, perhaps to turn a profit in the Roman market. When “John” wrote his story, he followed Matthew’s cue of calling out cases of prophecy fulfillment. This writer also made the effort to convince his readers of the reliability of the narrative, repeatedly assuring his readers that his version of the story was supported by eyewitness testimony. This writer, knowing that multiple similar copies of the story were already in circulation, intentionally changed his up and invented the mysterious “beloved disciple” whose role was to vouch for the truth of his altered account. Unlike the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, which he had likely all read, he decided not to copy everything word for word. He reordered events. He invented his own narrative elements to put his unique stamp on the account. John’s story, now written during the height of Jewish pogroms in Rome, was, like many other Christian writings at this time, viscerally anti-Jewish. Thus, “John” eliminates the Jewish leaders James and John from his story altogether and portrays Peter even more poorly than in Mark. The writer builds on the line from the Gospel of Mark about Jesus not giving Jews the “miraculous signs” they called for. The writer invents his own new “miraculous signs” narrative showing that Jesus did perform the “miraculous signs” Jews demanded of him, but yet, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Thus the Jews could not be absolved of blame for killing the Son of God. This “miraculous signs” narrative is clearly not an early narrative, as the primary function of the narrative is to implicate the Jews in a way that would have been entirely inappropriate to the origins of the original Jewish cult. The “miraculous signs” narrative only makes sense in light of the fate of the Jews after the First Jewish-Roman War, once the religion had become firmly Gentile in orientation.

The belief that Jesus was a real person stemmed entirely from the Gospel stories themselves. The original cult that worshiped the heavenly messiah Joshua was now long gone. That tiny cult was likely wiped from existence in the wake of the First Jewish-Roman War. By the time that the Gospel of Mark was written, Peter, James, and John, like Paul, were likely dead and gone. Vague ideas about the spiritual heavenly Jesus of the original cult persisted in various communities, known generally as Gnostics, but even these communities, likely primarily Pauline in orientation, had only fragmentary and confused knowledge about the mystical beliefs of the original cult. Once the Gospels came on the scene, their stories quickly took precedence over any vague remnants of the original cult. Roman readers of the Gospels took them literally and declared beliefs in a spiritual Jesus heresy. It is likely that, at the very least, the Gospels of Luke and John were intended to be taken literally. Though determining the intent of Matthew may be impossible, Matthew’s account certainly lends itself to literal interpretation. In all of this, Mark’s allegory received little attention. The complexity of Mark’s writing, its brevity, its obviously enigmatic nature, its somewhat unpleasant Jesus, its poor portrayal of the disciples, all led to Mark being virtually ignored. Mark was clearly similar enough to the other accounts to be included among the canonical Gospels, but it wasn’t considered worthy of serious study. It was widely believed that there was little to be learned from Mark that wasn’t better and more clearly represented in the other Gospels. Thus, the allegorical nature of Mark was not recognized. Mark, when it was read, was read through the lens of the other more historicized Gospels.

What caught the attention of Roman scholars were all of the so-called instances of prophecy fulfillment laced throughout the Gospels. Matthew of course had led the way, pointing out Mark’s literary references and describing them as instances of prophecy fulfillment. The Gospels, while all essentially being copies of Mark, were just different enough from one another that Roman scholars believed them to be independent accounts. Likewise, they were just similar enough to one another that they appeared to corroborate each other’s narratives. Thus, for Roman scholars, these four separate works became powerful proof of prophecy fulfillment, the likes of which they had never seen before. Here they had what they believed to be four independent witnesses who had all recorded narratives that contained dozens, if not hundreds, of parallels between the events of Jesus’ life and the Jewish scriptures. As the emperor Constantine’s spiritual advisor Lactantius wrote of Jesus in Divine Institutes, “we believe Him to be God, not because He performed miracles, but because we have seen that He fulfilled all the things that were foretold to us by the preaching of the prophets.” So this, essentially, is how I believe Christianity originated and developed.

Okay, if you put this speculation on one pan of a scale and the orthodox version of how Christianity got started on the other, which seems more reasonable?

Now, in court, if the prosecution makes a circumstantial case for conviction, the defense can offer a counter scenario in opposition. If the prosecution’s case doesn’t seem way more credible than the defense’s, then a guilty verdict will not be forthcoming (at least in a fair court). Explaining the “facts” through realistic scenarios counters the “narrative” that the defendant had to have done it.

And this is not the only such account that explains the facts without the orthodox claptrap (magic, gods, angels, etc.). Richard Carrier has another one and I have read a few others, too. All of them are far more likely than the orthodox explanation of events.

December 5, 2021

You Have Heard About It, Yes?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:55 am
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Scientific reductionism, you have heard about this, yes? Mostly comments about it tend to be sneering disapprovals of this practice. Often comments talk about children unwisely breaking toys, trying to figure out how they work.

Yet, this process is wildly successful even so. And, somehow the critics always leave out the “rest of the story.” Take the effort chemists made to identify chemical substances, first reducing them to elements and compounds. Then elements were reduced to being collections of atoms. Then atoms were reduced to being collections of subatomic particles. Now we know that subatomic particles are also often collections of even smaller particles.

Critics say this approach causes us to lose sight of the majesty and beauty of nature. This is silly, of course. As a chemist I not only appreciate “the fall colors,” as deciduous trees leaves change color, from green to reds, yellows, and rust colors, but I find them even more beautiful because I know why they change color. Understanding the underpinnings of nature just deepens one’s appreciation of it.

But, the critics often lose sight of the entire process of reductionism: to break something down into smaller parts which can be understood, and then reassembled back into the whole which can then be understood. Just breaking things into parts may be interesting but it doesn’t solve real world problems.

The best analogy to this process I found is the process by which a professional musician learns a new piece of music. I will use the piano as an example, because that is the only instrument with which I am familiar.

When a professional pianist sets out to learn a new piece of music, the process begins with simple things, like fingering. Each note played is associated with a key on the keyboard and deciding which finger to use to press that key is called fingering. There are people who perform this service for busy professionals and some do it for them selves. Once the fingering is decided (although it may change with experience) the pianist breaks down the piece into small bits, typically phrases and measures. They start by playing a single bit, sometimes with just one hand and then the other, then both hands together. The goal is to get the notes “right,” which means the right note is played in the right sequence. Then the next bit is processed, and then the two bits are played together as once piece.

Now, this is an idealized process and I am sure every pianist differs from it as well as uses large parts of it. Once the notes have been learned, the reductionism phase is over and the assembly of the whole begins in earnest. The playing of smaller bits together isn’t so much reassembly, basically just stitching learned bits together, but can be looked at as part of the assembly process.

But then the real work begins. At some point a metronome is employed to be able to play the notes at speed. Once that is done, then more subtle effects need to be addressed, voicing and phasing. More time will be spent reassembling the piece than was spent disassembling it to learn the notes.

Now many professional pianists could sit down and sight read the piece from a score and to most people’s ears, it would sound adequate. Most of us would express amazement that such a feat were possible. But to trained musicians, that is not performance ready preparation. Just playing it over and over won’t make the playing any better. It needs to be broken down and reassembled to deepen the understanding of the music, and make the playing of it a creation of beauty.

Scientists do break things down into smaller bits. Ordinary objects are tremendously complicated. But they are not wayward children breaking their toys to find out how they work. They are performing part of a process where the understood smaller bits get reassembled into the whole, hopeful with deeper understanding then before.

The scientific process currently underway that exemplifies this is the search for the mechanism of abiogenesis, how life begins from inanimate matter. Life could have been imported here by aliens, we do not know this one way or the other. But if it happened through natural process, we may just be able to sleuth out that process. We know the basic facts. That life began early on this planet as monocellular life forms (like amoebae and such). Then close to a billion years of time elapsed before multi-cellular life forms happened, and then the theory of evolution accounts for everything after that point. So, the key questions are: how did the first monocellular life forms happen and how did these forms turn into multicellular life forms?

The first question has been broken down into parts: how did proteins form, how did cell walls form, how did the self-replicating aspect of the formed cells begin. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is working on the whole process because we understand so little about the smaller bits. And we are making progress. We are learning how proteins could form spontaneously. We are learning how cell walls can form spontaneously. We are starting to learn how self-replication began.

So, the anti-science people are still screaming “If God didn’t create us, then how did life begin? Science can’t answer that question, can it?” Well, science has not answered it yet, but whether or not it can is based upon trying to do it. How many people are trying? How much is being learned? We really just got started on this problem, a very difficult problem, but we are approaching it like many other complex problems, by scientific reductionism. Because if we can figure out how the parts happened, we might be able to figure out how the whole thing happened.

December 3, 2021

What Was to Be Said . . .

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:43 am

I was reading the preface to Will Durant’s final book, Fallen Leaves, and the preface writer asked the rhetorical question: “What was to be said for religious faith, after Darwin and science had toppled God from his throne in heaven and put nothing in its place but the gloomy angst of existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre?”

This was one of many questions the writer thought Will Durant could have expounded upon but had not, at least until the manuscript of this book was found. That particular question, however, resonated with me for some reason. I mean, how dare Darwin and science take away our warm, fuzzy, reassuring religion and replace it with Gloomy Gus philosophies such as Sartre’s! How dare they!

What struck me is that this betrays a very unbiblical attitude. Where is the righteous anger . . . against those who sold us a false religion? The Bible teaches us that such people are despicable, the worst of the worst. How dare they teach us about a false god. And where is the gratitude that should be shoveled, heaped upon Mr. Darwin and, well, science for showing people the error of their ways. Believing in false gods may be a road to hell, don’t you know?

Instead of gratitude what did we get? Protests like “You Proved Our God False, We Don’t Want Your Stinking Science Taught to Our Children!” and disparaging comments about Darwinism and scientism.

Where is the righteous anger against those who taught the wrong god and threatened us with punishments by a god that doesn’t exists? Isn’t tar and feathers too good a punishment for those charlatans?

And why are these whingings always posited as we were all warm and fuzzy in the comfort of our religion, so why did you take that away, and only replace it with depressing reality? I never expected freed slaves to be whinging about how much they missed their old master. Think about the freedoms you now possess. Instead of tithing 10 percent of your income to a false church, you can donate to charities that actually spend their money on charity. Your church tithes went everywhere but to charity; they went to the preacher’s salary, paying the staff, maintaining the grounds and buildings, paying for utilities, etc. Less than 10% (usually much less) went to actual charity.

You can go do things on Sunday morning without guilt. You can wear whatever clothes you wish without criticism. You can dump your boyfriend of husband if they don’t measure up. You can take classes in evolutionary biology to find out what you missed. You can listen to music that isn’t broadcast on a Christian radio station. You can watch any movie you are inclined to view and discuss them with your friends.

And you don’t have to feel sinful, dirty, and depraved just because you are a human being.

I am not a fan of Sartre, but existing is, to say the least, interesting. Everything in the universe seems to begin, continue, and then stop. All living things are born, age, and then die. Now you fit right in. So, what happens when you die? All kinds of things happen, they just don’t involve you. In fact, for 99.999999+% of the world, things go on just as if you were still there because there or not, you had no effect upon their lives. Isn’t that a relief? You can die without a “to do” list still on your mind. And just so you feel part of the circle of life, when you die, it will be exactly as it was before you were born, remember that? No? Well you won’t remember being dead either.

And, to make things even cheerier, when you die, your atoms get recycled to be used by other living organisms. By dying you make room for others to live. If we all lived forever, we would have wrecked this planet millennia ago. Every continent would be covered with human beings with barely a place to stand. So, not existing is a civic duty you owe to those who died to make room for you to live.

To say otherwise is the equivalent of saying a Merry-Go-Round isn’t worth a ride unless you can ride forever. That is just plain silly. Take a ride, enjoy yourself, and allow others to do the same. It is great fun and you may be one of the lucky ones who lives a good enough life that you can die with a smile on your face, not because of a delusion that you are going to meet Jesus or some other nonsense, but because you had a good ride, had a good time. You enjoyed your time on Earth and helped others to do the same as you. Now that seems a perfectly happy outcome, no?

November 28, 2021

Let’s Take It and Run With It

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:48 am

It is Sunday again, so it is time for another religion post! Steve

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Christian theologians insist that human beings were created by their god. Let’s, for the sake of argument, accept this and see where it leads.

The question to be addressed here is “Why?” This god is claimed to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-American, all-everything, etc. It is perfect, complete, needing nothing. So, why would it create human beings? According to the creation story in Genesis 2, Adam was created to tend Yahweh’s garden, the so-called Garden of Eden. So, he was created as a gardener and as an animal wrangler of some sort since it was not just the plants he was to tend. (For those of you who claim the other creation story, in Genesis 1, doesn’t mention this reason, well if you get to “pick and choose” from scripture, so do I.)

Modern Christians insist that their god wants a “personal relationship” with his created human beings. Is this why we were created? I mean the Garden thing didn’t work out and, according to the story, we were shipped off and told to populate the Earth. Maybe we were created to hold up our end in these personal relationships.

So, consider the dynamics of the people in this relationship. Yahweh already knows everything you are going to say and do, so spontaneity is not involved. You can’t provide any ideas not already known to Yahweh, so creativity is not involved. In fact, Yahweh’s abilities are so far beyond yours that the relationship is woefully and massively lopsided.

If you are a pet owner, consider the relationship between you and, say, your pet cat. You are closer to your cat than God is to you, so how would you feel if your cat started to show obvious signs of worshipping you. At first you would not believe it, but when it repeated the signs over and over you would have to accept it. What would your cat’s worship mean to you? I am sure you would suspect that they were doing it for the kibble or whatever you provide to feed the beastie. Would you be flattered? I don’t think so. I think you would be embarrassed, and unwilling to tell your friends about your cat’s strange behavior . . . unless it was to ridicule it.

Now, imagine you had a pet lizard or snake. We still aren’t even getting close to the difference between you and this god, but those pets would be closer than a cat would be to representing that distance.

So, what kind of relationship can there be between this all-everything god and a human being? It seems that being a pet is the very best that could be expected. Expecting some sort of fulfilling relationship is bizarre as what do you have to offer to even hold up your end of any conversation? Nothing novel, nothing new, nothing that isn’t already known, no surprises, etc.

How good of a friend can you be? In fact, how good of a pet can you be?

Now that you see that a personal relationship between you, an ordinary human being, and an all-knowing, etc. god is impossible, ask yourself: Why did this god create us? Possibly a clue is in the Book of Isaiah: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV). Maybe Yahweh created human beings as his instrument to create evil. Why should He have to do all the heavy lifting? Some of us create evil, others good, some do both, and Yahweh keeps His word.

You gotta a better idea?

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