Class Warfare Blog

June 22, 2020

Understanding Christian Thinking

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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I am reading a book, The Use and Abuse of the Bible, a Brief History of Biblical Interpretation. Two of the first great Christian thinkers addressed in this book are Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 CE) and Origen (c. 185–c. 253). Both of these gentlemen were praised for coming up with whole new modes of Christian thought, which should have been seen as a warning sign.

A Reasoned Approach to Understanding Christian Thinking
Thinking back to the second and third centuries CE, what kind of economic activity was available to intellectuals? I define an intellectual is someone who makes his/her way through life using his/her mind alone, whereas non-intellectuals use both their minds and bodies in various ratios. Of all of the occupations available at that time, in that place about the only place for intellectuals was as scribes. (They might also have become a physician but only the wealthy could afford the schooling.) Many people think of scribes as being stenographers for the illiterate (I did, too), but while that task might be something a scribe did (taking dictation), there was much, much more to do. Scribes might be employed by the wealthy to keep records and produce written correspondence, but the primary employer of scribes were the various temples.

My point is that intellectuals would be attracted mightily to being a religious scribe as being one of the few forms of occupation in which they got to work as they wished.

So, when scribes were presented with questions about unclear passages of scripture or flat out nonsense in scripture, they being the brilliant intellectual creatives they were, made up stuff. Irenaeus claimed that there should only be four canonical gospels (of the many more in existence) because there were four animals supporting God’s throne in Ezekiel 1. I guess the fact that most chairs had four legs wasn’t enough of a justification for God’s throne. And making a connection between the number of any part of God’s throne and the number of gospels to include in the canon seems not to be present. No surprise there.

So, question after question arises and soon they find the answers harder and harder to come up with. Origen commented on Genesis 18 where “Abraham stood by them under a tree . . .” during a divine visit to Abraham. Origen comments “What does it help me who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race if I hear that Abraham was standing under a tree? Let us rather see what this tree is, under which Abraham stood.” If Freud were alive I suspect he might say “Sometimes a tree is just a tree.”

Origen is probably the major source of the idea of there being “secret” knowledge that has to be winkled out through exegesis. The Jews had already succumbed to this position and Origen was leading Christians into the same position. But, I think the intellectual powers of these people, which allow them to “spin” any nonsense into sense, betrays them wholly at the end.

These worthies both insisted that the scriptures were divinely inspired and without error. So, if there is an error, it must be due to a misunderstanding on our part. Since the words must be right, our interpretation must be wrong, so what is needed is a new interpretation and what do creative intellectuals do? They create.

But by claiming that it is our flawed human understanding which is at fault, they are playing Russian Roulette with the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people have crops and flocks to attend, business to do, families to provide for, any myriad other mundane tasks. They do not have the energy to study and learn to interpret scripture in their nonexistent spare time. So, failing to hear from a gifted intellectual who knows what scripture actually means, they mis-learn it and end up in Hell.

What the claim of “hidden knowledge” in scripture implies is that the inspired writers who composed scriptures are inadequate to their task. Should not the scriptures be easy to read and easy to understand by one and all? Shouldn’t they be clear and precise? Shouldn’t they all make sense, now and forever? Shouldn’t a lack of sense be evidence that a particular scripture was not divinely inspired?

That there is “hidden knowledge” being taught or is somehow embedded in scripture is a sop to the interpreters of meaning. Their arrogance is Trumpian “Only I can solve this problem! You see sometimes a tree is not just a tree.” (Origen felt that the tree was “insight” symbolically.) Symbolic writing is not accessible to one and all and should never appear in scripture. Every time in the NT you see a reference to the disciples not understanding what is right in front of their faces, an appeal to the concept of hidden wisdom or hidden knowledge is being made. If this knowledge were the difference between Heaven and Hell, why would any sane scripture-sponsoring entity hide that knowledge?

“He (Jesus) told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Mark 4:11-12

What kind of great teacher deliberately obfuscates what is to be learned? Wouldn’t God Incarnate be able to speak so clearly as to create understanding and belief? And why would such a god allow prideful intellectuals to spin those scriptures into things they are not? (Note They are still doing it. Look up William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel, as examples.)

November 11, 2019

Scientists Don’t Always Hew Toward Logic

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
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In an article on the Answers in Genesis web site, Jason Lisle, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and has published several credible papers on the sun, stated this:

“The Christian worldview is what makes science possible. The universe is always logical because logic is a description of how God thinks. God is perfectly rational. And since God’s mind controls the universe, the universe will always be logical. Being made in God’s image, human beings have the capacity to think logically, although in our sin we sometimes fail to do so. The success of science is, therefore, evidence that the Christian worldview is correct.”

He made this comment after saying “The branch of physics dealing with how the universe operates at very small scales — interactions involving particles smaller than atoms — is called quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is weird.”

I don’t think he will get a counterargument from anyone who has studied quantum mechanics that “Quantum mechanics is weird.” But, just what sins are preventing us from logically grasping what is going on in the quantum realm? He doesn’t say . . . interesting.

With regard to “And since God’s mind controls the universe, the universe will always be logical.” it seems the good doctor is espousing philosophy that is “early church” at best, which was based ex post facto upon Aristotle’s physics. In that physics, things that move had to be continuously pushed along, or they stopped. There was no inertia/Newton’s First Law of Motion. The planets moved in their heavenly orbits because there were angels pushing them along. They didn’t have room for Apollo’s fiery chariot for the Sun but if it weren’t for their faux monotheism, we might have had that, too. But in modern physics, the universe toddles along without the need of an “intelligence” behind it.

I cannot imagine Jason Lisle is this stupid (having read part of a book he wrote, I also can’t see him as being ignorant). I have to assume that he is engaging in willful wishful thinking. He so desperately wants to have a god controlling his life, that he is willing to sacrifice any common sense and basic physics knowledge he may have possessed.

This is unfortunate because religious apologists hold up people like Dr. Lisle as examples of scientists who believe and find their beliefs compatible with their science . . . when in fact, this seems to be a case of massive compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is where we hold incompatible ideas separately in our minds so they do not conflict. The religious audiences of the apologists are not usually in a place to recognize how “off” the science is from mainstream practices. Here, two separate compartments seem to be being smashed together with brute force.

And, Dr. Lisle ends with this:

“Although God is logical, he is also very creative. His ways and thoughts are far above ours (Isaiah 55:8—9). And therefore, some aspects of the way God has chosen to uphold his universe may seem very strange and surprising to us. Quantum mechanics is a great example of this. And yet, we trust that the universe will always be rational, if not always intuitive, because it is upheld by the mind of God.” In other words he uses the example of the illogic of quantum physics as an example of God’s rationality. It is so absurd, it must be true.* (*Apologistical Logic)

 

 

August 2, 2019

Yet Another Book Report

Warning! Danger Will Robinson. This book is being recommended only for philosophy nerds. Warning!

If you were unaware, I minored in philosophy in undergraduate school, even after my chemistry adviser informed me that chemistry majors did not minor in philosophy. Now you know more about me, at the minimum that I don’t take advice all that well.

This book is a serious treatment of Christian apologist arguments up to the present day. The author includes many of Swinburne’s arguments, Plantinga’s arguments, and even Craig’s argument. They are all treated with respect and dissected as if in an anatomy lab.

The book is The Nonexistence of God by Nicholas Everitt. Apparently it is the best selling of his over two dozen books. This is a careful philosophical analysis and you can tell from the title what the overall conclusion was.

And, boy did he stick to his philosophical guns. In discussing, for example, faith in a god based upon personal experience, he did not even mention what I think is the strongest counter evidence, namely that such a “personal experience,” no matter how profoundly felt are interpretations of what they felt. How can anyone confirm that their god spoke to them. In the Bible, the phrase, “This is the Lord, your god, . . .” occurs over and over. So, apparently voices in your head can be assumed to be hard to identify. How does one recognize God’s voice? How does one know that it is not Satan speaking, or another god entirely, or a ventriloquist. (Holy Moley, can you imagine the havoc Jeff Dunham could have created in Hebrew circles?)

The capper is that of people claiming to have personal experience of their god, it is always the god of their patents. Hindus claim Vishnu spoke to them. Muslims claims Allah spoke to them. Buddhists claim that the Buddha spoke to them. And I am sure those going a viking heard Odin speak to them.

Personal experience claims are interpretations. In order for them not to be, the “messages” have to be stripped of interpretation. So, Abraham would have to say “I heard a voice in my head that told me to take my boy, Isaac, up on the mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering” or worse “I got the feeling that I needed to take my boy, Isaac, up on the mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” By claiming that it was Yahweh who had told him this, then Yahweh followers would be all over this story. But if he just claimed a voice in his head told him to do that, he might be looked at a bit differently. Interpretations are often made to please one’s audience. (Even Flip Wilson’s “The Devil Made Me Do It” was such a device.)

Also, I am always suspicious of people who claim they heard long, windy speeches in their heads. Our thoughts are usually too fast for words. They usually come as images or preformed ideas that flash into existence. The words only follow later as we try to describe our ideas/notions.

In any case, Philosophy Nerds of the World Unite! Read this book if you are so inclined.

 

February 23, 2018

Pascal’s Wager 2.0

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:26 am
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If you haven’t heard of Blaise Pascal’s (1623–1662) famous wager (published posthumously in his book Pensées), here it is in short:

Mr. Pascal

l. God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
2. A Game is being played … where heads or tails will turn up.
3. You must wager (it is not optional).
4. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
5. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
6. But some cannot believe. They should then “at least learn your inability to believe …” and “Endeavour then to convince” themselves.

Many holes can be shot into this argument and if you are interested in the flaws of this argument, a simple Google search will provide you with many examples. Pascal was polite enough to not point out that if you wager wrongly (that his god is not): there is nothing to gain and you face an infinite period of excruciating torture. Also if you choose that “God is not” you will face persecution and torture from those who bet otherwise. Small details but the erudite reader could fill in these between the lines.

What Pascal did not include in his famous wager is a justification for “you must wager,” since he was embedded in a very Christian culture, this was assumed to be a premise that would be recognized to be “true.” Also not justified, for the same reasons, was that there was but one god. We now know different.

So, let us update Pascal’s Wager a little.

Pascal’s Wager 2.0

l. God is, or God is not. The same can be said for all of the other gods. Reason cannot decide between the many alternatives.
2. A Game is being played … where dozens of dice are tossed and a combination of their results will turn up for you.
3. You might want to wager (it is optional).
4. Let us weigh the gains and the losses in wagering that any one of these many gods is. Let us estimate all these chances. If you wager correctly, you gain all; if you lose, you lose everything. The number of choices is large, so the odds you will choose correctly are small.
5. Do not wager, then, that your choice is correct as the odds of losing everything are much too great. There is an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain if one is very, very lucky, but only one chance of gain against a large number of chances of loss and so our proposition is of simple force, when there is a game where there are small risks of gain and large ones of loss, and infinite pain when losing.

Pascal’s Wager, the original one, only makes some sense when it has been proven that there is but one god (there is not, even the Bible says this) and that you must choose. Pascal made this argument being aware of the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation and various religious wars. There could be no fence sitters in his world.

In other words, Pascal’s Wager only makes sense when the game is rigged (and it is).

 

 

 

 

 

February 10, 2018

4000 Prophecies … All True?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:21 am
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One of the claims proffered for the existence of her god by a Christian apologist (I suspect a young one) was that the Bible contained 4000 prophecies and “all of them came true.” Prophecies are one of the three pillars supporting Christianity, the others being miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. Should any of them fail, so would Christianity, so they “must be true.”

So, is this true? Where would such a statistic come from? I suspect the person offering it did not count them herself. I suspect that this was a factoid presented to her by another apologist. So, if this is a claim, one can check it for truth value. Just from memory I recall the prophecy made by Jesus in Matthew, that the Kingdom of God would come before all of the people hearing him make his prophecy had died. Well, if he did make it and there were people around to hear it in ca. 30 CE, then they are all dead and the Kingdom either did or did not come. I have read some rather contorted explanations of how that prophecy did indeed come true, but I suspect those were at best fanciful. If you were walk around and ask Christians at random “Has the Kingdom of God come yet?” I suspect they would all say “no,” certainly a large majority of them would say “no.”

So, that is one prophecy that did not come true, so the “all” part of the claim we started with is now gone. But it still could be “many” or “most,” no?

That leads to another question: how does one verify a prophecy?

I read a book in which a scholar tried to sum all of the human deaths in the Bible that could be attributed to the god of the Bible, either directly or indirectly. By the time he got to the end, he had a total of 2-3 million people plus the entire population of the Earth (minus eight) at the time of The Great Flood (est. at 80-1000 million people). These estimates are more than a little uncertain, because when the Hebrews were told to kill all of the inhabitants of a town, the description doesn’t say “kill all of the 1,862 inhabitants of Kreplach,” or whatever, it just says “all.” So, reasonable estimates needed to be made and the author was clear in his communication as to how he made those estimates.

So, to come up with “the Bible contained 4000 prophecies and all of them came true,” one would need to a) read the entire Bible (which one?), b) identify all of the prophecies, counting them along the way, and c) determine whether they came true. To avoid the problem of fraud, as Christian fraud is rampant, there are some absolutely necessary additional points needed. We need to know who is making the prophecy. We need to know who is reporting it (the author of the scripture). We need to know whether the author is trustworthy. And we need to know when the prophecy was made. The easiest prophecy to make and one that always comes true is the “after the fact prophecy.” For example, I predict the Eagles will beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 52. I have a perfect track record in making these predictions; I have never been wrong. (For the puzzled among you, the Super Bowl was two weeks ago and the Eagles did beat the Patriots.) When Jesus predicts the Temple will be destroyed, that is easy for the author of a gospel to write as the writer was writing after 70 CE the year the Romans tore down the Temple. Now, did Jesus say he was going to raise the temple again in three days or that he could raise it again in three days? Hmm….

Prophecies are rarely clear as to what is being predicted, which is a major problem. People wanting a prophecy to be true interpret it one way, while opponents interpret it another, so to be able to state unequivocally that a prophecy is true or untrue, the prophecy itself has to be very clear. Unfortunately, prophets have a very long history of making quite obscure pronouncements. The Greek prophets were notorious for this and had “priests” nearby who would help you interpret the prophet’s utterings … for a fee, of course.

Add to this the fact that we have no idea who the people writing the Christian scriptures were. Consider the books of the New Testament which claim Paul as the author. There are 14 of them. By analyzing the writing, scholars think that 7 of the 14 were written by the same person. Several of the remaining (and a couple of other extra-biblical “letters”) are clearly not written by this person, and a less than handful of the others are labeled as “probably not written by ‘Paul’.” There is no way to prove at this late date that the author “Paul” is who he says he is or even if he is a real person and not a pseudonym for some proselytizing early Christian. And this is basically the best it gets.

So, we do not know who wrote most of the Bible. We do not know whether they are trustworthy. We do not know whether the prophecies were written before or after the events they predicted. Many of the prophecies are at best vague and unspecific.

In other words, there is no way to verify the truth of most of those prophecies, so the “faithful” are back at square one (faith). As to the evidence “the Bible contains 4000 prophecies and all of them came true,” uh, no.

The Bible is also full of evidence of things being misplaced in time. For example, the armor worn by Goliath, of the David and Goliath fame, as described in the Bible won’t be invented for about 400 years after the time setting described. Understandably the author, writing 400 years, or so, after the “event,” describes what he could see when he was writing and could not imagine what a warrior like Goliath would have worn “back then.” The Bible, though it contains historical elements, is not a history book, nor can its unknown authors be trusted to tell the truth.

Unfortunately, the promulgators of the nonsense of the 4000 prophecies, deliberately cover up the nonsensical aspects of their source. For example, many people point to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, in which 5000 people are fed from a very small supply of food and from which the leftovers are greater than the amount begun with. Truly this is a miracle, even all of Jesus’ companions were agog at this event. What they do not point out is that the next story is about another miracle of loaves and fishes, in which 4000 people are fed from a very small supply of food and from which the leftovers are greater than the amount begun with. This, too, must have been a miracle because, even though it happened less than a week after the first one, all of Jesus’ companions were again agog at this event, just as if they couldn’t conceive of such a thing. How any sermons do you think have been given on the two miracles of the loaves and fishes?

So, you start with gullible believers desperately looking for confirmation of their beliefs and then you feed them bullshit such as the above, and this is what you get. So, if someone makes a claim like “4000 prophecies …” I suggest you simply ask a few questions:

  1. Did you count them yourself?
    2. Are you sure you can trust the author of the scripture? (If they claim divine inspiration, ask them how they can tell the difference between God-inspiration and Satan-inspiration; clearly Job couldn’t tell the difference.)
    3. How did you determine whether the prophesies were written before the events predicted?
    … and so on. I don’t think you will get past more than 1-2 such questions.

September 4, 2017

Cherry Picking for Jesus

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:56 am
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The recent eclipse of the sun, visible from the U.S., was accompanied by the usual creationist/apologist babble about how God made the Sun and Moon the same apparent size, and thus creating an amazing thing (an eclipse!) that couldn’t happen by coincidence! There are referring to the fact that if the Moon were farther away or closer to the Earth, such occurrences would appear quite different. Also, if the Moon were larger or smaller, same thing. What they don’t say is that, if it were different, they would be pointing to the different version of an eclipse and pointing at it while saying “See what God did, see what God did?!”

This type of cherry picking is common among Christian apologists and creationists. They claim, for example, that the laws of physics are perfectly tuned for the creation of life, when the laws of physics are perfectly tuned for this universe. (How could they not be?) And this universe was apparently perfectly tuned to create vacuum, of which there is more than anything else and more is being made every minute in a fashion that appears to be accelerating. Did I mention that vacuums are inimical to life?

On any planet on which sentient beasts existed, there would be guaranteed to be things that were unique, that would be easily noticed. That those unique things were special, though, requires magical thinking. That the Moon and Sun have the same apparent size is not quite true, but close enough for casual observers, but the Moon comes between the Earth and Sun once a month. Why were we seeing a solar eclipse for the first time since 1979, then? Well, there are a lot of facts the creationists/apologists leave out, for which they have no explanations. For example:

  • The Moon was much closer to the Earth in our past and will be farther away in the future. Why did God do that, that way? This means we will only have this kind of eclipse for a geologically short period of time. I am sure that the apologists will come up with something, but …
  • The Moon’s orbit is at about a five degree angle to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. This is why we don’t have a solar eclipse every month. I am sure the apologists will come up with something along the lines that too many eclipses benefit human beings somehow.
  • A solar eclipse has no, I repeat, no actual effect on the planet, other than imagined ones in the minds of just one species living here … us. Solar eclipses aren’t “special” they are just rare.

So, instead of pointing to obvious coincidences and claiming “God!” how about all of the other observations they could make? How about, have you noticed how all mountains have different heights? That trees all have different shapes? That you can recognize your dog, even if it is in the company of another of its species, because no two are alike? That all things fall down, but the direct “down” is different depending where on the planet you are! (How do those things know which way to fall … puzzling?) Why are the rare things always signs of their god and not the mundane things. Why did their god make pebbles all different shapes, it makes them really hard to stack!

Hey, I have an idea, why don’t Christian apologists do something useful, like explain that if a Christian gets sick, a doctor is much better than prayers, which is why God made doctors or, I don’t know, how about it isn’t a good thing to rape altar boys, or condemn other human beings for things not completely under their control, or it would be a good thing to condemn non-defensive wars (such as every one we are currently engaged in). There is so much to do that might be useful, why wander into science when you don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

 

August 18, 2017

Apologists: Making Stuff Up (Poorly) for a Living

I am still making my way through “Philosophers Without Gods” (Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) and last night I was struck by yet another comment in that book. The author of one particular chapter (which one isn’t relevant this time) was writing about the role Hell played in his life and shared a comment made by C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity.” Here it is:

The fear that engendered these types of thoughts was deep in my psyche. Lewis expresses it well when he talks about the idea that God is going to invade the world again: ‘Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. … God will invade …. It will be too late then to choose your side.’”

Once you die, you see, there is no more repentance; you are screwed … for ever and ever, amen. What C.S. Lewis is addressing additionally is another common problem for apologists. In their scripture Jesus promises to return (The Second Coming) before people then alive had died. Well, so far he is late by about 2000 years. So, did Jesus lie? Was he mistaken? Why the delay? According to Lewis, “He” is waiting “to give us the chance to join His side freely.” Other Christian apologists have taken up this argument and delivered it to nodding heads in church pews, but on its merits it … makes … no … sense … whatsoever … (logically, scripturally, theologically, etc.).

Consider the simple fact that the entire Earth’s population in the first century CE was about 300 million people, so only that many people’s lives were in jeopardy of not being saved. That was also the maximum number of people who could be saved. Plus, after “The Return” the “game” is over and no more babies have to burn in Hell. Currently the Earth’s population is over 7500 million people, 25 times more people, so while we were “waiting” for Jesus to come back, for every one person in jeopardy of Hell, there are now 25. Sheesh!

But wait, there’s more!

Of the current world population, 2200 million are Christians, which means that 5300 million people of the 7500 million total Earthlings are non-Christians, all of whom have a guaranteed ticket straight to Hell. (I won’t argue at this time, which of the many thousands of versions of Christianity is indeed correct, all the rest being losers in “the game,” and so too end up in Hell.) This number alone is almost 18 times as many people as were alive in the first century! Waiting to give us time to “join His side,” my ass. The only argument one can make using this apologetic is that their god is expanding his herd to increase the slaughter come harvest time.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and he came to apologetics late in his game, and he was not a man of limited intellect. But the allure of apologetics is subversive. Say anything, no matter how stupid, that reassures those sitting in pews on Sunday, and you will receive many, many (many) positive comments and thank yous for confirming their faith (and, well, there are those book sales).

This has not changed. I see many amateur apologists making the same lame, incorrect, and untrue arguments (now on YouTube, so you don’t have to go to church to be subjected to such thinking). The goal of these people is not an examination of “why” but a reassurance that Christians are on the right path. Repeating hoary old arguments, long debunked or completely contradicted by their own scripture, is still reassuring to those people needing reassurance. There is a new generation of rubes every 25 years or so. These constitute fresh audiences who haven’t heard the old arguments, or didn’t realize there were such arguments, and each generation gets larger, so the audience for such tripe gets larger, too.

The flock really needs to be concerned over the quality of its shepherds, as the wolves are real … if you believe in them.

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