Sunday, August 29, 2010

On the Origin of Jesus Part 3: Mythical Jesus

This is a subject that I haven't really made my mind up about yet, because there is no conclusive evidence, but I'll have a crack at it anyway.

There are three main things to take into consideration when analysing the idea that Jesus was mythical. First, that there are no secular sources that mention a miracle-working Jesus (I've dealt with Josephus before). Second, that the earliest Christian writings (Paul's Epistles) do not provide any evidence for a recent historical Jesus. Lastly, that many aspects of the Jesus story have close parallels in other Middle-eastern religions, with stories about messiahs, dying gods, which Christian apologists have tried to explain-away since the beginning of the religion. In the second century C.E. early church fathers were dealing with criticisms that their religion had plagiarised the pagan religions, and their primary response was that Satan had anticipated Christianity, and copied aspects of it to make it look like Christianity had copied paganism. This is one of the most pathetic defences of any religion that I've ever seen.

In my  last post I mentioned that the fingerprints of oral tradition, aka. folklore are smeared all over the gospel accounts. It has been suggested by apologists that the contradictions between the four gospel accounts are evidence that they're true, which I find ludicrous. That argument could possibly be used if the accounts were written down by eye-witnesses, because people often make mistakes in their observations. However, the gospel accounts were not written by eye-witnesses, quite far from it in fact. Depending on which gospel you look at, we're talking between 2 and 4 generations passed between the alleged death of Jesus and the time the gospel was written down. I find it quite absurd to suggest that the gospel accounts we have written down, were passed down orally through 2-4 generations and then written down in more-or-less the same form. I find it far more reasonable that the variation arose from many decades of telling the same basic story. We have no indication of when the original story arose, or what that story even was, as there is no archaeological evidence to support the Jesus story, and many aspects of it are quite plainly fictitious. The gospels themselves place the Jesus story at contradictory places in history, which to me seems to be an attempt by each of the authors to place a myth within a historical context.

There seems to be 4 common views of the historicity of Jesus, I find 3 of them plausible.
1: Jesus never existed.
2: Jesus existed, but we can't know anything about him, due to the contradictory nature of the sources.
3: Jesus existed, and we can discern some core ideas about his identity, but he is not the same Jesus as the gospels portray.
4: Jesus existed, and the gospels portray him accurately.

1-3 I find all equally viable explanations, number 4 however seems to ignore the evidence. This is unfortunately the position that the majority of lay-Christians hold to, probably because they really don't know much about their own religion.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fundies

 This one is a quote from a thread debating the infamous creationist film 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed'. It's a perfect example of circular reasoning, using the bible to justify the bible, offering bible verses to 'prove' what he said, and then challenging his opponents to prove him wrong 'biblically'. It's possible to justify anything using the bible, which is to be expected since it is a compilation of many different works, by many, many authors. Fundies just don't seem to be able to grasp the mental concept that the bible isn't meant to be taken as literal truth. The truth of the matter is much more complex than their simpleton brains could possibly comprehend.

Quote# 44002

(In the Evolution Debate thread, Wayne keeps trying to prove to us "blind" people that humans are not animals "cuz the bible sez so!)

First,, the bible is the Word of God and the Word of God is Jesus Christ in the flesh....... AND it IS the beginning and the end of all matters. Want the verse that proves it or do you know it? Man is created from the dust of the ground. Show me how I'm wrong biblically.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Comic: The Downfall of Mormonism

I found this delightful comic on reddit, and thought I would share it with you all. It perfectly shows what SHOULD be happening, unfortunately though, there are a lot of gullible people out there, who simply take peoples word and never look into anything for themselves.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Does being a dick pay off?

After watching Phil Plait's speech from TAM, I've been thinking about the whole concept of being friendly to antagonists a whole lot more. I rewound my brain to remember whether people insulting my beliefs had anything to do with my deconversion. It may have had some small effect on my pride, but to be quite honest, there was probably only one single person who impacted my deconversion more than all the others combined. I don't even know his name, but we used to debate on Myspace group forums about religion, evolution, science and everything in between. Even though I said a lot of things which I would now regard as being rather moronic, he seemed to keep his cool amazingly, while I was the one going off the rails, not with insults but with incoherent ranting, and copy/pasting things I had seen on apologetics websites.

One time I sent him a private message to convince him to read an apologetics book, which I mentioned in my deconversion post over a year ago, 'I don't have enough faith to be an atheist'. He in turn recommended a book to me, 'The Age of Reason' by Thomas Paine. I highly doubt that he ever read the book I recommended to him, and I hope he doesn't, because when I re-examined the book years later it wasn't all I thought it had been.
Some 4 years after he recommended that I read Thomas Paine, I bought a copy of the book, read it and was completely intrigued the entire way though. I had never looked at the bible that way before. Even though Paine was fervently arguing for the Deistic position, by the time I had finished reading The Age of Reason, I was agnostic about whether god existed or not. At that point I no longer considered myself a Christian, but still had a desire to believe in god.

I'm certainly not advocating the complete elimination of offensive words, because a well-placed insult can add a great dramatic flair to a passionate argument, especially when it comes to things like Chiropractors manipulating the spines of infants and young children I can't help but throw wild insults, that shit makes me sick!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

God is Superfluous

I'm just going to take a minute to explain methodological naturalism before I get to the point of this post. Methodological naturalism is the practical assumption that all science works from, when there is a gap in scientific knowledge it is assumed that there is a natural explanation for that phenomenon. If scientists sometimes assumed that a particular unknown was the result of a supernatural intervention it would effectively place a brick wall in the path of progress.

As you should know, science has effectively replaced religion in terms of understanding the natural world. We now know that Zeus doesn't throw lightening bolts, Neptune doesn't control the seas, our sun isn't a deity and Yahweh didn't create life on earth or fashion mankind out of the dirt. All of those things have completely natural explanations, those gods are superfluous. We don't have to stop there though, apologists have tried to find god in the realm of physics too, attempting to attribute the big bang to a supernatural origin. Unfortunately for them though the data strongly indicates to us that no such miracle occurred to kick-start our universe into being. Stephen Hawking wrote in 1988 "In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that the negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero." Apologists will then most likely posit the question 'Why is there something rather than nothing', and the simple answer is "Nothing is unstable" -Frank Wilczek. According to the principles of quantum mechanics, not only is 'nothing' unstable, but it seems nothing is also impossible. Thus, gods are superfluous in explaining the origin and existence of the universe too.

If we have relinquished the role of gods in explaining the origin and nature of the universe, and we can't detect any supernatural interactions with the physical world, for what purpose do we (as a species) still believe in gods? Is it to satisfy some deep-seated desire for a transcendent meaning to life? Or is it simply just wishful thinking?

Friday, August 20, 2010

3D Imaging of Oldest Fossils

New Scientist has an article about the work being done making 3D images of what are thought to be the oldest fossilised animals on earth. These fossils are sponges from pre-Cambrian strata, which makes them another piece of evidence that creationists/ID proponents will ignore. The 'Cambrian Explosion' popularised by creationists is now even more of a joke than it was before.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Resurrection Account in Mark

On a similar note to the post below this one, I found a video on YouTube by a user named KingHeathen, and he mentioned something that I did know but hadn't played connect-the-dots with.
Mark chapter 16 begins with the account of Mary, Mary and Salome visiting the tomb of Jesus to find the stone already rolled away and Jesus' body missing. There is a "young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment", who tells them that Jesus is risen. The book of Mark ends with this at verse 8 "And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they  trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for  they were afraid."
Most decent Bibles will then have a little note that says something like this after verse 8.
"The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20."
Mark 16:9-20 is the part that mentions Jesus appearing to many people after the resurrection and ascending into heaven.
As we know, Mark is the earliest gospel of the 4 in the Bible, and these last verses are a later addition. So, the earliest gospel doesn't really mention the resurrection in any detail, all we hear is from a man sitting inside Jesus' tomb explaining that the reason there is no body is because he rose from the dead.

So, who was the man in the white robes? We aren't told, Mark and John simply say that he is a man dressed in white. Matthew and Luke say that his appearance was like lightening. As a matter of fact, Luke and John say that there were two men inside the tomb, but that's beside the point. From what it seems, all the accounts of Jesus appearing to people and ascending into heaven were later additions to the gospels, because the earliest gospel (Mark) didn't contain them.

Just a thought.

Here's the video that I mentioned anyway

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the Origin of Jesus Part 2: Oral Tradition

Reading Alan Dundes' book has given me a whole new insight into this topic so I've decided to do a second part.
Between the death of Jesus and the time the gospels were written as I mentioned last time, Paul was the only person to write about Christianity. Paul's writings only contained a small number of the details that are known as the story of Jesus, and they are often slightly different to the what is contained within the gospels (which differ from one another), the point of this post is to highlight the origin of these variant texts.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of thing I'm talking about I'll give some examples.

How many women visited Jesus' tomb?
Mark     - 3: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome
Matthew- 2: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
Luke     - more than 3: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others with them
John     - 1: Mary Magdalene

When was the Stone Rolled away?
Mark, Luke and John- The stone had been rolled away when they arrived
Matthew- After they arrived, an angel appeared, rolled the stone away and sat on it.

I'm not going to spend any more time showing you more of these, but here's a short list of variant texts to do with the resurrection of Christ. You can take my word for it that the gospels are full of this kind of thing, or you can go look them up yourself, they aren't exactly hard to find.

Apologists have tried to reconcile these apparent contradictions by saying things like "they're divergent accounts, and prove that it's correct!" as a mantra. I believe Josh Mcdowell was a huge proponent of that idea. The problem with this idea is that it is just plain wrong. We've established that none of the new testament writers were eye-witnesses to anything that happened, so where did the textual variations come from? The details of the story were passed down 2-4 generations before they were written down, which is more than enough time for discrepancies and errors to creep in. How much of the story is genuine? We'll probably never know. As far as I'm concerned, there are only 4 details that are almost certainly true, that he lived, had a crowd of followers, was influential and that he died.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Skeptic Conference (And Me!) On TV

Here's a clip from New Zealand's TV3 about the conference.
I appear in the video at 41 seconds in the background of an interview (it's only my back though) I'm on the left hand side wearing a black jacket with a stripe across it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Bible as Folklore

A while ago I went on a book buying-spree and one of them was a short book titled 'Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore' by Alan Dundes. This book was quite an eye-opener in terms of understanding the Bible and all its confusions and contradictions. Dundes' main point was to explain what constitutes folklore, which is that folklore generally will have multiple versions of the same story often with variations in names, sequence, wording and/or numbers. He then proceeds to go through dozens and dozens of passages within the bible where the story is told several times with both major and minor differences in each copy. Dundes posits that the huge number of these duplicate and variant texts within the bible and parallels outside the bible are evidence that it was written out of a previously established oral-tradition.

I had heard the oral tradition argument from Christian apologists as a reason why the Gospels were composed so long after Jesus' lived, but in the Christian version of the argument they always try and say that the Hebrew people were very meticulous in their oral tradition, and that it was transmitted extremely accurately. This book quote thoroughly makes that argument to look rather stupid, as the sheer number of contradictory and variant texts is quite overwhelming and Alan does a great job of presenting them.

The book is only 118 pages long and if you have any interest in understanding the cultural and literary background of the bible, you should read it.

Here it is on Amazon.

Here it is on Fishpond for my Kiwi readers (though it is unavailiable at the moment).

Skeptics Conference Finished

The conference was really great, meeting up with 100 or so other like-minded individuals is always going to end up being a good time though I guess. I would highly recommend all my readers from New Zealand attend next year, though it will be in Christchurch.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

NZ Annual Skeptics Conference

This Saturday/Sunday I'll be attending the NZ annual skeptics conference, if any of my readers is interested in attending you still can, it costs $80 or $60 for the unwaged.

Here's a brief outline of the programme

Session 1: Mass Delusions

Session 2: Warts and All: misinformation and adverse events.

Session 3:A Smear Campaign: Responses to 'A History of the "Unfortunate Experiment" at National Women's Hospital'.

Session 4: Nibiru arrghh!! We're all gonna die

Session 5: The demonization of fat:

Session 6: Dealing with wingnuts - which way to turn?

Session 7: Near Zero Inc: a sadly prophetic company name

Session 8: No god ads

Session 9: The science behind the MMR hoax

Session 10: Yet more reasons why people believe weird things

Session 11: A practical guide to analysing psychic readings         

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Biblical Miracles: Jericho

This is one of those stories that you learn about in sunday school, but as with everything else taught there, the facts are left out completely. The story goes like this, God commands Joshua to tell his army to walk around the city of Jericho for six days, rather odd I know but it gets better. Seven priests were to wield rams horns (probably sounded a bit like a vuvuzela), and on the seventh day they were to walk around the city 7 times blowing the horns, and then the walls of Jericho fell down and the Israelites took over the city. Here's what the bible says about the aftermath.

Joshua 6:21 
they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

This is where I find the story gets rather interesting. Based on the chronology in the bible, this would have happened around 1400 BCE, so digging up the city of Jericho we should expect to find that the city was destroyed around that time. Instead of confirming the biblical account, the archaeological evidence makes an absolute joke out of the bible. At the time of the supposed reign of Joshua, the city of Jericho was uninhabited. Jericho had been destroyed several hundred years earlier.

If you want a miracle, here's your miracle: Joshua destroyed a city that wasn't even there. - Bill Dever (Archaeologist)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fundies: Baby Edition

Here's a video of a baby on stage at a church babbling some nonsense and a whole church is cheering and clapping and shouting stuff about Jesus. Someone has made the effort to put subtitles that resemble the 'words' that the child is saying. The crowd seem to really be getting into the child's 'sermon', shouting out things like "Preach on brother" and "Hallelujah", "Praise Jesus" etc. I sure hope they aren't being serious, because you'd have to completely delusional to get anything meaningful out of the 'sermon'. However I've heard adult Christians say things that make even less sense, when they start praying in 'tongues'. Anyway, it's damned funny. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Creationists and Debates

I was just browsing Conservapedia looking for something that would make me angry, and don't worry I found something on every single page that I looked at. I stumbled across a page called 'Creation scientists tend to win the creation vs. evolution win debates' and although I wasn't as angry at this page as some of the others (for example their page on atheism) I thought that it needed refuting.

It seemed rather appropriate that they had featured a picture of Duane Gish on this page, he virtually invented the debate style used by nearly every single creationist today. The debate style that I'm talking about is sometimes referred to as the Gish Gallop. Here is what RationalWiki says about the Gish Gallop:
  "The Gish Gallop is an informal name for a rhetorical technique in debates that involves drowning the opponent in half-truths, lies, straw men, and bullshit to such a degree that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised, usually resulting in many involuntary twitches in frustration as the opponent struggles to decide where to start. It is named after creationism activist and professional debater Duane Gish."
 It should be fairly obvious to you that this kind of debate tactic is about as dishonest as you can possibly get. If the debate topic is evolution, which is already an enormous topic, creationists will draw upon things like astronomy, cosmology, physics, thermodynamics, abiogenesis, and many other fields of science within a short span of time. The creationists who use this pony-show debate tactic don't really seem to care that all their arguments have been thoroughly trounced by real scientists many times over, but that is the reason they use the Gish Gallop in the first place. I suspect that they actually realise that Creation-science and Intelligent design aren't scientific at all, otherwise they wouldn't have to resort to such pathetic tactics and could publish scientific papers instead.

Then they go on to criticize Richard Dawkins for refusing to debate creationists and ID proponents. Can you really blame him though? If you were debating someone, and instead of responding to your points and your rebuttals, they just start bringing up dozens of fallacies that are barely related to the original content matter, you would never debate them again right? On top of that, many prominent creationists such as William Lane Craig are professional public speakers and debaters, while many scientists are lab-recluses, or in Dawkins case, writers. Science doesn't make or break on the debate podium, it's done in the lab and published in journals. Winning a debate doesn't mean jack shit when it comes to the advancement of science, so while cretins like the Discovery Institute are beating their chests claiming victory over evolution because scientists won't debate them, science is progressing, leaving ID in the dust.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Atheist Anniversary

Today it is exactly one year since I came out as an atheist to my friends and family via a blog post. Needless to say, my outlook has not changed a lot since then, but has been defined and refined quite significantly. I've learned a lot about a large range of topics from science, to ethics, philosophy and religion. I thought today would be an appropriate time to rehash my explanation for why I am an atheist.

In my original post I mentioned that one of the biggest factors in my deconversion was the realisation that many of the stories I had been told growing up turned out to be based on myths and fables, while this is still true it has very little effect on my atheism. This continues to be one of the many reasons why I am not a Christian, but I have yet to explain why I'm not a Theist or even a Deist.

The main reason that I don't believe in gods is that I simply haven't encountered any satisfactory reasons for why I should believe in them. On top of that, I am yet to see any empirical evidence that doesn't point towards a naturalistic explanation. Every single gap in scientific knowledge that has been filled in the past gave a naturalistic explanation. Every single year we gain more knowledge about the natural world, and every single discovery without fail has had a natural explanation. Every supernatural claim about the functioning of the universe has been refuted and scientific knowledge has completely replaced religious supernaturalism in this realm. If there are gods somewhere, they are extremely good at hiding, and they made an excellent job of creating the world to look as if they didn't exist.

So with the flaws of traditional religion aside (i.e. that it's completely based on myths, fables and man-made superstitions), I see no reason to believe in any kind of transcendent beings. I don't believe in souls, I don't believe in demons or evil spirits. I don't believe in ghosts or gods. I don't believe in prophecy, prayer or prostration. I don't believe in anything beyond the natural world, because no one has ever brought forward anything that could be regarded as evidence that any of these things are real or effective.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Triceratops is Still a Species

In the past few days I've seen some people saying that Triceratops is no longer considered a distinct species, which I thought was rather strange seeing as I had read just an article on NewScientist saying that Torosaurus was simply the adult version of Triceratops. Popular YouTuber sxephil made a video today saying that Triceratops was being amalgamated into Torosaurus, Phil was using Gizmodo as the source for his claim. Gizmodo in turn links to the original article on NewScientist... It seems that whoever wrote the article for Gizmodo didn't have very good reading comprehension because they got it almost completely backwards. Yes, scientists are now saying that Triceratops and Torosaurus are the same species, but it is Torosaurus that is adopting the name Triceratops, not the other way around.

This is simply a case of some idiot 'journalist' not reading something correctly. Your favourite childhood dinosaur still existed.

Religion Facts

I've just been browsing this website here and I'm rather impressed with how accurate and well-sourced all of the information I've seen so far has been. They have pages on most religions ranging from Baha'i through Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Mithraism, Judaism, Scientology and Satanism among many others. They also have a list of celebrity religious affiliation which isn't very long but is well-sourced. I think I'll be using this website over Wikipedia from now on when it comes to world religions

The goal of ReligionFacts is to provide free, reliable information — "just the facts" — on the various answers that have been given to these questions, as well as the rituals and customs that go along with them. This very broad definition means that we have articles on a wide variety of world religions, both ancient and modern, as well as "ways of life," philosophies, mind-body teachings, and even some anti-religion systems like ancient Epicureanism and modern atheism.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Our Insignificant Sun

Last month astronomers discovered a star which makes our sun look like a lone pea sitting next to a giant earth-ball (you know those over-sized exercise balls). This star weighs around 265 times the mass of our wee sun. The star is known only as R136a1, which seems a bit of of a bland name for the largest known object in the universe. We already knew that our sun was not really anything special and not very large compared to most other stars, but this new discovery really puts us in our place. We're but specks on a small planet which looks like a pale blue dot from outside our solar system. Our pale blue dot is orbiting a very ordinary and very small sun between two arms of a very undistiguished galaxy.

Here's a picture from National Geographic comparing the size of the stars.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dennis Markuze, DM, Dave Mabus

EDIT: (08/2011) Since this post still gets traffic I'll just explain a little. Dennis had been spamming my blog and was sending me emails for hours on end and I was getting rather sick of it. If you scroll down to the comments section you can see some lovely death threats. The posts of DM's that are deleted were several pages long each, if he said something new, or something directed at me at the beginning of the 3-page long spam I quoted it in a following comment.

Ted Bundy: Porn Victim?

I just watched this video from the YouTube user jordanowen42 arguing against the idea that Ted Bundy was inspired by porn to kill all the people that he did. Jordan brings up some very good points as to why he thinks the whole thing is a load of crap. He first brings up that it was a last ditch effort by Bundy to clear his name, similar to an insanity plea, where the murderer invokes an outside source saying that was what made them do it. In Bundy's case he said that pornography "snatched him" out of his "good Christian family", and that he was just a normal person made evil by porn. Jordan then brings up the point that if this was true, we'd have to protect criminals from society and not the other way around, by removing any and every thing that is 'stimulating' to us. Murderers have been "motivated" by a whole raft of different things, Jordan mentions one who was motivated by the book 'Catcher in the Rye'. We shouldn't take away cars from the general public just because there are a few morons who like to drive whilst inebriated.
Ted Bundy is trying to play the victim card, and to buy into his fa├žade is to spit on the graves of all his victims. If you blame porn for making Bundy do the things that he did, then you also have to blame soccer for all the deaths and injuries that happen during after-game riots all across the world from Brazil to the U.K. You would also have to blame religion itself for all the acts of insane depravity done in its name. Normal people don't bomb abortion clinics or murder doctors who perform abortions at point blank range. Normal religious people are also normal people, and don't do those things. You never hear cries to ban Christianity after some nut-job fundie blows up an abortion clinic do you? So why would anyone buy into the ludicrous idea that pornography turns normal people into violent serial rapists/murderers? Studies have actually shown that in places where pornography is available, rape numbers go down, and so do sexually related murders.

Here's Jordan's video if anyone wanted to watch it.