Alex’s Heresies – embracing a physical reality

news, commentaries and articles dedicated to a non-dualistic view of the world

Archive for January, 2010

Comment: History, Historians, and Truth

Some time back AtheistNexus (http://www.atheistnexus.org/), a very active social network for atheists, hosted a forum question on the existence of a historical Jesus. The posting offered possibilities from ‘actually existed’ including all miracle claims to ‘purely fictional’. As you can imagine, pure fiction was a popular choice amongst the atheists. Moreover one contributor said, quite definitively, that she “[did] a lot of research many years ago and found nothing to support the existence of such a person.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that.

The whole notion of the historical Jesus, in fact of any historical person or event, raises such questions as “what is history and historical research?” and “how does it find truth, if at all?” A common and, perhaps, naive view is that historical research is ‘archeological’, an objective process of uncovering immutable facts of the past. History is an unchanging or static story of events and people, revealed through objective research independent of social and personal prejudices. Getting to the single “historical truth” is a clear aim of such a research. In this paradigm Jesus would clearly have existed or not existed. This similar view is often held of the natural sciences.

Most practising historians would reject doing history is simply uncovering static facts from the past. A popular term of ‘dialogue’ acknowledges the dependency between the researcher’s personal social context and attitudes and the subject of the research. So a twenty-first century U.S. researcher may view first century Palestine differently to that of a nineteenth century European, even if the source data were unchanged. So we should not be surprised to see different analyses from historians from different time periods and cultural backgrounds without one being obviously right. On the other hand, all interpretations should not be treated as equal. Historians expect to find explicit reasoning from publically verifiable evidence that can be analysed and criticised. Like the sciences this is treated as open process of academic discourse.

Here are some points for us laypeople to consider with thinking about history and historical research.

  1. Knowing when(the time) and where(the place) are fundamental to knowing history. 100CE Jerusalem is different to 100CE Rome and to 2010 New York City. I’m not suggesting revisiting school days of memorising historical dates for their own sake – how we hated that! Still it is important to know the overall sequence of events and where they happened.
  2. Though often framed as narratives, modern research emphasises causes and effects, the “whys” of past situations. Remember that earlier histories, prior to 1800s, often sought to teach lessons as well as tell historical narratives.
  3. Historical events are invariably complex with multiple causes and effects. It is not surprising that different historians arrive at different plausible explanations for any event. As H. L. Mencken once said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
  4. Historians rely on physical records – artifacts and writings, although oral histories are included as well. Artifacts can be unearthed pottery, ruins, wall paintings, and even toys. Written documents can be administrative records – taxation, births, deaths, marriages, and business transactions – and personal letters and earlier histories. Remember that written records were invariably maintained by the elite of societies especially in those of very low literacy and so presented a narrow view of society.
  5. Historical interpretations are under constant review and scrutiny. Therefore we need to think in terms of probabilities and likelihoods.
  6. Historical records can be separated into ‘primary’ (writings by people of themselves or contemporaries), ‘secondary’ (writings later than the events), and even tertiary (compilation of secondary sources with some primary). There are no known ‘primary’ sources for the historical Jesus.
  7. Historians are very conscious of their time, economic, and social circumstances compared to subjects under study. Twenty-first century, middle-class, well-educated professors are a far cry from first century rural Gallilee of a Jewish Jesus.
  8. Most historians consider miracle claims outside of scope of historical research. One argument centres around assessing the likelihood of past events. Miracles are by definition highly improbable or impossible and therefore as such are beyond the capability of histories to assign any sort of realistic possibility. Furthermore historical research should be understandable to all people regardless of religious faith and religious non-belief, for that matter.
  9. Be wary of coincidences as an explanation of cause and effect. More evidence is needed to draw conclusions of any relationships.

These pointers are starter only to help put historical research into perspective.

Alex McCullie

Some links to ponder over

http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Whatishistory/munslow6.html

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1998historydebate.html

http://www.open2.net/historyandthearts/history/natureofhistory/index.html

http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1332-the-nature-of-history

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/history.htm

http://www.historyguide.org/history.html

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/hst451w1.htm

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/hst451w2.htm

http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/gwschlabach/10commnd.htm

http://writing2.richmond.edu/training/project/history/fpbody.html

http://personal2.stthomas.edu/gwschlabach/docs/core_qs.htm

http://personal2.stthomas.edu/gwschlabach/sources.htm#HHGen

No comments

Comment: Mark Twain & Christianity

Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clements, wrote some wonderful American literature. After watching a documentary I decided to check out some of those challenging Christian quotes from Mark Twain (http://twainquotes.com/Christianity.html):

One of the most astonishing things that have yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the now flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey our Saviour ever performed was from here to Jerusalem – about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles. The next longest was from here to Sidon – say about sixty or seventy miles. Instead of being wide apart – as American appreciation of distances would naturally suggest – the places made most particularly celebrated by the presence of Christ are nearly all right here in full view, and within cannon-shot of Capernaum. Leaving out two or three three short journeys of the Saviour, he spent his life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracles within a compass no larger than an ordinary county in the United States. It is as much as I can do to comprehend this stupefying fact.
– The Innocents Abroad
Collier’s Weekly Magazine for
November 3, 1900
from the Dave Thomson collection

For England must not fall: it would mean an inundation of Russian & German political degradations which would envelop the globe & steep it in a sort of Middle-Age night & slaverly which would last till Christ comes again–which I hope he will not do; he made trouble enough before.
- Letter to W. D. Howells, January 25, 1900


I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.
– “A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900
There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him–early.
– Notebook, 1898

The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetics in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve.
– Mark Twain, a Biography

This is a Christian country. Why, so is hell. Inasmuch as “Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few-few-are they that enter in thereat” has had the natural effect of making hell the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds; but we don’t brag of this and certainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Christian country when we all know that certainly five-sixths of our population could not enter in at the narrow gate.
– Mark Twain in Eruption

I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.
– Mark Twain in Eruption

If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be–a Christian.
– Mark Twain’s Notebook

Christianity will doubtless still survive in the earth ten centuries hence–stuffed and in a museum.
– Notebook, 1898

You can never find a Christian who has acquired this valuable knowledge, this saving knowledge, by any process but the everlasting and all-sufficient “people say.” In all my seventy-two years and a half I have never come across such another ass as this human race is.
– Mark Twain’s Autobiography

The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive…but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.
– Mark Twain, a Biography

One of the most astonishing things that have yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the now flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey our Saviour ever performed was from here to Jerusalem – about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles. The next longest was from here to Sidon – say about sixty or seventy miles. Instead of being wide apart – as American appreciation of distances would naturally suggest – the places made most particularly celebrated by the presence of Christ are nearly all right here in full view, and within cannon-shot of Capernaum. Leaving out two or three three short journeys of the Saviour, he spent his life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracles within a compass no larger than an ordinary county in the United States. It is as much as I can do to comprehend this stupefying fact. – The Innocents Abroad
Collier’s Weekly Magazine for November 3, 1900 from the Dave Thomson collection

For England must not fall: it would mean an inundation of Russian & German political degradations which would envelop the globe & steep it in a sort of Middle-Age night & slaverly which would last till Christ comes again–which I hope he will not do; he made trouble enough before.- Letter to W. D. Howells, January 25, 1900

I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.- “A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900

There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him–early.- Notebook, 1898

The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetics in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve.- Mark Twain, a Biography

This is a Christian country. Why, so is hell. Inasmuch as “Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few-few-are they that enter in thereat” has had the natural effect of making hell the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds; but we don’t brag of this and certainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Christian country when we all know that certainly five-sixths of our population could not enter in at the narrow gate.- Mark Twain in Eruption

I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.- Mark Twain in Eruption
If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be–a Christian.
- Mark Twain’s Notebook

Christianity will doubtless still survive in the earth ten centuries hence–stuffed and in a museum.- Notebook, 1898

You can never find a Christian who has acquired this valuable knowledge, this saving knowledge, by any process but the everlasting and all-sufficient “people say.” In all my seventy-two years and a half I have never come across such another ass as this human race is.- Mark Twain’s Autobiography

The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive…but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.- Mark Twain, a Biography

Alex McCullie

No comments

Film: CREATION – a very human Charles Darwin

CREATION
A deliciously-named film, CREATION, is a dramatic recreation of Darwin’s anguish over the death of his 10 year daughter, development of a scientific theory challenging religion of the day, and the impact on this theory on his very devout wife. The film draws from Annie’s Box, a biography from Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great, great-grandson , and promises to be a powerful film about a great man – father, husband, and scientist – wrestling with the ultimate questions of personal meaning. Director Jon Amiel has a tremendous cast of actors (details linked below) including Paul Bettany and real-life partner, Jennifer Connelly. But let me mention a personal favourite – Toby Jones as Thomas Huxley (Darwin’s bull-dog). Jones was excellent in Infamous as Truman Capote, one of my favourite on-screen character portrayals.

We have seen some tremendous books and documentaries on Charles Darwin over the last twelve months as part of the 200 year celebration of his birth (and 150 years since the publication of ‘On The Origin of the Species’). Darwin is certainly one of the great figures of science. CREATION fills in the portrait as only good dramatic film can do to give us a person we can love.

I had the opportunity to join an on-line chat between bloggers and Jon Amiel,the director, where he discussed the film and the humanity of Darwin as he struggled to publish his theory of evolution.

I would heartily recommend adding this to your viewing list.

Alex McCullie

CREATION web-site

No comments

News: my CAE Courses Melbourne 2010 (so far)

Atheism & Agnosticism:rejecting the god delusion: Tuesday 6.00-7.30pm: 16 March to 13 April 2010 (5 nights)http://www.cae.edu.au/?course=DNT800

Searching for the historical Jesus – what do we know?: Tuesday 6-7.30pm 25 May to 29 June 2010 (6 nights)

Naturalism – a complete world-view without god: Tuesday July 6-7:30pm 6 July to 20 July 2010 (3 nights)

Alex McCullie

No comments

Comment: 5 Myths about Diet & Weight Loss

Obesity is one of the greatest challenges societies face over the coming years. Australia as well as other developed countries around the world have ever-increasing numbers of overweight children. Is there a magic silver bullet to reducing your weight? Despite promises from television and glossy magazine advertising the unfortunate answer is no. Shannon Wills, who writes on health at Physical Therapy Assistant Schools , has kindly offered to highlight five common myths about diet and weight loss. I can speak from personal experience that these should be taken seriously. She welcomes your comments at her email id : shannonwills23@gmail.com.

Alex McCullie

————————————————————————————————————-

5 Myths about Diet and Weight Loss                                                    Copyright © 2010 Shannon Wills

They do the rounds every now and then, and because people tend to believe all that they hear if it’s repeated often enough, fiction becomes fact and myths become reality. There’s a lot of misinformation relating to diet and weight loss, and if you’re not really aware of what’s right and what’s not, you could end up jeopardizing your weight loss program. If you want to lose weight the right way and keep it off, you must be aware of the following myths:

  • It’s ok to starve because I need to reduce my calorie count: Yes, you do need to eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight, but that does not mean you must starve yourself. Some people think that eating a piece of cake for lunch and then skipping dinner is the right way to lose weight because as far as they’re concerned, they’ve hit their calorie count ceiling with the cake and are not supposed to eat anything else for the day. If you starve or if your meal times are very irregular, you risk increasing the production of gastric acid in your stomach, and this may cause ulcers. So eat balanced meals instead of binging on one and starving for the other.
  • Diets restricted to one food group help you lose weight permanently: Diets like the Atkins method where you are allowed to eat any kind of protein while totally omitting carbohydrates your food touched the peak of popularity before they crashed down to earth. Although it may seem like you’re losing weight initially on a protein-only or carb-only diet, your body is deprived of essential nutrients when you neglect certain food groups. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat sensibly, in smaller portions and only when you’re hungry.  
  • You can lose weight without exercising: Some people think that dieting is enough to help them lose weight because it’s the calorie count that matters. When you lose weight because you’re not eating enough, you start to look haggard and your skin hangs on to your bones when the fat disappears. Your immune system becomes fragile, your bones and muscles become weak and brittle, and you’re prone to injury and illness. Besides, if you don’t eat enough, your body goes into starvation mode and starts to conserve the fat that you do have in preparation for the lean times to come. If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, you must exercise regularly besides following a diet. You don’t have to sweat it out every day and struggle to exercise, even an hour of walking every day or four days a week is enough exercise for the average human being. You need to exercise smart, not take the no-pain, no-gain route.
  • Once you lose weight, you won’t gain it back: Don’t assume that any weight loss you’ve achieved is permanent. If you stop exercising and revert back to your old eating habits, you could very easily gain all those pounds that you worked so hard to lose. Weight loss must be a way of life, not something that you adopt for a few months and then give up because you’ve achieved your goal.
  • It’s all genetic, so it’s ok to blame my genes if I’m fat: Yes, our genes do decide where and how we put on weight, but that’s no reason to avoid exercise. If your genetic makeup is predisposed against you, you must work even harder to reduce weight. Once you get used to exercise and a healthy diet as a way of life, you look and feel much better because your health improves, you look great, and you lose weight.

By-line:

This article is written by Shannon Wills, who writes on the topic of Physical Therapy Assistant Schools . She welcomes your comments at her email id : shannonwills23@gmail.com .

Feel free to download a pdf version (right-click to save) of this document.

3 comments

News: Aussie Atheists

Interesting The Age newspaper article profiling Australians, moving to a more strident atheism.

The new atheism is bigger, more organised, and much more assertive than ever before. It’s based on the belief that science explains everything we need to know about the world so there’s no need for religion. Its founding texts are by scientist Richard Dawkins and writer Christopher Hitchens, and religion, in their eyes, is not just some harmless illusion, it’s a dangerous, immoral force in society.
The adherents of this new atheism are not simply out to proclaim their own existence – they are proselytising, they want to convert the faithful.

Alex McCullie

No comments

Comment: Russell Blackford – Call to Arms for Atheists

Russell Blackford argues that the so-called New Atheists – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens – are a welcomed reactivation of religious criticism and skepticism after a period of misguided accommodation. He supports their efforts, as should all atheists.

We see unjustified religious privileges everyday. In reality when religious organisations attempt to influence social behaviour with faith-based arguments, they are open to forthright analysis and criticism. I agree with Blackford that atheists have every right, in fact an obligation, to question churches’ ontological and epistemological bases of their claims, such as a benevolent god or moral Jesus, for their moral pronouncements. Once arguing in the public space, churches should not be allowed to claim any special immunity from robust inquiries and criticism.

In Australia we live in a democratic, secular society where people of different religious and non-religious beliefs can argue over public behaviour and norms. We must use a common public language of reasoning for social issues, like abortion, contraception, sexual behaviour, and euthanasia. By quoting theological doctrines to argue a moral position, religious organisations are automatically and unacceptably excluding other Australians. Any ‘will of god’ type justifications (overtly or subtly expressed) must be rejected as undemocratic for any form of public discourse. Atheists have every right publicly to ask questions or make demands on these organisations with “Show me that your god exists”; “how do we know your god prohibits abortion or contraception?”; and “Why should I believe your 2000-3000 year old Middle-Eastern story book?”. Finally atheists should demand non-secretarian justifications for their pronouncements, expressed in terms of secular ethics.

Once religions attempt to influence the public space with their doctrines, those doctrines and their sources are open to criticism as with any other public proposal.

Alex McCullie

No comments

News: Religious Intolerance – Too much faith

Religious leaders often criticise secular societies as being anti-religious or irreligious, not showing religions enough respect and deference, often for the speaker’s religion, of course. The same speakers conveniently forget about the government funding for religious-based schools plus tax-free incentives. In fact secular societies are truly their best friends, offering equal tolerance for all religions. Last year a Pew report showed what happens when religious faith dominates the public space - religious intolerance survey around the world. I have listed the worst offenders, in alphabetical order, below followed by some well-known countries as a comparison. The Pew survey considered government restrictions and social hostilities of the dominant or state-sponsored religion over lesser religions. ‘Very high’ represents the worst 5% with ‘high’ – the next 15% of countries surveyed. I took the dominant religion figures from the World Factbook with most numbers estimated since 2000.

Do religious leaders in secular countries really want faith-dominant societies when they may represent a minority religion?

Alex McCullie

Country Govt Restrictions Social Hostilities Dominant Religion
Very high rating – alphabetical order
Afghanistan High Very high Muslim (Sunni 80%)
Bangladesh Moderate Very high Muslim (83%)
Brunei Very high Moderate Muslim (67%)
Burma Very high High Buddhist (89%)
China Very high Low None (95%)
Egypt Very high High Muslim (90%)
Eritrea Very high Low Muslim, Christian
India Low Very high Hindu (80%)
Indonesia High Very high Muslim (86%)
Iran Very high High Muslim (98%)
Iraq High Very high Mulsim (97%)
Israel High Very high Jewish (76%)
Malaysia Very high Low Muslim (60%), Buddhist (19%)
Maldives Very high Moderate Muslim (Sunni)
Pakistan High Very high Muslim (95%)
Saudi Arabia Very high Very high Muslim (100%)
Somalia High Very high Muslim (Sunni)
Sri Lanka Moderate Very high Buddhist (69%), Muslim (7.6%)
Sudan High Very high Muslim (70%)
Uzbekistan Very high Moderate Muslim (88%)
Other countries
US Low Moderate Protestant (51%), Catholic (24%)
Russia High High Orthodox (20%), Muslim (15%)
Vietnam High Moderate None (81%)
Australia Low Moderate Catholic (26%), Anglican (19%), None (19%)
UK Low Moderate Christian (72%), None (23%)
Canada Low Low Catholic (43%), Protestant (23%), None (16%)
New Zealand Low Low Anglican (15%), Catholic (12%), None (26%)
France Moderate Moderate Catholic (88%)
Italy Low Moderate Catholic (90%)
No comments

Comment: Chopra finds truth in Astrology

According to Deepak Chopra modern sciences have it all wrong. Modern sciences unlike Astrology is locked into a superstitious, obsolete worldview, one based on Newtonian physics and materialism.

Firstly, ‘reality’, as we understand it, does not exist. Secondly, only consciousness exists, even though we are unable to find it. So our sensations of colour like red are not from brain processing (most scientists are wrong) but it’s a result of this consciousness. Thirdly, here is a really cool fact. Chopra says that, “Every cell instantly knows what is happening in every other cell, in fact, in the whole universe” I am not sure what he means by ‘know’ and ‘cell’. In fact, what does he really mean by ‘consciousness’? The every cell knows every other cell sounds like a fanciful use of quantum entanglement from quantum mechanics. But then again that’s science built on superstition!

You know the most amazing thing about this article is that he has some relationship with The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics. What do they teach there?
Alex McCullie

You know the most amazing thing about this article is that he has some relationship with The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics. What do they teach there?

Alex McCullie

Final comment: Chopra displays the same righteous arrogance that he accuses of materialist scientists.

No comments

Comment: Christian God not the only delusion

Latest Pew survey shows the US delusions spread wider than ‘simply’ beliefs in ever-present God; Jesus as incarnate god; and bible as the inerrant word of god. It is also reincarnation, astrology, evil-eye, …

Would you believe that 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation?
supernatural beliefs

16% believe in the “evil eye”.
supernatural beliefs by demographic

Alex McCullie

No comments

Next Page »

Freethought Union
Powered By Ringsurf
Powered by WebRing.