Saturday, November 28, 2015

Why have the Jews Survived?

War seems a constant in the Middle East.  After ISIS, if we finally deal with them as we ought, no doubt some other tyranny is standing in line to cause trouble.  What a place to grow up, as a nation!  2500 years ago an Assyrian general -- not Syrian, they did at least lose the letter "a" over the past two and a half millennia -- camped outside a vulnerable little state centered on Jerusalem, and threatened total destruction.  Why did he fail?  All the other nearby nations have vanished.  Why do those who want to send the Jewish people wherever the Moabites and Phillistines went, from Haman to Hitler and Hamas, all keep on failing? 

I am preparing a new version of my 2000 book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, and someone happened to ask if the State of Israel might be a sign of God's work in the world .  Here's how I described the scene, and what it might mean, practically. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shock Jocks put me to Sleep.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a former Messianic Jew who told me,

"Hitler had infinitely more compassion and true patriotism than your brain dead coreligionists."

Monday, November 23, 2015

How the College Board Corrupts the Youth

Now I'm really angry. The College Board, in its infinite wisdom, has just "delayed" scores for students who took the SAT test "in the Asia region." Yeah, that includes Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore, where our students went to escape the known scam of Hong Kong.

To hell with students and their parents. To hell with universities around the United States awaiting results.

Somebody was cheating! This had NOTHING to do with the fact that we morons at the College Board re...leased a two-year old exam offered previously, and publicly available, in the United States!
And of course, no money back when the College Board does not give the product you purchased.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Speaking of Hell -- is it hot in here?

Hell is not a pleasant subject.   Add to that the fact that I know almost nothing about it, and I have two good excuses not to talk about the subject, if I can help it. 

Now, though, our friend Hector Avalos has produced a book called The Bad Jesus in which he apparently argues that teaching on hell makes Jesus bad.  No, according to one friendly reviewer, it reveals Jesus as a "moral lunatic." 

I was foolish enough to challenge this fellow, Ben.  So now I can say "ben there, done that."  And yes, the temperature does seem to rise ever so slightly . . . Next time, shall we not and say we did?  But you know where liars go . . . No, not the campaign trail! 

Anyway, here's the review from Amazon, and some of the following exchange.  Those who know more about hell, feel free to correct any misunderstandings I display:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christianity gets Jerry Coyne "monologuing"


(Note: originally posted on Amazon.)  A couple years ago, I debated the sociologist Phil Zuckerman in California on whether Secular Humanism or Christianity offered the greater hope for humanity. The church where the event was held did not immediately put the debate on-line as they had promised. Jerry Coyne wrote as follows:

"This is why this form of Christianity is inimical to democracy. I can’t imagine Zuckerman, myself, or any other debating atheist refusing to allow the debate to be aired—no matter how bad our performance was."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thoughts on Another Islamic Mass-murder

* Why didn't Barack Obama deal with these guys when they were a few hot-shots with guns running around in the desert?  By running away from war (except with Republicans), Obama has given us more war.  But first, airliners bombed, theaters in Paris shot up, and families in tears. 

* Obama says Ben Carson doesn't have the foreign policy experience to be president.  He could hardly do worse.  Above and beyond knowledge or even experience, a good leader needs wisdom. 

* A Facebook friend posts that Muslims in America might be afraid and ashamed after this, so we should be kind to them.  We should be kind. "Speak the truth in love," not a la Trump.  But I see no reason for Muslims in America to fear: there was no violent backlash against Muslims in the US after 9/11, and there's no reason to expect one now.  Actually Muslims have far more often been violent against innocent non-Muslims in the US.

* As for shame, I think anyone who calls Mohammed a prophet,  half of the creed of Islam, should feel shame.  Mohammed killed four times as many innocent people on a single day, as did these terrorists in Paris.  And there was no one to comfort their families, who were made slaves and concubines.  It is a shameful thing, to so highly honor a tyrant, a murderer, a torturer, and a slave-trader.   (Though of course not a rare thing, in the West or here in China.  Here's looking at you, Chairman Mao.) 

* How foolish the Germans and some other Europeans were, to allow hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men to pour across their borders. 

* Why do we not also mourn the Nigerians whom Boko Haram abducts and murders?  The Pakistani Christians who are terrorized?  The Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian Christians who are murdered or driven off their ancient lands? 

* "Leading from behind."  What a concept.  And we see the results, Barry Chamberlain.  Those guys did not need to become so powerful. 

Maybe our next president can be the kind who leads from in front, and shows at least as much genuine hostility towards our enemies as he does to our allies and the opposing party. 

* The struggle between radical (traditional) Islam and the rest of the world doesn't look like dying out any time soon, unfortunately.  It has lasted 1300 years so far: we might as well dig in for the long haul, and plan for generations to come.  A Christian renewal of the West would be welcome not only for its own sake, but for the sake of world civilization. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

History of Science trips up Matthew Ferguson.

Matthew Ferguson writes:

"Leave it to an apologist to call a pineapple smooth, an omniscient mind simple, and the discovery of science a Christian achievement." 

I don't know what pineapple Ferguson is referring to, but one doesn't need to "leave it to apologists" to credit Christians for inventing modern science, since one finds scientists like Paul Davies and historians like Allen Chapman (Oxford) and David Landes (Harvard, to name a couple off the top of my head) saying a fair deal along those lines, as well.  The modern inventors (or reinventors) of science were, in fact, mostly Christians, and to a large extent pious Christians, so at least in that sense, the comment above is uncontroversially true. 

"A growing slogan has emerged in apologetics attempting to salvage the need for ancient superstitions in a modern world:
“Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also led to the conclusion that the universe is governed rationally be discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to research because in a pagan or polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation would seem futile.”
-Alvin Schmidt, “Science: Its Christian Connections” (pg. 221)
"Specialist in ancient science, Richard Carrier, had only this to say at such a patently false statement:
“This is not only false in every conceivable detail but so egregiously false that anyone with even the slightest academic competence and responsibility should have known it was false. Which means it’s advocates, all of whom claim to be scholars, must either be embarrassingly incompetent, perversely dishonest, or wildly deluded.”
-The Christian Delusion (pg. 400-1)
What is Carrier talking about?  What does his first word, "this," refer to?  Is he rebutting Schmidt?  Is he even rebutting the argument Ferguson cites from Schmidt? 

No, the antecedent from Carrier is more general:

"As the story now goes, not only has Christianity never been at odds with science and never impeded it in any way, but it was actu­ally the savior of science, the only worldview that could ever make science possible. And that’s why the Scientific Revolution only ever sparked in one place: a thoroughly Christian society."

For the cause of defending "good scholarship," notice the seriousness of the sins Ferguson commits against scholarship here. 

It is remarkably sloppy "scholarship" to begin such a harsh critique with a pronoun that seems to be directed at one set of arguments from one writer, but is actually referring to a general criticism with which it is not  at all identical! 

Schmidt, in fact, does not say here that Christianity "never impeded science in any way."  On the contrary, he is making a specific positive historical claim.  The difference is like that between saying, "An apple aided Newton in discovering the nature of gravity," and saying "apples never hurt anyone."  The incoherence of Ferguson's critique grotesque. 

Furthermore, Carrier's generalized argument, the one Ferguson agrees was wrong, was specific about praising Christianity as a necessary cause of science.  But Schmidt merely says "belief in God," which would include Islam, Judaism, many forms of Hinduism or Confucianism or Taoism, at least potentially.  Whether Schmidt is right or wrong, anyone who fails to differentiate the two arguments, is a wretched scholar, at best.  (If we grant that dishonesty is worse than stupidity and carelessness.)

Either way, no one who plays this sort of a game should speak of someone else's "slight academic competence and responsibility.'  Those qualities appear less than slight, here. 

And the funny thing is, Ferguson later argues in precise contradiction to the article by Carrier that his post is largely written to praise:

"I also write this blog because I find one of the premises in this slogan to be so flawed that it needs to be addressed: apologists are often so imbued with a religio-centric worldview that they actually believe that the Pagan Greeks would have based their interest in science on their religion, as if one’s religion is their primary motivation for studying the natural world."

Yet in that very chapter of The Christian Delusion, Carrier also writes:

"Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God. Scientists like Galen and Ptolemy were thus motivated to pursue scientific inquiry by their religious piety . . . " (407)

How silly of those Christian apologists who think religion is so darn important that it might have actually inspired the ancient Greeks in how they explore and understand the world!   Read this chapter from Richard Carrier, an objective (heh) expert in the ancient history of science, and don't listen to what those unscholarly apologists have to say.   

Uh-oh.  Don't tell me Richard Carrier has gone native?

Some days I think defending Christianity against the sort of critics it faces these days is Just.   Too.   Darn.  Easy.  All one has to do, 90% of the time, is read their sources more carefully than they do themselves. 

Rice Terraces in the fall in Southern China

I've been wanted to post these photos from my visit to the Longji (Dragon Spine) rice terraces in Guangxi Province three weeks ago, but had logistical problems.  Anyway, the place was amazing!  But take a look and see.   

Hiking up the mountain from the village where I stayed.  This is nearly the last of
the fall rice harvest. 

Isn't this bewitching?  High on the mountain, the rice terraces march down into a fairy land of bamboos
and autumnal grasses.  The steepest parts of the slope are given over to grasses. 

The wooden (fir, I think) homes are
constructed with pegs rather than
nails.  I rented a room for $13 a night.  
Smelled nice inside, but there was a huge
spider in the passage to the bathroom.
I stayed in a hotel much like these houses, to the right.  This field was being harvested the day I left.