toxic thought waste site

Theological whimsy, metaphysical larks, and other spiritually radioactive waste products.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Great Transformation: Chap 01 - The Axial People

Some notes and thoughts as I read Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation". I've read articles and heard Karen speak (via the internet) several times and have always found her interesting and informative. I've only read one other book of hers and that is "A History of God". This is one of my all time top 10 favorite type books, so I have high hopes for this book and so far it's delivering. Karen's life story also fascinates me. She was a nun for several years and then (I believe) became an atheist. Now I believe she is a believer of some sort but I'm pretty sure it's not something that belongs to any specific denomination. People who know a lot about religion in general and the Bible in particular who go from atheist to believer hold a special fascination for me. If I ever become "spiritual" in some sense I predict it will be because of her influence. But don't hold your breath.

The book is about the "Axial Age" which is a period during the 1st millenium BC in which ALL major religions today can trace their start. The religions in question: Judaism (also Christianity and Islam), Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and probably a few others. The basic gist seems to be that all of these traditions were developed as a reaction to turbulent and violent times.

Each of the 4 main groups that this book will follow (Greeks, Israelites, Arayans (Indians) and Chinese) lived in societies for which there was a long period of peace that was abruptly ended by the sudden growth of warrior cultures. Another commonality seems to be the introduction of an intermediary to act between god and the common man. It's as if each culture's sky god grew more and more distant until a gap was formed that need to be filled to maintain the connection.

Zoroastrianism seems to to have foreshadowed many of the elements that would later appear in the axial age religions but some how it never took off. Perhaps the world wasn't ready for these ideas yet. The rest of the book will be outlining what in fact the axial age religious innovations were.

There is a lot of interesting historical background about the different cultures but as usual the most interesting bits for me were about the Israelites. Some random tidbits:

- There is no evidence of Israelites ever being in Egypt. The current consensus seems to be that the tribes that banded together to become Israel were simply people who fled the deteriorating cities on the coast to start a new life inland. Likely
the Egypt story grew from a yearly festival/rite based on a crossing of the Jordan river.

- Originally El was considered the main overseer god and Yahweh was one of the sub-gods (along with Baal and other tribal gods). This helps explain why the Israelites were always found worshiping other gods - they hadn't fully developed the idea of monotheism yet. I'm guessing this point will be elaborated on in detail as the book continues.



Saturday, December 30, 2006

"There's no such thing as an intelligent Christian"

(OK, don't freak out, please note the scare quotes.)

I was having lunch recently with a co-worker who is an avowed agnostic. As usually happens the topic turned to religion and I described an email conversation I'm having with an evangelical. I described this person as intelligent, well-spoken and a believer in intelligent design and the inerrancy of the bible.

He stopped me there and patiently (just barely) explained to me that there is no such thing as an intelligent believer. He then outlined his theory that there are two types of people who call themselves Christians: those in the upper echelons who "pretend" to believe in order to control the masses and the sheep who really believe the stuff but are too stupid to realize how they are being manipulated. So all people who call themselves Christians lie somewhere on the continuum between idiot and liar. To make his point he suggested that someone like Ted Haggard *clearly* didn't believe what he was saying.

So I found myself in the strange position of defending evangelicals though I don't think I had much luck. Call me naive, but I have little doubt that someone like Ted Haggard *does* believe that the Bible specifically condemns homosexuality as a sin. I also don't doubt that he was tortured by his own inclinations. It would be interesting to research this issue, but I believe that most people avoid as much as possible having contradictory lives (saying one thing in public and privately thinking another). It's just too much work. Our friend Ted clearly was living some contradictions, but for what it's worth I'd wager that his belief system was consistent just his actions were out of sync. That's about as universal a human trait as you can imagine.

I can dimly remember holding a belief in the stupidity of believers myself at one point. It makes the world so much simpler. People who disagree with me are not smart and/or not educated. Obviously, things aren't so simple. While I do think there is some research to indicate that high intelligence is somewhat incompatible with religiosity (wikipedia), most of us aren't Nobel laureates or members of the academy of sciences. The truth is that belief in god and intelligence are largely orthogonal for the vast majority of people. I've come to a certain conclusions on the subject of religion, but it would be too easy to stroke my ego by using that as proof of membership in the smart persons club. (I do have such evidence if you need it however.... GRE scores available on request :)

Honestly I think the difference between me and anyone else on the spiritual continuum is that of spiritual intuition (link) or what ever you want to call it. If I felt god had told me directly that he existed and had a plan for me, I'm sure I *could* consider that I had gone crazy, but if the feeling was strong enough and persistent enough I'm sure I would call myself a believer and be living a different life. If based on that I also had a strong notion that the Bible was inerrant then I would approach it as such and see anything that appeared to be an inconsistency as just apparent.

So suffice it to say I don't think claims of belief has much to do with intelligence or honesty.

A specific example of this situation that has been on my mind lately is the issue of Biblical inerrancy. It may seem odd for an atheist to say this but I truly believe that the theory of inerrancy and the theory of errancy are both valid, coherent theories. Just like heliocentrism and the theory of epicycles (wikipedia) are both valid, coherent theories. They both explain the phenomena of how the planets and sun seem to move around the earth. In the marketplace of ideas, heliocentrism has won, so it's not too controversial to say that is in fact true. With respect to Biblical inerrancy, though it no longer has the monopoly it had a few hundred years ago, the number of books, websites, and energy spent on Christian apologetics makes it clear that this theory is far from dead or untenable.

If any one knows of a killer argument that shows one side of the Biblical inerrancy issue is true and the other false I'd love to hear it, but from where I stand it seems pretty clear that you can be a smart person and believe either way on this issue. Just to make things more frustrating you could argue that smart people are especially good at propping up bad theories past their normal lifespan. Something I'm sure I've done a few times in my life. Sometimes it's more fun to win a debate than get to the actual truth of things.(link).

So let's all vow for the next year to put aside the ad hominems. Nothing makes you look stupider than accusing someone of stupidity. If you have a good point to make, make it. If you just "know" you are right but can't verbalize it, then either get educated and work on expressing yourself or just accept that you don't have anything constructive to say.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Infidel Links - 2006-12-28

Friends don't let friends use gerin oil:

The arithmetic of souls:

Now he's gone too far! - Dawkins explains there is no Santa Clause

Exactly how wrong evolution would have to be:



Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Atheist Blogroll added in sidebar

Courtesy of: Deep Thoughts


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why does Jesus expect more of me than he did of his own apostles?

Jesus's own apostles were told that he would rise again and they apparently didn't believe him. These are people who watched him perform numerous miracles and saw his predictions come true. Why should *I* believe this happened with *no* first hand evidence whatsoever?

Why didn't they know?


Monday, December 25, 2006

Quoting books not included in the Bible


Furthermore, the "inspired" Jude identified the author of this quotation as "Enoch, the seventh from Adam," so if Jude thought that Enoch had made this statement, he must have been endorsing the Enochian authorship of the book. And if the Holy Spirit (as the doctrine of verbal inspiration teaches) was directing Jude in what he wrote, then the Holy Spirit must have actually known that Enoch had written the book. The inerrantists, then, have nowhere to go except to conclude that 1 Enoch was actually written by Enoch, the seventh-generation descendant of Adam who "walked with God" and "was not, for God took him" (Gen. 5:24). So if bibliolaters are looking for something to give credibility to 1 Enoch, they surely have it in these facts. They have to believe that the book was written by a man who was so righteous that he was translated directly to heaven without seeing death (Heb. 11:5). Yet with all that to commend it, the book is not even in the holy canon. But that's another article for another time.

Why would a book in the Bible quote directly from a book not included in the Bible? If it's inspired enough to quote directly, then why wouldn't it be included in the canon?



Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Zen of Christianity

In discussions of zen literature there is the wonderful description of a teacher pointing to the moon and the student following the finger instead of looking at where the finger is pointing. I'm a few sushi rolls short of satori, but I understand the tradition of zen koans as a way of distracting the mind from looking at the finger. Think of it as a fake punch to the face that forces you to flinch and look in another direction. If you are lucky you might even end up looking at the moon. Anything is better than following the finger around.

The standard koan is purposely paradoxical and any attempt to apply standard forms of reasoning will fail. Presumably the intention is to force your mind "off the rails". Whether this puts your mind in a desirable state is another question, but its a fascinating technique.

I've been pondering of late whether this is how the Bible works. Clearly to believe it *is* what it says it is (the direct communication of an omnipotent being) seems like a non-starter. Perhaps instead it is the oldest and most powerful koan. If you follow it literally and try to understand it as actually true and consistent with history you'll end up with apologetics. But this is like taking the koan "where does the fist go from the unclenched hand" and analyzing the semantics and physiology of the statement. You've missed the point. You've reached out and grabbed the finger and put it under a microscope.

Instead you should take, for instance, the conflicting genealogies of Jesus and just accept that they contradict each other and yet are also at the same time both true. Perhaps once you've attacked enough of these Christian koans you will see the truth. Or perhaps you will be insane. Or perhaps something beyond truth and insanity. But, most likely just insane.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Spiritual Color Blindness

In the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. (Gerard Erasmus)

Unfortunately, I don't have 20/20 vision. While this may be an apt metaphor for my cognitive abilities, with respect to my actual ability to see this is perfectly correctable. So, I know what it's like to have problems with my vision (astigmatism and near sightedness) but I also know what it's like to have these things 100% corrected. Someone with color blindness is in a different boat. More than likely they will never *really* understand what it's like to see the colors they are deprived of. And while that is a bit of a tragedy what interests me about this is that while they don't *know* what it's like to perceive these missing colors they can be reasonably confident that there is actually a real sensory deficit and not just a mass hallucination on the part of society.

As an example let's say someone with color blindness suspected that there really wasn't such a thing as color and wanted to test this idea. They could get a number of colored balls labelled with their colors and have various color sighted people "guess" what the labels say. Now, you could come up with an alternate hypothesis (the balls have some property "X" instead of color) but when every one reports the same name as found on each label the color blind person can be reasonably sure there is some direct awareness that they are missing. Might as well call this property color. So interestingly it makes sense to be reasonably certain of the existence of a sensory phenomena that you can't directly experience. Of course we know of lots of things like this: bat sonar, electric field detection in some kinds of fish, etc. So with vision at least some deficits are correctable and some are not but in either case you can convince your self that the deficit is real and not imagined.

Which brings us to spiritual "vision". For whatever reason I am spiritually color blind. My brain works well enough that I was able to finish school, find a mate, hold a job, etc. But somehow I'm completely without a sense of god and the spiritual world. I have tried in many ways to "fix" my spiritual color blindness, but I have had no luck so far. So I'm guessing this condition is more like color blindness than astigmatism.

But, of course, to be thorough I have to consider the possibility that my spiritual color blindness is not a deficit. Perhaps, just perhaps, people who claim to have this spiritual sense are in fact deluded or (yikes!) lying.

So that naturally leads to the question: Is there some analog of the labelled colored balls that will show me that the spiritually aware are actually experiencing something real rather than a figment of their imagination? If not why not? Also vision is subject to hallucinations. How would you distinguish between a real spiritual sensory phenomena and a spiritual hallucination?

I'm just wondering.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Infidel Links - 2006-12-21

He died so you can get presents!

Watch religion spread like a bacteria:

"Undercover" 7 days with evangelicals

Merry Mithras!,441,n,n

Are all people in Colorado gay? Or just the pastors?

Whatever happened to Jesus's foreskin?:

The correlation of religiosity with intelligence. With elevator music:

The devil's operating system:



Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Superman vs. God: A "God"-anken Experiment

Once there was a Christian who was a normal human in most respects. Normal intelligence, health, strength, etc. We'll call him Clark. Clark prays one day for additional physical strength so he can do more good for the glory of God. God grants this prayer request and Clark continues with his life now with slightly greater physical strength. Now the net good of the world is slightly greater. More good is being achieved. Perhaps it is only barely noticeable, but the world is a slightly better place. Clark can now carry slightly more groceries in each armful at the food bank. He can dig ditches for longer for some orphanage. You get the idea.

Humbly Clark asks God again for more abilities to do good for His glory. This time God grants him additional intelligence. Now Clark can organize his day more efficiently and have more time to help the poor. He is able to cure some heretofore incurable disease, etc. The world is a slightly better place.

Clark continues to pray. And each time God rewards him with additional abilities. More strength, more intelligence, super speed, invulnerability, ability to fly, turn invisible, see into the future, etc. He's becoming a veritable superman. And the world is becoming a better place. Ghettos rehabilitated, hunger cured, ignorance educated, global warming reversed, crimes solved and prevented.

And still Clark humbly prays for more abilities. One might say that he is becoming more like a god with every prayer answered. One of his powers is super-humility so he would never think this of himself, of course. Yet it is clear that for almost any definition of god that man has ever used, he is close to it and exceeding it in many ways.

The world has never been a better place. It's a veritable paradise. Barely using even a fraction of his powers Clark can foresee conflict and mediate it before it gets out of hand. Clean, renewable energy is more abundant than air. It's heaven on earth.

But still he prays for more abilities. God is so impressed with Clark that he decides to let Clark be God. Clark is most of the way there anyway and God would like to tend to some of his other dimensions for a while. Clark would be a perfect adoptive god for this universe.

So God elevates Clark all the way to full godhood. And a strange thing happens. The world returns in every way back to its pre-Clark state. Once again we have the world as it was when God alone was in charge in the first place. All the wars, rapes, murders, starvation, cruel words, ravaging diseases, etc.

So what happened? Why is a universe with a nearly infinitely powered good hearted superman such a better place than one with an infinitely powered deity? Where did the love go?


Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Virgin-born, crucified and resurrected saviors were as common as dirt"

I just loved this phrase found in this essay: Just had to share.



Bible Contradiction Du Jour: Genealogies of Jesus

In the spirit of the holidays I've been looking at biblical inconsistencies regarding the birth of Jesus. As a good example (excerpted from

When, for example, I point out that Matthew's genealogy of Jesus differs substantially from Luke's, I am only stating an obvious conclusion that anyone can reach by reading both genealogies. Inerrantists will say, of course, that Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, whereas Luke traced it through Mary, but there isn't a hint of any kind in the entire book of Luke that he intended his genealogy to be so understood. In the absence of evidence that this was what Luke intended, the inerrantist accomplishes nothing by merely saying, "Well, it could have been this way, so to have a case, you must prove that it couldn't possibly have been this way." No, a thousand times no! Such a position as this is not at all compatible with the nature of evidence. A lot of things could have been or could have happened, but just because something could have happened doesn't mean that it did happen. A copyist could have corrupted the text after Luke wrote it. Joseph could have been orphaned at an early age and then adopted by another family, and so Matthew traced the genealogy through the biological father and Luke through the adoptive father. Either one of these would serve as well to "explain" the inconsistencies as the traditional claim that Matthew traced the genealogy through Joseph whereas Luke traced it through Mary, but none of the explanations would work unless couldn't-possibly-mean-anything-else cases could be made for them.

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Infidel Links

The most cheerful atheist ever:

A short history of disbelief (parts 1 and 2)

Blogging the Bible:

What if you're wrong? (classic Dawkins zinger)

Dawkins interview:

A little treat for those of you following the Intelligent Design movement:


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel - The Early Daters

(continued from the late daters)

In a sense the early daters case is easier to summarize than the late daters. The early dater claim is simply that Daniel is exactly what it claims to be: a first hand account (some by Daniel, some by Neb. himself) of events during the Babylonian exile and the recording of prophecies that would come true over the next 4 to 5 hundred years (or up to current time and the future depending on how you read things).

Interestingly, even if you consider Daniel to be authentic prophecy you still have the problem of interpreting his visions. Even though they are explained to him by an angel (or Jesus - depending on who you ask) there is still some ambiguity in their application. For instance, if we take the 4th kingdom to be Greece then parts of his prophecy has failed and his prophecies are therefore at least partly failed. So generally, early daters take the Roman Empire to be the fourth kingdom. Also there are some prophecies (for instance in chap 11) that early daters interpret to be about the anti-christ (e.g. v36 and on). Even those who conform to the late dater view that this is about Antiochus IV often claim that he was a forerunner or "type" of anti-christ so this is still a prophecy about the anti-christ. This way of thinking is known as typology: any event can be interpreted as foreshadowing anything similar that happens later.

Whether or not the late daters have a good case one thing is certain, things would be a lot less interesting without the late dater's case around. If there was only an early dater's theory, likely these scholars would spend most of their effort just trying to mine Daniel (along with Revelations) for information about the end times. The late daters theory has spurred a lot of apologetics literature and debate. The apologetics run from the somewhat compelling to the (seemingly) ridiculous.

An example of a claim that at least *sounds* plausible is that the metals of the statues line up as follows:
- gold / Babylon / no one disagrees on this
- silver / Media-Persia / silver was how tributes were paid in Persia
- bronze / Greece / the Greeks apparently were distinctively known for their use of bronze
- iron / Rome / the Romans were among the first to use iron in battle

These are interesting claims, but since I don't have access to the resources they used to defend the above (I'm getting almost all my research of google searches) I just have to take their word for it. It might be true, might be a coincidence, but it is one of the more interesting observations.

Some arguments seem quite silly. I'm a newbie at all this stuff but when they start claiming that Darius the Mede (a character otherwise unknown in history) was really someone named Gubaru or that the verse that names Darius the Mede was actually not translated correctly you have to wonder what's going on. While the case for Gubaru can be made to sound more credible than just arbitrarily saying that person X is really person Y it's certainly not an argument that any skeptic would be convinced by. And if they start admitting that the Bible was mistranslated then that opens a whole other can of worms for those who want to believe in the Bible's inerrancy. In any case even the early daters will admit that the Darius the Mede problem is one of the hardest to address (not that they concede an error, just that it takes more scholarship).

As a general summary I think it's fair to say that every point from the late daters has been addressed by the early daters in some fashion or another. Though I'm not swayed by the early daters arguments, as always I find the apologetics to be of a surprisingly high caliber. (OK, I'm a total amateur, so maybe it *is* bad scholarship, but it's not all *obviously* bad). Perhaps I'm pretty naive, but I really do believe that the scholars on both sides really are trying to get at the truth. The only difference is that the inerrantists have an axiom in their system that the Bible is the actual word of God. The errantists don't have this axiom and end up with different conclusions. Merits of this axiom aside the leading apologists don't ignore any of the Daniel critic's assaults. It's doubtful that anyone but the converted (on both sides) suddenly see the light via these debates and change views very often, but it is still interesting to follow the apologetics and counter-apologetics. For an amateur like myself it's somewhat disconcerting to see how muddied the waters are between the two camps especial coming from the seemingly more certain worlds of physics, math, computer science where my brain spends most of its time.

Next we finally arrive at the reason for this entire journey: the Glenn Miller essay on Daniel.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Having Faith in Faith

For the skeptical, having faith seems like a cop out, wishful thinking, intellectual laziness. of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Believing something without evidence is hard work. Really hard. Honestly, most people don't have what it takes to stick to their beliefs when confronted with evidence to the contrary. It's all too easy to just go along with the flow and shed outmoded and reality defying beliefs. That's just what the enemy would have us do. That's why the enemy is always surrounding us with reality and facts. These are tests. Faith is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. We must endeavor to live as the queen in that modern theological classic:

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

To this end, you must never, never shirk from the hard questions and tests of faith. If you do then the first piece of logic that comes your way will slice you like Occam's razor. Instead you must resolve each day to challenge your faith with greater and greater challenges. Don't home school your kids and shelter them from the lies. They must learn to bathe in deceit and rinse in mendacity. Only then will they acquire the skills to navigate successfully in the world.

Also, you must resist the temptation to engage in apologetics. Apologetics are a gateway drug to more sinister modes of fact based reasoning. Once you start researching issues and using logic to assemble the pieces you are falling for the enemy's trap. Inviting logic into your heart is a slippery slope. Reason erodes faith and so must be treated with care. Instead when confronted with contradictions just remember that no matter what conclusions the enemies tools have shown and no matter how convincingly, you must remember that your preconceived notions are true. The Creator has already told you the answer. To question this answer is not only arrogant it is wasteful. Any claim that doesn't match the truth that was vouchsafed you by definition can't be true. You have been given the gift of certainty do not squander it.

So let us be proud of our faith. Let us have faith in our faith. Let us relish the inconsistencies, improbabilities and outright contradictions. These are God's way of showing us his ineffable truth. If the *real* truth was so obvious that anyone could understand it then we wouldn't even need God. Anyone can believe something that is clearly true. But we are meant for something greater.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Infidel Links

I wish you a premature xmas:

I smell bagels:

Rule of thumb: if you oppose gays you probably are one.

I'm dreaming of a white Jesus:

Have a soul you're not using? Exchange it for a DVD!:

If your idea of funny includes claymation Santa Claus and and a threesome with Jesus, then this is your lucky day:

Get out of your delusion bubble:



Sunday, December 10, 2006

Socrates 1, Jesus 0

A Socratic dialog with Jesus.

We must believe without asking for proof. We must not be doubting Thomases. If we believe in God, we will be paid back for all our trials and tribulations a thousandfold when we get to heaven.

You say we should believe whatever we are told, without investigating it or examining it; we should be gullible? If I did this, I should give my purse to every man on the street who promised to return it to me a thousandfold. I would be a fool to do as you say. And here you are not asking me to give mere money, but to dedicate the whole of my life to one undertaking and one purpose without ever considering the value of the undertaking. A thief demands my money by threatening my life. You demand my life by threatening me with torture and promising me paradise. I am not a meek and gullible fool to be led whither I am told by empty promises and threats.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hebrew Cosmology

I remember when reading Genesis as a believer I had trouble understanding what exactly a "firmament" was. And what about the waters that were above and below it? I had a chance to reflect on this confusion again while reading this article: tsr/1990/1/1flat90.html. Unfortunately none of the original figures seem to be available but I was able to track down some that I'm pretty sure are the same or similar: ThreeTieredUniverse.htm.

What's wonderful about these pictures is how it makes so much sense out of formerly confusing verses. When you understand the Hebrew's cosmology you can actually understand what they were talking about. Of course you have to wonder how divinely inspired they really were if the inspirer didn't know anything about how the universe was actually structured, but well, I guess our puny minds just can't comprehend these things.

More cosmological musings

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Bible Contradiction Du Jour: How long were the Israelites in Egypt?

Several places in the Bible claim they were there 400 years or longer, but the numbers don't add up. From The Skeptical Reveiw:

This genealogy, along with its parallels in I Chron. 6:1-3 and 23:6-13, establishes that Moses was the great grandson of Levi. Kohath, the grandfather of Moses, had already been born when Jacob took his sons and their families into Egypt, (Gen. 46:11). If we assume that Kohath was only a suckling infant in his mother's arms when he was taken into Egypt and if we further assume that his last act on earth at the age of 133 (Ex. 6:16) was to sire Amram, the father of Moses, then the very latest date of Amram's birth would have been around 134 years into the Israelite sojourn. If we then make similar assumptions about the birth of Moses, i.e., that Amram sired him just before dying at the age of 137 years (Ex. 6:20), this would mean that Moses could have been born no later than 272 years after the Israelite sojourn began. Since Moses was only 80 years old when Jehovah (Yahweh) called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 7:7), the sojourn could have lasted no longer than 352 years.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Infidel Links

God's inbox:

Who you gonna believe? Freak scientists or the creator of the universe? (NOTE: this flash presentation has an audio component)

Yea, verily, they were hung like donkeys:


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christianity as Conspiracy Theory

I have an off and on interest in various conspiracy theories. I think it comes from an interest in pseudoscience in general and how the mind works. Clearly there is something strange going on in the brain of someone who claims that the moon landing was faked. What's interesting about even one of the crazier conspiracy theories like this is that if you don't know much about space history and just listen to the case presented by moon landing deniers they can make a pretty compelling case. (If you look closely at some of the moon landing photos you can see the prop numbers. It's clearly a movie set!). There are a number of small facts and lines of reasoning which when combined clearly show we never went to the moon.

I'm not sure what drives these people. Perhaps they project their own inability to fly to the moon and assume no one else would be capable of it. Maybe some people are just contrary. Or maybe they like the feeling of being special; that they see something that others can't, a deep truth that others are blind to.

As I've been reacquainting myself with Christian apologetics and ID theory in the last year or so I've slowly come to the conclusion that Christianity (in particular the variety practiced by evangelicals and other literalists) is a close relative of the conspiracy theory genre. As I read early dater's theories about Daniel I get a whiff of the same sort of connect the sparse dot thinking. With Intelligent Design you have conspiracy theory out in full force. The vast majority of PhDs in biology, genetics, geology, paleontology, and information theory have been brainwashed into buying the lies of a superpowerful evolutionist cabal. Only the select few have been able to resist this brainwashing and are desperately trying to get the truth out. In both cases it's glaringly obvious to the casual observer that one side had made their minds up on the conclusions before even showing up to the discussion.

And the funny thing is I have a certain respect for those that will at least admit that. Clearly if the creator of the universe informed you that something is the case (bible is 100% true and evolution is wrong) then any apparent contradictions with your theory are just that, apparent. Unfortunately in both of these issues the proponents of literalism and ID have learned that people in general aren't very convinced if you admit you already knew the answer before even investigating the issue and that nothing could change your mind. It's just not a very convincing persuasion technique. That's why you find claims of people who were atheists and read the bible and then believed. Or people who were evolutionists and then really studied the issues and were swayed by ID (though in both cases there are a lot more going in the opposite direction). It's actually very comforting that this sort of persuasion is necessary. It means that people are becoming more resistant to argument from authority and at least want *some* evidence (however flimsy) that a given set of beliefs are based on facts.

One of the big open questions for me is whether a conspiracy theorist can ever change their mind. Is there a certain age after which it's impossible? If you do change is the resulting pain too much to ask of a person? Another interesting question is whether there is a certain psychological profile that is susceptible to these sorts of arguments. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a battery of tests you could give someone that would indicate whether they are likely to fall for a conspiracy theory. They could then bar these people from running for office or getting jobs as teachers.

I guess my main interest in studying religion (and Xian apologetics in particular) and looking at pseudoscience (and ID in particular) is that it forces me to really examine my beliefs and how I arrived at them. It's also good practice for when you hear someone spouting off some talking points for a bad opinion. There is often a gap between our ability to recognize BS and out ability to satisfactorily counter it in real time in conversation. So even though this little hobby of mine eats up time I could be sleeping or making money, it's both entertaining enough in itself (I've become rabidly interested in the history of Mesopotamia from about 2000 BC to year zero) and the exercise of critical thinking is just a great skill in all parts of my life.

But you are probably asking how I can be so sure that I know Christianity is a conspiracy theory and ID is not the victim of a vast campaign to hide the truth. How do I know? The voice in my head tells me it's true. The voice is never wrong. Only my interpretation is sometimes wrong. Now it is telling me that I need some chocolate right now. All praise be to the all powerful and knowing voice in my head.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel - a reading list

Partly for my own book keeping and later reference and partly as a starter guide for people interested in this topic, here are some of the resources I've encountered and at least browsed so far:

Early daters: # RAINBOW == WRONG ;)

Late daters:
- MANY issues of this magazine reference daniel. I'll probably have to read the entire thing from beginning to end at some point. # awesome site


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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Infidel Links

I damn you to HELL!

Non-belief, the universal language:

Another tribute

Deity post purchase comment card:

Sam Harris, my favorite "angry" atheist debates some nut via email:

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

A shoutout to subscribers

It just occurred to me today (I'm a bit slow) that people who track websites via rss type readers (like I primarily do) don't get logged by the visitor counter I'm using. Rather than try to hack the counter I'd like to invite anybody who is reading my site (who I don't already know) to leave a comment or email me. I'm just curious who is reading my ramblings...


Friday, December 01, 2006

Only Bible Scholars Need Apply

I think that it's a pretty common claim from the believer side that if you read the Bible with an open mind and open heart you will see the truth. In my case, I have read the Bible a lot and have studied various interpretations and theories as to its origins and purpose. And I come to the same conclusion over and over: it's a fascinating tome, but divine inspiration doesn't seem too likely. So I guess they are right, I have seen the truth.

But here's the thing, while I think I know more and have thought more than the average bear about the Bible, I have no delusions that I've done anything but scratch the surface. Further more, people who don't know much about a topic are *really* bad at guessing how little they know about a topic. I could easily be this person now. In fact I have *no* doubt that in 10 years if I continue reading the Bible and the history of the Bible and interpretations of the Bible and so on I will no doubt look back at my current beliefs and just shake my head in wonder at how little I knew back then. At that point I might have the same belief I have now that the Bible is largely fiction or perhaps I will have gone 180 and realize that it is a perfect book whose contradictions are only apparent and that it is truly the best guide to living ever printed. 20 years ago I never would have even considered that I would have the beliefs that I have now, so stranger things have happened.

So in my above scenario if I don't keep working on this for the next 10 years I might miss out on the greatest truth of all. Or I might just waste 10 years coming to the same conclusion I've already reached, just with more facts to back it up.

While lots of folks seem to find their way to god naturally and with minimal scholarship, I don't seem to be wired that way. So barring having magic belief dust sprinkled on me the only way I can see me ever becoming a believer is to study more and just see where that takes me.

Since I've had to work at it so hard I think it would only be fair for there to be a minimal competency test at heaven's gate. I mean if you chose god and jesus but in reality it was just a lucky guess, it seems like you should be disqualified. I know no one is worthy, etc, etc, but surely some guy who just guesses the right answer shouldn't get any credit.

It's only fair.