Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Third Reich and the Holocaust--By Darwin or by God's Will?

Since the primary claim of the movie Expelled, hosted by Ben Stein to the point of teary-eyed boredom, is to make the connection between Darwin's theory of natural selection and the events of the Holocaust, I have decided to look critically at what were the major motivations of the Third Reich's will to kill off millions of Jews and other "undesirables" during Word War II.

Before I get into this, let me first start with Hitler's nemesis, Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR during the Second World War. Stalin's tyranny in Russia was comparable to that of Hitler in Germany, killing off many opponents, both real and imagined. From what I can tell, when it comes to saying who was more evil--Stalin or Hitler--the jury is still out. Stalin's only saving grace would be winning the war and stopping Hitler. This hardly gets him off the hook for being cruel, but let's leave this aside. When it comes to Stalin, did evolutionary thinking come to mind? Did he accept Darwinian evolution and apply it to his populace? The answer is an emphatic no. Stalin did not accept Darwinian evolution--instead, he took on the debunked Lamarkian evolutionary scheme of nature, a theory which had been disproved and disbanded mostly before Darwin wrote his Origin of Species. So, before Stein makes a sequel to Expelled trying to link Stalin to Darwin, this bud should be properly nipped.

So, on to the meat and potatoes of this post. The thesis of the movie is this (the quoted material is at the bottom of the page and needs to be highlighted to be seen):
Many scenes are centered around the Berlin Wall, and Ben Stein being Jewish actually visits many death camps and death showers. In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.
What elements played in the minds of Hitler and other high-up officials in the Third Reich that caused one of the worst abominations to humanity? Firstly, how much of the element is based on divine thinking?

A lot. Let us look at what Hitler had to say about his motivations:

Firstly, was Hitler an atheist? Let's see what are some of the things he said and did. When Hitler came to power as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, his actions after that spoke loudly. One of his earliest actions came less than one month after Hitler became Chancellor when he began a campaign against the "godless movement".
A campaign against the "godless movement" was announced by Bernard Rust, Nazi commissioner for education and culture in Prussia, in an address Tuesday night before students at the technical university here. He said the details would be revealed in the next few days. In his speech opening the campaign for the Reichstag and Prussian diet elections, Hitler attacked communists for the spread of atheism. (Hitler Aims Blow at 'Godless' Move, Lansing State Journal, February 23, 1933)
The same report from the AP says that Hitler is [was] a Catholic. Thus, according to the papers, Hitler fought against the godless and wanted Catholic support for this. So, if the Stein thesis is to be taken seriously, it has already reached a major hurdle: if evolution leads to atheism and Hitler believed in evolution and it did not lead to atheism in the Nazi movement, then the first premise is falsified.

Hitler's words in Mein Kampf are also illuminating.
His life is really only of this world, and his spirit is as alien to true Christianity, for instance, as his nature was two thousand years ago to the Sublime Founder of the new doctrine...But for this [opposing the Jews], of course, Christ was crucified, while our present party Christianity disgraces itself begging for Jewish votes in the elections and later tries to conduct political wirepulling with atheistic Jewish parties, and this against their own nation (pp. 422-3).
Note especially the link between atheism and Jews; that is, Hitler links his racial hatred and the people he considered to be the cause of Germany's problems to be in the same boat as atheists. We can also see that this element comes about from Hitler's Christian faith that is quite antisemitic. Hitler also says that a Jewish state be less spiritual and "religion is ridiculed" (p. 450). Further on April 26, 1933, Hitler signed the Nazi-Vatican Concordat, and stated:
Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith... (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, Oxford University Press, 1942).
A concordat is an agreement between a religious organization and at political body of another nation. So, not only was the Nazi party siding against atheist and atheism, but it was working with the Vatican. So, where is Hitler's atheism?

There is only one source in all the literature that gives us any hint that Hitler lacked a theistic belief. This would be Hitler's Table Talk, a collection of accounts of what the Furer said. The notes taken come primary from the years 1941-2. However, these very few statements which seem to run contrary to Hitler's other deeds and statements, appear to be forgeries by a French-speaking Swiss man, Francois Genoud, how was one of the primary translators of one of the manuscript traditions of Table Talk (Richard Carrier, "Hitler's Table Talk, Troubling Finds" German Studies Review 26:3 October 2003). In the other manuscript tradition(s), these key anti-Christian statements are either absent or they are the exact opposite of what Hitler was made out to say. For example, in the version that comes from Genoud reads as such: "Our epoch will see the end of the disease of Christianity." However, the better version does not include this statement at all. There is one point that is more-or-less anti-Catholic in which Hitler disagrees with the idea of the one true church (die alleinseligmachende Kirche). And that is about it when it comes to Hitler being an atheist. The only last thing that can possibly make him so would be Hitler's use of Nietzsche, but Nietzsche was an anti-antisemite and anti-nationalist. Just read Nietzsche's The Gay Science (I prefer the Kaufmann translation) and you can see how this criticism of nationalism in Germany (and other nations for that matter) as well as antisemitism. Further, Nietzsche broke off his friendship with Richard Wagner, the great composer known best for his Ride of the Valkyries, because Wagner had strong antisemitic tendencies. This is all well known and need not be taken apart in detail.

So, it seems that atheism was not in the mindset of the Fuhrer, and I know of nothing that says any other high-ranking official was an atheist in the Nazi party. In fact, the details given above would suggest that allegiance to the party required a theistic stance, since it was communists that were atheists. But was there at least Darwinism in there?

To answer this question, a bit of digging into the Nazi archives is needed. Die Bücherei, the official Nazi journal, in 1935 produced a list of things not to be taught:
Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (279).
Apparently, the science was not allowed and was rejected between the times of Hitler's rise to power and the Final Solution.

What about Hitler's magnum opus? In Mein Kampf, the word "Darwin" in any form does not appear at all. In only six cases do I find anything in relation to biological evolution (though the word "revolution" is used ad nauseum by Hitler). Let us see if Hitler actually understood biology all that well. In the first case, Hitler talks about the strong not breeding with the weak. However, Hitler is mistaken when he says "[e]very crossing between two breeds which are not quite equal results in a product which holds an intermediate place between the levels of the two parents." The point of sexual reproduction is that genetic information can get swapped around into new combinations that can bring about offspring with characteristics that are superior to the previous genome from either parent. Otherwise, why not just still with asexual reproduction and just "clone" oneself? Also, this notion of a place "between" parents in quality is a human construct here, for the sense of "better" does not exist in nature--only better adapted. Besides, if this was how nature worked, species could never get "better" but only reach some sort of medium amongst all the breeding members of a population; there is no "goo, to the zoo, and then to you" as creationists say in this paradigm. This sort of thinking from Hitler is not to be found in Darwin's Origin; rather, it comes from Hitler's (poor) understanding of nature, and I can bet the farm that he did not examine nature as carefully as Charles Darwin. Hitler also errs in the same paragraph when he says "for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all."

Moving on, we find this next statement:
If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
Here Hitler makes the common mistake that most Creationists make, that evolution has a hierarchy of what speices are "better" or "worse" than another. It is simply false; species (or races) are only better or worse adapted to their environment. What is "better" to humans is completely subjective. For example, which is better: greater strength or greater intelligence? Both have advantages and one without the other can be poorly adaptive. Another example: better food-gatherer or a better lover in bed? The later has the obvious advantage of producing more children, though the former is good in making sure those offspring are fed. Again, it is a matter of balancing what is better for a given situation. As for morally better, that first requires knowing what things are and are not moral, to which arguments are without end. In any case, it has nothing to do with biological evolution.

The next point where Hitler mentions evolution in a biological setting has little to do with racism; it is more in relation to evolutionary psychology, and Hitler is no Steven Pinker. Hitler speaks of the formation of instincts in higher forms of animals, of things going from the conscious to the subconscious. Firstly, to have something be done consciously in order to change the phenotypes of a race is not Darwinian but Lamarkian evolution. Further, Hitler's argument would have us believe than lower animals were self-aware, when it seems to be the case that instincts have formed in all creatures, even though that are no self-aware, such as dolphins and primates. Again, Hitler demonstrates his lack of understanding of nature.

Hitler's next statement is of little consequence: "Organization is a thing that derives its existence from organic life, organic evolution."

Every other times Hitler uses "evolution" it is a context of social or political evolution. Thus, biology is only a subtext to further his argument for what the State should do or has done. But there is one question that remains: how much of this understanding is Darwinian or necessarily based on Darwinian theory? From what I can tell, not in the least. His proposals on life's evolution is more Lamarkian than Darwinian and his understanding of genetics is not worth talking about. Further, his understanding of breeding is in the category of what humans had been doing for centuries with dogs, cows, horses, plants, etc. Artificial selection was something well understood before Darwin was born; even our most primitive ancestors that farmed had a sense of this form of breeding. Because of this already existing knowledge, not to mention that Darwin is never mentioned in Mein Kampf, nor the phrase "survival of the fittest", the connection between Darwin and the Nazi movement is not apparent; worse, Hitler's notions are contrary to Darwin's work at times.

In a survey of other materials on the web from those that argue Hitler's ideology is based on Darwinian thinking, no other examples seem to exist. Rather, the arguments presented appear to be more in tune with the line of thought that because Darwin showed humans are animals then their moral worth is minimized. This is simply then a con-job, taking the wool over the eyes of the reader so that they do not ask for direct evidence of Darwinian thinking in the Holocaust. The argument is not that Hitler was a Darwinist, but that he saw no value in certain humans. And since very few examples where Darwin is shown to be the primary influence, it seems worthy to investigate a different source for Hitler's policies.

Let us now look at what Hitler believed when it came to religion. I have already pointed out that he was not an atheist and there is no evidence he ever was. The papers reported he was a Catholic and nothing seems to contradict this--he may not have been an ideal Catholic since he did not accept the church to be the only way to heaven, but he still qualifies as a Christian. In Hitler's statements he seems to actually use religion as the reason for his actions against Jews:
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord (Mein Kampf, p. 65)
Also in the same books:
A folk-State should in the first place raise matrimony from the level of being a constant scandal to the race. The State should consecrate it as an institution which is called upon to produce creatures made in the likeness of the Lord and not create monsters that are a mixture of man and ape.
The mixing of races then is not simply a matter of biology; it is a matter of keeping humans in the likeness of God. Hitler repeats this thought later on:
Their very existence [of Jews] is an incarnate denial of the beauty of God's image in His creation.
Hitler also prays in his book:
Almighty God, bless our arms when the hour comes. Be just, as Thou hast always been just. Judge now if we deserve our freedom. Lord, bless our struggle.
There are no prayers to Darwin, or to science, or to reason for that matter. When it comes to science, Hitler is actually more likely a Creationist. As seen above, he invoked The Creation into his argument. In other parts, it is even clearer his thoughts on science.

In the first edition of Mein Kampf Hitler said "this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men" (p. 65). In the second edition, "thousands" is changed to millions. The world was not devoid of humans thousands of years ago. The first Homo sapiens sapiens existed over 100,000 years ago. However, if Hitler lacked clarity there in other places it is more clear:
The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise (p. 383).
Thus they put an end to their own separate existence; for the original sin committed in Paradise has always been followed by the expulsion of the guilty parties.
Apparently, Hitler believed in the creation of humans in God's image and the expulsion from Paradise as recounted in Genesis. And another point helps as well in showing that Hitler believed God was the Creator:
What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, . . . so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe (p. 214).
How about some more?
The act which brings about such a development [of the superiority of races being lowered] is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.
It seems pretty obvious that Hitler believed in a creator god and had a notion of sin. He believed in the Garden of Eden, in a young earth, and argued that the lessening in quality of the Aryan race was against, not Nature, but God. Natural selection is not part of the equation at all in Mein Kampf. This line of thought was repeated by Hitler even after he came to power. On August 26, 1934:
National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity....For their interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life... These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles! (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, Oxford University Press, 1942.)
Also notice that Hitler was against any "atheist movement[s]" and that we stated what he did was based completely on Christian principles. Hector Avalos, an excellent biblical scholar, has put together a collection of points that show were such evil principles can come from in the Bible. One thing that he notes is that some of the defenders of genocide are in fact Christians! For example, Jonathan Sarfati, an Australian Young-Earth creationist with a Ph.D. in chemistry and mentioned on Answers in Genesis, defends the genocides of the Old Testament. There is also Reuben A. Torrey, the famed fundamentalist apologist. However, what really scared me was that William Lang Craig, probably one of the smartest Christian apologists today, defends the genocides done by the Jews in the Old Testament because God said it was the thing to do. So, if God says it is okay to kill any number of people, then it is morally okay. This to me is sickening and frightening. This means that if Craig has a bad sandwich last night, had a dream that had Jesus telling him to kill anyone that is critical of him, and Craig reads this blog, then Craig would fell justified in killing me in cold blood without a second thought. And this is perhaps the smartest of the Christians. Well, no wonder Hitler could justify the Holocaust based on God-think!

Now, I could add more quotes from Hitler and other Nazis to make the point, but it would be of little value. What is obvious is that Darwinian evolution had little or nothing to do with Hitler's policies, while his Christian faith was a much more prominent element in his determination for killing Jews. And with the antisemitism of the New Testament, that is not hard to do. Matthew 27:25 has the Jews accepting the blame for the death of Jesus. Acts 3:14-5 repeats the charge, which is repeated many more times in Acts. Paul seems to say this too in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-6. The Catholic Church did not remove the charge of deicide from the heads of all Jews until Vatican II under Pope John XXIII. And according to Christopher Hitches in god is Not Great, the only high-ranking Nazi to be excommunicated was Joseph Guebbels. Why? Because of his crimes against humanity? He married a Protestant. Pope Pius XII never excommunicated any Nazi (R.L. Simpson, "Vatican charges it is target of a 'slanderous campaign' in connection with Pope Pius XII." Associated Press, 2001-AUG-07) though he did excommunicate a few German Catholics for choosing cremation.

So, to say that Hitler's actions were pro-Darwin and anti-Christian is unfounded and the reverse is more likely. However, one should also consider the historical circumstances. After all, Britain did not have a campaign to wide out Jews like Nazi Germany did, nor did France or the USA. Firstly, it must be remembered that Hitler had an abusive father, as did Stalin, so the psychology of such an evil person is more likely due to his upbringing than his denomination. Further, Germany had gone through a terrible war, a humiliating defeat, and a devastated economy. Hitler's message of national hope and promise, coupled with the citing of the agent that destroyed Germany (the Jews in Hitler's mind, and many others as well), combined with the prejudices ingrained into the people that Hitler commanded--these agencies seem to be much more likely candidates for what caused the Holocaust. It would be sloppy to say any one agent brought about the evils of the Third Reich. Simply blaming it on Darwin or Christian dogma would be foolish. Of the two, Christianity was by far the more potent in causing the Holocaust, but not all Christians are mass murders, so more elements are required than just indoctrination. However, it must also be pointed out that Christian morals did not cease the growth of the Nazi party and many followed Hitler because of religious reasons. The evidence of this can be seen on the belt buckles of Nazi soldiers.
And even to the end of the war, there were those that saw Nazism consistent with Christian dogma (Richard Steigmann–Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 5). After all, Martin Luther's tract On the Jews and Their Lies is antisemitic through and through. So, any argument that Christian morality could have kept the Fuhrer in check seems to be lacking (that includes your work, Denish D'Souza).

So, does evolution lead to atheism? Probably not, at least not without another agency, since there are millions of people that are religious and accept Darwinian evolution, including the Vatican and biologists Ken Miller and Francis Collins. Does atheist lead to Nazism (with or without eugenics)? Apparently it could not since atheistic groups were antithetical to the Nazis. Does Darwinism lead to Nazism? No, since Darwin was not used by Hitler in his book, his understanding of evolution is primitive at worst, Lamarkian at best, and not educated by the work of Charles Darwin. (The same goes for Stalin.) Hence, the premise is completely false which Ben Stein bases his entire movie on. It is demonstrably false and the accusation he and other creationists give could be considered libel and/or slander.

One final note: it does not matter even if Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Saddam, etc. based their thinking on Darwinian evolution. It does nothing to demonstrate it is a false concept. Further, the use of evolution to make moral judgments goes against what all moral theorists must grapple with: Hume's is-ought problem. What Creationists keep doing is making the naturalistic fallacy. So, when the entire basis for the arguments about Hitler et. al. are based on a logical fallacy, then the historical analysis after it fails to convince no matter the case. But by being logically fallacious and historically inept, the production of this material by Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Ben Stein, any many others for that matter, it shows that Creationists only have propaganda, not substance, and have been nothing but deceitful.

I doubt that this one blog post will convince such persons to end their use of this argument, since they depend on it for its emotional baggage, but hopefully this can make at least some people more immune to the powerfully ignorant and deceptive statements that will be in a theater near you.

Expose Expelled

In my previous post I talked a linked a lot in relation to the new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (and how!), which has exposed itself to be propaganda run by right-wing Christian control freaks lacking morality and decency, let alone a sense of irony.

And now a site has been put up call Expelled Exposed. It was put together by the good people at NCSE, headed by Eugenie Scott. Thus far there are links on the site which are mostly reviews of the movie. Most are from scientists, but one is from a film critic from Florida whom the Expelled people claim to have entered to see the film under false pretenses, though he was invited.

However, one of the most egregious points of the movie is the attempted connection between Darwinian evolution and the rise of Nazism and the events of the Holocaust. Uh huh. I think this picture sums the movie up:

What we have here is the belt buckle worn my Nazi soldiers during the time of the Third Reich, which same "Gott Mit Uns", German for "God With Us". Not that different from "In God We Trust" on American currency. Beneath the words is the unmistakable Swastika with an eagle perched and wings spread, one of the primary symbols of the Third Reich.

In a later post I will put together a number of quotes to demonstrate that the link between Darwinism, atheism, and Nazism, specifically Hitler's beliefs, are not nearly so well connected as many try to paint it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


This has been an interesting few days when in comes to censorship. Some things are small, existing only in the YouTube world, and another, more recent romp has taken place on a much larger scale of interest.

Let's start small. Recently, on of the evangelists on YouTube, VenomFangX, was banned, most likely to do statements that could be taken as offensive to Islam (then again, what isn't when it comes to Muslim fundamentalists/extremists). Venom is not a diplomatic person and is wonderful and misrepresentation, distortion, and plain-and-simple diarrhea of the mouth. Many people took this temporary banning as ironic because VenomFangX is well known for censoring comments he does not like and banning certain people from his channel. (The latter also has the irony of being counterproductive to evangelizing: if you prevent people from knowing when you are giving "sermons," how can you properly evangelize?) So, that one religious fundamentalist who censors is censored by other religious fundamentalists, the irony is overwhelming. And though Venom has not be respected by the atheists on YouTube, many made videos to protest his banning. Yeah free speech defenders. I must agree with these persons against YouTube. Even if misinformation is what is produced, the free exchange of ideas should not be suppressed. Of course, like all extremists, Venom has not taken his lesson on censorship to heart as he still censors his comments.

And when it comes to this sort of action, plenty of other YouTubers were more than willing to see the amassing of contradiction.

However, this pales in the face of what has happened to biologist PZ Myers, best known for his blog Pharyngula. While attempting to enter a screening of the propaganda movie Expelled with his family and friends, he was singled out by the producer who ordered a police officer to leave the theater. This is odd since Myers is in the documentary and had registered beforehand in order to see the film. What is more odd is that even though he was forced to leave, one of his friends was not: Richard Dawkins, the modern face of Darwinism and atheism.

Of course, the real issue here is that a movie that is about the iron fist of scientists in their control of information and academia is trying to regulate who can see the movie and on what terms. The producers have already run their spin doctors on one critic of the movie, claiming he was a "security breach." A movie about freedom of speech and they are complaining about his trying to hear Ben Stein's blather? Are they really about the freedom of ideas, or is it that they can only project their own delusion and hypocrisy and intolerance onto others? And because of this, they are the laughing stock of the world. Expelling people from the movie Expelled is just sad, especially when the person they forced away is in the film itself and is thanked in the credits! Here is Dawkins and Myers talking on the subject:

Now, lies are flying everywhere about this, so let me farm a few links on the subject to keep the record straight.

As you can see by reading all these links, the story of the people of Expelled are making changes to the story, such as PZ needed a ticket, that he was trying to record the movie, that he was going to bother other people there, etc.

And there are reports of the movie just being plain bad from an artistic and entertainment standpoint. I had no plans in seeing the movie in the theater; if I do see it, it will be of no profit to the producers.

So, the censors are flying, the hypocrisy is rich, the irony is lost on the fundamentalists--I only hope that this leads to a few good laughs instead of promotion for this utter BS of a film.


Apparently, Mark Mathis admits PZ was kicked out because he didn't like him:
You should know that I invited Michael shermer to a screening at NRB in Nashville. He came and is writing a review for scientific American. I banned pz because I want him to pay to see it. Nothing more.
PZ has another account as well, double-confirming that Mathis was just being an ass and a liar.

Also, there is an interesting this Mathis said: "Unlike the Darwinist establishment, we expell no one." How the hell could he possibly say that with a straight face? He kicked out someone because he doesn't like him or his views on the movie, kicked him out of a film about freedom of speech, and says he expels no one? WTF, mate?

Why don't fundamentalists understand irony?

Friday, March 14, 2008

He shall be called a Nazarene--New Book on The Hometown of Jesus

I have heard for the last several months by one of the theologians/biblical scholars I listen to/read has mentioned a new book coming out which would analyze the evidence relating to the existence and time of existence of Nazareth, the small town in Galilee best known for being the town where Jesus came from (and perhaps born in according to modern scholarship). That book is just about to hit the market. The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by Rene Salm will be on shelves (or online) come Easter Sunday (I wonder why). At this point on, there are two editorial reviews, one by Dr. Robert M. Price, author of many great books, including Deconstructing Jesus, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, and much more; the other is by Frank R. Zindler, a major atheist today.

I was initially excited about this book since I have heard about there being a lack of literary evidence for Nazareth (zilch in Josephus, the Talmud, the Mishnah, etc.), but that there was archaeological evidence for this. John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed in their book Excavating Jesus, for example, made a fair amount of mention to the evidence that told of the town being very small during the time of Jesus--in the tens of people if memory serves me right. (See also Chad Fife Emmett (1995). Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. University of Chicago Press, who on p. 16 says home in Nazareth are from the Roman period, about 63 BCE to 324 CE) So, Rene Salm has a lot of things to deal with. But who is Rene Salm? Apparently, there is nothing to suggest he is an archaeologist, or a lettered biblical scholar like Crossan. Here is what is given about him on
For 30 years a scholar of early Buddhism as well as Christianity, René Salm is also a published composer of classical piano music and a linguist who commands many ancient and modern languages ranging from Aramaic, Hebrew, and Pali, to German, French, and Italian. In addition, he is a mental-health professional and concert-quality pianist. Salm resides in Eugene, Oregon, without need of car or television. The Myth Of Nazareth lays the foundation for a projected sequel -- a new account of Christian origins that will investigate suppressed evidence of Gnostic, Judean, and Essene roots of Christianity.
This profile is nothing but red flags to me. What point is there in mentioning his piano abilities or that he doesn't have a TV or car? It is also odd that this blurb does not mention knowledge of Greek of Lain, two languages that would seem to be rather useful for researching Romanized and Hellenized Judea. And Pali is not very useful at all, since it is a language in India, though it is at least Indo-European like Greek and Latin.

This figure also has nothing published in peer-reviewed literature on the subject as far as I can tell, and others have looked as well, including Rook Hawkins and Richard Carrier, both of which are very skeptical of the New Testament and the existence of a historical Jesus. This is an odd situation of Salm, since he claims to have been working on this subject for eight years, yet has not taken the time to get anything published in peer-reviewed journals. Even his book is not in any sort of hard peer-review since it printed by American Atheist Press instead of a university press or even Prometheus. This apparent avoidance of the process seems like another significant red flag. And after listening to Salm on The Infidel Guy Show recently, it seems he should have since he was making claims about the archaeologists' ineptness in dating certain artifacts. Such a charge against those in the field is something to not be taken lightly, but to avoid that position from being scrutinized by the top minds in the field gives the impression of the man yelling in the street rather than the academic trying to persuade his peers with reason and evidence.

Now, I do not want to say that this means Salm is wrong, but in avoiding those that can better analyze his work makes me very uncomfortable about his work. It also seems to carry the flag of mission or agenda. For example, Zindler in his review of the book says "Christianity cannot survive unless this book can be refuted." Such a statement seems to suggest that the book is good because it topples a major pillar of the Christian religion. What is also glaring to me that this statement is simply wrong. It seems that Christianity can survive just fine if the stories about Nazareth are not historical. Firstly, fundamentalists can just deny the book as they can all of modern science that points to an ancient earth with huge-scale evolution of living creatures. Secondly, liberal Christians can take the hit just fine. Bishop Shelby Spong has no problem saying the virgin birth was probably not historical and John Crossan does not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, yet both are professing Christians. Besides, modern scholars have tried to move the major events of Jesus' life from Nazareth to other towns near-by, such as Caesarea. Plus, archaeologists such as Aviram Oshri have argued that the Bethlehem of history is not in Judea but in Galilee near Nazareth. So, either with or without much intellectual fortitude the non-existence of Nazareth does not kill Christianity.

So, one of the few things that still attaches me to the book is Dr. Price's appraisal of the book. " I am amazed by your work and can't wait to see the pathetic attempts to reply!" as it says on It is true that Price takes many, many radical views, including 2nd century dates for all the gospels, the inauthenticity of all the Pauline letters (a la Dutch Radicalism), and the probable non-historicity of Jesus. However, in each of these cases he has presented powerful arguments himself or his references has arguments that are hard to ignore, at least for me. Further, he had plenty of negative things to say about Caesar's Messiah, a book claiming that the gospels are just about the Flavian emperors and was created as a Roman conspiracy, and originally about the work of Acharya S--more recently, his negative review of Acharya's book was removed and now the two are more friendly, even working together. So, Price doesn't just shallow everything anti-Christian he finds. Yet, Price is not an archaeologist so I don't know if he can really have as powerful as opinion as someone in the field on the subject of the physical evidence for the town of Nazareth in the early 1st century CE.

Rook Hawkins has previously written on the subject and he has more depth into this than I am able or willing to do, both here and here. He does quote so much from Richard Carrier it becomes a bit much for one's own person blog, but Carrier's points are solid so I can't really blame him for not rewriting Carrier's statements.

So, I don't plan on buying this book until some other historians take a look at it and give me the scoop on the quality of the book. Maybe Salm is correct, in which case it has some bearing on my own work on the Star of Bethlehem and the infancy stories of Jesus in general. If he is right, I have to make some revisions in my own book in the works; if not, they why not is also important to me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Ignorance--It Burns!

I don't know why, but sometime I feel the need to look at the material produced by creationists and evangelicals, just to see if there are arguments worth taking a look at. Some people are certainly smart, such as William Craig, while others are truly bottom-of-the-barrel arguers, such as those found on YouTube. What usually makes these in the latter group so terrible to me is their complete ignorance of the topics at hand, demonstrated by false statements and little or no references to sources, and are unwilling to figure out that there is something terribly wrong in their statements. One example must be Kent Hovind who is masterful in his abilities to misrepresent every aspect of science.

However, there is some concentrated stupid that can be found via the evangelical organization Way of the Master, which has the faces of Kirk Cameron, a former child actor, and Ray Comfort, a minister from New Zealand with no formal theological training at a seminary as far as a I can find. Obviously, neither of them are scientists and have minimal exposure to it in schooling. Yet Ray has seen himself fit to write over fifty books and tracts, many of which touch on scientific facts and attack the extremely well-verified theory of evolution. His general ignorance was well on display when the dynamic duo agreed to debate members of the Rational Response Squad, namely Brian Sapient and Kelly O'Connor; more correctly, Ray et. al. challenged the RRS. The general pwnage is still talked about today. After all, Ray also argued the banana was evidence for design in nature when most the details of the banana that make it so great for consumption are the product of artificial selection. In other words, the banana (more correctly, the plant the banana comes from, the banana tree) is evidence for the abilities of evolution by small modifications and selection, either natural or artificial.

So, why would I waste 5 more minutes on this guy? Apparently, what he spreads is popular on the web and his blog only adds to it. There again his general lack of knowledge about science and history can be found. So, I think it worth while to do a proper dissection of one of his posts where he claims that (modern) science proves the Bible. He also states how science has changed to conform to the Bible, meaning the Bible was write all along and it can be seen to be the product of an amazingly knowledgeable mind. He does not seem to bother with the facts that are completely contrary to a literal reading of the Bible, such as the ~6000 year old Earth, the Earth forming before the Sun, the Moon being a light source in itself, whales before land animals, etc. And let's not forget that the Bible is full of cases of the laws of nature being broken, the miracles in the Bible innumerable. So, just to start this post of his requires forgetting so much and can only be done by the shear will power of someone trying to evangelize instead of critically think.

And it gets all the worse as the post actually starts. In his 12 points where sciences confirms the Bible and contradicts previously held views in science, the stupidity actually hurts. He has a formula as such: firstly "THE BIBLE", secondly "SCIENCE NOW", finally "SCIENCE THEN". This very setup is erroneous since such a way suggests science is simply a monolith to be read, written by the Prophets of the Laboratory. (Hey, that sounds like a cool band name!) What exists in science is a lot of evidence, sorted out by very able minds in an attempt to best explain the universe. Science nor scientists claim neither absolute nor unchangeable positions; the findings of science won't change unless a significant amount of evidence points to another hypothesis that better explains the situation. Further, what one scientists says can easily contradict another. For example, Aristotle thought that comets were disturbances in the atmosphere, while centuries later Seneca challenged the idea since this idea did not conform well to the understandings of weather. (If comets were in the atmosphere, why does the wind not force their tales to point in another direction, like a weather vane?) We know better now that comets are far away, though Aristotle's position was understandable with his knowledge then. Of course, Christian theologians were of little help in this matter; for example, Clement of Alexandria thought like Aristotle did (Protrepticus 10--hey, look at that, a reference!).

Now, on the the stupid:

1. According to Isaiah 40:22, the earth is a sphere, at least by Ray's reading of things. Too bad that past Christians did not think it that way and stated the world was flat, people such as John Chrysostom (4th century CE) in Homilies Concerning the Statutes 9.7-8, stating the world is flat and floats on water; Lactantius (245–325); St. Athanasius (c.293–373); Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394); Severian, Bishop of Gabala (d. 408). In fact, Lactantius was ridiculed by Copernicus himself in his work on the heliocentric model. Also, in a more recent piece of scholarship, it has been argued that Augustine of Hippo himself may have been a flat-earther, and he was smart enough to tell Christians not to argue with pages about science because they know much better about these matters (Leo Ferrari, "Augustine's Cosmology". Augustine Studies 27, 2 (1996): 129-77). So, if the meaning of this passage was for a flat earth, it was missed by these persons.

In fact, the Gospels would suggest a flat earth as well. In Matt 4:18 we read as follows: "Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor." Because of the shape of the Earth, not counting clouds or obstacles, one can see for about 20+ miles. On even the highest mountains it is still limited. One certainly cannot see on the other side of the earth or even across the sea. For Jesus to be able to see each kingdom of the world while on top of a mountain, the geometry of the Earth would need to be flat. Rome alone is hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem and so was the capitol of the Parthian empire, let alone in China and any civilizations in the Americas. It does not matter if Jesus has perfect eyesight since you cannot look through rocks.

So, what does Isaiah 40:22 even say? "He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth." Okay, firstly, for the geometry fans: a circle is NOT a sphere. The Hebrew word is chuwg (חוג), which can mean mean circle, circuit, or compass. If the prophet wanted to me clearer about the spherical nature of things, he could have used duwr (דור), which can mean ball, which is used in Isaiah 22:18. Further, the passages suggests flatness when in context. Isaiah goes on to say in chapter 40 that God sees people on the ground "like grasshoppers." This tells us God is a man in the sky and can look down and see all the people. Job 22:14 confirms God to be in the sky and can be hidden by clouds. However, for God to be "above", in the case of a sphere this is meaningless. A person in China has the exact opposite direction of up as a person in New York City. And as for chuwg, the meaning of its circularity and not spherical nature is confirmed in Proverb 8:27: "When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth." It is not possible to inscribe a sphere onto the surface of water (the Deep), and this laid the foundations of heaven. From further examination of the Bible and other sources, the universe of the ancients looked something like this:

Firstly, this is how the Babylonians say the universe, created mostly out of the carcass of the monster Tiamat, killed by the god Marduk.

Now, the Hebrew version:

You can get more details in the video produced by the Infidel Guy and Robert M. Price here. Also, see Browning, W.R.F. Dictionary of the Bible. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)

So now, what about science? Let's see: Aristotle thought the Earth was round, as did Strabo, both giving good arguments for this; Eratosthenes measured the size of the earth rather accurately in the late 2nd century BCE. Anaximander did not believe in a flat earth, but his geometry of the planet was not correct (as a cylinder). In fact, Strabo used Homer as evidence for the phenomena of the spherical nature of the earth (see Odyssey, V: 393: "As he rose on the swell he looked eagerly ahead, and could see land quite near.") Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE) claimed that everyone believed the Earth to be spherical (Natural History 2.64). Ptolemy also gave reasons. So, when the scientists were really coming into their own, they said the earth was round. Even during the time the Gospels were being written, then, science knew better and yet Matthew gets is wrong. And as for science today, well, everyone should know the earth to be spherical.

2. Jeremiah 33:22 says the stars are uncountable. So, if the verse is supposed to be scientific, it is avoiding scientific terminology. "Uncountable" could be very vague and is. Is it just exhausting to go through all the stars and number them? Is the number actually infinite? In set theory, "uncountable" refers to sets of numbers that are "larger" than the set of natural numbers. There are not that many stars in the sky. The observable universe is finite and so are the number of stars. And since it is unlikely Jeremiah was using advanced mathematical language, he seems to suggest that the number is very large.

Modern science points out that there are many, many stars. Our galaxy alone has on the order of 400 billion stars (4*10^10). There are billions of galaxies. It is estimated that the number of stars in the observable universe is on par with the number of grains of sand on the surface of the earth. So, in effect, the number has been counted. One could say that modern science has contradicted Jeremiah, but that would take the meaning of the passage much more literally than it should be. But, since that is what Ray does, taking things literally when it is obviously not, the charge can apply to him. As for the statement about science saying the number of stars is only 1100, this number at least comes from somewhere if you look. Ptolemy cataloged about this many stars in his Almagest. That is a lot of stars and I would call that "uncountable" since I lack the will power to count them all. But, to say that science said there were only 1100 stars is without evidence, especially if it comes from the statement of only one person, espeically when philosophers argued in the past. Anaxagoras (5th century BCE) argued for an infinite universe with an infinite number of atoms. Such a belief makes is easy to accept there to be more stars than those visible. The proof that there are not an infinite number of stars in an infinitely old universe with a constant density was demonstrated in the Olber paradox. So, Ray is simply wrong in his statements about the state of science in the past and his literal reading of a statement that cannot be literal only shows his agenda.

3. According to Job 26:7, the Earth free floats in space. More correctly, the passage says that the Earth is hung from nothing. Well sure. After all, the Earth pushed up by pillars, not hung from above (Job 9:6, 26:11, Psalm 75:3). So, how can we understand Job 26:7 will the 11th verse tells us the Heavens are held up by pillars and the Earth earlier in Job? Well, the Hebrew word 'erets (ארץ) can refer to the underworld, also known as Sheol, which was mentioned in the previous verse (Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering (RSV)). And as pointed out in the pictures above, Sheol is in the region below the Earth with its inhabitants. So, this 'erets could mean that the Earth is above the nothingness that is Sheol. It is hard to properly gauge the meaning of the word "nothingness" in the Hebrew since it used only here in the entire Old Testament. However, since poetry seems to be in use here it is not difficult to believe that Job is referring to Sheol, the subterranean place of darkness, as "nothingness". And the progression of Job 26 becomes sensible, since we have a sort of bottom-up on the Creation: Sheol, Earth, The Sky with clouds, the highest reaches heaven where the Moon is.

Now, does the Earth actually free-float in space? This is certainly a very improper way to refer to the nature of things. After all, the Earth is not "free" since it is gravitationally bounded by the Sun. Also, floating gives the impression of the Earth being in water while space is rather empty. (As an aside, if you had a large enough bathtub and a gravitational force under it, Saturn would float in it since its density is less then that of water. Cool!) Also, the text in Job says the Earth is "over nothing." Over implies a downward direction, but this makes no sense with a spherical earth as the frame of reference cannot be made universal over the earth's surface; not everyone can point with the same vector and call it "down". So, more evidence of a flat earth in the Bible and not well connected to the findings of science.

But the last part of this, that science said the Earth sat on a large animal, this is completely false. This idea is from Hindu cosmology where the earth sits on elephants on turtles, etc. Hinduism is not science. I am not even aware of the term "Hindu Science", unlike "Christian Science", to exist. To say that the notion of the earth on elephants was ever considered science is simply an outright lie. It is not simple intellectual dishonesty--it is shear dishonest. (Okay, perhaps Ray is confused about what people said and what science has said, but that just shows his unwillingness to differentiate in order to try to sell Christianity and is still dishonest and projects his inability to understand what science actually is.)

4. Entering the New Testament, Ray says Hebrews 11:3 tells us the world is made of invisible elements. Okay, the Greek word used here is phainō (φαίνω), which means to be evident, to be seen, to meet the eye, shine. In context, the verse tells us that the world was created by the Word of God and a word is not visible.

Going into science, he claims that the world is made of invisible things, atoms. Well, I can see atoms. Otherwise, I would not be able to see my computer which is composed of atoms. And if you want, you can see atoms individually.

Atoms are not invisible; they are just very, very small. But they give off light, which is how we can see anything. If atoms were in fact invisible, I could look through any object. However, many things are opaque, including my computer's keyboard. Further, the text of Hebrews does not say the world is composed of invisible things but that the creation came about by the agency of invisible things. The Greek word used here is ginomai (γίνομαι), a deponent verb meaning to come into existence. It can also mean to happen. Now, the verse is talking about God's creation of the universe, so the context makes clear that the universe came into being via powers invisible. The universe did not come about because of atoms. In fact, in the earliest moments of the universe there were no atoms, but instead a "quark soup". Further, no one could extrapolate from the Bible that the universe is composed of atoms, and even if one did no details about atoms could be given. You can't extrapolate Plank's constant, for example, or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle out of Genesis or Hebrews.

But the last part is again the worst. Originally, it said this "SCIENCE THEN: Science waw ignorant on the subject." Now, this completely ignores Democritus, an pre-Socratic philosopher that argued for the existence of extremely small atoms composing everything in the universe. He believed in atoms and void between atoms; otherwise, if you cut something and there is something in the way, how is it possible? It seems a void is required to be moved through. This was one of his arguments. Against, it doesn't get us to quantum mechanics, but it is very good. Also, Democritus was centuries before the epistle to the Hebrews was ever composed. So, even if the author of Hebrews (no one knows who since no name is on it, though tradition says Paul of Tarsus) did mean to speak of atoms, that was something already thought about. It doesn't demonstrate any divine knowledge at all.

And someone in the comments pointed that out to Mr. Comfort, a person with the handle Rando. First, Ray is smug about the whole thing:

Democritus was born in 460 BC. How did he see atoms so long before Galileo developed the first reliable microscope in 1609 (2,000 years later), and before the advent of the electron microscope in the 1930's? Also, why to you believe everything you read in history books, and doubt anything written in the Bible? I look forward to your reply.
So, he first avoids the problem. There was nothing about seeing them. Also, this is not faith in history books. Just read Aristotle, Diogenes Laërtius, Cicero, Seneca, etc., who talked about Democritus' theories at length and you know that the idea was ancient. Besides, if you could see atoms in the time of Democritus that would disprove Hebrews 11:3, not confirm it. Later, Ray says he now sees the error and makes a fix: "SCIENCE THEN: Science was mostly ignorant on the subject" (emphasis added). This is not the problem actually. It matters not if knowledge of atoms was in its infancy or advanced; the idea of atoms was the key thing. After all, the author of Hebrews gives no details about atoms at all beyond existence (if he was even talking about such things), and there is no contradiction between a lack of exact knowledge and an intricate modern theory of atoms, just progression. If Ray wanted to fix the problem he would have completely deleted this part of the post since it does not support his case at all.

Once again we have an example of a lack of coherent thought and scientific and historic ignorance written up in order to evangelize rather than get the truth out.

5. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:41, each star is different from another. Modern science says the same, that two stars are not identical. No problem. But where in the world did Ray get the idea that ancient astronomers thought all stars were the same? This is without any backing in reality. Heck, a caveman can see that not all stars are the same by simply noticing some stars are brighter than others and some have different colors. Some "stars" even move (the word planet from its Greek roots means "wanderer" or "wandering star"). The observing ability to notice this is bare-minimal--you just need eyes. This is simply a false statement.

6. Job 38:19-20 is somehow supposed to say that light moves. I guess if light can "dwell" someplace it must have the ability to move there. Let's take that as it is, though it is certainly not what a first reading of the text would uncover. And of course, we know today that light moves, extremely fast though (299,792,458 meters/second exactly).

But once again, Ray asserts about ancient science without any history to back him. He says that the ancients believed light did not move. Huh The closest I can find here is from Aristotle's Sense and Sensibility. He stated "That without light vision is impossible has been stated elsewhere; but, whether the medium between the eye and its objects is air or light, vision is caused by a process through this medium." Also, "light is due to the presence of something, but it is not a movement." So, one person in antiquity said that light was some sort of stationary substance. Most others thought otherwise. For example, Euclid had his own work on light and proposed it traveled in straight lines. Euclid also argued about previous theories of how eyes see; his arguments were based on the finite speed of light. (See Euclid's Optica, one of his few works that have survived to the present day.) Before Euclid, Empedocles proposed that the eyes had fire in them and so projected light onto an object which then returned to the eye to be seen. Again, light is said to travel. Some proposed the speed of light to be infinite. Heron of Alexander had done that (1st century CE). Today, we know better.

So, the say-so of one person is not the end-all in science. Further, the ideas of the movement of light in Empedocles are contemporary with the dating of the Book of Job, the 6th to 5th century BCE (see Bergant, Dianne "The Wisdom Books", The Catholic Study Bible, Oxford University Press).

7. Job 28:25 is now claimed to say that air has weight. Sorry, but no. The NIV translators understood that what is being talked about is the force of winds. Ray's understanding of the text is forced, not natural.

Does air have weight? Well, it has mass. It has pressure. However, weight is not a very proper way to talk about air. Firstly, without a gravitational field it is without weight. Here on earth air seems to be without weight since we are immersed in it. But, air does have weight here on earth, for that is how we feel its pressure. But who in the past said air was without weight? I can find no evidence of this, and Ray is not forthcoming with his source.

8. Looking next at Ecclesiastes 1:6, wind is said to blow in cyclones. I think to make better sense of this, it is more accurate to say that Ecclesiastes 1:6 says that there are wind currents that makes turns along the way. Well, there certainly are. Did the ancients say otherwise? I have found nothing to support that. It sounds made-up to me. Ray needs to give some sources around here. Also, wind can blow straight or near-straight. This happens all the time.

9. Leviticus 17:11 says that the life of any creature is in its blood (NIV). Well, if you bleed an animal of its blood then it will likely die. However, not all creatures have blood. For example, flat worms do not have blood, nor do they need it. So, the statement that any creature has blood is a false one. Also, blood is not the source of life, as Ray states. Again, plants and primitive animals show that to be the case.

But then Ray gets into blood letting. This is obsolete because it doesn't work and is usually harmful. The idea was that when you are sick you have too many "humors" in the blood and they must be released. Well, usually you are sick because there is too much of something bad in there, so the idea is not that far-fetched. Now, does the idea of blood-letting contradict the notion that higher animals, such as humans, need blood to survive? Of course not. Otherwise, the doctors of old would simply have taken out all the blood and not thought about it a second time. They prescribed a certain amount of blood to be taken out, leaving some (most, hopefully) for the patient needed it. (Also note that the Talmud gave instructions on when blood-letting should be practiced; Christian writers did the same. See "Bloodletting in Talmudic Times" by Fred Rosner, Bull. N.Y. Acad. Med. 1986 November; 62(9): 935–946. A quote: "I, blood, am the cause of all illness" (BT Baba Batra 58b) and "much blood produces much leprosy" (Bechorot 44b).)

10. Next we move into the sea with 2 Samuel 22:16 and Jonah 2:6 which say that there were deep mountains and trenches in the oceans. This is a fact today. Did the ancients say otherwise? I have found nothing to make that seem to be the case. (Seeing a trend here?)

11. Job 38:16 speaks of springs in the oceans. They do exist. . . sort of. There are hot vents under water, but they are not springs in the proper sense of the word. Springs form because of melted ice water on land. Volcanic vents do not produce water. Did the ancients ever say theyse vents didn't exist? Not anywhere I can find. It gets pretty ridiculous when Ray can spew this stuff without thinking that something like this does not require the least bit of evidence.

12. Leviticus 15:13 says to wash hands in running water. Not a bad idea. Did ancient scientists say to wash in still water? I can only find evidence to the contrary. "The ancient Egyptians thought that sitting a dusty body in still water, as the Greeks did, was a foul idea." I won't say I have any great authority here, but it is more than Ray's assertions. Also, Muslim practice of Ablution requires moving water. And it seems obvious. If you have a bucket of water and you are dirty then that dirt goes into the water and the next person that uses the water has dirt already in it. Also, Lev 15 here is talking about semen discharges.

So, there is one great load of poor scholarship being passed off in an attempt to try and convince people a iron-age book is in fact a modern science book, though a literal reading of many passages are simply false compared to modern science. Heck, the Bible will even contradict ancient knowledge. For example, Leviticus 11:20-3 says that winged insects have four legs; insects are defined as having six legs. How did this one get passed the editors?

Now, another person in the comments went through a similar analysis, named David W. Irish. So, at least I am not the only person crazy enough to do this, though I think I have more references and pictures and details. But here is the question: will Ray and his ministries retract their work because of these overarching failures? I think we all know better.