Friday, August 31, 2012

Doctor Who - Pond Life

Tomorrow is the premeire of the newest season of Doctor Who, and like many fans I'm excited. As part of the promos, the BBC has been making several vignettes to fill in the gap with what has been happening with the companion couple of the Doctor. All so important because [SPOILERS].

Here are all five of those short videos in order as they were released.

Hope you enjoyed. Now to get ready for Asylum of the Daleks!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Edward Falzon Talk Tonight

In about an hour I'm going to a talk by Edward Falzon (his website here). Currently he is on a book tour, and this is his only scheduled stop in Ohio.

Who is Edward? He is the author of the book Being Gay is Disgusting, which has a lot of fun paraphrasing the chapters of the Pentateuch.

And his talk tonight?
To officially launch this "Biblical Morality" book-series, Edward is embarking on a 59-city American tour from July 2012. On the tour, he will demonstrate that we're good people in spite of the Bible, not because of it, and that it's time to set this Iron-age nonsense aside, for good.
Should be a fun and (slightly?) irreverent listen.

My Whetstone: Books

A great line reincarnated from the book series A Song of Fire and Ice, now the HBO TV series Games of Thrones.

HT to Chris Hallquist.

I'm currently listening to the audio book form of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, performed by Roy Dotrice. Quite awesome so far, and I don't mind the changes in the HBO series, at least not yet. But I must hurry up.

Winter is coming...

More Not Watching the Conventions

Looks like I'm doing well not to waste my time on the GOP convention, and I will let the filter services do the hard work of not vomiting for me.

Think Progress has been live-blogging, which means that a piece of rhetoric can be compared to reality effectively. I hope something similar can happen for the Democratic convention. Best way to keep people honest: show them they are wrong piece by piece. But who will do that and with accuracy? We'll see, perhaps from Politifacts.

The big speech the other night was from VP nominee Paul Ryan, and it is't getting great reviews on accuracy.  The New Republic asks if his speech was the most dishonest convention speech ever. That may be hyperbolic, but do I really want to watch old news reels just to find an even slimier pile of filth? Maybe Nixon had something not so great to say in '68 or '72, but it seems that Nixon may not have been as bad as Ryan.

Mitt Romney is up tonight. Will it be any better on the facts? Heck, the better question is can he stay consistent about his views for an entire convention speech?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doing' Some Cooking'

I am no master chef, but I do enjoy chowing done on good food that I have created. And on of my favorite tools for that was a wonderful gift from my girlfriend.

This is a tagine.

It's easy to cook in, and it's easy to clean. What it does particularly well is lock in moisture using its Hersey's kiss design.

And I have found many food recipes for vegetarians. Just tonight I cook up a dish with Lima beans, cherry tomatoes, and black olives. Cooking is easy as well. Just add in the ingredients as instructed into the tagine, and let it set.

And then you can get this.

This is definitely one of the best gifts I have gotten, and the most used.

The Republican Platform All Misinformed

I'm glad to not be watching the political conventions, neither Democrat nor Republican, since it's just a lot of show and hyperbole rather than anything that really interests me, at least this time around. But that doesn't mean I don't care about the platforms they present.

And when it comes to the Republican platform, Nobel-prizing winning economist Paul Krugman pretty much nails it:

Still, I get the essence. The GOP campaign is based on five main themes, three negative and two positive.
The claim that Obama denigrated businessmen, saying that they didn’t build their own firms — which isn’t true.
The claim that Obama has gutted Medicare to pay for the expansion of health insurance — which isn’t true.
The claim that Obama has eliminated the work requirement for welfare — which isn’t true.
The claim that Ryan has a plan to balance the budget — which isn’t true.
The claim that Romney has a plan for economic recovery — which isn’t true. (The Economist: “The Romney Programme for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” without the sex).
 Hmm, seems like there's a pattern. Could it be, oh, I don't know, complete misrepresentation of all relevant facts?

Then again, what do I know? Aren't there two sides to every issue?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are Creationists Liars?

Update: this post is now also featured at Skepticblogs.

Over the weekend, I was chatting with a good friend of mine, and he brought up the very interesting biographical story of Mary Schweitzer who started as a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) as a child, but because of interest in science became an influential paleontologist, showing how dinosaurs were likely warm-blooded and the ancestors to modern birds (which means when you eat chicken, you are eating a dinosaur!). I also added the interesting tangent that YECs have tried to use Schweitzer's work on blood cells found in dino bones as proof of a young earth (or at least that fossils are not millions of years old), my friends had heard of as well. But this then got into the conversation of misinformation and if creationists are liars or simply misinformed.

Now, I definitely think that the vast majority of average folks that believe in YEC are not dishonest, nor do they think what facts they have are lies. They are two things: suffering confirmation bias (only hearing that which reinforces their beliefs) and misinformation (perhaps even propaganda). That will cause many people to truly and honestly think the science is on their side. It just has the irony factor that science can explain to a large degree why they don't believe the science (something articulated in Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain).

However, I think it better to focus on the people that make the claims to support creationism, from the creation scientists of old to the modern Intelligent Design proponents. Are they all liars? Some? Just a few bad apples?

In the opinion of one person that has dealt with creationists a lot, YouTube user (and now blogger) Aronra in his Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism along with subsequent videos tries to make the case that creationist proponents actively try to pull the wool over people's eyes either for ideological or monetary reasons (or both). He even argues that biochemist Michael Behe, best known for defending irreducible complexity as evidence against evolution, was at least intellectually dishonest in his testimony at the Dover, Pennsylvania trial on Intelligent Design.

However, I won't simply post the opinions of others, no matter how well-founded. Let's consider this from two points: the prior probability that creationism is advanced by dishonesty, and examples of it in action.

First, how likely is it that good, Christian leaders could promote things that are positively false yet peddled as absolute truth? Isn't there a significant disconnect between defending a system of morality and violating the 9th commandment?  Well, that is something that can be overcome with a bit of rationalization, and not much really. In the minds of YEC leaders, evolution is not simply a scientific theory, it is a force trying to undermine the whole of society. As is seen in this illustration from creationist literature, evolution supports Nazism, abortion, sexual perversion, racism, radical feminists, and more things seen as terrible. And Creation "Science" is the remedy, or so it seems. So whatever tool it takes to take down evolution is given great moral weight. Such a precedent can be seen in the Church historian Eusebius, who advocated (from the idea in Plato) it is sometimes necessary to use a lie for medicinal purposes, sort of speak. In another context, there is pseudo-historian David Barton who is now too widely considered a liar to be publishable by anyone with a reputation (which is why he has gone to Glen Beck). He really was a liar for Jesus, making up quotes and making claims such as the Founding Fathers had settled the evolution vs. creationism issue back in the day... even though they were most all dead before Charles Darwin could even read, let alone publish his Origin of Species.

Moreover, there is the point to consider of how a position such as YEC can survive when it was been falsified since the early 19th century. How can a position be supported by educated people, given the information resources of modern times, when each and every claim said to be indicative of a young earth and against common decent are not only proved false, but even nicely sorted against the claims? There are no facts one can point to that actually indicate the earth is less than 10,000 years old, while there are a significant number in favor of an earth million and billions of years old. Can someone, let alone numerous people research a topic and get their facts wrong time and again without intellectual dishonesty?

The problem becomes all the worse considering that many YEC organizations proudly put up their statements of faith. For example, Answers in Genesis (AiG) has a Statement of Faith that includes the following:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
(And no, this is not the only example.) Such a statement indicates that from the start, no evidence can go against what is already believed. If you already "know" the "answer", then the research becomes farcical. And while scientists can indeed fall into cognitive traps and fail to see evidence that undoes their own pet theories, they don't make statements in advance of what the evidence must be.

So, initially we can see that there are potential motivators for being dishonest for the sake of taking down evolution. But what about actual cases where this happens? Let's start early in history.

If we look to the beginning of the fight against Darwin's theory, we ought to consider Sir Richard Owen, a brilliant anatomist and founder of the British Museum and the coiner of the word "dinosaur." However, he was a staunch opponent of Darwin and a supporter of a theological interpretation of life's past rather than the mechanistic account of Darwin and his bulldog Huxley. And so it seems that Owen invented the claim that a brain structure (the hippocampus minor) was only possessed by humans and not other primates, thus undercutting common ancestry. But investigations by others showed Owen to be wrong, and considering Owen's prowess in anatomy, it becomes hard to believe he could make such a mistake. There was Huxley's book written for those unexposed to advanced anatomy that these structures were indeed in both humans as well as monkeys, so the feature was rather obvious to all observers (including scientists such as Charles Lyell). That Owen evaded this, along with creating inaccurate drawings to hide other features of primate brains, had to further claim that the hippocampus minor was not only missing in lower primates and "idiot" further indicates his stubbornness to the obvious, and having been caught he finally admitted that the structure was in other primate brains (though with caveats), all indicates he was protecting other interests. This is detailed in the book Owen's Ape and Darwin's Bulldog and this rather good Wikipedia page on the subject. Also, this video:

In addition, Owen tried to discredit the usefulness of Archaeopteryx (discovered in 1861) as a transition between reptiles and bird by comparing the fossil to pterosaurs rather than dinosaurs. Again, hardly an innocent mistake since Owen had been the definer of dinosaurs, so this made it easy for Huxley to expose him again. (Obviously there wasn't much love between these men.) Owen also was not a terribly moral man who squished those that got in his way, wrote letters in the third person to papers attacking his enemies and praising himself, and was also accused of plagiarism.

So, it seems in the case of Owen, he was willing to present falsehoods in order to advance his career and attack evolution, and he was widely considered towards the end of his life to have been a dishonest man. But he is hardly the only case to present. If we move on to the Scope Monkey Trial of 1925, we can see another case there it was seen as useful to take a position believed to be false in order to attack evolution. Here we had a titan of American politics, William Jennings Bryan, fighting for Christ and society against the great agnostic Clarence Darrow (though they were in fact friends and Darrow helped Bryan in his bids for the presidency). Now, an interesting fact that the movie and stage performance of the trial, Inherit the Wind, doesn't properly represent is that Bryan was not a YEC, but instead he did not disagree with the geologists. However, when on the stand, he did try to argue for a young earth, citing the "research" of George McReady Price, the effective founder of Young Earth Creationism. Price was not a geologist or trained scientist, and also on the stand Bryan admitted the antiquity of the earth (see The Creationists, pp. 58, 89, 116-7). So again, we have a person willing to use research that was not only outside of the scientific mainstream but even at odds with his own beliefs, all for the sake of fighting Darwinism because of its perceived moral issues. Not unlike that seen in the illustration above: using "science" that supports creationism to stop some other evil.

However, these figures are long dead and do not promote things today, obviously. What about living proponents of creationism? As another case example, consider Duane Gish, a founding figure in creation "science" and a trained biochemist. So he ought to know basic biology and chemistry. As one of his famous cases against natural selection and the piecemeal origins of biological systems, he pointed to the bombardier beetle, a bug that can squirt a boiling liquid at predators for protection. Gish claimed that the chemicals in the liquid used by the beetle, hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, explode without an inhibitor; thus, the beetle could not have existed without the inhibitor, giving nothing for nature to select, thus meaning the creature had to be formed the way it was, otherwise Kaboom! But what happens if you do mix these chemicals together? Actually, no boom. At all. You can test this yourself with store-bought supplies.

Now, Gish made this claim in a book from 1977. In 1978, he was informed of this, and though he still thought it impossible for the beetle to have evolved, he agreed that the chemical combo was not explosive. And yet, in 1980, he still made the same argument. He should have known better before making the argument (he was a chemist), and he admitted to knowing better two years before making the same claim again. And to this day, it is still made by creationists without fixing the errors (though elsewhere they do agree the description is wrong). So we have here another example of dishonesty and knowingly so.

But we still haven't gotten to perhaps the grand-daddy of the disingenuous, "Dr." Kent Hovind. As you may have noticed, I don't think him a doctor because his degree is fake, a printing from a diploma mill called Patriot Bible University (which is just this trailer house in Colorado), so his title is fake. Hovind is also currently in prison for tax fraud, so he is indeed a convicted liar. Other acts of being disingenuous include his $250,000 prize for any evidence of evolution which, upon inspection, can only be won by showing it is impossible in any way that God could have caused the evidence to be the way it appears. He also uses his own made-up definitions of evolution to further evade ever getting the evidence for the theory that biologists actually talk about.

But as an example of creating a falsehood to advance creationism over evolution, perhaps the best example is his case of a supposed conversation with a Berkeley professor while on an airplane. He never gives a name or department for this professor, and the professor's description of the Big Bang is amazingly wrong. In fact, it appears to have been manufactures by Hovind using elementary/middle school science text books (start viewing from 3:30).

If you watched, you would notice that even Hovind's slides show that he was mixing nebula collapse for star formation and the Big Bang, which he then uses for his angular momentum argument against the Big Bang. He is clearly off his rocker and is using an encounter that could not have happened unless such a person knew nothing of cosmology yet talked exactly like a children's textbook. A collection of Hovind's lies can be found using the wayback machine here. I should also include that Hovind's ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, filed many false DMCA take-down notices of videos critical of his seminars, claiming copyright infringement even though on his lectures and on his website he states none of his stuff of copyrighted to help spread it around. Perhaps then it is no wonder that he is in jail for tax fraud and trying to disguise transactions that would have tipped off the feds. However, it is unfortunate that his son, Eric, has continued in his father's line of work, selling the same bunk, just with better graphics.

And now for one last example: taken from the Dover trial about Intelligent Design (ID). In particular, consider two of the figures on the Dover school board, William (Bill) Buckingham and Alan Bonsell. These guys, and others, wanted to get straight-out creationism taught in the schools, even though it had been clearly found to be illegal by the Supreme Court in the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard. So they searched for an alternative to avoid the legal issue using ID. Part of that process was the inclusion of a textbook called Of Pandas and People. After the school board had agreed to including ID, the books appeared out of nowhere, apparently, at the school for use in the library. Sixty copies, in fact. Buckingham and Bonsell both claimed in their sworn deposition that they had no idea where the books came from.

But that was a bald-faced lie. In fact, Buckingham had gotten up in front of his church to ask for donations to buy these textbooks. He then gave a check for the books to Bonsell, who gave it to his father, who then bought the books. That is a pretty amazing lie, and told under oath no less. When the judge got wind of this, he took over the interrogation of the witness and put Bonsell up for perjury charges; Judge Jones said that the two men repeatedly lied.

Here then we have a super-clear case of lying, under oath even, in order to get creationism into the classrooms.

Now, this post has already gotten long, but it is hardly complete. I haven't considered the ever-present use of quote-mining in creationist literature, especially against Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould, or the dishonest editing of Dawkins or the propaganda film Expelled which tries to say evolutionary scientists are really Nazis. I haven't touched the geologists like Andrew Snelling who gets a PhD in the subject and writes papers, but thinks all his work is false and promotes YEC to whomever he can. And I haven't talked about ID which tries to hide what it is as subterfuge, avoiding legal barriers to teaching creationism while not providing anything that can get into peer-review (and they don't even try). Heck, documentation shows that they really have the goal of doing all that they can to destroy "Darwinism" to make way for Christian scientific approaches (see the Wedge document). The blog site The Panda's Thumb has also been tracking the falsehoods and dishonest for many years now. There is a massive industry of pseudo-science, and it truly looks like it cannot be advanced honestly.

Creationism is certainly advanced by ignorance of the facts. However, there does appear to be a significant factor of dis-ingenuousness on the part of proponents. And those that were actively listening to these false prophets do feel they were lied to after they realize how wrong they were. But still, nearly half the US buys into YEC teachings.

How best to combat this? You tell me!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Time to Converge

For dinner tonight, I'm going to a grill-out at a a group I am helping my Christian and atheist friends take wing. The idea was started before I came along, but it has a philosophy behind it that I can get behind, and you should too no matter your political or theological position.

The group that is meeting tonight is called Convergence, and it's trying to be interfaith without the barrier of having to have a faith (other terms I have heard used an inter-worldview and trans-faith). And basically, if you like intellectual discussion and trying to find common ground, this is great. If you prefer being divisive, then you will probably not feel comfortable.

Does this go against the ideas growing up in A+? I don't see a necessary contradiction because the folks I work with hold to much the same values as I do (as described by Richard Carrier for A+): rationality, compassion, and personal integrity. Sure I don't agree with the Christians about God and Jesus, but they don't evangelize through Bible-slapping, and on social issues we seem to feel similarly. One of the earlier discussions the group had was whether it is okay for us to live with luxury while so much of the rest of the world has decrepit living conditions (to put it nicely). These are conversations that can and do happen at atheists meetings as well, but to make the changes we want it is necessary to talk to the other 80+% of the country.

This won't reach out to all religious folks, especially those that love their Jesus but don't seem to think the "love my neighbor" stuff is all that literal. Again, the values described above seem to be a prerequisite for making such a group work, be productive, and create a community that unites rather than divides.

Currently the group exists only in Columbus, as far as I know, but we hope that it expands. If you are interested, let me know as we want to make organizations like this grow. It's great for atheists to work with the religious to show we don't all eat babies. It's great for the religious because it shows that the next generation is more tolerant, more reasonable, and more inviting than the previous generation. And I only want that to keep getting better.

But for now, got's to gets to the grillin'!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Goodbye Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

As has been reported, the first person to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, has died at the age of 82 in Columbus, Ohio (and I wasn't there).

Obviously his best known contribution to the human experience was traveling to the nearest large astronomical body, and that landing will be historic forever. His friend and the second person on the Moon with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, also has great remarks. President Obama also made a statement.

He obviously helped the sciences move forward, paving the way to more missions to the Moon and bringing back and leaving materials to better study the body and thus the rest of the solar system. Armstrong also did some teaching after his historic mission at the University of Cincinnati for about a decade.

When it comes to skepticism, he wasn't so involved in debunking the Moon landing hoax, (Buzz did a lot of that, including punching one guy in the face), but Armstrong did take part of an expedition to Cueva de los Tayos which showed Erich von Däniken was dishonest, thus also helping kill the ancient astronaut hypothesis.

He will obviously be missed, but his efforts and adventures will live on as long as humanity exists.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The History Channel and Ancient AstroNOTs!

Several years ago I was flabbergasted by the History channel when it produced a show with such obvious pseudo-history and pseudo-science being done by west coast amateur nobodies trying to prove a theory of Chinese visitations of the western US before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. But little did I know it was so low down on the totem poll of garbage that they were going to use.

For some time now, History (that's their new name) has presented the Ancient Astronaut "hypothesis" as legitimate, even though the primary advocate of it in the 1960s and 1970s, Erich von Däniken, was shown to be a terrible researcher and a fraud.

But fortunately, one of the things that killed his credibility was a BBC/PBS documentary that showed how flawed his ideas were and how unresearched they were and how he used fabricated data/artifacts to support his contentions, and that documentary is on YouTube, though it is a rip from a VHS tape not in great shape. But it does have a bit of rarely seen clips of the late Carl Sagan.

Some of the scientific assessments of things have changed in the 30+ years since this video was made, such as how the Easter Island heads (moai) were moved, or the purpose of the Nazca lines, but still in the realm of what normal humans can do. And there are still things to study, but the alien hypothesis hasn't been useful in explaining any of these things. But archaeology does a far better job, even where it's incomplete.

There are mysteries to solve, so let's use the methods that work!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Yes, The GOP Is Crazy Anti-Woman

My previous post about how those in the Republican Party are amazingly anti-woman because of their abortion policies, namely to restrict abortion access even to rape victims, would seem to paint a broad brush. I even advocating not voting for anyone in the GOP.

And my brush was accurately wide it would seem. As reported by the Huffington Post's Amdana Turkel, more than 40 of the Republican candidates for Senate and House oppose abortion for rape or incest victims.  This is based on the "good marks" given by RNC For Life, which approves 2012 candidates based on their abortion stance. It was interesting to see no one from Ohio on there, but there are two Michigan Reps running this year, one of whom is an incumbent.

And even though the Onion effectively satirizes this, it is rather clear that the Republicans do have a War on Women, and their denials are both politically savvy and showing how ignorant of how damaging their policies are. You can't end funding to Planned Parenthood and care about women's health, yet Texas and various goons in Washington want to do just that. You can't run panels about birth control without any female representatives and then call women requesting access to it "sluts". Oh, and you can't be ignorant about how rape can and does cause pregnancies, something you would hopefully research before legislating unless you are a professional dipshit.

(We can add to that another idiot that thinks only gay sex can transmit HIV.)

You know, this is definitely enough reason no one should vote for the GOP even if they are pro-life, as I argued in my prior blog post. If we add to that the dismissal of the science of climate change and evolution by the party at large, and the economic policies that just don't work and are likely counter-productive (as evidenced in Zombie Economics), and remembering the gross incompetency of the prior Republican administration (false-leads into Iraq War, crap response to Katrina, deregulation allowing banks to promote sub-prime loans that helped lead to the 2008 collapse), and there is simply no rational reason to vote Republican.

Unless all your income is via capital gains, then you will pay less than 1% on income taxes (while my taxes go up!). And you have no sense of community or compassion. Then it might seem reasonable. In a pig's eye.

First Day of Classes

It's the first day of classes here at OSU, and it seems to be the same for many others across the US. Which is odd because OSU had until this year been on a different academic calendar than the rest of the world. We had a system of quarters instead of semesters, but that has changed this year. It's been hectic preparing for this new system, and I had been working over the summer to prepare a new physics curriculum for one of the undergraduate classes. But we hope to see if it pays off. We have our testing tools ready to go, and we'll see if our PER methods will help.

But for now, to arms!

And I better work well, since it looks like the university system in general is failing PhDs and students with massive budget cuts:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Todd Akin and the GOP: Science and Ethics Failures

There has been plenty of coverage of the extremely stupid and dehumanizing statements of Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri's 2nd district about how "legitimate rape[s]" don't cause pregnancies. I mean, fuck, I hate even having to write what he said.

Rape is about the worst thing you can do to a person, perhaps even worse than murder because of the shame and guilt and weakness is causes the victim, not to mention potentially seeing your rapist again. And then having to raise a child due to the most horrific thing that could happen to you against your will? And by against ones will, I mean not being allowed to terminate the pregnancy.

Because that is what this crap is about from Akin and his acolytes. They want to end abortion in all cases. No matter how you became pregnant, be it through a passionate night with a failed condom or assault with a weapon and forced into compromising positions; all wish to be banned.

And how unfortunate that that statement is NOT an exaggeration. There have been numerous states submitting and something passing laws to limit access to abortion (Arizona passing law to make life begin effectively before conception; Utah producing legislation to make even miscarriages potentially illegal and acts of manslaughter), including language that has no exceptions, and now it's going to go Prime Time. Various news outlets and commentators have discovered that at the Republican National Convention part of the party platform will be the effort to make all abortions illegal. No exceptions. No compromises. The Republican VP also sponsored a bill that make all fertilized eggs persons, which means it would ban stem cell research and prohibit in vitro fertilization (IVF). So even medical needs, from future treatments to people actually wanting children, are restricted by such a bill. That all means the anti-abortion stuff is right at the top of the GOP, not something in their fringes.

Which of course makes all the people in the GOP that poo-poo Akin for saying what he did ring perfectly hollow. And Akin himself claims he misspoke, but he still wants abortion to always be illegal. Which means he isn't sorry about what he thinks, but he is sorry about the packaging he used to market his vile filth.

Moreover, he is not somehow isolated from the grassroots of the conservative movement in the US. His ideas about rape and conception actually come from "research" done by various duchenozzels. The Week nicely recaps the history of this line of argument, going even into the Middle Ages; however, the most recent version of this "theory" came into politics in about the 1980s with James Leon Holmes and state Rep. Stephen Freind. And it is clear that there is no scientific basis for it; an estimate puts about 32,000 pregnancies in the US as due to rape.

But why even think something so awful and patently untrue? Because an excuse is required to keep a straight face when proposing a ban on all possible pregnancies. It's cognitive dissonance run wild! It also shows a contempt for women, since it means that if they are pregnant they must have wanted it. How different is that from the crass statement that drunk women in miniskirts are asking for sex (and potentially raped)? No, no, no. She must have wanted it to happen, and it's her fault for not controlling her vagina correctly (oops! I just caused my blog to be censored in Michigan). Yet, the premises are delusional, far worse than merely false, and clearly anti-woman, and thus anti-human.

What also belies the GOP saving face is that there are figures in the right wing who still support what Akin said, claiming he was right all along. Bryan Ficsher of American Family Association (AFA) and the radio program Focal Point on American Family Radio tweeted this:

Mike Huckabee is also helping Akin, saying how even people conceived by rape can become contributors to society and be great. As if anyone is saying a child born but conceived under un-ideal circumstances is less a member of the community. No, the problem is forcing a woman to carry a child after she was forced in into sex and having the worst experience on her life. It also destroys any sort of family planning, meaning the child is less likely to have a stable home. And it looks like Mike has never heard of the philosophical mental experiment of the violinist.

Another ass of the Religious Right, D. James. Kennedy, who is Akin's spiritual leader (no wonder he is dead to human compassion) also believes women invite rape; they had it coming because they wear clothing that's attractive. Everyone, get your women burkhas, and don't let them leave the house without a male escort. It's what they deserve for having breasts, you know.

And you can guess where all things shit is derived: preachin' from the Bible. And even though the book has rather little to say on abortion, it is religiosity that has done the most to prop up such anti-woman policies. It basically sacrifices the autonomy of the woman to religious dogma; it parallels all too well the sacrificing of Isaac by Abraham for his deity of choice (who just happened to be testing him). Put human compassion and well-being on the alter, for the fires create a perfume to the imagined sycophant.

What makes this worse is that the arguments promulgated by these nuts also infect the rest of secular society, including the atheist community. Do 20-week-old fetuses feel pain? There is not a consensus that favors it, mostly because the neural network of the body isn't properly developed until later; the nervous system isn't developed well enough until about week 27 to have some control of body functions, and studies seem to place the time to potentiality feel pain at about the seventh month (third trimester). How about a link between abortion and breast cancer or depression? Bullshit. And so on.

But if you are one to think that a fetus at any age is fully human and deserving of rights, that abortion is murder, and you wish to minimize deaths, then also consider this: the abortion rate in a country where abortion is legal is about the same or lower than a country where abortion is illegal (as determined by the World Health Organization). But worse, in the nations were abortion is illegal, it is much less safe, and that means women die in the process. That means no saved babies and more dead women. Abortion laws save none and kill others.

Now, this is not to deny that there are no circumstances in which abortion may be immoral; I do not claim to know what is necessarily right on the fringe ends of what could happen. However, it is very much the case that the sorts of laws that the folks in the GOP are trying to pass do only harm, save no one (not even babies), and demote women to second class citizens. Again.

This makes all this Kuhscheiße anti-humanist. It demotes human values, human suffering, human desires for a dogma not backed up by facts or the well-being of the people we know and care about (and know for a fact are sentient). And that means it should be against the values of what is being called Atheism+, elaborated on by Greta Cristina, and philosophically considered by Richard Carrier (Dan Fincke, another philosopher, has some useful observations as well). This needs to be the new wave in the atheist movement, one that actually cares about human rights. And human rights include women's rights unless you a misogynist, in which case you are not a humanist. Same way a racist cannot be a humanist.

Being too kind, Obama campaign. The policies are pre-1900!

That makes the talks I showed in my blog post the other day, especially the one by Annie Laurie Gaylor, so very important. Women's issues must be the sorts of issues of caring, compassionate, decent human beings, and all the flak that people like Rebecca Watson, Natalie Reed, and so many others have received is worse than unjustified--it's down-right immoral and hurting everyone. This also means that when it comes time to vote, there is no way I can vote for anyone that associates with a party that in its platform and in its major candidates promotes legislation that will hurt everyone. "Babies" will still die; women will die; the sick will find less hope for treatment, and wanting couples will remain without the child other women are forced to have. Everyone loses. Add to that the anti-contraception bullshit that also seems to be going through the GOP this year, which will only increase the number of sought-after abortions, and you have a party of ignorant thugs. A vote for anyone associating with this party is a vote against humanism. And I don't usually vote straight ticket, and I don't want to this time either (I need to consider some of the other politicians more closely this year, at least at the local level), but with my added Ohio powers, I must do what I can to make sure this country doesn't return to the 19th century.

Please, at least consider not doing the same.

Update: Awesome video from Mr. Deity on the subject: The Mourning After Pill, just in case you enjoyed your rape.

Note: this should and does NOT make fun of rape victims. It satirizes the idiotic arguments from the goons of the GOP and Religious Right. This is not Tosh.0.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Recent Appearance on the Magic Sandwich Show

I had the chance to check out and participate in the BlogTV broadcast of the Magic Sandwich Show, named after a food concoctions "invented" to cure just about anything but really to mock an argument against non-belief. The major topic of the show was a look at sophisticated theology, in particular mentioning the famous and respected philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga.

Plantinga has come out with an argument that suggests there is a inconsistency between naturalism/materialism and the theory of evolution. Basically, if evolution made our brains and sense organs (and this is something Plantinga has doubted at least in the past), it may not have made them such that they will give us correct beliefs. Thus naturalism cannot account for our ability to reason and perceive correctly. He then suggests that God/supernaturalism can provide the reason we can trust our cognitive faculties. The Wikipedia page on the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) summarizes it well.

I got to participate a bit on that subject as seen in this bit of the video (jump to time 33:14):

I'll summarize my point here. One of the major premises of Plantinga's argument is the idea that our reasoning and sensory faculties are reliable. However, they often do fail us. We know there are many different cognitive biases, and we do tend to see and hear things that aren't there, even if we aren't chronic hallucinators or on drugs. We see patterns where none are, and even more-so when we are stressed. There is a lack of correlation between vividness of a memory and its accuracy, and we do mis-remember things. I also gave the example of the Stroop effect (or test) where we misread color words when the color is different than the word itself. Some of this stuff about our non-so-great minds and senses are discussed in books such as Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain and V. S. Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain. These points also seem to be made by William Ramsey is his essay about EAAN.

So we know that our faculties are not completely reliable. And more interestingly, the sorts of issues our brains have can be explained by our evolutionary history. For example, making false-positives with patterns had an evolutionary advantage as opposed to the opposite error: mistake that there is a tiger and run, no harm done; mistake that there isn't a tiger, and you're dead. Thus we have a selective pressure to make us more likely to see what isn't there. But according to Plantinga, God ensures the proper functioning of our minds.

That leads to two possibilities: the supernatural hypothesis has this evidence against it, or a faulty mind is consistent with the supernatural. The first one obviously isn't good for the case against naturalism, and it means that in fact the argument is for naturalism. So perhaps the God hypothesis can be compatible with faulty thinking faculties. However, this is made initially unlikely because we expected otherwise (Plantinga certainly did). But let's just be favorable and say supernaturalism is 50/50 on whether we would have reliable cognitive faculties. Nonetheless, on naturalism with evolution we expect to have some limitations in the reliability of our ability to perceive and reason, so the probability here is greater than 50%, and closer to 100% (if not exactly 100%). That means on either of the possibilities, the probability of naturalism goes up and supernaturalism down (using a Bayesian inference method).

So that means Plantinga's argument goes against his beliefs. That he uses the argument for his position is the definition of delusional: held with conviction, not significantly changing with counter-evidence (even after years of philosophers showing him errors), and implausible (i.e. the reliability of our faculties; supernatural beings and powers).

And considering how Plantinga is considered (rightly) as one of the best in philosophy of religion yet his arguments have such scientific flaws and similar to bad street preachers (as pointed out by the hosts of the Magic Sandwich Show), it really should indicate how bad the arguments for the supernatural are, at least using armchair philosophy. It's why I'd rather talk about evidence.

The other topic that unfortunately I didn't get to delve into enough was that theology has a huge amount of intellectual capital to use for its cause. Astrology and other pseudo-science and history doesn't have anywhere near the resources of intellectuals to defend them. Astrology used to be that way with support from scientists and church figures, but not so anymore, and their arguments are thus very bad. Religion, on the other hand, has an industry of defending the faith or finding new interpretations. So I am impugning both liberal and conservative religious folk with this; both camps have a lot of power to either defend their dogma with endless apologetics, and liberals have a significant "phase space" of what to focus on in their beliefs or holy books to come up with some more rational position without having to admit their belief or book is no more worthy of being called sacred or inspired than any other of the same type. Again, astrology and astrologers don't have the same luxury of ways to interpret their practices or defend them that stand up to much critical scrutiny; very few have a science or philosophy background in this day and age.

Then again, being a philosopher doesn't mean you won't get the science wrong and think there are no transitional fossils or that irreducible complexity is evidence against evolution.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Secular and Feminist Movement

There has been a crazy-level of rage in the Internet by those that think feminist issues should not be part of organized atheism or skepticism, and talking about it is divisive. And it has been grinding away at the best women in movement because of stupidity and/or bigotry. But if history has anything to say about it, the two movements are strongly intertwined.

Here is a great talk by Annie Laurie Gaylor about the history of women in the freethought movement for centuries.

It seems to be a fact that led many women to fight for their rights also lead them to rail against religion. And for many of the same reasons modern atheists attack theism. I think that is enough to show that the goals of feminism are entwined with that of skeptics and atheists. So we need to stop the bigotry.

Here is a talk that also shows some idea of what needs to be done by Pamela Gay (who is a believer but a great asset to the skeptical world).

Update: Pamela put up an annotated version of her talk.

Let's get things right!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Star of Bethlehem & Zeitgeist - Video

As practice in my video editing and to make the material more viewable, I now have made my previous blog posts about the Star of Bethlehem and its treatment in the film Zeitgeist into a short YouTube video.


Hope you enjoy!

Living in Ohio Gives Me Slightly More Power

With elections coming up, one thing you will see a lot is polls. Each news network has their team of statisticians grinding away and desperately trying to make it TV-watchable (The Daily Show is going to have plenty to work with soon), but there is a really good aggregate site FiveThirtyEight. Currently it predicts the election for Obama, but those numbers will become more or less meaningful in the coming weeks.

But the most interesting fact was the analysis that suggests which states are most likely to decide the election and which citizens have the most say in who becomes President of the United States. And I happen to be lucky enough to be in the best state for that now: Ohio.

It has been said that whoever wins two of the following states will carry the election: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Currently, Pennsylvania is looking Democrat and Florida slightly Republican (which may be getting a bump due to the convention in Tampa), so that makes the way Ohio goes more decisive. Ohio has also been more of a toss-up state in recent elections.

All that means is that my voting in Ohio has more weight than if I still lived in my home state. Now, I didn't move to Ohio for voting reasons but for work/education, so don't think I'm trying to rig the election. That is what the voter ID laws are supposed to do.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What is Faith? Baby Don't Hurt Me

Over at Skeptic Blogs, there is a rather long but reasonably thorough look at an attempt to make the term "faith" not antithetical to reason. I just want to give a bit of historical background to the first millennium of Christian understanding of reason and faith.

Scholars that have studied the interaction of science and religion often take an look at the first centuries of Christendom (in periods often called Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages), and David Lindberg is probably the best known and most respected on the subject. What he concluded is basically the thesis of Augustine, that science/philosophy/reason are the handmaiden of religion/theology. Reason can be used to help in theology, but it cannot be used to undermine it. (See his essay in God and Nature.) That seems to have been the position of Christians from earliest times to the Middle Ages and beyond as well.

And that is inherently non-rational: to say that you cannot use reason to see if a major aspect of research or understanding of the world has the gravitas it deserves is obviously not the way to go and be called rational. And that is what the faith part means: trust this source, and do not question it.

Now, it is possible to do science under this sort of constraint (so long as it doesn't contradict the faith at any point), but it also doesn't encourage it. And that is part of why the Scientific Revolution came rather late, even though the Greeks and Romans were doing science. This sort of problem is well-illustrated in Richard Carrier's chapter on ancient science in The Christian Delusion, as well as proving that Christianity was not responsible for modern science as some have argued.

Perhaps it is no wonder then that the early Christians didn't provide reasons for their faith, but did more to insult opponents and beg disciples to believe in things unseen and evidence hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). And that sort of strategy can get you hurt.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Social Networks: Civilizing the Future at TAM Ten

As most people know, the Internet is an aggressive place. But this presentation at the most recent The Amazing Meeting (TAM) gives me hope.

R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS US).

Also, I highly recommend the main book spoken about, Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature. The world is getting better, and understanding why will help keep the process going.

A New Skeptic Blog Site

I was very happy to be invited to post at Debunking Christianity a bit ago about my research on the Star of Bethlehem, and the comments there were interesting. It's also a high-traffic site, so that certainly helped get what I have done noticed.

But now it looks like DC is moving in with a bunch of new roommates at Skeptic Blogs

I imagine this was inspired by when DC was at Freethought blogs, but because of some internal disagreements (of which there have been a number of public ones recently) that partnership ended. Nonetheless, there is a lot to be said for having a network of blogs working together for a similar goal. And their goals are something I can get behind.
We seek to collectively provide a positive set of voices on behalf of science, reason, and skepticism. We take aim at critically examining the basis of religious faiths, their holy books, claims of miracles, and of the paranormal, without neglecting the adverse cultural impact they have on us. We will do so from a diverse set of perspectives and disciplines of learning.
I think I can get behind that. And I'll have to spend some time reading A Tippling Philosopher there, not least because the author was the one that invited my post at DC.

I'd check out.

Praying the Lies Away? Barton Still Wrong

Previously I mentioned that pseudo-historian David Barton had his book pulled by a Christian publishing company because they lost confidence in its contents. Not least because he makes things up. And of course he is trying to strike back at his detractors. He appeared on Bryan Fischer‘s American Family Radio.

Sorry if you watched that.

But here is the interesting bit to me. Barton attacks the authors of a book that debunks his work, and those authors are themselves conservative Christians. Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter goes through the sorts of myths people like Barton have propagated (also nicely debunked by Chris Rodda's Liars for Jesus), and Throckmorton gets the biggest barrage by Barton and Fischer. It's odd they attack Coulter less since he is a political science professor, while Throckmorton is a psychologist. Why?

Because Throckmorton used to think that you could change a person's sexual orientation. Yeah, the idea of "pray the gay away." Now, one thinks that such an idea can be refuted simply by asking yourself when you choose to be attracted to the opposite sex (I think it was a Tuesday for me), but Throckmorton did his research over years and finally concluded that it doesn't work. And that is a sin that discredits historical analysis?

To quote Fischer:
[Throckmorton] believed in reparative therapy, for instance, for homosexuals… and it seems like when he changed his mind about that, when he switched sides on the issue of homosexuality, then it was inevitable that in the course of time, he was going to be an enemy of the Truth, basically, in all of its forms.
Oh, the non sequiturs!
Has the Religious Right becomes so anti-empirical that any deviation from their artificial dogma it discounts everything they say?

This is why I make my creed of "where does the evidence point", because anything else just hurts my brain.

Now, this isn't the only counter-attack Barton and his allies have performed. There are also some things going on between Chris Rodda and lackey Rick Green. Green said he would post any substantive response to Barton's work that showed a factual error. And as is predictable to the dogmatic, an attack on an idol is automatically wrong. And Barton is the same; PhD-holding folks that agree with him are right, and PhD-holding folks that don't are liberal, commie, socialist, god-hating, baby-eating monsters that are destroying True America.©

Nonetheless, that a significant number of conservatives are loosing faith in Barton that he can't keep his books on the shelf means things are going against him. Will he be replaced? Stay vigilant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More on the Star and Zeitgeist

Since my last post about how the Star of Bethlehem has been interpreted by Acharya S and in the Internet film Zeitgeist, there has been some predictable backlash from those that defend the position. Very natural, and hopefully dialogue can happen. A response on Freethought Nation was posted on in the comments, and I responded there. I wanted to direct those at the forum the response came from, but it seems registration to that forum is currently not possible. Not sure why, but it seems that if I make my response here they will notice. And perhaps they can hook me up to their system. We'll see.

Nonetheless, the response was actually not too productive a start and avoided pretty much all my substantive points. So my response can to trod through the mud first. I am accused of not being studied enough in the subject matter and other inadequacies on my part. The only error I made was thinking that Acharya's first name was Dorothy, which is apparently incorrect (she has not made her first name public). I changed that in my blog post, but beside that, no error has been pointed out on my part.

The author of the attacking post also took a look at my article about the Star and significantly misunderstood its purpose. I did not look at older mythology because the subject of the matter was how the Star was interpreted especially in a scientific context. It was not about where the story really came from, beside giving the current view of mainstream scholars. And while my article has been referenced by the Apologia Archive (as a critique of the version of the Star by Rick Lawson), I am in fact not a Christian trying to defend the faith. My purpose also wasn't to attack religious belief but to give a history of how the Star had been understood and how modernist attempts to make it something naturalistic is outside the mainstream.

But let's get to the post I wish to respond to.

Let me work backward about what is said. Firstly, I actually do read Greek and Latin, as I did take college courses so I could conduct the research I have published. (My Hebrew is far to weak to talk about.) Moreover, my paper on the Star of Bethlehem was cited extensively earlier in that forum, so you can see that I have studied theological literature and the interpretation of the Star for the last 2000 years. Since that made it through peer-review among those that are theologically mindful, that should give me a bit of credit about when I speak of things related to the subject. And unfortunately, that is more than can be said for Acharya. I bet she could get some things published, and I would be very interested to see her do so. I bet she would move conversations in interesting ways. Let me know if that happens.

Now, this attack on Richard Carrier's criticism is ultimately beside the point of what I said about the Star (and Carrier said nothing of it either). It's also a bit disturbing that the poster linked to Acharya's response to Carrier, but not to Carrier's re-response, which I did post in my blog. And unfortunately, Carrier's points were not refuted by Acharya, though Carrier did make a correct or two (a sign of a good scholar: someone that fixes their mistakes rather than doubles-down).

Now, getting to actual criticism of me: for my response, I did not depend on anyone except Acharya for her position. I pointed to the link on the Star from her, which was based on her book Christ in Egypt, so the accusation has no grounding. Next, my use of the term 'astrology' is apropos if it is not limited to the meaning of horoscopes. Astrology is broadly about learning from the stars, and it is an offshoot of star worship. The ideas of astrology are certainly part of at least some religions, especially notable in the artifacts of Mithraism. And this is why I did not say "astrology as we know it today" (emphasis original) as the poster presents; if words have to be literally put into my mouth to make my statements false, then I am in pretty good standing. Admittedly, I could have been clearer and considered the misconceptions this would bring up, so I will try to not make that mistake in the future.

A later posted also made hay about the difference between horoscopic predictions and astrotheology, about how refuting one doesn't refute the other. And since I did not attack horoscopes but only said how the thesis depended on the interpretation of the sky (the basic essence of astrology), it is an attack that has nothing to do with what I have said.

As for using old scholarship to justify her stance: when it comes to the webpage she was for the Star, that is in fact true. Her only footnote is to an encyclopedia from 1915. Her other internal citations are rarely from someone in Egyptology. J. Gwyn Griffiths was an Irish poet, Barbara Walker is trained as a journalist. There is also a citation from a long-dead French philosopher, Simone Weil. And it is really odd to attack people for pointing out her reliance on old scholarship because in the introduction to Suns of God (which I own and have read) she defends her use of old scholarship. That doesn't mean all her sources are old and out of date, but the ones she needs the most for this thesis are.

For example, she cites NO primary sources for calling the belt of Orion the "Three Kings". None. In another of her writings she shows the symbol for Orion that has three loops, but there is nothing but speculation to say that three loops represent kings. Moreover, the heliacal rising of Sirius (Sothis) is first and foremost connected to the resurrection of Osiris and the flooding of the Nile. The rising sun was connected to Horus, but there is nothing connecting it to his birth, let alone on Dec 25. Again, Acharya has NO primary sources for that, only speculations. While she does cite proper Egyptologists from recent years, they are for points that do not support her substantive premises. This makes them window dressing: using good scholarship to disugise the reliance on bad. If she wants to improve her scholarship, she has to jettison ALL the bad, not lump it in with the good. Otherwise, how can a lay reader know the difference?

But let's get to the points I made that were not even attempted a refutation. It is a fact that Orion's belt had set below the horizon before sunrise on the winter solstice, so it cannot point to anything, let alone the sun. Since the hypothesis makes it integral that the belt of Orion point through Sirius to the morning Sun, that this point is false is utterly decisive. Perhaps you don't believe me about the astronomy? Well, here are a couple of screen shots to help. (I am using the planetarium software Stellarium 0.11.2)

This is a view of the night sky as seen on December 25, 5 BCE in Alexandria, Egypt (the view is very similar to that in Jerusalem). As can be seen, the belt is on the western, setting horizon, and the sun is not yet up. In fact, it is four hours away, as seen here.

Notice the time mark in both screen captures to see that four hours passed, and even Sirius is below the horizon (it set about three hours before sunrise). Try it out on your own planetarium software if you want (I also used a NASA database to get similar results). The fact is, the astronomy is wrong.

Perusing some of the other threads at Freethought Nation seem to indicate that, at least to the posters (don't know about Acharya herselt) this isn't a problem; so long as the best and Sirius pointed at the Sun before sunrise that is enough. But then that begs the question of why make December 25 so special? Any date after the heliacal rising of Sirius would have been more interesting as Orion and Sirius would have been directly over the Sun in the morning (though probably not visible due to the dawn's early light). But this would mean any time since late July would have been just as good or better than December 25. And if Orion need not be in the sky at sunrise, then any date would have the same alignment quality. The excuse then doesn't work and makes no date special.

One potential point to consider is how low the Sun gets in the sky. Because of the angle of the earth, the height the Sun gets in the sky during the day varies throughout the year. So this means the alignment between sun and Orion's belt is better on some days than others. But when is it best? Well, from what I can see, it is best some time in September or October.

So once again, nothing suggest that December 25 is special based on this hypothesis. But that assumes the hypothesis has anything else to back it up.

Let's also highlight a few more facts ignored:
  • It is a fact that the Magi were not called Kings or numbered three until centuries later (other numbers include 12). If they were not called kings originally or three in number, then any alleged Egyptian comparison will not explain the original story, only later adaptations at best.
  • It is a fact that Dec 25 was not celebrated as the birthday of Jesus until much later, and other dates nowhere near the solstices were proposed before Dec 25 came into use. (Also, it is NOT the case that only Dec 25 is celebrated as his birthday today; Armenian Christians still hold to another tradition, just as old, that Christ was born on Jan 6.) Again, you cannot explain the original story of Matthew with details that are not part of the Jesus story centuries after the fact.
  • There is no primary evidence at all that says the stars of Orion's best were called king, and Acharya provided none.
  • There is no primary evidence that Horus was born (or conceived) on Dec 25, and Acharya provided none.
  • Related to this, the heliacal rising of Sirius happens no where near the summer solstice.
  • And lastly, there is a far superior and well-supported position that explains things (and I hope to add to this scholarship in the near future).

When you have a hypothesis that doesn’t have very good evidence for it, and another with much better supported evidence, there is a particular way you should lean. Moreover, Jewish literature is far more likely to influence the early Christians than ancient Egyptian, so there is prior probability in favor of a Jewish background for the story than Egyptian. And no mumbling about my ineptitudes can change that.

Now unless Acharya (or anyone else) can address these points, then the hypothesis is very, very dead. The false astronomy is itself a deal-breaker.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Mythicist Book by a Catholic?

The Internet has been a hotbed for the fringe position of biblical studies known as Jesus mythicism--the idea that Jesus never existed as a historical figure. This is certainly outside the mainstream of academic Bible scholars, and it is often ridiculed. However, there are some in the field that are giving it a fair shake. Robert M. Price, for example, finds it to be quite plausible, and Richard Carrier will argue it in his upcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus probably next year. Earl Doherty used the Internet to promote his version of the mythical Jesus as the root of Christianity, and that had inspired Price and Carrier. A few other scholars seem to give it the time of day as well, and it received some methodological consideration in the book Is this Not the Carpenter? by Thomas Thompson and Thomas Verenna, which I look forward to reading soon.

But it looks like there will be another book to enter in on the side of the mythicist camp later this year by Thomas L. Brodie, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. I have read this scholar's work before, and he focuses on literary aspects of the Bible. He also worked by Dennis R. MacDonald in forming criteria for intertextuality between ancient texts. (See their book Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity for some background.) And now it looks like his research has gone into the following conclusion:

The work of tracing literary indebtedness and art is far from finished but it is already possible and necessary to draw a conclusion: it is that, bluntly, Jesus did not exist as a historical individual.

While the parallels between the Old Testament and Gospels does seem to take down the accuracy of the reports in the latter, it is still surprising to see this conclusion because Brodie, as far as I know, is a Catholic. After all, he is the director of the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick, Ireland. It seems that Brodie has found some way of reconstructing what his faith in Jesus would mean, but it is an astounding position nonetheless. And if his upcoming book is like his previous work (and like the work of his student Andrew Winn in Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material), then it should be very interesting. (The table of contents suggests a lot of historical background of the scholarship, and I am strangely interested in that.)

Now, there seems to be some backlash to the book in the biblioblogosphere, such as James McGrath here suggesting that by even publishing the book it will demote the position of mythicism. James sees too much parallelomania in Brodie's work, though he doesn't try to demonstrate that in his post. Now, certainly mythicist proponents of the past have done that (and some, such as Acharya S., seem to do that today), but this knee-jerk reaction seems out of place for an academic approach. Brodie's position also belies the belief that no trained New Testament scholars argues Jesus didn't exist.

I can imagine what the reaction of Brodie's book will be down the party lines, but I suspect the impact of such work won't be understood for another decade. Which way will the academy go? We'll have to tune in and see. In the mean time, I am excited to find out what is going to be said in this book and the next few both promoting and demoting the hypothesis.