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Archive for October, 2007

The Dead Sea Scrolls

While at the library the other day, I saw a book titled, “The Dead Sea Scrolls. Questions and Responses for Latter-Day Saints”. I was curious, so I began flipping through it. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a bunch of scrolls found a few decades ago in Israel in some caves near the Dead Sea. They were the documents of a religious Jewish group between 300 BC until 70 AD (when they were attacked by the Romans). The scrolls contained numerous copies of Old Testament books, along with some original documents belonging to the group. After recovering the scrolls, some of their contents were unpublished for decades. There were some allegations that the Christian church was suppressing their contents because they were damaging to Christianity – because there were uncomfortable parallels between Christianity and the Qumran group (which predated Christianity).

One section of the book reads:

43. Are there similarities between the beliefs of Christianity and those of the Qumran group?

Because members of the Qumran community were Jews living before the advent of Christianity, little can be learned from the scrolls about Christianity. However, a few approximate parallels and correspondences between early Christianity and the beliefs of the Qumran community may be drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls, including:

1. Immersion in water. The scrolls mention water rites required of those who enter the community for the first time or reenter it after a period of separation. Like baptism of the early Christians, this rite was performed by immersion, but unlike baptism, the water rites had nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the remission of sins.

2. Healing through the laying on of hands. The New Testament refers to the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands (see Mark 6:5; Luke 4:40; 13:11-13), a practice that corresponds to a passage in the Genesis Apocryphon [which is a text specific to the Qumran group]. According to this text, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was suffering from “scourged and afflictions.” He called upon his “magicians” and “healers” to heal him, but they failed to do so; he then called upon Abraham, who healed the pharaoh by the laying on of hands. Abraham explains, “So I prayed [for him] … and I laid my hands on his [head]; and the scourge departed from him and the evil [spirit] was expelled [from him], and he lived” (Genesis Apocryphon) 20:21-22, 28-29)

3. Twelve and three. According to the Community Rule, the Qumran community had at its head a group of twelve men, who themselves were directed by three … The number twelve corresponds with the number of the apostles whom Jesus selected; but the twelve men who directed the Council of the Community were not apostles, they did not possess the powers to cast out unclean spirits, heal the sick, and perform other such acts (see Matthew 10:1-5)

4. Beatitudes. The beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:3-11), each of which begin with the word Blessed, correspond in some ways to the beatitudes discovered in the scrolls.

[Jesus] began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
(Matthew 5:2-6)

A Cave 4 fragment called Beatitudes reads in part:

Blessed are those who hold to her (Wisdom’s) precepts
and do not hold to the ways of iniquity.
Blessed are those who rejoice in her,
and do not burst forth in ways of folly.
Blessed are those who seek her with pure hands,
and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart.
Blessed is the man who had attained Wisdom,
and walks in the Law of the Most High.
(Beatitudes 2:1-3)

5. Light and Darkness. The apostle John’s writings contain many teaching regarding light and darkness. As recorded in John 12:35-36: “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of the light” (see John 1:4-5; 3:19; 8:12; 1 John 1-5-6)

Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera of the Universidada Compultense of Madrid between these teachings and those in the scrolls that speak of “spirits of light and darkness,” “source of light,” “source of darkness,” “Prince of Lights,” “paths of light,” “Angel of Darkness,” “paths of darkness,” and “sons of light” (Community Rule 3:19-26)

6. Other similarities. Julio Trebolle Barrera discusses several other parallels between the Qumran texts and the beliefs of Christianity, including the two groups’ approach to wealth, their beliefs regarding divorce, the communal meal and the Last Supper, the bid for perfection, disciplinary action against those who break rules, the idea of the Creator, overlapping concepts from Paul’s epistles and the Qumran texts, and the way that the expression “Son of God” is used.

Not withstanding the correspondences between the two groups, there are many points of contrast that are noted in the following question.

44. Are there differences between the beliefs of Christianity and those of the Qumran group?

Parallels and correspondences between the groups can be misleading if the differences are not also pointed out. The foremost differences between the Qumran community and Christians is the Christian belief in Jesus Christ and his life, ministry, divine nature, and atoning sacrifice … Although the community at Qumran held a belief in a messianic figure (or more than one such figure), Jesus Christ was not their Messiah… Furthermore, the Qumran community did not share with the Christians beliefs in the plan of salvation, aspects of church organization, priesthood offices, the Second Coming, a living prophet, the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues, other gifts of revelation and of the Spirit, and numerous other doctrines that were part of the early Christian church…

The group also had something called the meal of the righteous (which had certain parallels to the Last Supper). It is believed that Jospehus wrote about the group, but called them them “Essenes”. Here is what Josephus wrote about the Essenes:

They “despise riches and their sharing of goods is admitable; there is not found among them any one who has greater wealth than another. For it is a law that those entering the group transfer their property to the order; consequently, among them all there appears neither abject poverty nor superabundance of wealth, but the possessions of each are mingled together, and there is, as among brothers, one property common to all.”

Compare that to the structure of the early church according to Acts 2:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

And similarities to the Book of Revelations (as well as Daniel and Isaiah):

55. What is the War Scroll?

The War Scroll describes a war in the final age of the earth’s history. In this war between the forces of good and evil, the wicked will be completely destroyed, ushering in an era of peace. The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who believed that they were the true, restored Israel, compose the righteous army. The War Scroll beings by designating the righteous as “the sons of light,” who are also described as “the children of Levi, Judah, and Benjamin.” They are opposed by the “sons of darkness,” identified as Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, the Kittim (the meaning of Kittim is unknown), and the “trangressors of the covenant”… Angelic beings, both good and evil, will also take part in the conflict. Ultimately it is God who will give victory to the righteous and who will usher in a golden age of light for the faithful.

The Essenes also disagreed with the religious practices of the Jewish priesthood of the time (which also parallels Jesus teachings).

It should also be noted that this group was a mere 13 miles from Jerusalem.

For unbeliever, Christianity borrowed many religious practices from this group, and that fact had almost disappeared from history. I suppose the believer might argue that the Qumran group had some pre-revelation from God. Although, that doesn’t really explain the different uses of Baptism, why the contents of the “Blessed be” text would be different, and why they (as a group) didn’t accept Jesus despite this “pre-Revelation”. A second explanation for the believer might be that the parallels are coincidence, but that doesn’t seem very likely.

Wikipedia: Dead Sea Scrolls

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theonionwnd.jpgQuite a few people have been commenting on this article from the WND: “Everything that is was created 6,010 years ago TODAY!” (By the way, they just changed the title of the article to much more non-committal “Historian: World was created 6010 years ago”.)

I just think you need to read this article in its proper context.

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We are surrounded by evidence of intelligent design. Take but one example: the suckling mechanism of the whale. The whale is a mammal which suckles its young underwater. It does so by means of a watertight cap around the mother’s nipple which fits tightly around the baby’s snout so as not to allow the entrance of sea water. Such a mechanism does not allow of a transitional form which adapts slowly to its environment. It does not allow for a gradual evolutionary process. It must exist perfectly formed for the purpose or the baby whale dies. How else could such a mechanism exist if not brought about by an intelligent and purposeful creative force? (Link)

Even UncommonDescent jumped on the bandwagon.

But then a whale biologist responded. Ouch. How embarrassing. I’m glad I’m not an IDist.

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Wealth and Religiosity

In a larger article on global attitudes, Liberally, Mirth has this graphic:

(Oil rich) Kuwait and the US appears to stand out from the curve as being wealthy and religious. One thing that I did note, though, was that they only have six nations in “West Europe” and six nations in “East Europe”. I guess they only did religiosity surveys in those twelve european countries? According to NationMaster, there are some countries ahead of the US in per capita GDP. I’m unsure how exactly they came up with the “Per Capita GDP (Standardized)” numbers, if they somehow take cost of living into account, or what exactly they’re doing, but here’s top 15 “GDP per capita” nations according to NationMaster:

#1 Liechtenstein: $72,619.50 per capita
#2 Luxembourg: $71,904.24 per capita
#3 Norway: $57,131.42 per capita
#4 Jersey: $55,846.96 per capita
#5 Switzerland: $51,107.52 per capita
#6 Ireland: $49,743.42 per capita
#7 Denmark: $47,054.56 per capita
#8 Iceland: $45,407.73 per capita
#9 United States: $43,866.65 per capita
#10 Guernsey: $41,815.99 per capita
#11 Sweden: $41,323.93 per capita
#12 United Kingdom: $38,600.61 per capita
#13 Japan: $38,318.03 per capita
#14 Finland: $37,988.26 per capita
#15 Austria: $37,818.07 per capita

With the exception of the US and Japan, all of these countries are in europe. Ireland is very religious (with even higher church attendance than the US), but most of them are very non-religious.

Of those 15, the percentage of adults surveyed who claimed that they attend Church services one or more times per week:
Ireland: 84%
United States: 44%
Austria: 30%
United Kingdom: 27%
Switzerland: 16%
Denmark: 5%
Norway: 5%
Finland: 4%
Iceland: 4%
Sweden: 4%
Japan: 3%
(Link to NationMaster’s church attendance by country)

Given that Ireland and Kuwait are also “newly rich”, I sort of wonder if there would be a better correlation between religiosity and wealth over the past 100 years, as I would expect peoples’ religiosity to be based on parental influence which occurred decades earlier.

Anyway, there are plenty of ways to interpret this correlation. For example: poor people are more likely to cling to religion / pray for help, poverty increases uncertainty and uncertainty breeds religious belief, wealth is correlated with education and education decreases religious belief, etc.

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There’s a guy who comes into one of the local coffeeshops – 40ish, a businessman, and speaks with a foreign accent. I had met him a few months ago. I didn’t know he was a Muslim until a few weeks ago when he mentioned fasting for Ramadan. Last night, I was working on my laptop at the seat next to him, and he said something to the effect that the US should withdraw from Iraq and let the Sunnis and Shia fight it out. I just kind of nodded, not really intending to get into a political discussion. I don’t recall exactly how we got on the subject, but we started talking about Islam. He was from Palestine and was a Sunni – although, he had a number of conservative Christian business partners and friends. He seemed moderate enough, didn’t have the “I’m a fanatic” beard, had lived in the US for 20+ years, but he prayed five times a day and had socially conservative views.

I was interested in hearing his view of Islam, though, so I was asking him some questions about it.

He started talking about the differences between Sunni and Shia, and Middle-Eastern politics. He (a Sunni) didn’t like the Shia and considered them to be militaristic and willing to kill themselves whenever their leader commands. He did seem to like Hamas and Hezbollah – even saying that Hezbollah were “good Shia”. It wasn’t hard to see the underlying political bias that could lead him to this view – since Hezbollah supported the Palestinians against Israel.

I asked him what he thought of the Wahabbis. (Wahabbis are fanatical Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The 9/11 terrorists, as well as Osama Bin Ladin are Wahabbis. They are behind Saudi laws that women must be completely covered, can’t drive or vote, don’t allow people to take their picture, etc.) He said that Sunnis have no problem with Wahabbis, but they were more conservative than most Sunnis. He didn’t agree with laws that women should be completely covered, and didn’t think women needed to cover their hair, either. But, he thought women shouldn’t be walking around in bikinis.

A little later, he was trying to convince me that Islam was the third and final revelation of God (Judaism and Christianity being the first two). He began claiming that the Islam and Christianity had a great deal in common, but Islam was the more accurate and recent revelation. I questioned that assertion with by contrasting New Testament teachings with Islam, but said I thought the Old Testament and Islam had more in common. I think he assumed I was a Christian (and I must admit, bringing up Christian teachings did play into that perception), and was trying to convince me that Islam was better than my (presumed) Christian beliefs. I ended up telling him that I was actually an ex-Christian and that I didn’t believe in God.

He began trying to convince me of the existence of God. First, he he told me that the Koran states that there are 99 names for God (the Merciful, the Creator, etc.) He then told me to hold my hands in front of me. Apparently, some of the lines in your right hand look like the arabic numerals for 1 and 8. The lines in your left hand are the same, but reversed: 8 and 1. He said to add them up (18 + 81), and, of course, they add up to 99. I think he was trying to make an argument that the result somehow validates the Koran, which says there are 99 names for God. Did God write 99 on our hands to tell us the Koran was true? This seemed like an odd argument. Not only is the method of coming up with 99 questionable, but, more importantly, I told him that I could form my own religion, tell people that God had 99 names, and use the same argument – would that validate the truth of my religion, too?
(Wikipedia: 99 Names of God + Palm of the Hand)

He also tried to convince me with Pascal’s wager, although he had never heard of “Pascal” or “Pascal’s Wager”. My guess is that he heard this argument used by a Muslim, and they had stripped-out the Christian origin of the argument. I told him that I didn’t buy that argument because it’s easy to manipulate people with that argument (any false religion can use that argument), and I didn’t want to confer legitimacy on false religions or be complicit in supporting a false religion for my own self-interest. I also told him that I thought it would be cowardly and intellectually dishonest to believe in a God I didn’t think existed simply for my own self-interest. It’s important for humanity to move towards truth – and that might involve risking personal harm to erase false religions from the world. The cowardly and spineless, on the other hand, are the prime “converts” for Pascal’s Wager. Ultimately, rejecting Pascal’s Wager is an act of courage in service of supporting what is true, despite potential personal harm – perhaps in the same way that being a soldier in a just war is personally risky, but a necessary step in fighting for what is true and right.

He claimed that the Koran was too complex to have been written by an uneducated man (Mohammed), therefore he had to get the words from someone else – and that someone else was presumed to be God. Not knowing arabic and being unable to judge the sophistication of the Koran, I simply couldn’t accept his claim based on “say so”.

He also claimed that Mohammed was fortold in the Torah (the Jewish holy book, ostensibly written by Moses), and that, according to the Torah, Islam was the last revelation of God. This story sounded like complete fiction. I asked him where in the Torah it said that, because the Torah is the first five books of the Christian Old Testament, and I certainly never read anything about Mohammed there. I said that his story sounded suspect, but if he had a verse that we could lookup, we could verify that claim. He couldn’t give me any reference, but in an attempt to shore-up this story, he claimed that, a few years ago, all the religious scholars of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism got together for a conference. Already, this story sounded highly suspect. “Really? All of them?” I asked. This story seemed simply to fantastic to believe, but I let him go on. He said that the Islamic scholars confronted the Jews with this information in their own Torah. At this point, I simply had to stop the story. It was simply too fantastic to believe. I can certainly understand why such a rumor would spread through the Muslim community, however. The story – that Mohammed was foretold in the Torah – not only validated their own religious claims, but it also made the Jews appear as if they were unwilling to acknowledge the superiority of Islam despite their own holy books teaching. Even further, if it was in the Torah, it would have significant implications for Christianity. I’ve heard of a lot of urban legends in the Muslim community, but this is certainly one I’d never heard before. Funny how fictions end up playing an important role in supporting pre-existing beliefs.

He claimed that the reason I didn’t believe in God is simply because I got busy in my life and forgot about Him. He said people don’t pray when everything is going well, they only remember God when things are going badly. I told him that it wasn’t true at all. I was a little too tired at this point to fully explain my disbelief, but I did tell him that when I was about 18 or 19 that I began to realize that the world made a lot more sense if we assume God isn’t involved in it. It’s funny when religious people believe ficticious accounts of why unbelievers don’t believe. There is always an easy explanation that discredits the basis of an unbeliever’s unbelief – something that is easy for them to deal with intellectually, and has a ready-made fix.

I asked him about the teaching that Christians would go to hell. He said that the Koran never teaches that. I told him that I thought he was mistaken on that point, but there was nothing more to say about it, since I couldn’t look up the verse in the Koran (like I can do now): “The unbelievers among the [Jews and Christians] and the pagans shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures.” (Koran 98:1-8) / “They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.” (5:17) He did say later that the only unforgivable sin was worshipping a God other than Allah. I asked him about people born in other countries – they followed the beliefs of their culture and their family – would they were somehow guilty of the unforgivable sin? He backed off from the ‘unforgivable sin’ claim and said he really didn’t know how God would judge people. I saw this again a little later, too — he would make a claim that the Koran says X, I would bring up a situation that would be unfair and unjust if his claim were true, and he would suddenly change his position to be agnostic about that particular point.

A little bit later, he was telling me that Islam is a religion of peace – and to backup his point, he said that the Koran teaches that whoever kills one person is as guilty as killing the whole world. So, I asked him about his earlier statements about Abu Bakr (a close friend of Mohammed who became leader – at least according to Sunnis – after Mohammed’s death). After the death of Mohammed, a number of people de-converted from Islam and Abu Bakr had them killed (this is where Muslims have their belief that apostates should be killed). Further, Sunnis regard him as the first of four righteously guided Calphates (leaders of the Islamic community).

Doesn’t the fact that Abu Bakr killed lots of apostates make him guilty of killing the whole world many times over? Ismael got evasive again. He didn’t know how God would see those killings, although he did agree that it was legitimate to kill Muslim apostates. Which gets us back to the old religious bait and switch. When a Muslim wants Islam to be perceived as peaceful, they can quote various sections of the Koran, but then ignore them or claim agnosticism whenever it comes to religiously-sanctioned murder. I dropped the “Islam is peaceful” claim and started asking him about the legitimacy of killing apostates. He said it was legitimate to kill apostates because they had disrespected their community and their teaching. I tried to turn it around and help him look at the nastiness of that idea from outside his religion. I asked him what he would think if Christians killed ex-Christians who had converted to Islam. Would he think that was okay? He shrugged and said that would be okay if Christians did that. I asked him if he could see that the practice of punishing or killing people for their beliefs will cause all kinds of strife and problems – and that this is the major lesson of European religious wars centuries ago. In fact, I had some ancestors who fled Catholic France to escape persecution because they had converted to Protestantism. I was trying to get across to him the fact that trying to control people’s religious beliefs leads to societal problems, endless fighting, and strife.

He claimed that Afghanistan under the Taliban were the only country on earth to actually attempt to practice true Islam. (And he didn’t mean that as an insult to Islam. He meant it as a compliment to the Taliban.) I asked him if he knew of all the violations of basic human rights that went on under the Taliban – having non-Muslims wear certain clothing, having women completely covered – including a mesh over their eyes so people couldn’t see their eyes, that music was banned. He relented a bit and said they were excessively conservative in making women cover everything. He believed that women didn’t need to cover their faces, or even their hair. However, he believed that music was justly banned under the Taliban because music – at least music with singing – was wrong according to the Koran. Music without vocals was okay under Islam, however. He also thought it was justifiable for the Taliban to enforce the death penalty on apostates. He didn’t worry too much about the “death for apostasy” idea because, he said, very few Muslims convert to other religions anyway. Well, yes, I told him – but many countries have laws against preaching anything but Islam. Saudi Arabia, for example, doesn’t allow anyone to preach a non-Islamic religion, they don’t allow religious minorities to show any religious symbols, they punish on any Muslim who de-converts from Islam. He seemed shocked by the idea that I would even suggest that a non-Islamic religion be allowed to preach in Saudi Arabia. Afterall, he said, Mecca was the home of the prophet. I asked him what he would think if Israel made it illegal to preach any religion except Judaism – afterall, Israel is the birthplace of Judaism. Would he like it if preaching Islam was outlawed in Israel? He said something about Israel being only 50 years old, and somehow it didn’t apply. Anyway, he said that in the Middle East, even if there wasn’t a government law against apostasy, that if any Muslim converted away from Islam and they made it known, that someone would certainly kill them. It didn’t matter if there was an actual law or not. There would be vigilante attacks.

His whole idea of true Islam just seemed so medieval and barbaric. The Taliban had a long list of basic human rights violations, and I told him this but he didn’t seem that bothered by most of it. He did say he didn’t think women needed to be covered to the extent that the Taliban laws required, but that was about it. Yet, in other ways, he seemed rather open-minded. For example, letting his son read some pro-Christian material that one of his Christian business partners gave him. He certainly didn’t want his son to believe it, but he wanted his son to at least know about it and be exposed to it. He did say that he thought Al-Queda were wrong, even if he seemed to admire the rule of the Taliban. In fact, he claimed that the reason the Taliban was destroyed was precisely because they were practicing true Islam. It’s always amazing to hear Muslims try to position their religion (for public relations reasons) as a religion of peace, but then be taken aback when they express opinions that rightfully belong in the 15th century. They love to say that the Koran teaches that there should be no compulsion in religion – although, the actual meaning of that phrase is subject to interpretation. Yes, there are religious minorities in every Muslim country. But, to control the education system to reinforce Islam, prevent people from preaching non-Islamic religion, and have laws (or vigilante “justice”) applied to Muslim apostates means that Muslims are under *compulsion* to remain within Islam. I also asked him if potential converts to Islam should be worried about the “death for apostates” idea, because it seems that they won’t be allowed to change their minds later. He said that it wasn’t really a problem because countries didn’t enforce it (or at least, countries outside the Middle East didn’t enforce it) – which makes me pity any country that becomes more and more Islamic because the draconian laws are sure to follow once Islam has converted the majority of the population. Based on his opinions, I got the feeling that he would support Islamic rule over the United States – if there were enough American Muslims to actually make that a feasible possibility.

He also said that, according to Mohammed, that Islam would branch into 77 different sects before “the prophet” returned, but that 70 of these sects would end up in hell. I had to wonder what kind of infighting this teaching would cause. Muslims could be “justified” in branding other Muslims as heretics with that idea. It also gave me a bit of insight into why people like Al-Queda see most Muslims as enemies.

He said that in Islam the church and the state are merged. I said that the idea will lead to all kinds of strife and conflict, because people will want their version of Islam in control. It would bring back all the problems of the european religious wars. The West has learned it’s lesson about the foolishness of that idea. Yet, this idea is entrenched in Islam. I couldn’t help but think there were a lot of things in Islam that would lead to permanent internal and external conflict.

He said that Mohammed had made a prediction about Persia (present-day Iran) becoming an Islamic country, and that it came true. He also said that Moahmmed predicted that the Vatican/Rome would fall under Islamic power. Again, I couldn’t help but think these predictions were formenting conflict. While the Islamic world is currently too weak to capture Italy, this “prediction” could become a self-fulfilling one if enough Muslims take it upon themselves to make it happen. Again, it was an case where Islamic teaching could stir up conflict and strife.

I asked him how Muslims/the Koran would view me as an ex-Christian who no longer believed in God. He just shook his head. Apparently, to him, I had learned God’s second revelation (Christianity) and rejected it. I kind of figured I was only one step better than an Muslim apostate who had become an atheist, and his reaction seemed to confirm that view.

In the end, I thought it was an interesting conversation. I wish I hadn’t been quite so tired, or else I might’ve remembered more and made some better points. We left on friendly terms. I’m still a little bit taken aback by how he – a seemingly moderate muslim in many ways – could also endorse death for apostates, and admire the Taliban. And, as I said earlier, he certainly didn’t look like a crazy fundamentalist. I didn’t even know he was a practicing Muslim until recently. But, it’s odd how people can hold nasty views like that and have their religion completely blind them to the nastiness of their ideas. I’m also convinced that an Islamic world means a world of strife – because they believe most so-called “Muslims” are not following “True Islam” and will end up in hell (which seems a step away from punishing them here on earth), and the very idea of punishment and death for people who convert from Islam seems like medieval and barbarianic. He seemed to endorse even the parts of Islam that conflicted with basic human rights. The mixture of church and state seems a very potent mixture of conflict – as everyone would want the government to enforce their version of “true Islam”. Yet, he’s quite convinced all these things are an essential part of his religion.

Personally, I view Mohammed as no better than countless other people who have created power, wealth, and adoration for themselves by creating their own religion. He is simply in the same category as Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), Li Hongzhi (Falun Gong), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), L Ron Hubbard (Scientology), Sun Myung Moon (the Moonies), etc. It’s unfortunate that we are still living with and fighting against the ghost of this hoax over a thousand years later.

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I was just thinking about the number of comedians who are atheists or agnostics. I wonder if it’s significantly higher than the general population.

Louie CK: “Louis CK learns about the Catholic Church”

George Carlin: “When it comes to bullshit … you have to stand in awe of religion”

Bill Hicks: Christ and Christians

Bill Maher on Religion

Kathy Griffin, Keith Malley, etc. And that’s just off the top of my head.

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Mother of the Year

motheroftheyear-1617062382_851b1a03ff_o.jpg
’nuff said.

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So, you’re a chi master?

streetfighter-chi.gif You can hit people from a distance with mystical chi power, but, for some reason, it only works on your own students (resulting in an embarrassing loss to an MMA fighter who seems impervious to your attacks). Then, you use chi power to harden your skin against the strikes of a blade – only to end up cutting yourself badly. And, now another ‘chi’ master has the same problem – he just can’t seem to affect anyone but his own students.

As the Skeptics Guide to the Universe points out, it’s probably a shared delusion of both the ‘chi master’ and his students. For the students, I’m sure it’s terribly intimidating to have your instructor (who often seems larger-than-life) tell you he’s going to knock you unconscious, have a history of ‘knocking people unconscious’ with this move, be up in front of everyone, and have him do this technique to you. If you’re a true believer, there might very well be some psychologically-induced physiological effects. Further, his students seem to fall in a self-protective manner (which indicates that they aren’t actually unconscious). If you’ve ever gone unconscious, or seen someone go unconscious, they often drop a little differently – sometimes their knees buckle, sometimes their head hits the ground – because when you’re unconscious, you’re not in control of your body. There are some parallels here with being “slain in the spirit“.

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Larry Moran and The Pandas Thumb has some comments on a video of one of Dembski’s speeches.

It’s kind of hard to watch him speak because he just seems so uncomfortable and nervous. Maybe some of it is just the fact that he can’t talk about evolutionists without getting angry. His ID revolution never came, flaws in the ID theory keep getting pointed out, he never became the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”, and now he just seems like a wounded animal who wants to lash out at “the evolutionists”. But regarding the actual content of his speech: he brings up a lot of misinformation that he wants people to believe, but simply isn’t true.

He uses the phrase “Darwinian idol” three times in 5 minutes – so many times, that you get the feeling that it was an actual talking point. Larry Moran makes the point that:

The goal of the Intelligent Design Creationists is not to promote God but to discredit evolution. Jonathan Wells published a book called “Icons of Evolution” in which he claimed that the ten main evidences for evolution are wrong.

Wells says that scientists believe in evolution because they have faith in materialism and not because of scientific evidence. This is something that Dembski believes as well. That’s why they refer to the main lines of evidence for evolution as “idols.” It’s something we worship and not something that can stand up to close scrutiny.

Throw in liberal doses of “Darwinism” and you’ve successfully conveyed the notion of a group that’s fixated on the words of a man who lived 150 years ago. Isn’t this beginning to sound like a cult?

I’m quite used to creationists and IDists referring to evolution as a religion or a cult. But, I think part of the reason he uses the word “idol” is because he wants to divide Christians into “true Christians” and “idol worshiping Christians” (i.e. evolutionists, not *real* Christians). The Old Testament comes down hard on idol worshiping Jews. In fact, it’s even encoded in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an idol”. I’ve also seen IDists question the sincerity of Ken Miller’s faith (Ken Miller is a Catholic and evolution advocate). By labeling evolution an “idol”, he gets to impugn the validity of Christian evolutionist’s Christianity as well as label evolution a religion.

Dembski:

I think what darwinists have done is really hidden behind the complexities of living systems.

It’s rather ironic that they would accuse the evolutionists of ‘hiding behind the complexities’, when it’s been a staple of the ID movement to talk about the complexities of living systems and (almost always) deny the existence or possibility of intermediate systems. In many cases, it seems like IDists/creationists simply talk about a complex system, and then simply act like their work is done – they try to lead the audience to the idea that ‘if it’s complex, it must be designed’. Which just plain odd from an evolutionary perspective, since evolution is quite capable of creating complex systems. Although, it does play on people’s misconception that ‘complex’ = ‘must be explicitly designed’.

Living systems are so complex that Darwinists do not really have a clue how these things could’ve formed by gradual, detailed, step-by-step Darwinian pathways. So, in a sense, what they do is gesture at various intermediate systems that might’ve existed and then basically say, ‘prove me wrong show me that it didn’t happen that way’. And so they put the burden of evidence on the design people when, in fact, the burden of evidence should be on them. Because these systems, by any standards, are – look like designed systems. And so, if they look designed, maybe, indeed, they are designed.

There are plenty of systems that are well understood and do have step-by-step evolutionary pathways. IDists have argued that blood-clotting represents something that could not have evolved. The evolutionists tracked down the information to show that, yes, it could’ve evolved. Even further, invertebrates’ blood-clotting systems still contain the low-level building blocks of our blood-clotting system. In contrast to Demsbki’s claim that evolutionists merely ‘gesture at various intermediate systems’ and say ‘prove me wrong’, the evolutionists seem to be the ones doing the detailed work. IDists want to believe that biological systems are irreducibly complex, and seem to be afraid to actually explore the possibility that a system could’ve evolved, so they seem to avoid researching that possibility and their reward is that they get to tell people it couldn’t have evolved (which, of course, sells well).

Now, Dembski is a mathematician/theologian/philosopher, and I think part of the problem in Dembski talking about this is that he knows all his biology from IDist biologists, and they aren’t explaining anything other than the pro-ID descriptions of biology.

In William Paley’s day, the eye – the mammalian eye – was as good an example of design as you could find. And he made a design argument based on the eye. Along comes Darwin, along come his successors and they say, ‘look, there are all these different eyeballs out there in organisms. Slap them down on a table, draw arrows between them – those that are less complex to more complex. It evolved. End of story. That’s it.

It’s funny sometimes to hear people misrepresent your own ideas – they leave out details, rewrite the argument, and make changes in an attempt to attack the idea. The problem is this: IDists like to claim that the eye (and they always want to talk about the complex, mammalian eye – which is what the average person always thinks of when you say ‘eye’) is irreducibly complex. Take away the spherical shape, and it doesn’t work. Take away the lens, and it doesn’t work. Take away the light-sensitive cells, and it doesn’t work. The idea that they want you to believe is that the eye is valuable when all components exist and precisely fit together, or it is almost completely useless. That description might be true for mammals and they way we use our eyes. However, it completely ignores the role that eyes play in other organisms.

Evolutionists say that the primitive eye didn’t need to do all the tasks that we use our eye for. In fact, there are simpler eyes that work quite well for creatures — which conflicts with the IDist’s desire that people believe the mammalian eye is somehow the only eye that is valuable. For example, jellyfish have eyes that don’t allow it to perceive clear images – because of the optical properties of their eyes, they can only perceive blurry images. But, then, jellyfish lack a complex brain to make sense of clear images, so it probably wouldn’t be useful anyway. The stepwise progression from a simple eye in primitive creatures could’ve evolved through blurry intermediates into the complex system that is the mammalian eye. That doesn’t mean ‘prove me wrong’, it simply means that IDists are wrong when they assert that only the full, modern, complex eye is useful.

And you see this, actually, there’s a book that was derived from the PBS’ evolution series that came out in 2001 – Carl Zimmer, “The Triumph of Evolution”. That triumph is not going to be around too much longer. If you look at the cover, there are all these different eyeballs there, and the implication is: obviously, the eye evolved. Now the eye is so complex – I mean, multicellular layers and layers of complexity. How are you going to get a handle on that evolutionarily?

It’s funny how Dembski always has to lash out at evolutionists with little “that triumph is not going to be around too much longer” comments. I really think he’s angry that ID hasn’t been embraced like he hoped. This started years ago – most notably when he took pictures of a Darwin doll in a vise and put them on his website. He says, “If you look at the cover, there are all these different eyeballs there, and the implication is: obviously, the eye evolved.” The image is an illustration of the idea that the eye evolved into many different forms, but the message is not “obviously, the eye evolved.” No evolutionist looks at the image and thinks it represents some obvious proof that the eye evolved – this is just Dembski falsely attributing a view to evolutionists to try to make them look clueless.

Well, the Darwinian mechanism it’s a divide and conquer strategy. You take a system – if you can find a subsystem of that system, which performs some function – hey you’ve divided the problem. Clearly it evolved – the more complex global system involved from that system which is embedded in it. End of story. No need to do any engineering work, or any design work or anything. That’s enough. It’s enough to point to these intermediate systems. But not give any detailed, testable, step-by-step scenario for how point A could’ve evolved by gradual means into point B.

Well, that’s simply false. Evolutionists do plenty of work trying to find how these systems could’ve evolved stepwise. For example, it was evolutionists who discovered and detailed the formation of an anti-freeze gene in fish. IDists are afraid of these explanations, they like to make claims that this or that system couldn’t have evolved, they don’t seem to do any work trying to figure out how they could evolve – because they want more and more arguments for theism. Pointing out the existence of intermediate systems are an important step in that eroding bombastic IDist’ claims about a system’s irreducibility.

From their perspective, design is a non-starter — it’s unthinkable, so this is the only way it could’ve happened.

Dembski brings up the canard that science has illegitimately barred the possibility of design, so scientists cannot see all the wonderful evidence for design all around them.

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Dinosaur Denialist

There is a tension between straight-forward reading of the Bible and the Old-Earth, Evolutionary, Naturalistic explanations of life. Because of this, lots of religious people have gravitated towards explanations of the world which discredit evolution and support Biblical Literalism or God-Intervened-Here. Over time, religious people have tended to attach themselves to the more plausible creationist explanations. Sixty years ago, when my grandmother was growing up, she was taught that dinosaur bones were put into the ground to deceive people. (To her credit, she said that explanation didn’t make much sense to her.) The majority of the Creationist movement has since moved away from that ‘explanation’. However, one creationist gives a similar explanation with a new twist: scientists faked all the dinosaur bones. (Which puts scientists in the devil-like role in this new version.) I understand that many Christians are willing to stretch their minds to believe things that discredit evolution and support their religion, but – wow. Here’s what he says in his essay, “Dinosaurs: Science Or Science Fiction“:

When children go to a dinosaur museum, are the displays they see displays of science or displays of art and science fiction? Are we being deceived and brainwashed at an early age into believing a dinosaur myth? Deep probing questions need to be asked of the entire dinosaur business.

This article will discuss the possibility that there may have been an ongoing effort since the earliest dinosaur “discoveries” to plant, mix and match bones of various animals, such as crocodiles, alligators, iguanas, giraffes, elephants, cattle, kangaroos, ostriches, emus, dolphins, whales, rhinoceroses, etc. to construct and create a new man-made concept prehistoric animal called the dinosaur.

What would be the motivation for such a deceptive endeavor? Obvious motivations include trying to prove evolution, trying to disprove or cast doubt on the Christian Bible and the existence of the Christian God, and trying to disprove the “young-earth theory”. Yes, there are major political and religious ramifications.

The dinosaur concept implies that if God exists, He tinkered with His idea of dinosaurs for awhile, then probably discarded or became tired of this creation and then went on to create man. The presented dinosaur historical timeline suggests an imperfect God who came up with the idea of man as an afterthought, thus demoting the biblical idea that God created man in His own image. Dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Highly rewarding financial and economic benefits to museums, educational and research organizations, university departments of paleontology, discoverers and owners of dinosaur bones, and the book, television, movie and media industries may cause sufficient motivation for ridiculing of open questioning and for suppression of honest investigation.

He talks about supposed anomalies, how only paleontologists were the only people to find the fossils (saying that they were all in on the hoax), and raises scientific questions, like:

[Fossilization] is supposed to involve calcium in skeletal material being replaced, atom by atom, by silica, calcite, pyrite, dolomite, etc., over a long period of time. This goes against the natural law of increasing disorder, entropy. How are all these dead atoms intelligent enough to know what to do and where to go to produce the finished fossil?

The second law of thermodynamics prevents the formation of fossils? I’ve heard of the second law of thermodynamics being misused by creationists, but this is a novel misapplication.

He even attacks the old Creationist argument that Job 40 was referring to dinosaurs (take that run-of-the-mill Creationists!)

And talks about the damaging effects of “dinosaurs are real” education:

State funding of organizations that promote the dinosaur concept could be considered strategic psychological warfare against a state that uses a Christian doctrinal basis for government since the Christian Bible comes complete with the account of God’s creation in the book of Genesis and the genealogy of Jesus.

Then he finishes up with this conclusion:

The possibility exists that living dinosaurs never existed. “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).

The dinosaur industry should be investigated and questions need to be asked. I am unaware of any evidence or reason for absolutely believing dinosaurs ever were alive on earth. The possibility exists that the concept of prehistoric living dinosaurs has been a fabrication of nineteenth and twentieth century people possibly pursuing an evolutionary and anti-Bible and anti-Christian agenda.

The past existence of living dinosaurs has not yet been proven. Questioning what is being told instead is a better choice rather than blindly believing the dinosaur story. Issues should be carefully considered for the sake of good science. “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20).

The choice between believing the word of man, the evolutionists, or the word of God, the Bible, is a matter of faith.

I had to wonder if this was some sort of parody of Creationist literature in general. Complaining about how dinosaurs undermine the Bible, and phrases, “The dinosaur industry should be investigated and questions need to be asked.” and “The past existence of living dinosaurs has not yet been proven.” just sounds a little too much like complaints that evolution is undermining the Bible/morality, “evolutionary theory should be investigated and questions need to be asked”, “evolution has never been proven”, or “teach the controversy”. But, it just doesn’t look like a parody to me. Additionally, the same author has a “moon hoax” page where he uses similar rhetoric: “I do not claim that men have not landed on the moon; I was not personally involved in the Apollo space program. I do claim, however, that Apollo moon mission anomalies and inconsistencies exist which have not yet been adequately explained.”

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Update: I just noticed that Pharyngula has a short post on Kent Hovind and dinosaurs, wherein Satan confronts Kent Hovind and says exactly what Hovind wants to believe (I thought the devil was supposed to undermine you, not confirm every crazy creationist thought you’ve had). Satan to Hovind (allegedly):

You have also dared to try to take dinosaurs away from me. I have used dinosaurs for nearly 200 years to teach billions of people that the earth is billions of years old and that God’s Word is not true. Your seminar on dinosaurs strikes at the heart of my kingdom. I intend to destroy both your ministry and your reputation for good. Dinosaurs are especially effective for me to deceive children. You are taking children away from me, so I took yours away from you!

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