2015-02-11

Darwin Day — and exploding some myths about Charles Darwin

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

12th February is Darwin Day.

There is an International Darwin Day website that is currently making a special pitch at Americans for recognition. For good reason, no doubt, given that today’s newsletter from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science contains the following (with my emphasis):

As a universal figure of such profound importance, his birthday should be a national celebration — a day to honor the advances brought about by reason and science. 

But a resolution to this effect, introduced in the U.S. Congress, has little support outside a handful of Democrats. Frighteningly, Darwin is still considered a controversial figure, especially among conservative Republicans.

For anyone who does not yet know, just about everything we have that Darwin produced is available in digitized format at Darwin Online.

And I happily live in a suburb where the Beagle crew called in back in 1839 and work at a university that eventually took the name of Charles Darwin.

But here’s the highlight of this post, brought to us by Freethought Blog The Ace of Glades:

Darwin was no racist, and Hitler was no ‘Darwinist’


Strange Bedfellows in New Testament Studies

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In my books an apologist includes any academic who defends some sort of privileged status for the veracity or contemporary relevance of the narratives and teachings of the Bible. N.T. Wright uses the historical methods of New Testament scholars to argue for the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus. That ought to ring alarm bells to any serious academic. Evidently we need to question the reliability of methods that can be used to prove such nonsense; we also need to wake up to the confessional interests of a “scholarly” field that can even tolerate any of its members seriously arguing such a thing.

Scientists do not work with methods that allow one to prove God made Adam and Eve; and their guild would never give professional respectability to a member who member who argued dinosaurs were included on Noah’s ark.

Historians do not work with methods that allow for battles to be decided by mysterious angels appearing in the sky and nor would we expect them to grant professional esteem to a colleague who argued the angels of Mons decided the outcome of World War 1.

But it is quite common in New Testament studies to find scholars being highly respected academically even though their works amount to a litany of “proofs” for their personal confessional beliefs.

There are a few New Testament scholars who do speak out, however. One of these is Paul Holloway, Professor of New Testament at the University of the South. He protested against his university awarding N.T. Wright an honorary doctorate.

My complaint is that Sewanee has recognized Wright as a scholar in my discipline, when in fact he is little more than a book-a-year apologist. Continue reading “Strange Bedfellows in New Testament Studies”


2015-02-09

Islamic State : How it came about and how it works

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Anyone who wants to understand how the Islamic State came to be as formidable as it clearly is would welcome the a 28 minute BBC documentary currently available online, Islamic State: Bureaucracy and Brutality. If you don’t have 28 minutes and more or less trust the notes I took down as I listened to it then you are welcome to read on.

The source, Aimen Dean

The interviewee is Aimen Dean, a Saudi Arabian who spent twelve years inside the IS. He left Saudi Arabia in the 1990s to join the mujahideen in Bosnia. After that war ended he went to the Philippines and from there in 1997 to Afghanistan where he joined Al Qaeda.

Aimen says he became disillusioned by Al Qaeda’s drift towards terrorism so he became a spy for the West and worked for the British Foreign Office gathering and analysing information.

Comparing Al Qaeda

IS is a hundred times bigger that Al Qaeda ever was in terms of recruits, firepower and financial resources.

Al Qaeda is looked on with some contempt by IS now for having had no focus or clear direction. Al Qaeda operated through support for scattered cells or local autonomous franchises without any central structure or organization.

IS is tightly organized and focussed. IS considers Al Qaeda’s attention on America to be a waste of time and effort, a distraction from the real goal. What IS is aiming for is the overthrow of other states in the Middle East.

To accomplish this they understand that they must become an organized state power themselves with military power concentrated in a particular region.

IS has managed to take over a quarter of Iraq and a third of Syria because they have a proper, solid infrastructure, both financial and intelligence.

IS Bureaucracy

IS has a Department of the Public Good responsible for maintaining roads, cleaning the streets, street lighting, the provision of education. 

They control certain professional positions by their own licensing system. No one can become an imam in a mosque, a teacher in a school, a pharmacist, a doctor, a lawyer, until they attend a Shariah course for one week to obtain their licence. In other words they need a course in indoctrination before being permitted to practice.

Elitist isolationism, liberating the psychopath within

Continue reading “Islamic State : How it came about and how it works”


2015-02-08

Evidence for a Pre-Christian “Christianity”?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

spiritpossession

Professor Stevan Davies has re-published his book Jesus the Healer under a new and probably more appropriate title, Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity, a new introduction on the pentecostal origins of the Christian movement (including an account for comparative purposes of the origins of modern pentecostalism since 1906) and added a couple of chapters on the possible evidence that Christianity emerged out of a form of Judaism we find expressed in the Odes of Solomon. Although some scholars have seen these poems as having been influenced by Christianity Davies argues for the traditional view that they are pre-Christian. And if pre-Christian, they are evidence of beliefs held by certain Jews that eventually had a profound influence on Christianity.

Scholars today (Charlesworth, Lattke) have dated the Odes to around 125 CE, at “the overlap of early Judaism, early Gnosticism and early Christianity.” Davies argues with others (e.g. Jack Sanders) that they influenced Christianity rather than the reverse and that they date from the period 50 – 25 BCE.

Western Syria (which includes the region of Galilee) is the most likely place of their origin.

It should be, but often is not, obvious that there were cultural influences on Galilee, and Samaria, and even Judea that come from the north, from Syria, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Antioch, influences on Judaism that were not Judean in origin. (p. 260)

Distinctive features 

While the Odes speak of a Christ figure they convey no hint of any awareness of a Jesus. If we define them as “Christian” they are of a quite different type of Christianity we read about in the New Testament.

Their Christ figure is a human who becomes Christ and who has no particular historical identity.

The Odes share vocabulary and phrases that appear in early Christian documents but the ideas conveyed by these shared expressions are quite unlike anything we associate with Christianity.

They do not mention

  • forgiveness
  • atonement
  • sin
  • resurrection
  • ascension
  • baptism
  • eucharist
  • the name of Jesus
  • any sayings of Jesus
  • any event in the life of Jesus
  • cross or crucifixion

The word “cross” supposedly appears twice in the Odes of Solomon (Odes 27 and 42), but only when translators such as Charlesworth take the Syriac (qaysa) or Greek (xylon), the word for tree or wood and translate it as “cross.” Less tendentious translators do not do this. . . .

Davies suggests that those passages should probably be translated to convey the image of a suppliant stretching his arms upward in prayer like tree branches. They do not depict arms stretched out as if on a cross.

The Odes do remind us of the Gospels with their references to:

  • a virgin and a virgin birth
  • a dove fluttering above the Messiah

But notice how unlike the ideas found in the Gospels these expressions are: Continue reading “Evidence for a Pre-Christian “Christianity”?”


2015-02-07

What they’re saying about Religion & Atheism

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Eleven very recent and less recent blog posts and news feeds follow. Take your pick.

HectorAvalos
Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos, known to most of us for The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (discussed across 5 Vridar posts) has had a new article published in Ames Tribune . . .

Blaspheme or else …

Two paragraphs from the article:

Bill Maher, the atheist humorist, believes Islam is entrenched in the Middle Ages . . .  Thomas Friedman . . . believes that Islam needs the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, while others deem Islam to be inherently incorrigible.

Many of these commentators overlook how much of the Muslim jihadist view of blasphemy derives directly or indirectly from the Bible, the foundational text of Christianity. Yvonne Sherwood’s Biblical Blaspheming: Trials of the Sacred for a Secular Age (2012) discusses some aspects of the long reach of biblical blasphemy laws in western culture.

Avalos, of course, supports efforts to repeal blasphemy laws, period.

For most secularists/pluralists, you must blaspheme — or else your freedom of expression will inevitably be hostage to one religion or another. 

Holy Jesus, I nearly forgot to cite my source for this story — h/t John Loftus on Debunking Christianity, thank God.

–o0o–

This one is not really about “religion and atheism” but it’s worth including here to get the message out the sooner – – – –  Peter Kirby has done us another favour by creating a Biblical Criticism Search Engine.

Now you can search the greater Biblical Criticism Blogosphere, a carefully curated collection of websites, blogs, books, articles, and resources containing about 30 billion web pages indexed and searchable with a Google Custom Search Engine. The search prompt can be found here:

http://bcharchive.org/

–o0o–

PZ Myers of Pharyngula alerts us to a bloggingheadsTV discussion where I find some of my own reservations re Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens brought out into the open:

Jeet Heer and the New Atheism

I don’t see the point of having an atheism that is pro-status quo, pro-imperialist, and which is indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy. If you’re going to have that, you might as well go to church.

That the New Atheism has already become part of a doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude is troubling, but I think it was there from the beginning. The Thinky Atheist Leaders who carved out this niche clearly didn’t think those issues were important — even while some of us who happily jumped on the New Atheist bandwagon thought they were, and were simply oblivious to the indifference of the horsemen who were galloping into the fray. Now some of us who were trotting along with the rest of the cavalry are drawing back . . . . 

It’s very uncomfortable. Maybe I’m a New Atheist in some ways, but not in other ways, and maybe I need a new banner to rally under, or maybe we need to just let the leadership blunder into the cannons while the rest of us regroup and refocus. . . . 

It’s a tough place to be, sacrificing all that momentum while we mill about and try to figure out a rational approach. But that’s what atheists should do: think.

–o0o–

But there’s hope. Also h/t Loftus, and again with Hector Avalos gaining another mention:

The Second Wave of New Atheism is Here

Dr. Hector Avalos tells me that in his forthcoming book, The Bad Jesus, he speaks of a Second Wave of New Atheism, which he defines as atheist advocates “who have more formal training in philosophy, biblical studies and theology.”. . . .

–o0o–

Many of us have probably seen Stephen Fry’s delicious account of what he would say to God at the Pearly Gates:

It’s worth repeating until learned by heart.

The point here is that Mano Singham has found the pious intellect of Giles Fraser responding sagely to Fry. In the interests of fair play and equal time here it is:

I don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either

–o0o–

without godGavin R or Otagosh has found one of those curious hybrids:

Another Atheist Theologian

Today I learned that this troublesome priest has outed himself as – shock, horror – an atheist.

In an interview with Religion Dispatches he talks about his new book Christianity Without God . . . and makes some memorable remarks.

“I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear… Fear makes you reach for a supernatural insurance policy.”

Unlike all too many of those who have transitioned from various forms of Christianity to godlessness, Maguire retains the ability to engage in the conversation without the smug, tone deaf invective that shuts off communication rather than opening it up.

–o0o–

Here’s another story of a religious person meeting atheism but this time finding a different outcome. It’s by self-described “God-nerd” Christian PiattContinue readingWhat they’re saying about Religion & Atheism”


2015-02-04

“Why You Should Take Richard Carrier Seriously”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Who is Daniel Gullotta? Background info here: “Daniel N. Gullotta is a budding New Testament scholar and early Christian historian committed to the secular study of ancient religion. Daniel describes himself as a friendly agnostic-atheist with humanist values, but with a deep love and obsession with the Bible.”

Daniel N. Gullotta is not a mythicist. He believes in the historicity of Jesus. So his blog post on Richard Carrier’s argument for the Christ myth theory, Why You Should Read Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, is especially interesting.

Gullotta begins:

Throughout the centuries, the Jesus/Christ Myth has found few, but notable, adherents such as Constantin François de ChassebœufBruno Bauer, and Arthur Drews, noted as the forefathers of the Mythical point of view on the historicity of Jesus. More recently, G.A. Wells[*]Earl DohertyRobert M. Price, and Richard C. Carrier have become the most prominent figures within the school of thought. Now with Carrier’s publication of On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt and Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesushe now stands as the most dominant voice in favor of this thesis.

Daniel Gullotta agrees with Stevan Davies, another “historicist” that mythicism ought to be addressed seriously:

[L]ike Stevan L. Davies, I believe that “the Mythicists have discovered problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories that deserve to be taken seriously.” Many scholars have simply opted to completely ignore the Jesus Myth theory (and with some understandable reasons), however I do not think that is the right approach, especially for people who do wish to assert the historicity of Jesus. 

What is special about Carrier’s contribution? Continue reading ““Why You Should Take Richard Carrier Seriously””


A New Gospel Discovery (For Real, this time!)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

newgospelH/T Archeologia Biblica e Storia della Chiesa, blog of Antonio Lombatti, Scoperto un nuovo vangelo in Copto = A New Gospel in Coptic Discovered . . . 

Newfound ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ Discovered in Ancient Text (article by Owen Jarus in Live Science)

The manuscript is 1500 years old. Reportedly discovered by Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University.  It’s opening lines:

“The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds.”

A key word there is “lots”. I’ll explain.

The book is very small. It can fit easily in the palm of one’s hand. It appears to have been used in ways not unlike the way some people read their daily horoscopes:

A person seeking an answer to a question could have sought out the owner of this book, asked a question, and gone through a process that would randomly select one of the 37 oracles to help find a solution to the person’s problem. The owner of the book could have acted as a diviner, helping to interpret the written oracles, [Luijendijk] said.

It would apparently be opened up at random (or by spiritual guidance?) for the right “lot” to be found to advise the reader or inquirer.

Sample oracles:  Continue reading “A New Gospel Discovery (For Real, this time!)”


2015-02-03

So Jesus read Plato?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

phaedrusAnother Aussie blogger, Matthew R. Malcolm of Cryptotheology, today posted published an interesting post, Plato and Jesus on inviting the poor. Matthew raises a question that emerges quite often to anyone who knows the Bible and reads widely among the ancient texts, Greek, Roman and Jewish. One regularly stumbles across passages that sound just like something in the Bible. I have posted on some of these “ah ha” moments and have many, many more lined up eventually to post about “one day”. Surely there must be reference books identifying these passages. Does anyone know of one?

I take the liberty of quoting the same edition of the Plato passage cited by Matthew:

If it were true that we ought to give the biggest favour to those who need it most, then we should all be helping out the very poorest people, not the best ones, because people we’ve saved from the worst troubles will give us the most thanks. For instance, the right people to invite to a dinner party would be beggars and people who need to sate their hunger, because they’re the ones who’ll be fond of us, follow us, knock on our doors, take the most pleasure with the deepest gratitude, and pray for our success. (Phaedrus 233d-e, Cooper’s edition)

Recall Luke 14 (NIV). The same ideal ethic (pie in the sky ethic in Plato) is taught as a necessity by Jesus: Continue reading “So Jesus read Plato?”


2015-02-02

Why Luke Changed a Jesus Miracle Story

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

centurion-kneeling-at-the-feet of JesusIn Luke 7 we read about Jesus being urged by his fellow Jews to have special sympathy for a Roman centurion whose beloved servant was at the point of death “because he (the centurion) loved” the Jewish people and had built them a synagogue.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. (Luke 7:3-6, NIV)

A story so similar it is generally believed to be of the same event is found in Matthew 8. (Now if you do not believe the author of the Gospel of Luke knew the Gospel of Matthew then mentally re-adjust what follows to apply to the way Luke changed a tradition known to Matthew or to the way a tradition known Matthew’s spawned a mutation that eventually found its way to Luke.)

Matthew’s tale reveals a very different centurion. Not a word about his affinity with Jews. Rather, in Matthew’s account it is the centurion’s distance from Jews that establishes the whole point of the story. Continue reading “Why Luke Changed a Jesus Miracle Story”