You won’t believe what they’re slashing!

And trust me, it’s not the budget I’m talking about. It’s the quality of the news reporting.

Generally I try to stay clear of political issues on this blog. It’s not what the blog is about, I’m not particularly partial to any one party, and I have readers here from around the world; Australian politics just won’t interest some of you.

So rest assured this post isn’t about favouring one political party over another. That’s not what Inquisitive Bliss is (generally) about. This post is about a poor excuse for a news story, and how people should go about reading between the lines to detect the bullshit.

 

This article in question can be found here:

http://mobile.news.com.au/finance/economy/you-wont-believe-what-theyre-slashing-and-spending-in-the-federal-budget-2014/story-fn84fgcm-1226916439095?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=post&utm_campaign=Budget2014

 

Go have a quick read of it. I won’t be surprised if you’re initial reaction is “Gah! Terrible cuts!” Hell, when the first point is about cutting science, that’s my first reaction too. But let’s go through these one at a time. Put on your bullshit detectors people.

 

So. #1. Apparently some science funding is getting cut. Definitely not a good thing. Considering it’s the CSIRO I doubt they’ve been pissing money up against a wall, so this probably isn’t good. But we’re after the bullshit here, so where is it?

First off, nowhere does it say how much these institutions are still getting. For all we know they might be getting billions, so who gives a shit about ~$150million? Alternatively they might be only getting $20 once these cuts are made. I don’t know. With a bit of research I could probably find out, but that’s not the point I’m trying to get across here. This is a news report. News reports are supposed to be unbiased. Why haven’t these guys done that research? Why aren’t they giving us the full story?

Secondly, notice how the first figure says this cut will happen over 4 years? Why doesn’t it say how many years the ANSTO cut will go over? Maybe that’ll happen next year? Maybe it will happen over 50 years? Who knows? I’ll bet the reporter knows, so why isn’t he telling us?

 

#2. They got rid of a word. Poor fucking diddums. The only point of number 2 is to try and make the Government look like they don’t support clean energy alternatives. Which may be true. But take note of what this program actually does. It’s mean to help supplement Australians struggling to pay their energy bills. So the removal of this word may in fact mean they’re expanding the program to include more Australians. That…kinda sounds like it might be a good thing. Or maybe it really is just a ploy to reduce clean energy. Again, who knows? The article doesn’t make it clear.

 

#3. Get rid of those damn windfarms. Boy is that some emotive language. But…did anyone else notice how they’re not actually getting rid of any fucking windfarms!? What a load of crap. This heading is completely false. Yes, the program is getting the axe. Yes, that’s $1.3billion not going into that program anymore. Isn’t that enough to rid on, without having to blatantly lie?

 

#4. Not sure on this one. I’m not a big fan of PETA, but they’re actually axing the Animal Welfare Strategy program, which I’m assuming are two different groups. Some extra info would be nice, but at least I can smell any bullshit here.

 

#5. “The major schemes either axed or deferred for several years”. That’s okay, I didn’t want to know what those schemes were anyway. Just feed me the fear factor. I don’t need additional information to generate an informed opinion.

I mean really, what is actually being cut here? Maybe these were good cuts and help clean up a very messy set of systems? Maybe it’s streamlining several systems into one, thus finding ways of saving money. Or maybe they’re bad cuts and we’d be better off if they didn’t make them. Buggered if I know.

 

#6. So a certain amount of money has already been sunk into these programs (thanks for telling me just how much…NOT), and the leftover funds are being put somewhere else. So, does that mean these projects were successful and completed under budget? That’s awesome! Or is the Government just cutting whats left of the funding despite the programs not being finished? Again, no idea.

 

#7. What education are you talking about? Is this in schools? Primary or secondary? Somehow I doubt they’re closing all the universities that teach law. So what exactly are you talking about here? Don’t be specific or anything.

 

#8. Oh no, a whole program has been cut! Not a quarter, not even half a program, but a whole program! Come on, careers advice programs are a dime a dozen. There’s plenty more out there. Okay, maybe this was a really important program. One that was having a lot of success and getting parents back to work. Or…you know…maybe it wasn’t? Who knows!?

 

#9. I can understand why some people would be pissed about this one. Personally, until tobacco is actually made illegal I don’t have a problem with it. Why should the Government spend money on something we already know. Coz really, it’s kind of hard to miss the whole “smoking is bad for you” thing. Seriously, people living in caves know that.

I love this next section, which doesn’t actually have a number (I’m guessing the author couldn’t count past 9). Listen to this:

“If this isn’t enough for you, don’t worry. The Abbott government loves getting rid of laws.”

Oh boy, this sounds like it’s going to be terrible. So what are they doing? Are they cutting our freedom of speech? Reducing woman’s rights? Getting rid of that whole messy thing where gays can now have civil unions?

“So much so, it’s going to hold at least two ‘Repeal Days’ every year where they get rid of red tape.”

Oh my gawd!! That’s…that’s….wait, that’s pretty fucking good isn’t it?

“The first Repeal Day, held earlier this year, got rid of 50,000 pages of legislation. It’s all to “reduce regulatory compliance costs on businesses”.”

So, they’re essentially making it easier for businesses to conduct their business and do it cheaper. Hey, I own a business. Isn’t this a good thing?

Well, to be fair, who knows? They haven’t actually said what laws are being cut. To be fair, 50,000 might be a couple too many to list, but couldn’t they have at least picked one or two of the bad ones? You know, assuming there are bad ones.

Seriously, why is the author wording this like it’s the apocalypse? There’s nothing bad in here!

 

$200,000 to bring back Matthew Flinder’s original 1804 Chart of Australia. Can’t be sure, but that sounds like it might have some historic value. Somehow I doubt they’re wanting to use it to replace Google maps mate.

 

Hey, the ballet students are getting their own residence. That’s good right? You could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t with the language being used here.

 

I didn’t actually know what the mushroom spawn levy was, so I Googled it and got this:

“The Australian Government introduces levies and export charges at the request of industry. These levies variously fund research and development, marketing, residue testing, plant and animal biosecurity programs and emergency responses for industry.”

I dunno, sounds kind of reasonable. Considering I have no idea what the current levy is, it’s hard to have an opinion on it. Damn, wouldn’t it have been useful if this article told you that…

 

The Lodge refurbishment is a bit of a tougher one. Considering it’s the PM’s home, I think a certain amount of privacy isn’t a bad thing. But, if this is coming out of our tax dollars, I’m afraid you kind of need to tell us. Sorry dude, if you’re spending my money I have a right to know where it’s going. So yeah, that’s a good one to call out.

 

Okay, so after more than 1,300 words, what’s the point of all this? No, the point isn’t that the Abbott Government is good. It’s not that I’m a secret bleeding heart Liberal. I’m a swing voter and I think any government can be corrupted and that all governments get some things wrong and some things right. This isn’t a post about taking sides in a political war.

The point is that far too many ‘news’ stories have an agenda, and that if you’re not careful you’ll be taken along for a ride. Everything in this article might be right and every single one of these points might be valid. The point is that as an average reader without a lot more insight into the political spectrum, you have absolutely no idea.

Please, don’t be taken for a ride. It’s perfectly all right if you have a strong political opinion. Frankly I wish more people would take a stronger interest in politics. Then we could hold authors like this to account and let them know we expect more from our news publications. But don’t have a strong opinion based on bullshit like this. Learn to read between the lines and know when an agenda is being set.

 

Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

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Science: Logical fallacies Part 1

Logical fallacies have less to do with science and more to do with logic. Logic itself is a massive subject and one that can take a lifetime to master. Thankfully today we’ll only be covering a small section of logic. There are generally around 30 logical fallacies, although sometimes they can get broken down into more for clarity. To keep things simple I’m going to limit us to 5 fallacies at a time, otherwise these posts could end up being very long indeed.

Fallacies are categories of fallacious thinking. In a nutshell this means constructing an argument based on poor reasoning. Honestly this definition is pretty harsh. The reason logical fallacies are so important to understand in regards to science is because we all make them, and far more often than you might think. As you’ll see, some fallacies could even be linked to the shortcuts our brains take, which is often an evolutionary advantage despite being illogical. Getting past some of these is extremely difficult, as they’re practically hardwired into us. However, if we wish to uncover the truths of our world it is important we understand these fallacies, as they can be quite crippling to furthering our understanding.

Before we dive into the actual fallacies, lets briefly cover a little logic 101.

LOGIC 101

All arguments follow a certain structure. An example of this might be:

Premise 1: A = B.

Premise 2: B = C.

Conclusion: Therefore A must also = C.

A more tangible example of this might be:

Premise 1: Cows are mammals

Premise 2: All mammals are warm-blooded

Conclusion: Therefore cows are warm-blooded.

This is all very basic right here, but at the end of the day most arguments boil down to something very similar. Now for an argument to be believed it needs to be both ‘sound’ and ‘valid’. But what does it mean to be both sound and valid?

A valid argument is one in which the premises follow, as with the example above. An example of an invalid argument might be:

Premise 1: Cows are mammals

Premise 2: All reptiles are cold-blooded.

Premise 3: A cow is not a reptile.

Conclusion: Therefore a cow must be warm-blooded.

The problem with this argument is that although all reptiles are cold-blooded, that doesn’t immediately mean everything that isn’t a reptile is warm-blooded. What’s particularly interesting about this argument is that although it is not valid, the conclusion is still true. Just because an argument is invalid or unsound doesn’t immediately make the conclusion false. It just means it’s not true for the reasons the arguer is putting forth.

A sound argument is one in which the premises are true. An argument can be valid (everything follows), but unsound (the premises are untrue). An example of this might be:

Premise 1: Cows are reptiles.

Premise 2: All reptiles are cold-blooded.

Conclusion: Cows are cold-blooded.

As you can see here, the logic is valid. If cows were reptiles and reptiles were cold-blooded, then cows would be cold-blooded. But as I’m sure you know, cows aren’t reptiles. This argument is valid, but not sound.

The final example is that of an argument that is sound, but not valid. These probably won’t come up as often as they’re easier to spot, but for consistencies we’ll cover it.

Premise 1: Cows are mammals.

Premise 2: Lizards are reptiles.

Conclusion: Cows eat grass.

All these statements are true (sound) but the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

The one final thing worth mentioning in this logic 101 course, is that of assumptions. There are many gaps in our knowledge. In some cases we have a pretty good idea of what is likely, although we don’t know for certain. Using these ideas as premises can be dangerous, because if our assumptions are wrong then the argument may suddenly become invalid or unsound without our realising it. Where possible, try to avoid assumptions in arguments. That said, it is perfectly acceptable to use assumptions, it’s just fair to let the person you’re debating with know it’s an assumption. If they have a different assumption you may find yourselves with different conclusions and not understand why.

LOGICAL FALLACIES

So let’s take a look at a couple of starter fallacies.

Ad hominem

Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man”. This is where someone chooses to attack the arguer, rather than the argument. The idea is that if you discredit the arguer people will no longer listen to their point of view. Unfortunately this can be quite effective, but we should recognise it for the logical fallacy it is.

An example might be: “He’s just a Bible thumping Creationist; he doesn’t know anything about evolution.”

Of course the flip is equally true: “She’s an atheist, so she doesn’t get why religion is important to people.”

Although it might be true that ‘he’ doesn’t know anything about evolution nor ‘she’ about religion, it’s not true because of the first premise. For clarity, let’s break it down into our logic 101 system.

Premise 1: He’s a Bible thumping Creationist.

Premise 2: Creationists know nothing about evolution.

Conclusion: He knows nothing about evolution.

Hopefully you can see that ad hominem fallacies are valid, but unsound. That is, the premises logically follow, but premise 2 is not true.

Argument from personal incredulity (AKA: Argument from ignorance)

This is one of my personal favourites, because I see it coming up so frequently. Basically this argument amounts to:

X happens.

Y appear to be the only explanation.

Therefore Y is the answer.

Going back to our logic 101, this is an example of an invalid argument (doesn’t follow), however, it doesn’t immediately mean the conclusion is false. The conclusion very well may be true, but not for the reason the arguer is presenting.

This is also stepping into assumption territory. The arguer is assuming that Y is the correct answer, while other people may not make that assumption.

The reason this type of argument is fallacious is because the arguer may simple not be aware of other explanations. Just because you can’t imagine an alternative explanation doesn’t mean the one you have is correct.

Two of the most common examples of this type of fallacy I’ve seen are:

Premise 1: The universe is incredibly complicated.

Premise 2: Only an incredibly intelligent agent could create something so complicated.

Premise 3: God is an incredibly complicated agent.

Conclusion: God created the universe.

Premise 2 is our issue here (although there’s another fallacy hidden in Premise 3). It is a big assumption to conclude only intelligence can create complexity. Not only do we have counter examples of this, but there’s a whole universe of undiscovered things out there that could provide an alternative answer.

The other is most commonly used to explain UFO sightings:

Premise 1: I saw some strange lights in the sky.

Premise 2: Alien spacecrafts make strange lights in the sky.

Conclusion: I saw an alien spacecraft.

It may be true that alien spacecrafts could make lights in the sky. Our spacecraft do, so why not theirs? The assumption here is of course that these lights are in fact of alien origins and not our spacecraft. Oftentimes people who claim to have spotted UFOs say they moved in very strange ways. Ways that would be impossible for anything humans have created to move.

But that too is an assumption. Isn’t it at least possible (in this writers opinion, more likely) that the military happen to have made something that can move in very complicated ways that the sighter simply isn’t aware of?

Okay guys, this post is now over 1,000 words, so rather than tackling another 3 fallacies I’m going to leave it there. If you’re new to the ideas of valid and sound arguments this will no doubt be plenty for you to think about. In the next post I’ll pick up where we left off with another 5 or so fallacies.

Science: Introduction

Hello readers. My apologies for the extended hiatus. I’ve been gone for far too long, but I promise there is a good reason for it. You see, I set myself a rather ambitious task just before disappearing and it’s taken me this long to do the research for it. I honestly bit off a little more than I could chew too, and lost quite a bit of motivation as a result.

Fortunately, reading Carl Sagan’s ‘The Demon Haunted World’ has not only helped inspire me, it helped with quite a bit of the research I needed to do, compiling a lot of it all in the one place.

Anyway, the project I’ve been wanting to attempt is to give a broad overview of science. Since becoming an active atheist and engaging people in many discussions and debates, one thing I’ve found incredibly prominent is a terrible misunderstanding of what science is, what it does, how it works and why we use it. Frequently I find people have some issue with science, but upon examination I discover what they have is a strawman argument (don’t worry, we’ll be coming back to exactly what that is later) and that the problem isn’t with science, but with their understanding of science.

Frankly this shouldn’t be terribly surprising. The science people are taught in high school is an introductory course and often doesn’t cover many of the fundamentals. It’s only those who continue to study the subjects into late high school or better yet university, who learn all these details.

The rules of scientific investigation are extremely strict. Much more strict than the average person needs in their day-to-day life. The kind of skepticism needed to study quantum mechanics is vastly more strict than the skepticism required to discuss your weekend plans with a friend. Because of this most people don’t need scientific logic in their day-to-day lives and therefore have no desire to learn it in-depth.

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you haven’t heard of the topics we’ll be covering in the next few posts don’t feel put out. You’re not dumb, nor did you have a sub-par education. It’s a state most people find themselves in and most of us have little reason to fill this gap in our knowledge.

That said, here at Inquisitive Bliss we’re all about learning for the sake of learning, so come along for the ride and hopefully you’ll discover something new. Maybe you’ll even find a new-found passion for the subject. At the very least I hope you’ll have a deeper appreciation of science and it’s methodologies and maybe even discover some uses for a few of the topics.

There’s a number of topics I’d like to cover during the next few posts. This list may shrink or grow depending on my needs, but this is what I’m hoping to cover:

  • What is science?
  • What is the scientific method?
  • Falsifiability and why it’s important to finding knowledge.
  • The peer review process.
  • Correlation vs Causation.
  • Occam’s razor.
  • Logic and logical fallacies.
  • Science vs pseudoscience

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next few posts which will cover logical fallacies.

The case for Christ: Chapter 1 – Eyewitness Testimonies

‘The case for Christ posts’ are all in relation to a particular book by Lee Strobel, oddly enough entitled ‘The case for Christ’. It’s not often one has the opportunity to read such a well written piece of propaganda. These posts are intended to break down the book chapter by chapter and explain what is wrong either logically or factually in each. By the end of it hopefully readers will be more aware of what to look out for in biased writings.

Before the Interview

Strobel’s first interview is with a fellow named Craig Blomberg. A reputable enough fellow he seems a reasonable choice for an interviewee.

Before Strobel even gets started with the interview he’s already making mistakes. Firstly he places great importance on eyewitness testimony. This is already fraught with danger as we know these kinds of testimonies are often inaccurate. I could dedicate an entire post to how unreliable eyewitness testimony is, so I won’t go into any extra detail here, but just because you have a witness or two doesn’t prove the kinds of extraordinary claims Strobel would like you to believe. It makes even less sence to place such importance on claims made by people over 2,000 years ago, who spoke a different language, who lacked critical thinking education and who’s mental states we can only guess at.

The next big mistake Strobel makes (again before the interview) is to say that

“…eyewitness testimony is just as crucial in investigating historical matters – even the issue of whether Jesus Christ is the unique Son of God”.

The fact of the matter is no amount of eyewitness evidence could ever prove such a thing. Even if we could confirm that everyone in the Gospels is who they say they are, and that the testimonies they have given are accurate we could still not conclude that Jesus was the son of God. It would only prove the man could do amazing things and claimed to be the son of Yahweh. Another explanation is that he could have been the son on Zeus. Or an Alien with superior technology. Or a human, but from the future. The list of alternative explanations goes on. The best we could conclude from eyewitness testimonies is that the man (if he was a man) could do some spectacular things.

Again before the interview, Strobel asks the reader

“…how well would these accounts” (the eyewitness testimonies) “withstand the scrutiny of skeptics?”

At no point does Strobel actually consult a skeptic to answer this question. A sure sign of biased journalism.

Who Wrote the Gospels?

The first answer Strobel gets from Blomberg is

“It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous. But the uniform testimony of the early church was that Matthew…was the author of the first gospel in the New Testament; that John Mark…was the author of the gospel we call Mark; and that Luke…wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles”.

I’m not sure I’d go as far to say the Church’s teachings were “uniform” but it is certainly true that the early Church did teach this. What’s important here is not the answer given, but the way Strobel uses this information in later chapters. Right now Blomberg’s answer is ‘We can’t be certain who wrote the Gospels, but the Church believed they knew who the authors were’. Later Strobel creates arguments based on the assumption that the Church was right, completely ignoring the possibility that they may have been wrong. We’ll return to this idea later.

There is in fact strong evidence to suggest the Church was wrong on these facts. Firstly, none of the Gospels name the author. Surely if one of the Apostles wrote a Gospel they’d feel the need to attach their name to it, thus giving it extra credibility as an eyewitness account. But none of them do.

The Gospel of Matthew is written completely in the third person. In reference to Jesus and his disciples it always refers to “they”, not “we”. Even when Jesus calls the disciple Matthew to join him, the text reads “him”, not “me”. Very strange wording, assuming Matthew the Apostle actually wrote it.

The final few verses in John also eliminate the writer as being one of the Apostles. John 21:24 reads

“This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.”

Note the use of “we” here. It is referring to the writer and the reader, in reference to the disciple. This means the writer is differentiating himself from the disciple. The Gospel itself is quite clear that the writer was not one of the disciples.

As for the other two Gospels, Mark and Luke, although there is no strong evidence against the Church tradition (Mark was a follower of the Apostle Peter and Luke was a follower of Paul), there is also no good reason to think any of it is true. Neither Gospel mentions who its author is and all we have to go on is what the Church wants us to believe. But should we trust them?

Should we believe the Church?

Strobel then asks Blomberg whether anyone would have reason to lie about the Gospels authorship. Blomberg reasons that because Luke and Mark weren’t actually disciples, and that because Matthew was most likely the least liked Apostle (being an ex-tax collector) it is unlikely anyone would make this up. It would be far more convincing to attribute these works to actual disciples (or at least likable ones), than to choose these three people. But this isn’t necessarily true. Perhaps the author was especially crafty, and realising this logic deliberately chose some less renowned names to give that extra credibility. Or perhaps by the time the author was writing many of the disciples had already died. Obviously a dead man couldn’t write a book, so it would be much more believable to use a close friend. Blomberg is clearly biased by his own desires and doesn’t want to consider the possibility of deceit.

Finally it needs to be noted that Blomberg finishes this section by stating

“the gospel [John] is obviously based on eyewitness material, as are the other three gospels”.

Not only is this clearly wrong, as two of the gospels attest to, there’s no good reason to think it’s right.

There is one final quote in regards to John’s gospel that is worth noting. Blomberg says:

“For many years the assumption was that John knew everything Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote, and he saw no need to repeat it, so he consciously chose to supplement them. More recently it has been assumed that John is largely independent of the other three gospels, which could account for not only the different choices of material, but also the different perspectives on Jesus”.

The question must be asked, if John is truly one of the disciples, as was Matthew, how can they be independent? For the most part these two were together with Jesus during his ministry. It is very odd that two people would have such radically different views, both on the events of Jesus’ ministry and of Jesus himself.

Early Writings

In the next section Blomberg tries to give specific evidence as to why he believes the gospel writers are who the Church claims they are. He cites Papias, an early Christian writer saying Papias confirms it was Mark, the follower of Peter, who wrote the Gospel. Blomberg says Papias wrote that Mark “made no mistakes” and “did not include any false statement” and that “Matthew had preserved the teachings of Jesus as well.” Blomberg glosses over Papias, which is a mistake as there are several issues with his writings.

Firstly this is an exaggeration on what Papias wrote about Mark. The text actually reads:

“For he was intent on just one purpose: not to leave out anything that he heard or to include any falsehood among them”.

A valiant effort no doubt, but a far cry from his writings being free from error.

It’s also worth mentioning that this just isn’t true. The Gospel of Mark is not terribly long. Surely if Mark has written down everything that Peter had told him the book would be vastly longer.

As for Papias’ writing on Matthew, he doesn’t say where he received his information or when. Papias wrote somewhere between 110-140AD. This is more than enough time for the myth of authorship to build up. Papias writes that

“Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue.”

Firstly, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest all the gospels were originally written in Greek, and secondly, the gospel of Matthew is much more than a composition of sayings. Is Papias even referring to the gospel of Matthew as we know it today?

As a final note, most historians don’t place great importance on Papias’ writings. Although there is no reason to think these specific quotes are incorrect it is well-known that a lot of Papias’ writings are wrong. Unless these writings can be confirmed elsewhere, it is difficult to give them much credibility.

Blomberg then refers to the writings of Irenaeus, which does verify the Church’s teachings of the authorship of the four gospels. The problem is that Irenaeus was writing in ~180AD, more than enough time for the mythical tradition to have built up.

Deliberations:

At the end of each chapter are a series of questions for reflection and further thought. I intend to answer all of these.

1. How have your opinions been influenced by someone’s eyewitness account of an event? What are some factors you routinely use to evaluate whether someone’s story is honest and accurate? How do you think the gospels would stand up to that kind of scrutiny?

We are fortunate enough with the gospels that we have multiple accounts to go off, and not only those found in the Bible. This is truly fantastic, because one thing I would use to evaluate the accuracy of someone’s story would be to compare it with other’s who were there at the same time.

Unfortunately the gospels differ significantly, both in their recording of history and their theological opinions. This is quite forgivable if the authors didn’t know each other or had heard the Jesus story much later in time, but when two of the authors were meant to be followers, and the other two disciples of other followers we should be skeptical.

2. Do you believe that the gospels can have a theological agenda while at the same time being trustworthy in what they report? Why or why not? Do you find Blomberg’s Holocaust analogy helpful in thinking through this issue?

Of course they can. But that doesn’t mean they did. Only sifting through the evidence can really answer that question. Mulling over the theoretical possibilities is a waste of time.

Blomberg’s Holocaust example is no doubt useful in terms of understanding his point, but it doesn’t get us any closer to answering the question of historical reliability.

3. How and why does Blomberg’s description of the early information about Jesus affect your opinion about the reliability of the gospels?

If you were to follow only Blomberg’s descriptions the early information about Jesus would be quite convincing. The problem occurs when you do further reading and discover the alternative opinions on what this early information may mean. It becomes much less compelling.

What I truly find interesting is how early Paul may have been writing. If Blomberg is right that Paul was writing mere years after Jesus death/resurrection, this could be quite compelling. Only further reading will tell for sure.

The case for Christ

Periodically I get into discussions with both theists and atheists online. Generally they’re useful, if for no other reason than to understand another’s point of view. But several months ago I got into a conversation with a particular theist on her blog, which has become quite enlightening. The conversation itself didn’t lead very far, as we very quickly realised we were in the ‘agree to disagree’ position. Thankfully we realised the reason for this was due to very different educations, and we agreed to try to share these lessons with each other.

This resulted in my recommending her a couple of books, and she several for me. Of all the books she recommended the one that stuck in my mind was, as you may have guessed, ‘The case for Christ’ by Lee Strobel. I’d heard of this book before and heard very divided opinions on it. The believers revere it and the skeptics can’t stand it. Hearing of it again from this passionate lady I resolved myself to rise to her challenge and get the book.

Roughly $100 later I left Amazon.com with copies of ‘The Demon Haunted World’ by Carl Sagon, ’50 popular beliefs that people think are true’ and ’50 reasons people give for believing in a god’, both by Guy P. Harrison, ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ by Bart D. Ehrman and, true to my word, a copy of ‘The Case for Christ’ by Lee Strobel. Maybe not the most balanced selection of books, but I did stick to my guns.

I chewed through ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ and cannot recommend it highly enough. Anyone who has even the slightest interest in the Jesus story should pick up this book. So far it is my favourite book on this topic. What I adore about it is that although it sticks to history, facts and science, it can be read by a believer without having a great impact on their faith. That’s not to say your opinions won’t change (I very much imagine they will, regardless of your beliefs), but it can be read without destroying faith. It is first and foremost a history book, not a philosophy book or debating manual.

Next I read through ’50 reasons people give for believing in a god’ and although it’s not nearly as good as I’d been lead to believe, it’s still worth a read.

Finally I plucked up the nerve to take a look through ‘The case for Christ’ and after only reading a few chapters came to a powerful realisation. This book is just so terrible that I can’t read it cover to cover and then write a blog post about it. It is riddled with so much bad logic, exaggerations, stretching of evidence, wishful thinking and on occasion, outright lies that the only way to truly give a good representation of this book is to read it chapter by chapter and give a report as I go.

What bothers me most about this book is that it is honestly very well written. I actually don’t think Strobel realises what an amazing piece of propaganda this is, as he seems to be utterly convinced by his own stories. But it’s not Strobel’s opinion of his own work that bothers me. It’s the fact that thousands, possibly millions out there are also eating it up, hook, line and sinker. And I truly can’t blame them. If this was the first book I’d ever picked up on this subject I’d be pretty convinced too. Thank goodness I chose to read ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ first, as both books raise many of the same points. Ehrman just does a much better job of it.

Strobel relies on people’s general lack of knowledge about the history of Jesus, and then suckers them in because it’s what they want to believe. It would be deplorable if Strobel realised what he was doing, but as he seems so convinced by his own stories it’s just kind of sad. That said, the number of people who are reading this and believing everything written within deserve the truth so they can make up their own minds about what to believe. That’s what I hope to aid with.

Let’s just take a quick look at the introduction.

Strobel is first and foremost a journalist (a point which we will return to another time), and begins the book with a story of a young man being sentenced for shooting a police officer. A vast array of evidence has been collected against the lad and at the end, he confesses to the shooting in a plea bargain. Everyone thinks the case is watertight.

It turns out the boy is in fact innocent, and the point Strobel wishes to make is that sometimes the same evidence, seen in a different light can lead to different conclusions. Sometimes all we need is to change our mindset. Although this is true at times, the way he goes about ‘demonstrating’ this is deplorable. It turns out he’s been keeping a truckload of evidence from the reader! For example, only one bullet was missing from the boys gun, but both the convicted and witnesses said they saw him fire the gun into the front porch. Shouldn’t that mean that there were two bullets missing from his gun? One for the porch and one for the policeman? Well as it turns out, yes. But heaven forbid Strobel might give you all the evidence up front to make up your mind.

The point Strobel is trying to make is that opinions can influence the interpretation of the evidence. He’s trying to be all scientific. But that’s not at all what’s going on here. The truth is he’s just conveniently ignored some rather damning evidence, which is completely the opposite of scientific. A scientific theory is meant to encompass all the available evidence. If it doesn’t, then you have a great big gap in your theory. You need to account for that evidence, not just ignore it because it’s inconvenient!

Strobel admits up front he was convinced of the boys guilt. But that’s not because the case was truly open and closed. It’s because he’s just not very good at accounting for all the evidence, and can easily be lead astray by the pressure of others (the police in this case). Strobel demonstrates this in the next few paragraphs when he talks about his previous atheism.

In regards to his earlier, atheistic beliefs about Jesus, Strobel admits he’d only ever taken a “cursory look” at the evidence. But it’s quite clear he also only took a cursory look at the evidence for a scientific worldview. He refers to evolution as a satisfactory explanation for “how life originated”. No, evolution only speaks on how creatures changed after their origins. If you want to learn the origins of life, you’ll need to research abiogenesis. This is incredibly basic stuff.

I don’t think Strobel is a particularly well read theist, but by the sounds of it, he was also a poorly read skeptic. And this theme carries on for at least the next few chapters, if not the entire book.

Over the course of the book Strobel interviews 13 academics (but not 1 skeptic – not very journalistic either apparently) and each chapter is dedicated to a new interview. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading each chapter and writing a summary. At the end of each chapter there are a group of questions for further thinking. I’ll also be writing my answers to these.

So brace yourselves. This is going to be a long ride but hopefully a worthwhile one. Let’s dig into ‘The case for Christ’.

Deepities

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

There are a lot of sayings out there. Some are genuinely wise, others are merely fluff coated in wise sounding words. Deepities, I believe the word is.

Since becoming a skeptic I’ve become accustomed to analysing these types of quotes at a much deeper level than I used to and sadly I’ve discovered a lot of them fall into the deepities category rather than actual wisdom.

But, it’s always nice when these sound bites do actually show a great deal of wisdom. Even nicer when it comes from someone who a great deal of people admire, as it’s incredibly frustrating when spiritual leaders give dodgy advice and people just suck it up without question.

This sentiment leads us beautifully back to the original quote. It’s a rather common one, so maybe you’ve heard it. This is one from the Buddha. Like all the spiritual leaders over the generations, Buddha had some sayings that were rubbish and would classify as deepities, but what’s great about this particular saying is that it encourages people to disregard dodgy sayings, even if the Buddha himself said it.

‘Believe nothing…unless it agrees with your own reason and…common sense’. Very clever words to live by. Or more to the point, be skeptical with. Far too often I see people accepting things that clearly don’t make sense to them, yet they take it on as wisdom either because it’s part of the larger belief system (whether religious or not) or because it’s easier than questioning it further.

Actually if I’m going to be completely honest I have to admit I really don’t know why people accept these things. It’s something I can’t wrap my head around and therefore can’t understand or sympathise with. Perhaps if some readers accept some of the following examples you could try explaining it to me?

The easiest example to jump to is the phrase “God works in mysterious ways”. Frankly that’s not an answer. It’s a non-answer. Which basically means it’s a statement that sounds good, but adds no new information to the question. ‘Yes I know it’s mysterious, that’s why I asked!’ The main issue I have with this non-answer is that far from going against reason and common sense, it asks you to put both aside and accept things anyway. This should instantly set off alarm bells. If you’re being asked to put your common sense and reason aside there’s a very good chance the actual answer will not fulfill either.

Probably not what the Nicene Council had in mind…

The other example that instantly comes to mind (and forgive me for once again picking on Christianity, it’s just the religion I’m most familiar with) is the concept of the Holy Trinity. Since it’s introduction into Catholic doctrine in C.E. 381 at the Nicene Council, no one has every been able to explain it in a clear and distinct way. The idea that three people/deities can be the same individual whilst maintaining their independence is quite out there. Water/ice/steam has been offered up as a metaphor. An egg, including shell, white and yolk has also be considered. But at the atomic level the former is either water, ice or steam at any given moment, not all three. And the later three components can all exist independent of one another.

I’d prefer not to have this turn into a post about understanding the Holy Trinity (although feel free to go nuts in the comments), as frankly I don’t think anyone does. My point is that despite many great minds trying to puzzle this idea out, no one really has. Certainly not to my satisfaction anyway, and I’d warrant that anyone who really stopped and thought about it would honestly feel the same way. But at that point it often gets palmed off into the previous example of simply being mysterious and not for us to understand…at least not yet.

And this again brings us back to the original quote. If it doesn’t make sense, maybe it’s not that it’s incredibly complicated, or beyond human understanding or supposed to be a mystery. Maybe it just doesn’t make sense?

So I ask you, if you have a believe or opinion or even a piece of information that doesn’t entirely make sense to you, don’t just accept it and put it to one side. Pick it up again and analyse it. Tear it apart and then see if it even can go back together.

For me the big one is ‘something or nothing’. Is it possible our universe could have come from nothing? Or is it possible the universe has always existed in some form or another. I don’t have a good answer, nor does it make a great deal of sense to me. So I don’t believe it. However my journey doesn’t end there, as apparently some people claim they do understand it and I feel it’s my job as an honest thinker to try to find these answers, assuming they exist at all.

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Scripture: Slavery

For some reason slavery has been coming up a lot lately. A complete coincidence based on the reading I’ve been doing and the podcasts I’ve been listening to, but interesting none the less.

Now that’s a happy slave 😉

What made me think it was worth doing a post dedicated to slavery (or more specifically, slavery in the Bible) was a forum post I found over at ‘Evolution Fairytale’. I’ve always thought people either didn’t know about Biblical slavery laws, or that they rejected it because it was Old Testament stuff. Well some of the guys over at this forum have been trying to paint Biblical slavery in a positive light, which was new to me. I thought we could take a look at these claims, compare them to what the Bible says and see what we can learn.

I’m also taking this opportunity to introduce a new segment to the blog, ‘Scripture’. In these posts we’ll explore many of the things different scriptures say and whether or not they’re true, or in this case moral. Naturally most of these posts will be focused on the Bible because Christianity is the religion I’m most familiar with and also the holy scripture I’m currently reading (up to Joshua!). Eventually though I’ll start reading through the Quran, some Buddhist scriptures and anything else I can find, and then we can broaden these ‘Scripture’ posts to look at some other religions.

Let’s start by looking at some of the quotes from the Evolution Fairytale forum.

“I have heard people ignorantly claiming that the Bible supports slavery, as if God Himself condones oppressive, abusive slavery. Slavery is not synonymous with oppression and abuse. In Biblical times, slavery was more like indentured servitude, where people were taken care of (food, clothes, shelter, and still allowed to have families) in exchange for labor instead of getting a salary. So the argument these people are making is ignorant of vital details, particularly what God allows and what He does not allow in the Bible.”

The section I’ve bolded is technically true. Slavery doesn’t immediately mean abuse. Certainly some slaves would have worked for basic necessities such as food and shelter, rather than money and there’s really nothing wrong with that. But what about what the laws say as to what is allowed and not? We’ll return to this in a bit when we open up our Bibles.

“yeah after a few years they could choose if they want to leave or stay with their boss a lot of them choosed stay because they had everything there”

The man with the terrible grammar is right! People could choose to leave after 6 years servitude, and often people chose to stay. But the real question is why they chose to stay. Again, get that Bible ready. We’ll be finding out the why shortly.

“That is true. Still to say that the way the Bible deals with slavery is evil, because it attempts to give guidelines and does not condemn it outright is to say “there can be no mutually beneficial case of slavery, it is all evil”. The conclusion is flawed because it is based on a flawed premise.”

This is absolutely right. Slavery in and of itself isn’t evil. What makes it a bad practice is…well the way it’s practiced.

“So almost like a live-in farm hand”

Wow, this one makes it sound like being a slave was pretty much a good thing! But…was it? Okay, grab your Bibles and let’s find out.

First off here’s a list of the above claims to compare the Bible with.

  1. God does not condone oppressive or abusive slavery.
  2. Slaves were paid in material goods such as clothes, food and shelter instead of a salary.
  3. Slaves could leave after a few years.
  4. Many slaves chose to continue being slaves due to good conditions.
  5. Slaves were essentially treated as farm-hands.

Now, most of the laws of slavery are to be found in the Old Testament, and that’s where we’ll put our focus today. Please note though, that the New Testament also has some details on slavery and not all of it is good. I’d encourage people to do further reading, particularly of the New Testament, but so far I’m still reading the Old and I want to focus on the parts I have personally read.

For those who don’t know, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are really heavy on the law, however we’ll start by turning to Exodus 21:2.  If you don’t have a Bible on you I’d recommend BibleGateway.com, which is where this text is copied from.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.”

Wow, that actually sounds quite reasonable. Hebrew slaves can only serve for six years at a time, and when they leave they can take their wife with them. A later passage in Leviticus (we’ll get to it) says he can also takes his kids with him! It sounds like the guys over at Evolution Fairytale are right, but let’s keep reading.

If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.”

Let’s be honest, this is a bit of a grey area. The owner has paid for the servitude of the woman, so he should still get his monies worth even if the husband leaves, right? The children should probably be set free considering they were never paid for, however this is a time when woman were caretakers, not men, so that’s kind of understandable. Myabe if this were re-written for a modern time the man could take the kids? Let’s keep reading.

This good people, is an awl.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges.[a]He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

Ah, and now we get to the crux of the issue. All these laws sound reasonable, but in reality this is blackmail. What do you to with a slave that can go free? Give him a woman so he’ll want to stay. And it’s not like the man can pay for the possession of his wife and kids. He’s been a slave for the past 6 years, he doesn’t have any money.

At this time men could take multiple wives, so just because he became a slave with a wife doesn’t mean the owner couldn’t present him with another. I wouldn’t go as far to say this system was deliberately set up to trap slaves forever, but holding woman and children hostage to blackmail a man into slavery for life, that’s immoral.

The other thing is that the slave is marked by piercing his ear with an awl. This is pretty barbaric, but more to the point isn’t how you should treat a farm-hand. Surely this would have been done to mark the man as a permanent slave, making it impossible for him to run away and start a new life.

Let’s continue reading this passage.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

Okay, let’s go through this line by line.

7: Firstly we now find out that ‘Hebrew slaves’ getting to go free after 6 years isn’t quite accurate. Only the men can. This is a sexual double standard and flies in the face of the claim that slaves were allowed to go free.

8: Often Biblical verses get toned down so not to be too confronting. This makes it difficult to always know what is meant. ‘Pleasing a man’ often means sexual intercourse. In other words this passage is saying the man who bought her has the right to rape her. But on the plus side at least he can’t sell her to foreigners.

9-10: Giving her the rights of a daughter should she marry his son sounds good, and that part of it is good. The bad part of this passage is that once again the woman has no say in this. Verse 10 says she must not be deprived of food, clothing and ‘marital rights’. Marital rights meaning sex.

11: In other words if the husband does NOT rape his slave wife she can go free. Not only is rape accepted, it’s the law.

Beating slaves is cool, just don’t kill them…until next week.

Let’s now jump forward to verse 20.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

The natural reaction from many believers is to claim these quotes are being taken out of context. But I ask you, how the fuck can this be taken out of context? You can beat your slaves as long as you don’t kill them. This is indeed abusive and it’s not at all how you treat a farm hand. Or at least, it’s not how we’d treat a farm hand these days. You must also take note of the “after a day or two”. Although it doesn’t explicitly say so, this suggests that if the slave dies after a week the master is not responsible. That’s just sick.

On the plus side if you disfigure a slave the slave can go free. So just make sure those injuries are internal, okay?

26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.

 Then versus 28-32:

28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded. 31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels[f] of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.

The bolded bit is the part I want to draw your attention to, but the rest of the passage is included to ensure this isn’t being taken out of context. Quite clearly these slaves weren’t being treated as live in workers. They don’t have the same rights as other workers do.

They really do seem to have something against those cows. Or maybe it was just the golden ones?

On a side note, I can understand killing the bull. We have similar laws these days when dogs attack. But why not eat the bull? That’s good eat’n!

Let’s jump forward now to Leviticus, starting at chapter 25, verse 39:

39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

39-40: So now we return to some nicer passages. Don’t take your fellow Israelites as slaves, but as hired workers. This means one of two things. Either this verse contradicts the earlier ones, or it means it’s okay to beat your hired workers near to death. I’m actually not sure how to read this, but either way I don’t find it moral.

41: The children are to be released. Again, this might be a contradiction, but more likely this passage just ignores any children that were born as slaves. The master gets to keep them.

43: Don’t be ruthless…however you can beat them to death. Umm…okay?

44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Okay, so you can’t technically buy an Israeli slave. They have to give themselves to you. But you can buy slaves from other places. These slaves are property, and they’re slaves for life. No release after 6 years for the outsiders.  Again we have this idea of not treating slaves ruthlessly, but considering you can beat them this is hard to gauge.

The next and final passage is a big chunk, but it needs to be read in its entirety.

47 “‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. 50 They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. 53 They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.

What’s interesting about this passage is that it says Israeli slaves can be bought back and must be released after the 6 year period. Strangely this does not apply to bought slaves from outside your people. Those slaves are property for life. Historically this makes sense, as there were many clans, all with different laws and trying to impose your laws on them would probably end in bloodshed. But as a decree from an all-knowing, loving deity? How do you justify one law for this group of people and another law for a different group?

So let’s do a quick recap of our 5 points.

1. God does not condone oppressive or abusive slavery.

FALSE. Slaves could be beaten, possibly to death.
2. Slaves were paid in material goods such as clothes, food and shelter instead of a salary.

TRUE. The women were also ‘paid’ by having sex with their masters.
3. Slaves could leave after a few years.

FALSE. This only applied to Israeli males.
4. Many slaves chose to continue being slaves due to good conditions.

FALSE. Certainly some slaves would have stayed due to happy conditions, but many would have been blackmailed into it by keeping their families hostage.
5. Slaves were essentially treated as farm-hands.

FALSE. Slaves could be beaten, sold and raped. I sure hope that’s not how they treated the rest of their workers.

All of these claims are either straight out wrong, or only correct because of missing information. These slaves were most likely not treated fairly or kindly and this kind of revisionist history sickens me.

People please, take the time to understand what it is you claim to believe. I do get that the Bible is long and boring (believe me, I’m reading it), but when you believe that your immortal soul is wrapped up in this mythology you really should read your scriptures.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

I found this in my hunt for images. I just had to add it.