Archive for the ‘Modern Myths’ category

The Great “Did Jesus Exist” Challenge, part 2

March 25, 2012

part 1

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Well … Bart’s comments on the historicity of the gospels strikes me as a bit strange. He says outright that the only reason that some people don’t consider the gospels to be historical is because they are “in the Bible”. Really. “.. the Gospels of the New Testament are separated from all other pieces of historical evidence and given a different kind of treatment because they happen to be found in the Bible”. And, with this statement he immediately pegs his opponents as reactionary wackos without actually discussing their arguments. As far as I’ve ever seen, the gospels aren’t considered history because they are the miracle filled story of god walking around on earth. And nobody seems to reject the Epistles as being historical documents, even though they are in the Bible, since the, you know, the central characters are human beings. So, the accusation doesn’t really seem to hold up. Bart’s stance on this almost seems to be a hold over from fundamentalism (that atheists just reject “the Bible” and have no real reason to not believe in gods).

How to interpret the gospels seems to be a key aspects of the Christ Myth theory, from what I’ve seen. And Bart doesn’t even really discuss the issue. He just pushes it aside, then moves right on along. That’s a bit disappointing for me, because modern scholars method of digging out the “kernel of truth’ in a story filled with miracles is one of the things I’ve always wondered about. Without an actual method, what can they use other than an outright rejection of the supernatural? Even the Apocalyptic prophet model Bart accepts of Jesus is supernatural in some sense, since the knowledge of the coming end was gained through supernatural means. And passages that do not contain miracles might be told simply as a narrative bridge, to teach a moral lesson, or simply explain an event or opinion held by the church.

I’m not saying that a method of finding a plausible scenario from miraculous stories isn’t available, just that Bart doesn’t mention one. Using models of New Religious Movements developed by anthropologists and sociologists attained through empirical observation, we can see that many movements have indeed sprang up because of apocalypticism in one form or another, usually breaking off from a pre-existing religion. They can either die out when ‘the end’ doesn’t happen, or they can re-double their proselytizing and survive. But, unless Bart actually mentions this, it’s hard to know if that’s what he’s using, or if he’s other critical methods. Or, just repeating things he’s heard other scholars say with no idea as to the reason.

He does describe the typical issues with language in some Biblical sayings, that some, because of the words and sentence structure that they use, seem to have originated in Aramaic, while others seem to have originated in Greek. That’s neat, but it really only shows that the sayings in Q and the gospels where gathered from a multitude of sources, not that a guy named Jesus said them on a hill top. Bart seems to imply that it’s proof positive that the gospels began as an oral history.

All in all, I’m finding the book disappointing. The Christ Myth theory is interesting, even if I don’t ultimately accept it, and Bart seems to glance past the issues that it brings up, rather than actually discussing them. It appears as if Bart’s got a bunch of prepared speeches and he constructed this book by pasting them together. The letters of Papias and Ignatius are probably the most convincing pieces of early evidence,but there’s only a couple of pages devoted to them, with not actual discussion of how strange the Ignatius story is.

I’m not sure if this book will work for most people or not. I don’t think it will convince any real Mythicists (those that have actually studied the issues). But, some people take the mere existence of a debunking book as being proof, whether it does the job or not.

The Great “Did Jesus Exist” Challenge

March 20, 2012

As of Tuesday, two historians (well, one historian, one Jesus scholar) are releasing books on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth (i.e., though he probably wasn’t a magic man or son of god, was there some dude named “Joshua” walking around Galilee whose followers gave rise to the Christian religon).

Bart Erhman says there was: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Richard Carrier says “not likely”, but you’ll never prove it with modern historical methods cause they’re fallacious: Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Oh, the fun I’ll have. I have both in from of me, and I intend to read them both through. I’ll start with Bart’s book since it’s a bit shorter (and also available as an e-book (Carrier’s will be released in electronic form at a later date)).

On a glance.

Did Jesus Exist? Proving History
Purpose: Prove existence of Jesus as a man, though still deny everything any Christian cares about. Examine the methods used in Historical Jesus studies, and suggest a new statistical one (Bayes’s Theorem)
Methodology: Bart doesn’t seem to actually discuss method. Appears to be a lot of “scholars agree”. The book is one long discussion on method, and proposeses a new statistical one to replace illogical ones.
Evidence: Bible passages  Evidence for standing will be given in follow up book

I’ll have to lay down Stephen Pinkers 1,000 page tome on violence for a bit to get through these. Should be fun.

One first glance, Carrier’s book looks far more interesting, simply because mere assertions, in and of themselves, tell us nothing. Even if they are right. We need to know the reasoning behind the assertion to determine it’s merit. This isn’t a knock on Bart. His books are pretty damn good, I own quite a few, and he’s probably the best interpreter of Jesus studies for the general public that doesn’t get religious or venture out into crazy unsupported assertion territory.

This will probably be my last foray into any sort of Biblical studies cause, well, it gets old. And I probably wouldn’t even be interested in either book except for Carrier’s examination of historical methodology, which I have always felt were wanting since I looked into History as a possible major in college.

I’m pretty angnostic on the Jesus: Man or Myth issue, since I’m not a super-naturalist. Knowing there was an historical L. Ron Hubbard doesn’t make Scientology appealing, after all. Jesus is more ancient, though, which give the question a more mystical appeal, rightly or not. And the Jesus myth theory that holds the most weight (that of Earl Doherty) touches on some real neat ancient mythology, which makes it fun.

Before reading the books, my intuitive feeling is that there probably was a historical Jesus. Not because of any actual evidence presented to me, all of which have seemed pretty weak. But, because new religious movements, as we currently understand them, are, for the most part, started and lead by a single charismatic individual: L Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, Joseph Smith, etc. Once begun, the actual survival of these groups then rely upon the 2nd generation. A leader that can take the reins and continue the movement once the original leader passes: a David Miscavige, Brigham Young, etc. Which, I suppose, is where Paul comes in for Christianity. So, yeah, a historical Jesus just fits the model I think most likely, even if there turns out to be no evidence for him.

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Well, Bart isn’t writing to convince mythacists; he’s a bit demeaning and will probably drive them even more strongly to their position. He’s rightfully abusive to Acharia S and Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries, both of which are full of errors (which he summarizes and bullet points) and based on conspiracy theories and supposition.

Dan Barker Sums Up Christianity

December 13, 2011

It all makes so much sense now.

Adam-God in the Mormon Tradition

May 16, 2011

Did you know that the early Mormons believed that Adam, of Garden of Eden fame, was one and the same as Yahweh, god of the Hebrews? Ret-conning well before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not bad.

Doctrine and Covenants 27:11 (a ‘Revelation’ given to Joseph Smith, August 1830)

And also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days …

Journal of Discourses, Vol 1, page 50 (Brigham Young, April 9 1852)

… when our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body and brought Eve, one of his wives with him. He is our father and our God and the Only god with whom we have to do.

Journal of Discourses, Vol 5, page 331

Some have grumbled because I believe our God to be so near to us as Father Adam. There are many who know that doctrine to be true.

October 8, 1854 – 24th Semiannual General Conference

I tell you,when you see your Father in the heavens, you will see Adam; when you see your Mother that bears your spirit, you will see mother Eve…

L. John Nuttall, (Brigham Young’s secretary)

We have heard a great deal about Adam and Eve. how they were formed… he was made of the dust of the earth but not of this earth… he was made just the same way you and I are made but on another earth. Adam was an immortal being when he came. on this earth he had lived on an earth similar to ours

Wilford Woodruff, LDS Church President, April 4, 1897

Adam is our father and God and no use to discuss it with Josephites or any one else.

Apparently, the doctrine is no longer adhered to in the LDS church, which is a shame. I think the Adam-God idea is pretty neat. Not only because it’s a major ret-con of the Hebrew myth, but also because it sounds kind of Sci-Fi, coming to earth as a celestial being and being transformed into a man the gives birth to the entire human race. I wouldn’t have stopped there, though. I would have made the Garden of Eden a self sustaining space ark and Adam and Eve two genetically enhanced humans, breed for a long enough lifespan to survive the journey to the nearest inhabitable star system. The landing of the ship could be represented as the “fall” of man.

Video Killed the Bigfoot Star

May 7, 2011

Will There Ever be Another Decent Bigfoot Sighting?

The problem with Bigfoot, is that it’s an incredibly technology dependent hoax. And, as technology changes, the ability to capture a good Bigfoot shot changes with it. The best Bigfoot sighting requires video recording equipment of a particular low quality. In the case of the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, by far the most notorious example of a Bigoot sighting, an 8mm movie camera with a manual focus and variable film speed settings.

8mm film is of low enough quality, especially when just out of focus, that even a detailed enlargment will not give an investigator a greater degree of clarity, leaving details of the sighting up to guess work. The analog fuzziness can give the impression of detail that isn’t there (like pendulous breasts on the Patterson-Gimlin film), and adequately fuzz out detail that is there (like any flaws in a costume). And an unknown speed setting can make the swift walk of a man look very much like the slow lumbering walk of a very large animal. Modern digital video, on the other hand, has a time stamp. So, even if a played at the wrong speed, the correct speed can be determined by examining the file.

Even low quality cell phone cameras with Auto Focus just don’t light up the imagination like a good fuzzy film shot. A little vaseline on the lense might have helped.

Night vision shots of animals with skin diseases (MangeFoot?) are probably the best Bigfoot modern technology has to offer. But, it’s really disappointing to see such a majestic animal as Bigfoot crawling around on all fours eating carrion.

So, in the 21st century, Bigfoot seems to have returned to whence he came, back into the realm of footprints in the woods.

Planet X in Full Swing

March 30, 2011

I first heard about Planet X (the doomsday scenario in which a runaway planet is going to collide with the earth) sometime in the late 90’s. But, I have just learned that this little theory is back in full swing. There is, as it seems, a member of my gym that is preparing for the upcoming disaster right now. How you prepare for a planetary collision, I don’t know. But it sounds like he’s stocking up on water and candles … granola bars …. and whatever else doomsdayers stock up on.

When I had first heard of it, I was working a night job, and taking college classes in the day. I had my notes from my Astronomy class taped up to my work station, so I could glance at them throughout the night. Some asked if I was studying for a test, I said yeah. Go ahead and ask me something about astronomy. I’ll see how well I can explain it. Ok, he had a question. “Can a star, be a planet?” I suddenly became very sorry I got engaged in the conversation.

“Well … not really. Why do you ask?”

He then went on to tell me about this planet that was heading toward earth, blah blah blah … At some point he said they he had visions of himself driving a flying saucer on this new planet.

Anyway, the scenario is not quite as old as I had thought. Turns out it was pretty new when I heard it, around 1996-7. Some woman from Wisconsin, Nancy Lieder, claimed she was getting telepathic communication from space aliens. Why they decided to trust in her, I don’t know.

The actual name Planet X, comes from a hypothetical planet beyond Neptune, thought to have existed because of a little deviation in the orbit of the Neptune. Planet X is just a place holder name until they actually find it (which they, o course, never did). Duck Dodger in the 24 1/2 century found it though. And, of course, Godzilla was beamed up to Planet X in Godzilla vs Monster Zero.

The Wikipedia page on the doomsday scenario is pretty good, and Phil Plait has a pretty thorough post from 2003 about the whole hullabaloo. Hop on over there to get the skinny, it’s pretty entertaining. Not to ruin it for you, but the woman is nuts.

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Here’s a “perfectly sane” video laying out the skinny.

Space aliens came to earth to teach us to stack bricks and scrawl on clay tablets. Perfectly sane!

ID and Creationism on Campus

March 24, 2011

Bill Zedler, Texas legislator, has drafted a bill to protect creationists against workplace discrimination (HB 2454). Why? I have not heard of any cases of creationists being discriminated against in the workplace (there are several creationists where I work, a technical field in which they do just fine). And,  historically, anti-discrimination bills tend to get voted against by the right wing. So, what’s the purpose of this bill? Zedler let’s it slip in this interview with Mother Jones.

MJ: The bill basically deals with the treatment of creationists as a matter of workplace discrimination. It got me thinking about other efforts to deal with that issue, such as legislation that prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. A lot of states have laws outlawing that type of discrimination, but Texas doesn’t. Do you think that it should?
BZ: Gender identity? You know, yeah, before I authored the bill I would have to think about it a little bit.
MJ: Do you see a reason to protect creationists but not. . .
BZ: Here’s the deal: We have college professors that will defend Hugo Chavez, ok? You have college professors that will espouse communism despite all the evidence of its overwhelming failure. And yet they are tolerated, but someone who even dares to mention intelligent design or who questions the idea that life could begin by chance, they are kicked out, lose their tenure, all kinds of discrimination working against them. I think that flies in the face of academic freedom.

The plan to get Creationists and Intelligent Design’ers into public universities is known as the Wedge Strategy, and it’s a long term plan to try to give their ideology a sense of academic respect. It hasn’t worked, though. Not because they were being discriminated against, though, but because their “science” hasn’t been any good.

So, since they can’t rely on their science, not they wan’t to legislate their way into the schools.

Hector Avalos gave a talk about the subject with Minnesota Atheists a few years ago and it should be required viewing. It describes the attempt to get Intelligent Design into Iowa State University. It describes why the attempt failed, and clearly shows the ID’ers were not being discriminated against. They just weren’t doing good science.