Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Who Stole Christmas?

In a post a couple days back I indicated that Dec. 25 was (properly) picked to compete with pagan festivals. Tekton reader (and darned good apologist in his own right) Kabane has pointed me to an interesting article, with some fairly good documentation, that disputes that notion, and I thought it deserved a look. See link below.

If nothing else, you can use it to irritate pagan copycat theorists!

The Forge is "one up" on posts right now, so it'll take tomorrow off and year! Have a happy one!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Help for the Dumbest Generation

Special thanks to Tekton ministry associate Nick Peters for bringing this article to my attention (link below), with the title, "Oregon will allow students to use spell check on state writing tests in 2011."

The excuse that it is just to correct keystroke errors is pretty lame, since it's fairly clear students won't use it just to correct that kind of mistake.
I make plenty of keystroke errors myself -- my fingers are way too big for these pathetic chiclets that are called "keys" these days -- but I would not have wanted to have spell check available in my school days, because otherwise, I wouldn't have learned spelling in a way that kept it in my head, with good old WORK.

And by the way, I say this as one who always placed high when I entered spelling bees, and represented my elementary school in 5th grade at a county bee.

Maybe next they'll bring back Roosevelt's "Reformed Spelling" to help these students out. (Here's a challenge for you: If you don't know what "Reformed Spelling" is, look it a book, not with Google.)

Link to article here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Free the Humbugs!

I’m glad the ghost of Christmas is past.

Not because I’m a Scrooge, though. Actually, I'm glad it's past because the so-called spirit of Christmas is something we’re supposed to have year round. My designation of the season as humbuggery is turned more towards the artificiality of the season, which manifests itself in many ways.
As an INTJ personality, I don’t tend to put much focus on holidays in the first place. But the Christmas season irritates me in more ways than one even without that.

The designation of the date as Jesus’ birthday is an artificiality. I frequently defend against “pagan copycat” claims by pointing out that Mithra, Dionysus, etc being born on 12/25, even if true, means little since there is no evidence Jesus was born on that date. The church designated this as the date in order to compete (rightly) with pagan festivities, to one-up them as it were. These days there’s no competition for 12/25, so the purpose of the artificial designation has passed.

Relatedly, our manger scenes are an artificiality. We put together shepherds and magi, worshipping that baby Jesus at the same time, but their visits were historically at least two years apart.

Economically, the season is an artificiality. Christmas shopping is what allows our merchants to turn a profit (“Black Friday”). It is somehow disturbing to consider that without Christmas, most merchants would be out of business by the end of the year, and that the success of our economy is reliant upon an artificiality, a designated day when a prescribed ritual of gift-giving is followed. Why not be givers to one another throughout the year? (My beloved Mrs H fits this model well; a week seldom passes without her wanting to buy something for someone, for no other purpose than to make them smile.)

Following the artificial designation, of course, our entertainments toe the line with media productions (TV, radio, etc) with Christmas themes. These start soon after Thanksgiving (say, 2 seconds after?) and artificially graft us into the mood to follow the economic line above.

It doesn’t help that the entertainment is generally no less vapid than at other times of the year. If I had an option to banish one Christmas song from the radio airwaves, it would be that nauseating ditty by NewSong, “The Christmas Shoes,” with its sentimentality of convenience, and its Joel Osteen “God will find you a parking space” theology:

I knew that God had sent that little boy

To remind me just what Christmas is all about.

Hum. So God is in the business of being a post-it note to compensate for your moral failures? You needed this as a reminder, when as a disciple you should have known “what Christmas is all about” long before this? And He was so busy with this that He forgot to feed the hungry and stuff like that? Yep. God the micromanager again.

One of these days, I’ll have to write a parody of this song in which, the day after Christmas, the singer turns on the news to discover that the “little boy” was actually an adult criminal named Joe “Baby Face” Sheen, who later went out to sell those shoes to an undercover narc, hoping to buy some crack cocaine with the profits.

It’s tempting. You don’t know HOW tempting.

What else? There’s a social artificiality to the season, in which we suddenly decide to cram our schedules full of visits to family who we should have been keeping in contact with all year long. Practically speaking, what this means is that much other activity comes to a standstill all at the same time. For example, I frequently can’t get certain ministry business done all through December because too many people are on vacation at one time, or otherwise occupied with Christmas engagements.

I only wish the need for apologetics took a break too, but unfortunately, many of my ideological opponents take this time to get busy as well – with stuff like the “Celebrate Reason” campaign, and even the mystical sorts crawling out of the woodwork with the old “Jesus is a copy of Mithra” type nonsense.

By the way, if you want to know how the Holdings spent Christmas – we took a little trip to North Florida to see the state’s tallest waterfall. All 73 feet of it – though it cheats a lot because it goes into a sinkhole. A nice walk and a picnic at a state park, with temps in the 50s and a drizzle that lent an unearthly beauty to the scene. Much more enjoyable than some artificial setting with a tree and presents, if you ask me. And we had Chinese food for dinner, which is something I have always wanted to do on Christmas. Just to do it. And, just to defy the artificial demands of the season that turkey and dressing must make it to the table or you’re a stinkin’ pagan.

Anyway, like I said, I’m glad it’s all over now. Sanity will slowly return to our surroundings; the Christmas music will disappear from the radio; the decorations will go down, and we can all get back to what we should be doing as disciples – observing “what Christmas is all about” all year round.

The fact that some of us need to be “reminded” with artificialities is a sad commentary.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Forget Dr. Phil!

I (and the Forge) will be taking some time off until Monday, and we're on light duty today as well, as this time of year is special to us for more than one reason: Yesterday my beloved Mrs. H and I celebrated 20 years of wedded ultra-bliss.

How do we do it? There's a thread on TWeb here in which I discuss some hints; newly-married ministry associate Nick Peters (ApologiaPhoenix) has a few good things to say as well. But what it boils down to is something (shh) most people don't want to submission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fruitcakes of End Times Future

Most people hate fruitcake. I’m one of those rare individuals who, at Christmas time, looks forward to it. I can’t understand why other people hate it so much. But anyway, fruitcake gives me a chance to thematically introduce something else. What an excuse for a holiday segue, eh?
Inevitably, maybe in 2-3 years, I’m going to return to the subject of eschatology in my studies, and there will be a Tekton book in which I expect I will explain, define, and defend my preterist viewpoints. And inevitably, that will mean confronting dispensational fruitcakes like the one who wrote an item titled, “Preterism’s God-Ordered Holocaust.” (No, won’t I link to him. You know better than that. But he is named in the label at the end.)
The fruitcake who wrote this has a serious binge against preterism – including, rightly, against heretical “full” preterism, though it is often not clear which brand he is actually addressing at any given time. The entry addressed what are called “liberal Preterists” though it is impossible to discern if this is meant as, “preterists who happen to be liberal also” or “all preterists, who are all liberals”.
Whatever it means, “liberal preterists” are set against “Evangelical Bible-believing Christians who accept the plain interpretation of prophecy” (read: those who simplistically read it in English without respect for genres, contexts, or linguistics) who “have often been beset and attacked” by these vicious liberal preterists.
Beset? Attacked? I last saw paranoia like that emanating from a psychiatric ward. OK, I admit it: I frequently sneak into the Lifeway store and shift copies of Left Behind novels into the store’s wastebasket. I also have sent Tim LaHaye stink bombs in the mail, and when Hal Lindsey was asleep once, I put his hand into a bowl of water.
But anyway, according to Fruity, preterists say that “Christ’s parousia was less redemptive than punitive” and what happened in 70 AD was “a God-ordered holocaust.” It is then said:
After reading the views of Liberal Preterism, I often wonder why Hitler never consulted the Preterists before he put 6,000,000 Jews to death. He had no clue that they were not the natural descendants of Abraham. I’m sure Hitler would have been surprised to find out that his plans to destroy Israel had already been anticipated by the Roman armies. He saw the nation as a real threat to his dreams of world power. But his administrative efforts proved abortive.
Say what?
Sorry, but no. Hitler’s Final Solution had very little with seeing Jewish persons as a “threat to his dreams of world power.” It had more to do with faulty eugenics, and even more with a despicable and stereotypical racism. Oh, to be sure, there was much rot about things like “Jewish bankers” who controlled all sorts of purse strings, but note that such people didn’t account for very many of the 6 million of Jewish allegiance Hitler destroyed.
Other than that, let’s not forget that in 70 AD, a good chunk of Jews didn’t live in Palestine: They were in the Diaspora, relatively unaffected by the events in Jerusalem. One may also just as well refer to God’s judgment on Israel at the time of Babylon’s height a “God-ordered Holocaust” since it was a fulfillment of Deuteronomic pledges that promised all sorts of mayhem and war and death if the Jews became disloyal to YHWH.
Fruity says, then, of preterists “in effect they agree with Hitler.” Godwin himself couldn’t have formulated it better, but in reality, preterists agree with Deuteronomy and what it promised would happen if the former covenant was not honored.
There’s a lot more Fruity has to say, but I’m not really feeling that masochistic right now; maybe I will in 2-3 years. So I’ll close with a comment on his use of Jer. 31:35-37, which he says is an “infallible answer to liberal Preterism”:
Thus saith the Lord, Which giveth sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, Which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of Hosts is His name. If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord, If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.
My own view of the current state of Israel is that it has no role in Biblical prophecy whatsoever. It’s a political ally of the United States, and we have policy interests related to it that should determine how we treat it. Its people should be accorded as much respect as any other people. But that is all.
I presume Fruity thinks that the above passage indicates that the nation of Israel will always be around as God’s covenant people, and this in spite of the Deuteronomic curses. But that won’t exactly wash. “Before me” essentially means, “to my face.” It’s a relational concept, which means that the covenant people, if they disqualify themselves, can re-organize themselves all they want, but God will not “recognize” them as a nation. Men might. God won’t. In practical terms what that means is there will be no entity with which God can conduct covenant dealings. It doesn’t give warrant for anyone to persecute anyone else, or kill anyone else, or to do bad things to anyone else.
Then there’s that last bit, “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,” which is no doubt taken to mean “no way will I ever cast off Israel.” But here we need to remember the context of dramatic language: This is the sort of hyperbole that was customary for an oriental potentate. It can’t be said to not brook an exception. Let’s also remember that this is spoken to Jeremiah in light of the Babylonian captivity; the promise, too, must be grasped in that light, as one of return from that captivity – not necessarily any other, later misfortunes that result from later disobedience.
I don’t think the church has replaced Israel. I think Israel has always meant, those loyal to YHWH (per Romans), and that in effect, that has meant that Israel has expanded numerically, such that the church is within its historic boundaries, along with those who prior to Jesus were loyal to YHWH. Adherents to the former covenant were ordered to be on the lookout for a prophet like unto Moses (Deut. 18), and I take that to have been Jesus – which means that any adherent to the former covenant who rejects Jesus is in rebellion against the covenant.
That’s all we’ll say at present. One of these days, it’ll be time to take on Fruity and his ilk and set the eschatological record straight.
For now, since it’s close to Christmas, I thought I’d get a taste of the fruitcake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Honor Tree

On the news the other day I saw a story of a rather ostentatious Christmas tree that was on display in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The report said that the tree was worth millions, having been decorated with ornaments made of gold, diamonds, and that sort of thing.

Presumably that tree was ultimately financed in some way by money derived from the sale of oil. And you have to wonder why that money isn’t going instead to aid the poor in Muslim countries, especially when some Islamic apologists claim that those countries are poor because the West is holding them down. I’d also like to know if there are any atheists criticizing this sort of thing – maybe they will when they take a break from criticizing Joel Osteen or so-called Vatican “wealth”. (The tree does have some critics, at least; see story at end of this entry.)

But as to why I wanted to note this – it’s most likely a good example of what we could call honor gone wild. Tekton has discussed how honor and shame affected the Biblical social world quite frequently, and the UAE remains an honor-based culture. For that reason, this tree was most likely a case of someone trying to do it up for the sake of public honor.

Of course, this is an abuse of that principle, a quite obvious one, and one that the backlash is not letting them get entirely away with. On the other hand, you can imagine how in the Biblical world, a king like Herod or a Roman Emperor could get away with it. They had the armies, and there was no media to call them down for the abuses. The average joe couldn’t do a thing about this. (On the other hand again, we might point out that the pressure doesn’t seem to be causing the makers of this tree to do more than pass the buck: It’s certainly not being dismantled yet, much less are the ornaments being sold to feed the poor.)

In light of all this, you can see how radical the Christian message was in its time. The rich would be more inclined to use wealth to gain honor than to spread it around for the greater good – though if they happened to be able to get both at once, that was fine with them too. And even then, there would be no inclination to share the wealth unless public shame to do so was heavy enough to prompt it.

Either way, the Dubai tree is a reminder that if we really want to know who is responsible for the world’s problems, the first place we need to look is the closest mirror.

See the story on the tree here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mitch Versus the Monster

The following is a script I wrote for a response to ProfMTH’s comments on my vid titled, “It’s Time to Go, ProfMTH!” In this, the monster who ate Mitch at the end will explain why Mitch’s excuse for wrongly portraying John 16:5 as occurring at the Last Supper doesn’t wash, and also why his dismissal of the importance of location doesn’t wash.

I may or may not turn it into an actual vid…we’ll see if ProfMTH actually tries to foist these excuses in one of his own first.


And now it’s time for Fundy Atheist Follow Up. Here to follow up – Nigel Monster.

Hello everyone. Nigel here. It’s rather slow here lately so we’ve decided to follow up on a couple of excuses that Mitch gave us for his erroneous presentation. Tally ho.

Let’s start with the simpler one – where we called Mitch down for falsely presenting the statement of John 16:5 as made at the Last Supper rather than on the way to Gethsemane. He gave the rather petulant excuse that:

There's no error. I was telling the story in a quick way.

Hmm. Telling the story in a quick way. Well, if that’s true then we can perhaps excuse it somewhat if it were not essential to the claim of error – more on that shortly. But does this claim to be telling the story in a quick way bear out?

Mitch didn’t quite say what he meant here and it could mean one of two things.

One thing it could mean is that he intended for his video presentation to be quick so as not to in some way hamper viewers – as though perhaps the change of scene might make the video too long, or too confusing to viewers.

If that is the case, then that doesn’t bear out at all. Indications are that Bible Blunders #1 was released on July 22, 2009. It’s length is 1:38. However, Bible Blunders #2 was released only three days later. It’s length is 3:00 – nearly twice as long. And it includes several changes of scene and much more complex graphics.

So then. It seems hard to swallow that anything changed between the release of these two videos that ought to have made viewers of Mitch’s programs more accepting of longer presentations, or changes of scene. So that can’t be it.

On the other hand, Mitch might say that he was trying to tell the story quickly because he had not enough time personally to make something more detailed.

But, then again, the release of Bible Blunders #2 a mere three days later – of Bible Blunders #3 a mere four days after that – of Bible Blunders #4 a mere week or so after that – well, these all tell us that Mitch wasn’t in any sense under the gun timewise in a way that forced him to have to tell the story quickly. Certainly no one was imposing any deadline on him.

So. This bit about wanting to tell the story in a “quick way” – if you ask me, it’s a lot of (foghorn sound effect).

That’s the simple one. Now let’s look at Mitch’s main argument shall we? He said:

… the location is utterly irrelevant. It's the same group of people on the same night talking about the same thing in a relatively short amount of time.

Mmm, no. Same people, same night, close in time – all irrelevant, you see, because the questions at hand are related to travel and location. In short, not the same place. The old bean tried an analogy as an excuse:

If one evening, while a friend & I were in my apartment, I asked her a question & she answered it, and then a bit later that evening while we were walking down the street my friend complained that I wasn't asking her the same question I'd asked & she'd answered, the location wouldn't make her complaint any less odd.

Not so at all though – not if the question is specific to location: “Where are we going?” And that’s especially so if the question is asked the first time and answered, and then in the second instance, the parties effect some physical movement towards a location that would be incongruent with the prior location.

Put another way: The trip to Gethsemane certainly would not be perceived as congruent with Jesus’ earlier answer to the “where are you going” question – unless God the Father was waiting in Gethsemane for them, eh? And that’s hardly something anyone would have in their mind, especially if the disciples had no hint that they were even heading for Gethsemane.

So – sorry Mitch old boy. Nice try though.

Mitch: MMMmmmm (from inside monster)

Oh do hush up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Parody Process

Yep, I had an inspiration, so count me one day ahead of pace for whatever. I’m not going to do like certain Voldemorts out there and post three one-sentence posts a day just to create artificial spikes in traffic. (Remember, divide their traffic number by three, at least.)
Actually this inspiration was about inspiration. The other day I got my idea for the next tektontv video, which will be about copycat claims between Jesus and Attis. I won’t let loose the surprise, other than to say that I’ll be parodying a popular TV show to relate the message. That’s in a continuing tradition where tektotv has used parodies of Smokey the Bear, The People’s Court, and of course the opposition’s videos.
Something about parody, obviously, appeals to me, but that’s not the point of this post. The point, actually, has to do with how to create parody and what relation it has to all this stuff I’ve been saying about Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation. (Yes, it’ll seem like two things that can’t be connected. Wait and see. It will be.)
Weird Al Yankovic is the master of parody in the entertainment world. How does he do it? How does he get ideas for songs? I can’t say for sure (his website FAQ doesn’t say), but here’s my guess on how it works.
Al has a fairly broad base of cultural knowledge, as well as a fairly good education. (He has a degree in architecture, so he’s definitely no dummy.) When he wants to parody a certain work, I suspect he makes certain mental associations between words in the song and other words that rhyme with those words. At the same time, he makes mental associations between those rhymed words and current events, or with life issues, or popular movies, or what have you. (He also does a lot of songs that are not parodies, but I’m not talking about those here.)
So how does this connect? Well, if Al were a member of the Dumbest Generation, he would never make those connections between words and words, and then between words and themes. That’s one of the Dumbest Generations main problems. They don’t retain knowledge, and so they also don’t make those vital associations between unrelated concepts. The Dumbest Generation will not just be dumb – they’ll also be creative morons. (Which, on the other hand, might make them very good at producing modern sitcoms.)
Is there any upside to this? Yes, perhaps: It may mean that talented persons can more easily rise to the top and not have to fight off unqualified interlopers. On the other hand, if the gatekeepers of talent are part of the Dumbest Generation, that upside might not be there either.
The more serious question is whether there’s any way out of this in practical terms. The answer is that there is, but it involves a reconstitution of a work ethic among a group that is more interested in Facebook chatting than in serious research.
John Adams reputedly said, ““Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for any other.” I have not checked if that quote is authentic, but I’d put it this way: “The Internet was made for a conscientious people with a serious work ethic; it is wholly inadequate for any other.” (UPDATE: A reader indicates the quote is accurate and is found in Adams' TO THE OFFICERS OF THE FIRST BRIGADE OF THE THIRD DIVISION OF THE MILITIA OF MASSACHUSETTS. 11 OCTOBER, 1798.)
That’s a bit facetious, yes – but it does express my take on the matter as an information science guy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Having Fun with Mitch

Consider this my Forge post for tomorrow – I wanted to do this one while I had time and had it all fresh on my mind. Or, it may cover for another day’s posting depending on how inspired I get.

This past week I uploaded four videos on tektontv responding to a fundy atheist styled “ProfMTH”. Now if this guy is a professor, I have to hope he’s teaching something like ceramics, because when it comes to knowledge and intelligence, well – let’s just say he makes Farrell Till look like Albert Einstein.

I got more wind of this today when I found him slumming my channel making comments on three of the four vids (not sure why he skipped the 4th, maybe he'll get to it later). That’s cause for me to make a few observations here we can all learn from.

First: Watch for the debate trick of taking control with questions. Till, and also ProfMTH, have this down to a science (one of the few things they know how to do well). They try to put discussion opponents in a corner and take control of the conversation by asking questions which they think will force an answer that will result in a concession.

Unfortunately for these guys, this tactic only works if you actually know what the heck you’re talking about. ProfMTH doesn’t, which means he often gets answers he has no idea what to do with. That was the case here, as I right-crossed him with all sorts of ideas he wasn’t ever exposed to, such as flattery as a component of honor/shame interactions and parallelism in oral/aural literature. You can especially see what happened when he tried to throw a bunch of concordance finds at me in the "The Professor Takes His Cut" discussion. Some of my replies he had to ignore (like on the incident with Herodias) because he knew he was boxed in with that one - but notice of course no concession of error on his part. Others he had to change the subject on (eg, where we discussed having to "please" God).

Second, watch for distractions and dodgeballs. If you look at the video, “It’s Time to Go, ProfMTH!” you will see the importance of the statement of Jesus in 16:5 being made while on the way to Gethsemane. ProfMTH erred in showing this statement made while still at the Supper.

When I pointed this out directly in comments, he made an excuse that serve as a perfect example of a dodgeball and a distraction at the same time:

There's no error. I was telling the story in a quick way. Quite frankly, the location is utterly irrelevant. It's the same group of people on the same night talking about the same thing in a relatively short amount of time.

“Telling the story in a quick way” is no excuse – I know how little effort these videos actually require, and it would have been a matter of ease for ProfMTH to have another setting for the video (and he does have more than one setting in others). Of course, if he needs to be “quick” then what does that say about how carefully he looked into these matters in the first place? (The fact that he uses stick figure bodies with human picture faces attached admittedly does indicate a certain laziness, though.)

The distraction is after that. He merely waves off location as irrelevant with an explanation that changes the subject to other factors (people there, subject in general discussed, time period). But the answer hinges on something he purposely left out: Physical location and movement. He does not deal with that; he just arbitrarily waves it off as “irrelevant”.

Third, check ‘em and check ‘em hard. A very amusing dialogue in which ProfMTH got burned fairly badly was this one on "The Biblical Scholar’s Court":

ME: Good luck trying to relate that third verse to eschatological judgment and showing you're a better authority than With, Neyrey, et'll need it.

ProfMTH: I appreciate your appeal to authority here. No doubt your audience will, too. After all, ultimately all religion--including Christianity--is nothing more than an appeal to authority. Over time the practice of religion disposes its adherents to the fallacy.

ME: Appeal to authority is valid when the authority has the knowledge and experience to back up the appeal. With and Neyrey don't. There's no reason to consider you a reliable source on any related topic, especially when you err so egregiously and have so little defining knowledge (eg, of things like the eschatological judgment) as these scholars do. That's why I included that -- to make it clear that you are not a credible authority.

ProfMTH: You might want to look up the fallacy and familiarize yourself with it. *Every* argument, regardless of who makes it, rises or falls on its merits. But as I said, religionists are disposed to the fallacy of appealing to authority because, well, that's what their religious belief and practice is based on.

ME: I have. That's why I said that. Appeals to true authorities are not a fallacy. The Nizkor Project site says for example: "This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject." Skeptics' Dictionary: "The appeal to authority is a fallacy of irrelevance when the authority being cited is not really an authority." Looks like YOU need to look it up. :)

Note of course the side rants that are meant to butter up his Skeptical audience with all the usual slogans that are never supported in depth (what I call the "elephant hurl"). After that, ProfMTH retreated into question mode, and I handled him in such a way as to force him to reveal the purpose of his query:

ProfMTH: So your contention is that the above-quoted is the sum and substance of the fallacy, is that correct?

ME: My contention is that I'm not violating it at all, and that your own appeal/claim earlier was erroneous...and that's all. I quote legit there's no fallacy.

That’s another thing that can be done if you see one of these nits playing the Question Game, of course: If you can figure out where they’re going with it (and with mental midgets like these, that isn’t hard) you can short-circuit their debate games by making them be more explicit. It only works, though, again, if you have a good idea where they’re going with the questions (which can take experience as well as knowledge).
As of this typing, he's still repeating himself -- but of course, I did tell him it was a trap. ;)

If you’re of a mind, pop in and have a few jabs at ProfMTH yourself – or if you think I’m doing it just fine as is, get some popcorn and enjoy the view:

The Professor Takes His Cut

Down for the Count (but no comments from him yet as of this typing)

It's Time to Go, ProfMTH!

The Biblical Scholar's Court

The Dumbest Generation Strikes Again

A certain atheist (we won’t say who, or he’ll think this blog is about him) has proudly posted this story of what his book hath wrought:

One day I was at a Barnes and Noble browsing around. I got to the Philosophy section, and picked up (this book by an atheist) . Part 2 of the book is titled "Why the Bible Is Not the Word of God." After reading about some historical, scientific, and moral errors I went to the Christian Inspiration section of the store to get a Bible so I could read the context of each verse. Finally, hours later I renounced my faith.

Wow. There are people who spend years getting doctoral degrees to understand all the nuances of the Bible, and after only “hours,” Bright Boy here decided he had enough information to make a decision. The Dumbest Generation strikes again.

For the record:

Yes, this is a book I have replies up to.

No, the author (Voldemort, for this round) hasn’t responded and has run like a chicken from responding to me. Not that it mattered, because nearly all that was in that book was stuff I had answered long before he got on the scene.

Yes, too many Christians convert just as uncritically. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m on a crusade where that is concerned too. All we have here then is someone who, like many fundy atheists, hasn’t changed anything in terms of the way they think. In either case, they’re uncritical stoolies who follow on the moment.

No, it is not a process that should only take a short time. Anyone who says so merely shows how ignorant they are on the subject – of whom, Voldemort-This-Time is a prime example.

Bauerlein sure hits that nail on the head.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'll Bet John Thinks This Blog is About Him

John Loftus is doing a great job of ignoring me as he promised. That’s why he earned the nickname “The Man Who Wouldn’t Leave” on TheologyWeb, you see.

Anyway, John issued a snivel or two regarding Monday’s post in which he says:

He has recently brought up the same old accusations about me and embellished on them as the time goes by, even though I had already answered them as gross mischaracterizations at best, to outright lies.
No, John hasn’t “answered” them at all; he has made excuses and rationalizations for them – which John may think is an “answer,” but it is only so in the sense that he “replied”, in the same sense that “5” is an answer to “What is 2 plus 2.” They’re answers, but not ones useful for distancing himself from the title of Moral Toadstool of the Century.

And they’re not at all embellished. In fact, I can hardly “embellish” any of them since all but one offers direct quotes of John or links to the very acts in question. (The one I can’t find is where he gave a park worker the finger. But I doubt he’ll deny that happened.)

The two questions for his Christian supporters are as follows: 1) Why does he continue to repeat these old accusations when I have already reasonably answered them?

Because you haven’t “reasonably answered”, John. They’re still out there like sore thumbs. All you have done is pitiably rationalize these offenses with even more lies and obfuscations; the TWeb thread on the fake blog is a prime example of how you wheedle and wheeze when caught with your pants down. To wit:

Technically, I didn't lie.

Prove to me I did.

Besides, it doesn't matter that you know I started the Blog. I don't care. People will still visit there regardless, and I will continue sending people there.

You are the dishonest one.

John went on in this vein for several pages, despite repeated calls to admit his offense and repent. (Like he did with the adultery bit, you know. Ha ha.) This is what Loftus thinks constitutes “reasonable answering”. It is not. It is vain rationalization in which he digs the hole deeper, then shovels the dirt over himself to hide from the criticism.

2) Why doesn't he stick to the arguments?

I’ve done the arguments, John. I have complete responses done to three of your books. We have tons of stuff on you on TWeb. All you do at most is whine that we’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Besides, this comes from a guy who "sticks to the arguments" like hardened glue himself -- it's more than once he's linked to Brooks Trubee's "Holding Hate Site".

Further on in comments, John whines:

...I think Holding first got some attention for his verbal tactics by Farrell Till.

Nope, sorry. I first got attention on a major scale because my work was noted by high placed individuals. My material on Till has gotten virtually no traffic over the years. Because as I said last Friday, no one cares about Till except Till.

The problem I have now with him is that he focuses on me. He doesn't just have two blogs attacking me. He has three of them.
Beg pardon? I do have three blogs, but to say I “focus” on John is absurd. The Anti-Blog is a record of my daily activities, not a narrative blog with arguments, so I can hardly have a “focus” on John there. (Though it IS what is left of his fake blog, which I took over in a horse trade with him.)

The Forge blog here now has 42 posts, only 5 of which are about John, and that includes today’s. One is just a cartoon. Yeah, 10.3% of posts is a real "focus" on you, John. Just add the magnifying glass of Narcissus to see that one.

The Ticker has 44 posts as of this moment, NONE with John as their main subject (though he is mentioned briefly in a handful of posts because he is associated with the person who is the subject). Today's post, yet to come as of this typing, with not be about him either. Try adjusting the focus, John.

The newest catalog for Prometheus Books states that I am a leading atheist spokesman, whether that it true or not. Holding targets me more than others because I've become a lightning rod of sorts.

Nope. As noted, John isn’t targeted more than others. Fantasy on.
It’s like that old song…how did it go?

You’re so vain…I bet you think this blog is about you…

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Great Link Stink

It’s been a while since I’ve had some whiny Skeptic complaining that I don’t provide enough links to the Skeptical articles I respond to. My arguments for why certain people don’t and won’t get links has not changed – it’s for several reasons, the main one being that I see no reason to give incompetent Skeptics the credibility of a link, given that they can’t get traffic the normal way, by doing quality work.

But as I dealt with a certain TWeb Skeptic that recently made an issue of this, something else occurred to me on this subject.

I’ve been doing a lot of research of late on how Internet usage affects thinking processes. Books like Carr’s The Shallows report that whereas books are highly conducive to deep, contemplative thinking, the Internet – with all its bells and whistles, with all the links within articles – is not.

Idealized visions of the Internet supposed that with links, people would have immediate access to alternate points of view and be able to critically compare them, which is the reputed fantasy of these Skeptics who think they deserve the “affirmative action” linking provides.

But that isn’t what’s happening. Instead, the tangle of links typically distracts users down an endless rabbit trail in which the original article becomes long forgotten, and they follow link after link after link. They either never return to the original article, or else, they return to it so late and after so much other distraction that the train of argument has become lost.

The cynic in me is suddenly asking a question. Could it be that in some way, these Skeptics have been aware all along of the powerful distractions that links provide away from our arguments? Could it be that they’re well aware that distraction is the best way for them to “win” deconverts, and that their best hope, aside from peddling emotional distress (eg, “if God existed and cared He’d cure your cancer”), is to distract readers from considering rational arguments offered by apologists in depth?

In some cases, probably not. Chances are that many of them had no greater motive than to have traffic drawn to their material by riding on the traffic of apologetics sites that get far more visits than they can ever hope to have based on quality alone. But there is also little doubt that some knew the power of distraction in the service of their cause. Those like Till whose best weapon was the 10,000 word off-topic rant certainly have some conception of this, and their ultimate hope from a link from Tekton to them was conceivably to gamble that once the reader left, they’d never come back.

It’ll be a while before Tekton undergoes another of its periodic full reviews, but I can tell you that when it does, one of my main changes will be to remove all links from the body of article texts, including links to my own material. All of these will be removed to the very bottom of articles, so that readers will not be distracted into clicking links and following endless trails to distraction.
And if the Skeptics want to cry about that, the answer will be the same as it always has been.

Cry me a river, babies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

John Loftus and the Millstone Necktie

I’ve had a few words for those like James McGrath, Thom Stark, and others who have continued to associate with John Loftus in a way that lends him credibility and encourages others to read his works.

We’ve shown in many ways that his arguments are pathetic, which by itself should be enough. They’re also nothing new, which means these endorsers have not even the slightest excuse for the association – it’s not like Loftus is revealing something special that warrants attention.

For the record, on the occasion of the latest great offense, it’s time to sum up in one place just what it is that makes Loftus such a despicable character -- the acts that have defined his priorities and lack of trustworthiness.

* He has posted a fake blog about me, which he denied was his own at first, and then when caught, justified his lie as acceptable.

*He has lied about reviewing his own book on Amazon.

For these last two issues, see the thread at TWeb here, where both are thoroughly documented. This was where I revealed my discovery of the fake blog, and the lie about Amazon was revealed in the midst. His repeated rationalizing of these moral blunders is a wonder to behold.

* Proudly bragged about how he gave an amusement park worker "the finger" for doing his/her job enforcing safety regulations.

*Proudly bragged about how he gets drunk at freethought conventions. In his own words:

In the picture I was pretty much sauced at the recent Texas Freethought Convention, which was absolutely wonderful! I sobered up for the interview a week or more later with the Oklahoma Atheists podcast. *hiccup*

*Endorsed resources that are patent fountains of misinformation, such as the works of Acharya S and the movie Agora, under the lame premise that they will make you “think”. See here.

*Mocked people with disabilities. See thread on TWeb here.

* Misused Norman Geisler’s “endorsement” of his book. See here.

*Posted a "naked Jesus" picture for International Blasphemy Day. (Can’t link to that, of course.)

*And now, purposely crafted a post to draw in Christians tempted by sexual sin, in his words:

Since porn is such a multi-billion dollar industry most of the searches for the words in the title above are done by Christian men. You feel a bit guilty for this but you do it anyway. You may even publicly condemn pornography, homosexuality, lust, and even masturbation, but here you are doing what you're doing. You rationalize your behavior away by thinking to yourself God will forgive. In my opinion Christianity is sexually repressive. God supposedly created you with this strong desire and then forbids you to express it. He wants you to be celibate except in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, even though most people are not in that kind of relationship at the moment.

That last actually (again) reveals more about Loftus than it does anyone else. His rationale that “if no one else can keep it in their pants why should I” is the sort of childish reverie we’d expect from him, at any rate. It also reveals (again) his main purpose in being the activist he is: He figures the more people he can draw away from faith, the more justification he’ll have for his own apostasy. Rational argument doesn’t have a thing to do with it – for Loftus, it’s all a case of whatever the majority does is what validates him.

James McGrath, Thom Stark, and even those like Dale Allison who continue to associate with Loftus in a way that gives him positive press deserve every millstone their neck can fit.

One final irony: I have a raft of atheist critics who are on the spot with criticism any time I do so much as use the word "poop" in a sentence. As one reader put it, I could write that word on a scrap of paper, throw it in a pit, and they'd all scratch themselves up like Burmese tigers trying to get hold of it.

Strange, isn't it, how quiet they are when it comes to John Loftus?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Farrell Forgotten

Things are pretty stale over at Farrell Till country these days. The last new articles by the weasel were added in May 2008. Prior to that there were single articles added in February and September 2007. 2006 was the last year there was any serious activity.

Over on the forum, things aren’t much better. The last message was posted in 2009, by one of Farrell’s regular sad sacks, who wrote rather plaintively:

I think it's just a shame that this board is here but is going to waste. Not only do I think it's a good place for members of the list to meet and continue discussion here, but it might draw new members and attention to Farrell's website as a whole.

New members? How droll. Prior to this desperate shovel, the last post had been nearly two years earlier, and there had been only 27 posts since the whole thing started. That’s not counting all the messages that were once there by Viagra spambots. Maybe Farrell should invite them back.

It’s not too hard to see why Farrell used to scream until his head burst demanding that I link to his fundy-atheist foolishness. My reply as always is that such people need to get traffic the Smith Barney way – they need to earn it. Farrell knew he couldn’t do that, and the results are clear now that he’s being ignored.

Oh, there are reasons his production is down, I’m sure he’d say: He’s gone the way of writing fiction these days (though I would say that’s not actually a change), as I just now uncovered a blog of his in which he offers a single post in January, 2010, pushing his fictional writing (he now has two fiction e-books out). Interestingly, he tells the reader of that blog:

Those who may want to read my religious writings can Google my name and find them listed there, but this blog will focus only on my fiction.

They can Google his name and find them? Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all this time? Can we now call him Farrell “No Links” Till?

The aforementioned blog isn’t much more inspiring, though. It has had just that one entry, and one obeisant comment, not surprisingly by the same sad sack that last posted on Farrell’s forum. I also found another blog with a single entry dated April 2010 in which Farrell complains about grammar and spelling errors in letters sent to him by his e-book editor. This blog entry has only 4 comments, 1 by Farrell himself and one by a spambot selling lottery prizes. Those spambots sure do like him.

But all that’s not any sort of explanation for why he isn’t getting any sort of persisting legacy, as he no doubt hoped he would. It doesn’t look like anyone cares about the fiction books, either, and they’re not helping him any. He once bragged about how a Google search turned up so many more hits for him than it did for me. These days a Google search for “Farrell Till” brings up a mere 3,290 results.

It wasn’t hard to anticipate that someone whose primary weapon was the 10,000-word off-topic bloviation would end up this way. One reason I said I’d not respond to him any more was because it was clear that he was one of several who leeched parasitically off those they responded to in order to draw attention to themselves. As expected, now that no one is responding, no one is paying attention either. Bloviation just doesn’t have a very good shelf life.

Farrell’s right where he should have been all along – with a disappearing legacy that was never bigger than his mouth in the first place.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Meet the Dumbest Generation

There's been a thread on TWeb here where we've taken on a member of Bauerlein's "Dumbest Generation" -- the sort of people who think they can do serious research by just ramping onto the first couple of links they get from a basic Google search. As a plus, he's also a thrall of the Rational Response Squad (nyuk nyuk nyuk), so the riposte is on full force. Notice how even after being slapped down by expert views, the twit still could not admit he was wrong.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Arguments, Evidence, and Speculation

YouTube is an intellectual wasteland, so I didn’t expect any serious arguments when I started making vids there. But one particular backwards mentality over there who goes by “crazypills2” tried a tactic I haven’t seen in a bit, which amounted to this: Any time evidence or an argument was put to him, he just dismissed it as “speculation” and decreed that therefore he was under no obligation to answer it.

Our particular issue was a difference in numbers between OT books, but these observations could apply to other issues as well. However, let’s just use a hypothetical example in which 1 Samuel says David had 300 goats, while 1 Chronicles says he had 500. What would be “evidence” for deciding this case?

The evidence would be, in the main, the texts themselves and any variant readings. It would also be, more broadly, evidence to show that a confusion could occur: For example, that a Hebrew 3 looked like a Hebrew 5 sufficiently that some confusion of the two would occur.
It’s hard to call this sort of thing “speculation” and get away with it. But it happens, and he did it.

What would be “argument” for deciding this case? Here’s where the likes of “crazypills2” try to foist a game of semantics. While the terms are often confused, I’d put it this way: Argument is a conclusion based on the data, whereas speculation is based on non-data. Now this goes further, into a game that many of these critics play, as crazypills2 put it: If you offer explanations with no evidence, no one is obligation to refute them.

But here’s the rub. We see two texts, one that says David had 300 goats, another 500. The explanation of people like crazypills2 is that one writer (or both) made a mistake. But they no more saw this happen then we did. Both sides offer a hypothesis on why there is a difference in the texts, and both rely on the same evidence of the texts itself, to that extent. But that’s where “evidence” ends for those who claim an error was made. They don’t have the evidence of a film showing someone making the mistake. All they have is the text.

Do they have “argument”? Yes, they have basically one: People make mistakes. This can justify a hypothesis of error. But it is just as equitable to say in reply that people do things right as well. The two ideas cancel each other out, and leave us with a justification for the original author being error-free.

Besides, our own hypothesis can use the same premise as the critic, inasmuch as we might propose a copyist error rather than an error in the original. So neither side has this advantage, though our side has more freedom of possibility.

Comparatively speaking, our side has more evidence: Direct (the texts), plus such
information as the potential confusion between a 3 and a 5 (indirect). There might be other direct evidence such as alternate readings. We also have more arguments, in turn: The potential mechanisms for mistake in later copying, and the opportunities to have one, which would be more numerous than they would be for an original.

In the end, it’s pretty clear that this sort of resort used by crazypills2 is an admission that your evidence and arguments can’t be dealt with. The critics don’t want to admit that in situations like this, they are as dependent on hypothesis to reach a conclusion as we are. That means evidence and arguments are what they need to address.

Crazypills2 left my channel with the remark that the way to get banned from Christian channels (though I didn’t ban him, I told him I’d just delete comments that did not engage my arguments) was to “ask for evidence.” It’s clear rather that he and others have arbitrarily defined “evidence” and arguments so as to avoid engaging and answering it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Welcome to Nutso Land

Somewhere a can of Planters is missing one of its nuts. I know because he wrote me with this:

As an alternative / complimentary explanation to the Piso theory, the new book 'King Jesus' explains that Saul-Paul was Josephus Flavius the historian, and therefore Jesus was Jesus of Gamala, the leader of 600 'rebel fishermen'.

This does, of course, place the NT events in the late AD 60s, much like the Piso theory. And surprisingly, the NT and Talmud fully support that chronology. This book maintains that Jesus wanted to become Emperor of Rome, but was defeated by Vespasian and exiled to roman England - to the fortress Vespasian built at Chester.

Actually, that can seems to be missing several nuts, because a check of reviews of this book on Amazon shows that there must be more on the loose:

The latest book by author Ralph Ellis, "King Jesus", is nothing less than a tour de force. Ralph marshals a compelling case that the New Testament Saul and the Jewish historian Josephus are one and the same person. The claim may sound preposterous, but the reasoning behind the claim is what is important (one reviewer seems not to have understood this simple fact). In fact the author could have rested his case on the Saul-Josephus connection after the second chapter, but he continues to build the case throughout the book.

Other claims are made as well (which I won't go into as others have already mentioned them), but the author painstakingly and methodically builds his case for each claim--he works for his conclusions, he doesn't just assert them. The claim that Jesus cum King Arthur was exiled to the Deva Victrix fortress (which relies mainly on the author's analysis of the anomalous Zodiac arcurate found at that site) is mainly speculation--as the author admits. However, this is a setup for Ralph's next book and a La Brea tar pit for unsuspecting critics (he knows more than he lets on). Ralph likes to play his cards close to the vest as he did when introducing the Saul-Josephus connection in "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs".

While connecting the dots and decoding the New Testament, the author displays brilliant scholarship and a very engaging writing style. He is a bona fide writer--and a very talented one at that.
Basically, Ellis states how his thinking was in his Acknowledgments page. "[This book] was intended as a joint effort on the subject of Saul-Josephus, but no agent or publisher was forthcoming and the project stalled. However, the concept still looked worthwhile, so I built it into an investigation into the entire New Testament."

With apologies to Ellis for 'reading him', this is probably what happened: Ellis did his usual excellent work, this time extending his earlier material on Saul-Josephus. The results clearly exposed some major inconsistencies in Biblical history. Various 'agents or publishers' took a look at his material, said "Oh, my God!", and either backed away slowly or ran screaming into the woods. They knew what a can of worms he was presenting them with. (Assuming no Orthodoxy freezeout.)

Ellis was then presented with either canning the project or making it acceptable in some way. I presume that he chose to 'water it down' or 'disguise it' by wrapping it in the Jesus and Grail materials (which DO provide much to think on). But, the really explosive and provable content remains the Saul-Josephus 'core'.

For anyone who allows themselves to think deeply about this, the Saul-Josephus identity should be both highly enlightening and troubling. This one man, who may have been a Roman agent since early in his career, has been responsible for much of the shaping and 'information flow' of his version of Christianity (or what Ellis calls 'Simple Judaism'). With the near-extermination of the original Jesus/James side (at the hands of the Roman legions), Saul-Josephus had a near free hand.
By the way, the publisher of this travesty is Adventures Unlimited Press. That’s right, the same bunch that put out Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy.

If you think we don’t need more help with apologetics out there, you’re just not paying attention.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Invisible People Group

My church’s service yesterday had as a guest speaker a missionary to Papua New Guinea. I’ll start by saying that none of what I am about to say is intended to suggest that we in any way cease or withdraw from foreign missions. Rather, it is to say that we are neglecting something else – which will in turn affect foreign missions…someday.

The missionaries had been dealing with this people group for quite some time now and had much success among them. Their center of operation was a small settlement and they had a congregation of about 45 people.
A blog entry for these missionaries reports that they’ve been on a speaking tour lately. They also report that members of their people group had been sent to medical seminars which would teach them some basic principles of hygiene that would save lives and health for the group in the long term.
All great and as it should be. But I have a question.

Remember some time back I made a posting on the YouTube video found below?

As of this typing, it is listed as having 125,048 views. And the last comment about it said:

Thank you for this video. This is just another step for me if finding a truth. I've been studying the Bible nor a while now and it's own internal flaws have made it an abomination to me. If their is a God out there, the only way I can show him my love to to search for him. :)

This poor soul, by the way, also subscribes to two lamentably ignorant fundy atheist channels, including the one by one of my past YouTube targets, NonStampCollector.

How many of those 125,048 people – so far – also think that this awful piece of misinformation is helping them “find a truth”?

More to the point, why is it that we’re allotting so many resources to the evangelization and support of a congregation of 45 overseas , and doing nothing to inform and assist this invisible people group of 125,048 (and growing)?

Maybe it IS because they are invisible. And, because it is so much more gratifying to send aid to people overseas who send back pictures and what we call personal testimonies. But as I asked in a prior posting, in 30 years, who will be sending missionaries to those people overseas when the people over here have all deconverted, or become more firm in deconversion – many thanks to garbage like that video?

Right now the North American Mission Board is laying people off – excuse me: I mean, giving them early retirement options. I have personal doubts that the CAI program will continue into next year. Presumably budget cuts are at the heart of this. Well, they’re cutting off their nose to spite their face. They should be increasing the budget for home missions, and in particular, for countering garbage like this video. And mind you, it wouldn’t cost anything near as much as supplying an overseas people group with all these benefits. One or two people could be set to work countering some of the leading YouTube anti-Christians for a mere pittance, relatively speaking.

Is that asking too much to make sure that in 30 years, someone is still manning the helm?

When it comes to church people addicted to high drama rather than solid information, it probably is.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Scrubbing New Jerusalem's Toilets, Part 5: The Jesus Junkers

My beloved Mrs H and I don’t go very often to Christian bookstores. Here’s a reason why.

We went to one last week – for the first time in years – to get someone a gift certificate for Christmas. Now it is bad enough that Christian bookstores are being slowly engulfed by what is rightly called “Jesus Junk” – everything from T-shirts to wall plaques to toys, so much so that you can see copies of Chuck Colson’s latest book slowly morphing into Precious Moments figurines. At some point the junk will be an irresistible force that will meet the immovable objects that are the Left Behind series, and it’ll be interesting to see who wins.

But I digress.

The latest manifestation of Jesus Junk is what got my attention and inspired this entry. Yeah, I notice the latest craze with the smaller kids these days is rubber bands shaped like animals and whatnot: Better than them smoking crack, I suppose, though when we were that age we were content to use our imaginations to turn things like cardboard boxes into castles. Well, now we saw the Christian version of that latest craze – they’re called “Faith Bands.”

In the interest of disclosure, I should fairly point out that the maker of these bands apparently gives 25% of their take to charity. But if you’re a parent buying this Jesus Junk for your kids, chances are you could already give 100% of their price to some charity many times over – and your kid will be a little less indulged with the junk.

Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon on these, but I doubt it. I don’t think it is a good idea to teach children that the symbols of our faith can be so readily trivialized. Jesus Junk tends to do this to our faith – turn it into mindless trivia meant to be emasculated into toys and games for our entertainment.

And yes, I feel the same way about a lot of things. Many of the Bible video games. Testamints. Christian pencils, Christian stickers, Christian recipe books, you name it, I’ll complain about it.

There’s also some stuff on the borderline, like Christian T-shirts. Actually if those are made with a poignant message that makes you think, that’s one thing. Morphing a corporate symbol into something Christian (like “Got milk?” into “Got Jesus?”, or “Gold’s Gym” into “Lord’s Gym”) – not so sure about that. There’s poignant, and then there’s cutesy, and in that case maybe it’s more how you use it that matters.

No doubt some of the makers of Jesus Junk have an altruistic motive, but I’m betting more than a few see this sort of thing as a secure market niche which panders to the Christian’s unique sense of self (which is something they’re supposed to be suppressing, after all – a city on a hill doesn’t call attention to itself). And it’s those who engage this sort of holy capitalism who are likely to end up, too, on the non-business end of a toilet scrubber in the New Jerusalem.

Hey, now there’s an idea….Christian toilet scrub brushes

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Laziness, Inc. Part 3

Ministry associate Nick Peters told me about a sign he saw on a van that said, “Life's Too Short To Clean Your Home.” It reflects a sort of laziness that permeates modern Western life these days, much like the copy on the side of a box containing a projection clock my wife and I once received as a gift (which did not work, by the way):

Go ahead

Stay in bed

With [this projection clock] you don’t even have to lift your head.

I think that’s a good way to thematically close out our look at objections from the bums at Laziness, Inc.

You say inerrant copies would implicitly coerce people into conversion. But don’t you also say that the evidence we have now is sufficient for faith? Wouldn’t inerrant copies be “more than sufficient”?

No – coercive elements (whether inerrant texts or not) would not be "sufficient" for anything in the way of faith. This objection makes the standard bungle of equating “faith” with belief; it is not that, but loyalty, and coercion does not produce loyalty – it produces resentful and disloyal people just along for their own self-interest, like those who are too lazy to do the spadework needed for a depth understanding of the Bible.

And of course, let’s not abuse John 20:24-9 on this either. It is precisely because these klutzes don’t have contextualized meanings of words like pistis that they continually abuse this story for their purposes, thinking their “plain reading” is sufficient – and all it takes is a very tiny amount of searching to uncover the meaning of pistis in its patronage contexts. Whining about the Bible not being “clear” on points like this, because of our own willful deficiencies in understanding, is pure laziness and nothing more.

Bottom line is this: The critics at Laziness, Inc. deny that they are asking for much, and cry incessantly about the detailed and allegedly convoluted, subjective, or contradictory answers they get from our side. In other words, those who call themselves freethinkers are whining about God requiring them to think, which is not only ironically delicious, but also says volumes about their relative maturity, and just how useless they would be as putative disciples.

You said your point about the Declaration of Independence’s copies being under tight guard proves your point. But this is just a case of supply and demand in action.

Precisely! And if the copies of the Bible were inerrant, there would inevitably be a choke point on the “supply” restricting the copies to those who could pay the price for them – as happened with relics. Yet the demand for these inerrant Bibles would be extraordinarily high.

But I have an inerrant copy of the Declaration of Independence right here. I bought it for a few bucks at a gift shop.

So what? This has no application to the matter up until the time of rapid and accurate duplication techniques which ensured that making accurate copies didn’t involve a lot of effort – and it also involves a work that is a mere handful of words (the Declaration) versus a work which is a huge volume (the Bible). It wouldn’t take a divine effort to keep copies accurate now, or of just a few words; in contrast to keep a large document inerrantly copied, using only ancient techniques of copying, would require divine intervention.

Well, those early copies of the Declaration weren’t signed or written by the Founders. They’re just from the time of the Revolution, so they don’t have any prestige value as you said.

Wrong. Again, this is nothing more than proof of my point. If they weren’t even touched by the Founders, yet are considered deserving of all that security, how much more so the inevitably rare copies of the inerrantly-copied Bible? Rarity and prestige value are two sides of the same coin: The rarity grants prestige, and the prestige is what enabled the rarity in the first place.

And so, in the end, the couch potatoes have nowhere to hide – though I daresay they’ll end up on Gehenna’s couch in just the way they have asked.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkeys and Twits

The other day I went to the deli at the local grocery store and noticed something abominable. And it wasn’t pork.

Like most delis, this place had a glass display case with all the good stuff behind it. They patronize a certain maker of meats and had a sticker on the glass for that company. (No, not there yet.)

As I glanced at the sticker, I noticed something I had not seen before, though I’m sure it was there. Beside the sticker for the company….those horrible symbols that seem to be more and more ubiquitous these days.

The blue Facebook F. The blue Twitter T.

I half expect to see someone’s face break out in those symbols one of these days.

The omnipresence of these symbols leads me to ask certain questions.

First: What exactly does a maker of deli meats have to “twitter” about anyway?

Out of morbid curiosity I decided to check, and here’s what I found “tweeted” over the past 48 hours:

1) Links to their main websites’ recipe of the day.
2) A link to their Facebook careers page.
3) Several messages of thanks to subscribers, including to one who had “tweeted” earlier, “I used your ad to show how mainstream the gluten free movement has become.”

Wow. A veritable feast for the senses.

This leads to my second question. Whose life is so devoid of content and meaning that they would subscribe to Twitter to get the latest “tweets” from a deli meat company? Are people out there that bored? Is there any chance they might find something more meaningful to do than read this crap?

Can you imagine how many other meaningless tweets they get all day?

Are they driving or operating heavy machinery when they read this stuff?

Yes, I really don’t understand this whole interconnectedness craze. As a hardcore introvert with an active mind, I don’t think I ever will.

Just one last question, in close.

Given the fascination for crap like this, is it any wonder we can’t get people to listen to or read sustained arguments in apologetics?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maybe He Should Pray for a Better Theological Education

Someone at TWeb nominated a story here for a Screwball Award, which deserves notice here on the Forge as well...

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson blamed God for dropping a game-winning touchdown in a 19-16 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Johnson was reluctant to accept responsibility for the gaffe, posting on his Twitter account post-game that it was in fact God's fault.
Can't wholly blame Johnson for this, though, since our churches teach such a sorry theology of prayer. We've set it up so that a belief that God micromanages even a football game is "rational".
And to think yesterday we noted that some moron Skeptic couldn't figure out the dangers of thinking the Bible in your lap was inerrant....duh huh....

Monday, November 29, 2010

Laziness, Inc.: Part 2

So, let’s continue peeling the couch potatoes from last week, shall we?

You said explaining apologetics to a critic is like explaining nuclear physics to an infant. So that must mean you think apologetics is complicated, and the Bible even more complicated.

Wrong. It simply means the critics are extraordinarily dumb.

You compared potential inerrant originals of the Bible to the original of the Declaration of Independence. But the Founders are all dead, so they can’t make new copies. That doesn’t apply to God, who is alive.

Well, there’s another example of missing the point. It doesn’t matter if an author is alive or not; if they don’t produce any more originals – whether because they can’t, won’t, or whatever – then that original is all the more valuable and all the more subject to abuses or special protections.

We have people today who think their copies of the Bible are inerrant. Yet they don’t seem to be in any difficulty.

Wrong. Those sorts of people are full of difficulties and problems: They are precisely the sort who fall most readily for scams of the sort perpetrated by cult figures like Darwin Fish; they are also the sort who (like Fish) will refuse any contextualizing information and wield the Bible like a club in other areas (like politics). The only reason they do not cause more trouble is because we live in a modern democracy and they don’t have the guns – in contrast to Islamic societies, where the copies ARE still held in high esteem by all, including those in power. If that doesn’t let you know what kind of trouble inerrant copies can foster, then you’re too dumb to be rehabilitated. Look at Islam’s example, and at the example of relics in the medieval period – not at manifestations in a modern, democratic society where those who believe in inerrant copies are a fringe minority that the majority look at as benighted.

You say God would be a micromanager if He assured that every copy was the same. Well, isn’t that what you would be if you wanted to make sure your own books were reprinted accurately?

Yes. That’s why I wouldn’t do it. But it doesn’t matter anyway. When it comes to places like Xulon Press, it is totally the author’s job to check the galleys before printing is actually done. So I don’t need to bother anyone that way in the first place. They don’t do any editing unless I pay them to (and I don’t). Xulon does not have any “techniques” or other means to assure a faithful reproduction beyond that, unless one wants to be so absurd as to suggest that merely converting my Word file to PDF and running the software is a “technique” for ensuring accuracy in transmission. To put it simply, no one “micromanages” the copies, and unless someone wishes to make the exceptionally stupid suggestion that God ought to have imported modern printing technology into the ancient world – just to satisfy a few modern crybabies who don’t want to pursue a serious education – there’s no parallel to be drawn here.

Not that it matters. Precision copying is an obsession of modern graphocentrists; as Jocelyn Small has pointed out in Wax Tablets of the Mind:

Exact wording is rarely crucial in oral societies, but often of great importance in literate ones, though this aspect took centuries to develop…Most oral societies are not only uninterested in the detail of the words per se, but even unaware of the unit of the word…for oral cultures it is not the words but the story or the gist that counts.

To that extent, there is no reason for God to be a micromanager and assure that every word gets transmitted exactly; this is the petulant, childish demand of fundamentalist minds. Rather, as long as the ideas were accurately transmitted – and there is no reason to say, even with errant copies, that they were not – then there is no basis for objection other than childish whining.

Relatedly, one should not confuse accurate transmission of the text with clarity of ideas in the text, which are two separate issues. If the Bible as we have it had been transmitted with 100% correctness from the originals, this would have no bearing on the “clarity complaints” of critics.

Surely God could have come up with some way to do this, like maybe making it part of the natural order that copies of His Word would come out inerrant – you know, like gravity works.

How funny. When someone comes up with specific mechanisms rather than vague fantasy, they can give us a call.

But aren’t natural laws examples of God micromanaging?

No. It’s not constant interference with the process.

But those laws do restrict our free will.

No, they do not. Free will, according to the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy among others, is the “capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.” It doesn’t mean the ability to do whatever comes to our mind, even the impossible (what might be called freedom of action). This is a distinction that is generally beyond most theological neophytes. Gravity restricts our freedom of action (we can’t float in the air whenever we want), but not our freedom of will (it does not stop our choices to try to float in the air, or to overcome gravity in an airplane).

Part 3 and last sometime soon!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many years ago I did a panel comic called Time Turkey about a Dr. Who type character who traveled through time causing mischief. I preserved a few examples here. I later had an idea for a revamped version in which he and his lady friend morphed into powerful heroes that went about setting right historic injustices in various ways. That'll probably never get done as a full concept, but to celebrate the holiday when other turkeys end up on our table, here's a little picture of that revamp as it might have been done for apologetics purposes...

As you might expect, the Forge will be off for the holiday weekend...back Monday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laziness, Inc.: Part 1

Some time back I had an article titled “The Clarity Complaint” in which the follow excerpt could be offered as thematic:

John W. "the Liar" Loftus admits in his tell-all biography that while a professing Christian, he had an adulterous affair. He also has complained that the Bible is not clear on certain points. Yet when I asked him on the forum what he found "unclear" about this commandment:
Thou shalt not commit adultery. ...he had no answer.

The typical whiny Skeptic who has problems with comprehension has plenty of excuses, though; let’s look at some of these over the days we do this series.

Even if you are right in pointing us to some context that interprets the Bible, the very fact that you have to do this shows that the Bible sometimes doesn't mean what it clearly says.

How moronic. The objection (“it doesn’t mean what it clearly says”) is little more than a reiteration of the original reading in which contexts were ignored, and it was imperialistically assumed the God should accommodate our unwillingness to do a little legwork. With those contexts, the Bible IS clear – to its original readers who knew the contexts.

This idea that God should have provided explanatory information to cover every possible misreading, every possible language, every possible cultural context, and every possible expression of ignorance, is simply childish refusal to accept a reasonable responsibility. God wants earnest disciples, not couch potatoes, and if the critic wants to be a couch potato – he has selected his own fate.

But why would I need such tools of context to read an inspired document?

Why is it assumed that a document being “inspired” means that it will accommodate the lazy, the stubborn, the ignorant, and the whiny? There is nothing about the semantic contexts of “inspired” – either in English or in Koine Greek – that indicates that inspiration does, or is obliged to, produce a message that is universally understandable in every language and culture, and in spite of ever effort to inform the text with one’s own agenda.

God has the power and knowledge to inspire such a text, so why didn’t He?

God also has the power and knowledge to serve you breakfast, change your TV channels, and wipe for you when you’re on the toilet. However, He has no obligation to do any of these things, and neither does He have the obligation to service the terminally dense and stubborn with their own personal Bible versions.

As I replied to John Loftus in a rebuttal to The Christian Delusion:

Loftus loftily proclaims that “communication is a two-way street,” [182] and he’s right. But what he does here is object that God failed to walk down the street 99% of the way to meet him on the last 1%. Each of the alleged “communication” deficiencies he cites are easily resolved with a few minutes of checking, as we shall see; or else they amount to people being stupid, foolish, or sinful. (We’ll see what he says about that response further on.) But Loftus would rather blame God for not saving him that walking distance, which is exactly what we might expect from someone who rationalizes away and refuses to answer for their own manifest sins. How does that work out with, Thou shalt not commit adultery? We can guess: He probably had some rationalization back then, too, of the Clintonesque “it depends what ‘is’ means” variety.

All “the Bible is not clear” amounts to is the critic saying, “I refuse to walk more than a few steps to achieve the proper understanding. God is obliged to do the rest. Why? Because I say so!”

You said that the ultimate “inerrant” copy of any message of God resides with God Himself in heaven (the Logos). How do you know this?

Gee, how do we know this? It’s sort of a logical step thing, you know? Once we assume God exists, once we assume God is omnipotent and perfect – two steps that are taken for granted at this level of the argument – it stands to reason that whatever messages God transmits are inerrant. The real question regarding inerrancy then becomes whether or to what extent any purported revelation (whether the Bible, the Quran, or Aunt Jenny’s prophecy down at the Assembly of God) reflects either God’s own statements – or the actual truth; for of course, a message need not be inspired by God to be without error. And we determine whether error exists in the same way we would decide if it exists in any other document or claim.

All these informing contexts are fine, but they are not evidence of biblical inerrancy.

Oops, missing a step there, aren’t we? The informing contexts are evidence showing that a claim of error is misguided. This in turn is evidence that particular charges raised against a claim of inerrancy are false. That in turn lends support to the doctrine of an inerrant whole, but no one has ever claimed (unless it is a backwards fundy, or a Skeptic who used to be one) that all by itself one such solution becomes “evidence of biblical inerrancy” as a whole.

Frankly, even if I were an atheist, I would be embarrassed by most of the claims made by Biblical “errantists” – and my replies to them would not change substantially.

I’ll continue this series next week sometime. In the meantime, be on the lookout for Skeptics who palm themselves off as competent critics.