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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Leaving the Fold : A Few Brits Discuss Their Experiences and Reasons for Leaving the Fold after having tried to defend and promote Christianity

Paul Wright

http://www.noctua.org.uk/paul/writing.html#religion
http://www.noctua.org.uk/blog/2006/09/09/im-on-ur-radio-debunking/
http://www.noctua.org.uk/blog/2013/05/21/bad-arguments-about-agnosticism/

http://www.noctua.org.uk/blog/2006/06/14/i-deconverted-years-ago/
gjm11 is someone I’ve known for years, initially through the uk.religion.christian newsgroup, and then through LiveWires. He’s a very clever man. Since my own loss of faith, I’ve sometimes wondered about the very clever people I know who are Christians (gjm11 among them), and how they manage to sustain their faith in the face of (what I see as) the serious intellectual flaws in Christianity.

Unbeknown to me, gjm11 had been thinking hard about it for a while, and recently announced that he is no longer a Christian. He has an essay on the web where he outlines some of the main reasons for his deconversion. The enormous thread on uk.religion.christian which followed his announcement is, I think, interesting to anyone who wonders about how people get, keep and lose faith.


Gareth McCaughan

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/uk.religion.christian/quO_6VGN37o%5B1-25-false%5D
http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/essays/atheist.html

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Non-uniqueness of Christianity

There are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, "Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus." (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.)

There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples than by stories of Jesus and his. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, "The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics...The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively 'base' desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.]." To such Buddhists, "Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant."

Oddly enough, one version of the Buddha's life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the "prince" who "lived in India" was named "Josaphat," and he was a "Great Renouncer." Research into the origins of "Saint Josaphat," revealed that the Latin name, "Josaphat," was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name "Ioasaph" was used, which came from the Arabic "Yudasaf," which came from the Manichee "Bodisaf," which came from "Bodhisattva" in the original story of the Buddha. (A "Bodhisattva" is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butler's Lives of the Saints.

Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesus' teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.)

Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, "sainthood" is a phenomenon common to all the world's religions. Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Christian apologists is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors.

C.S. Lewis's lifefriend, Bede Griffiths, who was mentioned in Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy, was one of Lewis's pupils at Oxford and converted to Christianity about the same year Lewis did. Afterwards they "kept up a copious correspondence." Griffiths became a Catholic monk and far surpassed Lewis in his ability to perceive a similar spiritual center lying at the heart of all the world's major faiths. Griffiths far outlived Lewis and died at eighty-six years of age while living in a Christian-Hindu ashram that he, Griffiths, had founded in India. The titles of his published works illustrate his mystic universalist approach to knowing God, beginning with his autobiography, The Golden String, and followed by The Marriage of East and West, Return to the Center, River of Compassion, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God, and his final work, The New Creation in Christ.

Dom Bede Griffith's obituary in the National Catholic Reporter (May 1993), by Tim McCarthy, stated:

As late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF's) December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

Discussing the CDF's warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in The National Catholic Reporter, "As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, 'You who were far off, he has brought near-not kept distant-in the blood of Christ.' Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, 'I am the vine,' he says, 'you are the branches.' How can the branches be 'distant' from the vine?" . . .

We must "never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation," the CDF document insisted. "Of course, we don't seek to place ourselves on the same level," Griffiths countered. "It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, 'I have not called you servants, but friends.' And to show what such friendship means, he prays for his disciples, 'that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.'"

In a letter published in the National Catholic Reporter, beneath the headline, "Vatican Letter Disguises Wisdom of East Religions," (May 11, 1990), Griffiths drew attention to several Christian movements in ages past that endorsed mystical prayer, then added, "This is not to say that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mystics all have the same experience. But it is to recognize an analogy between them and to look upon the Hindu and Buddhist experience as something of supreme significance, not to be lightly dismissed by a Christian as of no importance."

Also interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (which also subsidizes Josh McDowell Ministries!). But the very next year the winner was a Hindu, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting India's poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.

There are even what one might call "fundamentalist" Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, "What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?" Campbell answered, "The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic." "Yes," said the Indian gentleman, "I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas."

It's obvious that the study of the world's holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in "Vedic believing" Hindus, "Koran believing" Moslems, and "Bible believing" Christians (like McDowell). So there is nothing "unique" about "Bible believing" Christians in that respect.

See also 9 MYTHS ABOUT HINDUISM DEBUNKED
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/25/9-myths-about-hinduism-debunked/

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nature contains a limited number of "odd survivors," including a few phyla with only a handful of living members. Do Intelligent Design proponents have an explanation for such data?

Maybe an INTELLIGENT DESIGN proponent can explain why we need 33-40 phyla when merely 9 of those phyla constitute about 95% of all animal life? The remaining 26-31 phyla have fewer than about 2,000 known members--the rarest with just three members (Cycliophora: odd sacs represented by Symbion pandora), two members (Xenoturbellida: strange flatworm) or one species (Micrognathozoa: tiny jawed animal, and Placozoa, an animal that resembles a multicellular amoeba). Most are simple marine organisms, often referred to as worms or nanoplankton.

Also, how about an INTELLIGENT DESIGN proponent explaining why, among multi-cellular organisms, beetles and mites proliferate so much, producing hundreds of thousands of species, while other phyla produce far fewer? The number of species of mites might even reach 1 million according to some estimates, as more beetles and mites continue being discovered all the time.

ABOUT PHYLA

13 phyla of multi-cellular animals appear during the Cambrian Explosion.

BUT...

20 phyla of multi-cellular animals appear AFTER the Cambrian. Neither is the number of phyla into which all the world's species can be divided agreed upon among systematicists. Under the most frequently used classification scheme there are 38 animal phyla, but some systematicists claim there are between 35 and 40 phyla. Three new phyla were discovered in the last century, the most recent in 1993.

See also this post on living fossils... http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/01/creationists-love-to-talk-about-living.html

Intelligent Design or Trial and Error? Some Data to Consider

Let's look at the I.D. proposal versus trial and error when it comes to sperm and whether you as an individual were personally designed. It doesn't look like you were. Neither does it look like the species of which you are a part was individually or personally the product of design, since we are merely one of several large-brained mammalian species, and all of them have loads of extinct cousins that we have found in the fossil record.

Here's the data. Many sperm are deformed, i.e., two heads, two tails, squiggly tails, heads that are too large or two small, etc. In the average ejaculate, there are 200 million sperm, talk about a roll of the biological dice that made "you." Only about half of the sperm that are ejaculated make it to the egg (and they don't reach the egg by their own power, but they slide en masse up the fallopian tube via peristaltic waves, so it's not like some sperm are being chosen individually to reach the egg), the rest doodle around in circles. And all but one sperm dies. Some sperm have just the male compliment of genes, some the female compliment. (The male-producing-sperm tend to be faster on average, but the female-producing-sperm tend to be stronger on average, so it's a stalemate in the sperm gender competition to fertilize the egg, again, it's anyone's race.) http://www.yourtango.com/2014208352/sex-sperm-101-10-crazy-facts-you-never-knew-about-his-swimmers-ejaculation-IVF-semen

That raises the question, were you "designed?" personally, individually? Based on a study of sperm it doesn't seem so. You are the result of trivial differences between hundreds of millions of dead sperm, purely statistical odds.

Therefore, it does not seem valid to hold the belief that the whole cosmos was arranged just so that [insert your name here] could arise.

And if not you personally, then what about the species of which you are a member? Was the whole cosmos arranged so that "humans" could arise?

Humans constitute one of a few, very few, extremely large-brained mammalian species which include countless extinct cousin species of cetacea (whales, dolphins), elephants, ancient apes, upright hominids that all died like those hundreds of millions of sperm.

Paleontologists have discovered that before the earliest upright hominids arose, the world was covered with ape species, the majority of which went extinct. Likewise with cetacea. Paleontologists have found some fuller fossils of early cetacea but there's plenty of evidence that the fuller skeletons are a mere drop in the bucket of all the species of cetacea that used to exist. There are many other whale bones in Eocene rocks of Pakistan and India. Mostly they are teeth--the rock surrenders a few skulls as well -- but even teeth clearly show that their owners were not clones of Pakicetus or the other better-known whales, but evidence of countless cousin species that are now extinct.

The current species of humanity known as Homo sapiens is a tremendous latecomer to the cosmic scene, having only recently arisen during the slimmest margin of cosmic time, and we only recently discovered that we live on the quaking surface of a rock flying through space with countless other rocks flying around, and explosive energies, both in space and beneath our feet, energies constantly mixing and swirling around, again, statistically allowing for life to arise in very small regions of the cosmos, and probably only for limited amounts of time due to the explosive swirling nature of the cosmos. And that life continues via death and reproduction. Life does not appear to be a particularly stable phenomena, though some single-celled forms have a better chance of surviving than more complex multi-cellular forms.

It is probable, given the fact that planets with life are so small and energies and matter keep swirling round and filling most of the cosmos, that the human species will become extinct in future.

Can the human species survive for billions of years like the stars, or a hundred billion years like black holes? And if we do, what will those far flung descendants of today's humans be like? Will they still closely resemble our species today? Maybe present day humanity is just another stepping stone to some far flung future species, and no single species was "designed" to be as it is, but the cosmos is always in process, all species are always in process?

Maybe present day humanity will diversify over the billions of years that follow, filling niches on different planets, and that may be followed by extinction events on those separate planets, again a trial and error and whittling process. Who knows what future version of humanity will be the last one standing?

Or imagine our newcomer species dying out tomorrow or merely a million years from now, in which case there will still be stars with billions of years ahead of them in which to shine, and black holes with a hundred billion years ahead of them in which to suck, but there will no longer be any humans to gaze at them. Seems possible, even probable.

Humanity might even might be superseded by some other biological organism or machine we happen to create. Imagine that we invent a sensory apparatus capable of acquiring information via a learning program, then that learns how to upgrade itself faster than humans can upgrade it, so it evolves faster than we can even imagine it evolving, and it surpasses humanity. In that case carbon-based life forms will have been superseded by something we gave birth to, and humanity will simply have been a stepping stone in the process toward newer entities. See also the online essay, "Why We Believe in a Designer" located at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/ce/4/part2.html

So, the "Design" in the above case would be a never ending process of change, including the possibility of extinction at every level of such changes. It looks like trial and error to me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Quotations from Augustine of Hippo: Proof that you can study "holy scriptures" for a lifetime and pray for guidance and come to conclusions like these

The earliest image of St. Augustine from a 6th century fresco in San Giovanni Lateran, Rome.

AUGUSTINE joined his ego with that of the largest religious movement in the Roman Empire which expanded his ego and gave him more verbal outlets for whatever steam was building up between his ears than ever before, more people to preach to verbally and textually, telling them what to believe and how to act, because otherwise... hell. How big a kick is that? What expands a person's ego more than imagining one has the ability to jangle the keys to eternal life or death in people's ears? One imagines one is preaching and writing for God's sake not your own, that you are giving God a voice via promoting your own understandings of "God's words." You even get to tell your audience that God teaches it is virtuous of them to humble themselves and listen to you and other church leaders you agree with, and God doesn't want them listening to any of those "heretics" with whom you disagree. All the while convincing yourself that it's your divinely appointed job to help preserve the eternal safety and sanctity of your congregation's immortal souls.

Augustine devoted his life to being a cult leader, one of the earliest, loudest and most listened to when it came to arguing that heretics must be compelled/forced to enter or re-enter the fold of the one true Catholic Church. He set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare ("Compel them to enter," based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church's suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

Not long after Augustine's arguments were put forth the Roman Emperors who were at least nominally Christian began to produce laws related to the persecution and even execution of unrepentant heretics who refused to keep their damned mouths shut or their pens out of the ink well. Augustine also taught that children who had not undergone the one true baptism of the Catholic Church remained in Satan's power and were hell bound if they died prior to receiving such baptism, which I am sure added to no one's anguish at all. (Up till the 1970s Catholic seminarians had to learn how to use a syringe filled with holy water to baptize babies in the womb if the birthing process was not going well in order to ensure such babies would wind up in heaven.)

Below are quotations from Augustine:

"In Luke it is written: 'Compel people to come in!' By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to his Son."

"There is no salvation outside the church."
--City of God

"...there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious."

"...many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching."
--Treatise on the Correction of the Donatists

"The king serves God in one way as a man, and in another as a king; as a man, he serves Him by living in fidelity to His law, and since he is also a king, he serves by promulgating just laws, and forbidding the opposite, and by giving them a fitting and strong sanction; just as Zecharias served by destroying the shrines and temples of the idols; just as King Josias served by himself doing like things; just as the King of the Ninevites served by compelling the whole State to appease God; just as Darius served by giving the breaking of the idols into the power of Daniel; just as Nebuchadnezer served by forbidding by a terrible law all those dwelling in his kingdom to blaspheme God." And in the same place he adds: "Who, being in his right mind, will say to kings: 'In your kingdom have no care as to that by which the Church of your Lord is supported or opposed,' 'In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be devout or sacrilegious,' to whom it cannot be said: In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be virtuous or who does not?"

Augustine also wrote about the one non-Christian Emperor who reigned after Constantine (all the rest were at least nominally Christians): "Julian, the betrayer and enemy of Christ, allowed the freedom of perdition to heretics... [also] allow[ing] sacrilegious disputes to be freely indulged in."

Thus Augustine complained about freedom being allowed to heretics to speak their minds or write their works.

St. Augustine, in Epistle 62, "We warn that a heretic is to be avoided, lest he deceive those who are infirm or inexperienced, to such an extent that we have not denied that he should be corrected by any means possible and so on."

Augustine, in Book II of his Retractions, Chapter 5, and in Epistles 48 and 50, retracts what he had once thought, that heretics should not be forced to believe, and proves at length that it is very useful; he always rules out the punishment of death, not because he thought they did not deserve this, but both because he judged that this was unbecoming the gentleness of the Church and also because no imperial law was in existence, by which heretics were sentenced to death; for the Law, "Quicumque, C. de hereticis," was promulgated a little after the death of Augustine.

That, however, Augustine judged it to be just, if heretics were put to death, is beyond question; for, in Book I, in opposition to the letter of Parmenianus, in Chapter 7, he demonstrates that if the Donatists were punished by death, they would be justly so punished. And in tract 11, on John: "They kill souls, he says, and are afflicted in the body, those who bring about eternal deaths complain that they suffer temporal deaths," by which he says they falsely complain that they are killed by Emperors; nevertheless, even if this were true, they would be complaining unjustly. Finally, in his Letter 50, to Boniface, he writes that the Church does not want any heretic to be put to death: nevertheless, as the House of David could not enjoy peace unless Absalom were done away with and David was consoled by the peace of his realm in his grief over the death of his son: so when, from the laws of Emperors against heretics, the deaths of some follow, the sorrow of the maternal heart of the Church is assuaged by the deliverance of a multitude of people.

St. Augustine replies (in Letter 50 to Boniface, and elsewhere) that the Apostles never did that [called upon the secular arm to persecute heretics], because then there was no Christian Ruler they could call upon. For, at that time, the words of the Psalm (II, 2 & 10) were verified: "The kings of the earth, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed." (v. 2) And after the time of Constantine, that began to be verified which is written later in the same Psalm: "And now, O kings, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth: Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before Him; with trembling pay homage to him..." (vs. 10-12) Soon the Church implored the help of the secular arm.

AUGUSTINE IN A DISAGREEABLY IMPATIENT STATE

"Augustine was at his most disagreeably impatient when faced by groups whom he saw as self-regarding enclaves, deaf to the universal message of the Catholic Church. He insensibly presented the Church not only as the true Church, but as potentially the Church of the majority of the inhabitants of the Roman world. He was the first Christian that we know of to think consistently and in a practical manner in terms of making everyone a Christian. This was very different from claiming, as previous Christians had done, that Christianity was a universal religion in the sense that anyone in any place could, in theory at least, become a Christian. Augustine spoke of Christianity in more concrete, social terms: there was no reason why everybody in a given society (the Jews excepted) should not be a Christian. In his old age, he took for granted that the city of Hippo was, in effect, a Christian city. He saw no reason why the normal pressures by which any late Roman local community enforced conformity on its members should not be brought to bear against schismatics and heretics. He justified imperial laws that decreed the closing of temples and the exile and disendowment of rival churches [Donatist and other churches]. Pagans were told simply to 'wake up' to the fact that they were a minority. They should lose no time in joining the Great Majority of the Catholic Church. In fact, the entire world had been declared, more than a millennium before by the prophets of Israel, to belong only to Christ and to his Church, and Augustine quoted the second Psalm as proof: 'Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.' [Psalm 2:6,8,9,12]."

"[Of course not everyone was swayed by Augustine’s arguments.] We have a recently discovered letter that Augustine wrote at the end of his life to Firmus, a notable of Carthage. Firmus had attended afternoon readings of Augustine’s City of God. He had even read as far as book 10. He knew his Christian literature better than did his wife. Yet his wife was baptized, and Firmus was not. Augustine informed him that, compared with her, Firmus, for all his culture, even his sympathy for Christianity, stood on dangerous ground as long as he remained unbaptized."
--Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.91, 92

AUGUSTINE ALSO TAUGHT CHRISTIANS THESE THINGS

On the Necessity of Believing in What the Scriptures Say Without Hesitation

"...in matters that pass beyond the scope of the physical senses, which we have not settled by our own understanding, and cannot--here we must believe, without hesitation, the witness of those men by whom the Scriptures (rightly called divine) were composed, men who were divinely aided in their senses and their minds..."
___________________________

On the Necessity of Believing that Vast Waters Lie Above the Firmament

Genesis speaks of the firmament (Gen. 1:6-7) as that place that divides the earthly waters from the heavenly waters. Augustine offers a lengthy allegorical interpretation of the firmament in his Confessions (book 13)—seeing it as a symbol of Scripture and its place between the earthly and the heavenly—but the presence of an allegorical interpretation does not mean that he also rejects the literal existence of a firmament.

When some philosophers of Augustine's day argued that the waters would be too heavy to stay in the sky, Augustine replied, “If God ever wished oil to remain under water, it would do so.” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.2).

The “term ‘firmament’ does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven,” says Augustine, “we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is a solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.10.23). And while he appears later in life to question his confidence in the exact nature of the firmament (Retractions 2.6.2), he continues to hold to its literal existence.
--Brandon Withrow, Augustine, Genesis, and “Removing the Mystical Veil”: Part 2

Augustine mentions that “...[in Genesis 1] the firmament was made between the waters above and beneath, and was called ‘Heaven,’ in which firmament the stars were made on the fourth day.” [City of God chapter 11.5-9] In that same chapter Augustine cites Psalm 148:3-4 that states the "sun, moon, stars and heaven" praise the Lord along with "the waters above the heavens," which assumes waters exist above the stars. Augustine adds, “Whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”

Augustine’s last phrase above was echoed by Martin Luther as late as the fifteenth century:

“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which... are the waters... We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding”
--Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan (St. Louis, MI: Concordia, 1958), pp. 30, 42, 43].

"Many [of the Church Fathers] repeat the statement of Augustine, that whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”
--Frank Egleston Robbins, The Hexaemeral Literature: a Study of the Greek and Latin Commentaries on Genesis
___________________________

On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past

"They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed [since the creation of Adam and Eve].
--City of God, Book XII, Chapter 10, On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past

"...those antediluvians lived more than 900 years."
--City of God, Book XV, Chapter 14
___________________________

On the Absurdity of Believing that Men Exist on the Other Side of the Immense Expanse of Ocean

"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth [Augustine is poo pooing the idea that human beings will be found on the opposite side of a spherical earth, not a flat one], where the sun rises when it sets on us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it. Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information; they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants. They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men. For Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man."
--City of God 14:9
___________________________

On Augustine's Belief in Human Giants Based on Bible Passages Combined with Finding Large Bones in the Ground

"...the size of men’s bodies was larger then than now... the large size of the primitive human body is often proved to the incredulous by the exposure of sepulchres [in this case, buried bones], either through the wear of time or the violence of torrents or some accident, and in which bones of incredible size have been found or have rolled out. I myself, along with some others, saw on the shore at Utica a man’s molar tooth of such a size, that if it were cut down into teeth such as we have, a hundred, I fancy, could have been made out of it. But that, I believe, belonged to some giant."
--City of God, Book 15, Chapter 9
___________________________

On God's Re-Creation of Animals Directly from the Ground in Distant Lands Right After the Flood

In The City of God (16.7), Augustine discusses Noah's Ark and how it was that animals were present on distant islands so soon after the great flood:

"[I]t is asked how they [various wild animals] could be found in the islands after the deluge ... It might, indeed, be said that they crossed to the islands by swimming, but this could only be true of those very near the mainland; whereas there are some so distant that we fancy no animal could swim to them ... they were produced out of the earth as at their first creation ... this makes it more evident that all kinds of animals were preserved in the ark, not so much for the sake of renewing the stock, as of prefiguring the various nations that were to be saved in the Church."
___________________________

On The Damnation of Infants That Die Without Having Been Baptized

"Infants, When Unbaptized, are in the Power of the Devil... The Christian faith unfalteringly declares that they who are cleansed in the laver of regeneration (i.e., the baptismal font) are redeemed from the power of the devil, and that those who have not yet been redeemed by such regeneration are still captive in the power of the devil, even if they be infant children of the redeemed... From the power of the devil... infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Church’s very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns--small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devil’s power is exorcised in infants, and that they renounce him by the hearts and mouths of those who bring them to baptism, being unable to do so by their own; in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness, and be translated into the kingdom of their Lord."
--On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, Chapter 22
___________________________

On the Knowledge of the Saints Concerning What Is Going on in the Outer Darkness

"They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness... The saints’... knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted... with the eternal sufferings of the lost."
--The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, “What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked” & Book 22, Chapter 30, “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath”
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On How Fire Can Burn Forever Yet Not Consume a Body

"I have already sufficiently made out that animals can live in the fire, in burning without being consumed, in pain without dying, by a miracle of the most omnipotent Creator."
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On the Location of Hell

"It seems to me that in the twelfth book I ought to have taught that hell is under the earth rather than to give a reason why it is under the earth, since it is believed to or said to be earth, as if it were not so."
--Retractations, written near the end of Augustine's life
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On How the Sexual Organs Functioned in Eden

"In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wife's breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wife's virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings."
--The City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26

As evidence in favor of his view that Adam had full control over his member in Eden, Augustine cites the case of people who can "make musical sounds" out of their "behinds"):

"We do in fact find among human beings some individuals with natural abilities very different from the rest of mankind and remarkable by their very rarity. Such people can do some things with their body which are for others utterly impossible and well-nigh incredible when they are reported. Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. Others without moving the head can bring the whole scalp-all the part covered with hair-down towards the forehead and bring it back again at will. Some can swallow an incredible number of various articles and then with a slight contraction of the diaphragm, can produce, as if out of a bag, any article they please, in perfect condition. There are others who imitate the cries of birds and beasts and the voices of any other men, reproducing them so accurately as to be quite indistinguishable from the originals, unless they are seen. A number of people produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from the region. I know from my own experience of a man who used to sweat whenever he chose; and it is a well-known fact that some people can weep at will and shed floods of tears."
--City of God, Book 14, Chapter 24
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On Women

“...the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.”
--On the Trinity Book 12 7.10
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On Abstinence Being More Important Than the Continuance of the Human Race

"In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage... chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship… they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, 'What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?' Would that all would... Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened. For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, 'I would that all were as myself;' or in that passage, 'But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.'" (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31)
--On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10
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On His Advocacy of the View that Slaves Ought to Love Their Masters

"...the apostle [in the New Testament] admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, and to serve them heartily and with good-will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness pass away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all."
--City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 15
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On the Wickedness of Giving Presents to Friends

MacMullen notes the joyous pagan festivals, including feasts, dancing, poetry orations and their long persistence despite the opposition of the bishops (Augustine tried to argue that giving friends presents was wicked).
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
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On "Curiosity"

"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn."
--The Confessions

On curiosity, compare a passage from another early Church Father, Lactantius 250-325 CE., who claimed that God made Adam the last of his creations so that he should not acquire any knowledge of the process of creation.

Or consider what another early Church Father, Jerome, wrote, "Is it not evident that a man who day and night wrestles with the dialectic art, the student of natural science whose gaze pierces the heavens, walks in vanity of understanding and darkness of mind?" Comment. in Ep. ad Ephes. iv, 17

"For centuries Stoic philosophers and Christian theologians struggled to subdue curiosity as one of the most disruptive, intractable and potentially vicious human traits. According to the 12th-century saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the evil angel fell as a result of curiosity. 'He had peered curiously into what was to come and wanted what he was not allowed to have and hoped presumptuous hopes,' Bernard writes, concluding that 'rightly is curiosity considered the first step of pride; it was the beginning of all sin.' Two centuries later, when Petrarch climbed a mountain in Provence and began to enjoy the view from the summit, he nervously opened his copy of Augustine's Confessions and was stunned by words that seemed to him a direct rebuke: 'And men go to admire the high mountains, the vast floods of the sea, the huge streams of the rivers, the circumference of the ocean and the revolutions of the stars--and desert themselves.'

"Yet the great work that checked Petrarch's curious gaze paradoxically contains the seeds that would eventually transform the churchman's vice into the psychoanalyst's virtue. Augustine himself was far too much in the grip of curiosity to endorse unequivocally its condemnation. If he chastised excessive interest in the world, he directed a virtually obsessive attention to the hidden reaches of his innermost self: 'I have become a problem to myself, like land which a farmer works only with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat.' More specifically, he manifested what was, for the pre-modern world, an unusual interest in his adolescence, from his theft of pears to his gaudy nights in Carthage, and a still more unusual interest in his early childhood, from his infantile rages to his first stumbling efforts to speak."
--Stephen Greenblatt, Curiosity Is Destiny: For Adam Phillips, psychoanalysis is about restoring people's appetite for life, New York Time, February 22, 1998


One of the more remarkable transformations in the history of European intellectual life was the removal of curiosity from the table of the vices and its inscription into the table of virtues. From the beginnings of Latin Christianity in the second century (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine), curiositas was defined as a vice; but by the fifteenth century it had begun to be considered a virtue, and by the eighteenth century it was simply assumed by most European thinkers to be virtuous.

"It is no exaggeration to say that European thought about curiosity is Augustinian from the fifth century to the fifteenth... Curiosity for Augustine is appetite for nothing other than the ownership of new knowledge." It is a kind of concupiscentia, a disordered desire that guarantees its own disappointment. Curious concupiscence engages in close study and investigation of its chosen objects. "But the curious man is always a fornicator: he perverts study and investigation in much the same way that having sex with those to whom you are not married perverts the gift of the sexual appetite." Thus the curious man is distinguished from the studious man.

Curiosity's desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious man's interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the temple's pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says God's angels will permit no harm to come to him) is the paridigmatic temptation of curiosity, says Griffiths, because it offers satisfaction of the experimental appetite. Appetite for novelty is another key element in curiosity, an appetite that prevents contemplative rest and also "prevents curiosity's gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternity's trace, in the things at which it looks." Yet again, curiosity is characterized by loquacitas, a garrulity or chattiness involved in becoming known as one who knows.

But the most important element in Augustine's critique of curiosity, according to Griffiths, has to do with the attempt to own knowledge, "to assert proprietas over it, to make it subject to oneself (sibi tribuere)."... Curiositas, then, is an appetite that operates within the constraints of the libido dominandi, the lust for dominance that ownership brings. Its Augustinian contradictory is studiousness, and this is an intellectual appetite that operates within the constraints of a proper appreciation of givenness, or of what Augustine would prefer to call the gift, the donum Dei.
--Paul J. Griffiths, "The Vice of Curiosity," Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Winter, 2006)


I think the point Griffiths, above, was trying to make, is that Augustine wanted everything in one's mind to be related to God, in fact, in relation to the Catholic Church's ideas and beliefs about God. Hence, one must not be too curious. Knowledge for its own sake might derail the faithful from their prayers and single-minded devotion to God/Church and the Church's mission of "saving" the world. This is borne out by much else that the early Church Fathers wrote concerning knowledge, curiosity, and the priority that Catholic beliefs and teachings must take over and above everything else. Concerning the early Church Fathers and science, the historian, Richard Carrier, has produced some youtube videos and podcasts on the topic that one can google and/or find on itunes. His presentations feature further quotations from early Church Fathers that bear out what I have stated.)

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On the Contempt Augustine and other Church Fathers had for Ancient Skeptical Thinking

MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

"After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato’s books, in Aristotle’s, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings... Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world... Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders’ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil."
--Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The New Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, Episode 1, a Critique / Review of Deep Breath

The new Doctor didn't seem as funny when he was confused after his change as Matt Smith was. I was hoping for a funnier sort of confusion. Instead, his confusion sequences came off as very bland. Perhaps he should also have spoken his lines a bit louder.

After the new Doctor's head cleared he seemed to emulate Matt Smith a little and then seemed to be finding his way toward his own unique persona. So the first half of the show was pretty weak in my opinion, including the exchanges between Clara, the Doctor's companion, and Madame Vastra, the lizard lady, which were confused and dragged on too long. They were trying to show that Vastra was challenging Clara to be strong for the Doctor, but they came off as insults aimed at Clara for no apparent reason and not all of the insults seemed geared toward making Clara stronger. Clara has already proven her strength many times in the past. They should have rewritten the first half of the show. (I would like to have had a crack at that myself.)

The rest of the program and plot were well done and no doubt tie into the season as a whole.

Overall, I recall Strax's lines more than anyone else's. He stole the show.

It's wonderful how much money they save by having actors act like clockwork robots without any special robot costumes required. Brilliant. Kind of like the Who episode where a group of tourists were locked inside a bus on some distant world and then possessed by an alien without having to undergo any physical transformation, just a personality transformation, or, like the Who episode where the humans all wore gas masks. Inexpensive yet effective means to convey otherworldly weirdness. And it allows the actors to stretch themselves instead of stretching plastic all over their faces.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams on God, the Bible, and the Psychic Network

Williams’ father was Episcopalian which he describes as “Catholic light: half the religion, half the guilt.” And his mother was a devout Christian Scientist. Though Williams is not very religious today, he considers the possibility that his mother’s faith and its idea of “mind over matter” helped him kick his drug and alcohol addictions.

Williams' Top 10 Reasons to be an Episcopalian

10. No snake handling.

9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color-coded.

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All of the pageantry - none of the guilt.

2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.
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Reality, what a concept!
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Reality is just a crutch for people who can't cope with drugs.
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If it's the Psychic Network why do they need a phone number?
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What he would like to hear God say when he [Robin] arrives at the pearly gates:

"There's seating near the front. The concert begins at 5. It'll be Mozart, Elvis, and you know, anyone of your choosing. Or just, nice if heaven exists to know that there's laughter. That would be a great thing ... just to hear God go, 'two Jews just walked into a bar.'"
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Remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? There were people outside with signs that said, “This movie’s not real.” Come here, Sparky. No movie’s real. And they had other signs that said, “You will not get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” I looked at these people and said, “Are you going to be there? If so, then I’m not going.”
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Once on Leno, Williams pretended to be playing a game where the pedophile is hidden under a cup. He said, “Here we go. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Here you go right now. Move ‘em around, move ‘em around. Oh, you found the pedophile.”

Williams later put his hand over his groin, saying, “You have to realize that if you are a Catholic priest, you have retired this. That’s it—no more sex, but they are going to put you in a small dark box [a confessional] and people are going to tell you the nastiest sexual stuff they have done.”
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God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time.
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When in doubt, go for the dick joke.
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Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!'
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Cocaine is God's way of telling you you're making too much money.
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You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it.
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ROBIN WILLIAMS ON BROADWAY, BIBLICAL STORIES
http://youtu.be/PXeSgVk5aH4

Friday, August 01, 2014

Seven Reasons Not to Deny Global Warming

1) The average temperatures of the earth were hotter in June 2014 than at any other June since humans started keeping track--including the hottest ocean temperatures since recordkeeping began more than 130 years ago. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/global-june-temperature-record-17796

2) A vast expanse of permafrost in Siberia and Alaska continues to thaw to a greater extent each summer. The upper layer of permafrost, or the active layer, sometimes thaws in the summer. Recently, the active layer of permafrost has been observed to be getting larger with time, which means more permafrost is melting each summer. http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/melting_permafrost.asp?MR=1
AND http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/4/045009/article

3) The extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice should be measured in decades not "since 2011." And SEA ice is not a permanent feature, in fact, "During the second half of June 2014, the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic was the second fastest in the satellite data record... In general there has been a trend over the satellite data record towards earlier melt onset in the Arctic." http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/ In fact the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean at the end of the summer season 2014 likely won’t surpass the record low of 2012, but 2014 will still likely rank as one of the lowest minimum extents (or areas) in the record books--the fifth lowest since 1978.
http://www.livescience.com/47134-arctic-sea-ice-will-be-among-10-lowest.html
AND http://www.ibtimes.com/unfrozen-polar-ice-sheet-retreats-again-1567906

4) Meanwhile down in Antarctica, SEA ice surrounding Antarctica is just as ephemeral and vanishes as annually as it appears--it melts to nearly nothing from November to March, see http://youtu.be/MLCfF7BLii4 Stronger average winds have arisen which probably drive the increase in ephemeral annual sea ice by creating more open areas for ice to form, combined with changing salinity (salt content) from the ice melting on land. Melting ice shelves from land may also help shield the surface from warmer water moving into that area.

5) LAND ice in glaciers and permafrost are what climatologists are most concerned with. The LAND ice in glaciers and permafrost continues to decline in the Antarctica, Greenland and Northern Siberia. http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/sea-ice-melt-ice-sheet-loss/18457535

6) Arctic ocean waves are at record heights, which helps ENSURE the break up of sea ice annually, not that SEA ice gains are anything but ephemeral to begin with, as noted in 4) above.

7) Stronger winds continue to drive an ocean circulation pattern that brings up warm water, which is nibbling away at the base of glaciers along the shorelines: http://www.livescience.com/45571-antarctic-melting-myths.html

So, when you get a chance, consider this 2014 info...

Warming Oceans, Alaskan Fisheries in Danger of Economic Collapse
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/07/29/1317631/-Alaska-Fisheries-In-Midst-Of-An-Economic-Collapse

“What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change,” Deadly combination of drought and summer lightning strikes have led to a particularly severe fire season in eastern Washington and Oregon, some of the West’s biggest blazes are in Canada's Northwest Territories, where the total acreage burned so far this year is six times the 25-year average. In recent years, twice as much Canadian forest has been burning annually as in the 1970s, says University of Alberta wildland fire professor Mike Flannigan, and the northwestern part of the country is experiencing its hottest, driest summer in half a century. https://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/canadas-boreal-forests-are-burning-and-releasing-loads-of-carbon/view cc Dave Armstrong

ALSO

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-temperature-rise/
http://youtu.be/kteMXaUNvlc
http://www.ibtimes.com/direct-evidence-found-between-antarctic-ice-sheet-melt-sea-level-rise-1591725
http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/4/045009/article
http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/melting_permafrost.asp?MR=1
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/04/130401-global-warming-antarctica-sea-ice-science-environment/

cc Dave Armstrong