Archive for the ‘Pointing & Laughing’ Category

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Children’s Conception of God

February 20, 2016

I’ve often wondered what children think when they first start hearing about “god”. 

Non-physical entities like elves and gnomes are fairly easy for small children to conceptualize, but what about god? — A formless, all seeing, all-knowing invisible creature that is everywhere and nowhere; and is also somehow three beings in one. Despite being boundless and infinite, it is also a “he”, so clearly it must have genitals and go to the toilet. Whatever the case, it inspires adults to talk in serious, hushed tones and use incomprehensible but significant-sounding rhetoric.

In my case, I’d heard of this character by the time I was four, but I didn’t have any clear notion of who or what it could be. In the “book corner” at my Kindergarten, there was a slim hardcover that didn’t have any pictures. I asked the teacher what it was about, and she said in an odd tone, “It’s a book about God.” I turned the book over, and saw on the back cover a photo of a pleasant looking oldish lady with glasses. I can still remember her face. I asked the teacher, “Is that God?” and she became flustered and said “No, no, no, no…” But it was too late. The neurons had fused, and despite the words of the teacher, my little brain had imprinted the image of this sweet old dear, as God. Having had this initial image immediately invalidated, I have never been able to replace it with anything more intelligible.

Then I went to primary school. Due to a rather traditional old head master, the weekly school assembly was started by singing the national anthem. At that time in Australia (1972) the national anthem was a dreary old dirge entitled “God Save the Queen“. I’d seen a picture of the Queen, and she looked rather like that other lady who I had briefly thought to be God, so something resonated.

But the words were distinctly odd: “Send her victorious”, it droned. What exactly is this “victorious” that we are supposed to send her, I wondered. I never received any meaningful answer. But we were also supposed to send her some “happy” and some “glorious” as well. Okay, but how do you send those those things? And why is she going to “rain all over us”?

But the biggest and most fascinating mystery was the very title of the song. I had understood it as “God Saved the Queen”.

What? When did he do that? And how? ….So she was in some kind of trouble, like tied up or in a net or something, and God came and saved her? What did he look like? Who saw it happen? My teacher explained that I had got the song wrong: “We are asking God to save the Queen.” — So the Queen is still in trouble? “No no, it means if the Queen ever gets into trouble, then… oh, never mind…”

And this God character showed up in other places too. Once a week we had scripture classes with a tubby old fellow with glasses and not much hair. His name was “Canon Veril”, which the older kids in the school — who took him rather less seriously than we mystified first-graders did — turned into “Cannon Barrel”. He taught us to close our eyes when we prayed, and not to start crying or hide under the desk when he talked about the Holy Ghost. 

He also taught us The Lord’s Prayer. Its first line mystified us even more with its arcane language:

Our Father, who aren’t in heaven…

Well if he’s not in heaven, where is he? Did he have to go off and rescue the Queen again?

Hallo, what be Thy name?

So no one even knows who he is, even though they keep asking him every day?

In second grade we were told the story of Jesus being stuck in a cave and lying there for a few days and then getting up again or something. It was all quite weird. We had to draw a scene from the story on the cards that Cannon Barrel handed out. I drew Jesus’ body in the tomb, and then for some reason decided to draw a combine harvester in there as well, driving over him. The Canon didn’t like this at all, and as a punishment, snootily refused to collect the drawing like he did all the others. He was a strange person. Both authoritarian and oddly impotent. Not a nasty man, but given to regular bouts of choleric but strangely passive anger.

One little girl, who was very smart because she had glasses, was made to sit in the corridor and do other work of some kind, because her parents didn’t want her to go to scripture classes. Sitting alone in the corridor was usually a punishment, so we were confused about why she was sitting there if she wasn’t in trouble. But she sat there alone for an hour once a week for the whole six years. (As the top student in 6th grade, she was awarded what is known in Australia and the UK as the “Dux of the School” award — another term that had mystified us first-graders when we first heard it, and left us disappointed when no ducks came waddling out to collect their award.)

Posted by Yakaru

Coming soon: a post on religious instruction in schools 

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Are Anti-Popes Real?

April 5, 2015

I’ve always been rather dismayed at the idea of the Catholic Pope. I don’t know how Catholics can take it seriously. God speaks directly to the pope, and only to the pope… except when he dies, in which case God suddenly starts speaking to a committee, telling them who the next pope should be. No one can possibly take such a stupid idea seriously. Yet people, even non-Catholics, treat the Pope as if he’s somehow special, regardless of how much of a degenerate weasel he shows himself to be.

Yet not only are there popes, but also antipopes too! Out of chaos, antipopes are born. Here is an example where two antipopes were created at pretty much the same time.

In the 14th Century, the Church was in turmoil and popery was so unpopular in Italy that the seat of the pope had been moved to France. The French and Roman factions of the College of Cardinals (the committee that elects the pope) couldn’t agree on anything. Upon the death of Pope Gregory XI, the committee was too busy squabbling to hear God’s orders clearly. Each faction wound up electing a pope of their own.

So there were two popes, Pope Urban VI (elected by the Roman cardinals), and Pope Clement VII (elected by the French). This state of affairs continued for about 40 years until a French theologian hit upon the theory of conciliarism. This holds that yet another committee can be formed which is higher than the popes and the College of Cardinals. So God, it turns out, is also prepared to speak directly to this alternative council, if everyone else has been fooling about too much.

Bertrand Russell takes up the story:

At last in 1409 a council was summoned and met in Pisa. It failed, however, in a ridiculous manner. It declared both popes deposed for heresy and schism, and elected a third, who promptly died; but his cardinals elected as his successor an ex-pirate named Baldassare Cossa, who took the name John XXIII. Thus the net result was that there were three popes instead of two, the conciliar pope being a notorious ruffian.

It is exactly for problems like this that the church invented the concept of the antipope. This is a pope who dresses like a pope, acts like a pope, and is believed by many during his lifetime to be a pope, but who in fact isn’t a pope at all, because someone else is and it’s theologically impossible for two popes to exist at once.

Thus, at some later point, poor Clement VII and John XXIII were declared not really to have been popes after all, but rather, antipopes.

Things really start to get complicated when you get down to the subantipopery level. Here we hit some of the higher functions of advanced theology. A pope is allowed to appoint cardinals, but if it is later discovered that this pope was in fact an antipope, then all the cardinals he appointed suddenly — through a spooky “action-at-a-distance” — simultaneously turn into pseudocardinals. And of course, if such a cardinal has appointed cardinal nephews (a cardinal related to the pope), these instantaneously become quasicardinal nephews.

The last of the antipopes was Antipope Felix V, who fulfilled the role from 1439 to 1449.

Thanks to the advent of quantum physics, however, we now know that two popes can indeed appear to exist simultaneously. This has been spectacularly proven in our own time by the “retired” ex-pope Ratzinger and Pope Ingracious XV or what ever his name is.

Footnote: A commenter, “John”, has clarified/corrected the statement in the first paragraph about God talking to the committee. The correction is most welcome, though I would suggest that the clarifications underscore rather than refute the point I was attempting to make!

Posted by Yakaru

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“Atheist” Curtis White attacks Hitchens, makes fool of himself

June 28, 2013

Some idiot named Curtis White has written a book called {yawn} The Science Delusion {glop}. Salon has published an extract from it under the title Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors. It’s a truly atrocious piece of writing, full of factual errors, unfounded assertions and vitriol where evidence and argumentation should be. I could tear the whole thing to bits, but instead I’ll focus on one spectacularly stupid mistake. Like all spectacularly stupid mistakes, it’s flavored by hubris, hypocrisy and plenty of other stupid mistakes.

In short, White accuses Hitchens of drawing presumptuous conclusions while ignoring religious scholarship. Had White read Hitchens more closely, he would have realized that the conclusion he attributes to Hitchens, was actually Hitchens quoting the conclusion of Israeli archeologists….. the very kind of scholars White was accusing Hitchens of ignoring. It’s a straight up failure in reading comprehension on White’s part, and he should print an immediate retraction and apology. The whole piece though is a disgrace, so I’ll take a ping at a few other aspects of it too, before dealing with White’s mis-quotation of Hitchens.

 

White accuses Hitchens of lying. Not of exaggeration, or of getting his facts wrong, or of sloppy scholarship, but of lying. Obviously, for someone to be lying, they need to be aware that they are lying. Even more obviously, when accusing someone of lying, you need to be able to present some kind of evidence that they are deliberately saying things they must know aren’t true. Sadly — well, stupidly — White does nothing of the sort. Instead he fills the piece with invective:

Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” is an intellectually shameful book….

He carries on in that vein for a long time, complaining that Hitchens 

reduces religion to a series of criminal anecdotes.

Well, the book is clearly an anti-religious polemic, the subject of which is the trouble with religion. Had Hitchens titled the book A History of the Abrahamic Religions, White’s complaint would be valid. But it isn’t called that. What was White expecting? A set of encyclopedias delivered to his door? He continues, arguing that

virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed.

That’s a very strong and clear statement, and as will soon become apparent, a stupid one. The entire book is focused on exactly historical and textual scholarship, from the early days of Christianity, to the Enlightenment and beyond. I don’t really know how to begin to refute White on this point. Should I advise him to open the book and focus on the squiggly black bits? Should that, ultimately, not suffice, please see the footnotes for further resources.

After opening with a spray about Hitchens’ supposed lies and poor scholarship, White presents his knockdown evidence which he claims demonstrates “Hitchens’s naked dishonesty” and “historical howlers”. This is a lengthy quote from a biblical scholar, Richard J. Hamblin, which includes Hitchens’ own words.

In discussing the exodus, Hitchens dogmatically asserts: “There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert.” 

Hamblin concludes that Hitchens–

has failed to do even a superficial survey of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions.

He has a suggestion for Hitchens:

Might we suggest that Hitchens begin with Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt and Ancient Israel in Sinai?

There are several problems here. One is that White doesn’t bother checking out the merits of Hoffmeier’s books, expecting his readers to take it on trust that Hoffmeier does indeed provide a compelling case for the existence of Moses. Nor does he bother to point his readers to any other references supporting the historicity of Moses. If such evidence really is clear from “even a superficial survey” then why doesn’t White do it and add some otherwise missing substance to his invective?

But there’s a much bigger problem. Hamblin himself failed to do “even a superficial survey” of the very passage he is quoting.

***

Tip for Curtis White: If you are going make an argument based on an appeal to authority, make sure that the authority has done his homework.

***

Hamblin quotes Hitchens only partially. Had White checked the passage himself, he would have noticed what readers of this blog — but NOT readers of White’s stupid book — will also notice……

Here’s the whole passage including the bit that Hamblin failed to include, (emphasis added):

Hitchens:

No group of diggers and scholars has ever worked harder, or with greater expectations, than the Israelis who sifted through the sands of Sinai and Canaan. The first of them was Yigael Yadin, whose best-known work Was at Masada and who had been charged by David Ben-Gurion to dig up “the title deeds” that would prove the Israeli claim to the Holy Land. Until a short time ago, his evidently politicized efforts were allowed a certain superficial plausibility. 

But then much more extensive and objective work was undertaken, presented most notably by Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his colleague Neil Asher Silberman. These men regard the “Hebrew Bible” or Pentateuch as beautiful, and the story of modern Israel as an all-around inspiration, in which respects I humbly beg to differ. But their conclusion is final, and the more creditable for asserting evidence over self-interest. There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert (let alone for the incredible four-decade length of time mentioned in the Pentateuch), and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date.

From God is Not Great Chapter 7

That’s right — the conclusion Hamblin criticized Hitchens for drawing was not drawn by Hitchens at all. Rather, it was the conclusion drawn by dozens of archaeologists and summarized by Finkelstein and Silberman — the very type of scholars Hitchens is accused of “simply ignoring”. White would have seen this had he checked the passage his authority was quoting. He would have seen that Hitchens repeatedly refers to religious scholars who chose facts over self-interest — he quotes Bart Ehrman for this reason too, among others. But clearly, White “simply ignored” the evidence that was before his very eyes. Or maybe he was lying….?

The rest of his criticisms of Hitchens are the usual mix of snootiness and confusion. Yes, Hitchens did tend to lump all religions together, but if you read carefully, he did not claim that all religions are equally bad, just equally wrong — if God does not exist. (And yes, the “if” there is also Hitchens’.) Yes some religious people do good things (White mentions liberation theology) but Hitchens’ argument is that the same good could just as easily be done by secular organizations. “Name a good deed done by a religious person that could not be done by an atheist” is Hitchens’ challenge. White does not address this point, but keeps on winding the argument back to the start.

Yes, I also found the chapter on Eastern religions a little lacking. It also contained some factual errors that White didn’t pick up. And White’s critique of it added some factual errors that Hitchens didn’t make. (For example, Rajneesh came from a Jain and not a Hindu tradition; and the movement he started was called Neo-Sannyas not Sanyasa, as White states.) 

White then accuses Hitchens of failing to state what he means by “Enlightenment values”. Well, okay, but these values are implicit in the book. You’ve got to read the book though to notice them. 

Finally White faults Hitchens for failing to define what a conscience is. But he misses the point completely — simply that humans don’t need religion to be moral, which is a point many religious people happily concede — and raves on incoherently for ages. It’s completely irrelevant. I won’t spend any more time on it. 

White ends the piece by repeating his accusations:

And what of Hitchens himself? Where is his conscience when he knowingly falsifies the history of religious and philosophical ideas?

Again, Curtis White, where is your evidence that Hitchens is doing this? You have a financial interest in promoting your book on Hitchens “lies”, but you have not presented any evidence that he is lying. Even more stupidly, you haven’t even presented evidence that he’s wrong! Instead you’ve been caught out yourself by a very amateur blogger whose only relevant qualification here is simply the ability to read.

You’ve got a lot of nerve, Curtis White, calling a fellow author a liar without a shred of evidence. And you have attempted to prop it up with arguments that have imploded under the most superficial scrutiny and demolished your own case. You can thank your lucky stars that Hitchens is no longer around to respond personally to your weak-minded and slanderous drivel.

References:

Here’s a short clip of Hitchens responding to an atheist of similar temperament to Curtis White.

Here’s a lengthy discussion between Christopher Hitchens and religious scholar Tim Rutten. Unlike Curtis White, Rutten has actually read the book, and finds much to praise in it. He corrects a few factual errors, graciously and gratefully accepted by Hitchens, and outlines some criticisms far more cogently than White could ever even dream of. The discussion is extremely civil, sincere, and scholarly.

Posted by Yakaru

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Esther Hicks fan demands logical fallacies

November 28, 2012

Here’s a bit of light relief after the previous post’s marathon of Bruce Lipton insanity.

Mariah, over at the Post-Abe blog, (which deals with Esther Hicks’s “Abraham”/law of attraction scam), recently put up a post that concluded:

“By the way, if anyone would like to provide a defense of Esther Hicks, in case I may be mistaken and she may have something of value for her listeners, I’d be glad to hear it. No logical fallacies. Here’s a handy chart for your review–” [Link to logical fallacies chart]

Now, If I were to post something like that, I’d expect a string of people insisting that their own particular way of thinking strange thoughts is NOT a logical fallacy. What I wouldn’t be expecting is what Mariah got. Some idiot going by the name of “Flipside” is demanding the right to post logical fallacies in the comments section of her site!

How fair, let alone rational, is it to invite a “defense of Esther Hicks”, which you say you will be “…glad to hear”, and then, before anyone has even offered anything at all, you limit said defense with “no logical fallacies”? Wow!….

So that’s an all time first. I’ve never seen anyone explicitly stating that logical fallacies are exactly the kind of things you need when defending a spiritual teacher, so it’s unfair to preclude them.

This might come as a shock to Flipside, but logical fallacies are statements that are demonstrably wrong. If you make them, you are being wrong and talking rubbish. You are saying that it is unreasonable to expect people to defend Esther Hicks if they are not allowed to talk rubbish while doing so. I don’t know who you are, and I’ve never seen any of your comments there before, but I am glad that you have put your standards for communication — and your implicit estimation of Esther Hicks’s teachings — so clearly on the record.

But I don’t think it was mere impatience that made Mariah install that condition. Scams like the one Esther Hicks runs are based not merely on ruthlessly exploiting people’s trust, hopes and fears, but also on exploiting the naturally occurring errors our brains like to make. Perhaps the quickest and most painless way of waking up to con artists like Esther Hicks is the discovery of the ancient wisdom known as the list of logical fallacies.

New Age teachers like Esther Hicks are always babbling about how “your perceptions shape your reality”, but they never mention things like confirmation bias or the post hoc fallacy. For some reason such things are completely excluded from their teachings.

Why do you think that is, Flipside? I’ll give you a hint. They don’t mention those ideas for exactly the same reason that Mariah did mention them!

But at least Flipside has kind of noticed something going on here:

….And I don’t see any responses. What a shock!!

Yep, the Hicks fans fell strangely silent after that. So you noticed it too! Who woulda thunk it! 

No wonder the blog is no longer as interesting as it used to be….

Yep, I’m sure the site has gone down hill ever since Mariah started asking people like you to try and say something sensible for a change. It must be very frustrating for you to have to sit through all that.

(The rest of Flipside’s comment is just a dull piece of concern trolling, so I won’t post it here.)

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New Age Horse Botherers

September 13, 2012

I can’t do it. I don’t know what to write about this video. I guess you’ll understand why if you watch it.

Conscious Horse, Conscious Rider

COMPETITION

I know it’s cheap just to just link to a video like that, so…..

I’ll offer free prizes for anyone who can provide some witty or insightful commentary.

1st Prize — A free face-lift from the Louise Hay Clinic

2nd Prize — A set of paradigm-shifting spanners

3rd Prize — A free subscription to @Conscious Horse on twitter