Friday, October 31, 2014

Is This An Autistic Thing?

The following remarks were all contributed by one person to an online discussion about Jesus' historicity, over the course of the past day and a half:

"[...]you have no hope of answering that question with anything but gross speculation[...]With so little evidence you cant make a case for or against his historicity. You can only speculate and give your opinions[...]these were books that were being edited and put together to express a message being fashioned in real time by a panel of church elders. They chose the message they wanted to send and made sure it was reflected in the writings that made it into the bible. In one of those cases the mention of Jesus was out of context with the rest of the text, as if it was added later, or at least, that was the conclusion of the folks who study such nonsense. I stick to science[...]I think speculating is worth less of my time then doing things for which there can be answers. Not that I dont do it, but I don't squander it - i save it for speculation that I care about[...]the point is what does it matter? you will solve nothing, you will accomplish nothing, the conversation has been ongoing for hundreds of years. Do something useful instead. Go feed a hungry dog[...]this is what I mean by a waste of time[...]"

The last remark was made just a few minutes ago, and I have no idea whether or not the end is in sight yet. I fear we're not nearly there yet.

Jumping into the discussion so many times just to say that he doesn't think the discussion is worth having.

I don't understand this guy. And it's not just him. I run into this sort of thing a lot: People interrupting discussions about whether or not Jesus existed to inform the discutants that they don't care whether or not Jesus existed. And when I told him that his behavior mystified me, he got very mad.

What is he mad about? Why is he wasting so much of his time to insist that he won't be wasting any of his time on this? I don't think it ever occurred to him to apologize for wasting MY time, or the time of other people trying to discuss the topic at hand. And implying that discussing whether or not Jesus existed makes dogs starve? Is that any less irrational than insisting that cuss words make Baby Jesus cry?

I don't think people barge into discussions on other topics very often just to express their disinterest in those topics. Clearly, the topic of Jesus makes people go a little nuts.

Still. Behavior like this baffles me. I'm just about at the point where I think that trying to understand this may be a waste of my time. I'm past the point where I've concluded that responding directly to this guy is a waste, or worse. (Seems to fire him up and egg him on.) So this blog post, besides being motivated by the fact that it's been 4 days since I posted anything here, is also me sort of winding the issue up and tying a bow around it.

But besides that, I'm wondering whether this is an instance where someone's behavior baffles me because I'm autistic and the other person is (I'm assuming in this case) neurologically-typical. I also assume that the majority of you, my readers, are neurologically-typical. And so, before I do my utmost to put the subject behind me and return to topics which I find more interesting -- such as, for example, whether or not Jesus existed -- I'm asking whether any of you might possibly find this person's behavior not so bizarre, not so mystifying. If you'd like to comment, if you could possibly explain some of this to me, explain why a person would interrupt a conversation with so many assertions that he doesn't care about the topic of discussion, that would be very helpful. I've got to live among you, the neurologically-typical, and greater understanding eases the co-existence.

Is he motivated by kindness? It doesn't feel at all kind to me, but hey, I misunderstand people very drastically on a routine basis. Is he trying to be helpful by warning me that I'm wasting my life? Is he actually obsessed with Jesus, but in denial about it? Those are just wild guesses on my part, I really don't understand this.

Do you also find his behavior bizarre?

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Could've Been Even Clearer: New Atheists Are Ignorant ABOUT HISTORY

(I'm not ignorant of the objection which will be raised by some, that "ignorant about" in the title is incorrect and should be "ignorant of," but those who would so object may themselves be ignorant of the ways in which language changes more quickly than manuels of supposedly "correct" language. I'm lucky I eventually found me a whole differnt kind a English teacher. "About" is correct in the post title. "Ignorant of history" would suggest that New Atheists are unaware that there is something known as history, and honestly, in several cases it's not as bad as that.)

This insight -- that I could've been clearer about the bug the New Atheists have put up my butt -- came to me last night in the midst of a horribly unsuccessful attempt to communicate with someone about my previous blog post. The New Atheist with whom I was trying to communicate was disputing my accusation of Richard Dawkins' ignorance, and referred to Dawkins' refutation of Anselm's cosmological argument.

That led to an a-ha moment for me: Dawkins engages in theological disputation, and I don't. I mean, I knew already that Dawkins debated theologians, but this suddenly made clear to me how Dawkins and I approach certain subjects, such as Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109, in two completely different ways: Dawkins from a theological perspective and I from an historical perspective. I've never engaged in a theological debate, and I don't ever intend to. I've got a streak going, 54 consecutive years without engaging in theological debate, and I'm proud of that streak and I intend to keep it going. Dawkins has spent some time countering Anselm's ontological argument. I'm much more interested in Anselm's role in things like the investiture controversy, a power struggle in the 11th and 12th centuries between some Popes and some European monarchs, because those Popes and those kings and the power they fought over all actually existed, whereas God, the sole subject of ontological arguments, does not. It's similar to the way that long debates over who would win completely imaginary fights between completely imaginary comic book heroes -- debates not seldom participated in by New Atheists, notorious for their comic book fandom -- do not interest me, while discussions of things which do exist or have existed do interest me.

So there it is, one major difference between me and Dawkins: I have nothing to say about theology. Maybe I'm wrong, but it really does seem unnecessary to me to respond at all to someone like, for instance, Terry Eagleton. In my opinion, Eagleton makes himself seem quite horrible enough. No need for any help from me. And as Eagleton attacks people like Dawkins he also promotes Christianty, making it look horrible too. What is there left for me to do, except perhaps to ask people to please note that just because Eagleton and I both criticize Dawkins, it doesn't mean we'd have one nice thing to say about each other?

Yes, I know that theists do exist, and that some of them are ready at the drop of a hat to discuss Anselm's theology and in some cases even to defend it. But because of historical developments between Anselm's time and our own, there is no requirement for me to pretend that Anselm's theology is worth taking seriously, or that there is any Christian theology which doesn't bore me excruciatingly. Maybe I'm wrong, and Dawkins is right, and there actually is a need to critique theology. I think all that's needed is to offer something better. And what's not better than theology?

When I take Dawkins to task for talking about Islam without having read the Koran, it is not a theological objection -- although Dawkins going into detail about someone like Anselm makes his proud ignorance of the contents of the Koran look even more provincial than it already did -- but an historical one. From my point of view with my emphasis on the importance of the study of history, the importance of reading the Koran is not in order to be able to discuss God. What is said in the Koran about God resembles what Anselm said about God in that both are talking about something purely imaginary, and therefore infinitely less interesting than all of the Muslims who have actually existed and actually do exist now. We're talking about billions of people, and one book, not even a particularly long book, which might just tell you more about all of those people than any other book could. If you're at all interested in those people, why on Earth wouldn't you read that one book? And Dawkins, as we all know, can't seem to shut up about all of those people. He's constantly trying to tell us all just exactly what is going on with all of those people. It's beyond the beyond. It reminds me of the anti-Western cleric in exile in London in Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses,

who constantly issues stern warnings of the evils and dangers of the West, who stays in an apartment with the curtains always drawn so that he will not see the West, and whenever he must leave the apartment his followers walk before and behind him and to his left and right and hold up veils so that he will never get a glimpse of the West. The West he's always criticizing and damning. Okay, Dawkins isn't actually quite that daffy, but he's headed in that direction.

And he has set the tone for New Atheism, and so we get things like Free Inquiry's publication of Michael Paulkovich's list of 126 people who supposedly should've left us some mention of Jesus but didn't -- a publication in the leading New Atheist magazine, in New Atheism's flagship, almost, of an essay that would've gotten an F in any Ancient History 101, because it purports to be about ancient history, and yet is so jaw-droppingly free of any connection to something like historical facts.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How New Atheists Can Make Even Someone Like Reza Aslan Look Bright By Comparison

You heard me, pardner: there's a feud a goin' on between Reza Aslan and the New Atheists, and I must take Aslan's side.

A lot of people, probably most of them Christians, heard about that awful woman who reads the diatribes posing as news on Fox News ask Aslan how he as a non-Christian could dare to write a book about Jesus, and naturally took Aslan's side. Maybe some of them first actually read something by Aslan after that interview and said, Hm, this guy isn't much of a writer, but still, between him and that lady on Fox, I'm totally on his side.

In a not dissimilar way, I and some other atheists have seen the Harris-vs-Aslan shitstorm gathering force, and been terribly unimpressed by Aslan, but still side with him immediately and unconditionally on topics of religion if it's a choice between him and Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.

Aslan has become famous with a supposedly nonfictional book about Jesus which is just as fictional as most supposedly nonfictional books about Jesus are. Like the authors of most of these books, Aslan has created a Jesus in his own image, or in the image of what he flatters himself to be. There's so little we actually know about Jesus that whoever writes an entire book about him, or even a book which long sections about him, has to make stuff up. Some of us, like me and Kazantzakis and Gore Vidal, have been honest enough with ourselves and the world to call these books what they are: novels. (And Kazantzakis' novel about Jesus, for one, is effin brilliant. Basically, he told the story of the Gospel of Judas decades before the Gospel of Judas was discovered.)

Aslan is no Kazantzakis and no Ehrman, but he's making a decent effort. Sam Harris is making a spectacle of himself. Aslan said that there is no relationship between religious texts and the lives of religious believers, and that was very silly, of course, but instead of acknowledging that of course he couldn't literally have meant that, the New Atheists have seized upon it and gone on an on and on about how ridiculous Aslan's statement is.

As opposed to making the slightest effort to understand what Aslan meant, which is that there are a wide variety of interpretations of the Koran, and a wide variety of beliefs and political positions among Muslims. Exactly the same way that they obsess on the few verses from the Koran or the Bible which cast Islam or Judaism or Christianity in the worst possible light, and ignore the rest of those books. (Let me take the opportunity to once again call BULLSHIT on the vast majority of New Atheists who claim to've read the Koran and Bible cover-to-cover.) Or the way that some of them reacted to Bart Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist? by going on and on about some drawing of a bird in the Vatican and how that drawing supposedly exposed Ehrman as a fraud. That was bizarre, the way they went on about that drawing. I wish I could say it was atypical.

Aslan is attempting to point out the diversity in the actual lives of the actual more than one billion Muslims in the world, over the din of the New Atheists saying Oh there's some horrible stuff here in the Koran, Oh we've got to watch out for these Muslims, Oh, be very, very afraid -- a din which of course fits in very nicely with the islamophobic rhetoric of people like the aforementioned Fox News correspondent who asked Aslan how he got the nerve to write about Jesus without even being a Christian.

Of course Aslan pointed it out in a very unfortunate and clumsy way when he said that there is NO connection between the lives of believers and the texts of the holy books of those believers. Still, his point was against prejudice -- against assigning characteristic to Muslims because they are Muslims instead of looking closer and regarding them as the individual human beings they are. And that is a point which urgently needs to be made in our society which still suffers from so much prejudice against and fear of Muslims. Between Aslan's attempt to counter this prejudice and fear, and the New Atheists stirring it up, there's no question that any and every intelligent atheist must side with Aslan. In spite of the frequent facepalms over the clumsy way Aslan expresses himself, the message he expresses is far the wiser one. Stemming the tide of violence is far more urgent than whether or not someone believes in God. Identifying with and supporting Muslims fighting against extremism and Christians countering prejudice and fear is far more important than critiquing ancient texts.

And once again, New Atheists, if you're going to critique those texts, read the whole texts first. That's a bare minimum to have a chance not to look like fanatical fools. Don't keep telling me you already have -- like I keep telling you: I don't believe you. Show me you have, by saying something intelligent about the entire Koran or the entire Bible.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Someone Asked Me What "New Atheists" Are, And How They're Different From "Old Atheists"

Dawkins, Harris, PZ Myers and their fans are New Atheists. Hitchens and Victor Stenger were New Atheists. They combine a cluelessness about history and religion and the humanities with a propensity for making sweeping inaccurate statements about them, and don't seem interested in ideas concerning religion which are more complicated than sound bites. Some prominent examples:

Dawkins started the "Bronze Age goat herders" meme. (Coincidentally, he also coined the term "meme" in his book The Selfish Gene, back when he was doing something he did exceptionally well: writing about biology.) Point out to a typical New Atheist that the oldest parts of the Bible were written in the Iron Age, by town-dwellers, and that the Israelites' primary livestock animal was sheep, not goats, and the typical response is "So what?" So why do you keep repeating Dawkins' meme, that's what.

On p 1 of The Selfish Gene Dawkins approvingly quoted GG Simpson's pronouncement that we should completely forget about all attempts made before 1859 to answer the question, "What is man?" That should have warned me that neither Simpson nor Dawkins knew very much at all about things written up to 1859, and led me to expect things like Dawkins' activity since 2004, when he's published very little work in biology.

More recently Dawkins tweeted the fact that there were more Nobel prize winners from Trinity College than from "the entire Muslim world." Immediately I and a whole bunch of other people pointed out cultural bias, duh! in the awarding of Nobels. Last I heard Dawkins hasn't felt the need to reply to any of us about that. It's getting more and more difficult to take him seriously except in a very negative way.

Hitchens created a very popular meme in the subtitle of his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

But of course it doesn't poison EVERYthing. Life's much more complicated than that, billions of people's lives over the course of tens of thousands of years, and yes, I'm saying that if you want to say something deep about religion, you have to have at least an inkling of all of those billions of people's lives, or at the very best you're only going to say something deep every now and then, completely by accident.

Michael Paulkovich is a New Atheist, and the editors of Free Inquiry demonstrated quintessential New Atheist behavior when they published an article because they liked the sound bite: "126 ancient authors who should've mentioned Jesus but didn't," without seeming to care at all about checking into whether or not Paulkovich is making any sense. He's not.

Sam Harris is a peculiarly mid-19th-century sort of New Atheist: his moral philosophy is utilitarian, like that of John Suart Mill, as if he hadn't heard of how Mill had been thoroughly dismantled by the late 19th century by people like Nietzsche.

Dawkins has a lot of credibility in the filed of biology, richly deserved, but he's helped to give an undeserved credibility to New Atheism. It's very bad luck that these people are currently the public face of atheism, but we atheists who actually know something about history, philosophy, the arts and religion -- about the humanities -- just have to speak up louder and more persistently. That's the only way that an intelligent and informed public discussion of religion will get underway.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In The Reza-Aslan-Vs-The-New-Atheists Flapadoodle, I'm Rooting For Neither Side

What a bunch of idiots. On either side people are twistng their opponents' words and trying hard not to understand one thing about what their opponents actually mean. (Not that there's a tremendous amount, on either side, to be understood.) This isn't a debate, it's the forensic equivalent of pro wrestling, except that the wrestlers aren't even in on the scam.

So, they're fighting about the Koran and its relationship to terrorism. On the one hand Aslan says that there is no relationship when we're talking about people who scream verses from the Koran as they commit acts of terrorism. On the other hand there are over a billion Muslims, and perhaps as many as 30,000 men in ISIS, and the New Atheists constantly talk as if those 30,000 were representative of the whole billion, interrupted by frequent protestations that they're doing nothing of the sort. Lately it's become fashionable to accuse any and all of their opponents of being "dishonest" and "cowardly." I think the real cowards are keeping their heads down and hoping that the New Atheists will simply go away, as most people do most of the time when confronted with raving lunatics.

An anonymous post on Richard Dawkins' website asserts that:

"Aslan insists that approaching these holy books the way most people approach most books — by reading the words on their pages precisely as they are written and assuming that the author actually meant what he wanted to say — is somehow 'unsophisticated.'”

The irony of this accusation coming in the midst of a diatribe accusing Aslan and Ben Affleck of making bigoted, racist statements about Muslims, simply because they said that the Koran was not the only source of Muslims' motivations for their actions, must be striking for almost anyone but a New Atheist. (Affleck is the only individual mentioned in this post I don't consider to be an idiot. I think he's very smart. So's Maher, but he has some dumb friends. Okay, so that's a total of 2 smart people, Affleck and Maher.)

"As my friend Christopher Massie points out: 'The conclusion that disproportionate numbers of intrinsically violent and misogynistic people reside in a certain region of the world could not be more bigoted or racist.'”

It also couldn't be further from anything that either Aslan or Affleck ever said, but you're off to the races already.

"Here’s the thing: there is good reason to believe that neither Aslan nor Affleck is racist or bigoted."

Well, of course. And it'd be a shame, wouldn't it, anonymous blogger, if people thought you had accused either Aslan or Affleck of bigotry or racism simply because you said that things they said were racist and bigoted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"This Beltway Narrative About The Republicans Being Way Ahead Is One Of The Dumbest And Most Fact-Free Things I've heard In A Long Time"

-- Jess McIntosh of Emily's List, just a minute ago on "All In With Chris Hayes."

So it's not just me.

Quoted from memory, my apologies to Jess if I quoted inexactly, but that is the gist of it.

So get out there and vote and let's make this a Democratic landslide.

Motorcycle Road Racing

I was having a terrible time finding facts and figures relevant to this blog post, so finally I just gave up, and so this is going to be more about some personal experiences of mine as a racing fan than about racing per se. If you want some facts and figures to fill out what I have to say here, all I can do is sincerely apologize. Short of some large university library which might have back issues of Cycle magazine going back to the mid-1970's, I don't know what would help here -- and no, I don't know of any library which has those back issues in the stacks.

And so, for example, I can't tell you which AMA road race it was in 1977 in which Kenny Roberts went from last to first in the first 4 laps. Normally by that time in AMA's 750cc premier-class road racing, Roberts would qualify in pole position, zoom out into the lead immediately, settle into a pace which was comfortable for him and faster than anyone else, and win the race easily. He'd win unless he had mechanical trouble. Impressive, but also, since no one was challenging Roberts' dominance, also somewhat monotonous. Before the start of this particular race, Roberts was sent from the pole to back of the starting grid because his bike was leaking oil. And after 4 laps, he was in front. And Cycle magazine proclaimed that those 4 laps demonstrated that Roberts was -- beyond a doubt - the best motorcycle road racer in the world.

That pronouncement showed the provincial outlook of American motorcycle road racing at the time. Maybe Roberts was the best in the world, but an AMA -- American Motorcycle Association -- road race wasn't going to prove it. Then as now, the world class of mororcycle road racing is that organized by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme), with races all over the world contested by riders from all over the world. Now and then an FIM rider participated in the AMA's most prestigious race, at Daytona. Giacomo Agostini, one of the FIM's all-time greats, won at Daytona in 1974. Roberts left the AMA for the FIM beginning in 1978, and won the world championship in 1978, 1979 and 1980 -- but it wasn't completely lopsided. It's not completely unreasonable to contend that Barry Sheene might have been as good or better. (Sheene himself was never the slightest bit shy about saying so.)

In 1978 I stopped following road racing. I turned 17 in 1978, and it had become clear that although I liked watching road racing, I was no kind of fast rider myself. I can do some things really well, other I can't. Racing a motorcycle might be one thing I can't even do as well as average. Also, lack of skill aside, I was getting too big for road racing. There haven't been many champions over 6 feet tall.

Maybe Roberts was the greatest ever, but you can't say it's beyond a doubt. Not at all. But he did change some things. In the mid-70's he started to freak people out by dragging his knees around corners. He put big pads made out of duct tape on the knees of his racing uniform. Eventually all road racers were dragging their knees, and all road racing uniforms had built-in knee pads. In the 1970's, there was an obituary in Cycle for a road racer who'd died in a crash. The writer talked about the first time he'd seen this racer, when he was "dragging his elbows" around a corner. Back then, "dragging his elbows" was a euphemism and an exaggeration of how far this guy leaned the bike over.

Toward the end of the 2012 FIM road racing season, almost 35 years after I'd stopped following AMA road racing, I tuned back in, this time to the FIM premier world class, now called MotoGP, and saw that now sometimes the riders literally drag their elbows through some turns. I saw that world-championship racing had gone from 2-stroke to 4-stroke engines, I heard about this guy named Valentino Rossi who'd won 9 world championships and was very popular. Very soon Rossi became my favorite rider. What can I say, he's extremely charismatic. He's not movie-star handsome, he kind of looks like a happy puppy with a pop-eye and matted curly fur. He always seems to be in a good mood. His face and hair and voice and personality are somewhat like those of a younger Roberto Benigni.

And although he's 35 years old and 35 generally seems to be too old for this sort of thing, Rossi is still one of a handful of the fastest riders. But, you see, there's this kid Marc Marquez. At the beginning of the 2013 MotoGP season, seconds before the race started, the announcer said to keep an eye on Marquez cause he was special. Turned out it's been really easy to keep an eye on Marquez cause he's usually out in front or close to it. He won the 2013 world championship, youngest-ever top-class champ, and a week ago he clinched the 2014 championship with 3 races left in the season. Earlier this year it seemed like Marquez was just going to whup ass unmercifully. He won the first 10 of the season's 18 races. But, he's crashed in 3 of the last 4, so hold on, this still might be a contest. There's Rossi, and then there's Gorge Lorenzo, a 2-time champ, and then there's Dani Pedrosa, who's finished 4 seasons in 2nd in MotoGP and has about 3 times as many race wins as anyone else who's never won the season championship. The Repsol Hondas ridden by Marquez and Pedrosa have orange wheels, might sound silly to you if you're just reading about it but it looks wicked cool. After a couple of seasons out of contention it looks as if the Ducatis might be as fast now as the Repsol Hondas, and the factory Yamahas ridden by Rossi and Lorenzo.

Or faster. Ducatis are wicked cool. They're Italian, and they're desmos. Desmodromic valve drive was still fairly new in production vehicles back in the 1970's, introduced to the wider world by Ducati, and the Ducatis still are almost the only desmos around. That's wicked cool. Look Ma, no valve springs!

Friday, October 17, 2014

US 3rd-Partiers: The Anti-Bismarcks

In the 1860's, Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia, who a few years later would become Chancellor of Germany when he finished taking over Germany on behalf of the Prussian monarchy, which amounted to taking over Germany for himself, because the Prussian King and soon to be German Emperor (Kaiser) either didn't notice or didn't care that it was Bismarck who was actually in charge -- Ah say Ah say in the 1860's, Bismarck said, "Politik ist die Kunst des Moeglichen." ("Politics is the art of the possible.") Or maybe he said, "La politique, c'est l'art du possible." Or he very well could've said it in English. He was talking to another German dude and he probably said it in German, but he and his pals were a little more cosmopolitan than Amurrkins sometimes realize.

Don't get me wrong: Bismarck was a reactionary and I disagree with most of what he did. On the other hand, however, in the 1880's he instituted universal health insurance and universal pensions for the elderly in Germany. He did this in order to undermine the Social Democrats, against whom he had a -- well, pathological aversion, spying on them, having them arrested and banning their publications and so forth. Really terrible draconian stuff. Bismarck introduced the insurance and pensions in order to combat the Social Democrats, to take the wind out of their sails. (Worked pretty well, too.) But in spite of Bismarck's motives, the universal health insurance and pensions for the elderly marked the beginning of a strong social safety net and were undeniably a boon for the very underprivileged Germans whom the Social Democrats wanted to help.

On the 17th of October, 2014, on Facebook, a Leftist Amurrkin supporter of 3rd parties proposed that anyone who'd ever associated him- or herself with either the Democrats or the GOP be completely barred from the political process. As opposed to voting Democratic because Republicans are worse.

At last check he still has not responded to queries about exactly how he hoped to accomplish this.

Good intentions are useless if they're completely divorced from reality, and conservatives sometimes co-operate with the Left when the Left is strong enough that they have no other good choice. In the midterms it's going to be the Democrats or the Republicans, and the Democrats really are to the left of the GOP, not as far left as I am, but far enough to the left of the GOP that the space between them is clear to see. Vote Democrat, for women's rights and more equitable tax codes and a stronger social safety net and non-creationist science education and the environment and sustainable energy and financial re-regulation and to keep psychos who think Obama's a secret Kenyan Muslim Communist from running this country.

If You're An Atheist, That doesn't Necessarily Mean We're Pals (Maybe You Noticed That Already)


About like-mindedness: there is so much more to people's minds -- well, to some minds -- than that one freaking issue of whether God exists. Over the past several years I've met so many atheists online whom I do not like at all. There's at least one, Richard Dawkins,

whom I used to like quite a lot, until I started to read what he had to say on religious topics. Well, there were warning signs already in his work on biology. Right there on p 1 of The Selfish Gene Dawkins announces,

"We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: "The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely."

Besides warning me that I probably wouldn't like G G Simpson either, Dawkins gave a big hint there that he might turn out to be the kind of moron who'd go around making sweeping statements about Islam while admitting that he hadn't read the Koran and didn't plan to.

There's so much worthwhile stuff which was written before 1859.

And it makes my head whirl that I need to point that out because somebody as brilliant in biology as Dawkins is so fucking stupid about so much else. And yet here we are. The fish which is New Atheism stinks from the head, which is Dawkins. I agree with them about atheism. I agree that humans invented God and not the other way around. But that's just one question. Answering it correctly doesn't necessarily mean you're a genius, and getting wrong doesn't necessarily mean you're not. Dismissing so much written before 1859 as glibly as Dawkins and Simpson is a pretty good sign (I saw it, I saw the sign, it's right there in black-and-white as big as day p 1 of The Selfish Gene) that they might have other remarkably stupid things to say.

And Dawkins has been saying and writing stupid things for a living for over a decade now, having given up what he was good at, biology. And he's been so hugely successful at it that millions of people are now following the 2nd part of it, saying stupid banal inaccurate uninformed things against religion, without having emulated the more honorable 1st part, having become brilliant at something else first, be it biology or what have you. Coyne and Myers are accomplished biologists like Dawkins, but Harris skipped straight to the stupid, banal, inaccurate and uninformed anti-religious part, and is probably the 2nd-most commercially successful New Atheist behind Dawkins.

I have no problem with them saying things against religion, I say things against religion myself all the time. It's the stupid banal inaccurate uninformed part that annoys me, and which should concern any atheist who wishes to see the influence of religion wane and die its natural death at long last. I don't think this stuff is helping. And I don't think that I'm being excessive when I say that what Dawkins and Coyne and Myers and Harris have to say about religion is stupid. Ignorance is one thing. It's simply not knowing, and it can be remedied. But stupidity is not knowing and not wanting to know, it's being ignorant and proud of it. And stupidity is tenacious.

If you want religion to go away you have to know what it is, you have to study it like an epidemiologist studies disease. Otherwise you're just jerking off and getting in the way, like Dawkins, Harris & Co.

I'd love to talk to Dawkins about biology. Sadly, he doesn't seem much interested in biology anymore. It's a waste and a shame.

So much for atheists whom I dislike. Now to religious people I love: I don't see the problem here, I don't know why it should surprise anyone that there are religious believers with whom I get along very well, with whom I love to talk about all sorts of things -- even religion, sometimes. The most interesting people to talk to on any subject tend to be the ones who know the most about that subject, duh. And on the subject of religion, those people aren't the New Atheists, big duh. You want to talk about the Council of Nicea or the Merovingians or the Templars or the origins of the Grail myth with someone who knows more about them than

Dan Freaking Brown, there's a good chance you're going to end up talking to some very interesting and well-educated Christians. (And enjoying yourself, perhaps to your shame, if you're used to hanging with New Atheists.)

If you want to talk to some experts about Tolkien and Harry Potter and

Spider-Man, a gathering of New Atheists might be an even better place to look for them than a Comic-Con. They'll probably be well-above average in their knowledge of biology and physics, too. Credit where credit's due.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

There's No Difference Between Democrats and Republicans Except --

-- on women's health and freedom to choose, green energy, tax breaks for Big Oil, labor unions, whether one fears that the government has too much control over corporations or that corporations have too much control over the government, whether the best way to help all of us is to help the poorest and weakest or the richest and most powerful, whether or not everyone should have access to affordable health care, whether too many tax breaks are available to corporate CEO's making 8 figures a year or more or to teachers and firemen making $50,000 a year or less, whether GLBT's don't have enough rights or whether they have too many, whether or not it's time to revoke the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, whether or not drilling for oil and gas in national parks would be a good idea, whether it should be easier or more difficult for people in the US to obtain guns and ammo, whether or not Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim Communist...

That's just off the top of my head. But yeah, if none of the above matters to you, you might as well vote Green. Or Libertarian. Or not at all, depending on what kind of stupid you are.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"KITTIES ARE NICE!" (Comedy Sketch)

TALK SHOW HOST: Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight's musical guest are a band that formed 25 years ago in Tacoma, Washington. There were one of the original Seattle grunge bands, and they're here to perform the title track from their 20th album, Kitties Are Nice. Please welcome Logjam!

(LOGJAM launch into a hard rocker, lotsa guitar feedback, nasty bass and drums. They're just a little bit too macho and grim-faced. Like Pearl Jam,

but even more so. In fact, if Pearl Jam want to play Logjam, that'd be perfect. The lyrics to the song "Kitties Are Nice" are just the three words "Kitties are nice" repeated a few times. The lead singer sings "Kitties are niiiiiiiiiiii...iiice," and other band members join in and harmonize during the word "nice." After the song crashes to its end, Logjam grimly put down their instruments and walk over to the host, shake his hand and the hands of his sidekick and the other guest who hung around and take their seats.)

HOST (to BAND MEMBER #1, LEAD SINGER) : That's an unusual song! Is it literally about cats, or should listeners be looking for symbolic meanings in the lyrics?

(The instant the host begins to speak to the singer, the personalities of all the band members change from those of brooding alt-rockers to those of squirming toddlers.)

BAND MEMBER #1: Kitties are nice!

(Band members begin to fidget, and to softly grunt and squeal at the thought of nice kitties.)

HOST: ... Okay! (Turning to BAND MEMBER #2) : Todd, you've written most of the lyrics to Logjam's songs, and on this albums you wrote all the words. Up until this album a lot of the songs have been pretty wordy, going into some details about themes like environmentalism and political oppression and sexual exploitation. On this album, all of the songs have lyrics which are either three or four words long, and are identical to each song's title: "Kitties Are Nice," "I Wike Wittle Kittehs," "Look at dah Kitteh!"

and so forth. What brought about this sudden change in approach?

BAND MEMBER #2 (at first reacts with the bug-eyed and hunched-shouldered demeanor of a toddler who's been startled by something unfamiliar and alarming; then he relaxes a bit and exclaims: ) I like kittehs!

(The fidgeting and ecstatic, kitty-besotted grunting and squealing of all of the band members steadily increases.)

BAND MEMBER #3: I have a kitteh named Alice!

BAND MENBER #4 (shouts, but it's muted because he's not miked) : Alice is a vereh nice kitteh!

(Emphatic squeals of agreement from the other band members. From here to the end of the sketch, the squealing and fidgeting and arm-waiving and interjected shouts about how kittehs are nice and how the band members like kittehs and like to pet them and how Alice is vereh nice and so forth only continue to increase.)

BAND MEMBER #3: Alice is vereh friendly. If you sit on my sofa Alice will jump up onto the arm of the sofa and purr and rub you with the top of her head. After you pet her for a while she will settle down onto the arm of the sofa. And then you can very gently rest your forearm along her back so that your fingers can pet her head. And... And when you do this... Her tail will flick back and forth against your chest and shoulder and upper arm... And... AND IT TICKLES!

(At this point all of the band members completely lose what little composure they have left. Some are rocking back and forth and moaning softly. Some fall off of their seats and roll around on the floor.)

HOST (is staring open-mouthed at them. With a visible effort he composes himself, turns to the camera and says) : Folks, we're going to take a short break. When we return, George Smith of the San Diego Zoo is going to bring out some baby koalas.

(At the mention of baby koalas the band members become still more animated with pleasure.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

I'm So Over Pessimism

BUNNY: Uli doesn't care about anything. He's a Nihilist.

THE DUDE: Ah, that must be exhausting.

I get exhausted just READING pessimistic remarks. I can't imagine how awful it must be to actually THINK that way: "Democrats won't turn out for the mid-term." "Amending the Constitution will do no good." "Voting for either of the two major parties is just screwing yourself." "It's too late to save the human race from the pollution and warming it's caused." "You can't fight Big Coal." "Socialism doesn't work." "There's nothing reasonable people can do about the rising tide of fanaticism." "Efforts to fight corruption and short-sighted greed are hopeless."

And so forth. Yuck, yuck, phooey and forget all of that! And yet it would seem that the great majority of people are pessimistic in a way I've been blessed never to have experienced.

There was a guy in Shoah who seems to have a mentality much more like mine.

When he was interviewed for the film in NYC in the 1980's, he told about how, when he was being rounded up with the others to be shipped off and killed, he ran away. Just ran. Off into the woods, or over the flimsy fence, I don't exactly remember, except that he saw a possible way out, and rather than passively surrender to certain death, he took a chance at escape. And I remember that he was surprised at the time, and remained surprised decades later, that so few others resisted. And watching the movie, I said to myself, Now this is a guy I can relate to.

It flabbergasts me, how people tend to behave. An executioner tells them to kneel, and they kneel. Why? I don't think one can know beforehand how one would react in extreme situations, but if I were handed a shovel and told to dig my own grave, it's hard for me to imagine that the person who'd handed me the shovel and/or a few of his friends wouldn't immediately get smacked in the face with a shovel. What would they do about it -- kill me? Maybe. Or maybe I'd escape. Maybe I'd take a few other prisoners with me when I escaped. Or maybe I'd be killed. Sure. That's always a possibility. Maybe I'd be tortured and then killed. We're all on the way out eventually, it's just a matter of the route we take.

Humans. They're hard for me to understand. Yes, as hard as I try to get Democrats pumped up about turning out in the mid-terms, they might still not, and the "pundits" might turn out to be right -- but why not try anyway? Why not try to convert to clean energy -- and I don't mean natural gas -- until petrochemicals are a tiny boutique industry, supplying mostly backyard barbecues, plus a very few eccentric hobbyists with antique loud smelly vehicles? Why not try to convert the US to a system used in so many other countries, where a vote for the Green Party actually helps the Left, instead of helping the GOP like in does in this country, by taking the vote of someone too dumb to see the difference between Democrats and Republicans away from the Democrats?

Why not try? Why on Earth do people prefer no chance at all over a chance?

Maybe pessimists don't know how much fun it is to try, because they've never tried? Maybe they tried once, and failed, and haven't stuck their necks out since then, so that they don't realize that if you fail nine times in a row and then succeed once, it more than makes up for those nine failures?

I don't know, I'm just guessing. I don't know how those Eeyores'

minds work, and when it comes down to it, I don't much want to know. I'm just glad I'm inclined not to give up as a way of life, and that of course includes not giving up on converting pessimists to giving a shit and trying, whether or not that effort, too, may be successful. It's just more fun not to give up.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Agnostics Are The Pits!

Agnostics are the worst. Have you ever heard anyone pronounce him- or herself an agnostic for any other reason than to make a THOROUGHLY UNCONVINCING claim that they're smarter than both believers and atheists? Me neither! And all they usually end up proving is that they don't know, or don't want to know, how the rest of the world uses the term "atheist." And they didn't need to prove that because, unfortunately, we've already met agnostics. Hot tip, Dudes: If you really were so smart, you wouldn't have to constantly point it out to everybody. They'd notice. You're just annoying everybody, STFU.

Here's Some REAL Info About Ancient Historians

Michael Paulkovich will no doubt have many objections to the following. Besides it being obvious that I am a part of The Plot, I am referring to a book of history which is several decades out date; even Cambridge agreed that it was, and so published a completely overhauled edition

between 1970 and 2005. The first edition was published between 1924 and 1939, and I'm referring to vol X of that edition, first published in 1934: The Augustan Empire, 44BC -- AD70, pages 866 through 876, the section entitled Appendix: The Literary Authorities For Roman History. My copy is from the 4th corrected printing, from 1966. The thing is, although this volume is out of date, all 126 of Paulkovich's authors were well-known to historians in 1934, and the texts by those authors recovered since the 1930's might add up altogether to a page or so of fine print. Maybe. (A page of fine print suspiciously lacking any mention of Jesus.)

A more detailed list of sources, both ancient and modern, including things like inscriptions and coins, is provided on pages 893 through 993. What we've got on pages 866-876 is a discussion of the ancient Latin and Greek writers who could reasonably be called historians, plus a few others who help to round out our picture, who wrote about the Roman Empire between 44BC, when Julius Caesar was killed, to AD70, when the Jewish Rebellion was crushed and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

This Appendix, unlike Paulkovich's attempt to cover some similar ground, is very helpfully divided into non-existent sources and existing sources. Whoever wrote the Appendix, S A Cook, F E Adcock, M P Charlesworth or some combination of the three (they edited vol X), gives an account of how much influence each non-existent source -- each source which we know was written, but which has disappeared the past 2000 years so that we can't read it today -- may be expected to have had upon the existing sources, the stuff we can read (cause it exists).

For example, it is noted that the now-vanished History of Asinius Polllio was a major source for Appian's work.

For example, books 116-142 of Livy's history, which cover the period 44-9BC, are gone, but there are several condensed versions of those books made by others which are available to us. Condensed to around 1/100 of the length of the original, for example, in the case of the

periochae. Note also, that Livy is of course an existing source in that a great deal of his work survives, but a non-existent source for the period 44BC -- 70AD.

For example, the author or authors of the Appendix give the opinion that we cannot know much more for certain about the historians Aufidius Bassius and M Servilius Nonianus than their names and that they wrote histories covering parts of the period.

So: the non-existent historians writing in Latin listed here for the history of the Roman Empire from 44BC -- 70AD, mentioned because of their possible, likely or certain influence on the existing sources, are, in Latin, Asinius Polllio, Livy, Aufidius Bassius, M Servilius Nonianus, A Cremutius Cordus, Cluvius Rufus, Fabius Rusticus, Pliny the Elder, Bruttedius Niger, Cn Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, Seneca the Elder, Julius Secundus, Pompeius Planta and Tib Claudius Balbillus. Then there are listed some non-historians who may have contributed to the works of historians existent or non-. Then come three historians writing about the period in Greek whose work is missing, Nicolaus, Timagenes and Phlegon.

On to those who wrote about the period whose work we can read: in Latin, Cicero, Augustus, Velleius Paterculus, Valerius Maximus, Tacitus, Suetonius; then some who condensed the work of others centuries later: Florus, Eutropius, Aurelius Victor and Orosius. Then technical works by Vitruvius (a delightful writer)

on architecture, by Frontinus on aequaducts and military strategy and by Vegetius (4th century) on military matters in general.

There remains in the Appendix a discussion of 5 illustrious Greek authors whose work has to do with the Empire from 44BC -- AD 70, Strabo, Philo, Josephus, Plutarch and Dio Cassius, plus a few more who lived and wrote between the 6th and 11th centuries.

No doubt some of you have been snorting contemptuously for some time now and saying, "You think yr so damn smart?! All you did was summarize a dozen pages from a dang book!"

Yr darn tootin that's all I did! And the reason why that's all I did was to give you an idea of how easy it is, if you know where to look, to get a general idea of the written sources available to us -- before we get to things like the New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls and Oxyrhynchus and Fayim and Nag Hammadi and inscriptions (words carved into stone) and coins and so forth -- which cover the history of the Roman Empire from 44BC -- AD70. That's the entire Empire over the course of 114 years, an era which is covered much more minutely by surviving sources than many another ancient epoch before and after. 114 years for an area reaching from England to the Red Sea, not just 33 years in an area about 1/10th the size of Wyoming, an area which interested most of the writers mentioned above about as much as Wyoming interests most of the writers on the east and west coasts today.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sam Harris On Lawrence O'Donnell

Sam Harris is a dingbat. So is Lawrence O'Donnell. But I have something important in common with each of them: Harris and I are both atheists, and O'Donnell and I are both Democrats. If the one dingbat hadn't been on the other's show last night (MSNBC fired Olbermann and gave O'Donnell a nightly show. Paranoid Democrats should be forgiven if they occasionally wonder whether MSNBC is a fiendishly clever right-wing scheme to destroy the Democratic Party), I probably wouldn't have anything to say about him right now, just as I wouldn't have had anything to say about Michael Paulkovich if Free Inquiry hadn't published his piece on the 126.

But Harris was on O'Donnell's show last night, and the two of them were discussing Islam as if it were just like Christianity, except 700 years earlier. Harris said, for example, "It‘s as though we‘re encountering the Christians of the 14th century, armed with 21st century weapons."

Well, no, it's not like that, ya freakin dingbat. Christianity and Islam are not going through similar courses of development. And I'm going to concentrate on the development of Western Christianity here because it's clear that's what he had in mind, and not clear if he knows as many as 4 facts about Byzantium. And Islam actually began more like 600 years after Christianity did.

Let's run a while with this thesis that Islam is taking a course similar to Christianity's. 500 years after it began, (Western) Christianity was smack dab in the dark of the Dark Ages. (I'm using the term Dark Ages to mean, not the entirety of the Middle Ages between Antiquity and the Renaissance, but the period between the middle of the 5th century and the end of the 8th, which even compared to the Middle ages in general was dark.) We're talking about a welter of war, chaos, plague, illiteracy, superstition to the stage of rampant mass hallicination, etc.

500 years after Islam began it was maintaining many elements of the Golden Islam of Islam, leading the world in math, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, physics, architecture, etc, while holding off the beginnings of those barbarian invasions which we know as the Crusades. Not so much already with the parallel courses of development.

What does Harris envision with this parallax view when he thinks of Islam 400 years from now: Islam colonizing Christendom the way Christendon colonized Islam in the 19th and 20th centuries?

Okay, enough for right now about Harris and his notions, let's summarize the mess with ISIS, the so-called "Islamic State," which, let's face it, is the only reason Harris and his Islamophobic fear-mongering got onto the other dingbat's show last night: it has perhaps as many as 35,000 troops currently, and its stated ambition is to bring all of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world under its control. It's currently fighting against Iraqi and Syrian Muslims and against Kurds, who have no state of their own and are mostly Muslims, and whom Turkey is not supporting because of longstanding ethnic hostilities between (Islamic) Turks and Kurds, and also because Turkey hopes that ISIS will destabilize or even topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad (a Muslim) in Syria; however, some of the (Muslim) Syrian rebels who also oppose Assad are fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS. And a few non-Islamic Westerners have gotten caught in the fray. Yes, it's horrible the way ISIS has been beheading Westerners, but they're only a tiny fraction of the casualties in the conflict between these extremists nuts and most of the rest of the world, which is what it comes down to, just as it would be if it came down to it with most extremist nuts, whatever their metaphysical beliefs or lack of them: the extremists versus all the rest of us. Most of the people in the world oppose extremism, and say so, but Harris is too busy cherry-picking books for justifications for his fear to raise his head and look around a bit and see that the world is much more complicated than how he's trying to tell us it is.

Yet Again, The Nobel Prize In Literature Has Been Awarded To Someone Other Than Me.

Some French dude. I'd never heard of him. He seems okay. I've read something by almost all of the Literature Nobel Laureates, and I like most of them very much -- one of the long, long list of reasons why I should get one: my good taste in literature.

Patrick Modiano is his name:

But anyway, we're talking about me here. This is getting ridiculous, I'm aging over here, I need that million bucks or two. The amount of the prize in Swedish kroner fluctuates, and of course the kroner-dollar exchange rate fluctuates too. This year's prizes are 8 million kroner, and right now 8 million kroner will get you about 1,105,600 bucks. AND I'M TIRED OF BEING POOR. And of course, in addition to the cash, a Nobel is great publicity and will increase the sales of all of your books.

All of my books? Are you kidding me? I'm autistic, I'm business-impaired. At the moment I don't even have an agent. Yet another example of the Tom Petty Principle of Ab-So-Lute-Ly Backwards Economics: If I had a really good agent, he could get lots of my books onto the shelves in the bookstores and in Amazon's warehouse and into the Kindle thingies and so forth, and the more books I had in all of those places, the more likely I would be to catch the attention of people such as the one who hand out Nobel prizes. But of course -- the backwards part -- the more books I had in all those places, and the more National Book Awards and MacArthur and Guggenheim grants and Bookers I had won, which also seems to catch the attention of the Nobel people, the more money I would have, and the less badly I would need the Nobel! Don't kid yrslvs, kids, Sartre wasn't taking a vow of poverty when he turned down the Nobel, he really was rich enough that he didn't miss it.

And that's fine, he was a great writer and a great man and he deserved his great successes.

And Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai, who are sharing this years' Nobel Peace Prize? I couldn't be happier for them (especially as we weren't in competition for the Lit prize). They're wonderful people doing great, important work. What could be more glorious than freeing children from oppression?

I deserve great successes too, that's all I'm sayin. I'm great at the creative part, the actual writing -- obviously -- but I'm no good at business. I need to team up with a great businessman or -woman, a great agent, who can hook me up with publishers so that all us can ride the Wrong Monkey Gravy Train together and split an immense amount of cash between us.

But I'm so inept at the business part that I need someone to help me get that great agent.

You don't know. You don't know. You haven't seen the times when I've attempted to take the reins of this or that business enterprise, instead of staying on the creative side where I belong. Oh, the horror. You don't know!

So, in conclusion, hurrah for Patrick Modiano, yada yada yada, he probably is a very good writer, most of the Nobel lit winners are very, very good, bla bla bla, and on to business: I need help. Just like Gene Wilder when we first see him in Blazing Saddles,

I need all the fucking help I can get. I mean it. (Gene Wilder's part had been offered to John Wayne. Can you imagine, John Wayne hanging upside down in the jail call, John Wayne saying, "Yeah, but I shoot with THIS hand!" and so forth? Would that have been awesome or what? I know, I've probably mentioned that on this blog before, maybe more than once, but would that have been just about perfect? Hm?) So -- help me! When you're talking about your short list of predictions for the 2015 Nobel, casually toss my name in there alongside Murakami and Pynchon and Marias and whomever. If you happen to be having lunch or a torrid love affair with Andrew Wylie, tell him, "Do you realize that Steven Bollinger doesn't have an agent right now?!" If you rub shoulders with the people who give the Nobels or the MacArthur genius grants or the Bookers, mention my name and how effin brilliant I am. If you are one of the people who award the Nobels or MacArthurs or something, or the CEO of Simon & Schuster -- what exactly are you waiting for? Don't you want to be a part of turning the literary landscape all topsy-turvy and bringing joy and solace to millions?! Do yr effin job, I'm doin mine!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Free Inquiry Has Reached The Level Of Journalistic Seriousness Of The National Enquirer

That's the real story I've been covering in several of my recent posts about Michael Paulkovich and his 126. (I've been picturing mash-ups of Paulkovich's thesis and the movie 300:

A reader commented on the first of my posts about Paulkovich, asking how a recent article in World News Daily Report would fit into this discussion. I replied that it would fit about as well as an article in the National Enquirer entitled "I Had Bigfoot's Baby!"

Immediately after I had made this reply, I realized that the article in World News Daily Report actually fits in perfectly well in the story I'm covering. The reader's comment helped to crystalize, in my mind, what the real story is here. This really isn't so much about Paulkovich. There's nothing unusual about people asserting absurd things having to do with Jesus and claiming to be serious scholars. That sort of thing has been going on for about about as long as there have been Christians, and the Internet is chock-full of both claims by believers that they've found rock-solid evidence that Jesus existed, and claims by others that they've found rock-solid evidence that he didn't. Myriad self-published books by both categories of numbskulls can be found on Amazon.

The real story here, the thing that should be upsetting more of my fellow atheists than it seems to have upset so far, is that, by publishing Paulkovich, Free Inquiry has attained the level of journalistic seriousness, responsibility and reliability of entities such as World New Daily Report and the National Enquirer. (If, that is, they hadn't reached that level some time ago.)

I know I've said the following repeatedly over the course of the past week and a half, and it must be getting monotonous to those who've been carefully following everything I've written, but it's clear that many people have only been skimming my stuff -- and there's nothing wrong with that! It's a great big world and there's too much good stuff for anybody to read it all -- and some people assume that it's mostly Christians, maybe even mostly fundies, who have problems with Paulkovich. I've said the following repeatedly lately, but I'm repeating it now because it underscores the point I'm trying to get across about Paulkovich and Free Inquiry:

Not only am I not a Christian, I'm an atheist. Many of the mainstream academics in Biblical studies and related fields are also atheists. Almost all of those academics, atheist or not, believe that Jesus existed. (A non-supernatural Jesus in the case of the atheists, of course, to whose biography they believe the supernatural stories were added, the way that the story about the cherry tree was added to George Washington's biography.) Most of those academics tend to regard people who have doubts about Jesus' existed as hopelessly ignorant. I HAVE DOUBTS ABOUT JESUS' EXISTENCE and therefore am subject to a fair share of scorn from the academics, many of whom, because of those doubts, would put me into the same category as Paulkovich. My issue with Paulkovich is NOT that he does not believe Jesus existed. It's also not that he suspects that there is something fishy about the mainstream academic position of Jesus' existence. It's that he makes ridiculous claims about ancient authors who, he says, should've mentioned Jesus if he'd existed, but didn't. His list of 126 names includes many people who have had no writing survive, so Paulkovich didn't study it. Most of the rest wrote things which had nothing to do with Judea or Galilee, which makes it seem like Paulkovich didn't study their work either. A couple of the people on his list died before 1 AD, so... There are people on Paulkovich's list who wrote only about medicine, or historical subjects centuries before Jesus' time, or they wrote fiction, etc, etc, so... There are maybe a dozen who could conceivably had reason to mention Jesus or Christians but didn't, but it's not actually surprising to me that none of them did. AND UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE I'VE ACTUALLY READ A LOT OF THIS STUFF. Oh, and lest I forget: 4 of Paulkovich's 126 actually did mention Christians. As, of course, did a whole lot of others who are not on his list.

My issue with Paulkovich is that he writes sheer absurdity that would've gotten a F on any good history exam, and calls it historical research, and my issue with Free Inquiry is that they published some of it, and, unlike World News Daily Report, they don't have a disclaimer explaining that they are a fake news publication offering satires of news.

Monday, October 6, 2014

17th-Century Atheism: I Don't Know How Widespread It Was, And Neither Does Daniel Garber

Daniel Garber is not only a professor of philosophy, at Princeton, no less, but he actually specializes in philosophers of the 17th century, and he says things like:

"Many important scientists and mathematicians in the period were also believers, including Bacon, Descartes, Boyle, Pascal and Newton. Not that there weren’t atheists in the period"

Professors of philosophy have often been roundly mocked by actual philosophers, and with good reason. Yes, Pascal and Newton believed in God. With Bacon and Descartes, there is a lot to read between the lines, just as there is with Hobbes and Spinoza. I assume that the latter two may be among the people Garber counts as atheists, but they didn't come right out and say they were. Not even David Hume, born decades after both Spinoza and Hobbes had died, did that. It would've been extremely dangerous.

The first open, public avowal of atheism in Europe after the 5th century of which I am aware is contained in the book Système de la Nature ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Moral, written by Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach,

and published in 1770. Published, but under a pseudonym. And it was banned in France, and an executioner publicly burned some copies of it. Was Holbach himself in danger of being burned at the stake? Probably not, but the treatment of his book probably reflected what some of the authorities would've liked to have done to him. Diderot, not an aristocrat like Holbach, spent some time in prison in the mid-18th century in France for atheism expressed between the lines. (The Marquis de Sade spent some time in prison for his writing, and Marquis is a few ranks above baron, but Sade's writings are many shades more shocking than Holcach's. In case you haven't read any of Sade's work, and you have read some Penthouse Letters, imagine writing which might make a Penthouse Letters editor cringe in horror and scream, "That's sick! It's wrong! I want nothing to do with such filth!" and burst into tears like a little girl. I'm telling you, Sade was an uninhibited writer.)

Jean Meslier, 1664-1729, was a French priest, and after his death a strongly-worded essay in favor of atheism was found among his papers. So that may be an actual written smoking-gun, no-doubt proof of 17th century atheism -- or maybe not, maybe Meslier didn't lose his faith until after 1700. In any case, he, like many other clergypeople in the 18th and 19th centuries, when atheism gradually emerged and asserted its right to be, demonstrates that how one could be publicly religious and privately atheist. Descartes, whom Garber counts among the religious believers of the 17th century, was often thought by his contemporaries to have been an atheist, as was his follower Spinoza, and whether they were atheists or not, they certainly paved the way for later generations to say openly that they didn't believe in God, without fearing punishment for it. As did Francis Bacon and Hobbes and Hume and Holbach and Diderot and Sade and Voltaire and Franklin, because they all pushed the boundaries of what was permissible to say. They all stuck their necks way out for the sake of the freedom of expression of the likes of you, me, and Garber.

It's soooooo absurd to make sweeping generalizations about the religious beliefs of people who were subject to punishments up to and including torture and being burned alive for religious dissent. Both Garber and I are, of necessity, reading between the lines when it comes to the religious beliefs or lack thereof of 17th century philosophers. But only one of us acts as if he is and admits how much guesswork the subject involves.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why I Have Doubts About Jesus' Existence

Don't expect to be blown away here: I'm an amateur, a layman. But after I've repeatedly said that I think the people who are convinced that Jesus existed are closed-minded about the subject, and have nothing much to offer except appeal to authority, saying that the matter is settled because the experts say it's settled, and that they settled it decades ago -- which they didn't. Look at the work of Biblical scholars from decades ago, and it'll be very familiar: they say that the matter was settled some time before, and not much else -- and that the only mythicist worth reading is G A Wells,

many of my readers may be growing impatient and muttering to themselves, "Oh yeah? Well why should we even listen to you on the subject, Mr Monkey? You ain't wrote none a them dang Mythissuh... Mythooss... Jesus-Didn't-Exist books yrself. What makes you opinions so cotton-pickin special?"

Nothing makes my opinions about the subject so cotton-pickin' special. Yes, I took down Michael Paulkovich, here, and here, and here, but anybody with a BA in Classics from a good college could've done that. That was EASY. Yes, I can see closed-mindedness and a lock-step rejection of speculation about Jesus' existence on the part of the academic experts, but it's easy to spot that too. It seems that millions of people have noticed it. It sticks out like a thumb with a compound fracture which has been ignored for days and has flies and gangrene on it.

I and all of the aforementioned BA's -- and of course, all of those Biblical scholars -- know how sparse the written record from Judea and Galilee in the 1st century is. Really, the only crucial records about Jesus, the only things available to study in order to form your opinion about whether he was a man or just a character in a story, are the books of the New Testament. Everything else is secondary. Of course, that might change completely today or tomorrow if something is dug up which significantly adds to our knowledge. And something like that could be dug up at any time. Or archaeologists might keep digging for thousands of years, if we haven't heated or polluted ourselves to death by then or blown ourselves up, and never find anything which changes the picture. In the meantime, when we talk about the historical Jesus, we're talking about the New Testament.

Everything else often referred to as primary materials in the case of the historical Jesus: Josephus, Tacitus,

Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, has to do with Christians, and is every bit as easily explainable with Christians who were Christians because they had heard a story about Jesus as with Christians who had seen Jesus in the flesh. Actually, the material in Pliny is much more explainable with people who'd only heard stories about Jesus, because if they'd seen him they would have had to be very old when Pliny met them.

And yes, the authors of the New Testament would have had to be pretty old if they'd seen Jesus, except Paul, who only saw him in a vision (we'll get back to that vision), but that's not a serious reason to discount the New Testament accounts. Eyewitness accounts could've been handed down for a generation or two, and/or there could be older texts, now missing, from which the Gospels were made.

So. My objection to assuming with no question that Jesus existed, or to taking the word of experts who tell us that this case has been closed for a long time, has nothing to do with the number of authors who give us information about Jesus. On the contrary: the number of authors in the New Testament writing about Jesus is impressively high. For someone from that time and place it's extra-special super-dooper impressively high. My objection also has nothing to do with the dates when the New Testament texts were written. Again, on the contrary: when we're talking about someone from Galilee 2000 years ago, who may have been completely illiterate along with most of his friends (most, not all: tax collectors like Matthew had to be able to read and write), the collection of texts in the New Testament was amassed impressively early.

My objection to believing without question that Jesus existed is, I believe, the same that millions of other people have had, people who unlike you and me have never heard of Tacitus or Josephus or Q and have no idea when the New Testament texts are believed to have been written. My objection has to do neither with the amount nor with the date of the earliest writings about Jesus but with the quality of those writings.

It's a shockingly obvious objection, that's why it occurred to me decades ago, before I was full-grown, before I had heard of Josephus or Tecitus, that's why I share it with millions of others past and present, it's the elephant in the room in which all those Biblical scholars keep straight-facedly assuring us that there is no elephant and that crap does not keep accumulating in huge piles: it's the proportion of the obviously-mythological in the story of Jesus: the Immaculate Conception, the census of the Empire which never was, the star of Bethlehem, the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt, walking on water, water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, healing lepers, madmen, a blind man, raising Lazarus from the dead and then rising from the dead himself.

In a story in which so much was obviously made up and the dates don't fit more firmly-established history, how is it at all unreasonable to ask if the man's very existence is more than one more fictional detail of the story?

That's it. That's all I got. And I think that's all I need. Oh, and you should see the academics do what they consider to be addressing my concerns. (My concerns and those of millions of other people, because they're such shockingly obvious concerns.) If the term "mental gymanstics" hadn't already existed, it would have to have been invented to describe the ways in which the specialists claim that the mythological elements and the discrepancies between the various Gospel stories make Jesus' existence MORE likely, not less. Talk about crap piling up...

And now, as promised, back to Paul's vision of Jesus. I think that the story of Jesus, if there never was any Jesus and it's all just story, 100% mythological and not the 98% to which the scholars are still stubbornly clinging, could have started in a number of different ways, but the most plausible explanation, to my amateur eyes, seems to be that Paul first told people about Jesus.

And that doesn't mean that I think that Paul necessarily lied. He could actually have had a vision: a dream, or a daydream or an hallucination, and believed that it was real.

Yes, if this is how Christianity started, then Paul's back story, about how he had persecuted Christians before his vision, before he had changed his name from Saul (the name of the mighty Israelite king) to Paul (which means "little guy") would be untrue, since there would have been no Christians yet for Saul/Paul to persecute. But just like Jesus' existence, Saul/Paul's persecution of Christians seems like a rather small detail compared to all the supernatural elements in the story of Jesus, and when we go from Jesus to the stories of the apostles and the martyrs, if anything, the stories become even more farfetched. Even before Christians started rewriting their own Gospels and other texts.

Or the figure of Jesus could have arisen when people were talking about John the Baptist, whose existence I don't doubt. Or it could've begun some other way. Or, yes indeed, Jesus might really have existed. MAYBE.

So, what in th wide, wide world of sports is a goin' on here? Am I just too dense to see something which is plain as can be, as exasperated Bible scholars have said to me when I've had conversations with them about all of this? Or, when those professors point to all of this evidence which I still can't see, is there no there there, as Gertrude Stein said about her home town of Oakland?

Oakland has changed a lot since Gertrude left in 1893 at the age of 19, never to return. But that's neither here nor there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Here's A Book I Like A Lot

It's an example of what I would spend all of my time on if my Stoic sense of duty didn't drag me into conflicts which I enjoy much less, like whether or nor Jeebus really lived. (That's right, I said "my Stoic sense of duty." I feel that I must sometimes leap into the fray for the sake of the intelligent study of history. I don't always go round and round with the historicists and mythicists just for fun.) This is a volume of palaeography:

Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum. That's Latin for "examples of Latin manuscripts in the Vatican library." That's not an exact translation but it's what the title of this terrific book by Francis Ehrle and Paul Liebart actually means. It's what the book actually is. Descriptions of 59 pages from 59 different Latin manuscripts, copious references to other descriptions of each one in other books, reproductions of the texts or the beginning of the texts in case where the editors felt the reader might need help deciphering the handwriting, and then photos of them all. Grouped by handwriting styles: Maiuscule. Beneventian. Merovingian. Visigothic. Anglo-Saxon. Carolingian minuscule. Gothic. Humanist. Etc. Etc. Handwriting styles which flourished between the 4th and the 15th centuries. (Stopping at the 15th century because that's when printing started, dontcha know. These manuscripts were mostly or all aimed at a reading public, as opposed to things like private letters and shopping lists.)

I've been studying Latin all on my own for over two decades, and that means I've been doing it all my own way, and that I don't know how the academics tend to go about it. My way has been to read Latin texts in critical editions, and what I've learned doing that has naturally branched out into other interests: for example, the more one studies Latin, the more one's curiosity about Greek will naturally grow.

For another example, the more prefaces to texts one reads mentioning manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon or in Carolingian minuscule or in rustic capitols, etc, etc, the more one's curiosity will grow about those various handwriting styles. For all I know, a typical student of Latin studies these handwriting styles right from the start. I know that a typical professor of Classics will be expected to identify various handwriting styles from various times and lands as a matter of course. It's a part of the job description. It's a big part of making all those critical editions I've been reading.

For me, until I got my hands on a copy of this book a couple of months ago, these handwriting styles were mostly just names in prefaces to texts, mostly ancient texts but also Medieval and later texts. They were like the names of people I'd been exchanging letters with for years, names to which I hadn't been able to attach faces. With a few exceptions: a photograph of a manuscript page in a few of those critical editions, a photo randomly come across on the Internet or in a book of history.

But with Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum, I now have a photo album of all of my friends. (So that's what you look like, Visigothic! Much different than I'd pictured you.)

I'm still not your guy if you need to determine where and when something was hand-written based on the handwriting. Unless you're going to be satisfied with a rough guess within a couple of centuries and within several European nations. Then I might be your guy, based on what I've learned from my cool new book, and from further study (for example, some of the many above-mentioned references to other books) arising naturally from the curiosity which my recently-attained knowledge has aroused.

The book is new TO ME. And my copy is newly-printed. But the book is not newly-published, but a reprint of the 2nd edition of 1932. Perhaps an actual expert on Latin palaeography would smack her forehead in frustration at the very thought of someone getting so excited about an 82-year-old book on the subject, and start exclaiming about advances made in the field since 1932 which render this book useless. But the fact that the original publisher, De Gruyter, is still printing it, I think, gives me some cause to think that it may not yet be hopelessly out of date. The photos are still all in black and white as they were in 1932. That's the only thing I'd like to see changed. Some of the manuscripts are pretty colorful. Bam:

Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum is written entirely in Latin, the prefaces, the descriptions of the manuscripts and of course the manuscripts themselves. Actually, some of the manuscripts include a little bit of Greek and Arabic in addition to the Latin.

In 1932, all-Latin books were by no means unusual, not even when the subject was something other than literature. Today even critical edition of ancient texts are appearing more and more often with prefaces in modern vernaculars rather than in Latin. This aggravates me because it seems to be an imitation that Classicists are just giving up and saying, well, people aren't fluent in Latin anymore, are they.

Well, it's your JOB to TEACH them, isn't it, Classicists?

Whatever. Maybe I just don't understand because I'm autistic, the way I miss sarcasm and a lot of other things. Anyway, SOME prefaces are still written in Latin, which gives me hope that SOME people haven't given up yet, and agree with me that there is no good reason to edit and publish a Latin text and then attach a preface to it which is nit in Latin. (Are those people who agree with me about this also all autistic? Surely not ALL of them.)

Anyway. Kitties are nice and gorillas are awesome and I'm not actually a monkey, and I am a genius in some respects even though I'm quite atypical and sarcasm-impaired, and Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum is way, way cool.

And MOST of the Oxford Classical Texts and the Bibliotheca Teubneriana are still either all Latin or part Latin and the rest is Greek. So there, 21st century!