Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drake Shelton vs. Ed Babinski's "Cosmology of the Bible"


I'm pretty sure I was comprehensive in my responses to virtually everything online that could be construed against the case in Ed's chapter in The Christian Delusion.  I guess it is too much to assume anyone responding to it would actually like Google to see what had already transpired.  As is, Shelton's article is everything I've already responded to, including most of the links he links to.

Shelton starts off with this:
What the opponents of the Bible have to show, is a scripture passage where the context lets the reader know that the passage is referring to the entire biosphere of the planet and asserts that the entire thing is flat.
I appreciate a goal post.  However, it is a little misguided and his position amounts to implausible agnosticism in my view.  It is as though despite the hundreds of references to cosmological concepts in various ways, not even once do any of the somewhat ambiguous statements refer to a flat earth or other aspects of primitive cosmology despite these views being prevalent in the same time period.  If the authors don't know correct cosmology (since it is not represented in their revelation of scripture per Shelton's chosen view), odds are they believe in false cosmology and when they write about cosmology they are going to get it wrong.  Somehow we aren't supposed to count that against inerrancy?  The Bible clearly smokes, but you can't prove it inhales!  Meanwhile, the liberal Christian scholars remind us that of course the Bible inhales, but they just don't care!

And skeptics roll their eyes at ALL the apologists.

So my general view that I've garnered from reviewing tons of material on the subject is this:
We have basically a near maximum amount of expected evidence from ancient writings that embrace a false cosmology.  These writings for the most part (except perhaps when describing the creation of the world, especially the particulars of the hard sky) are not explicitly about cosmology, there's not a cosmological adventure where characters voyage directly through the false ideas (kind of like in the book of Enoch), and/or none of the Bible writers are embroiled in an ideological war against "sphere-ists" where they'd need to be absolutely in your face about their flat earth views.  I wouldn't even say the Bible "teaches" primitive cosmology per se (again, for the most part), since there's no sermon about it or anything like that.  It's mostly taken for granted background information that manifests in most of the literary genres in the collection of books that make up the Bible, just as we'd expect it to be in those literary circumstances (that I've just described in my second sentence of this paragraph) and just like it was in all the ancient cultures at the time (as Ed points out that scholars document).   
Inspired characters, not inspired characters, narrators, and Yahweh, in poetry and prose all exhibit consistent evidence of primitive cosmological views.  It is the most straight forward appraisal of the evidence we have.  All the evidence supports this view.  Only a tiny smidgen of the evidence can be made to look contrary to this view (but can be easily explained in light of it), and Christian apologists are  forever stuck in that cliche' epistemological slum they live in where the best explanation is persistently ignored in favor of saving face for their allegiance to their preferred version of the religion.  If you believe your religion absolutely obligates you to intellectual honesty and intellectual integrity, then it follows you must relent in your defense of Biblical inerrancy at the very least.  And, if you give up inerrancy, but fall back on some version of general inspiration, why are we believing in the unfalsifiable spiritual matters, but not being impressed by the opportunities for cosmological correctness we could verify?  The skeptical case against any version of the Christian religion is confirmed and various Christianities are left shrugging their shoulders hoping you won't think about it too hard and will just accept some random ancient religious ejaculations just like they do.   
Anyway, let's go point by point.  I've actually provided ALL of Babinski's Bible links with commentary on the apologetic excuses and so this list of verses is rather random it seems and I'm not really sure where Shelton is coming from.  Where I've already responded, I'll link and summarize.

1.  Shelton says:
[Isaiah 40:22] does not say that the earth is flat.
That's technically true, but irrelevant.  Let's take both hypotheses (that the author is talking about a flat earth or a spherical earth) and try them out on the verse and see which fits best:
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  
Shelton notes that "circle" can mean sphere or disk in this case, but "disk" makes the most sense because:
A.  It makes more sense for Yahweh to sit "above" a disk than "above" some random point on a sphere. 
B.  From the god's-eye-view, setting up a tent on a flat disk surface just makes more sense than trying to set one up on "top" of a curvy sphere.
So, sorry Shelton.  Isaiah basically does say the earth is flat.  One has to say the evidence leans strongly in that direction.

2.  Shelton claims things are "not literal" in Job 9:6, and I've responded to this common bit of misdirection here and here.  Basically, it is a fallacy to assume that poetic language indicates no mixture of literal belief.

3.  Shelton says:
Nowhere does [Psalm 24:2 For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.] say, " It is surrounded by the ocean".  He's just talking about the dry land. Genesis 1:10: says And God called the dry land Earth.
One might note the obviousness that oceans are founded upon the "earth" and that the earth is founded upon "lava" in the earth's core.  It may have looked like the land was laid on top of bodies of water, but clearly King David (or whomever) was wrong.  As Babinski points out, scholars document the prevalent belief that for whatever reason, the waters came first before the land.

4.  Shelton mentions the peculiarity of "four corners" when dealing with skeptics who think the Bible espouses an earth that is a disk.  Responded to here.  Basically, context determines that "four corners" must mean directions of the compass.  Not everything has to be literal, but the determining factor isn't Biblical inerrancy being saved.  : p

5.  This one deals with the many references to the "ends of the earth."  I've responded to Christian internet apologist J. P. Holding throughout this post, though especially here.  Basically, while it is true that the phrase can have a limited context, it is implausible that at no time do these authors ever intend to refer to the whole planet.  Especially since there is a glaring lack of sphericalish earth language to properly temper such an anachronistic interpretation.  

6.  Shelton says:
How would [Ezek 38.12] prove a flat disc? I have a navel. Does that mean I am a flat disc? This simply refers to their political importance and economic importance as they were in the middle of where most of the action in the world was happening.
Um, prove it?  How do you know that this isn't referring to geography?  It is probable that it both refers to geography and political/economic importance because the ancient Hebrews didn't bother distinguishing between the two!  In fact, they probably thought their theology predicted and entitled them to such a claim!  "Aren't we god's chosen people?  Well of course that means we're in the center of the world!"  We can't just lift that out of context conveniently as modern Christians who just want to see metaphors.

The issue of Jerusalem being at the center of the world has come up before.

7.  Satan takes Jesus up on a mountain to show him the whole earth with the implication that is a better vantage point.  I've responded to this point before.  Shelton assumes that both Matthew and Luke are on the same page and I point out that in all likelihood Matthew did not think things through and actually believed that a mountain vantage point was needed.  It seems Luke slightly corrected him with a more plausible mechanism, but kept the nonsense backdrop.

8.  Shelton says:
Rev 1:7 refers to the Coming of the Roman Empire to attack Jerusalem, thus Nigel Lee.  So literally it is saying the Jews, those who pierced him will see the Roman Army coming to destroy them., that's a lie.  It quite clearly says, "all the tribes on the earth will mourn..."  that's not just the Jews in Jersalem in 70 AD.  I don't know how you can bamboozle yourself otherwise.  I've responded to this issue before.

Shelton quotes Triablogue's Steve Hays in the Infidel Delusion (which I may or may not have responded to at length) saying this:
Suppose the verse does, indeed, conjure up the image of a flat earth? So what? Language is full of dead metaphors.
And I've responded here.  The problem is that these metaphors were alive and well at the time.  Sorry, Steve.  Next lame excuse.

9.  The issue here is that in Daniel's dream (in Daniel 4:10) he claims that this massive tree is in the middle of the earth and that everyone to the ends of the earth can see it (thus implying a flat earth).  Shelton claims that Daniel 4:22 limits the implications to just Nebudchadnezzar's kingdom, but the verses don't seem to actually limit the claim in that sense, unless Shelton really thinks that the author of Daniel spoke in light of full knowledge of the American continents?

I've responded to Steve Hays on this issue here.  

10.  I've responded to Gleason Archer and Holding on the issue (in Isaiah 42:5) of spreading out the earth here.  Basically the part about spreading out the animals *also* implies a flat earth since the animals in aggregate (not as individual road kill) are spread out on the flat surface of the flat earth.

11.  This one talks about Job 26:10 and Shelton insists that "inscribing a circle" on the waters to denote light from darkness is ambiguous because of the word for circle.  Babinski points to scholarship that has a much more interesting theory where light and darkness are created separately from light sources that I talk about here.  It makes little sense to speak of Yahweh doing something to the light and darkness when in reality light and dark are naturally distinguished because of the shape of a spherical earth.  Of course, odds are, the ancient Hebrews didn't know that.  Hence we get these bullshit concepts.


One wonders on the one hand if excuses for primitive Bible cosmology will continue to multiple well into the future, or whether we'll hit some stable plateau of the same dead end excuses with apologists stuck in perpetual Empire Strikes Back Luke Skywalker mode, ", that's not true.  That's impossible!!!!"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rob Carter's Incredulity on Evolutionary DNA

Apparently I did not read carefully enough, because I thought we were going to see a video on creationism at a local church.  However, as it turned out, the flesh n blood Rob Carter was there to give whatever presentation on creationism that his predominantly creationist audience wanted.  While his presentation focused on presenting an overview of all the complexity of the human genome as an argument from incredulity against its evolutionary origin, it was not hard afterward to unravel his confidence down to a faith measure.

The problem I have with this, as I've always had in my apostasy from Christianity is its inherent intellectual dishonesty.  I am not at liberty to merely decide which worldview best suits my non-truth related desires.  If evolution means nothing matters, then gee golly whiz, nothing fucking matters.  If we are in that position, we are most certainly obligated by Jesus Christ himself, if he existed at all, to be truthful with our state of knowledge and act accordingly.  If we don't know what is true in the grand metaphysical scheme of things, our unequivocal answer is to that question is, "I don't know."  Not, "I don't know, therefore Jesus."  Creationists and Christians in general just don't seem to get it.

Carter thanked me for being so polite.  I don't have any interest waging incoherent political wars in person when the truth is so easy to stick to the opposition.  If you can't prove evolution doesn't work in terms of being able to produce amazing levels of genetic complexity in the face of all the other evidence that strongly "suggests" that it does, your incredulity just doesn't mean anything.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

J. P. Holding Defends an Incoherent Incarnation.


This post covers part of Christian internet apologist J. P. Holding's response to atheist Richard Carrier's chapter 9 in the book "Not the Impossible Faith" which is a refutation of Holding's original online essays which are no longer online.  This post will be part of The Richard Carrier Project.

The issues of this post are:
  • Is (J. P. Holding's version of ) the Christian doctrine of Jesus' incarnation coherent?
  • Did Jesus claim to be Yahweh incarnate by identifying himself with the Jewish concept of Wisdom?
And the short answers are probably not on both counts.

In a previous blog entry I wrote this:
This brings up the issue of the coherency of Christian concepts of the doctrine of the Trinity.  An entity with a separate will and a separate knowledge base (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:42; Luke 2:52; Matthew 24:36) is a different person.  Even if you choose to do the will of someone else, that doesn't make you them.  Even if they grant you superpowers and equal authority, that doesn't make you them either.  Being them is what makes you them.  What's the difference between the Holy Spirit influencing or informing Jesus at times and influencing other prophets?  I don't know.  I don't know what it means to say that Jesus is the same as Yahweh if all the components of not being that god are conceded to be as a separate human person.  It just sounds like a bunch of nonsense.
How does Holding deal with this?  He asserts:
Personhood is not incompatible with being an attribute of another person.
Um...yeah it is.  As long as it is admitted that Jesus and Yahweh are two persons, that's two different gods (Or rather, Yahweh is a god, and Jesus is just an honorary god since he clearly would have all human components and whatever divine ones must have been slapped on like what could be done to any human).  It simply doesn't mean anything to claim that Jesus and Yahweh are the same being when Jesus is clearly meant to have all the limitations and faculties of the human condition and an independent will.  The things that make each person their own person are the same things that make them two separate beings.

The closest thing I can think of to help a Christian position out here is the Borg from Star Trek and the problem there is that even if there is a hive mind with people who are attributes of that greater collective, those "people" are actually drones with no free will.  The character Jesus had the option of doing his own thing on more than one occasion in the gospels.  A hive mind of distinctive persons with their own will and knowledge bases is really incoherent gibberish.  It's just like normal people being on the internet.

In terms of other conceptual possibilities, a human brain couldn't even process an iota of Yahweh's infinitude of anything, and it would have nothing meaningful to contribute to it.    A facsimile of Yahweh's personality in human brain form would infinitely pale in comparison to the real thing ("I'll call him mini-Me!").  I'm sure some of the official Christian concepts rely on superstitious concepts of the mind/body problem that are not immediately evident.  The only way Jesus and Yahweh could be one being is if Jesus is just an empty avatar body for Yahweh's will, like he's playing a video game.  Obviously that's also heretical for most mainstream Christianities.

Holding skips a whole section of Carrier's chapter because of Carrier's supposed ignorance on an important concept of Holding's that he addresses elsewhere.

Holding equates Jesus with the Jewish concept of "Wisdom" and says:
In Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern thought, words were not merely sounds, or letters on a page; words were things that "had an independent existence and which actually did things."
So, apparently because of ancient superstitions about wisdom, all of the sudden this incarnation makes sense?  It's a common human mental bias to externalize things and treat it like a personal agent.  This sounds like a textbook case of that.  Hardly a sound foundation for a supernatural belief system.  [Note, Carrier actually responds to this Wisdom objection in his book on pages 249-250.]

The fact that ancient Jews accepted other semi-personified not-god god concepts doesn't make the concept coherent.  It just moves the incoherence back to that and explains that it had precedent (which supports a naturalistic account of Christianity).  The personification may have just been metaphorical.  In which case Jesus would be a new category of an actual personification of a divine trait.  It's hard to tell though with ancient sources, since it can be really hard to tell what they take seriously or what exactly their half-baked philosophy entails if they don't ever explicitly get into it.  And lots of philosophers in the history of philosophy say things they just don't mean.  Holding's reference to Philo's interpretation of Abraham's 3 divine visitors as an example of a Jew conceiving of a monotheistic trinity is again, just incoherent precedent.

So Holding dismisses some other ancient Christian ideas on Jesus' incarnation that actually make more sense (lol) and moves on to say this:
Christ's functional subordination (just as our words and speech are subordinate to ourselves) and his ontological equality (just as our words represent our authority and our essential nature) with the Father.
Our words may "represent" our authority and "essential nature," but that does not make our words either of those things.  That's like saying the word apple is an apple.

Holding casually glosses over the fact his references say Wisdom was created, since Jesus as a created being is a heretical view.  That's kind of funny.

Jesus' subtle appeals to Wisdom that Holding talks about seem to me to be like what any Jewish wise guy familiar with the traditions might say to themselves when they feel like people aren't listening to them.  Probably not a declaration of godhood.

Perhaps Holding could explain if Jesus is identifying with pre-Incarnate Wisdom how exactly he grows in knowledge and *wisdom* as a child (Luke 2:52)?

Also, since presumably Yahweh has more than just 2 attributes, by logical extension, Holding would have to accept the real possibility that he believes in much more than a trinity.  Also a heresy.  :D

The bottom line is that theologians are just going to have to shortstop logic all over the place and mystify this away since it doesn't really make sense.  The construction of the Nicene Creed seems to be more about Christian theologians (over time) backing themselves into corners because they don't like the implications of various views and merely swallowing what they found to be the most traditional elements of their religion even if those ideas differed from later versions they also sandwiched together.  Their view of their god is a happenstance historical Frankenstein concept glued together by implausible mystery and unsubstantiated authority.


The last part of my response to the issues of chapter 9 will be, "J. P. Holding Defends a Special Incarnation" dealing with the likelihood of any first century Jews accepting the concept through the filter of how they understood what was possible in Judaism.