Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day: Romans ...and Ephesians

Paul liked to write letters to people
Let's spin the wheel of fun random Bible verses and see what comes up today!

Deep doop doop deep deep doop...doop......deep......doop

And today's winner is: Romans 6:22 (and because I'm a nice guy, I'll throw in verse 23 as well)

Ok so this isn't really a very interesting verse since it is just pure babble.  But let's not allow that to stop us!
But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God.  Your gain is a life fully dedicated to him, and the result is eternal life.  For sin pays its wage - death; but God's free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.
 What can you even say to that?  Yay! You're still a slave, but now instead of doing whatever makes you happy, you're now a slave to serve your master's happiness!

Can't you feel the joy?

Let's play again.  Maybe our luck will be better this time.

Deep doop doop deep deep doop...doop......deep......doop.....Ephesians 6:5-8!!!

As I flipped through my Bible to find this verse, I stopped at the beginning of the book where my Bible gives a little background on who wrote the book and for what purpose.  I found the description for Ephesians rather amusing (emphasis mine):
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is concerned first of all with "God's bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head" (1.10).  It is also an appeal to God's people to live out the meaning of this great plan for the unity of mankind through oneness with Jesus Christ.
So is God not really omnipotent?  He needs a third part to appeal to the masses to get them to do what he wants?

I'm sure the theologians would say that this is a reflection of free will that god has bestowed on humanity, but if the consequence of not following god's "great plan" is eternal torture, then is that really free will?   And if fire and brimstone isn't really the consequence, then the "great plan" isn't really that important if there's the distinct possibility that it won't be fulfilled, is it?  Or does god just smite you for an afternoon so that you'll get with the program?

But let's move on to the actual verse:
Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling [oh goddamit, this is supposed to be the enlightened New Testament that espouses progressive values]; and do it witha  sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ.  Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants [funny how everyone seems to have a different interpretation of what their god wants], as slaves of Christ.  Do your work as slaves cheerfully, and as though you served the Lord, and not merely men.  Remember that the Lord will reward everyone, whether slave or free, for the good work he does.
It is quite clear that the message is that slaves are to remain slaves for the good of the aristocracy.  No upward mobility should be attempted since this would be a violation of their commitment to their human lords.  Its really reads as if god put the slaves there deliberately and any attempt at freedom would amount to attempted contravention of his will.  Nice guy.

The New Testament is pissing me off now; is it really any better than the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Legends and Leaders: Not at Penn State

Former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with sexually assaulting 8 young boys from 1994 through 2009.  According to the grand jury report [pdf], Sandusky engaged in sexual touching to fondling, to oral and anal sex. To make the situation even worse, if even possible, all eight victims were part of the non-profit foundation to help troubled youths, the Second Mile, which Sandusky founded.

Reading the grand jury report is enough to make one physically ill and is very depressing.  If the allegations are true, Sandusky is a pathological rapist who used his position of influence within the university and as founder of the Second Mile to prey on the very kids he was ostensibly helping.

But the story doesn't end there: Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley, and Vice President, Gary Schultz, have been indicted for perjury and withholding material testimony from the grand jury.

[At the bottom of this post is my summary of the key events from the grand jury report - pdf]

While Paterno and University President Graham Spanier have not been charged, their moral compasses appear to be completely fucked.  Paterno apparently didn't think to ask the obvious questions that could have prevented further child rape, and Spanier failed to report an incident that he knew of to the police - instead opting to tell Sandusky to just not rape kids on his campus.

Both Paterno and Spanier should be fired.

It is truly astonishing that McQueary, Paterno, Schultz, Curley, and Spanier never thought to involve the police in a case of child rape or to investigate further to determine the true extent of the incident.  It is as if they were all intent to remain willfully ignorant and negligent of the specifics of the situation.  

The attorney general has indicated that Paterno is not a targets of investigation, currently, as he fulfilled his legal duty to report the incident to his supervisor, Curley.  While that may satisfy the law, that should not satisfy the Penn State community or society.  

It is utterly incomprehensible how Paterno could learn of what he described as "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy" and not demand that McQueary tell him everything he knew about a situation so serious and which implicated a man with whom Paterno had spent decades.   I would like to know what possibility I am not considering:
  1. Paterno truly did not know or inquire as to the specifics of what McQueary saw.  In this case, Paterno is willfully ignorant and negligent
  2. Paterno knew through McQueary, Curley or Shultz the true extent of the incident.  In this case, he is complicit in covering up the actions of a child rapist
Even having fulfilled his legal obligation to report the incident to his supervisor, he failed his moral duty to ensure the sexual assault was properly reported to the police.  Passing the buck where "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy" is at issue is not acceptable.  It is not acceptable for McQueary, Paterno, Curley, Schultz or anyone else that had this information.

Spanier, for his part, never reported the 2002 incident to the police, according to the grand jury report "in contravention of Pennsylvania law."   Instead, Curley, with Spanier's approval, informed The Second Mile Executive Director that Snadusky was prohibited from bringing any youths onto Penn State campus from that point forward, which Curley testified was unenforceable.

Spanier's approval of Curley's solution to essentially say 'keep your child rape off my lawn' is outrageous and infuriating.

Whether Spanier violated Pennsylvania law is for others to decide, but he should absolutely be held responsible by the university for such a callously ineffectual handling of a serious situation involving a grown man in a shower with a ten year old 'horsing around'.  

Yet, you will sill find staunch pockets of support for Paterno:
Joe Paterno, 84 years old and inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame, who is revered as a Leader and a Legend, is not a hapless underling.  We have rightly come to expect that a man of his stature and reputation is someone that will do the right thing.  Passing responsibility is not acceptable, regardless of how many football games have been won.

Meanwhile Graham Spanier has pledged his "unconditional support" for Curley and Schultz.  What happens if Curley and Schultz are, in fact, convicted? Would Spanier still support them?  Cause that's what 'unconditional' means.

At this point I don't understand how anyone can support (much less 'unconditionally') Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz, or McQueary.  None of them lived up to the purported ideals of Penn State.

In this author's opinion, Penn State cannot move on until everyone associated with this scandal has been purged, starting with Paterno and Spanier.  If you are similarly outraged, please take the following actions:
Here's the 'short' version of the key events:

  • A victim 6's mother reported that Sandusky had showered with her son to university police in 1998 which led to police eavesdropping (with the mother's cooperation) on a conversation between the mother and Sandusky where she confronted him and he admitted to the incident.  When asked by the mother if his private parts touched Victim 6, Sandusky replied "I don' think so...maybe"
  • This incident led to a police investigation where Sandusky admitted to showering with the victim and "Detective Schreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with any child again and Sandusky said he would not"
  • In 2002, a 'graduate assistant', purported to be Mike McQueary, walked into the football team's locker room and upon hearing "rhythmic, slapping sounds" coming from the showers, "[h]e saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky."
  • The next morning McQueary reported the incident to Paterno.  The report characterizes Paterno's characterization of McQueary's description of the incident as "fondling or doing something sexual in nature to a young boy".  It is not clear exactly how detailed McQueary's report to Paterno was
  • Paterno notified Curley, called a meeting with Schultz and McQueary.  Paterno did not attend.  McQueary's testimony, which the grand jury found to be highly credible, included the details of anal intercourse by Sandusky.  
  • "Curley specifically denied that the graduate assistant reported anal sex or anything of a sexual nature whatsoever and termed the conduct as merely "horsing around""
  • "Schultz testified that the allegations were "not that serious" and that he and Curley "had no indication that a crime had occurred""
  • And this is particularly outrageous:
    • "Although Schultz oversaw the University Police as part of his position, he never reported the 2002 incident to the University Police or other police agency, never sought or reviewed a police report on the 1998 incident and never attempted to identify the child in the shower in 2002.  No one from the university did so.  Schultz did not ask the graduate assistant for specifics.  No on ever did.  Schultz expressed surprise upon learning that the 1998 investigation by University Police produced a lengthy police report.  Schultz said there was never any discussion between himself and Curley about turning the 2002 incident over to any police agency.   
  • President Graham Spanier testified that Curley and Schultz came to him in 2002 describing it as "Jerry Sandusky in the football building locker area in the shower with a young child and they were horsing around in the shower"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Random Bible Verse of the Day - James

The book of James is, I guess
you could say... "shocking"
James is a short and to-the-point Book: it is basically a set of what are supposed to be timeless instructions on how to be a good person.  It is clear that it aspires to be, for non-fundamentalist Christians, what they can point to in order to show how much more progressive they are than those un-sophisticated fundamentalists.

Indeed, it has a couple verses that I would consider good advice:
(James 1:19) ...Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.
(James 2:1) My brothers, as a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.
(James 2: 15-16) Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough to eat.  What good is there in your saying to them, "God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!" -- if you don't' give them the necessities of life?
Show restraint, be tolerant of others, help those less fortunate.  These are all good lessons.  Of course, the Bible's lack of divinity doesn't rule out the espousal of values that actually foster a desirable society.  The Bible isn't completely worthless; so it has that going for it, which is nice.

Don't be fooled though, James isn't a complete liberal hippy doofus. He does have a little fire and brimstone in his loins:

Oh don't grovel! One thing I can't
stand is people groveling!
(James 4:8-10) Come near to God, and he will come near to you.  Wash your hand, you sinners!  Purify your hearts, you hypocrites!  Be sorrowful, cry, and weep; change your laughter into crying, your joy into gloom!  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Well, this 'God' fellow sounds like a guy I'd like to hang out with.
(James 1:5) But if any of you  lacks wisdom, he should pray to God, who will give it to him; because God gives generously and graciously to all.  But when you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all.  Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and blown about by the wind.

This is kind of ironic from an atheist's point of view.  Prayer has been shown to be ineffective, so lacking any additional wisdom, the believer might assume their intellectual stasis is due to some underlying doubt, thus causing them to further convince himself of his faith in God.  But if he ever came to realize that prayer is ineffective, would he attribute it to wisdom imparted by God in reward for his lack of doubt?  

But the point is that doubt is bad; don't think too hard.  That only leads to atheism.
(James 4:11)  Do not criticize one another, my brothers.  Whoever citiizes a Christian brother or judges him, criticizes the Law and judges it.  If you judge the Law, then you are no longer one who obeys the Law, but one who judges it.
I think this theme is coming through loud and clear.  This must be where Christians (especially the politicians they elect) get their sense of entitlement to do whatever the fuck they want with impunity.  If its  God's will then, it must be done, of course.  And who better to determine God's will than a Christian!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Are Science and Religion Compatible: The Debate

Haught pwns self with uncontrollable hand-waving
A couple days ago, I posed on Jerry Coyne's debate with Georgetown theologian John Haught on the question -"Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?"  After watching the video of the debate, I would say it is quite clear that Coyne absolutely demolished Haught.

I don't just say this as a fellow atheist (though I acknowledge my bias), rather I say this more as a commentary on the ability to aptly communicate their respective ideas.  Haught's arguments, on one hand, were muddled, incoherent, tortured, and opaque: typical accomodationist rhetoric that is really all just a bunch of bullshit.

I've had these kinds of professors in some of my business courses.  A good tip-off is when you see powerpoint slides with some elaborate or contrived schematic that really has no inherrent meaning.  But confused academics seem to gravitate toward these aggrandized diagrams perhaps to 'baffle with bullshit'.  Here are a couple slides from Haught's presentation (click the link for the .ppt):

See what I mean?  Its like there's a pathological need to over-complicate his thoughts (or perhaps a deliberate attempt to show how ostensibly complex his ideas are).
Anyway, compare that to Coyne's slides.  The distinction is quite representative of their ability to express themselves.

But presentation style aside, what did they have to say?  Getting through Haught's presentation was brutal, but there were a couple times where all I could do is face-palm.

Here are some of Haught's all-star moments:

We're so tied up with the universe, as we know today from science, that if we judge it to be pointless, doesn't that say something about the meaning, the significance of our own lives?
NO!  The universe does not require importance handed from above.  The universe owes us nothing.  And that meaninglessness of the universe does not have anything to do with the meaning of our own lives.  Our lives don't have any cosmic meaning; there is no grand plan.  But our lives do have meaning to us.  We give our lives meaning through our interests, goals, and aspirations.
The Hierarchical Principle maintains that a higher level in this heirarchy can encompass and comprehend the lower, but the lower cannot encompass, or get itself around, the higher.  That's the way the universe works in the classical theological schemes. [JLB: I find it annoying that he doesn't just come out and say 'this is the principle that I find most valid'.  Instead, it is simply presented as an academic exercise. Take a stand, Haught!] And that would mean, therefore, that understanding a lower level or gaining cognitional competence at one of the lower levels, does not qualify you to talk about the higher levels or to say anything deep about them...If there is an ultimate meaning or purpose to things, it would by definition, lie beyond human comprehension.
Doesn't this invalidate the entire enterprise of theology?  Or at least make it unnecessary, at least with respect to its efforts to "explore the nature of divinity without reference to any specific tradition"?

This also seems so typical of religious thinking - don't even try to critically examine 'the higher'.  Listen to your elders, they know better than you.

Winnowing down the bullshit is tough since it just keeps coming:
However, the traditional theological schemes allowed that it is possible to have an awareness of being grasped by the higher level.  And the name that theologians give to that awareness of being grasped by the higher level, by ultimate reality is faith.  So there is a kind of evidence for faith, but its not a controlling scientific sort of evidence.  Its the evidence from the experience of being carried away by something very large, very important, of ultimate value.
 More BS.  A simpler, and more plausible, explanation than one that people who experience being 'grasped by a higher level' is that the experience is a product of their brain's psychology in response to their environment and personal life.  Just because someone has strong feelings about transcendence doesn't mean that any metaphysical transcendence is actually occurring.  But Haught openly acknowledges that he isn't interested in actually determining if there is something non-natural [read: supernatural] going on as he said in the quote above, "It is the evidence from the experience".  That's it!  You have an experience, ergo it must be just as you interpret it.  I wonder what he has to say about out-of-body-experiences, especially since we know they are caused by the suppression of certain parts of the brain (and can be artificially induced in the lab): your eyes/mind/whatever don't actually leave your body and report back on stuff they saw.  You mind makes it up.

Before science came a long, and after religions became literate, they often used the metaphor of a book to talk about the universe.  But just as a regular book can be read at many different levels of meaning, so also can the universe be read at many different levels of meaning.  ...Take an adolescent who looks into a great classic and usually remains content, at least for a while, with the literal meaning of it and doesn't see what lies beneath the surface.  Is the adolescent wrong? No, there is a plain sense to literature.  And then take an adult, somebody whose been seasoned by life whose undergone a transformation process simply by the process of living and looks into the same book, I'm sure many of you have had the same experience, and will see it in a whole new way as an expression of timeless wisdom.
If the word of god is so damned important, why would it not make it accessible to everyone instead of those who have undergone this 'personal transformation' (of becoming self-deluded)?

If they were here today, representatives of these traditions, these pre-scientific traditions, wold be skeptical whether science, what we call modern scientific method, is wired to detect any deeper meaning, such as cosmic purpose, as they perceived in things.
The operative word is perceivedOf course, Haught glosses over the premise of whether there is any purpose to be detected.  And who f-ing cares what the pre-scientific 'representatives' of religion have to say about reality in the first place?  In what way are they qualified, especially given how much we have learned about the world, through the very process that Haught is denigrating (science), to comment on the nature of the wold?  The answer is easy: they aren't.  But Haught prefers to wear his rosy-colored glasses when speaking about the founders of religion as if they had some deep insights.  They didn't, and religion was their way of controlling others for political and monetary gain.

Don't talk about some designer or some magician who performs design tricks or intervenes magically into the process.  Start with a Christian understanding of God and what is that.
So he rejects intelligent design, which is good.  But I fail to understand how one can identify as a "Christian" while rejecting the notion that there is any intervention into the natural world.  So he rejects the literal creation story of Adam and Eve.  But what about the virgin birth and the resurrection?  Those are key tenets of the Christian faith.  And doesn't the belief that Jesus was the actual Son of God (while also being God) require that God intervenes in the natural world?

Like I said, theologians obfuscate to the point of incoherence.

Here's a quote that exemplifies this incoherence.  I would love to know what the hell he is talking about:

Revelation is not primarily Biblical texts or doctrinal propositions.  Revelation is primarily the self communication of the infinite to the finite world.  And by anybody's mathematics, since the finite world cannot contain the fullness of the infinite in any instant, but has to undergo a restless process, if you want to use a Darwinian term, adapting to its ultimate environment of this infinite self-giving love, then it would not be surprising that the finite world undergo a process of self-transcendence.  Matter would transcend itself into the coming of life; life would transcend itself into consciousness; consciousness into ethical and religious aspirations, and so forth.
 So if I have this straight revelation = evolution?
Just adjust the religious furniture in your mind a little bit.  Think of God, not so much as pushing creation from behind, but as inviting the universe into a new future.
And he ends with this doozie:
 Faith is the way in which we can guarantee that the evolution of the cosmos will continue into the indefinite future.
What can you say to that except, 'the emperor has no clothes'? [Of course: The Courtiers Reply]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Expressing Yourself is Important: An Example

The short version:

  • New Atheist and Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne, recently debated Catholic theologian John Haught on the question "Are science and religion compatible"
  • Prior to the debate, both Coyne and Haught agreed to have the proceedings video taped
  • Subsequent to the debate, Haught requested that the video not be released publicly and Dr. Robert Rabel, head of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, which sponsored the debate decided to honor Haught's request despite his prior agreement to have the debate filmed (which for all practical purposes is equivalent to agreeing to it being publicly posted.  If you don't want it posted, why film?)
  • Coyne, very upset, as he thought he got the best of the debate, recounted this sequence of events on his blog website
  • The intertubez revolted and send both Haught and Rabel tons of email calling them out for their cowardice and complicity in supressing what had previously been agreed to be publicly disseminated
  • Haught, under pressure from from the blogosphere and emailers, finally relents and gives his consent to post the video
  • The video is posted!
I haven't watched the video yet, but I'm looking forward to evaluating the contenders' respective arguments for and against the compatibility of science and religion.

But that aside, I think this is a great example of how effective such activism can be.  When I hear people cynically dismiss others' activism as futile and a waste of time, it frustrates me to no end.  If you aren't willing to put any effort into affecting change, your cynicism becomes self-fulfilling.  But its probably worse than that.  And that is because if you are not advocating for what you believe in, there is surely someone advocating for what you oppose.

This brings up an interesting point though: if there is surely someone advocating that which you oppose, then it is just as likely that someone is advocating for what you support.  So then, a cynic might argue, you don't need to do anything anyway.  

This is essentially the volunteer' dilemma (from wikipedia): 
Because the volunteer receives no benefit, there is a greater incentive for freeriding than to sacrifice one’s self for the group. If no one volunteers, everyone loses. The social phenomena of the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility heavily relate to the volunteer’s dilemma.
Of course in the case of activism, the volunteer isn't sacrificing herself, per se, but time and energy.  Actually, I would slightly modify the wikipedia description thusly to reflect the "activists' dilemma":
Because the volunteer accrues all the benefits and marginally more costs by volunteering than  one who doesn't volunteer, there is a greater incentive for free riding than to sacrifice one's time and energy for the group.  If no one volunteers, everyone loses...etc.   
 So the point is, if you feel strongly about a particular issue, do something about it!  Don't be a free rider, and don't assume that those advocating for the position you support don't need your help.  And doing something about it doesn't have to be overly cumbersome - one person could never put 100% effort into all of their positions - a simple public declaration (i.e. via Facebook) for your position (and rationale) is a good start.  Or call/write/email your representative thanking them for their support on an issue or trying to persuade them for a particular position.

Just do something.

Now go watch the Coyne/Haught debate - Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?