Friday, December 19, 2014

Crowd-Sourcing Vacuity: (non) Ten (non) Commandments for the (non) 21st Century

The authors of a new book entitled Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart, Lex Bayor and John Figdor, have it seems awarded $1000 prizes to the winners of their "Crowd-Sourcing the Ten Commandments for the 21st Century" contest.  More than 5,000 entries poured in.  The authors, or their colleagues, corralled all kinds of humanist bigwigs (Adam Savage, David Silverman, executive directors, presidents and founders galore) to judge the entries.  

And here (drum roll, please) are the ten.  Or six.  Or, well, if you want to be technical, the three, repeated a few times: 

1) Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence. 
2) Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
3) Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence. 
4) Every person has the right to control over their body.
5) God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
6) Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
7) Treat others as you would want them to treat you and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.8) We have the responsibility to consider others including future generations 
9) Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence. 
10) Leave the world a better place than you found it.

First of all, it's striking that even with a Stanford professor on board, nobody here seems able to count to ten.  Or perhaps none of those thousands of contributors could think of anything new to say.  The first "non-Commandment," as John Loftus calls them (let's color it red), is repeated three times, in exactly the same words (1, 3, and 9), and then once more, in slightly different words (2).  (What are the odds that three people would phrase Non-Commandment 1 (3, 9) exactly the same?  Instead of, say, "Be open-minded (with a hyphen) and therefore alter your beliefs when new facts present themselves?"  Or "Change your mind when warranted?")

Numbers 4 and 5 are truth claims, not moral imprecations (leave them black).  8 and 10 are repeats, and corollaries of (7).  6 is purely psychological.

So when up-to-date atheists get together and try to think up some really good improvements for the Ten Commandments, what do they come up with?  The Golden Rule (echoing Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus, who said it was half the Law), plus "Plan for future generations" (implied by the Golden Rule) and "Think things through, and change your mind when the evidence warrants."

I love that last one, and hope to see New Atheists begin following it, some time soon.  (Even if its "more like a guideline, really.")  Up to this point, these folks have often seemed among the most pig-headed creatures on the planet.  

If they were less pig-headed, for instance, they might recognize that evidence has always been a part of what Christians mean by "faith."  (Since we have explained this to them in such detail, now.) 

For instance, when Jesus explained the Golden Rule, he said all the commandments come down not to ten, nor even to three, but to just two: "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself."  Loving with your mind, of course, means thinking, following our Creator who has made us in His rational image by exploring reality rationally.  In any case, aside from some cherry-picking of Thomas in the Gospel of John, and a few verses in Hebrews 11, which we explained in True Reason, both the Bible and Christian history have been pretty insistent that yes, the Christian call to faith is a call towards the evidence, not away from it.  

And yet the enormous wealth of evidence we have cited to prove this fact, does not seem to have budged the opinions of radical atheists an inch.  Even those who know better STILL attack Christianity for its supposed insistence on Blind Faith.  

So our Secular Humanist friends have crowd-sourced the Ten Commandments, asking many of their top leaders to vet the results.  And what do they come up with?  The ancient Golden Rule and one of its more obvious corollaries.  Plus, "Oh, BTW, that thing on top of your neck is called a head, it comes with a brain inside.  Try the on-switch."  

The implication, drummed into the reader by repeating this point four times, is that no one else ever thought of doing that, before.  "Gee, thanks!  I was wondering what that thing was for!"  

Aside from failing to find 10 Secular Humanist non-commandments, some secular humanists have also recently taken to denying that Jesus lived 20+ centuries ago, undermining even the date Lex Bayor and John Figdor assign to their non-innovations. 

So apparently Secular Humanism doesn't claim to have much to offer the world anymore, apart from what we already know, in our hearts if not in our hands, one may say.  But maybe that's an improvement from the Humanist Manifestos of yore, not to mention Soviet Constitutions and such, which could at times be worse than unoriginal.  

The Tao, as C. S. Lewis said, is indeed eternal.  

(Afterward: Arizona Atheists points out that I made a mistake, in copying this list from Debunking Christianity.  (I did also go to the original site, but overlooked this discrepancy.)   In the present version -- see below -- non of the "commandments" are repeated.  However, the two "new commandments" are every bit as morally vacuous, and in one case untrue as well.  So my overall impression of mush is, if anything, heightened with the addition of these two new "un-commandments."  See the first two posts below.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

May the Lord and the US Army kick ISIS.

I came across this little item this morning from a blog run by a female Indian doctor and radical secularist, Taslima Nazreen:
In the ISIS guide, one question asks: ‘Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?’
The response is: ‘It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse.’
Another asks: ‘Is it permissible to sell a female captive?’ The response is: ‘It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of.’
The document says that all ‘unbelieving’ women, including Jews and Christians, can be taken as captives and sold as slaves.
The pamphlet allows masters to beat their female slaves, but only as a disciplinary measure, and not as a source of gratification. The master is also forbidden from beating his slave-girl on the face.
The IS price list for slaves ranks the cost of a woman by age, so while a woman aged 40-50 would sell for just 50,000 dinars or $43, a girl aged 10-20 would be worth 150,000 dinars ($125) and a child under nine would sell for 200,000 dinars ($166).
For once, I quite agree with the substance of her commentary.  And in this case, I even think her harsh word choice should be admitted:
"ISIS is doing everything exactly what Muhammad did.  Muhammad killed non-Muslims,non-believers, apostates,captured non-Muslim girls and fucking them.  He fucked female slaves.  He fucked a child.  Islam says if you want to be a good Muslim, follow Muhammad’s lifestyle, do everything what Muhammad did."
This is why I am not a pacifist.  Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek."  I think that's your own cheek, the one on your face.  I don't think Jesus meant, "Let kids get raped, enslaved, and beaten up because you're too busy being righteous (or safe?) to oppose evil force with justified force in response."  
Indeed, that seems to have been part of Urban II's logic, when he unleashed the FIrst Crusade: 
"They circumcise the Christians . . . When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels . . . Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows.  Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow.  What shall I say of the abominable rape of women? . . . The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered . . . "
Nazreen is correct to trace this attitude to Mohammed, and to imply that the most radical and evil Islamic movements merely have to note the "holy prophet's" own actions, to fully justify the worst that they do, in most cases.  This is why radical Islam and freedom-loving peoples will always be at war, and why we cannot expect final lvictory even when the Islamic State is defeated.  We have no right to allow evil men (in this case we hardly need add "and women," since it is clear who is in the driver's seat) to conquer, hold, and exploit the populace, sexually and otherwise, of whole nations, preaching a radical ideology that espouses total war and world conquest, and not respond forcefully.  
Of course, the fact that we must use force, does not mean we should lower ourselves to the level of our enemies, and engage in bloodbaths as the crusaders sometimes did.  Of course we should minimize civilian casualties.  Of course we should justify the battle, when necessary, in secular terms, that appeal to skeptics, as well as Hindus and Buddhists, and "moderate" Muslims. 
And of course there will be times when individuals on our side violate our own standards, and will need themselves to be exposed, opposed, and punished, as some prison guards at Abu Ghraib were punished for abusing prisoners.  Stuff happens in war, and should be minimized.  But it is not a reason not to oppose great evils with force, when necessary.  
So go kick their butts, US Marines.  I'll even say a good word for Barack Obama, if he deals with these wretched human beings effectively.  Jesus was on the side of the innocent, against their oppressors.  And I think we should be, too. 


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Will Jesus Destroy the Planet? (with cars?)

The second chapter I read in John Loftus' new anthology, Christianity is Not Great, is called "Christianity and the Environment."  My eyes quickly gravitated there, I think, because it is mainly about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), and that debate brings together so many fascinating subjects -- the weather, glaciers, volcanoes, history, trees, politics, life on other planets . . .

William Patterson's point is that Christianity is a danger to the environment.  ("Grave danger?"  "Is there any other kind?" -- Cruise vs. Nickolson)  His tone is more reasonable than that of Annie Gaylor, and he does not seem to engage in deliberate lies, as she seems to do as a matter of course.  But of course the charge here is a serious one -- we only have one planet, after all.

Biblical "dominion" theology, Patterson argues, leads to excessive population, animal extinction, and deforestation.  But the worst problem it creates is Global Warming.

Let's stop and take a reality check with these preliminary claims before we look at Patterson's main argument.

Do Christians over-breed, kills critters, and cut down trees? 

I just returned to Seattle from the major southern Chinese city of Changsha.  Changsha has about twice the population of Seattle.  But it is almost free of overt theological influence.  The people there have figured out how to make babies in bulk, even without being told audibly by God to "go and multiply."  The country is run by communists, still atheistic in their ideology, and in the propaganda they teach young people.  (I leaf through some of my students' other text books, and find anti-religious propaganda that would surely please Loftus and his fellow authors.)  And the kids buy it: I took a survey of Chinese college students a few years ago, and found that almost two thirds were atheists, at that point in their lives.

So there must be no problems with excessive population, animal extinction, or deforestation in Changsha, right?  And hardly a tree or animal left in Seattle, with the douglas fir and cedar all felled to built church spires, and roast sacrificial deer and bear to Yahweh?

Yeah, right.

God's toxic waste dump.
Flying into beautiful green Seattle last week, I got a great view of Mount Olympus, a mass rising in white to the west of the Olympic World Heritage / Biosphere site.  We can see three national parks from downtown Seattle on a clear day -- national parks are an American invention.  But even the city itself, 13th largest in the United States (metro) and one of the densest (city), is, I discovered when I first returned from a year or two in Asia, just one huge park.  The whole city is trees.  Raccoons, squirrels, even foxes, bald eagles, and river otters -- I've seen most of them right within the city limits.

Moving to Asia as a young man, on the other hand, where a mere 5% of the population is Christian (maybe a bit more, now), I learned that a river can still flow when it is deep black (Hindu India, Buddhist Taiwan, atheist China), and you can smell it a block away.  I learned what the expression "bare as a monkey's butt" means when applied to mountains.  I saw rare wild animals on sale on sheets of linen on street corners, and in cages.

Where in the world is overpopulation a real crisis, right now?  India.  Indonesia. Bangladesh.  The Philippines.  Vietnam.  Eastern China.  Japan?  Maybe, though the population is falling.

What percentage of that population -- more than 3 billion, all told -- is governed by Christians?

The Philippines, about 2-3% of the total.

In my little town, again, on the outskirts of Changsha, the government seems to have declared war on trees and beauty.  On three sides are on-going construction projects, with a 15-story wave of new apartments breaking just beyond the wall of our school grounds.  They are as monotonous as sin.  On another side, black smoke rises from drills pushing into the ground to build an indoor ski center.  On another, they are building a running track, covered so far in what appears to be grey concrete, without so much as a tree for shade between laps.  The one side free of construction, so far, is still beautiful, full of old lotus and rice farms, and you can walk for miles in clear air.  But some of the farmers build an extra story or two, so the government will compensate them extra when the bulldozers come.

Yeah, Patterson, that's the real environmental threat in the world today -- Christian theology.

Remember, Patterson's PhD is in International Studies -- shouldn't he take a global perspective?

OK, end reality check. let's go on now to Patterson's main argument.  Will the Bible will cause runaway global warming and doom us all? (Since we Christians think we are just visiting this planet, anyway, we might as well trash it?)

Burn, Planet, Burn?

Dr. Patterson owns a doctorate in "international studies."  (I have an MA in the subject.)  Since AGW is, as I mentioned above, a multi-disciplinary issue, this is probably an OK place to enter the discussion.  But it does make his focus on Christian theology, which continues, seem increasingly parochial, for those who share a genuinely global consciousness.  

Patterson argues that AGW is an "impending catastrophe," and that Christianity has "hindered a response" to it.  (286) This begs three questions:

(1) Is AGW really an "impending catastrophe?"

(2) Does Christianity really "impede a response" to it?

(3) Was the response that is allegedly being impeded the right one, in the first place?

Patterson addresses the first two questions, but entirely neglects the third.  But frankly, his answer to the first is so weak, that we need not bother much with the last two. 

(1) Is the sky, weighted down with excess CO2,  really about to fall?

Patterson mainly argues from authority.  He cites the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), along with the US National Academy of Sciences, American Geophysical Association, and many other authoritative American scientific organizations.  He also claims (citing historian of science Naomi Oreskes) that of 928 articles from scientific journals published on "climate change" from 1993 to 2003, not one contradicted the fact that global warming is happening and is mostly caused by humans.  

Actually, the IPCC only admitted that warming "in the past 50 years" has mostly been driven by human activity.  But almost half of the warming of the past 100 years came before that date.  Since only a relatively tiny amount of CO2 was released before World War II, compared to that released in recent years, it seems highly unlikely that the warming before then was caused by human activity.  Therefore, even if 70% of the warming after 1970 or so has been due to our machines, probably less than half has been, over the past century.  And that's worth noting, since a lot of the effects Patterson notes -- such as melting glacial ice -- have been going on since about 1850.

But I largely agree with Patterson's first two points: Earth's atmosphere has warmed about 1 degree Celsius in 100 years, and probably 1/3rd to 1/2 of that is due to human activity.

Patterson then describes the alleged harms likely to result from global warming.  Here's where his argument heats up, so to speak:

"The global harms brought about by climate change include, but are not limited to: sea level rise, increased strength of extreme weather events such as hurricanes; droughts; increased spread of certain diseases such as malaria, cholera, and yellow fever in vulnerable parts of the world; famines . . . loss of biodiversity . . . (it is estimated that a quarter of all plants and animals currently living will either be extinct or in danger of extinction during the next half century due to climate change); increased risk of large forest fires; economic disruption and loss of productivity; and conflict brought about by the increased scarcity of resources, such as potable water." (289)

I remember in Taiwan, visiting an office where Christians were cutting news articles out of the paper about disasters.  Each of these, they believed, was proof that the world was doomed, and the End Times were near.  Some people seem irresistably drawn to doomsday scenarios.  You can't argue them out of out-sized fears: the hold to them like a dog to a bone.  Every new bit of data is fed into the monster.

That appears to be what's going on here.

Despite all the alarm, polar bears seem to be thriving in the Arctic.  Of course there are far more species of mosquitoes than polar bears, so the spread of mosquitoes north and south would seem to increase biodiversity, if it that is what we want.

What really threatens species?  Chinese medicine.  That's why there are few tigers left in the wild, that and all those new roads and chopped down forests.

What causes forest fires?  Over-zealous Smokey the Bear, federal forest programs that do not allow smaller natural fires in the undergrowth, allowing the undergrowth to build up until it becomes a tinderbox. And what increases the danger of those fires, is an influx of new homes in the pine and aspen forests.  (More on this below.) 

Are hurricanes any worse now, than in the "old days?"  Patterson cites one Admiral Locklear: "You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level.  Certain weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past."  But  As Dr. Christopher Landsea and others explain (great name for a meteorologist!), peak storms come in cycles.  There is no evidence that storms striking either the US mainland or East Asia have grown in intensity over the past decades.  (Though it seems they do vary in landfall, depending on complex factors, such as snow melt in Tibet.)  Landsea notes:

"All previous and current research in the area of hurricane variability has shown no reliable, 
long-term trend up in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones, either in the Atlantic or any other basin." 

How about droughts?

I once debated a passionate defender of AGW, a Christian, on this very issue for about a month.  He believed that 20% of the planet had ALREADY become extremely dry due to AGW.  (Based on research by a climatologist named Dr. Dai Aiguo.)  The problem was, as I looked around the world and cited study after study, my opponent couldn't tell me where the areas of radically increased drought (20% of the non-polar land area of the whole planet!) had occurred.  It hadn't happened in Siberia.  We couldn't find it in China.  North America was pretty normal (here you can watch areas of drought skip around the country over the past 14 years), it wasn't in Alaska.  South America had some largish region of drought, probably due in part to felling of timber.  The southern Sahel in northern Africa was greening in some places.  Australia was dry in places, but nothing too unusual.

As for glacial melt, one eminent Indian scientist lost his job because he made extravagant claims about loss of glacial ice in the Himalayas, that proved untrue. Let's learn from our mistakes. 

Some of Patterson's arguments is pretty vague and unfalsifiable.  But he offers one argument that is highly specific, and can be easily checked:

"Increased frequency and intensity of forest fires is another predicted outcome of global warming.  Speaking of the western part of North America, the IPCC foresaw in 2007 that "disturbances from pests, diseases and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned."  Unfortunately this proved prescient, as forest fires of unprecedented size and frequency have since occurred in Colorado, California, and other western states.  The Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, CO, burned 5,780 hectacres of land and destroyed 500 homes in June 2013.  This was the most destructive fire in Colorado history, the second most destructive was the Waldo Canyon Fire, which occurred only the year before."

This sounds convincing -- but unfortunately for Patterson, it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to show the fire had nothing, in fact, to do with Global Warming.

I went to the Weather Underground site for Denver, Colorado, about 100 miles north of Colorado Springs.  I checked the weather report for the 20 days previous to the Black Forest Fire, which occurred on June 11th, 2013.  Indeed, the high temperature on the 10th and 11th both made it into the upper 90s, almost 20 degrees warmer than the norm for those dates.  But overall, the 20 days previous to the outbreak of forest fire were only about 1.5 degrees warmer than usual -- a relatively mild warm spell.  By comparison, the entire month of May, 1985 (the second-earliest year with data on that site), averaged almost 4 degrees warmer than the norm.

True, Think warned in the winter of 2011-2012 that low snowfall in the Colorado mountains had created a danger of summer fires, blaming that on Global Warming.  But the reporter admitted that the previous year, Colorado had enjoyed a record snowfall of (at one site) 525 inches.  So if we get no snow, that's Global Warming.  If we get tons of snow, that' Global Warming, too.  Anything extreme and noticable, feeds our theory.  Anything normal is not noticed, so we don't notice it!  Anyone who has watched the weather over decades gets used to that sort of ebb-and-flow from year to year, which I remember from my youth in Alaska, as well.  Change is the very definition of weather. 

And then the next year, before the really big Black Forest Fire, Denver got 20 inches more snowfall than usual.

So it seems unlikely that AGW caused the Black Forest Fire.   But "it only takes a spark, to get a fire going."  It only takes an accumulation of kindling on a hot day, to turn it into a conflagration.  And then if over the past 30 years, your state's population has swelled, and people all move into the pine trees to get out of the mile-high sun (and some of them smoke) -- disasters are bound to grow by leaps and bounds in magnitude.

Patterson further writes of "nations displaced by rising sea level."  Unfortunately he neglects to name any, which makes his "argument" hard to refute.  When someone names such a country, or island, I sometimes check Google Earth, and reports by oceanographers, and find the island is generally still there, and not going anywhere.  (Since really, the sea has not risen much yet: I grew up almost on Puget Sound, watching it nearly every day.)  The biggest danger would probably be to Bangladesh, partly from deforestation in the Himalayas due to poverty (people cut trees for firewood).  The solution is to enrich the poor through economic development, then if we need to, build up dykes in Bangladesh.  (Rich Bengalis will do that more easily than poor Bengalis.)

So all in all, while I admit that global temperatures have gone up over the past 100 years, and a good chunk of that is probably due to carbon use, Patterson doesn't really get to first base with his argument -- showing that this is a dire threat.  His argument is mostly vague, and when specific, often highly dubious.

I have not mentioned Christian theology so far, and have not had to.  After making his first points, however, Patterson turns to the role of Christianity in causes the evil he claims to see.

Since Patterson does not make a good case for an "impending catastrophe," I don't see that I need to respond in detail to the following ten pages of argument that Christianity "impede a solution."  And anyway, Patterson doesn't say what that alleged solution is, or why it's the best one.  So I'll pick and choose what to answer, in response to rest of his paper.  But the focus will mostly be on this claim that Christian theology is the root problem. 

"God is to blame!"

"Only 33% of evangelical Christians see global warming as a major problem, thereby making them the least likely among fifty population groups studied to view the problem as serious.  Atheists and agnostics were the most concerned."  (292)

Well good!  It seems on this issue, at any rate, Christians are less susceptible to unwarranted hysteria.  Christians were also less likely to buy the leftist line about how cool socialism was, in the last century, which I believe helped "saved the planet" in a more genuine sense, while most atheists were enthusiastic for Marxism-Leninism.

"The earth is God's gift to humankind to use as it pleases to meet its own needs and to prosper . . . " (293)

This is a caricature of Christian theology.  Christians believe that, "The earth is the Lord's."

"Scientists agree that the negative repercussions of these changes will be far more severe than any positive side effects."

Patterson had not mentioned any "positive side effects" before this, and doesn't again, as best I recall.  Nor, as we have seen, is his description of "negative repercussions" very reliable.  

"Christians . . . believe that widespread negative impacts are impossible in principle because God's creation is perfect." (294)

This is another strange caricature of Christian thought.  Patterson cites the Cornwall Alliance to support this bizarre claim, but what they say is that creation is "robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting," not that it is "perfect."  It's a good idea to cite people accurately.  Patterson also cites three youngish scientists on what Christians think, calling them "scholars," rather than identifying them as environmental scientists, rather than theologians or any other authority on what Christians think.  Patterson also cites that famous theologian, Rush Limbaugh.

So when I say Patterson is more honest than Gaylor, it's a relative thing.  He ought to represent those he criticize, and the facts, far more carefully. 

Later in the chapter, Patterson also cites several Christian politicians, who in some cases do say some embarrassing things -- if he is citing them accurately.  "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."  Odd, that the Catholic astronomer Georges Lemaitre, who discovered the Big Bang, would have to go to hell to fetch that theory.  Odd, too, that so many atheists reacted with such terror to it, at first.

Finally, on page 297, Patterson, again an "international studies" scholar, not a scientist, complains about how one Roy Spencer "of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance" misrepresents the proper scientific use of the word "theory:"

"Man-made global warming is a theory, and not a scientific observation."

Is Patterson talking about Dr. Roy Spencer, "Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite" who "has served as Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center?"  That Roy Spencer?  

No, I don't suppose a senior NASA scientist and eminent professor would know how the word "theory" should be used by scientists, nearly so well as an International Studies major.  

But really, it is a little cheeky to refer to him merely as "of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance," as if he were some Bible-toting hillbilly, or a backwoods pastor.  That's not quite leveling with your readers.  A proper citation gives the reader the most relevant credentials the person cited has. Tricksy citations such as this one do does not build confidence in a writer's objectivity.  

So is Christian theology going to destroy the planet?  I suppose it is possible -- cause and effect are often mysterious and outcomes in a "Butterfly Effect" world unpredictable -- but Patterson makes no credible case for such a danger.  (Though he does prove politicians sometimes say pandering and foolish things -- if that requires proving.)  The industrializing East and South is polluting, badly, and fouling air, water, and soil, as the industrializing West did before it.  Let us hope they clean up, after the party, as Taiwan is beginning to do.  Given that temperature rise is proportional to doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, that means the effect will grow increasingly small per unit carbon released.  I think pollution itself is the more worrisome problem.  But if, in the future, the sea level does rise in a few low-lying areas (the forecast is a foot or so during this century), dykes in the most vulnerable places are probably a better solution, than trying to reverse the Industrial Revolution, and telling the billions of poor who now have some pocket change, to keep their bikes and not buy cars like us.  And no, I don't care if you use plastic bags -- at least in pagan China, where they are provided, I don't drop my groceries on the parking lot when it rains, as I have here in "Christian" America. 

And if AGW really is a serious problem, it remains to be seen whether the solutions offered really are ideal.  Even if one opposes them, one would have to explain why they are the best, to show that opposition is harmful.  Patterson does not even say quite what he thinks we should do, let alone demonstrate that his solution is the best.  Odd that skeptics should find such a vague critique, a persuasive indictment of Christianity.    

Next up: Peter Bogghossian on faith -- again?  Wasn't he bad enough last time?  But this time, he has a confession to make -- implicitly.  

Saturday, December 06, 2014

"Woman, what has truth to do with you?" Annie Laurie Gaylor fibs about the Bible, women, and Christian history.

I believe my new book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story, is the ultimate antidote to all things Loftus, not to mention (yet I will) one of the best books of the year.  But even as I promote that book (and I hope you'll get a copy), I'm also planning on blogging through John's latest assault on reality, Christianity is not Great: How Faith Fails.  Because while we're celebrating the birth of Jesus, his critics continue to attack him, as King Herod did long ago.  Such attacks often have the paradoxical effect of reminding us why the world still needs the "Prince of Peace."

I will begin with the chapter I was most looking forward to seeing, "Woman, What Have I to do with Thee?  Christianity's War against Woman," by Annie Laurie Gaylor, a second-generation radical.

The reason I was looking forward to this chapter is because John had challenged Christians on this point more than three years ago: what does Jesus have to do with, or for, women.  He said the meanness with which Christianity has treated women, was one of his chief reasons for rejecting Christianity.  I then gave him a very long, substantive, and I think historically persuasive answer, beginning with this post, but with a total of 24 fact-filled installments so far.  I showed that in fact, the Gospel has improved the lives literally of billions of women around the world. 

John's answer?  This little guy over here ------>

So far, Loftus has all but ignored, not just me (that can be forgiven), but the wealth of historical, sociological, and biblical facts I cited.  He knows what I've said.  But for more than three years, rather than refute these facts, or admit them, he simply continues to ignore them while repeating his (now disproven) claim. He pleads lack of time.  So Loftus has time to write and edit new books attacking Christianity, but not to take a look at mountains of contrary evidence.

Loftus also recommended three feminist books about how terrible the Bible was to me.  But that's a lame response.  My argument is historical, not primarily exegetical: that the Gospel of Jesus has in historical fact improved life for billions of women around the world.

Having ignored contrary arguments, Loftus  finally invited a radical, Annie Laurie Gaylor, to do the heavy lifting for him, and prove that Christianity is waging a "war against women."  But he did not apparently encourage Gaylor to deal with contrary evidence, either.  Like Loftus, she ignores the UN study I cited, which shows that countries with a Christian background almost always treat women much better than countries without such a background.  She ignores the historical evidence that fervent Christians were in fact responsible for ending foot binding in China, stopping the burning of widows in India, rescuing prostitutes, ending slavery, and founding schools and hospitals that have educated and saved the lives of tens of millions of women.  These people don't interest her, any more than they interest John.  She also ignores most of the many gospel sayings that portray Jesus as the most radical friend of women in the ancient world.  (What she does with those she does bother to mention, is often even more remarkable, as we'll see below.)

The Black Book of God

Gaylor lets the reader know, in the first two paragraphs, that she is going whole-hog with her critique. I underline particularly important phrases: 

"Reading the Bible made a true unbeliever and feminist out of me . . . 'Sexism' is too breezy a term for the pathological sexual hatred to be found within the covers of a book touted as 'holy.'  Like Nietzsche, after reading the Bible I felt the need to wash my hands."

"As I read the Bible with increasing incredulity, I realized how little women could be valued in a society whose most valued book utterly devalues women.  It is impossible for women to be free and equal in a culture that refers to a violent and demeaning handbook for women's subjugation as 'the good book.'  Among the most common of the biblical epithets for women are 'harlot,' 'whore,' 'unclean.'  Biblical women play one of two roles: they are either superfluous (only about 10 percent of the Bible even mentions women) or diabolical."

We can extract the following claims, implicit assumptions, and deductions about the state of mind of Annie Laurie Gaylor, here: 

(1) "Pathological sexual hatred" is "to be found" in the Bible.  This claim is rather nebulous.  Technically, it could be shown to be true even if only one instance of such hatred were located anywhere in the 66 books of the Bible, the person displaying that hatred were female, and the author's editorial stance were critical towards it.  Of course, only a very slippery writer would play that sort of game.  As we shall see, Gaylor is such a writer.  

(2)  "'Sexist' is too breezy a term for the pathological sexual hatred to be found within the covers of a book touted as 'holy.'  Like Nietzsche, after reading the Bible I felt the need to wash my hands." (343)

Anyone who knows who Nietzsche is should find this deeply ironic.  Nietzsche hated the Bible because it spoke up for the weak and oppressed, and promoted "slave morality."  Gaylor hates the Bible because it DOESN'T speak up for the weak and oppressed, because it is the morality of slave-owners.  (She thinks women are described in it as the slaves of men.)

Which brings to mind how skeptics frustrated G. K. Chesterton, before he became a Christian:

"As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith, from Huxley to Bradlaugh, a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind—the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness."

One example Chesterton gave was the skeptical line on Christianity and women:

"Thus, certain skeptics wrote that the great crime of Christianity had been its attack on the family; it had dragged women to the loneliness and contemplation of the cloister, away from their homes and their children.  But, then, other skeptics (slightly more advanced) said that the great crime of Christianity was forcing the family and marriage upon us; that it doomed women to the drudgery of their homes and children, and forbade them loneliness and contemplation. The charge was actually reversed. Or, again, certain phrases in the Epistles or the marriage service, were said by the anti-Christians to show contempt for woman’s intellect. But I found that the anti-Christians themselves had a contempt for woman’s intellect; for it was their great sneer at the Church on the Continent that “only women” went to it."

(3) The Bible "utterly devalues women."  That appears to mean that the whole book -- all 66 books? -- agrees that women have no value. 

(4) The Bible is a "violent and demeaning handbook for women's subjugation."  This appears to mean that the Bible not only serves a demeaning function, it is meant by its authors to serve that function.  (Which would further mean that things were better before the Bible came along, since one cannot subjugate those who are already under heal, and one does not require violence to enslave those who are already slaves.)  

However, it is a little unclear what it means for an atheist to describe the Bible as a "handbook" at all.  The books of the Bible were written over many hundreds of years, and were only made an anthology in the 2nd Century AD.  So presumably those 2nd Century editors intended to use the Bible to demean and subjugate women, as well as the authors of individual chapters?

(5)  Every single important (non-"superfluous") woman in the Bible is depicted as "diabolical."

(6) From which we can deduce that Gaylor has either not read the Bible, or is a shameless liar, and expects her readers (beginning with John Loftus) to buy the most grotesque and shameless falsehoods.  

Begin even with Eve.  Is she really depicted as "diabolical" in the Bible?  Sure, she sins first, and then after that, Adam also eats of the apple and falls.  But if she's like a demon (diabolical is the adjective for demon), why did Adam say, "Here is flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone," before the Fall?  Why did God create "male and female . . . in His image," and "bless them," and give them the Earth?  Why, after they disobeyed God, did they sew fig leaves to cover their bodies -- do demons act as tailors?  Why are both Adam and Eve depicted as passing the buck when God comes to call?  And why does God curse them both, if one is a demon, the other human?  Why did God make clothes for the couple?  

The snake is the one on the right.
Clearly, Eve is depicted as "diabolical" no more than Adam is.  She is a fallen human being. And clearly, she is a major figure.  So Gaylor's claim is falsified by the very first female in the Bible, in the very first chapter of the Bible.   

How about Moses' mother?  Is she a minor character, or diabolical?  She heroically hides Moses from (male, apparently) Egyptian oppressors.  

Is Sarah "diabolical?"  Then why does God finally bless her (along with her husband) with land and children?  Why does God go to so much trouble to save her from the  Pharoah's lustful paws?  (While her husband chickens out and tell her to say she's just his sister?)  Having to live with a demon would seem sufficient punishment for the poor Pharoah!  And why is there a whole chapter (Genesis 23) on Sarah's death and honored burial in the "choicest of graves?"  

Is Rebekah unimportant?  Why, as a demon or insignificant woman, does she get a heroine's story, spread out over a full chapter of 67 verses?  Why is she shown as possessing particular discernment, pluck, and wisdom?  Or how, as a demon, can she possibly comfort Isaac after his mother's death?  (Genesis 24:67).  

We are not even half way through the first book of the Bible, not even to the Book of Esther, or the Book of Ruth, stories of heroines who risked their lives or left their countries behind to obey God and bless His people.  Nor have we met Deborah, who will lead the armies of Israel to victory.  We have yet to meet Samuel's mother Hannah, who prays for a son, is granted her prayer, then supports his new career as one of Israel's greatest prophets.  We have not yet read the Song of Solomon, a love story between a husband and his new (non-demonic) wife.   We have not yet heard from Wisdom, personified as a woman in Proverbs 9.  (More on Proverbs, below.)

But it is already evident that Gaylor either has never read the Bible, or is lying about its contents in the most shameless fashion.  Biblical females are obviously not all "superfluous" or "diabolical."   That is a bald-faced and easily falsified lie.  There is no other word for it.  

(7) It follows, then, that no one should believe a word she writes on this subject, at least, without carefully checking the evidence for oneself

Especially because the lies neither slow down nor let up throughout the rest of the chapter.  

(8) It is also evidence that Gaylor espouses and practices a highly subjective method of research.  She does not promise to survey human cultures and prove that in empirical fact, Christianity demonizes and subjugates women.  Rather, she deduces that it must do so -- thus the "War Against Women" subtitle of the chapter -- from the alleged nature of the Bible itself.   And this claim, too, is framed in a very strong form: 

"It is impossible for women to be free and equal in a culture that refers to a violent and demeaning handbook for women's subjugation as 'the good book.'"

"Impossible" is a strong word, indeed.  

One might again get Gaylor off on a technicality.   What does "equal" mean?  One person's freedom might be another person's slavery.  And what is equality?   One could argue that no two items larger than atoms or perhaps molecules (and even they vary by environment, velocity, etc) are ever "equal" in a fundamental sense.  Certainly males and females of almost any species are unequal: that is why we call them by different names.  And since Gaylor says it is impossible to be free AND equal, not OR equal, it follows that if women are free but not equal, or equal but not free, in a culture informed by the Bible, then her claim need not be technically false. 

But to read her claim more naturally, if less literally, Gaylor is claiming that women never are, in fact, free in biblically-informed societies.  And she deduces this, not from surveying the societies, but from her personal exegesis of Scripture.  

Yet as I showed in Part III of this series, in fact women are consistently far more free in countries with a Christian background, than in those without such influences.  

We've already seen that Gaylor is capable of simply ignoring vast amounts of evidence that tells against her opinion.  But another solution is to look that evidence straight in the face, and call it something else.  This is how she finds Proverbs particularly misogynistic.  

Gold In a Pig's Snout: Gaylor does Proverbs

By my count, Gaylor cites the Book of Proverbs seven times.  The first two citations come together on page 347: 

"Proverbs takes the revilement of 'strange' women to an intemperate pitch.  'The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit.'  (Proverbs 22:14), 'a strange women is a narrow pit.  She also lieth in wait as for a prey, and increaseth the transgressors among men' (Proverbs 23: 27-28)"

"As I was reading this as a young woman I was appalled by the Bible's name-calling of women, its intemperate denunciation of 'whores.'  'Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death' (Proverbs 7: 9-27)." 

The other five citations also crop up together, four pages later: 

"Ugly imagery predominates: 'As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion' (Proverbs 11: 22), 'It is better to dwell  in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house' (Proverbs 25: 24). Even motherhood brings no cessation of criticism: 'A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother' (Proverbs 22: 14)."

"Proverbs, of course, offers the ultimate put-down: 'Who can find a virtuous woman?  For her price is above rubies.'  The perfect wife is portrayed as an uncomplaining workhorse who 'risest also while it is yet night.'  It is not explained why fearing the Lord is offered as this 'virtuous woman's' highest virtue (Proverbs 31: 10-31)."

I type these phrases while it is still night, having risen at 3 AM myself this morning.  But I think even most readers who are not jet-lagged, and even some convinced atheists, will find Gaylor's exegesis here combative, even willfully delusional.  

The Bible makes the astounding claim that there are bad people in the world, and that they come in two sexes.  Even these cherry-picked passages make that clear.  There are foolish sons, who cause their mothers heartache.  (But since women are all demons, who cares?  Or in Gaylor's world, do mothers not mourn for wayward children?)  

In Gaylor's world, are there no prostitutes?  Are not deadly diseases transmitted by intercourse with prostitutes?  (The Hebrews, of course, did not believe in "hell" in the developed Christian sense - but Gaylor insists on using the King James Version of the Bible, perhaps to obscure things.)  Does it not then make sense to warn beloved children against risky sexual behavior?  

Solomon or his ghost-writer then draws a remarkable portrait of a virtuous woman: see what Gaylor does with that picture.  (And see how it contrasts with the shallow sexual ideals of our own society.)  

The noble woman owns a business.  She gets up early to work at that business.  Far from "valueless," as Gaylor claims biblical women are, this woman is "worth is far more than rubies."   She chooses raw materials (31:13), buys real estate (31:16), and invests the proceeds of her business in grape husbandry.  She supplies merchants with goods.  She has "strong arms."  She brings home the bacon, and never lets her husband forget he's a man. (31:23)

Furthermore, this strong, independent businesswoman allocates some of her wisely-earned funds to charity: "She opens her hands to the poor, and extends her hands to the needy."  

The wife of noble character is "clothed with strength and dignity" and "laughs" at the challenges of the future: she has planned ahead.    

Nor is this business-lady the strong, silent type.  "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue."

So is this ideal woman too good to be true?  Actually, one gets the feeling towards the end of the passage that the author may be writing about a woman in his life.  But he also makes it clear that in any case, she's neither quite unique or entirely imaginary: 

"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."  

What sort of reward does this noble women desire?  Her husband, and her children, rise up to bless her.  She has a good reputation in the public square. 

The author concludes: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."  

Annie Gaylor should learn to fear the Lord, and tell the truth.  

It passes belief that a sincere feminist could read Proverbs 31: 10-31 and be honestly offended by the portrait of a noble woman given there.  

Things get worse

The rest of Gaylor's case against the Bible is mostly of this character.  (Drowning genuinely troubling passages about marrying your rapist, or the sexual subjugation of conquered Canaanites, in a sea of tendentious exegesis.)   The Bible is "anti-woman," "mandating" a "master-slave relationship to men."  The story of Lot's daughters seducing their father "has undoubtedly suggested, provoked, and excused countless incestuous assaults upon helpless young daughters by fathers or father figures."  

The concubine who is raped in Genesis 19 is cited as an "unsavory depiction of rape," never mind that the author, and the people of Israel, are horrified by the story, too.  (That is its point -- as I pointed out in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, when Dawkins also criticized the Bible for containing this terrible account.)   Apparently, reporting a crime makes you a criminal too.  Gaylor also neglects, of course, to point out that after the one woman is raped and murdered, national disgust at the incident sets off a civil war in which thousands of men also die.  And that the author's editorial point is that society was in a state of chaos, and things had come to an ugly pass.  But Gaylor, being a deeply dishonest person, implies that the Bible includes such a horrific story because it is callous towards women, simply failing to tell us the point of the story.  

Gaylor does not go easy on Jesus, or truth in relation to Jesus, either:

"Motherhood is a curse . . . When a woman sings his mother's praises, saying, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts from which you sucked milk,' Jesus rebuked her: 'Rather, blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and keep it."  

This, too, is a strange passage for an alleged feminist to complain about.  The anonymous woman was not, of course, "singing Mary's praises."  She was singing Jesus' praises, with Mary as a mere rhetorical device, a useful instrument for bringing forth this wonderful teacher.   Mary is being devalued, in Gaylor's terms, by being reduced to her reproductive and care-giving capacity as an instrument, nor as an end in herself.  

And of course, Jesus was not saying that "motherhood is a curse," by any means.  Jesus was calling his listeners to something greater: women are not to be reduced to gender roles and reproductive capacity.  Wasn't that the point of feminism, a few years ago?  Blessed are those who listen to truth, and act on it.  Jesus' words dignify women, including the lady who called upon him, as moral agents who can think and act independently of typecast gender roles.  And Jesus' whole life and teaching, as I showed earlier in this series in detail, confirms this message, for instance when he tells Martha that Mary had "chosen the better part" by staying with the disciples to get an education, rather than fussing about getting dinner on the table on time.  (Which, for non-fools, does not of course imply that setting tables is a bad or evil thing, or that women who set tables are demons.  "Better" implies than the lesser thing compared is also good.)  

Such are the exegetical moves it takes to turn Jesus into a foe of women.  

Gaylor goes on, at the end of the chapter, to make it clear that what she really cares about is wholesale and easy access  to abortion.   Christianity opposes that, so it must be evil and at "war" with women.  Because all women really care about (one almost gets the feeling) is the freedom to snuff out those little lives within the womb, when they grow inconvenient.  And that is Gaylor's "woman of noble character," apparently.  

Perhaps I am exaggerating, now.  

But I am disgusted by this chapter.  I am disgusted that John Loftus claims he despises Christianity because it demeans women, but then when I offer him profuse evidence that in fact the Gospel has helped billions of women around the world, John claims he has no time to read and think about contrary evidence.  (Before repeating his slurs in public, with as big a megaphone as he can acquire, again and again, and trying to persuade others of them.)  I am disgusted at Annie Gaylor's lies.  (Such as that there are no significant women in the Bible who are not portrayed as demonic -- did I mention Jesus' mother yet?  Mary Magdalene?  The women who support his ministry?  The lady he meets by a well in Samaria with a checkered past, who gains new life and evangelizes her village?  Priscella, Paul's esteemed colleague in ministry, or the many other female coworkers he mentions by name in his letters?)  I am disgusted at the way Gaylor turns nobility into ugliness, and takes what is beautiful and wholesome, and tries to portray it as something shameful and evil, even if the only way she can do so is take a few verses badly out of context, and ignore the rest.  I am disgusted that she, with her degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism, has never apparently felt the need to learn more history before condemning a book that has liberated billions of her fellow women.  I am disgusted that John felt the need to include a chapter filled with such over-the-top, and easily falsifiable, claims about the Bible, in his shiny new anthology.  It devalues the surrounding real estate, just as a contentious woman renders even a nice house near uninhabitable, and gold is unfitting in a pig's snout.  

Yesterday, I think it was, Loftus quoted the following from a philosopher named Gregory Dawes: 

"It follows that while the arguments put forward by many Christian philosophers are serious arguments, there is something less than serious about the spirit in which they are being offered. There is a direction in which those arguments will not be permitted to go. Arguments that support the faith will be seriously entertained; those that apparently undermine the faith must be countered, at any cost. Philosophy, to use the traditional phrase, is merely a “handmaid” of theology."

I replied:

"This is why, unlike Lowder, I do not see you as a serious philosopher.  It is not because you lack the brains, or the reading, it is because you lack the will.  Arguments against your position, you simply ignore.  That is why, years after I answered your claims about women in great empirical detail, citing broad international research, important historical movements that have impacted billions of women for the good, and the full empirical data of the gospels, and pointed you to all that evidence, you publish a piece of trash like Annie Gaylor's chapter in your last book, which sticks its head and the sand and hums "I am woman, hear me roar" without engaging a damn bit of contrary evidence, even though you KNOW where that evidence is to be found. 

"Philosophy, history, and science become a mere "handmaid" of your atheism. 

"You could make things more interesting." 

This is the first chapter I read in Christianity is Not Great: How Faith Fails, and as you may discern, it did not leave a good impression on me.  But it's a long book, and I do not deny there is some meat in it.  Let us continue: both because, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, good Christian historians are needed, if for no other reason, because there are bad historians (and exegetes) out there.  And also because, it can't get any worse, right?

Next: Will Jesus Destroy the Planet?  (With cars?)