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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Carrier Debate: Let the Trash-Talking Begin!


Richard Carrier has, happily, agreed to debate me in two weeks, at the University of Alabama--Huntsville. I'm hoping this will be a civil, ideally even friendly encounter, not to mention an enlightening one.  I think it's a good idea to answer objections and criticisms as they arise, though, and will do so as the need arises here.  (Also after the debate, if there is time, and if other issues need to be addressed.) 
Richard posted notice of our debate on his website.  One of his followers, calling him or herself Roo Bookaroo, then posted the following criticism: 
David Marshall’s name pops up in so many reviews or comments to reviews about Amazon books, that it would be instructive to give us a rundown on this writer, his resume, his strengths and his weaknesses (I was able to spot only weaknesses), his stand, and what degree of credibility we can attribute to him (beyond my too subjective evaluation).
Too often he seems to write a review or a comment to a review without having read the book, only to expatiate on his own credo.
I, for one, had come to the conclusion that his Amazon writings were not only tendentious, but empty of real analysis or authentic critique.
You likely know about this writer much more than we do, and would be willing to draw a portrait of him as a man and as a critic.
Roo is right to describe his / her perspective as "subjective," but that's only the half of it -- they are objectively wrong.

Reviewing and talking about books on Amazon has, indeed, been one of my hobbies for many years.  But in fact, of the 300 or so book reviews I've posted on Amazon (aside from print reviews), the vast majority of books I've read cover-to-cover.  There were only two or three instances, in the past 14 years, in which the book was so flagrantly awful, that I felt justified in reviewing it after reading just a chapter or two.  One does not need to dive into a cesspool to recognize it stinks.  But the rest, yes I do read, usually to the sometimes bitter end, but at least what I perceive as the meat of its argument.

And no, I don't review books to "expiate on my credo."  This is obvious to any honest observer.  I love (or hate) books for themselves, and often give "thumbs up" reviews to those by people I disagree with, and "thumbs down" reviews to books by my fellow Christians or Republicans or whatever the cause might be. 
As for the quality of my reviews,  so far they have garnered a total of about 8000 "helps" votes.  This would be enough, if they were all in one group, to put me about 200 among Amazon's millions of reviewers.  It's a good bet I'd be among the top 20, among reviewers of serious books.  And these are often reviews of the most controversial books of our time, and I often strongly contradict what other reviewers say about a given book.

Thoughtful books attract thoughtful people, and my reviews would not earn that much appreciation, I don't think, if they were as dogmatic and empty as Roo claims.  Are reviews like this, this, or this really "tendentious" and "empty of real analysis or authentic critique?"
An eminent New Testament scholar wrote me after reading some of the early ones nine years ago:

I enjoyed reading all 23 of your reviews for Amazon.com! You write well. I found them all interesting and some especially helpful.  I especially appreciated your review of Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief . . . and P Jenkins' Hidden Gospels. Also the Jesus Seminar stuff. 

It turned out this scholar had been invited to join the Jesus Seminar himself.  He liked my stuff enough that he has invited me up to Canada (so far) four times, to speak in various forums. 

I've enjoyed reviews on Amazon by many thoughtful readers, some of them very skillful and insightful writers in their own right.  But I do think my reviews can hold their own. 

As for comments about reviews, customers don't need to read the book to post questions or observations below a book review, as long as you don't pretend you have read the book.  That's a completely different issue, and nothing to criticize at all. 

More criticisms have recently been posted on Carrier's site, a few of them more interesting than mere trash-talk.  If I have time (things have been humming lately), I'll discuss them a bit. 

 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Vancouver Missionsfest

Just got back home from three days at Missionsfest Vancouver.  It seemed like a long trip, especially last night driving through the rain on dark, unknown highways (I was staying east of Vancouver, and they didn't seem to have any useful signs).  Apparently I had too many things on my mind, because I was misplacing things right and left -- my passport (no idea where it went, or how it escaped my grasp), the cord and battery to the computer I brought, my flash drive.   

I spoke three times, on different subjects.  Both seminars were packed: on World Religions, and on "How Christianity Fulfills the Chinese Culture."  Lots of questions, especially in the first seminar.  Yesterday I also spoke in a charismatic church in Burnaby on "Gamble on Jesus."  Lots of interesting people came up to speak both before and after the morning service -- a librarian at a seminary, a man involved in ministry with a very critical view of pastors and church, a older fellow with a ministry of prayer and healing -- all that talking may have been a contributing factor to my forgetfulness.  Things have been busy lately, with deep layers of multi-tasking under the surface layers of multi-tasking.  (I was going to start a sentence listing some of the things I am involved in doing right now, but realized that might be too ambitious an undertaking for this evening.  Maybe I'll read a Russian novel instead.)

I was hoping to take in some seminars myself, but the only one I was able to attend was by the evangelical demographer, Patrick Johnstone, on "the future of the Global Church."  He projected that by 2050 there will be quite a few Christians around the world, even more than there are today.  His talk was very interesting, and a lot of what he said made sense -- he obviously knew his stuff.  But I have my doubts about predicting what people will choose to believe 40 years from now.  (Will humans even still be in charge?)  Who in 1970 would have predicted the fall of the Evil Empire?  Who would have predicted the growth of the Christian faith in China, or the beginnings of the house church movement in Iran?  Who would have predicted the plunge in birth rate even in so many non-western countries? 

I challenged Johnstone on this issue a little.  His response was, no, we can't predict disasters, but human trends are pretty predictable.  I let it go at that, not believing it very much. 

Even if man were predictable (not so much), machines will change things -- and so might God, whose plans we cannot claim to foreknow, without revelation.  But divine oracles are not a normal part of social science.  As every level-headed person knows, 97.6% of what we say about the future turns out to be pseudo-scientific hogwash. 

Having missed seminars on Islam and on persecuted Christians by a few minutes, I walked along the waterfront to Stanley Park.   This is one of the ritziest parts of Canada, and I was impressed by the inventive and attractive architecture, mostly waterfront or near waterfront condos: one shaped like a sail, others in blue and green and pink glass.  (The Convention Center itself is formed like a giant sailing ship with its bow pointing out into the harbor, with a sea plane airport on one side, and a couple terminals on the other.)  One building advertised itself as "as green as you can be" because it had an acre or so of tall brown grass on its roof -- which no doubt cost millions of dollars, that could have fed a mid-sized African town for a year.  This struck me as self-congratulatory preening.  British Columbia is covered with tens of millions of trees that plant themselves, and never make a cry about their hue. 

But Vancouver really is a beautiful and fascinating city -- the latter quality arising from the multiplicity of ethnic groups, the city's complex geography, with mountains and ski areas rising across its excellent harbor, and the good use city planners have put it to. 

I have to confess Vancouver has, in some ways, done better lately with its geographical assets than its twin city to the south.  Whereas Seattle's downtown library, designed by a famous European architect, feels like a cubist's nightmare about to topple over onto pedestrians walking beneath, Vancouver opted for a classical style, a comfortable building in tan rock which creates social space and a sense of community by its welcoming style.  Seattle's convention centre is reasonably impressive, and Freeway Park spanning I5 improves the city, but neither its location nor its beauty -- well that word won't do, its aesthetics -- can at all compare with Vancouver's lovely sailing ship into the harbor.  Vancouver has even managed, it seems, to avoid most (not all) ugly modernist public art: I noticed instead an attractive killer whale rising vertically in rectangular blocks in a square facing the bay. 

Sky Train is much nicer than our new subway is looking to be, not buried underground like the tombs of the kings.  And Vancouver's policy of catering to immigrants with money or skills pays off in the character of the community as well. 

Missionsfest is also an impressive innovation, which Seattle and other cities are copying.  Being busy, I didn't have time to meet or hear from as many people as I would have liked.  Probably the most interesting meeting of the weekend for me was talking with a woman at a booth whose mother runs three orphanages, including for some kids with AIDS, in Cambodia.  I asked her questions, and she told me stories, very forthright about the challenges (different drug cocktails for levels of illness, the dirth of good men in a nation wracked so long by war, working with village leaders, how to avoid the notice of the mafia), for about half an hour.  I felt like I had gotten to know her obviously very spunky mother as well, by the time I walked away.  Maybe I'll say more about them later. 

A kind Canadian couple a little older than I took me in for the weekend.  They lived on the 11th floor of a condo overlooking the Fraser River, with shipping moving up and down it, and trains sounding off below us in the middle of the night, just a few minutes walk from the Sky Train station.  They'd just sold their car and were depending on public transportation -- if they really wanted to go somewhere, they explained, they could always rent a car.  One of his hobbies -- he used to be a school administrator -- is to go around town and check on graffiti, making sure it gets cleaned up.  They were missions-minded people, readers of Madeline D'Lengle and Tolstoy, and he was a cross-country skier, and we did not find it hard to find things to talk about. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Loftus vs. Carrier, Science vs. History

About a month ago, John Loftus picked something I said about science and history as his "quote of the day," which in this case meant, silly Christian comment to mock:

Actually, John, I would say that almost all scientific evidence COMES TO US as historical evidence. Science is, in effect, almost a branch of history, as it transmits knowable and systematically collected and interpretted facts to our brains.

John tossed the first stone (I think it was pumice) at this construct:

What then? Does the fact that you're not a scientist, and therefore have to trust what scientists say, entail that you don't have to trust science when it contradicts what you find in an ancient pre-scientific holy book based on the supposed historical evidence? Historians do not have at their disposal very much evidence to go on in many instances, especially the farther back in time they go. A miracle cannot be investigated scientifically since if it happened then the past is non-repeatable. Science however, progresses in the present with experiments that can be replicated in any lab anywhere on the planet. The only reason you want to bring science down to the level of the historian's very difficult but honorable craft is because you need to believe your faith-history is on an equal par with scientific results, only you place it above science because you say science is a branch of history, and not the other way around. You are therefore an ignorant science denier. You could become informed. You could visit a lab. You could notice the consensus of scientists on a vast number of areas. But no, you'd rather stay in your ignorance in order to believe in talking asses and that a sun stopped and moved backward up the stairs. Science or faith it is, and you choose faith. I choose science. The divide could never be more clearer.

John's acolytes duly followed by tossing their own varigated pebbles at the accused. 

I have to admit, John had my number, here.  Yes indeed, he read me right.  I do indeed think it follows that science is incapable of disproving miracles, because they are non-repeatable. I also think science is utterly incapable of disproving the claim that Washington crossed the Delaware, Spartans fought at Thermypolae, or that I took an 8th Grade science class in Skagway, Alaska.  None of these events are repeatable.  Science is completely incapable of proving or disproving that they ever happened -- neither physics, nor glaciology, nor radiology, nor chemistry, nor even biology.  Yet shameless curmudgeon that I am, I claim without a qualm of trepidation that all these events really did occur.

Furthermore, I also claim that almost all scientific facts I or you know, come from other people, who discovered, gathered, systemetized, and reported those facts historically. 

Does that make me an "ignorant science denier?"  (One who, moreover, has never visited a lab?  Though I think I remember dissecting a turtle in that science class -- in fact I owned its shell for many years?) 

Does it leave us with a brutually stark choice between "science or faith?"  A clear divide, like light and darkness, virtue and sin, Republican and Democrat, writers who contribute to my Faith Seeking Understanding vs. writers who contribute to John's Debunking Christianity

Well, no, it does not.  

Or if it does, as I recently noticed, it leaves one of John's favorite and most profligrate contributors, Richard Carrier, in the utter, outer darkness and gloom:

In truth, science is actually subordinate to history, as it relies on historical documents and testimony for most of its conclusions (especially historical records of past experiments, observations, and data).  Carrier, Proving History, 48

Dang if it doesn't look to me as if Carrier wasn't also claiming that scientific facts are known by means of history, yet (somehow) without sinning.

Since we both now appear to be "ignorant science deniers," should I ask Carrier to write a chapter for my next book?  Or should Loftus invite me?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Perspectives: Beach Bubbles, Olympics


How many colors do these bubbles come in?  How does the sand feel as you run along this beach with bare feet in November?  What other objects drift in on the tides, perhaps flotsam and jetsom from the tsunami in Japan, or balls from fishing nets?  How many centuries have the Makah Indians walked along this beach?  Was it near here that the Japanese fishermen who were enslaved by the Makah in the 19th Century, and ultimately became the first Protestant Japanese Christians, first sighted land, when they drifted all the way from home and were shipwrecked, never to return?  Is this a picture of the Dao?  Bubble universes?  Is this the sort of environment in which RNA is supposed to have linked to form the first reproducing life on an ancient, sun-smitted, sterile Earth?  Are our lives really much longer than those of these beautiful little bubbles on the beach?  Is our world one of as many as the sands on the shore?  Does God care for us nonetheless? 

But the Olympic peninsula and the magnificently mellow Olympic National Park that this borders on are enough, most days,  without such stray thoughts, and even without the vampires that have been reported since I lived there. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Am I visiting a site near you? (Jan-March)

Things are getting busier by the day!  Over the next couple months, traveling all over God's green (or white, but I hope not) earth to talk about faith, reason, China, Christianity, the story of the Gospel, and whether it's true.  I'm scheduled (or almost scheduled) to speak in seven states and provinces, in the next couple months, including British Columbia, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania (probably), and Washington.  (Other events may follow.)  This includes a debate with the popular atheist wunderkind, Richard Carrier, student groups, sermons and lectures, Vancouver Missions Fest seminars, and six Perspectives classes.  Partly these trips are intended to promote our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding.  Please come if you can!  And get a copy, if you don't have one, yet.  And if you see a blank spot in the schedule, and want to fill it -- with another talk or debate, or just with a cup of hot cocoa at Starbucks or a hike along the way -- let me know, and let's see if we can work it in. 


My schedule, so far:

January 20, 10 AM, Langley, British Columbia, Mountain View Community Church, "Gamble on Jesus!"

January 25, 4:30 PM, Vancouver, BC, Missionsfest, "Christianity and World Religions," Room 13

January 26, 3:30 PM, Vancouver, BC, Missionsfest, "How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture," Rm 19

January 27, 10 AM, Burnaby, BC, New Life Community Church, "Gamble on Jesus!"

Feb 7 Huntsville, Al, Perspectives, Lesson 5, "Unleashing the Gospel" (closed)

Feb 8 Jacksonville, AL, student group

Feb 9 10 AM, "Christianity and World Religions," 3-4 hour seminar at University of Alabama, Huntsville

6 PM debate with Richard Carrier, "Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?" at UA-Huntsville

Feb. 10 (6 PM) Huntsville, AL, West Huntsville Baptist Church, "Mission theology from the Book of Acts: Christianity to other religions"

Feb 11 Braselton, GA, Perspectives (The Vine): "Expansion of the Christian Movement: History and Insights" (closed)

Feb 12 Gaineville, GA Perspectives (Riverbend Baptist) "Expansion of the Christian Movement: History and Insights" (closed)

Feb. 13 Huntsville, AL, Capshaw Baptist, 6 PM, "Christianity and World Religions"

Feb 14-16 Travel and meetings.

Feb 17 (Sunday, 4 PM), Atlanta, GA, North Avenue Presbyterian, "Jesus for Skeptics"

Feb 20, PM, North Augusta, South Carolina, North Augusta United Methodist, "Jesus for Skeptics"

Feb 21-23 Visiting relatives. 

Feb 24 (Sunday, 5:30 PM), Snellville, GA, Perspectives, "Expansion of the Christian Movement: History and Insights" (closed)

Feb 25 Atlanta, GA, Perspectives "Expansion of the Christian Movement: History and Insights" (closed)

Feb 26 Roswell, GA, Perspectives "Expansion of the Christian Movement: History and Insights" (closed)

Feb 27 - March 8   Open dates. 

March 10 Fairfax, VA (near Washington, D.C), 8:30, 10 AM, 11:15, Fairfax Presbyterian Church

March 11, Return to Seattle, morning flight from Nashville, TN, via Denver.
 
March 17, Seattle, WA, Rock of Ages Lutheran Church (9:30 AM?) 

Monday, January 14, 2013

No. 1 Amazon Review: Steve Meyer, Signature in the Cell

And here is is, my most popular book review on Amazon, out of 300-400 to date . . . Wouldn't be my first choice.  But elections have consequences!   

Signature in the Cell, DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design
 
758 + / 131 -
 
I come to this book with two peeves, one pet, the other a stray that is beginning to wear out its welcome.

My pet peeve is fanatics who attack ID out of ideological compulsion, rather than using the "think" cells hidden deep within their brains to evaluate and argue. That includes most of the reviewers who gave the book 1 or 2 stars so far. Meyer, we are told, is "lazy," a "creationist," "idiot," "fraud," and "liar" who hawks "error-prone" "snake-oil," "gobbledygook," "pseudo-science." We should read Richard Dawkins new Greatest Show on Earth instead (I did -- it isn't about the origin of life, you numbskulls). One "reviewer" blasts the book after reading four sentences, and gets 69 of 128 "helpful" votes. Another "reviews" the first few pages and calls Meyer a liar.

Hardly any negative reviews even try to point to any scientific errors. Two exceptions: reviews by A Miller and K. M. Sternberg are worth reading. Sternberg's is particularly eloquent. (Though having written a couple books on the historical Jesus, I tend to wonder about the objectivity, awareness, and / or good sense of someone who thinks there is no evidence for the life of Jesus!)

My second peeve is a growing dislike for the way Discovery Institute often packages its arguments. I visited DI a year ago when another ID book came out -- I won't name it, seeing no need to embarrass the author. His presentation essentially said, "Look at all the wonders of creation. How can evolution possibly explain all that?" When Q and A time came, I was the only one to ask any critical questions. "That sounds impressive, but why don't you engage the explanations evolutionary biologists offer for those features?" Like the talk, the book (he gave me a copy) simply ignored detailed arguments.

This book does much better. Meyer's critics to the contrary, he does offer detailed scientific and philosophical arguments. Signature is NOT mainly about evolution per se - it is about the origin of life. It is, therefore, not strictly parallel to Dawkins' books or arguments -- ID is in a sense broader than evolution as a theory, since it seeks to explain things that evolution does not.

My main beef is the book is too long. While many of Meyer's illustrations are interesting, he uses too many, and repeats himself too often. Meyer should chop out some of the remedial 7th Grade biology, cut some stories and the "I was in Akron when I thought A and in Baton Rouge when B occurred to me" stuff, and cut the book in half.

The first-person auto-biographical is overworked. No one thinks you're neutral, Stephen -- so just argue! Don't pretend your conversion to ID was purely scientific -- reasonable people understand that people act under a mixture of motives, and the unreasonable ones are not worth arguing with. Dawkins, Behe, Hawking, and Darwin for that matter write serious arguments without losing ordinary readers; models that Meyer could profitably shoot for.

But the issue here is the origin of life, and when Meyer finally gets to it, he argues it well, I think. The central chapters seem to cover most of the main issues well. He discusses different solutions, and explains fairly clearly why they do not work, and why some sort of design seems preferable. It is interesting that none of Meyer's critics here dispute those arguments. (Again, Miller and Sternberg come closest, but do not really engage his most important points.) I wish, however, that Meyer had expanded those central chapters, and discussed in more detail leading rival contemporary hypotheses.

Many of his secondary arguments work, too. I suppose one can't complain if a philosopher of science writes a lot about the philosophy of science, and I suppose those arguments are made necessary by attempts to marginalize ID proponents through the sheer power of wordplay.  As I wrote in Truth Behind the New Atheism, in response to Dawkins' attempts to marginalize ID proponents: "David Bohm once defended science as 'openness to evidence.' The best scientist -- or theologian -- is not someone who shouts 'heresy!' when he hears strange views, but one who listens carefully and responds with reason and evidence. When it comes to ultimate questions, 'openness to evidence' is the definition that counts."

The scientific evidence is what matters, and I would have liked to have seen more detail on that. Still, all in all, a strong ID perspective on the origin of life.

Friday, January 11, 2013

100 Greatest Brits? A Better List.

If Spock is half-human even though
he was born on Vulcan, can
we also claim Churchill as
half-American?
In 2002, the BBC conducted a survey of the "100 greatest Britons."  In some ways, the poll stands as a remarkable measure of what a little island can accomplish, when it puts its head to getting things done.  In another way, I have to say it makes me kind of glad I'm not British anymore . . . that for a few hundred years, our lines have veered apart.

Because how come?
Why?  First, modern Brits who make the list are mostly celebrities, famous for writing songs or having annoying people follow them around with cameras.  It's embarrassing that celebrity culture overshadows history so easily (it frightens me to think what a poll of Americans would reveal -- Eminem as Third Greatest American Ever?).  And second, the real movers and shakers, great men and women who changed the world, largely for the better, mostly lived a long time ago, before the sun ever set.  That was also when (let me add) the Bible had more to say to the hearts of Britain's greatest heroes. 

Let's take them in groups of ten, reserving comments for after each decade.  Then at the end, I'll suggest a few other Brits one might nominate to replace the dingy of this list.  Your suggestions are also welcome.  (Record page reads lately, but readers have been unusually reserved -- we welcome input!) 

1. Winston Churchill, (1874-1965) - Prime Minister (1940-1945, 19511955)
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (18061859) - Engineer.
3. Diana, Princess of Wales (19611997) - First wife of Charles, Prince of Wales; mother of Prince William; Prince Harry of Wales.
4. Charles Darwin (18091882) - Naturalist; the originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of 'On the Origin of Species'.
5. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) - English poet; playwright.
6. Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) - Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist.
7. Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) - Monarch (reigned 1558-1603).
8. John Lennon (19401980) - Musician with The Beatles.
9. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (17581805) - Naval commander.
10. Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) - Lord Protector
 
Churchill?  I'd be happy to keep him in the Top Five.  But was he really greater than Shakespeare, Darwin, or Queen Elizabeth?  Well, maybe . . . there has only been one Hitler in Western history, and Churchill was his greatest foe. 
 
I've never heard of Brunel. Skimming the Wikipedia site, I'm still at a loss at how he reached number two. Let's drop him down a few classes. 
 
Lady Di was greater than William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, or King Alfred?  Was it the hat?  Sorry, Di, your nice charitable work and Elton John aside, I frankly still don't get the "Lady Di" phenomena.   
 
Lennon is going to have to go, too, I'm afraid.  Nice songs, but he should be embarrased, standing on the platform with Shakespeare.  Let's replace Di with John Wesley, Lennon with Charles Dickens, and Brunel with . . . oh, I don't know, let's see who else we find downstream. 
 
11. Sir Ernest Shackleton (18741922) - Polar explorer.
Captain Cook sails to glory. 
12. Captain James Cook (17281779) - Explorer.
13. Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (18571941) - Boy Scouts; Girl Guides founder.
14. Alfred the Great (849?–899) - King of Wessex (reigned 871–899).
15. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (17691852) - Military commander, statesman; Prime Minister 18281830 ; 1834.
16. Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1925-) - Prime Minister (19791990).
17.  Michael Crawford (1942-) - Actor; singer.
18. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (18191901) - Monarch (reigned 18371901).
19. Sir Paul McCartney (1942-) - Musician with The Beatles.
20. Sir Alexander Fleming (18811955) - Biologist, pharmacologist, discoverer of penicillin.

Shackleton's story is amazing, his courage and the survival of his crew heroic, but what did he achieve, really?  While I agree with her politics, this seems a bit high for Lady Thatcher, too.  And who is Michael Crawford?  One slot up on Queen Victoria?  And what's with all the Beetles?   

Alfred the Great, who did as much as anyone to make England, probably belongs in the Top Ten.  Queen Victoria is the only other person here who seems a bit low. 

21.  Alan Turing (19121954) - Pioneer of computing.
22.  Michael Faraday (17911867) - Scientist.
23. Owain Glynd┼Ár (1359–1416) - Prince of Wales.
24. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1926-) - Reigning monarch (from 1952).
25.  Professor Stephen Hawking (born 1942) - Theoretical physicist.
26. William Tyndale (1494–1536) - English translator of the Bible.
27. Emmeline Pankhurst (18581928) - Suffragette.
28. William Wilberforce (17591833) - Humanitarian.
29. David Bowie (1947-) - Musician.
30. Guy Fawkes (1570–1606) - English revolutionary.

Aside from the last two, I don't have much to complain about with the third class of greats.  (No, I don't know who 23 is, either.) 

Wilberforce, of course I would move way, way up.  Maybe into the Top Five.  David Bowie, way, way, down -- no not quite into the bottom five.  Off this list, though, along with Guy Fawkes, who is famous mainly for being an incompetent terrorist, and having a fun useless holiday named after him. 

31.  Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire (19171992) - Aviator; charity organiser.
32. Eric Morecambe (19261984) - Comedian.
33. David Beckham (1975-) - Footballer.
34. Thomas Paine (17371809) - Political philosopher.
35. Boudica (died c.60) - Leader of Celtic resistance to Roman Empire.
36. Sir Steve Redgrave (1962-) - Olympic rower.
37. Saint Thomas More (1478–1535) - English saint, lawyer; politician.
38. William Blake (17571827) - Author, poet, painter & printer.
39. John Harrison (1693–1776) - Clock designer.
"You were not mad, I know time
will tell, William Blake."
-- Daniel Amos Band
40. King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547) - Monarch (reigned 1509–1547).

Sorry, no "footballers" on my list.  I just don't believe that's possible.  Nor rowers, nor comedians, at least not ones I've never heard of.  This is just trying to pad the 20th Century, and make it look better than it really was. 

If we're going to have Blake, whom I don't mind, shouldn't Chaucer have shown up, yet, or Dickens?  Psychodelic is all right, in its way, but funny is better. 

Henry VIII was great at what, again? 

41. Charles Dickens (18121870) - Author.
42. Sir Frank Whittle (19071996) - Jet engine inventor.
43. John Peel (19392004) - Broadcaster.
44. John Logie Baird (18881946) - Television pioneer.
45. Aneurin Bevan (18971960) - Labour politician, helped in formation of the National Health Service.
46. Boy George (1961-) - Musician with Culture Club.
47. Sir Douglas Bader (19101982) - Aviator & charity campaigner.
48. Sir William Wallace (c.1270–1305) - Guardian of Scotland.
49. Sir Francis Drake (c.1540–1596) - English naval commander.
50.  John Wesley (17031791) - Methodism founder.

John Wesley, who changed the world (and for the better, overwhelmingly) comes 4 spots after Boy George, who changed what -- his gender?  Sorry, George, you fall in behind David Bowie.  A broadcaster?  A television pioneer?  What is that?  Off the list. 

51. King Arthur - Celtic monarch of legend.
52. Florence Nightingale (
18201910) - Nurse.
53. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) (
18881935) - Soldier & arabist.
54. Robert Falcon Scott (
18681912) - Polar explorer.
55. Enoch Powell (19121998) - Politician.
56. Sir Cliff Richard (1940-) - Musician.
57. Alexander Graham Bell (18471922) - Telephone pioneer.
58. Freddie Mercury (19461991) - Musician with band Queen.
59. Dame Julie Andrews (1935-) - Actress & singer.
60. Sir Edward Elgar (18571934) - Composer.

I'm tempted to keep Mary Poppins where she is, for fear she flies up with her umbrella and directs bombardments on my position from that looney retired naval commander down the street.  But I'm afraid Cliff Richard and Freddie Mercury are going to have to go.  Actually, the first three and Bell are the only names here whom I'm sure belong. 

61. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (19002002) - Queen consort.
62. George Harrison (19432001) - Musician with The Beatles.
63. Sir David Attenborough (1926-) - Broadcaster.
64. James Connolly (18681916) - Scottish born leader of the Irish 1916 rising.
65. George Stephenson (17811848) - Railway pioneer.
66.  Sir Charlie Chaplin (18891977) - Comic actor, film director.
67. Tony Blair (1953-) - Prime Minister (19972007).
68. William Caxton (c.1415~1422–c.1492) - English printer.
69. Bobby Moore (19411993) - Footballer; Captain of England 1966 World Cup winning team.
70. Jane Austen (17751817) - Author.

All right, all right, I'll let you have one Beetle!  But just pick one.  And no higher than 80th.  George Harrison?  Come on!  Charlie Chaplin I can see.  (But not hear.)   

What did Tony Blair accomplish, exactly?  I liked his debating style, and appreciate the fact that he brought Britain in on the side of the Americans after 9/11.  But he's been a bit of a kiss-up to the Muslims ever since.  I don't see it. 

Jane Austen?  Yeah, I can buy that, maybe even more of it. 

71. William Booth (18291912) - Founder of Salvation Army.
72. King Henry V of England (1387–1422) - Monarch (reigned 1413–1422).
73. Aleister Crowley (18751947) - Occultist, writer, social provocateur; founder of Thelema.
74. Robert the Bruce (1274–1329) - King of Scots.
75. Bob Geldof (1951-) - Irish musician, philanthropist.
76. The Unknown Warrior - Soldier of the Great War.
77. Robbie Williams (1974-) - Musician; previous member of Take That.
78. Edward Jenner (17491823) - Pioneer of vaccination.
79. David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George (18631945) - Prime Minister (19161922).
80. Charles Babbage (17911871) - Computing pioneer; mathematician.

To General Booth, "Friend, move up to a better place!"  And to Crowley . . . how did you get in here?  Don't close the door on the way out! 

I had honestly never heard of Robbie Williams: apparently he's a drug-addicted, chain-smoking, morally perverse singer who's managed to sell 70 million albums.  Good for him.  Let the money and the songs (if they are any good, which one must assume they are) be their own reward.  Make another list for "Britain's 100 biggest party-boy celebrities," and you're a shoo-in.  Geldof apparently has done good things with his fame, so I'll let him remain. 

81. Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400) - Medieval author.
82. King Richard III of England (1452–1485) - Monarch (reigned 1483–1485).
An Englishman on a French
stamp: if that doesn't prove
(publishing) magic, what could?
83. J.K. Rowling (1965-) - Harry Potter Series author.
84. James Watt (1736–
1819) - Steam engine developer.
85. Sir Richard Branson (
1950-) - Businessman.
86. Bono (1960-) - Irish musician (Singer for Rock Band U2), philanthropist.
87. John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) (1956-) - Musician.
88. Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (18871976) - Military commander.
89. Donald Campbell (19211967) - Water speed world record challenger.
90. King Henry II of England (1133–1189) - Monarch (reigned 1154–1189).

Finally Chaucer!  I'll assume Rotten (whoever he is) is just here to pad the 20th Century numbers.  Montgomery?  I have my doubts.  And no "water speed challengers" need apply. 

Bono, I'm happy to include.  The man has good tunes, then parlayed them into doing something good for the world. 

Not Branson, though.  I've heard things, I'm skeptical. 

91. James Clerk Maxwell (18311879) - Physicist.
92. J.R.R. Tolkien (18921973) - Author; philologist.
93. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618) - English explorer.
94. King Edward I of England (1239–1307) - Monarch (reigned 1272–1307).
95. Sir Barnes Wallis (18871979) - Aviation technology pioneer.
96. Richard Burton (19251984) - Actor.
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
97. Tony Benn (1925-) - Politician; formerly 2nd Viscount Stangate.
98. David Livingstone (18131873) - Missionary; explorer.
99/ Sir Tim Berners-Lee (1955-) - Internet pioneer; World Wide Web inventor.
100.  Marie Stopes (
18801958) - Birth control promoter.

Of course Tolkien is too low.  And we've had enough actors.  Tony Benn looks like more padding, as does Marie Stopes. 

But who are we missing? 

Britain is not my country, so Brits reading this have every right to box my ears over my various impieties.  But my ancestors did share most of the history represented by these names, so I'm going to make a few suggestions, anyway:

St. Patrick
John Scotus. 
Roger Bacon. 
John Bunyan. 
John Locke.  (Top 20)
John Milton.  (You can ever have too many Johns. . . )
Francis Bacon. 
Robert Hooke. 
George Handel -- don't tell me the 20th Century (or the devil) had all the best music! 
Robert Boyle, maybe.
William Carey.  (Top 10)
Hudson Taylor. 
Rudyard Kipling
Mary Slessor. 
Timothy Richard.
C. S. Lewis. (You knew I was going to say that!) 
Paul Brand. (Need to include someone I have actually talked with on the list, to satisfy Locke's empiricism.) 

"How about your list of the greatest Americans?"  You ask. 

Let's wait another 500 years for that.  Mary Poppins, after all, was partly about nostalgia for a lost empire.  We should at least wait till the end of the second Obama term, by which time the country's slide from glory should be far enough along to inspire great works of wistfulness. 


 Any more suggestions?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OTF: Misreading my rebuttal.

John Loftus' defense of his Outsider Test for Faith (OFT) argument against Christianity is due out next year, I think from Prometheus Press.  He says he'll be responding there (in part) to my critique of that argument last year in True Reason.  Hopefully he'll offer a more robust argument than his usual phone-it-in blog rebuttals: argument is meat for the soul, and the yakiniku sauce is lying patiently in its little ceramic bowl, waiting for some good beef to come off the grill. 

Meanwhile, a doctor working in Nigeria, Mike Blyth, posted a polite 3 star review of True Reason on Amazon in which he took my chapter on the OTF especially to task.  He posted a longer review on his website.  While we're waiting for John's book to cook, let me respond to Mike, in some cases by pointing to things that he misses, or misreads. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

Why is Greta Christina so angry? (And ignorant?)

I have to admit, Greta Christina's book, Why are you Atheists so Angry?  99 Things that Piss off the Godless, is in many ways better than expected.  Greta's a good writer.  Her anger is expressed with as much reason as rant, with pith as well as pique.  She begins the book with a list of 99 things that tick her off, and I was surprised to find I agreed with most of them:

Saturday, January 05, 2013

No. 2 (Really!): Karen Armstrong, History of Islam

Last April, having posted over 300+ book reviews on Amazon, I began a duel series of my ten most popular and most unpopular.  I couldn't keep it to ten each -- so many books, so little time, as they say.  But I finished in late October with the most-hated list, with Lynn Bachmann's awful The Gospel of Thomas: Wisdom of the Twin, perhaps the least significant of eleven or twelve on that list.  I have now reviewed twelve books for my "Ten Best" list -- my reviews have, after all, been pretty popular, having received over 8000 "helpful" votes, so there were more to choose from.  Among writers who appeared on that list, which is this list, have been Howard Zinn, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Michael Martin, G. K. Chesterton, Rodney Stark, Jay Budziszewski, Daniel Dennett, John Esposito, Sam Huntington, Michael Behe, NT Wright, and Chesterton again, from bottom to top -- all serious, influential books, as it happens.  Though I do dabble in the occasional novel, that, apparently, is not what people like best. 

But I now repent of the funny math!  We're really and truly almost at the end, finally.  The next post in this series will be my most popular review on Amazon ever - since ham radio was invented, since termites munched wood, since the Earth cooled!  (I'm counting, in case you forget, by total number of positive votes, for the popular reviews, and a combination of negative votes and percent negative, for thumbs-down reviews.)

So here's my Number Two Most Popular review in thirteen years of posting Amazon reviews.  It happens to be a negative review, and garnered a few negative votes, as well.  Can you guess why?


"Quakers in a Hurry" 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Out with the old!

What a year that was!  In some ways, for me, and I think for my country, it was a pretty bad one.  But some very good things happened as well.  As for the end of the world, I took a "What do Mayan devil-worshippers know, anyway?" attitude, so I was not surprised to see the year end with the planet (more or less) intact.  What surprised me was how long it took for that year to finally end.