Sunday, July 27, 2008

Imagine there was a Jesus born 100 years early

Let’s say there was a “Jesus,” but it was the Yeshua put to death as a Pharisaic religious and political rebel by Hasmonean king Alexandar Jannai in the 70s BCE, per the Jewish historian Josephus.

Huh, you may say, if you’re not familiar with this.

But, if there is any sort of Jesus of history behind both the Christian gospels and rabbinic legends, he may have lived 100 years earlier than claimed. Wiki has a brief synopsis here.

Then, per Rodney Stark’s theory that Christianity, without miracles, and based on the 175-year history of the Mormons, could grow at 40 percent a year, with a starting point of 100 Christians at the time of Jesus the Pharisee’s death, we would have had about 12,000 at the time of the great fire of Rome in 64 CE.

Stark’s book that explains his growth rate idea in more detail is here.

Given that Rome’s population was about 1/50th of the empire, this would have put about 240 Christians in Rome. That would have been 1/5,000th of the city’s population, or 0.05 percent. Would that have been enough to catch Nero’s eye, whether or not they were actually troublemakers?

Per the original view of when Jesus lived, and Stark’s theory of Christian growth, the empire would have had about 1,500 Christians at the time of the fire of Rome. A mere 30 Roman Christians probably wouldn’t have been enough to draw a letter from the apostle Paul. It certainly, as 1/40,000th of the city’s population, would have been below Nero’s notice.

See this June 2008 blog post for thoughts on how a newly-discovered Jordanian building, alleged to be a Christian church and alleged to date from the middle of the first century CE, would support my contention, setting aside obvious Jordanian tourism reasons to stretch the truth here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is Evolutionary Psychology the new sexism, or the new Social Darwinism?

Note – per a blog post earlier this week, I once again have clearly explained the difference between Evolutionary Psychology and scientifically investigatable evolutionary psychology.

Here’s the link to my evolutionary psychology label; a few of the more illustrative individual posts. Several of these are especially illustrative of how Ev Psych approaches, if not goes beyond sexism … and no, you Ev Psychers, not just beyond a social construct called sexism, but, beyond sexism.
Women’s improvement in gaming refutes Ev Psych;
Ev Psych claims for sarcasm are “stretched” (mainly by ignoring cultural evolution);
The stereotypical male-female math gap can be reversed;
Susan Pinker plays wrongly plays down workplace sex discrimination;
Definitional questions EvPsych, and, to a lesser degree, ev psych, leave undefined;
The core of the differences between Ev Psych and ev psych.
Some serious snark about Ev Psych riffing on Leibnitz’s “best of all possible adaptationist worlds”;

And,finally, David Buller’s seminal article on the subject at Scientific American. (To you Ev Psychers who dismiss him as “just a philosopher, what do you do with Dan Dennett, then?)

Read his book, too.

Or, a decent but not really good read is Richard Francis’ “Why Men Won’t Ask for Directions.”

On the flip side, in this post about behavioral economics, among several posts, you’ll see how I praise evolutionary psychology. Just not Evolutionary Psychology.

Do NOT e-mail me, or comment to this post, that I am against evolutionary psychology, lowercase, until you’re read that post, at least, and perhaps others on my blog in general.

That said, I do propose that capital-letter Evolutionary Psychology does threaten to become the new Social Darwinism, and with a political bias to it, too, at least in some cases.

Steve Pinker admitted as much, near the end of “The Blank Slate.”

He told political liberals that they needed to accept the reality of what he said was “evolutionary psychology” (and what I say is Evolutionary Psychology), deal with it as best they could, and adjust their political prescriptions accordingly. Pretty political to me.

The other reason I think that threatens to be Social Darwinism is its focus on sexual differences. By arguing that men have dominated societies in the past (not true, as far as I can see, before the invention of agriculture), capital-letter Ev Psychers give the appearance, at least, of telling women today to accept the glass ceiling, accept secondary status in society, and deal with it – because it’s all normal.

And, if you’re not prepare to describe why you personally, if you do, focus so much of your ev psych discussion, or especially, your Ev Psych discussion, on sexual selection issues, move on. Because that WILL be part of the dialog and investigation from my end.

A book with a few thoughts on that is Robert Sapolsky’s “Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals.”

In fact, let me excerpt a few sex-specific comments from my Amazon review of Sapolsky, by page number:
63. In a study with ducks, with attractive males, it actually appears that the female invests more energy in the egg, laying a larger egg when impregnated by an attractive male. (The egg size is under female control.)
Both of these should put some question to old stereotypes about peacock tails being signs of fitness and so increasing mating, etc. At the least, they should caution us to look for more nuanced explanations.

177. In many species, females in some way manipulate alpha-male type males into fighting over them, to go off and mate with more "nice guy" types.

Some more food for thought.

And, I’m not going to even bother linking to the recent story showing girls do as well on math as boys, which undercuts one of Ev Psychers’ favorite male-female difference talking points.

Beyond that, with true, lower-case ev psych, there’s plenty of things to talk about in the evolution of the human mind, not the “male” or “female” mind.

I mean, look at Scott Atran’s “In Gods We Trust.”

There’s books on behavioral economics; the effect of evolutionary psychology on Homo economics is certainly not small. (Don’t forget to allow for cultural evolution here, too, though.)

Enough said.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Atheists who willingly defend misleading language are a pox

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the latest Pew Research Poll on American religious beliefs, noting this absurdity, among other things:
Americans are so religiously and metaphysically STUPID, on average, that one out of five Americans who claim to be religiously unaffiliated and atheist claim to also believe in a divinity. Half of agnostics in that group make the same claim. ...

Hey, idiots. If you believe something, you can’t agnostic about it!

But, all is not well in atheist land.

Apparently, some people, some atheists, want to defend the use of misleading language, specifically, the illogical phrase “agnostic theism.” It’s a bad enough phrase in general, but in response to a blog post, and an original story, that both talked about “theism,” “agnosticism” and “atheism” all as belief states, it’s off-putting to say the least.

Said people also either did not read the linked story, or else did not see that “agnosticism” was clearly talking about a belief state, not factual/empirical/evidentiary knowledge.

So, to them, db0, Adrian and Austin, I reply:
I stand by the original post, and I stand by saying that you’re using misleading language. You, too, Austin.

It’s clear that I, and the NYTimes linked story (did YOU ever look at that, db, if we want to talk about following links) were talking about beliefs (or, my alternative phrase, influenced by Dan Dennett, of “metaphysical stances,”) all along, and not knowledge.

So, Austin, I never conflated the two. In a follow-up comment on my blog post, I said, if you can get Bob Carroll of The Skeptic’s Dictionary to prove me wrong, I’d listen.

Well, I went ahead and did my own research:
First, in hardcopy, my “Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion," by William L. Reese, says this under “agnosticism”:
It is usually applied, however, principally, to suspension of belief with respect to God. (Emphasis added.)

Now, Bob Carroll does use the word “knowledge,” but as subordinate to “belief”:
Agnosticism is the position of believing that knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God is impossible.

Note the definition is about belief, again.

Nothing about knowledge, empirical evidence, etc. That’s why I said I’ve never conflated belief and knowledge; in making reference to metaphysical states, I've been referring to belief all the time.

Ditto on the Pew poll.

And, per that definition, let me rephrase my original critique”

Phrases like “agnostic theism” or “theistic agnosticism” in that both the governing noun and the adjective talk about states of belief, or metaphysical stances, to use my phrase ...


You have incompatible belief states being smashed together.

I don't care if “agnostic theism” has 5,000 Google hits, either. I don’t even care if there’s a website called (No, I refuse to give it a hyperlink.)

That’s just further proof of the Pew poll. And, beyond that, neither Reese nor Carroll use either that phrase or “theistic agnosticism.”

And, as I said earlier, Austin, I don’t even care if you’re the atheism “guide” for

Thank doorknob there’s only 5,000 deluded Google hits, too. (Even more fortunately, the equally oxymoronic “theistic agnosticism” has less than 500 hits.)

Next, to tackle this linguistic oxymoron from another angle, let me go to a comment I made on the original post:
Re the Wiki link on agnostic theism that (db0) posts, let’s carefully analyze the English language used here.

“Theism” is the noun. Nouns always take precedence over adjectives like “agnostic.”

For example, you can have simple noun-verb, or N-V, sentences. You cannot have a noun-adjective, or N-Adj, sentence.

The reverse also holds true. You CANNOT be an agnostic, as a primary belief state, and modify it with “theistic,” either.

Let me explain this once more, in terms of color (or colour).

There's a difference between “reddish-orange” and “orangish-red.” And db0 started talking about reddish-orange, then posted a link to orangish-red.

But I will get beyond that

As for db0’s implication that many people in the UK may understand “atheism” to mean “irreligious,” well, then obviously a bunch of people in the UK are as stupid as they are here. Maybe the equivalent of Pew should poll them. And, I’ll call irreligious people in the UK who call themselves “atheists” idiots, too, db0. Give me e-mail addresses, and I'll even e-mail them that.

Ditto for agnostics using misleading language, or atheists who abet them.

And, as for db0 criticising me (spelled the UK way as a grace note), well, instead, he should have taken my article as it read and corrected stupid people on his and Adrian’s side of the pond.

And, per that definition, let me rephrase my original critique of all of you:

Phrases like “agnostic theism” or “theistic agnosticism” in that both the governing noun and the adjective talk about states of belief, or metaphysical stances, to use my phrase ...


Merriam-Webster also agrees with me on the use of “agnosticism.”, especially in its first listed definition, agrees as well.

Wittgenstein would be turning over in his grave, if he could.

If I were dead, and could turn over in my grave, I definitely would, too. Db and Austin, I am still angry at both of you for criticizing my use of agnostic, when both of you are wrong.

Also, as I e-mailed Austin, I stand by my psychological observation that “agnostic theism” is an attempt to give an intellectual gloss to theistic beliefs.

And, Adrian or anyone else who, after accepting the apology I offered to db, still wants to delink my blog because I criticize your use of language?

Be my guest.

And no, I don’t expect any of you gents, nor others who may be reading your blog posts commenting about mine, to apologize, or apologise, for using imprecise, and yes, misleading, language.


Per the old saying, “More’s the pity.”

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dying-and-rising savior-god an ancient Jewish tenet

Or so a brief tablet, with 87 lines of Hebrew text, pictured by the New York Times at right, would indicate.

We’re only eight years into the 21st century, but this may last the next 92 as the most significant find in biblical archaeology.
Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said.

As the story notes, nobody has yet challenged the authenticity of the tablet, dated so far to the late first century BCE. (Why does the NYT use the anachronistic, for academia, and for New York City’s large Jewish population, for that matter, of “BC”?) Chemical analysis, though not yet released, appears to confirm that.

If so, it would be the first pre-Jesus (assuming that such a person as Yeshua bar Yusuf actually existed) text to speak of a dying-and-rising Jewish messianic figure.

As the article notes, modern critical New Testament scholarship assumes that Jesus’ own statements about dying and rising in three days are later additions. Maybe they’re not.

That then said, what’s the provenance of this text, other than starting as some sort of gloss on passages from Zechariah and Daniel? Can it be connected to any particular movement in Second Temple Judaism at that time?

It would seem to fit with scrolls associated with Qumran, as this “Dead Sea scroll on stone,” from what is extant, takes the form of an apocalypse revealed by the angel Gabriel.

Other questions abound, too.

Why was the Simon of this scroll supposed to die? His death, at least from the story, isn’t mentioned as atoning, unlike Jesus claimed for himself.

And, despite the efforts of Jewish leaders from Ezra through the Pharisees, and of course running through the Maccabees, to “purify” Judaism, what does this say about other “outside” ideas running around Judea at this time?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Science roundup — Greenland, Mercury, Pompeii, Mexico, West Nile, pulsars, sweat

Greenland glacier melt not as fast as fearedNot that this gives George W. Bush, or Chinese President Hu Jintao, a reprieve in the global warming court of world opinion. Iconic images of rapid-flowing Greenland glacial meltwater are a summer-only phenomenon. On the other hand, isn’t that a “duh” finding, to some degree?
Pulsars confirm general relativityTwin pulsars orbiting one another confirm the theory.
Volcanism on MercuryThe MESSENGER spacecraft from NASA says volcanism played a key part in shaping Mercury’s surface. It also says the planet is shrinking faster than expected, in just two of several interesting discoveries already made.
Pompeii at risk againNo, Vesuvius is not about to blow its top again. Instead, the Italian government needs to put a crowbar in its wallet to adequately fund maintenance of the historic site.
Mexican cave openedArchaeologists have started to explore a Mexican cave found 30 years ago and kept sealed since then.
New West Nile strainAnd it could do better in the U.S. than the older strain, and even push West Nile into Canada.
Don’t sweat summer outInstead, get used to it and adapt. Agreed. I exercise outdoors, pretty briskly, three days a week in Dallas summers.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Strad by any other name wood still sound as dense

For years going on to decades, various theories have abounded about why a Stradivarius had its special sound — the type of wood, the exact chemical nature of the varnish, etc.

Now, a Dutch doctor and an Arkansas violin maker, using a CT scanner, think they have the answer — it’s the density of the wood.

Their full paper is at Public Library of Science.