Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An autism gene! ? ! ?

No, there’s not just one, or even close to it, but the discovery of the first autism genetic link is huge, huge, huge!

First, even though it’s only common to about 15 percent of purported autism cases, it will improve diagnosis. That includes lessening MISdiagnosis.

And that, with today’s autism hysteria, is far and away from a small issue.

As I’ve blogged before, it’s quite possible a change in psychiatry’s bible, the DSM, basically “invented” Asperger’s syndrome, by changing “schizoid disorder of childhood” in DSM-III to Asperger’s in DSM-IV. Then, if Asperger’s has been “updiagnosed” to autism, especially by alt/pseudomedical practitioners seeking to sell a cure, there’s part, at least of your “autism” explosion. Finding this gene, if it holds up, and even more, if others are found, will combat such things.

Second, speaking of autism hysteria, an autism gene shoves conspiracy mongering, anti-medicine inanity, etc., right in the face of the anti-vaccine crowd.

Third, as the mutation affects nerve synapses, it would seem to be the “right,” explanatorily speaking, kind of mutation.

Now, that all said, this genetic mutation is not at all exclusive to people with autism.

And, this may be a blind alley. I’m thinking this could be a primo example of why medical research needs to tighten the incredible looseness of its p-values. No, not to the same as physics. Of course not. But, even a p-value of 3 percent, instead of 5 percent, would exclude semi-bad medical research while being highly unlikely to delay any lifesaving findings.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Atheist visibility increases

Even to the point that Dallas’ own Metroplex Atheists gets profiled as part of National Journal’s cover story (PDF).

It’s part of a trend of such stories, as the New York Times also exemplifies.

Key to atheists, agnostics, antitheists and other secular humanists raising our activism profile is a new umbrella coalition of secular humanist groups, Secular Coalition of America.

As the National Journal story notes, it's the rise of New Atheists like Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Dan Dennett contributing to this surge, not just in the U.S., but other English-speaking countries, too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

'Village idiot atheism' rears its head

Or at least seems to, at P.Z. Myers' Pharyngula blog.

"Holbach" is an artistic philistine who dismisses the artistic value of anything created for religious reasons.

"Eddie," though I'm not sure he's an atheist, appears to have some sort of academic-PC-"liberalism" viewing religion as "oppression," perhaps aided by either a tinfoil hat or a brain fried on drugs at some point.

Neither of them is that logical in reasoning and both make hugely empirically unjustified assumptions to boot. All while not reading all the comments of people responding to them, i.e., mine.

More on "Holbach." He assumes that, because I mentioned having a divinity degree, I'm a theist. He never asked whether he wasn't making an unwarranted assumption. He's apparently never heard of people not using professional degrees, or within ministers-turned-atheists, the likes of a John Loftus writing a book about it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When theists settle a will with an antitheist

When my dad died four years ago, most of his cash money had already been moved into CDs on which we his kids, or grandkids, were the primary names and his the secondary. No problems at all.

And, there wasn’t too much fighting over most of Dad’s possessions.

That said, Dad also had a couple of insurance annuities that had not yet matured when he died. One did, late last year.

My No. 2 brother, who was/is Dad’s estate executor, thought it would be a good idea to send this money to charity.

OK so far.

To India. OK indeed. A developing nation.

To an orphanage and school. Sure.

A Lutheran one, from the denomination in which we all grew up.

Well, yes, dad had supported it himself for years, but.. he’s dead.

Find a secular Indian orphanage.

But, I think my sister is the only one of the four siblings who really “accepts” my antitheism. And, I didn’t want to make waves. The story of my life, oftentimes.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

America inching toward secular openness; so?

We certainly have a long ways to go, but the 16 percent of Americans who self-identify as irreligious certainly sounds good, right?

Well, not necessarily. While it may mean a decline in power of fundamentalist Christianity, it doesn’t necessarily mean a decline in ignorance, especially ignorance of scientific matters.

Many of those “irreligious” also self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Some would be quasi-Christian unitarians. (I avoid the capital “U” because many of them would not agree with the denomination’s social stances.) Even more are likely New Agers of some sort, not known for scientific-type critical reasoning skills by any means.

So, those of us who do support critical thinking shouldn’t yet read too much into the idea of a “post-Christian America.” That country could be even more populated than ours is today by psychics, ghost talkers, alt-med practitioners and worse.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Paul, Passover, Jesus, Gnosticism

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives us the first extant written account of the Lord’s Supper.

He starts with the well-known phrase, “On the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed…”

But, “betrayed” may well not be the right translation.

Many Greek verbs have three voices — the active and passive ones we know in English, and a “middle” voice, a sort of reflexive voice.

Now, the Greek verb αποδιδωμι looks the same in middle and passive voice. But, it has different meanings.

In the passive, it does mean “betray.” But, in the middle, it normally means “hand over,” as in hand over someone to authorities. A similar meaning is “hand up.”

Critical New Testament scholarship believe this is what Paul means. He never, in the epistles he clearly wrote, talks about a Passion Plot, a Roman arrest, or the melodramatic literary angle of a turncoat named Judas.

That gets us to the first “pseudo-Paul.” In addition to it being quite certain that Paul never wrote the “Pastoral Epistles” of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, which weren’t written until the end of the first century CE, or even early in the second, an earlier pseudo-Paul (or two) is believed to have written Colossians and Ephesians. Relations between these two books are unclear, but both likely were written no later than 30 years after Paul’s genuine books, by someone closer to the Pauline mileau than the Pastoralist of another 20-40 years later.

Well, both Colossians and Ephesians discuss what can certainly be called “esoterica,” whether they are talking about issues that can clearly be labeled Gnostic or not.

In Colossians 2:20, “Paul” tells his readers, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world….” The word in Greek, στοιχειον, is a word with plenty of use in Gnosticism, although it has plenty of pre-Gnostic use as well. As an “elemental principle,” it can be understood as a stage to be overcome by the Gnostic initiate’s battle to return to the All.

So, tying Colossians and 1 Corinthans, did Paul mean that Jesus was actually “handed up” to the “elemental powers”? In other words rather than the soteriology of the Pastoral Epistles, themselves connected with similar soteriology stances of dying-and-rising eastern Mediterranean savior gods, was Paul instead talking about Jesus as a sacrifice to Gnostic powers?

It seems likely. Mystery religions, after all, we know had their own mystery-fellowship dinners, from which it is believed Paul borrowed ideas that he fused into Passover concepts to produce his “Last Supper.”

If that’s the case, the genuine Paul was more a proto-Gnostic than later followers, let alone conservative Christians today, might want to accept.

Also, if that’s the case, pseudo-Paul of Colossians either didn’t understand the genuine article that well, or else thought that others’ interpretation of him had gone too far, or else did understand him well and deliberately reinterpreted him.

How, then, did we get to Mark, the first gospeller, creating the "betrayal" story?

A combination of misreading Paul plus creative reading of the Old Testament, namely something like Psalm 69:22-28, and Psalm 109:6-12.

Peter allegedly took these verses that way in Acts 1.

In Gnostic and semi-Gnostic Christianity, the idea of Judas as Jesus' twin, as in Judas Thomas (Aramaic for "twin") certainly added to Gnosticizing takes on the idea of Jesus' betrayal.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A reply to 'Invictus'

Am I indeed the captain of my soul?
I find it hard to believe that is so.
Translating the individual “I”
To the global core of humanity
I think that it’s well-nigh impossible.
The individual human psyche,
Convoluted and self-referential,
Means the “I” is not quite that simple.
As for that “master” subroutine inside,
The one that supposedly masters “I”?
The king always faces peasant revolts.
If not that, a master can go haywire.
And, when that happens, then who masters it?
– April 2, 2009

INVICTUS, by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.