F Rosa Rubicondior: December 2012

Sunday 30 December 2012

Birth of a Myth - Mary The Virgin

James the Just, 'brother of Jesus'
Here is an interesting Judeo-Christian sect from the first century CE. Interesting that is not so much because of what they believed in general but because of what they believed in one particular. For people who want to believe that the modern Christian Bible was all written or inspired by the Christian god and so is the gospel truth, this sect represents a major problem.

The sect is the Ebionites whose name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word 'Ebyonim' ('the poor', 'poor ones') reflecting their ascetic life-style, having obeyed Jesus and given all their possessions away. Some scholars think they may have been one and the same as the 'Nazarenes', also an early Judeo-Christian sect.

The basic belief of the Ebionites was that the Laws of Moses, traditionally believed to have been handed down by Yahweh to Moses in Sinai, were sacrosanct and that Jesus was the Messiah, so anyone who wanted to follow Jesus had to be Jewish and had to follow Jewish laws and rites (and so must be circumcised - I wonder who else can see the misogyny there). In fact, the Ebionites are believed to have been amongst the earliest followers of the 'new' sect of Jesus, of which James the Just (= 'James the brother of Jesus') and Peter (Simon "The Rock" Peter), both early church fathers in Jerusalem. The sect is thought to have arisen around the time of the destruction of the Temple in about 70 CE.

Saturday 29 December 2012

As Read In The Vatican

Closet Atheists can be hiding just about everywhere!

Just imaging being Pope and suddenly realising it's all been a lie. What would you do? Give up all that wealth, adulation and power, and the servants who come with the post, or would you be honest to yourself and to everyone else?

The Catholic Church had survived schisms, multiple papacies, corrupt gangsters, debauched gluttons and thieves, violent psychopaths, murderers and even (allegedly) a female imposter Pope, but could it survive an honest Atheist Pope, or would world-wide Catholicism shatter and crumble if an honest Pope told the world that he had come to realise that the 'faith' was founded on lies and that Jesus was just a myth based on Bronze-age superstitions and stories concocted for political purposes.

Or is an honest Pope just a dream too far?

[Update] A couple of weeks after I posted this, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, citing, amongst other things, "hard questions of faith". I'm sure it must have been a coincidence...

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Thursday 27 December 2012

Was Jesus Against Capitalism?

Casting out the money changers, Giotto di Bondone, 14th C.
Cappella Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.
What on earth was Jesus up to when he used violence against the money changers and traders in the Temple? What was it that made him lose his temper so publicly and so spectacularly?

All four of the canonical gospels have stories about Jesus 'cleansing' the Temple so we can be sure the tale appears in the earlier sources which Bible scholars assume to pre-date the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - the so-called 'Q' and 'M' sources - so the story might well relates to something that really did happen involving Jesus or someone else upon whom the myths are partly based, and is not something which the authors inserted to serve their own political ends, as so often seems to be the case, especially where the tales differ markedly, as in the nativity, the resurrection and Jesus's ancestry.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
First a little background:

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Münchausen Ministers?

Are religious clerics suffering from a form of Münchausen syndrome by proxy? This question is not as strange as it may seem.

Firstly, the parallels between the Abrahamic god of the Jews, Muslims and Christians and the personality disorder known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) are really quite striking.

The god of the Bible, according to its followers, created humans then immediately rigged a 'sin' by putting temptation in their way before letting them have the ability to tell right from wrong, which anyone with the IQ above that of a plank could have worked out was going to result in them yielding to temptation and so falling into their putative creator's trap. Muslims believe Satan tempts us to disobey Allah and, although Allah is infinitely merciful, he won't forgive you unless you are strictly obedient and submissive. Although Muslims say we aren't born with 'sin' like Christians and Jews claim we are, nevertheless we have a character flaw which makes us tend to yield to 'temptation'. If someone can split that hair for me, I'd be grateful.

So, having metaphorically harmed those in its care, the Abrahamic god then poses as the hero by 'saving' them from the consequences of this deception and demands love and adoration, and above all, attention and praise, for being such a loving, hunky super-hero.

This situation is an exact analogue of someone cutting you so they can sell you a bandage.

MSP is a variant of Münchausen syndrome in which the sufferer feigns illness as a form of attention-seeking behaviour.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.

This syndrome almost always involves a mother abusing her child by seeking unneeded medical attention for the child. It is rare and poorly understood. The cause is unknown.

The mother may fake symptoms of illness in her child by adding blood to the child's urine or stool, withholding food, falsifying fevers, secretly giving the child drugs to make the child throw up or have diarrhea, or using other tricks, such as infecting intravenous (given through a vein) lines to make the child appear or become ill.

These children are often hospitalized with groups of symptoms that don't quite fit any known disease. Frequently, the children are made to suffer through unnecessary tests, surgeries, or other uncomfortable procedures.

The parent is usually very helpful in the hospital setting and is often appreciated by the nursing staff for the care she gives her child. She is often seen as devoted and self-sacrificing, which can make medical professionals unlikely to suspect the diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Her frequent visits unfortunately also make the child accessible to her so that she can induce further symptoms. Changes in the child's condition are almost never witnessed by hospital staff and almost always occur only in the mother's presence.

Munchausen syndrome occurs because of psychological problems in the adult, and is generally an attention-seeking behavior. The syndrome can be life-threatening for the child involved.

In one such case in England a low-grade nurse killed 4 children, attempted to kill three others and seriously injured a further six children over a period of 59 days. She is currently serving thirteen life sentences in a secure psychiatric unit.

The term MSP is normally confined to the medical and related manifestations of the syndrome but in its broader application, it could equally apply to anyone who creates a problem in order to 'solve' it, especially by heroic efforts, such as a fire-fighter who starts fires.

How often do we hear gods being praised for saving the odd victim of a hurricane, flood, earthquake or volcano by those who also give it the 'credit' for causing the disaster in the first place? What would this be if not Münchausen By Proxy if done by a person other than a god?

The similarity between the actions of a person suffering from MSP and the Abrahamic god in causing us harm so that it can demand love and adoration for 'saving' us, is too close to be a coincidence. But whatever would induce this god's advocates to present it as having a potentially dangerous personality disorder?

The answer is probably to be found in yet another parallel, by considering answers to three simple questions:
  1. Who exactly tells us that we have the problem which needs to be solved?
  2. Who exactly offers us the solution for this problem?
  3. Who wants us to believe we need their help (and so admire them for their skill and humanity)?
The answer to all three questions is the same: the priesthood of course.

The priesthood tells everyone that that we have a problem which needs urgent attention. The priesthood are the heroes who shoulder the burden of solving the problem and the priesthood expect to be admired for their skill and humanity in having dedicated themselves to caring for us. This is especially true in rigidly hierarchical Catholicism where the priests are the only people with the self-proclaimed power to 'cure' us with absolution.

In reality, of course, there is no problem other than one of their own invention. That sounds a lot like Münchausen syndrome by proxy to me.

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Sunday 23 December 2012

Cam And Jerusalem

The Plough Inn,
Cadsden, Buckinghamshire
Followers of UK politics may remember the fuss when our upper crust Tory Prime Minister, David "Call Me Dave" Cameron announced that Britain was a Christian country, and so alienated even more people from his euphemistically, but accurately, named 'Nasty Party'. However, browsing the Christian Bible the other day, I came across a tale from Jesus' boyhood and was struck by the er... striking... similarity between the 'Holy Family' and Jesus' own putative parents.

To recap the events of last June: Samantha and 'Dave' Cameron, were staying at Chequers, the country home of our PM, when, along with their normal train of Special Branch and Diplomatic Protection Squad officers and a coterie of friends and assorted offspring, they descended on the Plough Inn in the near-by village of Cadsden for Sunday Service on the Sabbath, i.e, Sunday lunch. I can testify to the excellence of this little hostelry myself, having partaken of Sunday Service there several times, before the neighbourhood took a turn for the worse.

Joseph and Mary Cameron
On arriving back at Chequers and doing a head count they realised they were a sprog light, having left their unfortunate eight-year-old daughter Nancy in the bar.

To quote a Plough Inn 'insider':
"Pub staff found their daughter in the toilet and didn't know what to do... It's frightening the prime minister of Britain can forget something so important as his own daughter."
Well quite!

This story really chimed with us Brits whose perception of the upper classes is that they are cold and heartless people, only too keen to be rid of their children, entrusting them to nannies and packing them off to boarding schools as soon as they can - which in turn breeds another generation of unloved and unlovely people who see compassion as a weakness to be exploited in others and who populate the ranks of the Nasty Party, eager to show the lower orders just who's in charge around here.

The Temple,
Jerusalem, Judea
So what has this to do with the Bible and with Britain being a Christian country?

It seems 'Dave' and Samantha are not the only parents to mislay a child. Mary and Joseph were prone to it too.
Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
So, the Camerons are not the first upper-crust family to lose count of their offspring and leave one behind. Luckily, it wasn't a whole day before they missed Nancy and it didn't take three days to find her, nor was she unfortunate enough to have been found by priests or Heaven knows what might have happened.

Maybe Mary and Joseph just didn't have any body guards.

I do hope for young Jesus sake that this was merely an unfortunate coincidence and doesn't speak of a closer parallel between the two blessed families, but it could explain Jesus' general contempt for parents expressed in:
And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
I know the Tories like to imagine they have a close personal relationship with God, who frequently seeks their advice, and 'Dave' has just appointed an old school chum to head their church, but perhaps the Camerons are closer to being a Christian family than they think.


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Saturday 22 December 2012

Believing In Belief

From what we read on Twitter and other social media like Reddit, it's only too obvious that most theists, especially Muslims and Christian, don't really believe what they claim to believe but actually believe in other people believing.

I accept that this is not a scientific sample and that they rarely appear to be very bright but it's also obvious that they don't believe in any god that resembles the one they purport to believe in as this random sample of Twitter tweets shows.

On the left is just a small sample of their contribution to rational debate.

The logic in the first cluster appears to be, "If I shout abuse and obscenities that will teach Atheists a lesson and then they'll believe in Allah and start doing what I tell them. Of course I don't need to behave decently or in a civilised manner because I know there isn't really a god watching me who will punish me for my wrong-doings, but it's important for people to think there is or they won't do what I say". The intent is clearly to use a god as a weapon.

Friday 21 December 2012

Was Jesus Just Another Doomsday Nutter?

It's ironic that many Christians will be chortling about the failure of the Mayan "End Of The World" prophesy today when the evidence suggests the putative founder of their religion, if he existed at all, may have been just another in a long tradition of failed doomsday apocalyptic "prophets" himself, or maybe an amalgam of several different ones all given the later name 'Jesus'.

It's long been accepted by Bible scholars and historians that the earliest of the so-called 'Gospels' later incorporated into the Christian Bible was that attributed to 'Mark', a legendary companion of Paul of Tarsus. However, the so-called 'synoptic' Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all appear to draw on an earlier, now lost, source - called 'Q' which may have been a collection of sayings of the, by then, legendary Jesus. So 'Q' is probably the earliest written account of Jesus and so likely to be closer to what was actually being talked about at that time.

One of the reasons why Jesus's immediate circle never actually wrote anything down probably include the fact that they thought the end of the world was close, so there was not going to be any posterity to preserve anything for. Another reason of course could have been that, if they actually existed at all, they were probably illiterate - the normal state of ordinary people in those days.

So what evidence is there in 'Mark' that Jesus was a doomsday merchant?

Firstly, right after the curious account of John baptising Jesus, which, given the tradition that the more righteous one baptises the less righteous one and that baptism cleanses sin, tells us that in the earlier tradition, Jesus was a mere human 'prophet', not a manifestation of the Jewish god.

Then we find:

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Mark 1:14-15

So right off, Mark makes a link between the executed John and Jesus with Jesus taking up the reins as apocalyptic prophet in chief. He maintains this link with the tale about Herod:

And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

Mark 6:14-18

The author of Mark is in no doubt that he is writing about someone who is prophesying the imminent Day of Judgement. At the end of Chapter 8 we have:

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Mark 8:38

Followed immediate in Chapter 9 by:

And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Mark 9:1

Strange how Jesus is talking in the third person about the 'Son of Man' - when he comes in the glory of his Father.... Some might think that Jesus isn't talking about himself here, especially when he is clearly the object of the first clause of that sentence - ...me and my words...

To find out who this 'Son of Man' is we need to delve into the Old Testament, to Daniel in fact:

Thursday 20 December 2012

If God Was Real You Wouldn't Need Prayer.

Praying Hands, Albrecht Dürer c.1508
Nine months ago I asked what the purpose of prayer was. I have been repeatedly inviting answers on Twitter ever since. So far, I have had not a single answer.

This is not a scientific study but one would have expected at least one Christian or Muslim who believes in prayer to be able to say what it's for and what it does.

Of course, there are explanations for why religious people meet up for prayers to be found in psychology. Maslow's 'Heirarchy of Needs' explains it in terms of social or affiliative needs, etc., and Skinner's experiments with operant conditioning with pigeons showed how they become 'religious' and develop rituals when a rewarded is randomly associated with behaviour, so it's not hard to see the attraction of gathering together to pray.

There is also a psychological explanation for private prayer. It's one of Maslow's needs of course - the need for the esteem of others; an affiliative need again. The same reason some lonely children have imaginary friends. Someone to talk to (or rather to talk at, because there is never any reply) as a way of understanding something. Putting it into words often makes it more understandable because you have to analyse the problem in order to explain it. People have reported similar help from talking to a computer program.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Oh Creation! Scientists Find 'Habitable' Planet

Creationists! Have you started work on your excuses for when science finds evidence of life on other planets yet? Maybe now would be a good time to start because there was something you might find interesting in the Independent today:
Scientists find 'habitable' Tau Ceti planet.

Scientists have discovered a ‘habitable’ planet that orbits a sun visible to the naked eye. The world is just 12 light years away, is between two and six times bigger than the earth, and is thought to be circling Tau Ceti, a star almost identical to our sun.

The planet is one of five orbiting Tau Ceti, and lies within the star's habitable zone. It is thought to have five times the Earth's mass. Also known as the “Goldilocks zone”, the habitable zone is the orbital region that is neither too hot nor too cold to allow liquid surface water and, potentially, life.

Details of the discovery are to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Because of the difficulties involved in detecting extra-solar planets, most found so far have had high masses. The Tau Ceti planetary family is thought to be the lowest mass solar system yet detected. Read more...
Of course, merely being in the 'Goldilocks zone' is a far cry from this planet actually being suitable for the evolution of living organisms but it shows that planets developing in this zone with respect to their suns is by no means unusual. This one was found, on a cosmological scale, in our back yard and orbiting a star which was thought to be an unlikely candidate for a planetary system.

But how will the world's major religions of Christianity and Islam react if we ever find evidence of life having arisen and evolved on another planet in another solar system?

For one thing it will put paid to any notion that somehow the formation of the first replicators is so unlikely as to be practically impossible, and so, even if the rest of evolution is accepted, some form of intelligence must have been involved. In fact it will show that it's not only possible but has happened at least twice, and in this small area of a vast Universe.

But of course, the entire basis of both Islam and Christianity is that a god created an entire Universe for somewhere to create this one special planet for humans so they could worship and obey him. What on earth will they make of it if they find there are other sentient beings living in a different part of the universe? Will their god have created them as something else to worship and obey him? Even if there are no sentient beings who could worship a creator, how will creationists explain them when, according to the Bible, a god created animals on earth for humans. What will it have created them on other planets for?

And how will Creationists explain away the self-evident fact that, once life gets going on another planet, it leads to diversification which will inevitably be different to the way it diversified on earth but in ways which are entirely amenable to reason given the principles of Darwinian Evolution in a different environment with a different history?

There are a couple of verses in the Bible that always embarrass Bible literalists:
And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

What's embarrassing is that somehow, in the 'Land of Nod', Cain managed to find a wife. Where did she come from? Was there another creation in a neighbouring valley; a creation which the author of Genesis forgot to record? And did these people also 'fall from grace' in another Garden of Eden and need to be saved? Did this happen a lot in those days?

With a distance of only 3.7 pc, HD 10700 [Tau Ceti] is the third closest star reported to be a host to a putative planetary system after Epsilon Eridani (Hatzes et al., 2000) with a distance of 3.2 pc and α Centauri B (Dumusque et al., 2012) with a distance of 1.3 pc, though both of these remain to be confirmed and Zechmeister et al. (2005) have cast considerable doubt on the existence of a planet around Epsilon Eridani. This makes HD 10700 an ideal target for future direct-imaging missions. The signals we find, which suggest the presence of low-mass planets, are consistent with both current theoretical models for low-mass planet formation and extant observational evidence for the presence of low-mass planets in the immediate Solar neighbourhood.

How much more embarrassing is it going to be to explain yet another creation, this time not just in a nearby valley but in a different part of the galaxy? How will it affect the 'special and personal relationship' they like to imagine they have with the creator of the universe who naturally created it all for them?

Imagine having to re-write Genesis in view of the fact that this supposed creator god had created not just one planet with a dome over it from which two lamps hang, but billions of them, each with a lamp or two hanging from their own domes.

Will they each have had an Adam and Eve, talking snake, original sin and a flood, or will the creator have arranged things differently there? Will there have even been sin and a need to be 'saved' by the grotesquely barbaric act of nailing someone to a cross, or will people on other planets have eternal life and freedom from pain and misery with no need to look forward to going to Heaven?

Or will the creator have rigged things there too, so the people have to turn to a priesthood to be told how to be made safe from a bogeyman in the sky and a future of unimaginable horror for eternity?

There will be a need to re-write Genesis, though undoubtedly there will be forlorn Creationists, religious apologists and others whose livelihood depends on people believing these old Bronze Age myths, who will make increasingly desperate attempts not to have to, or to construct some laughable reinterpretation of it to make it look like multiple creations are really what it's all about after all.

But the simplest and most dignified recourse will be to bin the whole thing and consign it to the dustbin of history with other primitive myths, where it is long overdue. One wonders if they will ever find the self respect and dignity to accept reality, do the sensible thing and look for an honest way to earn a living.


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Tuesday 18 December 2012

Something Nasty For Creationists

Here's a nice (or rather nasty) example of evolution. You probably know someone who has been involved with it recently. If not, the chances are you will soon. It's a nasty little example of a seemingly pointless parasite which, if there was an intelligent designer, would be evidence of its malevolent intent. Not even the defence of callous indifference can be offered. It does nothing but make us feel unwell and inconvenience us in rather alarming and embarrassing ways, striking often with little prior warning.

I'm talking about norovirus, also called the winter vomiting virus because it tends to be prevalent in winter.

The name 'norovirus' is derived from Norwalk virus. It is thought to be responsible for 50% of foodborne gastroenteritis in the USA. Between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch norovirus every year.

The virus, which is highly contagious, causes vomiting and diarrhoea. As there is no specific cure, you have to let it run its course, but it should not last more than a couple of days. If you get norovirus, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and practise good hygiene to help prevent it from spreading.

Symptoms especially include forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea. They may also include general malaise, headache, raised temperature and aching limbs. Although unpleasant, most people recover completely within two or three days. Hospitalisation is rarely necessary and deaths are very rare.
Noroviruses are a genetically diverse group of single-stranded RNA, non enveloped viruses in the Caliciviridae family. The viruses are transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, via aerosolization of the virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.
Norovirus 'Family Tree'
Normally, humans and other animals become resistant to infections, especially to viral infections, by making anti-bodies which attack and destroy subsequent infections before they can gain hold. However, norovirus very rapidly mutates and changes so that anti-bodies formed against one strain are ineffective against other strains. The virus is able to evolve in response to changes in its environment (i.e your intestines). Because of this rapid evolution norovirus exists in a bewildering array of different genotypes and strains. The prevalent genotype in humans (GII) has some nineteen different strains alone.
Reports have shown a link between the expression of human histo-blood group antigens (HBGAs) and the susceptibility to norovirus infection. Studies have suggested the viral capsid of noroviruses may have evolved from selective pressure of human HBGAs.[1]
Studies have shown how the RNA from different strains and even different genotypes frequently recombine to produce new forms.
Histo-blood group ABO(H) antigens with a terminal fucose act as receptors for human norovirus in the gastrointestinal tract. A single nucleotide mutation (G428A) in the fucosyltransferase gene on chromosome 19 provides strong protection from infection in 20% of the white population,[2] although some norovirus genotypes can infect persons carrying this mutation.

So, there we have a superb example of two organisms in an evolutionary spiral: a parasitic virus and its host, in this case, us. The virus has evolved a strategy for... well... evolving quickly to overcome its host's defences, which places a huge selection pressure on the virus so it's adaptation has had to be profound. However, because the parasite doesn't cause much harm in terms of our ability to survive and reproduce, adaptation in us has been quite small. In fact, there is some indication that some otherwise harmless mutations in a protein in the human intestine makes the carriers slightly more susceptible to norovirus infection. But, twenty percent of some human populations have a mutation which gives them complete protection from most, though not all, strains.

There is no specific treatment for norovirus.

It's best to let the illness run its course and your body usually fights off the infection within a couple of days. You don't need to see a doctor.

It is important to have plenty to drink and, if you feel the need, paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.

Try to eat foods that are easy to digest, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Babies should continue with their normal feeds.

To reduce the risk of passing the virus on to others, wash your hands regularly and stay at home until you are clear of symptoms for 48 hours.
So why only twenty percent? Why hasn't this beneficial, protective mutation spread throughout the human gene-pool the way beneficial genes are expected to do, according to Darwinian evolutionary theory? And why haven't the mutations making us more susceptible been eliminated?

Quite simply because a nasty bout of D&V for a day or two doesn't put any significant evolutionary selection pressure on us because it doesn't affect our ability to have and nurture children to any appreciable extent. To the virus though, its very survival depends on it. It uses us to spray itself around, literally.

But imagine what would happen if a chance mutation turned a strain of norovirus into a virulent killer. How would those twenty percent of immune people fare and what would the proportion of people carrying the protective mutation be once the lethal epidemic had blown its course? Who are going to be the ones to survive and produce the next generation of humans?

That folks, is evolution!

It really IS that simple, and we can see it in progress right now. Fortunately, it's the virus, or rather the RNA it's a carrier for, which is having to evolve like crazy to stay alive.

What is the norovirus for exactly? The norovirus exists simply because it exists. It has no purpose and no function other than producing noroviruses and so perpetuating a strand of RNA through time. Its prevalence throughout the world testifies to its outstanding success in that endeavour. It outnumbers the human population of earth probably by several orders of magnitude. If the norovirus could have a point of view it would see the universe, and its hosts, including us, as being there for its convenience with no function other than helping it to make more copies of its RNA.

If it were intelligent enough to think, though not intelligent to think well enough, and it believed in a creator god, it would undoubtedly believe its god created the world including us, for its benefit. If argued purely on numbers it could well be challenged in that belief by other viruses, bacteria, fungi and some other single-celled eukaryote organisms, and possibly some nematode worms, but no mammal, including man, would come anywhere close to these numbers.

In terms of intelligent design and especially intelligent design by a benevolent designer who created everything for the benefit of humans, noroviruses make no sense at all, unless the 'intelligent designer' enjoys seeing humans gushing noxious liquids from both ends and feeling rather dreadful for a few days.

Darwinian Evolution, on the other hand, positively predicts them, without resorting to magic and infinitely multiplying magic entities.

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Sunday 16 December 2012

Which Genealogy Of Jesus?

If you're trying to convince yourself that the Christian Bible is somehow the infallible word of God, Matthew (once again) and Luke bowl you a curve ball with their attempts to construct a genealogy for Jesus. It is quite simply impossible to reconcile the two different versions. At least one of them must be wrong. To get past this and still believe the Bible is inerrant, you have no option but to knowingly lie to yourself and pretend two mutually exclusive things are both right - things like people having two different fathers.

So, the next time you come across someone telling you the Bible is the infallible word of an omniscient god, you can be sure of one of two things:
  1. They have lied to themselves and are lying to you.
  2. They haven't read the Bible.

I'll go through the two genealogies in a moment but first, there is the traditional excuse offered up by Christian apologists - that one genealogy is for Joseph and the other for Mary. Unfortunately, the authors of Matthew and Luke have to be ignored to get away with that one.

Rosa's Laws Of Religion.

Rosa's Laws of Theodynamics.

The Zeroth Law of Theodynamics

If two religions are both in equilibrium with a third religion, they will all claim to support freedom of speech and conscience.

First Law of Theodynamics

Gods can be created out of nothing and will disappear without trace.

Second Law of Theodynamics

In an open system, religions tend to disorder and form an ever-increasing number of sects.

Third Law of Theodynamics

Gods disappear completely when the number of believers in them reaches zero.

Rosa's Laws of Theological Relativity.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Inspiring Atheists - Visual Art

The Dance (Second Version), 1010, Henri Matisse
The things the godly say:
  • Inspiration comes from religion.
  • Without religion we would not have human culture, particularly the arts such as music and the visual arts.
  • Only God can inspire humans to create beauty and appreciation of it is a spiritual thing, implying a non-material world of pure, beautiful thought.

That's the religious propaganda, as the exponents of superstition lay claim to something else for which they have no entitlement. I have previously shown how some of the western world's top composers were Atheists and yet produced some of the great classics of Western music, often with religious themes.

Here I'll do the same with the visual arts, one of my great passions in life:

Saturday 8 December 2012

Christmas! Which Christmas?

Which version of the nativity tale is your favourite?

Forget for a moment that the European midwinter festival which originally (and still does) celebrated the mid-winter solstice when the sun at midday is at its lowest and the day is the shortest; when the sun begins to return and holds out the promise of summer and the promise of the green shoots of spring and fresh food rather than the frugality of winter and the fear that the stores or food and fuel were not enough to see us through. A festival celebrating the great continuing natural cycle of birth, growth, maturity and death.

Forget all that and pretend, as Christians do, that the festival they plagiarised and claim for themselves is really about the birth of Jesus and celebrates a real birthday on 25th December. Which of the two different versions in the 'inerrant Bible' is the one being celebrated?

Two different versions? How can this be?

Surely everyone knows the traditional Christian Nativity. We see our children acting it out in practically every school in the country and it is depicted on myriads of Christmas cards, sheets of wrapping paper, adverts, displays in churches and shopping centres throughout the land.

The Official Story

Mary and Jesus have to travel to Bethlehem for a census but find no room in the inn, so they're put up in a stable. There Mary gives birth to Jesus and the family are visited by wise men from the east led by a star and bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh, and some shepherds who have been told about it by an angel. Then they have to travel to Egypt to escape being killed by evil King Herod who has ordered every child below the age of two to be killed. They stay in Egypt until Herod dies then they go home to Nazareth, where Jesus grows up.
The problem is, neither of the Bible accounts contain all those elements.

Let's do what Bart D. Ehrman recommends when reading the Bible. Instead of reading the 'gospels' of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the writings of Paul and others in sequence as narratives, read them in parallel so you get a horizontal view of the 'history', rather than separate vertical ones.

Fortunately, only two of the 'Gospels' mention the origins of Jesus. Neither the author of Mark nor that of John saw fit to mention the virgin birth or Bethlehem and open with Jesus as an adult. Paul also ignores Jesus's birth as do the other New Testament writers, which is interesting in itself, but from our point of view it means we only have two accounts to compare.

First I'll go through the narratives then line up the summaries:

Matthew's Tale
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
Matthew 2:1-8
This all happens when Herod was King of Judea which Roman records show must have been before 4 BCE, when Herod is known to have died.

Who these 'wise men' are we are never told. The hint is that they were astrologers.

Note: they were not led to Herod by the star only saying that they had seen 'his' star in the east. It's not until they leave Herod that the star guides them to Bethlehem and stands over the house where Joseph and Mary seem to live with the child Jesus (as though a star can stand over a particular house!)

The 'prophesy' which 'Matthew' alludes to is "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2) which, in the context in which it appears in Micah, takes a stretch to make it fit but Matthew is keen make sure everyone knows that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and so tries to make his story look like the fulfilment of ancient Jewish prophesies.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Matthew 2:9-12
Here then is where the 'wise men' find Jesus as a 'young child' (not a baby!) and he is in a house. Nowhere does 'Matthew' say this happened soon after the birth of Jesus! There is nothing to suggest this is a 'nativity' story. We get another clue about this in a moment.

Strangely, the 'wise men' are warned not to return to Herod, though they appear not to have told Joseph and Mary the reason for this.
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Matthew 2:13-15
So Matthew gets Jesus into Egypt so another prophesy can be fulfiled. This time he delves into Hosea to find the one he wants: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." (Hosea 11:1). An even bigger stretch than the Micah 'prophesy'. Talk about taking random Bible quotes out of context!

But the device Matthew uses to get Jesus into Egypt is even more far-fetched...
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.

Matthew 2:16-20
So, Herod orders the destruction of all the children under two years old according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. The wise men told Herod that the child had been born up to two years earlier! Clearly, Matthew is not describing the birth of Jesus but something he wants us to believe happened when Jesus was a young child, so that the ancient Jewish prophesies would be fulfilled. The reason he never mentions a baby is because his tale isn't about one; it's about fitting the hero of his tale into the pre-conceived mould of a prophesied Jewish Messiah.

Oh! And there's another 'prophesy' handily fulfilled, this time by Jeremiah: Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. (Jeremiah 31:15)

Curiously though, none of the other apostles mention this mass slaughter and Luke claims John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus but sees no reason to explain how he escaped the slaughter. No other historian mentions it either, not even Christians' favourite Jewish historian, Josephus. It's almost as though it never happened so far as anyone except Matthew is concerned.

Let's not be too concerned about the likelihood of Herod believing the ancient prophesies given by Yahweh to the Jewish prophets, but deciding to give up the chance of eternal life and salvation and just try to get the earthly manifestation of Yahweh killed. Like so often with Matthew, you need to suspend rational thinking to believe him.

That just leaves the problem of getting Jesus into Nazareth, which is where he is supposed to have come from, when his birth was 'prophesied' to be in Bethlehem...
And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Matthew 2:21-23
It's a shame the same message which told him Herod was dead didn't tell him about Archelaus but it all turned out well in the end.

The interesting thing here is that Joseph, Mary and Jesus are apparently going back to Bethlehem where they lived until fleeing to Egypt. They only decide to go to Nazareth, where Jesus is to grow up, when Judea turns out to be too dangerous.

Lastly, so desperate is Matthew to show that everything was prophesied that he appears to have found a prophesy here that none of the 'prophets' he alludes to saw fit to record anywhere. No where in the Old Testament is it recorded that any prophet ever said He shall be called a Nazarene. Maybe Matthew just assumed it must have been prophesied so thought he must have overlooked it, or, like so many modern Christian apologists, he relied on his readers taking his word for it and not actually checking.

Luke's Tale
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Luke 2:1-5
Here we need to believe the the entire Roman Empire was to do something totally unprecedented: every male was to take his family to the town or village one of his ancestors from 1000 years earlier had lived in. Imagine the disruption!

And how on earth could everyone do that? Do you know which town or village any of your ancestors lived in in 1012? Which ancestor of the trillion or so would you pick and how would the authorities know you had the right one? (For more on this see The Ancestor's Likely Tale).

But more to the point perhaps is why on earth would Caesar order such a thing? Why would the Romans want to know how many people were currently not in their home towns but in the home town of a remote ancestor from 1000 years earlier?

But of course, Luke needs to emphasise that Jesus, a Nazarene, was 'of the house of David' and was born in Bethlehem, because that's what the prophesies say. What else would compel a husband to take his heavily pregnant wife on such a journey if it wasn't the direct orders of the Emperor himself, and why else would the Emperor give such an order?

Well, there was a census of sorts in 6 CE, if the Judeo-Roman historian Josephus is to be believed, so what better device than a real event, even if it needed to be stretched beyond breaking point. 'Luke' was probably writing this stuff when no one would remember the actual census but might have heard of it.

At least 'Luke' gives us a clue to the date: Cyrenius was governor of Syria between 6 CE and 12 CE, so he is firmly setting the birth of Jesus between 6 and 12 CE.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2:6-20
Here then we have the full Inn, and the manger (no lowing cattle though and not explicitly in a stable for that matter!) about which Matthew is totally silent.

But, how to show that this was indeed the Messiah and how to explain how Luke knew about it? Cue angels, and shepherds who alone are selected to be given the great news and told that the sign would be a swaddled babe in a manger, which of course they duly find, so the world gets to know about it (or rather the author of Luke gets to know about it) because Mary, not being one to boast, is keeping mum.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Luke 2:21-39
So Mary and Joseph remain in Bethlehem where Jesus is circumcised and named after eight days and until Mary has waited long enough after the birth of a male child to be purified according to Jewish tradition (40 days).

Even though she was allegedly free from sin and had given birth to a parthenogenically conceived child who was also free from sin, she still needed a ritual period of purification, apparently.

Moving on...

Having gone to the Temple in Jerusalem to sacrifice obligatory doves (why would the birth of God need a sacrifice to er... God?) and there being told yet again by a couple of holy relics that Jesus was a special child, as though angels, shepherds and a virgin birth weren't enough, they went back home to Nazareth.

To summarise these and put them side by side then:

  1. Jesus is living in a house in Bethlehem where Mary and Joseph live, some time before 4 BCE.
  2. Some wise men come to see him, having read of his birth in the stars a couple of years earlier and inadvertently tip Herod off about the supposed prophesy of a new Governor being born having been fulfilled.
  3. Herod orders the killing of all boys under the age of two just to make sure he has the right one. No one else notices this.
  4. To escape this killing, Joseph and Mary take the child into exile in Egypt until Herod is dead, when they try to return to their home in Bethlehem.
  5. But Judea is still too dangerous so, instead of staying in Egypt, they go to Nazareth, where they could have gone in the first place because apparently the King of Judea's writ doesn't extend there.

  1. Jesus is born in a stable in Bethlehem some time between 6 and 12 CE because his parents had to go there 'for a census'.
  2. Some shepherds are told about him by an angel and go to see him, then tell people about him. Mary decides to keep quiet about it. We aren't told whether Joseph told anyone or not.
  3. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised and named.
  4. After 40 days, when Mary is 'pure' again, the family take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to have some doves sacrificed.
  5. While there a couple of old people tell Joseph and Mary that Jesus is the Saviour.
  6. Then they go home to Nazareth

So how can these two accounts be reconciled and woven into one single narrative of the birth of Jesus? In fact, are they both intended to be accounts of the birth of Jesus? That latter question is not at all answered by the Bible and never does Matthew claim he is writing about the birth of Jesus. All Matthew is bending over backwards to do is to show how Jesus's life fulfilled some ancient Jewish prophesies.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt; Orazio Gentileschi
Firstly and very clearly, a major stumbling block here to reconciling these into a single narrative is the mutually exclusive birth dates. Jesus could not have been born when Herod was alive when his parents had gone to Bethlehem for the census ordered by Caesar when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, simply because Herod died ten years before Cyrenius became governor.

So, the story of birth in a stable followed by flight into exile in Egypt cannot both have the reasons ascribed to them by Matthew and Luke.

Secondly, there is no way to reconcile the account of the family remaining in Bethlehem for 40 days until Mary's purification, then travelling to the temple in Jerusalem, and from there directly home to Nazareth, with Matthew's account of exile in Egypt and then only going to Nazareth when returning home to Bethlehem was still too dangerous, if Matthew's story is an account of the birth of Jesus.

One way round this would be to assume that Luke's account is of the birth of Jesus while Matthew was relating events when Jesus was about two years old, after the family had moved from Nazareth and were now living in Bethlehem. We are given the distinct impression by Matthew that the 'child' was about two years old and that the wise men were visiting a child they had been told about after his birth.

Unfortunately, this places the events Matthew is describing in about 8 CE, some twelve years after the death of Herod. It also flatly contradicts the story about Jesus spending his childhood in Nazareth - the basis for the title 'Jesus of Nazareth'.

But, if we accept Matthew's account of Herod's genocide and ignore the fact that historians failed to notice it, the whole of Luke is rendered implausible since it places the birth of Jesus at some time before 6 BCE, twelve years or more before the earliest possible date of the census under Cyrenius.

Quite clearly then, save inventing a different King Herod who lived at about 12 CE, there is no way to reconcile these two accounts and so synthesise the traditional Nativity celebrated throughout Western Christendom. There are really only three ways to explain this flagrant conflict in the Bible:
Have a great Yule!
  1. They are both made up by the Gospel authors.
  2. One or the other was made up by someone who didn't know the truth but was pretending he did.
  3. They represent different traditional versions of a Messiah myth, artificially attached to the Jesus myth by the Gospels' authors.
And we haven't even considered the complete absence of any hint of an actual date, or even a season, by which we can place it anywhere near to mid-winter.

Sorry Christians, but your plagiarisation of Yule just isn't supported even by your 'inerrant' contradictory book of gospel truths. Like the rest of your holy book, it is the errant work of men. In this case, not very imaginative ones and ones who were less concerned with truth and honesty than in pushing their own agenda - a tradition carried on by the priesthood and apologists for Christianity to this day.

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Friday 7 December 2012

Fundamentalists Should Have Sex Like Rabbits

Moment of Ovulation
Creationists really have got their knickers in a knot over sex, especially when they insist the only purpose of sex is procreation and that doing it for pleasure or as a social activity is somehow sinful, something to be ashamed of, and not what their assumed intelligent designer designed us for.

If this were so, and if we had been intelligently designed, there would be a link between ovulation (egg production) in women and intercourse, and not to an almost complete disconnect between sexual activity and ovulation. As it is, women ovulate every 28-30 days on average whether or not that have had sex. Even virgins and sexually inactive women produce a monthly egg or two. Unless they are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby, healthy women normally ovulate every month from the age of puberty until the menopause, usually between forty-five and fifty-five years of age - some thirty to forty years.

Whether or not they become pregnant will depend entirely on if and when they have sex and if a live sperm happens to come across a viable egg in the right place in her reproductive plumbing.

An intelligent designer who intended sex to be only for procreation would have designed this process so that women only had sex when they were sure to get pregnant and that every instance of intercourse resulted in pregnancy. It's not as though such a system hasn't been designed. If you believe in this intelligent designer you will believe it designed the process so I'm afraid you are hooked on your own logic here.

Ironically, one of the best examples of sexual activity being designed to ensure pregnancy, thus ensuring its purpose is exactly what religious people insist sex is for, is to be found in the very mammal frequently cited as an example of promiscuity - the rabbit.

My first job as a school-leaver many years ago was as a laboratory technician in Prof Geoffrey Harris's Neuroendocrinology Research Unit in Oxford. One of the things we were investigating was hormonal control of ovulation, using rabbits. Prof. Harris had discovered that the hormone which causes the ovary to shed its eggs is produced by the pituitary gland in response to 'releasing factors' (we were trying to find out exactly what they were) which are produced by special nerves in the stalk attaching the pituitary to the brain. These 'releasing factors' are transported to the pituitary gland in blood by a microscopic 'portal system' of small blood vessels which ensures they are concentrated and delivered to the front lobe of the pituitary where they cause the pituitary to produce 'lutenising hormone' into the blood, which, when it reaches the ovaries, causes an egg to ripen and be shed.

One drawback to using rabbits is that you have to be careful how you pick them up, otherwise you can induce them to ovulate - which is not what we wanted as we were trying to induce this with hormones.

The reason we were using rabbits is because they are spontaneous ovulators, that is, they don't have an oestrus cycle but ovulate when mated. In rabbits, there is a simple reflex system which is initiated by mating, either by direct stimulation of the vagina, or even by a male mounting and attempting to mate - and this is where we needed to be careful. If you stroke a female rabbit's back, or her hind quarters, you can simulate the act of a male mounting her and cause her to ovulate, so you need to pick them up by the scruff of the neck and keep contact to a minimum.

So, in rabbits, which have sex like rabbits - duh! sex is for procreation and the system ensures a high degree of success, where most sex acts lead to pregnancy.

So, Creationists, if your 'intelligent designer' designed this system in rabbits, why didn't it use the same system in humans where all the components are present and just need to be set up correctly to work the way you claim it intended them to work?

In fact, this system has probably been switched off in humans and in at least our close cousins, the bonobo, because sex for pleasure and for other than procreation is so beneficial in terms of pair-bonding and social interaction and where sexual activity continues well past the menopause where is can have no procreational purpose whatsoever.

Of course, Darwinian Evolution has no problem at all explaining these differences. With both humans and rabbits the respective system used produces more surviving descendants given the long, slow childhood of human children which benefits from a pair-bond between parents, compared to the short period of maturity in rabbits which are independent of their mother in a few weeks, sexually mature and in a few months and in whose nurturing fathers play no part at all.

If the religious views of Creationists were sincere, and they knew what they were talking about, they should be advocating humans behave like rabbits when it comes to sex. At least that might go some way to filling the rows of empty pews most European priests are seeing most Sundays nowadays.

This is of course just one of the problems Christians and Muslims have with trying to shoe-horn reality into the primitive superstitions of misogynistic and sex-obsessed Bronze Age tribal leaders who believed in a flat earth, magic, talking snakes and that rain is water dripping through holes in the canopy over the earth from which the sun and moon are hanging.


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Sunday 2 December 2012

No God In The Bible

Prof. Bart D. Ehrman

Reading Bart D. Ehrman's excellent and very readable book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, I was struck by the following:
At about the time I started to doubt that God had inspired the words of the Bible, I began to be influenced by Bible courses taught from a historical-critical perspective. I started seeing discrepancies in the text. I saw that some of the books of the Bible were at odds with one another. I became convinced by the arguments that some of the books were not written by the authors for whom they were named. And I began to see that many of the traditional Christian doctrines that I had long held to be beyond question, such as the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and of the Trinity, were not present in the earliest traditions of the New Testament but had developed over time and had moved away from the original teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

These realizations had a profound impact on my faith, as I think they did on that of many of my fellow seminarians at the time and continue to have on many seminarians today. Unlike most of my seminarian friends, though, I did not revert to a devotional approach to the Bible the day after I graduated with my master’s of divinity degree. Instead I devoted myself even more wholeheartedly to learning more about the Bible from a historical perspective, and about the Christian faith that I had thought was taught by the Bible. I had started seminary as a born-again fundamentalist; by the time I graduated I was moving toward a liberal form of evangelical Christianity, one that still saw the Bible as conveying important teachings of God to his people, but also as a book filled with human perspectives and mistakes.[my emphasis]

Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-02-20).
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (p. 16).
Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
What struck me most was not the fact that so many seminarians promptly put aside all they've learned about the history of the Bible, which casts so much doubt on it's authenticity, and revert to the simple devotional approach they took to college with them, or their intellectual dishonesty. I have come to be totally unsurprised by the intellectual dishonesty which underpins much of theology and especially in those who make, or intend to make, a living selling it to mostly theologically unsophisticated people. What struck me was the final sentence, emphasised above.

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