Thursday, December 29, 2011

Of Calendars, God-Men and The Date of Christmas (Part 1)

It seems a Christian fundamentalist blogger is seeing problems with my earlier (Christmas Day) blog on the date of Christmas. Since his misperceptions may be wider than just a few people, I will not examined his complaints in more detail.

He writes, referring to blogs like mine, e.g.

"Sadly , they do not hold other books to the same standard that they hold the Bible to. One book I would recommend that they ( as well as anyone ) , should read is A Skeptic's Search for God by Ralph O. Muncaster.

But the Xtian blogger misses the point! If standards are to be met, they must be of the highest academic standards, not based on prejudice or because a book dovetails with one's pet belief system. The problem with Mancaster's book is it simply doesn't meet this academic standard, as it's replete with hundreds of scientific inaccuracies, omissions, and selectivly slanted misrepresentations of current scientific knowledge. For example, vast swatches of current evolutionary theory are deliberately ignored, in particular the import of biochemical cybernetics in micro-evolution and the genetics underlying it. Thus, there's NO mention of the enormous microscopic chemical activity maintained by a certain class of proteins – the enzymes- playing the role of specific catalysts.

For example, there is the Krebs cycle for aerobic metabolism, whose pathway is:

CH2 COOH-coenzyme A + 2 H2O -> 2 CO2 +8 (e- + H+) + coenzyme

possessing a self-catalytic feature in that intermediate products necessary for the cycle to occur are generated by the cycle itself. In this case, Oxalo-acetic acid combines with acetic acid to begin the cycle and is regenerated from malic acid at the end of the cycle. This in turn paves the way for ancillary reaction which lend themselves to the functional coherence of what are - in effect, complex chemical machines, which are autonomous as well. I don't believe this "skeptic" goes into any of this, because: 1) he doesn't know enough about it to critique or examine it in depth, and 2) if he did it would annihilate any basis for his Xtian beliefs.

On the other hand, in preparing my blog on the putative dates for Xmas (above link) I used many standard academic astronomy and astrometric texts, including: 'Spherical and Practical Astronomy Applied to Geodesy' by Ivan Mueller and Eichhorn von Wurmb (chapter on the def. of the tropical year and its relation to Julian year etc.), Spherical Astronomy by W. Smart, on the role of precession in altering calendrical computations, and 'Exploring the Universe', by G.O. Abell, referencing his Ch. 4 on the changes initiated by the Gregorian Calendar.

Thus, the basis of a proper approach is not selection of "books" per se, or "which books" but rather those which reach the highest academic standards such that their results have already been vetted, substantiated in many previous works, and also peer -reviewed journals! Mancaster's book fails miserably in this, and indeed, I wouldn't even recommend it for a high school class in critical thinking, far less one at the university level.

The Xtian blogger then recycles the typical errors in Mancaster's book, i.

(1) life could not possibly have come about by random chance (naturalism), and since the only choices for the origin of life are random chance and creation, therefore God must exist—and by definitions, God=Creator;

But as biochemist Jacques Monod has shown (e.g. 'Chance and Necessity'), this is false. Also, Richard Dawkins has repeatedly shown how these creationists confuse randomness and chance and hardly ever get the difference correct, or how each applies to evolution. Dawkins once referred to this as “the single most unfortunate misunderstanding of Darwinism – that it’s a theory of chance”.

I suspect the misconception arises because one input for natural selection is mutation, and it is largely governed by random chance. (I.e. Up to 60% or more of mutations may be caused by external factors such as cosmic rays interacting with DNA. But who can say when or at what frequency these interactions occur?)

However, natural selection itself is anything but random.

We can see this simply by doing simple experiments, as with fruit flies, and examining the emergence of specific traits over generations – governed by gene frequency. It can be seen that over time there is a genetic "favoritism", as it were, for certain traits or characteristics to be passed on or selected out of a group of competing traits in the gene pool. Thus, what natural selection does is to consolidate particular random mutations into a more stable, adaptive adjustment – governed by deterministic factors and inputs. It is at the stage of this determinism that "random chance" ceases! With the gene frequencies in place evolution is then set.

But do these critics ever process things correctly? Hardly! It's always the same errors repeated over and over.

And the other major error:

and (2) a planet so precisely suited to man could not have come into existence by random chance, therefore, God must exist, and by extension, He must be all-powerful.

Again, a false argument! Out of hundreds of billions of sun-like stars in the cosmos, and we've located nearly a thousand already in our own galaxy alone, it stands to reason that plain ordinary probability would allow that at least ONCE (and likely many more times) a planet emerges at "the right" distance from its central star, and hence that the temperature conditions are favorable for evolution. Hanging the existence of a deity on this is therefore one sure way to lose one's deity! It also devastates the "all powerful" . For example, a much more devastating counter argument would be:

"If there truly is this Being that must exist, and is 'all powerful', then why didn't It also allow for life to evolve on Mars? If indeed 'all powerful' why not use that planet's own features to "create life"? Yet all the evidence from all our Mars probes discloses no life exists there! Of course the stock answer from bible bangers will be some "biblical" gibberish such as that it is "decreed in the Bible that life only be created on earth".

Neat and convenient escape hatch, but it doesn't work on real skeptics!

And more gibberish:

"He had statistical evidence that if any holy book has many significant prophecies that are 100-percent correct—with a statistical probability of their coming true randomly of less than the scientific standard of 1 chance in 10 to the 50th power—that book must be supernatural, which essentially proves the existence of God. Valid prophecy in the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) far exceeded that standard. "

Of course, this is bollocks because no such "statistical probability" is shown (computed), and indeed the author confuses normal probability (such as proposed by the models of Richard von Mises) with Bayesian models. Readers can see in the example I have included, meanwhile, how one would actually compute the probability of number between 1-100 divisible by 6 OR 10, and the probability of the numbers divided by 6 and 10. Unlike me, neither Mancaster or his fundie apologist shows one line of how they comptue ANY probability from the Bible!

The truth is there are no real prophecies because all are gamed in terms of ambiguous language that can be read any number of ways. We've already been through this in earlier blogs.

For example, Barbadian Xtian cultist Roger Marshall who once invoked Isaiah 40:22a which he claimed "predicted the host of heaven cannot be numbered long before Astronomy realized it"

True or not?

Hardly! In fact this so-called "prediction" is is simply common sense that anyone who peers into the night sky (especially with a powerful telescope) can see for himself. Even the earliest Sumerian and Babylonian astronomers would have accepted it! (Given there are about 6,000 stars visible to the naked eye, but no one would have seriously tried to count them in an era before the constellation boundaries were defined - to prevent counting errors - by the International Astronomical Union and others.

Another one claimed by Marshall: "Biblical authors knew of the Earth's sphericity long before anyone else". (cf, Isaiah 40:22 )

But again, nonsense! Indeed, the ancients knew about the sphericity of Earth since the time of Aristotle, Eudoxus and Eratosthenes, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Thus, any references made in the Bible were likely already in the Zeitgeist of the learned folk of the time, and would naturally have been included- if the scriptural author (or more likely, later transcriptionist-translator) had any awareness at all.

Roundness (circularity) and sphericity are two different properties. One (circularity) applies to a simple two dimensional surface or geometry. Indeed, the property of circles was investigated by Sumerian and Egyptian mathematicians long before any of the biblical authors emerged from their caves. As I pointed out also in an earlier blogs, the particular property of sphericity can only be determined by the use of mathematics. Without mathematics, people would believe the Earth is a round, flat space. How so? If one looks across a vast, flat horizon – either from the middle of a desert or the ocean- the perspective one obtains is that of a vast FLAT expanse with a circular boundary at the far periphery. Thus, the impression created in an ancient mind – without use of discriminating mathematics- would be that he or she inhabits the center of an enormous flat circle!

How did the ancient Greek astronomers (e.g. Eratosthenes) break out of this and arrive at sphericity? In Eratosthenes’ case, around 240 B.C., he had to first decide what exactly he had to measure to assess sphericity as opposed to circularity. This is where a key assumption entered: that the Earth was spherical and the Sun distant enough that its rays at Earth were essentially parallel.

Thus the next statement that:

"This indicated that God is real. "

Is a non-sequitur. What it really indicates is that few people today can properly interpret biblical language or "prophecies" in terms that make real practical sense, and moreover, can be used for further future predictions.

Another example is when he writes:

"Furthermore, the many valid prophecies of the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled were verified in the New Testament.

But the truth is much more cruel for biblical fantasists. Forget for the moment that the name borne by the earliest followers of Yeshua was “Nazoreans’ - NOT “Christians” – And Yeshua was known as “the Nazorean”. This is a sectarian term of which the Hebrew is ‘Notsrim’ and is NOT connected directly with a place called “Nazareth” or with the messianic “Nezer” branch from the roots of Jesse.

Nazoreans’ members proclaimed themselves the “preservers of the true faith of Israel”- but this claim was also made by the Samaritans, inhabiting Samaria (Shomron) who represented themselves as the ‘Shamerine’ – the custodians or keepers of the original ISRAELITE religion, as opposed to the Judeans (Jews)

In his article ‘Where Jesus Never Walked’. (American Atheist, Winter 1996-97, p. 34) Frank Zindler notes “Nazareth” is not mentioned once in the entire Old Testament, nor do any ancient historians or geographers mention it before the beginning of the 4th century. As Zindler points out:

"The Talmud, though it names 63 Galilean towns, knows nothing of Nazareth. Josephus, who wrote extensively about Galilee (a region roughly the size of Rhode Island) ….mentions Nazareth not even once – although he does mention by name 45 other cities and villages of Galilee. This is even more telling when one discovers that Josephus does mention Japha, a village which is just over a mile from present-day Nazareth!


Although the New Testament tells us very little about our mythical municipality, it does tell us enough to allow us to conclude that present day Nazareth couldn’t be the biblical city referred to say, in the fourth chapter of Luke

Like the White Queen whom Alice met in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, Christian pilgrims have always been able to believe six or more mutually contradictory, impossible propositions every morning before breakfast. Unlike the White Queen, however, the Christians have been able to maintain such belief after breakfast as well

In other words, all the alleged NT "prophecies" don't even make use of an actual historical place that was supposed to have existed at the time! If this is so, why would anyone logically accept a figure purported to exist in this make believe place would be real?

Thus the claim by the fundie blogger:

"This also had a statistical probability that far exceeded the standard—which indicated Jesus’ Deity."·

is more accurately read as:

"this exhibits a statistical probability of near zero, since even the claim of the town (Nazareth) where he was purported to live, isn't supported by historians of the time"

More to come!

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