Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Center Verse of the Bible

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleThis week, you get a bonus Friday Bible Blogging entry in the middle of the week. The main entry that I'll post on Friday covers Psalms 111 through 120, but it brings me to a slightly controversial milestone of sorts that I decided was worth covering in its own entry - the central verse of the Bible.

Right off the bat is trying to determine which manuscripts to use as your basis. As I discussed in the Introduction to this series, the development of the Bible wasn't straight forward. For many books, it would be difficult to pin down the 'original' version, even if time travel were possible, because of how those books developed. They were based on combining already existing books, which themselves were often based on even older stories, with Noah's flood developing from the Mesopotamian Flood Myth being one of the most famous examples. And as the books were passed down and copied, changes, additions, and subtractions were made. Even the New Testament, which is much more recent than some of the Old Testament books, has been modified. I was disappointed to discover that the story of Jesus telling the Pharisees to "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone" was most likely a later addition to John, and not part of the original gospel.

Even in the modern day, when most churches have settled on their canon, there are many different compilations of the Bible. The Wikipedia article on Biblical Canon has a table showing the differences in canon between Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Slavonic Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Orthodox Tewahedo, and Assyrian Church of the East versions of the Bible. There just simply is no single 'The Bible', so there's no single central verse.

And on top of all that, the chapter and verse numbers certainly weren't part of the original manuscripts. To quote from Wikipedia's entry on Chapters and verses of the Bible:

Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro is often given credit for first dividing the Latin Vulgate into chapters in the real sense, but it is the arrangement of his contemporary and fellow cardinal Stephen Langton who in 1205 created the chapter divisions which are used today. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 15th century. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).

The chapters and verses weren't settled on until the 1500s.

Moving past all that, let's pick one version to go with, since that's the version I see used in practically all of these Biblical factoid type articles - the standard Protestant Bible. If you do a google search on 'center verse of the bible', you'll find many sites claiming that the central verse is Psalms 118:8. Here's an example of such a site, Fun Bible Facts for Christian Teens: Get Centered with Psalms 118. I've pulled a fairly extensive quote below, to show how they arrive at that conclusion, and the other types of claims these sorts of sites typically make.

Location, Location, Location
  • The middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118.
  • The longest Chapter of the Bible is Psalm 119.
  • The shortest chapter of the Bible is Psalm 117.

Adding It All Up

  • How many chapters exist before Psalm 118? 594
  • How many chapters of the Bible exist after Psalm 118? 594
  • Add the two together and you get 1188.
  • What is the verse at the very center of the Bible? Psalm 118:8*

Get Centered

Psalm 118:8 - "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man." (NIV)

Are you in the center of God's word? The very center of the Bible reminds us to trust in God over trusting in ourselves or other people. The next time you consider making God the center of your life, remind yourself to go to the center of the Word.

As part of this whole project of reading the Bible, I have a spreadsheet with the chapter count for each of the books. For the Protestant Bible, I count 1189 chapters - which matches the fun facts claims so far. And 1189 chapters total does mean 594 chapters before and after the middle chapter. However, since there are 478 chapters in all the books prior to Psalms, 594 - 478 = 116, meaning that the following chapter, 117, is the central chapter of the Bible, not 118. And if the central chapter is 117, then all the rest of the cute claims don't really mean much. (Interestingly, at the end of that article, the author does note some controversy over which chapter really is the center of the Bible, before dismissing it by saying, "Christians should make God the center of their lives, and numerical controversy should not take away from that spiritual guidance." It's a bit disingenuous to knowingly present something false, and then issue a disclaimer that people may or may not read at the very end of the article. Some people might call that lying, or bearing false witness, to put it in terms that author might appreciate more.)

But that's only one way to determine the central verse of the Bible. A way to do it that makes more sense to me is to add up all the verses in all the chapters, and determine which is the center of the whole thing. I don't have verse counts in my spreadsheet, and don't particularly feel like compiling all that information just for this blog entry, so I'm going to rely on other people's analysis here. I actually found a page where somebody went through this entire exercise, Center of the Bible, by Fran Corpier. Corpier found that there are 31,102 verses in the Bible (as somewhat of a double check, BlueLetterBible.org reports the same number). From that, since there can be no single central verse when the total is an even number, Corpier determined that the central verses are Psalms 103:1-2, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, / and all that is within me, / bless his holy name. / Bless the Lord, O my soul, / and do not forget all his benefits..."

Corpier also went so far as to determine the center of the Bible by word count, using the King James Version (KJV). However, I fear that she (he?) must have made a mistake here. Corpier found there were 782,222 words in the KJV of the Bible, and went on to claim that the center two words occur in Psalms 74:21. However, the verse Corpier used to determine those words was Psalms 105:21, not 74:21. So, assuming that Corpier did the math right and just pulled up the wrong quote, the center two words of the KJV of the Bible would be the second and third words in Psalms 74:21, " O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name." Hmm. Not particularly noteworthy.

So, to summarize:

  • Center chapter, by chapter count: Psalms 117
  • Center verse, by verse count: Psalms 103:1-2
  • Center words, by word count (KJV): "not the", occurring in Psalms 74:21

So by chapter count, I reached the center of the Protestant Bible this week. However, I'm reading the Apocrypha as well, so I'm still not halfway through with this project.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 101 to Psalms 110

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleWell look at that - two weeks in a row that I've managed to post an entry in this series. I guess I really am getting back into the swing of things.

This week's entry covers Psalms 101 through 110. Psalm 106 is the last of Book IV, which means Psalm 107 is the start of Book V. Book V happens to be the last of the 5 books in Psalms.

The psalms themselves weren't any more exciting than what I've been reading, but I do have a bit more to say about them this week.


Psalms, Chapter 101

So even though I'll have a bit more to say this week, it's not with this chapter. Psalm 101 is pretty run of the mill, with a little bit of praising God, but mostly the person speaking (most likely being recited by the king) promising to be faithful and to do good.


Psalms, Chapter 102

The superscription to this psalm is "A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord," which summarizes it pretty well. It's a plea for help from the Lord, blending the psalmists personal complaints with Israel's larger complaints.


Psalms, Chapter 103

This was a psalm of praise, focusing mostly on God's forgiveness and compassion. Like the last psalm, it combined personal and national elements.


Psalms, Chapter 104

If you follow creationism at all, this psalm, or at least the language in it, will be familiar. For example, in one of the first verses, it mentions:

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
   you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

Stretching out the heavens is actually a pretty common theme in the Bible. A literal interpretation in line with the cosmology of the time would put it as God actually spreading out something like a tent over the firmament, but modern creationists have more entertaining interpretations. An article on Answers in Genesis, which actually refers to a similar passage in Isaiah, states that "This would suggest that the universe has actually increased in size since its creation. God has stretched it out. He has expanded it (and is perhaps still expanding it)." They're using verses like this to try to say that the Bible supports cosmic inflation.

This whole psalm is even at the center of some debates between different creationists. Here's another article from AiG, Psalm 104:6-9--the Flood or Day 3 of Creation Week?, where they try to refute the old earth creationist, Hugh Ross, who thought this psalm referred to the creation week, when clearly it refers partially to Noah's flood, and partially to the world at the time the psalm was written.

The footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) had a different take.

God, luminous and triumphant (vv. 1-4), organizes the primordial waters (vv. 5-18, 24-26) and darkness (vv. 19-23) into a harmonious whole that supports life (vv. 27-35). The depiction owes much to the mythology of neighboring cultures: the storm god who vanquishes Sea (vv. 1-18), and the Egyptian sun-disk Aten whose rays illuminate the world (vv. 19-30)...

Given which source was written by actual scholars, I know which interpretation I'd pick as most likely.


Psalms, Chapter 105

This is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, giving a short summary of the history of Israel and God's deeds in helping the people, going all the way back to Abraham.

The NOAB noted many differences between the stories presented here and in other parts of the Bible. For example, there were only seven plagues of Egypt here, compared to the ten in Exodus, and they were in a different order.

The psalm did reference one of my favorite stories from the Bible, from when the Hebrews were wandering the desert.

They asked, and he brought quails,
   and gave them food from heaven in abundance.

Now, I'm assuming the psalm is referring to a slightly different version of the story than what was recorded in Numbers 11, because that version of the story is not something the Israelites would have given praise for. Delivering quails 'in abundance' is a bit of an understatement, "a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground," keeping in mind that 2 cubits is about 3 feet. And then, when the people actually started eating the quails, "while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague."


Psalms, Chapter 106

This was a rather long psalm, again looking at the history of the Israelites, but in a slightly different manner. This psalm focused on cycles of sin and forgiveness (of course, going through seven cycles, because so much of the Bible focuses on seven).

The NOAB notes that the final verse, 48, was an addition from whenever Psalms was divided into five separate books.


Psalms, Chapter 107

Psalm 107 marks the beginning of the fifth and final book of Psalms. It's a psalm of thanksgiving, for, according to the NOAB, "bringing back the people from exile". It used four examples of divine deliverance. Again according to the NOAB, "these are all metaphorical for the tribulations of the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE, and the difficulties of returning by foot from Babylon."


Psalms, Chapter 108

This psalm is a prayer for victory, which as the NOAB notes, is largely composed by recycling content from other psalms (57 & 60).


Psalms, Chapter 109

This is a somewhat long psalm, supposedly by David seeking vengeance on his enemies. It seems a bit odd from a continuity perspective, however. Verses 6 & 7 start off his request by saying:

They say,* 'Appoint a wicked man against him;
   let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
   let his prayer be counted as sin.

The language makes it seem like what his enemies are asking for. But then verse 20 turns it around to make it seem like it's coming from David.

May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
   of those who speak evil against my life.

The request for vengeance isn't as bloodthirsty as some sections of the Bible, but it does ask God to punish the children of his enemies.


Psalms, Chapter 110

This is a short psalm for the king, promising him victory over his enemies and faithfulness from his subjects.


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One more week down. Only four more weeks of Psalms to go. I guess this week was a bit more entertaining than last week, at least.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Air Force Makes Religious Oath Mandatory

U.S. Air Force LogoI just recently wrote an article that referenced the recent Navy Bible brouhaha, A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle. Now, it seems like another branch of the military is violating people's Constitutional rights, and this time in an even more blatant manner.

An article on Military.com, Air Force Restores 'God' to Enlistment Oath describes the issue. There's a line in the Air Force oath of enlistment or reenlistment that says "So help me God". It seems that the Air Force had made that line optional, but has now reversed that decision and has made it mandatory again.

The American Humanist Society has gotten involved on behalf of an atheist airman, and it seems that the Air Force might be taking the complaint seriously. According to a more recent article in The Stars and Stripes, Air Force seeks DOD ruling on re-enlistment oath, the Air Force went to the DoD's top lawyer and is currently waiting on an opinion on the issue. I would think the decision should be easy enough to make, since Article VI of the Constitution makes it quite clear:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Requiring someone to make an oath to God seems a blatant violation of that clause. And it's not like the previous compromise was hard on theists at all. It wasn't removing the God reference to make the oath secular (which is what I'd really prefer). The 'so help me God' language was optional. Christians and Jews could still say it if they wanted to, while non-theists weren't forced to lie. But apparently, even that was too much for some brass in the Navy, who have made the oath mandatory again.

It seems pretty cut and dried to me, but with the way things sometimes go and the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to keep the God part of the oath mandatory.

Image Source: Dobbins Air Reserve Base

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P.S. If you really want to despair for our nation, go read the comments. Yes, there are several people with rational takes on the issue, but a lot more comments than I'd like to see supporting the mandatory oath. Here's a sampling.

nice to see that someone in the military has finnaly grown a PAIR
Very refreshing to see the US Air Force stand up against political correctness (much of what is wrong with this country) and the courage to stand up for God. God bless America, the foundation of this country.
The enlistment oath is correctly worded ! Deal w/it or don't sign the dotted line! It's that SIMPLE!
He doesn't have to stay in. He can believe in whatever he likes but, he can believe it as a civilian. Sick of all the whiners and liberals that think EVERYTHING should be because they want it. Atheism is stupid anyway. Don't believe in anything. When you die, we can just leave you on top of the ground for the buzzards. Time to pay back all the crap they've dished out to Christians. Notice they have said NOTHING about Islam? Wonder why?!


So as not to end this entry leaving a bad taste in your mouth or thinking that all Christians are so pig-headed, here are a couple good comments.

As a retired Chapel Manager I've got to say the USAF is flying too high on this one. If this Airman doesn't believe in God his oath to God becomes meaningless. It only had value to those who believe in God. It's like forcing a Christian or Muslim to give an oath to a fence post. What value would that promise have?
I'm a fundamentalist Christian but I find it immoral to force someone to in essence lie when taking an oath. In addition, as a conservative constitutionalist who served to support and defend the Constituyion, I also find it offensive to force someone to take recognize a religious tenet in order to serve in the military or any other government position.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Response to Mark Looy & Ken Ham's Complaints of Atheist Aggression

Mark Looy & Ken HamThrough a series of following links that began on an IFL Science Facebook post and went through Snopes, I came across an article on Answers in Genesis, Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School, by Mark Looy and Ken Ham. There's a whole lot I could write about on that page (such as the hyperbole of using 'viciously attack' to describe strongly worded articles and e-mails), but I'm only going to focus on one part, actually a bit of a tangent from the main article - hypocritical and/or strange complaints by Christians against atheists. In the third paragraph, Looy and Ham wrote the following.

Over the past few years, we have seen atheists becoming more aggressive and intolerant towards Christians. (See the sidebar for just a few of the many examples we could cite.)

So I took a look at that sidebar. It's titled, "How Are Atheists Becoming More Aggressive in America?", and has a bulleted list of all the supposed aggressions committed by atheists (but without actually citing or linking to anything concrete). I tackle each claim individually below.

Billboards promoting atheism and attacking Christianity have popped up across the country.

Billboards like this?

AiG Anti-Atheist Billboard
Source

AiG Creation Museum Billboard
Source

Just in case you missed it, both of those billboards are from Looy & Ham's own organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG). Granted, that first billboard was AiG's response to an atheist billboard campaign. But, if billboards are inherently 'aggressive', is AiG operating under the playground mentality that two wrongs can make a right?

Here are a few billboards by organizations other than AiG:

Nothing's Too Hard for God Billboard
Source

Anti-Atheist Stalin Billboard
Source

These types of billboards promoting Christianity or disparaging atheism are very, very common in my neck of the woods down here in Texas. That one from the Assemblies of God was all over town for a while (not so much anymore), and I see several religious billboards along the route whenever I drive down to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. If it's wrong to put up billboards promoting your viewpoint on religious issues, why aren't Looy & Ham upset by all the Christian billboards?


The American Humanist Association has launched a special website for children to indoctrinate them in atheism.

You mean something like this, Kids Answers on AiG's own site. And check out the page, Good News - How Can I Become a Child of God. I agree that indoctrination is wrong, so why is AiG doing it?

I did go check out the page I think they're referring to, Kids Without God. After a bit of clicking around and browsing, it looks to be a very good page, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in humanism. It's not so much indoctrination as just explaining what humanism is, and offering resources to teens who might be having issues because of their lack religion. The 'kids' section is of course a little simple, but the teen section is pretty informative, and would probably make for a good introduction even for adults. Here are a few of the pages I particularly liked.


An atheist rally in Washington DC last year had a special promotion to encourage kids to attend their atheist camps.

I did a google search on 'Vacation Bible School Wichita Falls', just to see what type of results I'd get for my own hometown. Here were the first four results:

And there were more than that. Religious camps are pretty common.


Atheists have been increasingly using terms like "child abuse" to describe the efforts of Christians who seek to teach their children about creation, heaven, and hell.

It does seem like hyperbole to call a religious upbringing 'child abuse', but the guilt instilled by this type of indoctrination can be very traumatic. It was this guilt that I struggled with the most personally in becoming an atheist - much more so than the intellectual side of it. And it shouldn't be that way. I experience no sense of guilt when I learn about other ways I've been wrong. With the modern skeptical movement and Internet sites like Snopes and TV shows like Mythbusters, many of us have learned of urban legends that had us tricked at one point or another. But while we may feel a bit of embarrassment at being too gullible, there's no guilt that goes along with ditching those mistaken beliefs. Why should people, especially children, feel guilty about questioning the fundamental nature of the universe? It's one thing to examine different worldviews as an adult and pick the one you think is most likely. It's quite another to be taught that you'll be punished in hellfire for all eternity if you even question the teachings of your elders.

And of course, there are other aspects of religious upbringing by extremists (not mainstream Christians) that are much more abusive, such as refusing to give your children vacinations, or denying medical treatment in favor of faith healing.


Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents.

I almost wrote an entry about just this single bullet because of the mindset it reveals. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but most atheists I know don't think children belong to anybody. They're their own person, not property. It is a parent's responsibility to raise their children properly, but the parents don't own the children. The community (i.e. government) will step in in cases of abuse or neglect, because children are too young to have any other recourse. It's to protect human beings, not to exercise control over property.

Do Looy and Ham really believe that children belong to their parents?


Atheists have actively opposed any effort in public schools to even question a belief of evolution or suggest there are any problems with it.

I know one of the primary purposes of Ham's organization is promoting creationism, but this is a silly complaint to anybody who understands evolution and accepts reality. It's about like the Flat Earth Society complaining about public schools only teaching about the Earth as a globe, or wanting moon landing hoax conspiracy theories taught in history class. Creationism is a bit more socially acceptable than Flat Earthism, but every bit as silly.

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Perhaps what struck me most in reading all of this was the sheer hypocrisy. So much of what Looy and Ham complained about is stuff that's very common among the religious, and stuff that they themselves do. It's a pretty stark double standard.

Image Source: Answers in Genesis

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 91 to Psalms 100

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleWow. It's been a while since I've done one of these entries. I fell off the routine of posting regularly back in March, and have only had a handful of posts in the series since then, mostly explaining why I was too busy to post a review. But I'm back. The big work project that was keeping me super busy is over, and the big personal event that the whole family was busy preparing for is over. So, I should once again have the time to come up with a new post every Friday (the only concern now is motivation).

This week's entry covers Psalms 91 through 100. I guess that's a bit of a milestone - reaching the 3 digit mark. This is the only book of the Bible where that's even a possibility. I forgot to mention this in the last entry, but Psalm 90 marks the beginning of Book IV in Psalms. Book IV only goes through Psalm 106, so this weeks entry actually covers the bulk of that book.

I wish I could say that the chapters this week were exciting, but it's really just more of the same. Even a 5 month break isn't enough to make this material seem fresh.


Psalms, Chapter 91

This Psalm brought back memories from when I used to go to church as a kid, the hymn Blest Be the Lord. Read verse 5.

You will not fear the terror of the night,
   or the arrow that flies by day,

And compare it to the refrain from the hymn (which I'll now have stuck in my head all day).

Blest be the Lord; blest be the Lord.
the God of mercy, the God who saves.
I shall not fear the dark of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day.

The hymn has plenty of other references to the Psalm, but none quite so closely copied.

One note for this chapter from the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), the 'under his wings' language from verse 4 may be "a reference to protecting bird as in Egyptian iconography..."


Psalms, Chapter 92

Psalm 92 is 'A Song for the Sabbath Day'. It's pretty typical - praise, thanksgiving, fallen enemies, etc. There's a little insult at the people that can't see God's mighty works, "The dullard cannot know, / the stupid cannot understand this..." One interesting aspect I wouldn't have noticed if not for the NOAB is that God's name was used seven times, almost certainly symbolic in a psalm about the Sabbath.


Psalms, Chapter 93

This psalm is full of imagery I've mentioned before, representing Yahweh as a storm god, and showing the primordial fight against chaos. According to the NOAB, this is "referring to the Canaanite myth in which Baal, the storm god, defeats Sea".


Psalms, Chapter 94

This is another typical psalm, asking God to right all the wrongs committed against the community.


Psalms, Chapter 95

This one's mostly a psalm of praise and worship, with a reminder of the rebellion after the Exodus that brought on the 40 years of wandering the desert.


Psalms, Chapter 96

Another psalm praising God and his glory.


Psalms, Chapter 97

Psalm 97 included more storm god imagery, "Clouds and thick darkness are all around him...", "His lightnings light up the world..." There was also mention of other gods.

All worshippers of images are put to shame,
 those who make their boast in worthless idols;
   all gods bow down before him.

I think it's interesting that those first two lines indicate that the other gods are just images or idols, but then the third line has them bowing before Yahweh. It sounds to me like the first two lines are meant to belittle other gods, but that the author still believed they were deities.


Psalms, Chapter 98

Similarly to Psalm 93, this one is about God winning a battle over forces of evil.


Psalms, Chapter 99

And another hymn praising God. According to the NOAB, this was part of a group of "enthronement hymns", including Psalm 93, and Psalms 95-99, which were about God establishing his throne and his "authoritative decrees".


Psalms, Chapter 100

Psalm 100, 'A Psalm of thanksgiving', was rather short, calling on "all the earth" to worship the Lord.


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Ugh. My first week back, and I'm right back to remembering why I was getting so bored with this book. It's not that it's horrible. It's just so repetitious. And I'm sure these reviews are reflecting my boredom. I'm doing my best to try to find interesting tidbits, but I know I'm just making more and more chapter reviews like "Another psalm praising God and his glory" or "This is another typical psalm..." At least I'm two thirds of the way through this book, so there's only 5 more weeks of me whining about how boring it is.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for July & August 2014

Top 10 ListNow that August is over, it's that time again to check the server logs to see how popular different pages were on this site. But as soon as I started to do that, I realized I'd forgotten to check at the end of July. So, today you get two top 10 lists - one for July, and one for August.

There were several suprises between these two months. One page that made it to both lists, but that had never made the list before, was Aviation Books. I'm honestly not sure why that book would all of a sudden become popular, but I guess it could be useful. July had other more new entries to the list, Debunking a Columbus Myth, Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan, and Pet Peeve - Articles Aren't Blogs. The first of those is pretty good (though perhaps people would be more informed by reading Happy Exploration Day). The second I like quite a bit, too. The third is okay, but not one I'd ever have expected to make this list.

August had three more first time top 10 entries, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform, More on Origin of Species, and When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage? (short answer: never). I'm really happy about seeing the first one get that kind of traffic, because I think people need to see just how off-the-wall the Texas Republican party is. The third is another entry I'm glad to see people finally reading. I am surprised by the Origin of Species entry, though, especially considering that a later entry, Book Review - Origin of Species, combines the one that made the top 10 list and another entry on Origin of Species for a more comprehensive review.

And as a bonus, since these two entries just missed making the top 10 list, but are entries that I particularly like, I made the list for August the top 10 + 2, and included Abortion and How to Convert Me Back to Christianity.

As far as overall traffic, July and August were both similar - down just a bit from the past few months, but in line with traffic for the past year or so.

Top 10 for July 2014

  1. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Response to E-mail - Are America's Hunters the World's Largest Army?
  3. Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  4. Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
  5. Aviation Books
  6. Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  7. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  8. Happy Fastnach Day 2014
  9. Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan
  10. Pet Peeve - Articles Aren't Blogs

Top 10 + 2 for August 2014

  1. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
  3. Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  4. Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  5. Aviation Books
  6. The 2014 Texas Republican Platform
  7. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  8. Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
  9. More on Origin of Species
  10. When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?
     
  11. Abortion
  12. How to Convert Me Back to Christianity

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle

Ben CarsonBen Carson has apprently just won a GOP straw poll in Indiana, getting a whopping 67% of the votes (see Christian Post - Ben Carson Wins Polk County, Iowa GOP Presidential Straw Poll by a Landslide; Says ISIS Must be Dealt With). His next closest rival, Ted Cruz, only received 7%, with Rick Perry in third with 4%, followed by a scattering of of several other potential candidates. I know it's awfully early to start taking these types of polls too seriously, and I suppose it's somewhat good news that Cruz and Perry weren't in the lead, but Carson isn't a whole lot better.

I've mentioned Carson on this blog once before in the entry, Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address (with the local university being Midwestern State University, an otherwise respectable institution). I made note of some extremely ignorant statements Carson had made about evolution, as well as his well-known bigoted remarks against homosexuals.

With Carson's recent straw poll win making headlines, I decided to Google his name just to see what else he was up to, and came across an article he'd written about the recent Navy Bible kerfuffle, Atheists forgetting the meaning of freedom: Nonbelievers seek to impose their values by banning Bibles. For anyone unfamiliar with this issue, the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, has a pretty good article, After Atheists Blow the Whistle, U.S. Navy Says Bibles Must Be Removed from Base Hotel Rooms. Basically, hotels run by the Navy had Bibles in the night stands, which may seem fairly standard given that practically every hotel room in the U.S. has a Gideon's Bible, but the Navy is a government institution, and per the Establishment Clause, isn't supposed to endorse religion. The Freedom From Religion Foundation got on the case, and the Navy originally agreed to remove the Bibles, but seems to have backtracked for the time being (as detailed in verse by the Digital Cuttlefish, Armageddon Gets Results; Navy Puts Bibles Back In Hotel Rooms).

Now, while it would be nice to see the Navy keep Bibles out of hotel rooms, out of all the issues in the country today, this one's a pretty low priority. But you can guess that certain right wing Christians were outraged when the Navy first removed the Bibles, which brings us back to Carson's article. I'll start off with the quote that ties in most closely to politics, and the fact that Carson just might be a potential presidential candidate.

We must also go back and read the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. It says nothing about freedom from religion and, in fact, if you go back and look at the context and the lives of those involved in the crafting of our founding documents, it is quite apparent that they strongly believed in allowing their faith to guide their lives.

Yes Dr. Carson, we are guaranteed the freedom of not having religion imposed by the government. To quote the Constitution since you brought it up, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." That has been repeatedly interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that government cannot endorse religion. And putting the holy book of one particular religion in a government run facility is endorsing that religion.

I don't doubt that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians and deists who were strongly motivated by their faith in how they lived their lives. But that's separate from how they framed the government. It's very telling that there is no mention of God in the Constitution (other than the convention of the date - year of our Lord). The majority of the founders wanted a secular government, keeping religion and government separate so that neither would interfere in the other (more info - Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone).


This next passage is the worst one from the article, and what motivated me to write this entry.

This last sentence may seem out of place if you don't realize that atheism is actually a religion. Like traditional religions, atheism requires strong conviction. In the case of atheists, it's the belief that there is no God and that all things can be proven by science. It is extremely hypocritical of the foundation to request the removal of Bibles from hotel rooms on the basis of their contention that the presence of Bibles indicates that the government is choosing one religion over another. If they really thought about it, they would realize that removal of religious materials imposes their religion on everyone else.

That is just plain idiotic. If lack of religious materials imposes atheism, then I'm surrounded by atheist propaganda, from the weather report on the 10 o'clock news, to the donut shop on the corner, to the stop light on my way home. If they don't hang a crucifix at the intersection, they're shoving atheism down our throats!

If the FFRF were demanding copies of Why I Am Not a Christian, The God Delusion, or God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, then Carson could claim that they were imposing their beliefs on everyone else. But as it is, they're simply asking for religious neutrality.

He also seems to paint with a pretty broad brush in saying atheists believe "all things can be proven by science". Heck, I'm rather scientific minded myself, but even I wouldn't go that far. 'Science as the most reliable method of answering questions with objective answers?' Sure (see my article, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge). But it's not magic that will answer any and all questions ever posed. And there are plenty of atheists who aren't necessarily of a scientific bent (see for example, Massimo Pigliucci's article, On the scope of skeptical inquiry).


The FFRF even offered what seemed to me a good compromise, making Bibles available to the guests that wanted them, along with other religious materials for other guests. Carson didn't seem to like that idea.

Some atheists argue that there should be a library or cachet of religious material at the check-in desk of a hotel from which any guest could order a Bible, Torah or Koran for their reading pleasure. No favoritism would be shown through such a system, and those who reject the idea of God would not have to be offended. This is like saying there shouldn't be certain brands of bottled water in hotel rooms because there may be guests who prefer a different type of water or who are offended by bottled water and think that everybody should be drinking tap water. The logical answer to such absurdity would, of course, be that the offended individual could bring his own water or simply ignore the brand of water that he does not care for.

Except that choosing bottled water isn't a Constitutional issue like the Establishment Clause. Really, this type of complaint by Carson just drives home how much this issue is about privelege, and not freedom of religion. The FFRF offered a solution that still made Bibles available to Christians. Not only would a Christian have the right to 'bring his own water' in the form of a Bible, but the front desk would even have extra Bibles on hand for the Christian who forgot their own personal copy. If that's an unacceptable compromise, then you're really arguing for special treatment, not just freedom.


Here's a quote I couldn't resist turning around on Carson.

As a nation, we must avoid the paralysis of hypersensitivity, which will allow us to get nothing done because virtually everything offends someone. We need to distribute "big boy" pants widely to help the whiners learn to focus their energy in a productive way.

I agree with the sentences, but not what Carson meant by them. Some books were taken out of hotel rooms. No one is stopping you from taking in your own Bible to read. Put on your 'big boy pants' and get over it.


This final quote came from near the start of the article, but considering how the situation has turned out, I figure it goes better here at the end of this entry.

The surprise is not the hypocritical stance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but rather the fact that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics.

I wish I could say I was surprised "that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics", but that's the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country.


I wasn't impressed by Carson last year when MSU invited him to give the commencement address, and this recent article has only hurt his reputation in my eyes. If this is the best hope for a Republican presidential candidate for 2016, I sure hope the Democrats come up with somebody electable. (Maybe I'll just vote for Kodos.)

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Updated 2014-09-10: Added link to my Confidence in Scientific Knowledge essay.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Et Tu, NPR?

Two Bronze DoorsOkay - not NPR exactly, but KERA, the local public radio station. On my car ride in to work a couple days ago, I heard a story on KERA that should have been interesting, about a couple of art curators who work out of their rented house, turning it into a neighborhood art gallery / gathering place for artists. The opening of the article, Two Bronze Doors Creates A Home For Artists (And Maybe a Ghost?), describes the atmosphere pretty well:

Local band Dome Dwellers play to a small crowd in the living room of Two Bronze Doors under dim Christmas lights, surrounded by abstract paintings and sculptures.

It sounds like a cool place, and a story I'd be interested in hearing. But the story that should have been about the art and the people was marred by a diversion into the paranormal. Early on, there was a bit of discussion about the psychic who used to live in the house and who Foisset and Vaughan (the curators) had visited - brief enough as to not be too distracting, but an ominous sign of things to come (yes, I'm being melodramatic). Starting at 1 minute, 45 seconds, the story veered off in a direction I would have never expected from a respected news source.

And the house also might be haunted.

What followed was around 1 minute, 15 seconds worth of discussion about the supposed haunting of the house, in a piece that was only 3 minutes, 25 seconds long in total - over a third of the story! They even mentioned EVP for crying out loud. Why KERA? Why?

Paranormal complaints aside, the gallery does look interesting. Here are their website and Facebook links if you want to learn more.

Image Source: Two Bronze Doors Website (I have no idea who's performing)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kevin Sorbo Follow-Up

Kevin SorboI just posted an entry about Kevin Sorbo, Hercules Misunderstands Atheists - Responding to Kevin Sorbo. Referring to atheists, Sorbo wondered "how do you get so angry at something you don't believe in?" My entry was a response to that and some other of his comments, trying to explain what most atheists actually believe.

As is normal for me since I do this mostly on lunch breaks, it took me a little while to get that entry written. Well, in the time between when I read the article that prompted my entry and when I actually posted the entry, Sorbo himself has given another example of why atheists can sometimes become irritated. As described on The Raw Story, Sorbo was being interviewed on a radio talk show with some host named Rick Wiles (recording of relevant portion available at Right Wing Watch). After wondering why atheists get so angry, Wiles gave his opinion.

The truth is they know he exists and they hate him. That's what it's all about.

Sorbo agreed, and went on to add this.

I know these guys must believe in something, otherwise they wouldn't get so angry about it and they don't like the fact that there is a higher power out there that is judging how they live their life.

You know how to make someone angry? Call them a liar and imply that they have no sense of morality.

Anyway, there's not much more to add. I already explained in my previous entry why atheists get bothered by religion, so I'm not going to rehash that here. Sorbo and Wiles just provided another example that I hadn't listed before.

Image Source: Christian Post

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hercules Misunderstands Atheists - Responding to Kevin Sorbo

Kevin SorboI forget exactly how I found it (probably following a link in some comment section on another blog/website), but I recently read an article on the Christian Post about an interview with Kevin Sorbo, Actor Kevin Sorbo Not Too Fond of Atheists; Says They're Always 'So Angry'. He was talking about his recent role in the film, God's Not Dead, which was panned even by Creation.com.

I don't have anything against Kevin Sorbo in particular, but he expressed a couple views that seem fairly representative of a certain segment of the population, so it makes for a good springboard for a response. For example, here's one of his complaints about atheists.

I'm a Christian myself and had to play an atheist. I see the anger of these (atheist) guys on TV and it's like 'wow, how do you get so angry at something you don't believe in?

First of all, I'd like to know which atheists on TV are so angry? Taking a loose definition of atheism as lack of belief in gods (i.e. including people who might call themselves agnostics or 'nones'), here's a short list of 12 celebrity atheists - Brad Pitt, Kari Byron, Hugh Laurie, Julianne Moore, Kathy Griffin, Daniel Radcliffe, Angelina Jolie, Richard Branson, Jodi Foster, George Clooney, Natalie Portman, and Ricky Gervais. If you've ever seen Byron on Mythbusters, or seen an inteview with Branson, I don't think you'd call them angry. Even the atheist I've heard referred to as 'shrill' the most, Richard Dawkins, hardly seems like a ball of rage when you watch him on TV.

Second, the irritation that atheists do express is not at gods, but at religion, and particularly at instances where religion causes harm, people try to push religion where it doesn't belong, or where religion is given special privelege - all things that definitely do exist. I've already written an entry that touches on this, Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion, where I listed plenty of examples with links, some horrific like fire bombings or children being persecuted for being witches, others not horrific but still troubling like schools teaching creationism or churches spending large sums of money campaigning against marriage equality. If religion was all soup kitchens and homeless shelters, or even just spaghetti dinners and Christmas bazaars, religious debates could be mainly academic and philosophical. As soon as religious people quit causing so much trouble in the world, atheists will quit getting angry about religion.

It can also get a bit personal. As I've pointed out numerous times before, atheists are among the most mistrusted groups in the U.S. Here's an article from Scientific American that discusses several polls and studies with links to the sources, In Atheists We Distrust. Only around half of Americans would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who happened to be an atheist, a similar number would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist, and 40% of Americans think that atheists don't agree with their view of American society, making atheists more distrusted than any other minority asked about (not that it's a good thing that any of the other minorities are distrusted). So yeah, we can get a bit irritated sometimes.

Here's the other quote from the interview that caught my attention.

"It's funny how they can get nativity scenes pulled down because they say it offends them but they're offended by something they don't believe in. What offends 90 percent of the country is that they take down nativity scenes but apparently the majority doesn't have a voice in the country anymore so what are you going to do?

Sorbo does realize that the only nativity scenes that defenders of the First Amendment want to see pulled down are those on government property, right? Anyone that wants to put up a nativity scene on private property is free to do so, whether it's a business or a residence. They can make it as prominent as they want. And most interpretations I've seen of the First Amendment don't even outlaw nativity scenes, just the privileging of one religion over another. So as long as a government office/location/branch allows displays from other religions, they're allowed to put up their nativity displays.

My own favorite example of this and of how petty Christians can be involves the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport a few years ago. There's an article about the incident from ABC News, Airport Christmas Trees Gone After Rabbi's Request. The 'request' referred to in the headline was not removal of the trees, but rather the addition of menorahs. As Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky himself said in an interview, "Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people, the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season." But airport officials, rather than add a little diversity to their mid-winter holiday decorations, decided to just pull down all the Christmas trees. So if Sorbo wonders why people get upset by government endorsed religious displays, this is a perfect example. Had the airport truly wanted to represent the community, they would have put up displays from various religions practiced by community members. Their refusal to put up symbols from other religions shows that they were really just trying to privilege Christianity.

To point out another problem with Sorbo's statement, he seems to be assuming that everybody against government displays of religion is also an atheist. That's simply not the case at all. They're people who take the First Amendment seriously - atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, etc. The wall of separation runs both ways - not only preventing any "law respecting an establishment of religion", but also any law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof". It protects religious freedom by keeping government out of it.

And it's just laughable that Sorbo thinks "the majority doesn't have a voice in the country anymore". Speaking as a former Christian turned atheist, I never even realized just how ubiquitous Christianity was in culture while I was still a Christian, but it really jumps out at you when you no longer practice the religion - cashiers telling me to have a blessed day, PTA meetings starting off with prayers, Christmas decorations going up everywhere (besides government property) the day after Thanksgiving, someone standing at the head of the room to say grace at just about any public banquet, etc. Perhaps Sorbo's referring to a voice in the government. I'll just quote myself on this, something that I wrote back in 2008 in an entry on the War on Christmas, "Christians make up around 80% of the U.S. population. As far as representation in government, in the 109th Congress, there were 11 senators who didn't identify themselves as Christians (12 if you count Unitarians), and only 30 representatives in the House (32 if you count Unitarians). In other words, over 90% of the elected officials in the federal legislative branch are Christians." Continuing with that quote, but moving on to the highest office in the land, "You have to go back all the way to Taft to find a president who said, 'I do not believe in the divinity of Christ' (though he was still a Unitarian Christian), or all the way back to Lincoln to find a deist president, and it seems absurd to imagine a non-Christian being elected to that office anytime soon." And can you even imagine a presidential candidate who didn't end every speech by saying, "And God bless America"? So, as I finished up that passage, "Christians make up a very large segment of the population, and are actually over-represented in government. They are not an oppressed minority."


And as one last comment, this time actually a bit more personal directly at Sorbo, what type of actor can he be, to take on a role and try to perform it, when he admits flat out that he can't fathom the mindset of the character? Aren't actors supposed to have some understanding of the motivation of their characters? (Though to be honest, from what I've heard of this movie, I doubt anyone could have performed the role of the professor as written with an actual understanding of what most atheists believe.)


Like I said, I wrote this not because I have anything personal against Sorbo, but because these views seem to be fairly common, and so far off from the reality of what most atheists believe and how they act. Perhaps if enough people voice their objections to misconceptions like this, people will eventually start to realize their mistakes.

Image Source: Christian Post

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