Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain Chooses Palin

John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate.

The choice is absolutely brilliant. If there is any chance of wooing away lots of disgruntled female Hillary supporters this may be the best shot. The only problem is Palin’s pro-life position. Then again, you never know.

Palin, an ex-beauty pageant Miss Congeniality, is about to take away superstar status from Obama. The media is going to go absolutely crazy over her and Ann Coulter will probably shrivel into a clump of ash in jealousy.

On the down side, I'm not sure I can think of any one of the possible choices that may be less qualified to be President. Most of her experience is as the mayor of a town of 6,000 folks. This is a real consideration given that McCain is 72 years old.

Perhaps more importantly, no matter who wins, the country is about to have a first. Either we’re going to have an African-American or a woman on one of the two top rungs of political power.

I didn’t think McCain had the balls to pick Palin. Guess I was wrong (so what else is new?).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Death Penalty Update

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done one of these because I see no particular benefit in a litany of complaints, but good ol’ Texas, incompetence capital of the world, has managed to send me screaming down the hallway again.

We have not one, but two absurdities as reported by the Death Penalty Information Center.

First are the allegations that the judge and the prosecuting attorney were having an affair during the capital trial of death row inmate Charles Hood. Now, I don’t know anything about Hood’s case and he may well be guilty as hell but that doesn’t excuse what amounts to the flagrant flaunting of Texas law. The Texas Constitution prohibits a judge from sitting on a case that has either “affinity or consanguinity” with any of the parties.

The second is even more ridiculous. In granting a stay of execution to Jeff Wood, a federal judge called the rules which required an inmate to demonstrate he was insane before the state would assign him a psychologist and lawyer to show he was insane by definition “an insane system.”

Yep, only in Texas, home of the ultimate village idiot, could it be set up that way.

Wood is also the poor schmuck sentenced to death, under Texas’ “law of parties,” for a shooting which occurred while he was outside waiting in a car. Wood’s attorneys have argued that he didn’t even know that a robbery was going to be attempted never mind that a murder was going to take place (however, other reports indicate that not only did Wood know about the robbery, he knew about the gun).

Since executions resumed in May of 2008 after the Supreme Court decision approving the use of lethal injections there have been 20 executions. All of them have been in the South. Eight of them have been in Texas.

Since the resumption of executions in 1976, there have been 1,119 executions. 921 have been in the South and 413 have been in Texas.

Joe Biden for VP

The choice could have been better and probably could have been worse as well but Barack Obama did the single most important thing. He kept it conservative and didn’t do anything creative with his VP choice.

My only real problem with Biden is that he’s a veteran at putting his foot in his mouth and I’m sure we’ll get a few gaffs during the campaign. Here’s hoping they’re not fatal.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Religulous, the Movie

Religulous is the name of an upcoming documentary movie featuring Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles who also directed Borat. The name comes from combining “religion” and “ridiculous” so that should give you a pretty good idea of the movie’s theme.

Basically, unless it’s toned down significantly between now and its release date sometime in October, you can expect an all out satiric assault by Maher upon religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Lionsgate, the producer of the film, is clearly hoping it will cause howls of outrage which will fuel attendance at the box office. According to one preview I’ve read the film received high marks from film critics at an early screening for entertainment value.

It’s clear that the film intends to drop upon the general population bits of information that will come as surprises to most people including fairly educated ones. This information will include things like the almost non-existent evidence that Jesus actually existed, the anti-Christian sentiments of some of the nation’s founding fathers and the doubt over whether any of the gospel writers ever actually met Jesus and even over who the gospel writers were.

Some of this will be simple fact and some highly debatable, but all of it will be confirmable or deniable, and often both, with a simple flip of an Internet search engine.

The combination of Maher and Charles could be deadly. Maher has absolutely no hesitation about unleashing his caustic wit and religion is one of his favorite targets. Charles has made a name for himself in setting up unsuspecting folks to act as comedic foils and often making them look completely ridiculous in the process. From what I’ve read there will be some of this in the movie.

I don’t have a problem with a movie that attacks and ridicules religion. I do have a problem with the Larry Charles approach to involving unsuspecting schmucks to help out in the ridiculing. I consider this dishonest and the truth of the matter is that the average person stands no chance in a public verbal exchange with an experienced public speaker. Bill Maher, as both a television personality and stand up comedian, could probably make anyone look ridiculous.

If you volunteer for the whooping by agreeing to be interviewed, that’s one thing, but I don’t like it when folks are tricked into it. I wouldn’t like it if it were done to me so I don’t like to see the technique used on anyone else.

What do I think the effect of the movie will be? It’s hard to say. It could bring large numbers of closet atheists and agnostics out of the closet or it could result in a backlash if the humor is too caustic or too offensive.

Then again, given that we’ll be in the middle of what promises to be a red hot presidential race at the time, the whole thing may pass by with little more than a whimper.

Given the unpredictability of the outcome, I wish they’d wait until AFTER the election to release the movie.

I’ll probably want to go see it. Whether or not I’ll get the chance is a whole other story. If there is a furor over the thing, watch these pages for a review of the accuracy of the movie’s claims.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Questions for Evolutionists

I took these questions from one of those ministry web pages called Contender Ministries and they claim they are supplied by Kent Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism. The web site is making the argument that Evolutionists don’t know everything.

You don’t have to demonstrate that. No one ever said the Theory of Evolution had all the answers. For that matter, I’m not aware of any branch of science that claims to have all the answers. Nor does any branch of science claim that the answers it does have won’t change as new evidence is uncovered or as new interpretations are placed upon existing evidence.

All scientific conclusions are tentative and there is undoubtedly more that we don’t know about the universe than we do know. But that’s ok. We know more now than we did 100 years ago and, hopefully, we’ll know more in 100 years than we know now. The danger with accepting the “God of the gaps” solution that folks who ask questions like this would like us to accept is that we would have to be satisfied with being ignorant.

There were 26 Evolution questions, a lot of which would have gotten duplicate answers so rather than show them all I picked approximately every fifth one. I will admit that I skipped over one question that contained an unjustified assertion that I just wasn’t prepared to get into. So, here is a sample of the 26 questions along with my commentary.

Where did the space for the universe come from?

Damn good question and I have no idea. It could have always been there as a vacuum, it could have appeared as the result of a massive quantum fluctuation or God may have created it.

Like I said, I have no idea and Evolution doesn’t care. Evolution doesn’t care because this isn’t part of that theory. Evolution only comes into play after the appearance of the first living cell.

When, where, why, and how did life come from dead matter?

Another damn good question and the best I can say is a long time ago, in a primeval ocean, for no particular reason and as the result of a complex chemical reaction (do I get a brownie point for resisting the temptation to say a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away?).

The next time I see someone with expertise in Abiogenesis I’ll ask him what he thinks of my answers because this question is also outside of the Theory of Evolution. Again, Evolution only comes into play after the appearance of the first living cell.

Is it possible that similarities in design between different animals prove a common Creator instead of a common ancestor?

Yes, it’s possible. Perhaps God was the original cut and paste king. However, the similarities are explained at least as well, and more likely better, by a common ancestor.

A common ancestor also explains things that the idea of a designer can’t explain such as the existence of vestigial and apparently useless biological debris such as the remnants of a tail, the appendix, wisdom teeth, our poorly developed ear muscles and the eye’s nictitating membrane.

And yes I'm aware of new hypotheses that say the appendix may actually have a use either in the immune system or as a source of intestinal bacteria. When and if those hypotheses become widely accepted I'll remove the appendix from my list. I can personally guarantee you that wisdom teeth are useless because I was born without them.

How would evolution explain mimicry? Did the plants and animals develop mimicry by chance, by their intelligent choice, or by design?

Evolution explains mimicry it the same way that it explains any other trait. It evolved as a positive adaptation that gave some survival benefit and emerged most likely as the result of convergent evolution. In other worlds, the mimic doesn’t consciously mimic the model, but rather both evolved similar characteristics in a common environment and since the mimic’s characteristics imparted a survival advantage they were passed on to subsequent generations.

How did flowering plants evolve, and from what?

Undoubtedly from non-flowering plants and, again, through mutations that gave competitive advantages. As for the details, well, to be honest, no one really knows.

This was a poser to Darwin himself who called the question of how flowers evolved an “abominable mystery.” But the fossil record has grown a bit since Darwin’s time and the discovery of various early angiosperm fossils have led to a number of possible explanations none of which however is currently widely accepted.

That’s a long winded way of saying that the answer to this question is as yet unknown. Note that the important word in that last sentence is “yet” and not “unknown.”

Not knowing the detailed answers to questions is ok. It’s not a reason to fall back upon “God did it.” We know more today than we knew yesterday and, hopefully, we’ll know more tomorrow than we do today.

Do you honestly believe that everything came from nothing?

No. Everything undoubtedly came from something but I’ll be damned if I know what it was or how the heck it came about. The whole concept of quantum fluctuations gives me a headache.

But, for the third time, this has nothing to do with Evolution. By the time the Theory of Evolution kicks in there are lots and lots of things around.

There was one question which didn’t get selected when I took one out of five but I felt compelled to address it.

When, where, why, and how did man evolve feelings? Love, mercy, guilt, etc. would never evolve in the theory of evolution.

There is both a question and an assertion here. The assertion is flat out not true. Love, mercy, guilt, etc. would certainly evolve if they provide a survival advantage and that’s also the answer to why they evolved.

Feelings are a pre-requisite for successful social inter-action and social inter-action has clear survival benefits. If you don’t believe that feelings are an evolved physical trait then please explain to me the existence of sociopaths?

A sociopath exhibits extreme anti-social behavior and is generally recognized to act in a destructive manner that can be harmful both to the sociopath and to others. The exact cause of sociopathy is unknown but what is known is that if one or more parents have the disorder, then the probability that their child will have it is significantly increased.

In other words it is exactly that sort of inherited trait that Natural Selection, which is the answer to “how,” would tend to weed out. So, if anti-social behavior is an evolved trait, then clearly social behavior would be one as well.

Here’s a question going back the other way, why would a designer feel it necessary to create a sociopath?

As for when and where, who knows and does it really matter?

After the “tough questions” above which were clearly designed to shake one acceptance of Evolution (*cough, cough*), the web site hits you with a list of questions clearly intended to make you re-evaluate your sinful existence. I found these so entertaining that I included the entire list (except for the last one which simply asked if I was ready to mend my ways).

Are you sure your answers are reasonable, right, and scientifically provable, or do you just believe that it may have happened the way you have answered? (Do these answers reflect your religion or your science?)

I’m sure my answers are reasonable. As to whether they’re right or not, I feel reasonably confident, but if evidence is discovered which shows they’re wrong I can accept that without getting upset about it. Can you say the same thing about your answers? Can you even accept evidence which contradicts your answers or do you always have to explain it away?

“Scientifically provable” is an oxymoron. Science doesn’t “prove” stuff unless it’s within the domain of mathematics or logic. All scientific conclusions are tentative and simply represent the best explanation for the existing evidence as it is currently understood. Any scientific conclusion could change with new evidence or better explanations for existing evidence.

That being the case, these answers clearly reflect my science. But you don’t seem to understand what science is, or how it works, which is why you mistakenly think it’s a religion.

Do your answers show more or less faith than the person who says, "God must have designed it"?

My answers don’t show any “faith” because they're not beliefs based upon no evidence which is the definition of "faith." My answers do exhibit CONFIDENCE however. Confidence in the effectiveness of the scientific method based upon the evidence of technology which is all around us. Note that my conclusions are based upon evidence and not "faith." I don't have any "faith" and therefore clearly someone who has any “faith” must have more than I do.

Is it possible that an unseen Creator designed this universe? If God is excluded at the beginning of the discussion by your definition of science, how could it be shown that He did create the universe if He did?

Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible but it’s also irrelevant to Evolution. One more time, Evolution only kicks in after the universe is created and the first cell has appeared. Perhaps God created a universe with the potential for life and then let the chips fall where they may?

Science by definition only deals in Naturalistic Explanations. Metaphysical and Supernatural explanations are beyond the ability of science to deal with. That’s why things like “Creation Science” and “Intelligent Design” are by definition not science.

Science can neither “prove” nor “disprove” God. As a matter of fact the question isn’t even one that science is capable of addressing. But religion can’t either, nor can religion define the attributes of God if He (She? It?) exists. The difference is that science understands its limitations and religion does not.

Is it wise and fair to present the theory of evolution to students as fact?

Yes, because the Theory of Evolution, as far as it goes, is considered a scientific fact. However lots of stuff, such as the origin of the universe and the origin of life, are not within the scope of Evolution despite your belief that they are.

What is the end result of a belief in evolution (lifestyle, society, attitude about others, eternal destiny, etc.)?

There is no end result other than the acceptance of the scientific theory. People don’t have a “belief” in a scientific theory, they simply either accept the theory as the best current explanation of the facts as we understand them or they don’t.

Lifestyle, society, attitude about others and eternal destiny are not derived from the Theory of Evolution any more than they are derived from the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Relativity.

Do people accept evolution because of the following factors?

a. It is all they have been taught. (No, almost everyone I know, including myself, has also been taught the biblical explanation).

b. They like the freedom from God (no moral absolutes, etc.). (No, accepting or rejecting the merits of Evolution has absolutely nothing to do with the existence or lack of moral absolutes. Lots of folks accept Evolution and also accept the existence of moral absolutes).

c. They are bound to support the theory for fear of losing their job or status or grade point average. (Not that I’m aware of unless understanding the Theory of Evolution is necessary to perform their jobs. I might also point out a subtle change here from “accept” to “support” and the latter implies doing so without accepting.)

d. They are too proud to admit they are wrong. (LOL! Talk about the shoe calling the kettle black! No, I doubt it because their entire philosophy of life wouldn’t collapse if they had to exchange one theory for another.)

e. Evolution is the only philosophy that can be used to justify their political agenda. (Possibly, but it’s been my experience that it’s much easier, and far more effective, to use religion to justify any kind of political agenda than it is to use science.)

Should we continue to use outdated, disproved, questionable, or inconclusive evidences to support the theory of evolution because we don’t have a suitable substitute?

LOL, talk about a loaded question! No, we shouldn’t nor do we (whoever “we” might be).

One of the beauties of the Scientific Method is that it’s eventually self correcting. I say “eventually” because clearly it takes time for new developments to saturate society so it’s not unusual to sometimes find outdated hypotheses or conclusions since overtaken by events still being presented as the latest and greatest.

Nor is it that unusual for people to hang onto cherished hypotheses or conclusions long past their usefulness, sometimes even fighting off overwhelming evidence to the contrary. People are, and will always be, people, and they can develop emotional attachments to the strangest things.

Should parents be allowed to require that evolution not be taught as fact in their school system unless equal time is given to other theories of origins (like divine creation)?

The Theory of Evolution is the current scientific state of the art in developmental biology and I know of no competing scientific theory. Therefore, in science, Evolution should be taught exclusively. Elsewhere, there is no reason not to teach that not everyone accepts the scientific state of the art as definitive or accurate. For instance, this would clearly be a valid topic for a contemporary sociology class.

What are you risking if you are wrong? As one of my debate opponents said, "Either there is a God or there is not. Both possibilities are frightening."

I’m not risking anything. Despite the fact that some Christians try to tie Evolution to morality that’s a total non sequitur.

Why are many evolutionists afraid of the idea of creationism being presented in public schools? If we are not supposed to teach religion in schools, then why not get evolution out of the textbooks? It is just a religious worldview.

Religion is religion and science is science and one shouldn’t be taught as the other. Despite your statement that Evolution is a “religious worldview” it’s not. It’s simply a scientific theory which attempts to explain the wide variety of life found on planet earth.

It’s nothing more and nothing less. It’s religion that keeps trying to promote Evolution into something it’s not.

If anyone is “afraid” of anything it’s that letting religion water down the already inadequate science education is this country will render the United States a scientific backwater capable of doing little more than watching as Asia and the European Union make the scientific advances so vital to the future.

Aren’t you tired of faith in a system that cannot be true? Wouldn’t it be great to know the God who made you, and to accept His love and forgiveness?

Sigh. Do you see what I mean about Christian dishonesty? Who says it “cannot be true?” Sure it would be great if there were a loving and benevolent God that made me and that I could know him but YOU can’t provide that information so why are you pretending that you can?

Well, that was fun. To be honest with you I was a bit surprised at the gapping knowledge holes demonstrated by some of the questions.

Regardless of how you feel about Evolution understand a few fundamental facts.

Fact #1 – The Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory. It is not a religion; it is not a world view. Acceptance of Evolution does not carry with it any obligation to be liberal rather than conservative, immoral rather than moral or an atheist rather than God fearing.

Fact #2 – The Theory of Evolution does not address the creation of the universe nor does it address the origins of life. The former is the province of Cosmology and the latter of Abiogenesis. Evolution only enters the stage after the universe exists, earth has formed and the first living cell has emerged from the primeval ooze.

Fact #3 – It’s ok to say I don’t know. There are lots of things we don’t know about the universe. The things we don’t know probably outnumber the things we do know. However, just because we don’t know the answer YET doesn’t mean we should fall back upon “GOD DID IT.” That’s religion’s answer to everything. But if everyone had accepted it, we’d still be living in the dark ages and burning witches and heretics.

Fact #4 – The scientific method works. It is inconceivable that using this methodology science can be so right about physics, chemistry, astronomy and every other branch of science not significantly influenced by Evolution yet so wrong about biology, zoology, paleontology and any other science that is influenced by the Theory of Evolution.

Mental Gymnastics and the City of Tyre

Never engage in a conversation with a Christian Apologist without an adequate supply of aspirin because you’re about to get dizzy.

Conservative Christians have this little problem. They have declared that the bible is the inerrant word of God. Therefore, if ANYTHING in the bible is false, the entire foundation of their religion collapses because if anything in the bible is false, why not everything?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Catholicism and Liberal Protestantism don’t take such a rigid position and therefore can shrug off inaccuracies and contradictions that don’t impact key doctrines. Your trailer park variety Fundamentalist Protestant however can’t. He’s forced to hold the line and defend every syllable as 100% accurate. This leads to arguments and assertions that are often mind boggling. Those of us familiar with such arguments give them the label “Mental Gymnastics.”

Let’s talk about Tyre. Tyre is a city in Lebanon that sits on the Mediterranean coast. Its location has both been the city’s greatest blessing and its greatest curse. In times of peace it has allowed Tyre to be a prosperous trading city and one of the hubs of Mediterranean commerce. Unfortunately, the city’s prosperity has also attracted invaders and here’s where the bible gets into the picture.

In the 6th century BCE the major powers in the area were Babylon and Egypt and the two would fight a series of engagements over the possession of Syria and Canaan. Tyre and Judah were two of the peas caught between these millstones.

In 605 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, then crown prince of Babylon, defeated the Egyptians at Carchemesh and extended Babylon’s sphere of influence through Canaan at the expense of Egypt. Eventually Damascus, Tyre, Sidon and Judah would submit to Babylonian sovereignty and agree to pay a yearly tribute.

In 601 BCE Nebby got overly ambitious and invaded Egypt itself. For his trouble he got his nose bloodied by the Egyptian army and retreated with heavy losses. Judah took this opportunity to rebel against Babylonian rule but Jerusalem was taken in 597 BCE and the current king, Jehoiakim, and his court were deported to Babylon. It didn’t help to keep Judah pacified though. Another rebellion occurred in 589 BCE and this time the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and a good chunk of the population was carried off into what is known as the Babylonian Captivity. Nebby then turned his attention to Tyre who apparently had also engaged in rebellion.

It’s at this point in time that Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the fate of Tyre occurs and it can be found in Ezekiel 26.

Essentially Ezekiel predicts the destruction of the city.

Ezekiel 26:3 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.

Ezekiel 26:4 They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock.

Ezekiel then makes it pretty clear who is going to be doing the destroying

Ezekiel 26:7 For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army.

Ezekiel 26:8 He will ravage your settlements on the mainland with the sword; he will set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you.

Ezekiel 26:11 The hoofs of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground.

Ezekiel 26:12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea.

Finally, Ezekiel gets to the bottom line.

Ezekiel 26:14 I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Looks pretty straightforward right? So Nebby must have flattened Tyre and it must have disappeared off the face of the earth right? Well, not quite.

Nebuchadnezzar did siege Tyre and he did destroy the suburbs of the city on the mainland, but the major portion of the city, which was on what was at that time an island, survived 13 years of siege and eventually signed a negotiated treaty with the Babylonians.

So, this is a clear example of a failed biblical prophecy right? Well, not according to your Christian Apologist it isn’t. You see it can’t be, because if it were, the entire fabric of Conservative Christianity collapses.

One of the problems with Ezekiel 26 is the rampant pronoun confusion. The thing is a mish mash of first person singular, third person singular and third person plural switching from one to the other often from sentence to sentence. This is enough to open the door for the Apologist.

Consider the phrase “I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves” from Ezekiel 26:3. To the Apologist this is not a reference to the polyglot army of the Babylonian Empire crashing against the walls of Tyre, but to a series of invasions and sieges, of which Nebuchadnezzar’s is only the first, which would eventually lead to the destruction of the city. The fact that there is absolutely nothing to justify this interpretation other than the circular justification of “the bible has to be right” doesn’t embarrass them one bit.

Most Apologists point to Alexander the Great’s successful conquest and sack of the city by building a causeway from the mainland to the island in 332 BCE as the ultimate culmination of the prophecy. Never mind that Tyre recovered rather quickly from Alexander’s assault and continued to be a prosperous city throughout Greek and Roman times.

Never mind also that it makes absolutely no sense for the retribution of contemporary sins to take place 250 years in the future nor any sense for Ezekiel 27 to contain a lament for Tyre, and Ezekiel 28 a prophecy against the king of Tyre, if the fruition of the original prophecy was going to be deferred until Alexander’s conquest.

If Tyre can be said to have been destroyed, that would have been in 1291 CE when the Muslims recaptured the city from the Crusaders. That was one sack too many and the city never recovered. Today Tyre, also known by the Turkish name Sur, is a modest resort town of around 120,000 people. That’s about three times the population of the city during its “Golden Years.”

Well what about the statement in Ezekiel 26:14 that the city will become bare rock and “never be rebuilt?”

No problem to the Apologist. He has a long list of arguments starting with whether the major portions of the city were on the mainland or the island, continuing with arguments about Alexander’s causeway, due to the accumulation of silt, becoming a permanent land mass and ending with the shifting over the years of the Mediterranean coastline and the lack of walls around the current city to demonstrate that the prophecy really has been fulfilled and Tyre, as it was, never was rebuilt.

Uh-huh, yeah, right. Now performing on the mental pommel horse…

Nothing in one’s training or experience prepares one to deal with such a line of argument. Is it POSSIBLE the Apologist’s arguments are correct? Sure it’s possible. It’s also possible I’m going to find a check for $100 million waiting for me on the front seat of my car when I go home this evening but I’m not quitting my day job in the expectation of finding it.

Just to further confuse the issue, in Ezekiel 29 there are some related prophecies pertaining to Egypt.

Ezekiel 29:8 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will bring a sword against you (Egypt) and kill your men and their animals.

Ezekiel 29:9 Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

Ezekiel 29:11 No foot of man or animal will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years.

How and why was this all going to come about? Well, it was to recompense Nebby for his loses at Tyre.

Ezekiel 29:18 Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; every head was rubbed bare and every shoulder made raw. Yet he and his army got no reward from the campaign he led against Tyre.

Ezekiel 29:19 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will carry off its wealth. He will loot and plunder the land as pay for his army.

Ezekiel 29:20 I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD.

One would think that if the pagan Nebuchadnezzar was acting for “the Lord” in marching against Tyre that “the Lord” could have helped him out a little bit wouldn’t one?

The prophecy against Egypt isn’t quite as famous as the one against Tyre. One way I’ve seen Apologists attempt to address this is to separate the early devastation portions from the later Babylon will conquer portions. This despite a rather clear indication in Ezekiel 30:10 that they are tied together.

Ezekiel 30:10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will put an end to the hordes of Egypt by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

Once separated the Apologist may insist that the devastation portion hasn’t come to pass yet but is a prophecy of the end times yet to come and that Babylon did conquer Egypt!

An alternative argument is that Babylon conquered Egypt and the 40 year desolation did occur as the Babylonians exiled the Egyptians as they did the Jews!

Well, at least according to Herodotus that’s total nonsense. Egypt was under the rule of Amasis II at that time, carried on significant trade with the Greek city states, and defeated the incursion of the Babylonians only to fall to the Persians in 525 BCE.

Apologists will point to the uncertainty about some things during this time as meaning anything could be uncertain which isn’t true at all. Just because there aren’t clear records about which years a king ruled or whether there were two or three rulers in a given span of time doesn’t mean that the world would have missed 40 years of total desolation in one of the most important countries in the region!

Besides, not even the Babylonians ever claimed they conquered Egypt.

By the way, let me say a word about the Babylonian Captivity. Despite a popular conception that every single Jew was hauled off to Babylon, the reality is that it was limited to the ruling and “useful” classes. The Babylonians had little need for the average Judean peasant but educated or skilled workers were valuable. If everyone had been hauled off to Babylon some other people would have filled in the vacuum long before Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple. If such a thing was impossible to do with the tiny land of Judah, how much more impossible would it have been with the much larger and more heavily populated Egypt?

The Apologist’s stock in trade is a string of speculation and wishful thinking. Maybe this, maybe that, there’s no definitive proof against it therefore it could have happened the way the bible says, there is uncertainty about some things so why not about other things and so on and so forth. If you start with a fixed conclusion that the bible must be correct, then there must be some explanation that makes it so. Of course if you don’t start with that conclusion, you don’t have to waste your time looking for that explanation.

If it were one or two things, I’d say the Apologists might have a reasonable case, but the list goes on, and on, and on and on. The chances that the arguments are right about everything are so close to zero as to not make any difference.

The Apologist's approach runs totally counter to the Scientific Method and is one of the things that makes Conservative Christianity so dangerous. If the bible is always right, then it has to be right regardless of where the evidence points you. You’ll excuse me if I prefer my doctors to ignore that philosophy because one thing that I am absolutely certain of is that the Scientific Method works.

If you have any doubt about that simply look around you at technology, the offspring of science, which would be impossible if it didn’t work. If you want to believe things like Ezekiel’s prophecy about Tyre has been fulfilled, be my guest; just don’t expect me to “respect” you for it.

However, when you let the nonsense you believe allow you to think you can impact things that affect those outside your bubble of delusion that’s where you’re going to have a problem. Your beliefs don’t give you the right to dictate anything to the rest of us because, to be quite honest, we think your beliefs are silly.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Concert too Sexy?

According to the AP this AM a conservative Muslim group in Malaysia is petitioning the government to cancel an Avril Lavigne concert because they claim that the Canadian singer’s moves are “too sexy.”

A quote from a party official stated "We don't want our people, our teenagers, influenced by their performance. We want clean artists, artists that are good role models."

Well, if that is your opinion, you are entitled not to attend the concert and not to allow your children to attend the concert. My question is why does religion feel the necessity to force its opinion on everyone else?

Perhaps others disagree with your assessment. What gives you the right to decide for everyone?

I don’t even know who Avril Lavigne is, and I probably wouldn’t be caught dead at one of her concerts myself, but I’m not about to try and make that decision for everybody.

Yes, yes, I understand the concept that some things can have a negative impact on society as a whole and therefore it is reasonable to work for prohibition in order to avoid the bad effects of that negative impact. The problem is identifying which things matter and which things don’t.

The problem here is that there is no consolidated opinion on what constitutes a “negative impact.” If there where, then no one would attend the concert anyway so clearly there is significant disagreement, at least enough to make it financially worthwhile to hold the concert in the first place.

So I go back to my original, question, what gives religion the right to decide for everyone?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jerome Corsi is at it Again

Just like I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have Ann Coulter as a member, I wouldn’t want to belong to any that would have Jerome Corsi as a member either.

Corsi is engaging in the same strategy against Barack Obama he used so successfully against John Kerry. Sling a bunch of unsubstantiated mud against the candidate knowing that some of the mud will stick because by the time everyone finds out it is unmitigated nonsense it will be too late.

Even today people quote the discredited garbage claimed in “Unfit to Command” as reasons why they didn’t vote for John Kerry. Freedom of Speech allows you to express your own opinion, it does not allow you to make up your own facts and that, in my humble opinion, is precisely what Corsi is doing.

At least this time around folks are jumping to criticize the book immediately any saying that the drivel in the book is obviously racially based nonsense. From the excerpts I’ve read, it’s a blatant attempt to scare white Middle America. I mean hell, what’s next, a resurrection of the movie Putney Swope claiming what Swope did to the business he became head of Obama would do to the country?

I’m waiting to hear a repudiation of the book from the Republicans and in particular from John McCain. So far the silence has been deafening. If no repudiation ever comes, you’ll understand why I don’t ever vote Republican.

By the by, Simon and Schuster should be ashamed of themselves for publishing the filthy thing.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Forged Al-Qaeda Letter?

Author Ron Suskind, in his latest book, is claiming that not only did the Bush administration know unequivocally that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but that they ordered the CIA to forge a letter from the Iraqi head of security tying Iraq to Al-Qaeda and the 911 attacks.

Why doesn’t this shock me? It doesn’t shock me because I’ve come to expect both a total disregard for law, decency, competence and the American people from this rogue administration.

The Bush Administration has been the greatest disaster in American History and I have this really bad feeling that we’re all going to be so relieved when it’s gone that we’ll let them get away with it.

I don’t know if these charges are true. Even Bush is entitled to be innocent until proven guilty, but if they are, then we should lock up the whole crew, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Rice and anyone else who knew about this, and throw away the key.

Either that or we should find a stout oak tree and hang the bastards. How about we let the families of the over 4,000 dead American soldiers decide?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Eid al-Fitr Rather than Labor Day

Apparently a Tyson Foods plant in Shelbyville Tennessee, as part of a labor contract negotiation, has agreed to substitute a paid holiday for Eid al-Fitr in exchange for Labor Day.

To say this has caused a bit of a stir would be an accurate statement. Mostly the reaction is negative and spawning everything from nasty letters to the union and Tyson as well as calls to boycott the company. Apparently lots of folks seem upset that accommodations are being made for Islam while Christianity is pushed to the sidelines in schools and the work place.

Really? I don’t know about you but I get Good Friday as a paid holiday as well as Christmas.

The fact is that it’s not unusual to make accommodations when there is a local majority or large minority. In the New York City area it’s not unusual for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, to be a school holiday.

To my mind this is democracy and Freedom of Religion working the way it should work. There are a large number of Muslims working at the Shelbyville plant and the rank and file voted to accept the new contract by a margin of 80%.

So what’s the problem?

Wow it’s been a Long Time

Time flies doesn’t it? Sigh, it seems I never have time to rant and rave anymore. Besides I’ve been away.

I’ve been to “Sin City.” After hitting the Grand Canyon I spent a few days in Las Vegas. I find it a little hard to believe that anyplace would pride itself on being called “Sin City” but Vegas appears to be content. It’s certainly a place one should see at least once. If nothing else, the scale of the place is impressive as is the effectiveness of the theme illusions. Paris, New York, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and Venetian themes are all scrunched together along the strip.

But man is it hot. The mercury hit 114 degrees while I was there and I don’t want to hear about dry heat. Try sticking your head in an oven set to 114 degrees.

The last time I was in Vegas was 25 years ago and the place is totally different but I can dispel the rumors that it's evolving toward a more family oriented environment. My overall impression was Times Square plopped on top of Atlantic City with a couple of handfuls of fraternity house thrown it. The last part comes from the empty drink glasses and beer bottles that tend to pile up during the night (but which somehow miraculously disappear by the next morning). I have no idea why anyone would bring young children to Las Vegas.

I randomly chose the Luxor to stay at and was underwhelmed. We spent most of our time at the Excalibur and were most impressed by the Bellagio.

I actually ended up about $6 ahead in the gambling department. I play video poker so it’s hard for me to win or lose a large amount. I was down when I drew 3 Aces to a single Ace hold on the last hand. Since getting 4 Aces from nothing is so ridiculously improbable I decided to call it a day.

Now what Vegas really needs is a Christian themed resort. I’ve got a name for it, "The Holy Land Hotel and Casino" and I’m working out the details. I guarantee you it will be exciting. Then I’ll just have to locate financing.