discussing intelligent design on the galapagos islands

The following is an excerpt from Michael Shermer’s article in Scientific American, entitled “The Woodstock of Evolution,” concerning the World Summit on Evolution which was held recently in the Galapagos Islands. (Thanks to Gretchen for the link.)

Charles Darwin famously described the origin of species as the “mystery of mysteries,” a phrase he cribbed from the astronomer John Herschel, whom Darwin visited in Capetown, South Africa during the five-year round-the-world voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. The meeting happened a few months after Darwin departed the Galapagos islands, at which point he had not yet solved the “grand mystery,” despite the myth that Darwin first understood the mechanism of evolution in this magnificent archipelago. Darwin was, in fact, a creationist throughout the voyage, and did not accept evolution until he discovered natural selection a full 10 months after leaving the Galapagos, when he was home working intensely on his collections. The Galapagos were an after-the-fact inspiration, and he could have kicked himself for not taking better notes while he was there….

I was slated as the keynote entertainment for Saturday night, and gave a lecture on Intelligent Design creationism. Since I certainly did not need to explain evolution to this eminent group, I focused instead on the IDers own works, beginning with their intellectual leader (these are slides from my Powerpoint presentation):

“Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments. Whereas the creator underlying scientific creationism conforms to a strict, literalist interpretation of the Bible, the designer underlying intelligent design need not even be a deity.” –William Dembski, The Design Revolution, 2003

Baloney. (I used a stronger descriptor this evening.) The fact is that virtually all Intelligent Design creationists are Evangelical Christians who privately believe that ID and God are one and the same. There is nothing wrong with that, but if they would at least be honest about it I would respect them more. In point of fact, this is just a public facade constructed for public school consumption. In other venues they are forthright. For example:

“Thus, in its relation to Christianity, intelligent design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration.” –William Dembski, “Intelligent Design’s Contribution to the Debate over Evolution: A Reply to Henry Morris,” 2005

“The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.'” –Phillip Johnson, “Missionary Man.” Church & State magazine, 1999

As I also demonstrated in my talk, IDers are disingenuous about their “science.” They are not doing science and they know it. To wit:

“Because of ID’s outstanding success at gaining a cultural hearing, the scientific research part of ID is now lagging behind.” –William Dembski, “Research and Progress in Intelligent Design,” 2002 conference on Intelligent Design

“We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’–but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.” –Dr. Paul Nelson. “The Measure of Design.” Touchstone magazine, 2004.

To drive home the point, I show that even Christian biologists have no use for ID, as in this observation from Dr. Lee Anne Chaney, Professor of Biology at the Christian-based Whitworth College, from their house publication Whitworth Today, 1995:

“As a Christian, part of my belief system is that God is ultimately responsible. But as a biologist, I need to look at the evidence. Scientifically speaking, I don’t think intelligent design is very helpful because it does not provide things that are refutable–there is no way in the world you can show it’s not true. Drawing inferences about the deity does not seem to me to be the function of science because it’s very subjective.”

I then summarized the cognitive style of ID thusly:
1. X looks designed
2. I can’t think of how X was designed naturally
3. Therefore X was designed supernaturally

This is the old “God of the Gaps” argument: wherever there is a gap in scientific knowledge, God is invoked as the causal agent. This is comparable to the “Plane problem” of Isaac Newton’s time: the planets all lie in a plane (the plane of the ecliptic). Newton found this arrangement to be so improbable that he invoked God as an explanation in Principia Mathematica: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Why don’t IDers use this argument any more? Because astronomers have filled that gap with a natural explanation.

I also summarized ID in practice thusly:
1. Scientists do not accept ID as science
2. Therefore ID is not taught in public school science classes
3. I think ID is science
4. Therefore I will lobby the government to force teachers to teach ID as science

This is what I call the “God of the Government” argument: if you can’t convince teachers to teach your idea based on its own merits, ask the government to force teachers to teach it. By analogy, in the early 1990s, I published a series of articles applying chaos and complexity theory to history. It is, of sorts, a theory of history, and I had high hopes that historians would adopt my theory, put it to practice, and perhaps even teach it to their students. They haven’t. Maybe I didn’t communicate my theory very clearly. Maybe my theory is wrong. Should I go to my congressman to complain? Should I lobby school board members to force history teachers to teach my theory of history? See how absurd this sounds? I particularly like this approach to ID because most IDers are Christians, most Christians are politically conservative, and most conservatives are in favor of small government. In fact, I close my lecture with an analogy between natural selection in nature and the invisible hand in the economy, where both produce design complexity without a top-down designer. Since most conservatives understand and support the workings of free markets, they should intuitively embrace the analogy.

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51 Comments

  1. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I’m encouraged by the growth of the Unintelligent Design movement, which argues that life is so botched that it must have been created by an idiot. 99 percent of all species on earth, for example, have gone extinct, which does seem like shoddy work.

    Whales have hipbones; hyenas give birth through the clitoris; we get cancer: is that clever?

    We can assume, though, that since we are created in God’s image, he/she is like us, only bigger and more vaporous; and shares our enormous catalogue of physical, mental, and emotional diseases. I say “he/she,” because our God is a jealous God, and would not want to miss any of the rich bounty of dumb ideas designed for both sexes. It must be hard to keep your mind on making a proper dodo when plagued by both erectile dysfunction and menstrual cramps.

    Furthermore, Unintelligent Design believers can win any debate by dismissing all criticism as “too intellectual.”

  2. Shanster
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Doug-You don’t have to worry about anybody dismissing your criticism as “too intellectual”. Prejudiced, biased, demeaning, and smarmy, maybe. The debate is raging on plenty of other websites (from philosphical to ultra-geeky astrophysics), and no one has the trump card. Your citation of the typical vestigial organs idea tells me you are probably just repeating what you’ve read, but I could be wrong. If you’re knowledgeable about the biological material, then you know about Bergman and Howe who have written at length about them. Their claims cannot be simply dismissed. Sorry, gotta go.

  3. Teddy Glass
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Howe was the little puppet that sat on Bergman’s lap, right?

  4. Posted July 27, 2005 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t the devil give us appendixes and bury the dinosaur bones?

  5. Posted July 27, 2005 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    The thing is Shanster, I am fairly religious and in my own state of faith I have some potentially interesting, albeit scientifically unprovable theories about how stuff came to be and how stuff works. These theories are based on my belief structures. I would NEVER expect to force them into discussion/curriculum in schools.
    Discuss it with people who were actually interested outside of work or school, maybe, or maybe not, it’s really pretty personal stuff. But to knock on strangers doors, or stand shouting on streetcorners trying to force people to hear them or talk about it to children without their parents express consent or any other form of evangelizing. No, never. That’s supremely intrusive.
    You know, there ARE other religions with other theorems besides a creator god present in this country, do I think giving them all equal time makes it all ok? No, because public school is not the place to discuss religion other than its impact on world events past and present.

  6. chris
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Stella, Shanster and I had this conversation a while back. That being, other creation myths presented in a school setting. His argument seemed to be that it would be pointless to present them as the individuals representing (he gave the example of Hindus)the culture of said creation myth would not be represented enough in whatever public school to defend the credence of that myth. This response left me essentially nonplussed.

    And of course, when Roberts’ nomination slimes through, busing for the purposes of desegregation will become a moot point (not that it isn’t already) Shanster will be right. I am quite sure that the schools he hopes his children attend will not have any children representing cultures other than his own.

    Shanster, like Galt, seems to throw up contradictory subterfuge but without the antagonism. I spend to much time trying to reason with these guys. Since I do not plan on moving to an exurb any time soon I should think that we will never be neighbors so why the hell should I care.

  7. Jim
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    If I recall correctly, Shanster is female, and I think that she has shown herself to be sincerely interested in engaging other readers in conversation. I thought that Doug’s comment was quite witty, but I can’t fault Shanster for finding it offensive.

  8. Shanster
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Chris – Back up. I hope my children attend schools with a good diversity representing all of the US. I live in an integrated suburban area, my children’s best friends and classmates have a wide range of cultures. I also hope they learn about the different Philosophies about the origin of life, and can discuss them intelligently and respectfully. BTW, is busing the correct spelling, or should it be bussing?

  9. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Shanster — Actually, my comment was meant as a one-shot joke; I assumed it was too silly to be taken seriously.

    Yes, the debate will still go on. There are many biological oddities that also point to design — the precise warming features of polar bear fur, the hollow on the back of cuckoo chicks that facilitates disposal of host eggs, and so on. If you’re interested, William Corliss, a tireless researcher of scientific anomalies, has compiled many of them in his fascinating “Sourcebooks.”

    You do realize, don’t you, that we will simply never know?

    You missed the point of my last phrase. Since the theory I proposed was stupid, and supposed a stupid God, any criticism of it could be dismissed as not stupid enough. I just thought that was funny; since I don’t know anyone who actually believes in a stupid God, I don’t see how it insults anyone. I too must go now.

  10. Shanster
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, Doug. I guess I was just in a more serious mood and missed the humor, thinking instead you were making fun of God. My over-defensive bad.

  11. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Shanster — You did seem to take my squib more seriously than I did! No harm done, I hope.

    On a more serious note — Since we can never know how life began and developed, the wisest course is probably to suspend judgment and keep speculating. That’s not a popular attitude in this culture, but I think it makes sense.

    Charles Fort put it nicely: “For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert.”

    As for making fun of God — if there actually is a God as flawed and foolish as man, it must be pretty ridiculous. I think it’s unlikely, though. Cheers!

  12. chris
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Shanster, I guess I misinterpreted your comments a while back on this topic. I would follow it back but feel that would do us both a disservice. But to clarify here, did you mean to be ironic when you wrote, “my children’s best friends and classmates have a wide range of cultures”? Cause ya know what that sounds like.

    And that you are a woman, a total faux pas on my part as the same has been done to me.

    Finally, I know you were inadvertantly spell checking my post (were you serious as I could care less about these things in other people’s posts), I believe that both are acceptable.

    But a question about your grammer and I don’t mean to be busting your nut. What the hell does, “my over-defensive bad” mean? Is this some kind of regional colloquialism? The only other place I have seen-my bad- is in John Galt’s posts.

  13. mark
    Posted July 28, 2005 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I quite like the idea that John Glut has a more open-minded feminine side…

  14. Shanster
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Chris-
    To clarify, I’m a guy. I had thought “my bad” was pretty much accepted nationally as slang for ‘my mistake’. No?

    Actually, I was being serious about my chilren’s best friends…hispanic, Nigerian, African-american, Euro-american and not all Christian, but mostly.

    I’m an English language geek, so I thought bussing should be declared correct, as the alternate spelling would be pronounce “byusing”. Don’t you thnk we should change the spelling of nuclear out of deference to President Bush’s pronunciation…nukeyaler?

  15. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    My dictionary gives both “busing” and “bussing”; the former is preferred, probably to avoid confusion with “to buss,” meaning to kiss — but that’s pretty obsolete, anyway. English spelling is not fonetik.

    There’s no need to change the spelling of “nuclear”; Bush will be out in a couple of years.

  16. Dave Morris
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought this was interesting and worth sharing:

    http://brentrasmussen.com/log/node/79

    …and a teaser cut and paste…

    “Humans have a tendency to form opinions about what is possible and what is not based on intuition derived from everyday experience, and on emotional acumen. But is this always useful?

    Everyday experience will not help you when it comes to continental drift, traveling close to the speed of light, or ice sheets marching and retreating across the landscape. We ephemeral creatures place such events not in the class of rare, or time consuming, or unusual, but of never. And that’s just one example of how our common sense can fail us when dealing with the most uncommon of phenomena.”

  17. Dave Morris
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    …and as a follow up to the previous post, I present again the game of “Life” by John Conway ( not Milton Bradley. ) Although most of the Life games in Java look like an old Atari game, the implications of it outside of a 2 dimensional grid are pretty astounding and many people are considering the relationship of simple rules to large, complex entities.

    (as a quick aside, the word Atari is used in the game of Go ( which had a big influence on John Conway’s development of Life) to describe a situation in which a player is left with only one “liberty” – a “liberty” being a players abilty to continue to keep a formation of stones live and growing.)

    Here is a link to wikipedia on Life:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life

  18. john galt
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Of course we were uplifted by the Elohim (called watchers in the old testament or nephalim depending on the book.. actually there were two camps one that bred with man and one which saw that as an abomination).. David Brin picks up this idea in the Uplift Saga (great series if you haven’t read it). I really don’t get why people want to fight over evolution.. I find the idea that life evolves so much more powerful than to think that we’re in a static environment. Christianity is about the evolution of the soul (of course so are many other beliefs.. Even Mithrism (Mystery cult of Mithra) What we now celebrate as christmas ( the feast of mithra that is).. had at its core the idea that a person could evolve.. ) towards the divine, why wouldn’t concrete life follow the same course. As above so below.

  19. mark
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Why do you hate Christ, Mr. Galt?

    (I just like being able to say that to someone else for a change.)

    And, Dave, I’d never heard of The Game of Life before, but it sounds very interesting. I particularly liked the rules.

    -Any live cell with less than two neighbors dies of loneliness.
    -Any live cell with more than three neighbors dies of crowding.
    -Any dead cell with exactly three neighbors comes to life.
    -Any live cell with two or three neighbors lives, unchanged, to the next generation.

    Of course, the term “cell” might bring the wrong image to mind in the wake of 9/11. Better to call them “freedom units”.

  20. mark
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    And, John, I agree with you… The idea of evolution makes the concept of God seem all the more powerful and beautiful. Unfortunately, to believe it, you have to accept that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, and to do that isn’t acceptable to a great many of our fellow citizens.

  21. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    And now Mr. Galt is quoting the Emerald Tablet! You never know what you’ll find here.

    Mark — I find the idea of a random and chaotic universe even more powerful and beautiful; I guess I’m different inside. It doesn’t really matter; the universe is amazing either way.

    I’m puzzled that so many people take Adam and Eve literally; after all, Jesus spoke in parables — why not Genesis?

  22. chris
    Posted July 29, 2005 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    What?!?!? The parables didn’t really happen? I thought it was actually Christ’s recounting of his experience in the town of Parable.

    But seriously Doug, that was very well put and I thought it could be used as an excellent point of logic in the debate.

  23. Shanster
    Posted July 30, 2005 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Yeah, Doug, nice point. Jesus referred to Adam and Eve at least one time, maybe more, in the New Testament. His words indicate that he viewed Adam (as well as Noah) as historical figures, not representations. But I could be misinterpreting. I think he said (it’s probably not wise to quote Scripture off the cuff, but I think you’ll forgive me) that as Sin entered the world through one man (Adam), Salvation comes to the world through one other man (Jesus himself). Our hands may be logically tied to accept that Adam was a single individual unless we interpret the man as ‘society’, but that seems a little out there. I think Peter and Paul also refer to Adam and Eve as individuals, rather than representations. With all that said, I can speak of them as individuals and believe they are, but its not really a key issue. It is definitely not a salvific point, and good people can certainly disagree about it.

  24. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 30, 2005 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Shanster — I think the verse you have in mind is Romans 5:12. Is that it? In that case, it would be Paul’s theology talking. I know you’ll forgive me if I also don’t think Paul was infallible.

    My basic point was that allegory and parable are old literary traditions, and the Bible loses nothing when we recognize them in it. The “Song of Solomon” would be much poorer without those beautiful similes, no? Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge sounds like allegory to this reader.

    To take a secular example, I can appreciate Aesop’s fables without thinking that foxes and crows really talked.

    Many Christians, too, accept Jesus as historical but reject some Gospel passages as later embroidery — particularly in John. Jesus himself wrote nothing, of course.

    At any rate, I think we can agree that the crucial thing is what we do with what we read.

    So cheers, everyone; read the Bible! I’m off to Pennsylvania to ponder the mysteries of the Ringing Rocks…

  25. john galt
    Posted July 30, 2005 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t even see how the story of adam and eve concretely proves creationism, God created adam from dust and then eve from him.. I guess you could take that litteraly or you could see it as proof of genetic manipulation of the form already present, Genesis also borrows heavily from Babylonian creation myths (jews were enslaved by the babylonians and most agree that the formation of zorastorism influenced the notion of duality in judaism) The babylonian myths though harder to follow say the shining ones (elohimn) created man at the command of god. I am of course over simplifying the babylonian texts (most of which were lost at the burning of Alexandia). I’m sure skinner has something he can add.

  26. john galt
    Posted July 30, 2005 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    since I haven’t pasted lately.. and I find this interesting

    Translations

    From Jabir ibn Hayyan.

    0) Balinas mentions the engraving on the table in the hand of Hermes, which says:
    1) Truth! Certainty! That in which there is no doubt!
    2) That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one.
    3) As all things were from one.
    4) Its father is the Sun and its mother the Moon.
    5) The Earth carried it in her belly, and the Wind nourished it in her belly,
    7) as Earth which shall become Fire.
    7a) Feed the Earth from that which is subtle, with the greatest power.
    8) It ascends from the earth to the heaven and becomes ruler over that which is above and that which is below.
    14) And I have already explained the meaning of the whole of this in two of these books of mine.
    [Holmyard 1923: 562.]

    Another Arabic Version (from the German of Ruska, translated by

  27. Shanster
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Doug-
    I checked the Bible, and found that I was wrong…Jesus didn’t refer to Adam. Yeah, I was paraphrasing Romans. Whether you take the story literally or literarily, the point is that our ancestors were uniquely created and given a speacial place, and they chose to disobey God.

  28. chris
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    OK, I was saving this concept for my seminal work in my dissertation on evolutional behavioral psychology, but here it goes. BTW, this is trademarked: The apple that Eve ate and shared w/ Adam and their subsequent eviction from the Garden of Eden, is actually a metaphor for evolution. Think about it.

    And you know what, although I believe in evolution…I am not so sure it is a good thing. I would rather we stop fucking up our environment so much that we are forced to constantly adapt to it. Cause God knows, I wish the only things I had to avoid were talking snakes and apples. Rather than toxic waste and fast food.

  29. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Shanster — I agree; that’s the real point of the story in Genesis. I’m not convinced that we are that special, or that there is a God to disobey, but I think we can agree to disagree on that. I think we can also agree that the important thing is what we do with our beliefs.

    As I recall, the idea that Christ atoned for Adam was introduced by Paul. As I’m sure you know, theologians have long disagreed about how true Paulinism is to Jesus’s own teaching.

    John — Thanks for all the Emerald Tablets; it’s fun to see the variations.

    “Elohim” is a plural term, so it’s probably inaccurate to translate it as “God.” I don’t know the Babylonian myth: I’ll have to read to catch up with you! It makes sense that they would have influenced the early Jews.

    Inevitably, some modern fringe groups identify the Elohim with little people from other planets. The Raelians even drew charming pictures of little aliens with rabbinical beards.

    Chris — I think that could work! Let’s have it!

    At a Disinfo convention a couple of years ago, I stopped by the concession stand for a snack. To my delight, there was a potted tree nearby, with free apples clipped to it. I tried to offer some to my fellow conventioneers, who were waiting on line for overpriced sandwiches and bottled water, but they all insisted the apples were fake and wouldn’t take them. Maybe I didn’t look satanic enough; these days, image is everything.

  30. Teddy Glass
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Fables and parables don’t go over so well in today’s world, where the most simple soundbites rule the day. Parables and fables are the things of liberal elitist intellectuals from the northeast. The average American doesn’t want to dig for answers. They want someone to say, “I’m against evil-doers, and if you’re against me, you’re for them.” No one has the time or interest to dig in and find out what the apple represents. It’s a literal world, and the Bible is literally true. A snake handed Eve an apple. It’s that easy.

  31. Shanster
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Chris-
    It’s a swell theory, but there was no apple, just a fruit. Probably a mango (I hate mangoes).

    Doug-
    I don’t think Paul introduced the idea of atonement. Maybe he elaborated and extended it, but even John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”(J1:29)

  32. chris
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, that’s going to be a problem as mangoes are one of the few fruits I am able to avoid. Are you sure it wasn’t a quince? Those I could avoid…and warn others of too.

  33. chris
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    WAIT a minute! I just realized! It can’t be a mango as mangoes come from climates where originally no white people populated. From all the pictures I’ve seen Adam and Eve are caucasian?!?!?!

    Also, typo-mangoes are fruits that I am NOT able to avoid, sorry.

  34. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I always thought the apple was representative of man gaining sentience (knowing the difference between good and evil in this case.. its pretty clear that the story is speaking of self-knowledge).. From a literary perspective this would be a great place to start the story. Think 2001 when the obelisk first apears before the apes. This is similar to Prometheus bringing fire to man (though in earlier versions he actually brought them beer). Beer (and wine) being the basis for a sustainable agrarian society (it was the only clean water you could count on) The garden represents the natural world the world of instinct. At some point the proto-humans accepted the gift of sentience and were never able to return to the primal state. You see this theme resonate in such modern movies as the Matrix where Neo is asked if he wants to live in the provebial cave of Plato or actually see the actors who are causing the shadows. Gnostics had the view that lucifer was responsible for the enightenment of man (this is what led to the war). Gnostics believed that the universe is an imperfect creation and only by seeking gnosis can we truly understand perfection (as it doesn’t exist in the flawed reality in which we live).. For holding these beliefs (they worshiped God and Lucifer (not the devil) similarly).. they were mostly exterminated by the Catholic church. Seems to fit in with the idea of one species uplifting another. I also cannot fathom why questioning the reality of the story bothers modern christians, Christianity should be about the evolution of the soul towards the perfect, not trying to justify your faith by looking for concrete proof of the sublime.

  35. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    As for the fruit I always thought it was a Pomegranate (the worlds crappiest fruit)

  36. mark
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    How about we divide the world into two groups – the people who recognize the fact, regardless of what religion they profess, that all sacred texts are, at best, the creations of human beings trying as best they can to understand the world around them, and those individuals who believe in the asolute truth of their particular sect. As much as it pains me to say it, anyone who still believes, given some reference in Genesis, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, should be treated like a person with a deadly virus.

  37. Posted August 1, 2005 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Whats all this about hideous fruits? Mango and pomegranate are fabulous fruits. John you should try Pom Juice (TM) if the fruit annoys you. Its fantastic, although it really has to be watered down as its really intense. And Shanster there is nothing like a mango lassi with lots of rosewater and cardamom. And quinces, I dont think I’ve had one, but I’m willing to try.
    Is this what all the fightings really about?
    I’ve heard that some religions believe the fruit of knowledge was a banana. My neighbor hates bananas.
    Why can’t we just have all the fruits in one big salad of love.

  38. mark
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Where did the idea that it was an apple come from? Has anyone ever tracked it back?

    And, Stella’s right, pomegranates are great… and I don’t think I say that just because, as a person with OCD, I really enjoy the process of consuming them. I think they’re good in their own right.

  39. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    oh I love pom juice (and grenedine) (only its like 10.00 a bottle here.. though I did get some Pom juice at Costco last weekend for 4.00 for 1/2 gal … its not as good though), but have you ever tried eat one? I think its a negative calorie friut given the effort you have to expend just to eat the seeds (well sorta eat the seeds).. I thought it was fun when I was a kid, but I recently bought one and what a pain, I think I’d starve if that was all that was around.. Mangos otoh roxxor.. The problem with them in America (not miami) is they’re really green and fibrous. I think that gives them a poor reception. Try a ripe one off a tree.. its totally different (much like tomatoes.. I can’t deal with the store bought ones). Apples are a really craptacular fruit, they have almost no nutritional value other than calories (Sugar).. Carrot juice is much better for you.. Really.. look up the nutrition on apple juice.. the only reason it has a small amount of vitaman C is that they add ascorbic acid. Horses do like them though:)

  40. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    You know mark, Ideas can also be treated as viruses, they propagate, take over hosts, and fight for domination. I think that its a viable theory that humans are merely a medium over which ideas (memes) propagate. Most wars are fought over ideological grounds, perhaps humans are just a medium to support a greater conflict. Also If you haven’t read Snow Crash, I highly reccomend.. Along with Atlas Shrugged.. Which will probably make your head Asplode.

  41. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    cut/paste… This isn;t a source I’ve used before but an ok overview

    Angels and Monotheism

    The word

  42. john galt
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I’d write more but just google mithras, The feast of Mithras was 12/25.. Christmas day. Mithras represented a mystery cult formed around the same time of christianity… and featured heavily in its mythos detailed star charts.

  43. chris
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of fruits and pomegranites. A while back missed the chance to submit my Clementine recipe. I had made a smashing one that included Pom:

    1 oz Hanger 1 mandarin blossom vodka

    1 oz pom (now they have it w/…you guessed it MANGO)

    4 oz Clementine juice which is kind of like Tangerine juice, and is available in a bottle from Whole Foods

    Jesus it was good. In fact, I demand a rejudge!

    Also, John. Do you know about the Parfaits Xian mystery cult in Southern France, and there’s another one whose name evades me that I am sure that if you don’t know Doug does…ab- something? In the process of their worship they commonly employed birth control AND…another you guessed it-homeopathic abortion! It was kind of this cool-I’m never coming back- Buddhisty thing.

  44. Jim
    Posted August 1, 2005 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read that the fruit was identified as an apple because in Latin, “apple” and “evil” are both “malum.”

    John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” only in John, which many consider to be the latest and least historically reliable of the four canonical gospels.

  45. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Shanster — You’re right; the idea of Christ’s atonement didn’t start with Paul. And it’s not just in John: even Mark, the earliest gospel, mentions that Jesus gave his life as a ransom (10:45). It’s considered a particularly Pauline doctrine because Paul did so much to develop it, and to orient the new religion in that direction. He certainly put his own stamp on it! But you’re right; my bad.

    Chris — That would be the Cathars, or Albigensians, whose priests were called Perfects. I hadn’t heard about the birth control! The Perfects were supposed to be celibate and vegetarian, but the rules were more lax for the laity. They developed a very different form of Christianity in southern France, until Rome offed them all in the 13th century.

    One of the things that always fascinated me is that they rejected baptism and substituted the transmission of the Lord’s Prayer — and put special emphasis on the adjective modifying “bread” in the Greek text. And nobody knows the meaning of it — it doesn’t occur anywhere else in the language. (They said it meant “super-substantial” — that we pray for spiritual nourishment, not carbs.) I mention it as another caveat against literal interprestation of the Bible: if even the Pater Noster is untranslatable, we have to cut the text some slack.

  46. Jim
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Doug is right–Jesus refers to his own death as a ransom in Mark. Mark was written after Paul’s letters, and may reflect Paul’s influence.

  47. Teddy Glass
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I hate to bring up the idea of another MM.com project that’ll most likely never come to fruition, but I think it would be cool if we could somehow pull together all of this information into a booklet of some kind. It’s interesting stuff, and I’d hate to see it get lost here in the comments section. I’m not certain what kind of form it should take, but perhaps a Q&A on the subject of Biblical literalism. I’d like to have something that I could hand to people.

  48. Dave Morris
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    This seems to be only loosely related to the original topic in that it involves the general study of superstition and the remnants of them, but some of the chapters- chapters 55 through 58 for instance- seem related to the idea of atonement and may be of interest. The link is to Bartelby rather than Gutenburg because the hypertexted contents page makes it much easier to navigate.

    Jim, Doug, and John (Galt) are likely to be familiar with it. I have only dipped into the book on occasion. It is a pretty massive undertaking.

    Frazer’s ” The Golden Bough “

    http://www.bartleby.com/196/

  49. Dave Morris
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    And another nice reference is HG Wells Outline of History. There is a shorter version of it on Bartelby. Chapters 37 and 38 are related to the topic. 38 mentions Paul’s inclusion of Mithraist traditions when setting up the church- likely included as a way to gain popular support.

    http://www.bartleby.com/86/

  50. Doug Skinner
    Posted August 2, 2005 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Dave — I’ve usually had the Wells and an abridged Frazer around the house, but have only dipped into both. I’ll have to check out the links.

    Jim — Mark probably knew Paul, so he may have picked up some ideas in person as well. You sparked my curiosity about the latest scholarship on the dates (it’s always changing), and I stumbled on a great website: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com. Lots of texts and commentaries for those of us who are interested in the history of early Christianity.

  51. Jim
    Posted August 3, 2005 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link! Interesting dating of the texts–makes me want to catch up on recent scholarship too.

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