Friday, May 29, 2009

The Conspiracy of Silence

I cam across this article on on reddit.com, in which the author shows how the lack of contemporary evidence for Jesus is very problematic in claiming he is a historical figure. He starts out by painting a simple picture, you are writing a paper and want to find first hand accounts of our first president:

But, as you comb the records, you find something strange: you cannot seem to locate any first-hand sources. Though Washington is claimed to have done many wonderful things - leading the Continental Army, freeing the American colonies from British rule, presiding over the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution, becoming the first President of the United States - somehow, there are no records of these deeds written by people who actually saw them happen, or even by people who were alive at the time. The historians who were alive during Washington's lifetime, as well as the ones that lived soon afterward, do not mention him at all. The first mentions of him come in disputed and scattered records written decades after his death; over time, these mentions grow more numerous until, by about a hundred years after his death, a chorus of historians who had never seen or met Washington themselves all testify to his existence and his deeds. It is their writings, not any first-hand evidence, that have filtered down to modern times to create the abundance of records we have today.

Would you begin to conclude that there was something very wrong here?

While this is not the case, and we do have a lot of contemporary evidence for George Washington, and even far back as Herod and Caeser, who existed during the same time period that Jesus is said to have existed, there is no first hand account of Jesus at all, especially the amazing miracles he is said to have performed.

To assume that not a single person who witnessed these monumental events would have felt compelled to write them down, or that no one bothered to preserve those records if they had, violates all standards of credulity. Jesus' healings alone, if news of them became generally known, would have attracted a flood of people from every corner of the Roman Empire desperate to be cured of their ailments; and if in addition news got out of his ability to revive the dead, as the gospels say it did (Matthew 9:25-26), those crowds would have been multiplied tenfold. Surely at least one person somewhere would have written about this, even if only to dismiss it as a peasant superstition. And events such as the darkening of the sun and the resurrection of the saints, if they really happened, would have left a vivid imprint on humanity's collective memory and would have produced a flood of awed and astonished records. To suggest that the succeeding generation simply let all memory of them disappear crosses the line from unbelievable to absurd.

The article goes on to discuss the Apologists's Arguments for the existence of Jesus. I recommend reading the essay in full when you get the chance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

French court to try Scientology

What? Les juges fran├žais have signed up for E-meter therapy and purification packs? No, no -- pardon the titular grammatical ambiguity. What I mean is that the Church of Scientology is to be tried in a French court for “organised fraud” -- in this case, the alleged fraud being that senior Church members illegally prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Even if auditing didn't rid her of those pesky thetans, treatment in this case had the profound benefit of elevating the plaintiff's mental functioning so she was able to detect... malarky and shenanigans! Despite being squeezed out of 20,000 euros (S28,000) for lessons, books, drugs, and an engram-detecting E-meter, the female victim in the case finally came to her senses -- thanks for the help, Hubbard! -- and went to the state for assistance.

My blogger hat goes off to Jean-Christophe Hullin, the investigating magistrate in the fraud case, who for years has been making life unpleasant for French Scientologists. Interestingly, at the end of the Yahoo article I link to above, I read that the US State Department has apparently been giving the French heat for harassing Scientology. On whose say-so, and according to what policy, are our State Department personnel being motivated to mollycoddle poppycock? Maybe they can be given a good dose of auditing -- with all the attendant costs and null effect -- in hopes of obtaining the same positive outcome as our French plaintiff: total rejection of a fatuous belief system. Let us be wary of remission!

Read what other judges have to say about Scientology at Xenu.net.

Thank goodness for L. Ron's crazy cult: it gives Atheists and Christians something to agree on:


NB: This cartoon was originally about OS wars, a topic I know is close to many hearts in the Boston Atheists community.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.10

Our mid-May podcast, recorded 5/16/2009. Guest: Margaret Rowley. Topics: evangelizing American soldiers; homobigoted beauty queens; Bristol Palin breaks irony meter by promoting effectiveness of abstinence; Seth McFarlane champions public rise of atheism; Christian Scientists abuse children. Forum: education and homeschooling

[Edited on January 1, 2010, to remove link to live download: Only the most current ten episodes of the Boston Atheists Report are available for immediate streaming. Please email us if you'd like to be sent earlier episodes.]

Look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miss California and the Freedom of Speech

I was planning to blog about how Carrie Prejean was able to keep her Miss California crown and her grossly incorrect characterization of free speech. However I find myself not needing to, as Keith Olbermann once again gets the point across in words better than my own:



I will, however, comment on Prejean's statement that she had "God in her head and her wanted her to witness to everyone." Isn't you all-powerful God strong enough to get the message across if he really wanted to? Why would he use the platform of a Miss USA pageant?

I'm always amused when people make statements like this. It displays how unabashedly arrogant the religious can be when they think God is speaking to them. God is so often just a tool people use to prop up their own bigotry.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Boston Nonsense Watch: The 2012 Phenomenom


According to the organizers of the upcoming Emergence Project conference,
The current period through and beyond the year 2012 heralds a unique time in the cycle of human history and is a profound transition referenced in many different spiritual traditions, including Mayan, Christian, Hindu, Hopi, and Taoist. [...] The conference includes presentations from four well-known experts and a special series of workshops. Topics include the Mayan background and history associated with the 2012 shift; the scientific and astronomical underpinnings for wide-scale planetary change; and, most importantly, how, on a practical and existential level, individuals can move beyond the limitations of fear-based thinking towards a positive, mindful, and meaningful engagement towards a sustainable, egalitarian world.
The organizers hope "to offer a unique platform for exploring the amazing opportunity for growth and change that the 2012 phenomenon presents," for $195.00. Boston Nonsense Watch official recommendation: the wisdom on offer in the chambers of this event isn't worth $2, let alone $200.

We can hope that this first 2012 conference is the last, but New Age is a hydra with many heads. The sponsor of all this nonsense is an outfit called The Emergence Project. Their charter is a patchwork of millennialist doomsdayism and New Age earnestness:
As the world becomes increasingly chaotic and the structures and systems that we have relied on for centuries seem to be failing, The Emergence Project seeks to examine the relationship between the current state of humanity and the shift in consciousness that has been predicted throughout the ages centering on the year 2012. We are a concerned group of spiritually-aware individuals who seek to explore the opportunities that currently engage our awareness and who also believe that change is simply the sum total of our collective intent to not only experience the shift but affect its outcome in a positive and constructive way. The Emergence Project seeks to bring available information, understandings and resources together on the subject of 2012 and provide a platform for in-depth discussion, dialog and debate around the issues, experiences and implications of the 2012 phenomenon. Above all, the Emergence Project seeks to educate, prepare, and empower both the individual and communities for the coming paradigm shift.
Conference co-chair Annette Farrington seems to be the driving force behind The Emergence Project; she's a local -- from Winchester, MA -- so we can look forward to similar convergences of the ridiculous with the expensive in the Boston area. Of course, her reign of nonsense can't last very long, if the predictions about 2012 come true.

Ben Tremblay over at Daily Common Sense has a series of articles explaining why we should not be too terribly worried about the fatal augers that point to 2012 as the end of it all.

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Does this prove that religion is baloney?

Jackie examines myth of Atheists persecuting Christians

Over at Examiner.com, our own Jackie Lavache -- Boston Atheism Examiner -- examines the oft-cited claim that Christians are persecuted by secularists hell-bent on reining in the free expression of religion. Writes Jackie:
He further complains that atheists have brought lawsuits to “stop ecumenical Christmas displays, or to expunge the mere mention of God from the public discourse.” What if the displays were of the Qur’an or Hindu gods? Would he fight for their right to exist on public property? Of course he wouldn't, because in his mind this is a "Christian Nation" and everyone else must shut up and put up-- a true violation of the First Amendment. Atheists don’t want atheist symbols in the place of Christian, rather they want no symbols so that no one gets offended or oppressed whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, etc…
Quite rightly examined, Jackie. The expression of personal traditions -- the religious kind are the most prominent -- does not need, and indeed should reject, government sponsorship in the form of funding, placement on government property, or preferential acknowledgement. The quick corollary to such seemingly benign support is preferential support, which leads easily to exclusive support. The solution is not to invite all traditions (be they secular, supernaturalist, or other) to queue up for billboard space on government property. Such a scheme would drown the courthouse lawn come December in the trappings of every sectarian holiday. Instead, such expression should take place in the private sphere -- homes, etc. -- and only in the public space when they are the immediate act of individuals. This guideline would preserve freedom of speech and separation of church and state. Smartly examined, Jackie.

Aronson on Atheist ascendancy

This is an editorial written by Prof. Ronald Aronson, whose lecture at Harvard was attended by some members of the group. The last paragraph really hits home:
Above all, rather than combating religious belief at every turn, many nonbelievers would cheer if the President initiated a genuinely multicultural approach to both believers and secularists in today’s America. This might entail, as was not done at the Democratic National Convention last August, inviting secularists as well as believers to platforms that normally exclude the irreligious (i.e. the “values and unity” event preceding the Convention that was exclusively for religious believers). It might entail as much political attention being paid to nonbelievers as believers at public events—transforming moments of prayer into moments of silence. In other words, it would mean abandoning the implicit assumption of so much of American public and private life that religious values, norms and practices apply to everyone—and show respect to American’s enormous nonreligious minority.

Chris Matthews Hammers Rep. Mike Pence on Evolution and Science

I recommend watching this video. It's refreshing to see media taking the side of science and reason. Matthews does a great job of not letting the point go and Mike Pence simply tries to dodge. It's really telling that he can't come out and say, one way or the other, if he supports evolution as described by science.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

From the news: Two takes on how Atheists are to live

For Aronson, the rejection of the autonomy myth is not only crucial to the formulation of a secular world-view that will allow us to feel at home in a universe without God, but also necessary if we are to move toward a more just and peaceful world. He says that to appreciate our mutual interdependence (which, he points out, has increased and intensified in recent times) can enable the secularists among us to experience our lives as deeply meaningful.
-- James Farmelant, in his review "Together without God" of Ronald Aronson's book Living without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided (Counterpoint Press, 2008).
Living without God isn't easy. But its very difficulty offers one other consolation—that there is a certain honor, or perhaps just a grim satisfaction, in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking—with good humor, but without God.
-- Steven Weinberg in his essay "Without God" for The New York Review of Books, an essay based on the Phi Beta Kappa Oration given at Harvard University in June 2008and, to a lesser extent, on other of his lectures and reviews.

From the news: God is good, but kittens are great

We atheists always have a problem with appearing bad mannered when we say what we believe. Take the God is Back duo's deployment of studies purporting to show that “Christians are healthier and happier than their secular brethren”, citing a Pittsburgh doctor's belief that going to church added three years to someone's life and a 1997 study that religiosity reduces blood pressure. To which I can riposte with all those other studies showing even better health outcomes for owning a pet. Which may appear churlish of me.
-- David Aaronovitch, on the thesis that belief in God is enjoying a resurgence, from his article "Rumours of God's return are greatly exaggerated" in the UK Times.