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Post Can Science Make a Case for God?
Created by John Eipper on 01/03/15 5:03 AM

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Can Science Make a Case for God? (Richard Hancock, USA, 01/03/15 5:03 am)

On December 25, 2014, Eric Metaxas published an article in the Wall Street Journal, "Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God." He states, "In 1966, Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he's obsolete--that as science progressed, there is less need for a 'God' to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God's death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence come from a surprising place--science itself.

"The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion--1 followed by 27 zeros--planets in the universe, there should have been about a septillion-1 followed by 24 zeros--planets capable of supporting life.

"In 1960, the Federal government founded the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Through this vast radio telescopic network, scientists listened for signals that resembled coded intelligence that were not merely random. Nothing turned up from these efforts, so the Congress defunded SETI in 1993. The search continues with private funds, but the results have been zero.

"Peter Schenkle, a SETI proponent, wrote in 2006 in the Skeptical Inquirer magazine: 'In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest....We should quietly admit that the early estimates... may no longer be tenable... In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn't be here.'

"Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life--every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit earth's surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing... Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

"Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term 'big bang,' said that his atheism was 'greatly shaken' at these developments. He later wrote that a 'common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology...The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.'

"Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that 'the appearance of design is overwhelming' and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said 'the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator...gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.'"

Mr. Metaxas concludes, "The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something--or Someone--beyond itself."

William A. Galston writes in the WSJ of December 30, 2014: "The Christian Heart of American Exceptionalism." He states, "The durability of American religious belief refutes the once-canonical thesis that modernization and secularization necessarily go hand in hand." He cites the finding of the Pew Research Center released two weeks ago. "73% of US adults believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; 81%, that the baby Jesus was laid in a manger; 75%, that the wise men guided by a star brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and 74%, that angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds. Fully 65% of Americans believe all four of these elements of the Christmas story, while only 14% believe none of them."

There is little indication of a generation gap on these questions, since "seventy percent of adults 18-25 believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; 69% that an angel announced his birth; 80% that he was laid in a manager; and 74% that the wise men made their gift-laden trip."

Mr. Galston concludes that if the political partisanship which seems to rule our country can be ameliorated, the relationship between religion and public life would be a good place to start.

I believe that the two above-described articles are related. The Christian religion does not support police killing citizens nor citizens killing police. I believe that the church is uniquely positioned to play a role in solving these problems. I recall a missionary who gave a talk to our church here in Norman, Oklahoma. He was an African-American retired pro football player who worked in black ghettos in the south. He would go around, football in hand, talking to young people on the street, and would soon have them playing football while he counseled them on life's problems. He spoke of meeting drug dealers, and one of the listeners asked if he remonstrated with those evil people. He replied, "No, because those people have guns that will shoot real bullets. I tell them that I love them and that I hope that they will call me if they get into trouble." He added that he did receive calls from them because they ultimately get into trouble.

As a Christian, I was pleased to learn from Mr. Metaxas that "Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God." Christianity teaches individual responsibility for all, the multibillionaire as well as the have-nots. I also share in Mr. Galston's belief that Christianity is at the heart of American exceptionalism. I hope that this exceptionalism continues to grow.

JE comments:  Science and God are weighty questions, perhaps the weightiest of all.  I hope other WAISers will join the conversation.  For now, I'm intrigued by Mr. Galston's observation that the United States stands as an exception to the axiom that development and modernity lead to a society's increased secularization.  Contrast the US with Western Europe, for example.  Couldn't we make a case that the Muslim Middle East more closely follows the US model, where "modernity" has coincided with an increase in religious fervor?


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  • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Robert Whealey, USA 01/03/15 5:01 PM)
    At age 17 I had read the New Testament from cover to cover and the Book of Genesis in its entirety. I thought I understood the life of Jesus and Paul. After nine months of debate at college with a half-dozen students from 18-19 years of age, I read a book by the Unitarian minister Charles Potter, The Story of Religion (1929). He wrote about a dozen chapters which were biographies of Moses, Jesus, Paul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Muhammad, the Buddha, and Confucius. Potter's selection was heavily biased toward Christian leaders, Catholic and Protestant. The book ended with Mary Baker Eddy, a founder of the Christian Science Monitor, a very prestigious newspaper in the states of Maine and Massachusetts in the 1920s up to about 1960.

    I concluded by September 1949 that I was no longer a fundamentalist Methodist. I concluded that men in Europe, Egypt, Babylon, in the Fertile Crescent and the US had been trying to find God for 4000-5000 years and had not found him yet.


    Einsteinian astronomers also have proven little or nothing except that the Universe is a lot bigger than Isaac Newton ever imagined. Since I had only 50 or 60 years left, I would ignore God and concentrate on problems of science, history, economics, politics, and law to work for world peace.


    JE comments: World peace (pax along with lux) is at the core of the WAISly mission. Glad to receive Robert Whealey's first post of 2015. All the New Year's best to you and Lois, Bob!


    The Christian Science Monitor established an excellent reputation for its deep reporting and non-sensationalist style.  Some WAISers may not realize that as of 2009, it is no longer published as a print daily, although there is a weekly news magazine.


    Note that WAIS went exclusively on-line over twenty years ago!

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  • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Nicholas Ruiz III, USA 01/04/15 4:18 AM)
    In response to Richard Hancock (3 January), it probably is not the case that science makes a case for anything, other than itself. Religion too, does the same.

    Why the desire to marry these two human peculiarities?


    JE comments: Nicholas Ruiz III is the latest WAISer to make good on a New Year's resolution: write WAIS more often!  In Nick's case, it's been nearly two years since his last post (8 January 2013).  Overjoyed to hear from you, Nick:  here's to a great 2015!


    Nick's point is that science and religion are both types of discourse, meaning languages in and of themselves.  We could say the same thing about mathematics, as well as Spanish/English/Chinese.  As such, languages not only model the world, they create perceived "realities" unto themselves.


    So why would science seek to prove the existence of God?  I would argue that those who undertake such an exercise recognize that in the modern world, science enjoys a greater claim to truth than does religion.  Thus a "proof" can only come through scientific discourse.


    I've rambled on long enough.  Perhaps Nick can correct any misreadings in the above.  I'll close with the observation that until the Enlightenment came along, theology was seen as the mother of all sciences.  No less an authority than Don Quixote says this several times.


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    • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Enrique Torner, USA 01/05/15 3:44 AM)
      We had a long discussion on this subject a while back, and I won't be long this time. It seems that those who don't believe in God tend to close their eyes and ears to those who do, no matter what. People who believe in God have tried to convince the rest of humanity of His existence, from many different perspective. The latest is from a scientific perspective. This approach has been gaining strength in recent years, so much that movies and novels about this subject abound, and become world bestsellers, as I mentioned a while back.

      Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code is an example, though he has been shunned by many Christians for his many "blasphemies." There are two fields devoted to marry science and God: theophysics, which attempts to reconcile physical and religious cosmology, and physicotheology, which derives theology from physics. The reason for this resurgence is the belief that the Big Bang, Darwin's theory of evolution, and science in general are the obstacles to overcome to convince a lost world. Therefore the creation of these fields, which have lots of scientists using science, if not to prove God through science, to disprove the scientific theories of the Big Bang and evolution. Atheists are getting nervous over these growing fields, and about the latest scientific discoveries on the subject of creation, because all this is getting national and international attention.


      Eric Metaxas, the author of the Wall Street Journal article that Richard Hancock (3 January) commented on, recently published a book about the subject of science and God called Miracles, which has become a bestseller. He has been on national television talking about it. Pope Francis also talked about this subject recently, with statements, however, that I disagree with. Check out these clips from national media that show the attempt to bridge the gap between science and God:



      http://video.foxnews.com/v/3952709818001/miracles-explores-the-science-behind-the-existence-of-god-/?#sp=show-clips




      http://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_this_morning/video/7RaAPRmdoxbhG7TIh7cjvsOS_Lwmvm36/pope-francis-big-bang-theory-doesn-t-conflict-with-god/



      Another reason for this resurgence is, as I stated last year, the proactive and intense role that atheists have played in the United States in trying to eliminate and forbid religion in any public domain. The fact is that atheists are a small minority, about 13% of the world population, half of that percentage in the US. Check this world map of where they are more prevalent:



      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/23/a-surprising-map-of-where-the-worlds-atheists-live



      This country was created by people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Now a minority is trying to dictate their views to the rest of the country, and they are winning many legal cases despite the second amendment of the Constitution:


      Article [I] (Amendment 1 - Freedom of expression and religion)


      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."


      Christians are now persecuted all over the world by atheists and Muslims; but if we can't even practice our beliefs in the United States, the supposed country of tolerance, where shall we go now? But then, Jesus already prophesied this moment, which has been fulfilled through the centuries:


      "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12).


      I will close for now. This has turned out longer than I planned, as usual. I am good at analyzing, not as good as synthesizing, as my students could confirm!


      JE comments:  Where exactly are Christians being persecuted by atheists?  Perhaps in China?  I don't see where or how this is happening, especially since the demise of the Soviet bloc.  It seems to me that the overwhelming bulk of religious persecution is being carried out by practitioners of rival religions.


      The "Atheist Map" (see Washington Post link, above) contains some surprising data:  who knew that 4-9% of Saudis consider themselves atheists, or that there is a higher percentage of atheists in the Republic of Ireland than in the UK?  Predictably, China has the world's largest population of atheists.


      Bienvenido Macario (next in queue) has also responded to Nicholas Ruiz.


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      • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Timothy Brown, USA 01/05/15 3:33 PM)

        Can science make a case for God? We have the question backward. Christians aren't trying to prove to "science" (whoever they are!) that there is a God. It's science that's trying to convince the world that there is no God.
        A Christian's belief in God is a matter of faith, not science. Proving "scientifically" that there is, in fact, a God, would remove the need for faith, and stand the entire debate on its head.


        When I discuss whether or not God exists with an unbeliever, I always remind them that if I'm wrong and there is no God, it won't make any difference to either of us.
        But if they're wrong, and there is a God, there will be hell to pay.


        JE comments:  Yes, "proof" takes away the very concept of faith.  If I may be allowed a secular analogy, Tim Brown's post reminds me of Don Quixote's insistence that people swear to the incomparable beauty of his lady, Dulcinea, without ever seeing her or her portrait.

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        • Faith and Religious Hierarchies; Saramago (John Heelan, UK 01/06/15 5:21 AM)
          Timothy Brown (5 January) makes a good point with his comment: "a Christian's belief in God is a matter of faith, not science. Proving 'scientifically' that there is, in fact, a God, would remove the need for faith, and stand the entire debate on its head."

          However, I would take it a step further and suggest that without the irrational (i.e. unscientific) faith of their communities, the power of religious hierarchies would crumble.


          Perhaps few people have expressed it better than Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago. A couple of years ago in a similar discussion, I wrote, "The Nobel novelist, José Saramago (1922-2010), wrote the thought-provoking novel Death by Intervals (2005), in which the inhabitants of a certain unnamed country stopped dying. After a short period of rejoicing, those with a vested interest in death started complaining. Funeral directors were going out of business and health care systems became overloaded with sick but immortal people. The Church felt most challenged, as the end of death called into question the death and resurrection--the base layer of modern Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the Vatican objected to Saramago being awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1998, and on his death the Vatican newspaper published a bitter obituary describing him as a 'populist extremist' and an 'anti-religious ideologue.'"


          See my post: "Theology, Evil, and Self-Contradiction" (John Heelan, UK, 24 June 2012).


          JE comments:  Here's the link:


          http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=70498&objectTypeId=63679&topicId=152


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          • Science and Religion, Science *as* Religion (Nicholas Ruiz III, USA 01/06/15 3:28 PM)
            The political economy of spiritual enterprise makes the case for something worldly, hierarchical, even primate. However, on science and the metaphysical, perhaps we should talk more about faith in physics (e.g. Amit Goswami, etc.)? Quantum entanglement, neutrinos, the Higgs boson, etc. are truly fascinating subjects.

            JE comments: To paraphrase in lay terms, Nicholas Ruiz (I think!) is making the point that it's not just a question of science attempting to "prove" religion; science takes on religious hues in and of itself. This is especially the case the farther you move towards the theoretical end of the spectrum.


            Higgs, anyone?  This 2012 trio of jokes from WAISer John Torok couldn't be more timely:


            http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=70763&objectTypeId=63829&topicId=152




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        • Science and God: Dawkins and Hitchens (Luciano Dondero, Italy 01/06/15 5:33 AM)
          In some ways I agree with Timothy Brown (5 January); indeed, the religious approach was properly expressed by Saint Augustine, who said: "Creo quia absurdum."

          But then, the very notion of "science doing this or that" is in and by itself deeply wrong.


          Precisely because science is not religion, there are many fields of science and many scientists, each one striving to disprove what their predecessors asserted. Science thrives on correcting its own mistakes all the time. Or, as Einstein supposedly put it: "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"


          Richard Dawkins, someone who cannot be thought of as being soft on religion, says he is almost certain that there is no god, but is not in a position to prove it.


          The interesting question, it would seem, is why and how human beings have felt repeatedly the need to create god(s) to explain what they were unable to explain through knowledge. Which is why it is certainly true that science and religion share a common ancestor, namely ignorance. Then they go in different ways about it.


          On the other hand, not all religions are the same. On a spectrum of peaceful vs violent, for instance, you go from the Bahai's total non-violent approach to the increasingly more violent (or less peaceful) Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Obviously, here a crucial point intervenes as well, and that is, how much civil society has managed over the centuries to mellow the initial belligerence of religious "holy writ." Clearly, where the Enlightenment has gone more deeply, things are somewhat better, so that "moderate" Christians or Jews are indeed amenable to take harsh measures against their own fundamentalists; while "moderate" Muslims, at least in terms of official figureheads, can barely condemn their own fundamentalists for acting against other Muslims, but are quite silent on the subject of, say, murdering innocent Israeli children. Common Muslim people are a different story, often they simply "vote with their feet," whenever they can.


          Here I think that Christopher Hitchens was quite right: "In the hot days immediately after the fatwa, with Salman [Rushdie] himself on the run and the TV screens filled with images of burning books and writhing mustaches, I was stopped by a female Muslim interviewer and her camera crew and asked an ancient question: 'Is nothing sacred?' I can't remember quite what I answered then, but I know what I would say now. 'No, nothing is sacred. And even if there were to be something called sacred, we mere primates wouldn't be able to decide which book or which idol or which city was the truly holy one. Thus, the only thing that should be upheld at all costs and without qualification is the right of free expression, because if that goes, then so do all other claims of right as well.'"


          I urge all WAISers to read the full 2009 piece:


          http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/02/hitchens200902?printable=true¤tPage=all

          JE comments:  Alas, Mr Hitchens (d. 2011) now knows whether he was right about religion--or not.  So in his memory, shall we discuss the central question:  is nothing sacred?  Specifically, can the "sacred" be separated from matters of faith?
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          • Christian Pacifism (Robert Whealey, USA 01/07/15 1:02 PM)
            I agree with Luciano Dondero's main points (6 January), with the following caveat:

            There is a pacifist minority within mainstream Christian congregations: Quakers, Church of the Brethren, etc. Even Catholicism has or had Dorothy Day's "Catholic Worker."


            Many Episcopalians and Presbyterians say the Apostle's Creed with winks and practice Unitarianism at home.


            JE comments: And to follow up on what Luciano said about Baha'i: they are not strictly and uniformly pacifist. WAISer Vincent Littrell, who is both Baha'i and a former Air Force officer, has written on this topic.  See, among several other posts,


            http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=87850&objectTypeId=74931&topicId=152


            I'm curious about what Robert Whealey means by "crypto-Unitarianism."  Does he imply a fully secular life except for Sunday morning?
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            • Unitarianism (Robert Whealey, USA 01/08/15 7:10 AM)

              In response to JE's questions of 7 January, Unitarians have no creed. Financially the Universalist Church
              founded in New Jersey about 1790 by John Murray merged about 1960 with the Unitarians to form the UU
              Association. They have Fellowships and Churches.
              Fellowships and Churches elect their own ministers.
              Some call themselves Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, and Feminists.


              A majority are converts:  ex-Catholics, ex-Jews, ex-Methodists, etc. Every year a certain percent defect back to their parents' faith when they get tired
              of the radical statements of certain ministers. From 1960 to 1975 the big debates were
              over the continuation of the Vietnam war. Since 1975 the debates are mostly about comparative religion, feminism,
              and homosexuality.


              JE comments:  There is much more to say about Unitarianism, which in the US went from a fairly mainstream religion during the early 19th century to its fringe status today (outside of university towns).   I know of no practicing Unitarian-Universalists in the WAIS ranks, but I think this replay of a 2006 Cameron Sawyer post will be of interest:


              http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=12118&objectTypeId=6368&topicId=1


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        • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/06/15 1:10 PM)
          It is amazing that this discussion about God and science has produced some very interesting statements ranging from the sacrilegious to the profound, from the factually correct to incorrect personal assumptions. I just want to make a few observations and continue to watch the cat fight.

          This controversial discussion grew out of Richard Hancock's post of 3 January, quoting Eric Metaxas of the Wall Street Journal: "Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life--every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart... Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?"


          Good point, except the "odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing" is not correct. Given the fact that the present estimations about the Universe are around 200 (or more) billion galaxies, each with around 200 billion stars, each in turn with a few planets orbiting them, despite the apparent difficulty (200 parameters to be satisfied) of finding life on another planet, the statistical probability is still on the side that life exists out there. Scientists have only identified several thousand dramatically different planets which up to now cannot support life as we know. We still have a few billion to go before the Metaxas statements can be taken more seriously.


          Timothy Brown wrote on 5 January: "Can science make a case for God? We have the question backward. Christians aren't trying to prove to 'science' (whoever they are!) that there is a God. It's science that's trying to convince the world that there is no God."


          This is not true. Scientists know better than try to disprove God's existence. They are smart enough to know that such a thing cannot be done. Many scientists have an obligation to show that some religious teachings (i.e. the Earth is the center of our solar system, creationism versus evolution, etc.) are wrong. This is particularly important because many religious groups have been prone to killing their critics in the past and some even do this today. This is true regardless of the fact that much of religious belief is supernatural, based on superstitions that many times contradict basic logic and laws of nature.


          I consider myself a scientist and believe in God fervently.  However, my definition of God has to withstand reasoning and existing natural law. Why debate if "God" created the Universe when we will never be able to prove this one way or the other?  That the Universe is God makes more sense.  Atheists cannot argue with that because obviously the Universe exists. Why must religious founders invent virgin births, ghosts, resurrections, etc., which only make their beliefs unacceptable to scientific-minded people and/or members of other religions?


          JE comments:  This conversation is not a "cat fight"--we have those in my house, every morning at breakfast (three cats can do that; they are divided into at least three factions).  I prefer to call the present exchange a "heated discussion in the best WAISly tradition."  We've already dedicated the day to the "Science and God" question, and my inbox is still full of responses.  I'll post a couple more and then move on.

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          • Deism, Agnosticism, Pascal's Wager (John Heelan, UK 01/07/15 4:03 AM)
            Tor Guimaraes--as a scientist--wrote on 7 January: "That the Universe is God makes more sense. Atheists cannot argue with that because obviously the Universe exists." Is that not false logic--i.e. affirming the consequent or cum hoc ergo propter hoc?

            I am now agnostic after having been indoctrinated (in the true sense of the word) from the cradle via family, education and community for about three decades. The reason for my agnosticism is the thought that, if there is an overriding irrational influence on mankind, I have come to the conclusion it is "love." So more New Testament than Old Testament in essence. The vengeful God of the Old Testament, Torah and Qur'an can hardly be described as loving. Love starts in the family circle and gradually spreads outwards in concentric circles. Most people will not harm their family for that reason. However the strength of that "overriding influence" weakens the wider the circles become, otherwise wars would not happen. But I don't know, hence my agnosticism and recognising that my upbringing increases the risk of my taking Pascal's Wager when my time comes.


            JE comments: "Taking Pascal's Wager when my time comes" is the ultimate hedging of bets. I'm sure it's very common. Seen from the opposite angle, the "Atheist Empire" website I cited yesterday (re: Alan Levine on Rousseau) has one of the crasser quotes I've come across in recent times: "You'll never find a dead Christian in a foxhole who didn't pray."


            http://atheistempire.com/greatminds/more.php



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            • Deism, Agnosticism, and Pascal's Wager (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/09/15 2:06 PM)
              Responding to John Heelan's 7 January question, I believe that God is the Universe and that all other Gods have been invented by humans like me. According to my religion, the mission of every human should be learning about God through the scientific method and including the arts. The most critical commandment is "don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you." If you are in the mood, then do to others what you wish they would do to you. I see no false logic here.

              Regarding Nicholas Ruiz's statement, "on science and the metaphysical, perhaps we should talk more about faith in physics?" Indeed, there has to be a lot of faith in primarily mathematics as a modeling tool (even though logic and even hunches are used sometimes). Regardless, while in science you can imagine any proposition you want, sooner rather than later your "faith" will be tested as part of the scientific method with observation, measurement, and ultimately predictions of actual events. With religious faith you can also imagine any religion you want, but God have mercy if someone calls it nonsense. That is a dramatic difference.


              JE comments: Is there any way we can tie this discussion to the latest crisis in Europe? Meaning, was the Charlie Hebdo massacre an example of "faith" lashing back at science--in the form of crass secularism?

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              • God is the Universe (John Heelan, UK 01/10/15 7:33 AM)
                At the risk of disappearing down a semantic rat hole, when Tor Guimaraes believes that "God is the Universe and that all other Gods have been invented by humans like me" (10 January), does that mean, if the parallel multiverse hypothesis is correct (see Tegmark/Greene/Hawking etc.), that there are multiple universe-creating gods, each with its believers?

                Perhaps we should also bear in mind Hawking's dictum "God is unnecessary; science can explain the universe without the need for a creator."


                JE comments: Deep stuff. Whenever parallel universes come up, I always think of Jorge Luis Borges.


                I tend to think on a more mundane level, so I'm happy to report that both John Heelan and Henry Levin have responded to my "zanahoria" question.  John's dictionary of Spanish slang equates it with penis.  Hank has given a different interpretation.  Stay tuned.


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                • Universe and Multiple Universes (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/11/15 9:11 AM)
                  My gratitude to John Heelan (10 January) for his interesting questions. Scientists have made some amazing progress identifying (proposing through mathematical modeling) and then corroborating in practice many phenomena which a few years ago were totally unknown: the Big Bang creation, the expanding Universe, the creation and death of stars and the chemical elements, quasars, pulsars, black holes, etc. On the other hand, the gods invented by most people are credited with having created the Universe as we experience it every day. To them gods and the experienced universe are separate entities. Thus for those aware of scientific progress in cosmology and astrophysics, much of this progress is amazing but detached.

                  In my case all the above phenomena are mere manifestations of God the Universe. If the theories (i.e. crossing the event horizon into another Universe or part of the Universe, multiple Universes, etc.) surviving the rigorous criticism of the scientific community would convincingly say multiple Universes are the reality, then to me God would be made up of multiple Universes. Hawking's dictum "God is unnecessary; science can explain the universe without the need for a creator" someday might turn out to be correct mathematically, but it will never show that God is unnecessary, since God is the Universe. Furthermore, it will be impossible to show in practice that there is no need for a creator, since the Universe would have to end and be started all over again without a creator but with the same science observers. Hawking is perhaps talking too much and not delivering enough. In fact, physicists (including Hawking) have thus far failed to integrate the mathematical modeling essential for explaining sub-atomic phenomena (very well established) with the mathematical modeling they are using to explain the Universe. When they try to solve the integrated set of equations, the results are a few infinity signs. This is a serious problem right now; thus scientists are having great difficulty understanding my God the Universe mathematically.

                  JE comments:  As I said yesterday, this is very deep stuff for my positivist mind.  So I'll respond with a film question:  who has seen the Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything?  I have not yet, but will.  Thoughts/opinions?
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                  • God, Science, and Salvation (Enrique Torner, USA 01/13/15 4:39 AM)
                    Returning to our discussion on God and science, I want to bring back two complementary posts: the one by Timothy Brown (5 January), and the one by John Heelan (6 January), who was responding to Tim. Basically, their point was that irrational (unscientific) faith is necessary for salvation. This is absolutely true: it is only by faith in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection that salvation may be achieved, according to the Bible. Lots of Bible verses support this statement:

                    Rom. 3:28-30, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.


                    Rom. 4:5, But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.


                    Rom. 5:1, therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;


                    Rom. 9:30, What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;


                    Rom. 10:4, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.


                    Rom. 11:6, But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.


                    Gal. 2:16, nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.


                    Gal. 2:21, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.


                    Gal. 3:5-6, Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.


                    Gal. 3:24, Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.


                    Eph. 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.


                    Phil. 3:9, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.


                    Therefore, if science were to prove the existence of God, nobody else could be saved! We would all be automatically condemned.  Therefore, everybody should stop trying to demonstrate the existence of God, or we are all doomed to hell. This is something that had never dawned on me. And here I have been trying to demonstrate God's existence (as have many other Christians) to non-believers. Of course, another big question is why, then, so many philosophers, theologians, and other famous people have been trying to demonstrate God's existence through all the centuries. Maybe they didn't think they could actually do it?


                    Conclusion: let's stop trying to prove God's existence before we condemn the world to hell, including myself! Let's change topics.


                    JE comments:  I don't really follow why proving God's existence would invalidate the whole concept of salvation.  But let's focus on the Scriptures:  can someone explain why faith is valued above works, which I assume to mean good deeds?  (See Ephesians 2: 8-9 and Romans 11:6, above.)  This seems to go against Christ's central message of love your neighbor.  Do I oversimplify?


                    In any case, I'm in agreement with Enrique Torner that the God and Science topic has run out of steam.  WAIS discussions on religion(s) are supposed to compare and explain, especially across cultural lines.  The point is not to attempt to convince readers of the superiority of one theology or belief system over another.

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                    • Salvation, and a Conversation with a Jesuit (John Heelan, UK 01/13/15 6:20 AM)
                      Enrique Torner (13 January) uses the support of the Bible as a crutch to justify irrational faith for Salvation (whatever that is).

                      WAISers will forgive me as I have already recounted this true story of my discussion--in my formative years--with my Jesuit schoolmaster about the Bible and faith.


                      Me: As God and the Resurrection are key to Christianity, how do we know they are true?

                      Jesuit: Because the Bible tells us so in many places.

                      Me: How do we know what it says is true?

                      Jesuit Because it tells us so in several places and the Church believes it so.

                      Me But is not a self-reference logically worthless in determining truth?

                      Jesuit: Ah, my son, that's heresy! You need faith to believe the Bible is true.


                      (Apparently game, set and match to the Jesuit--or was it?)


                      JE comments: Tocayo Heelan, didn't you know never to argue with a Jesuit?

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                    • Faith and Salvation (Enrique Torner, USA 01/25/15 4:50 AM)
                      Two weeks ago (13 January), John Eipper replied to me that he doesn't see why proving God's existence would eliminate all possibility of salvation.

                      Faith, according to the Bible, is believing without seeing, this in a broad sense. Therefore, if science demonstrated God's existence, realizing that God has been proved to exist, one could not have faith in Him, making salvation impossible.


                      Regarding John's second question (why the Bible gives priority to faith over good deeds), the answer is that "we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Ro. 3:23). Only through the redemptive and substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for our sins can we be saved. You need to be holy to be in the presence of God, and only Christ never sinned. He died for humanity so anybody who believed in His death and resurrection (faith) could go to be with Him forever. There is nothing you can do to go to Heaven, and, no matter what you have done, if you confess your sins and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, by faith you will be saved (Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:31, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 3:9, to name a few).


                      This, in a few words, is the Gospel, and the proof of God's mercy. This was one of the main reasons for Martin Luther to start the Reformation. No matter how hard he tried to be good, he always felt he was short of receiving the Glory of God (heaven). Guilt was always after him, so, when he finally realized the concept of "sola fide" and "sola gratia," he felt immensely relieved! Read it for yourself:


                      "Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, 'As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!' Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.


                      "At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, 'In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."' There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God." (Luther's Works, Volume 34, pp. 336-337)


                      John Heelan had mentioned that he was educated by Jesuits, and recollected a dialogue he had with one of them that stayed with him forever. I was also educated by Jesuits. Catholics believe that you are saved by faith in Christ and by works (good deeds); therefore, you have to work your way to Heaven. I remember being taught of the fear of God and hell on a regular basis at the Jesuit school I attended. Jesuits always tried to make us feel guilty. Finally, I stopped going to Mass, because I couldn't take it any more (I was about 15 or 16 then), and decided to forget all about religion.


                      Then, many years later, when I was a graduate student at Indiana University, I heard the Gospel, and I was touched. When I found out that the Bible clearly stated that salvation is by faith alone, regardless of your previous and future actions, that gave me great relief and hope, and, later, after a long period of research, including reading through the whole New Testament for the first time, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. The God of love (NT) took over the God of fear that the Jesuits told me about, except that it is the same God, not two; the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Mt. 5:17) The guilt of having been a sinner finally stopped, because I understood that Jesus' righteousness was imputed to me through my faith in his death and resurrection.


                      This changed my view on life completely. Not that I didn't sin any more. We are all (Christians and non-Christians) sinners. However, when you are justified by faith, God gives you the grace and power to overcome it: this is called sanctification. This doesn't mean that you don't sin any more: it means that God gives you the power to eliminate your previous sinful patterns. Still, some Christians (even, or especially, Christian leaders) fall into disgraceful sin. This is a shame, and that's why many people (like Tor Guimaraes), when they see what these "model" Christians have done, they want nothing to do with Christianity.


                      Some theologians would argue that these "fallen" Christians had never accepted Christ to begin with (that is, when they accepted Christ, it was only a superficial, but not heartfelt prayer); others defend that they fell away from Christianity, which means that they lost their salvation. This second argument is not biblical: you cannot lose your salvation. Another argument is that a person plainly disobeyed God. Whatever the reason, dismissing Christianity because of these sinners' behavior is equivalent to dismissing Islam because of what ISIS is doing. Any religion should be followed or not based on their scriptures alone.


                      There are good and bad people in all religions, including agnosticism and atheism, which are also beliefs. I have Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Muslim, Hindi, agnostic, and atheist friends, to name a few. There are also Christians I don't like because of how they behave, as well as people from other faiths. I suggest Tor and others who don't want to associate with Christians to reconsider, and examine the scriptures.


                      The argument that always comes up against "sola fide" is: if you are saved by faith alone, you then have the freedom to go and sin more; you don't have an incentive to be good any more! The answer to that is that, after God has saved you from hell, He will give you the grace and desire to please Him by obeying His laws. Also, in the Final Judgment, God will give us more or less rewards depending on how we lived our lives. Here are a couple of websites with a more in-depth explanation:


                      http://www.gotquestions.org/faith-alone.html


                      http://lifehopeandtruth.com/bible-questions/how/jesus-fulfilled-the-law/


                      Here are some supporting Bible verses:


                      "21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [a] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement [b] by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed." (Romans 3:21-25)


                      "8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--9 not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9)


                      "4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness..." (Ro. 4:4-5)


                      "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)


                      "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'" (Jn. 14:6)


                      JE comments:  It is Sunday morning, folks!  Towards the end of his comment, Enrique Torner touches on the most obvious rebuttal to the "salvation through faith alone" principle:  how does this incentivize good deeds here and now?    The "everyone is a sinner, so faith can be the only litmus test" argument seems to give a free pass to the worst behavior.  And then there is Calvin's notion of predestination, which I suppose Enrique rejects.  The Calvinist worldview always struck me as demoralizing (as in depressing):  if your eternal fate is already determined, why "bother" at all?


                      Can anyone put in a word for Calvin?  And as John Heelan asked several days ago, what exactly is "salvation" anyway?

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                      • Calvinism (Robert Whealey, USA 01/26/15 1:48 AM)

                        When commenting Enrique Torner's post of 25 January, JE asked: "Can anyone put forward a word for John Calvin?" I am not an
                        absolute believing Calvinist, but as an American historian, I have a duty to explain why
                        Calvinist philosophy took over in Holland, 53% of the Swiss, the Scottish Presbyterian
                        Church, the English Congregational Church, and the Massachusetts Puritans, who spread
                        to dozens of new Christian sects and split-offs up to about 1917.


                        Rest assured, John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" (1536) is now seldom
                        consulted. Science, technology, Hollywood, the Internet, the places of pleasure in NY,
                        London, and Paris are now dominant, but are now themselves politically and economically
                        confused by capitalist, imperialist greed.


                        JE by his rush to judgment about Calvin does not really understand the idea of
                        "predestination." Calvin did not give his followers a free pass to sin. Calvin made no
                        claim to knowledge as to who was saved. Only God knew that. But the Calvinistic
                        churches argued, "look at your neighbors." See who is sober, who is loyal and loving
                        of his wife, and who is going to houses of prostitution, bars, homosexual houses, and gambling
                        dens.  The hard-working savers might be saved while the drunks and sodomites are
                        probably not going to make it.


                        Of course, many uninformed ministers jumped to conclusions and put themselves in
                        the pulpit claiming that they "knew God's will."


                        Although I am an agnostic and am unsure about Heaven and Hell, as Hamlet was, I
                        tried to teach my three children that health and happiness (by doing a good job for
                        yourself and others), which was an informal practical Puritanism, was the more
                        rational road to follow.
                        The "new left," in reality the "old romantics" of the 1964-1969 period made no
                        impression on me at age 35-40. I was too busy like Sen. George McGovern,
                        Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King Jr, et. al, in resisting the Vietnam war and the
                        nuclear arms race.
                        Calvinism at its best and pacifists are on the same side.


                        The Calvinistic churches
                        are only one road to the Bible. The philosophers and theologians by logic alone can
                        never explain its many contradictions. It is only a source book for the history of
                        Christianity and Judaism.


                        JE comments:  Puritanism is commonly seen (especially by Europeans) as the foundation of US culture--the idea of working hard and making sure your neighbors do the same.  It's likely a great way to build a wealthy and functional society.  But I've heard of recent revisionist studies that question the assumptions about Puritans being so "puritanical"--especially with regards to drinking and sex.


                        Robert--you mention the places of pleasure in New York, London, and Paris.  Such places don't exist in Michigan, but I'm intrigued.  We do have a colleague or two or three in each of those cities.  Colleagues?

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                      • Tolerance of Religious Diversity (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/27/15 8:36 AM)
                        Enrique Torner (25 January) made a statement about me which I need to explain: "I have Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Muslim, Hindi, agnostic, and atheist friends, to name a few. There are also Christians I don't like because of how they behave, as well as people from other faiths. I suggest to Tor Guimaraes and others who don't want to associate with Christians to reconsider, and examine the scriptures."

                        I also have many friends and relatives from a wide variety of religions, and agree that all religions have good and bad people. But it is completely wrong for Enrique to think I "don't want to associate" with any of them. First that is not possible, second some of them are great people and I admire them.


                        John Eipper commented on my 25 January post: "Nobody ever said these discussions of faith are logical. To come to Enrique Torner's defense, that is the whole point of faith: to believe in something unseen and unmeasurable, which means it defies logic." Exactly right, but also if anyone is to unquestionably be able to make up whatever beliefs they want to have faith in (which is what most religious people do today), then the price mankind has to pay is the messy religious situation we now have (clash of civilizations fueled by major differences in religious beliefs, disrespect for some of each others' religious beliefs, disrespect for scientific knowledge, faith in absurd superstitions, widespread religious corruption, etc.).


                        That is why I think mankind needs a more scientific religion with less trust/faith in the supernatural.


                        JE comments:  Yes, like it or not, we have no choice but to associate with people of all religions.  As Prof. Hilton wrote in an undated mission statement:  "WAIS is one big international network whose aim is to promote peace across cultural, religious, and political boundaries."  So pax is even more important than lux.  Most of the time we do a pretty good job of it.

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                        • Religioius Diversity: an Analogy (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/27/15 3:20 PM)
                          After reading the many WAIS discussions on religion it ends up so complex, divergent and confusing that I have developed a simple analogy. It's like taking a plane from LA to New York, as there are seven or so airlines that offer the trip and you believe the one you choose will get you there.



                          Non-believers can take a bus or car and they too believe they'll get there. Bottom line, in the end, we'll eventually all arrive at the same place!

                          JE comments:  Michael Sullivan's travel analogy is ecumenism perfected.  But atheists are the ones who drive?  Taking the land route is infinitely more spiritual! What commercial airline will let you stop at Carhenge on the way?  I made the pilgrimage last March; you could feel the presence of Nebraska's ancient Druids.





                           





                           

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                          • Carhenge and Stonehenge (Randy Black, USA 01/29/15 10:33 AM)
                            I am very entertained by John Eipper's Carhenge photos in Alliance, Nebraska, and plan a pilgrimage there in the coming summer break. (See Michael Sullivan, 27 January.)



                            Having been to Stonehenge in England several times over the decades, I've attached two photos, one from the 1971 Stonehenge Open Golf Championship in which I finished 2nd after bouncing my drive on the final hole off a bird that was sitting on the top of the center stone and suffering a one-shot penalty to lose to the then current British Open Champion and close friend Lee Trevino. The other photo is from 2011, prior to our WAIS bi-annual meeting at Torquay.



                            I was about 44 years younger and 75 pounds slimmer in 1971. The amazing thing seems to be that I was really that young and that fit once upon a time!

                            JE comments: But you're still handsome, Randy! I'm confused about one thing: why would they build a "Henge" out of mere rocks?


                            After publishing the Carhenge images earlier this week I remembered that I already did a post back in March (https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=83494&objectTypeId=72055&topicId=44 ). Is my memory failing? We've also run Randy's golfing pic before, but not the modern update.  At the end I pose at the Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, in Guanajuato.  What is the relevance here?  Randy is tilting at Stonehenge, and I am wearing a Carhenge T-shirt!





                            Randy Black, 1971





                            Randy Black, 2011






                            Guanajuato, 6 April 2014

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                            • Visiting Stonehenge (Nigel Jones, UK 01/29/15 12:14 PM)
                              Sad to say, Randy Black (29 January) would not get anywhere near the stones of Stonehenge if he visited the site today. Like the original Lascaux caves in France, the whole site is "verboten" to the public, who can only view it from a safe distance, allegedly because the ancient monument was suffering wear and tear, though they have built a hi-tech visitor centre nearby.

                              JE comments: My one visit to Stonehenge was in 1998, and even then a cordon kept you 20 meters away. Randy: how did you manage the 2011 photo at such a close distance?


                              Stonehenge must be suffering the abuse of all those golfers. (!)  But fear not: at Carhenge you can get as close as you want.

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                        • Tolerance of Religious Diversity; Response to Tor Guimaraes (Enrique Torner, USA 01/30/15 1:54 AM)
                          I want to apologize to Tor Guimaraes (27 January) for not having expressed myself clearly in the paragraph he quoted from my Jan. 25 post.  I had written:

                          "I have Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Muslim, Hindi, agnostic, and atheist friends, to name a few. There are also Christians I don't like because of how they behave, as well as people from other faiths. I suggest Tor and others who don't want to associate with Christians to reconsider, and examine the scriptures."


                          I never meant to imply that he does not associate with any Christians. What I was trying to say is that you should not judge an entire religion based on a few individuals who have fallen into disgraceful sin, and decide, as a result of that, that you don't want to join their religion (not "them"). I know it's impossible for somebody not to associate with any Christian at all, or even any follower of another religion. My statement followed the reasoning of a previous paragraph of mine (actually, two paragraphs before, so I guess I must have been tired and did not follow up appropriately):


                          "We are all (Christians and non-Christians) sinners. However, when you are justified by faith, God gives you the grace and power to overcome it: this is called sanctification. This doesn't mean that you don't sin any more: it means that God gives you the power to eliminate your previous sinful patterns. Still, some Christians (even, or especially, Christian leaders) fall into disgraceful sin. This is a shame, and that's why many people (like Tor Guimaraes), when they see what these 'model' Christians have done, they want nothing to do with Christianity."


                          My comment for Tor was due to a previous statement of his (which I can't find right now, and it's getting late for me!), in which he mentioned having encountered some Christians doing things he didn't like, and that's one of the reasons (I assume not the only one) why he doesn't feel inclined to join Christianity (or a Christian church, or something to the effect).


                          Tor, I am really sorry if I misrepresented and upset you.


                          JE comments: My thanks to Enrique Torner for the kind (irenic) words.  

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                          • Christianity; Response to Enrique Torner (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/01/15 3:47 AM)
                            My gratitude to Enrique Torner for his very gracious apology of 30 January; however I regretfully must say that he misinterpreted my position once again. It is not true that I am judging "an entire [Christian] religion based on a few individuals who have fallen into disgraceful sin," which has resulted in my rejection of Christianity.

                            My problem with organized religions has been detailed in several posts over the years. My position has always avoided singling out Christianity as a bad religion just because of the many well-documented nasty deeds its followers have committed over the centuries; the followers of other religions have done similarly nasty things. Over time I have grown increasingly against all organized religions because they seem to create more problems than help to humanity. They also often defy the truth based on logic and science. Scientists have an obligation to show that some religious teachings (i.e. the Earth is the center of our solar system, creationism versus evolution, etc.) are wrong. This is particularly important because many religious groups have been prone to killing their critics or members of other religions in the past, and some even do this today. This is true regardless of the fact that much of religious belief is supernatural, based on superstitions that many times contradict basic logic and laws of nature.


                            I consider myself a scientist who decided to believe in God fervently. However, my definition of God has to withstand reasoning and existing natural law. Further, why debate if "God" created the Universe when we will never be able to prove this one way or the other? That the Universe is God makes more sense. Atheists cannot argue against that because obviously the Universe exists. Why must religious founders invent a heaven full of virgins or virgin births, ghosts, resurrections, etc., which only make their beliefs unacceptable to scientific-minded people and/or members of other religions?


                            JE comments:  Today promises to be very snowy in Michigan, and full of theological debate in WAISworld.  Enrique Torner has sent an interesting note on Calvinism.  First, however, stay tuned for Vincent Littrell on the Petrine-Pauline split in Christianity.


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                      • Calvinism (Enrique Torner, USA 02/01/15 5:45 AM)
                        Our dear editor had asked at the end of my 25 January post if anybody could "put in a word for Calvin." I initially thought that he was asking for an explanation of Calvinism, but now that I read it again, I believe he meant a defense of Calvinism.  [Yes, I meant a defense--JE.] Regardless, after reading Robert Whealey's response to my post, I thought that Calvin deserved a more thorough theological explanation, so I will try to do that with an easy to remember mnemonic technique I learned from Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble. The word to remember is TULIP. This will be very simplistic for some, but, if you are already an expert, you can use it for teaching the concept. Here it is:

                        T--Total depravity: Man is utterly sinful and incapable of taking steps to merit his own redemption.


                        U--Unconditional election: Those whom God elects to salvation are elected unconditionally, that is, their election is not conditional on their mode of life, on their works.


                        L--Limited atonement: Christ died for the elect, not for all humankind.


                        I--Irresistible grace: God's grace is irresistible for the elect, who have, therefore, no claim to merit grace as a reward for their conduct.


                        P--Persistence in grace: Grace cannot be lost or rejected by the elect.


                        John Eipper had asked me if I am a Calvinist, guessing that I am not. Well, he guessed right! Actually, I don't quite fit with any theologian, nor do I desire to. If anything, I consider myself a Berean: the Bible is my guide, and I have my own interpretation, which I have reached from reading it, considering different theological viewpoints, and meditating about it all. I have never become a member of a church, nor do I want to. Like Tor Guimaraes, I don't like anybody telling me what to think or do. I try to follow what I believe God is saying in His Word, and nothing else. I already experienced the power, control, and manipulation of the Catholic church when I was young; I also noticed several churches/pastors trying to impose their beliefs and behaviors on everybody in their congregation. As an American citizen (yes, I claim my nationality: it took me a lot of work!), having been raised under Franco's dictatorship, I cherish my current freedom.


                        JE comments:  I'll still stand by my earlier appraisal of Calvinism as unconditionally depressing.  I've tried to discuss this with US Presbyterians, who seem to have abandoned the harsher tenets of Calvin in order to become a middle-of-the-road Protestant church.  I presume a number of WAISers are practicing Presbyterians.  I hope one of them will comment.

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      • Dan Brown's *Da Vinci Code* (Randy Black, USA 01/06/15 11:40 AM)
        In his post of 5 January, and pertaining to our discussion about God, Christianity, etc., Enrique Torner brought up the name of fiction writer Dan Brown. Enrique wrote, "Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code is an example, though he has been shunned by many Christians for his many 'blasphemies.'"

        Pardon me for bringing up the obvious to WAIS, but what in the world does fiction writer Dan Brown have to do with anything in these discussions? And on what authority does Enrique claim that Brown "has been shunned by many Christians for his many 'blasphemies'"?


        For those who have somehow missed The Da Vinci Code issues, Dan Brown is a writer of the conspiracy-fiction best seller, The Da Vinci Code, which was later made into one of the most popular movies in recent years starring Tom Hanks and an international cast of stars.


        It's important to remember that Brown writes fiction, nothing more, nothing less.


        The Da Vinci Code, while a fantastically compelling movie, is just a movie and one book. It is based on just enough historical fact to remain interesting to more than 50 million readers and millions more movie goers and to confuse readers and movie goers, Christians included. For Enrique to say that "many Christians shunned Da Vinci Code" is simply not an accurate representation of fact.


        I cannot fathom what Dan Brown could possibly have to do with anything in these deeper matters of creation, religion, Big Bang theory and atheism.


        Let's start with the typo in the name of Dan Brown's book. The DaVinci Code implies that Leonardo's last name was Da Vinci. It was not. He was from Venice (de Vinci). It's like calling me "Mr. from Texas." Randy Da Texas, while a bit over the top, has a nice ring however.


        From the historical records, Leonardo's birth name was Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, meaning "Leonardo, son of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci." Some may argue that Leonardo was born a bastard and therefore not entitled to his father's last name.


        There is conflict with that premise but nevertheless, the Dan Brown book is full of half-truths, sort-of-truths, not truths, no way-no hows, maybe facts with a large margin for error, and in Brown's own words on page 8, "it is fiction made up from his imagination."


        A few facts about the lack of facts and outright falsehoods portrayed in Dan Brown's best-seller:


        • On page 8 of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown writes, "In this work of fiction, the characters, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or they are used entirely fictitiously."

        •  There was never a Priory of Sion (protector of the "secret").

        • The figure in Da Vinci's Last Supper, portrayed by actor Tom Hanks (Langdon), is not Mary Magdalene, it is John.

        • Mary Magdalene was not demonized by the Church; in fact, her life was recognized by the Church, she was promoted to Saint, and her sainthood is celebrated on July 22.

        • Dan Brown, a former school teacher, has no advanced knowledge or education in religion. He began his book-writing career full-time in 1996. It's my understanding that his wife is his fact-checker. I have read his other works, and they are not particularly as entertaining as The Da Vinci Code.

        • Scenes appearing to be shot in Westminster Abbey: Westminster Abbey commendably re­fused permission for filming the Ab­bey scenes on site because of the "wayward religious and historic suggestions" and "factual errors" in the book.

        • Mary Magdalene is not buried in the Louvre.



        The list goes on and on but... But I still enjoy the movie.


        Sources include: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/the-da-vinci-code-the-facts-behind-the-fiction.html


        http://creation.com/the-da-vinci-code-fiction-masquerading-as-fact


        JE comments:  Enrique Torner (like Yours Truly), is a teacher of fiction, so he certainly is aware of the discrepancies pointed out by Randy Black.  I'll let Enrique answer for himself, but I assume he cited Brown's book as an example of how the nexus of religion and science (and here, history) has entered into the "collective" or "popular" consciousness.


        Have I read the Code?  As Ric Mauricio might say, hmmm.  (Full disclosure:  no.)


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        • Brown's *Da Vince Code*; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 01/07/15 4:16 AM)
          Ric Mauricio sends this comment on The Da Vince Code (see Randy Black, 6 January):

          Hmmm, indeed. I did see that very entertaining movie and read that very entertaining book. As I explained to many who elicited my thoughts on Dan Brown's book, I explained to them that the fictional movie was based on a fictional book based a fictional painting. In other words, very fictional. I started laughing half way through the book.


          But I think I will start referring to Randy Black as Da Texan, you know, like you da man.


          But I digress. I have been reading the WAIS discussions on religion and many have brought up some interesting points. My question is, why is it that we treat science and God as being mutually exclusive?  Whenever I look at the stars or pictures of the universe, especially the nebulae, I marvel. Whenever I ponder the number of species of fishes and flora and animals and insects, I marvel. On Christmas Day, my grandkids and I were watching a documentary on the many species of sharks, and we all marveled at how many species of just sharks there were and how they were very different from each other. To me, that is science, and a natural life force.


          My atheist friend and I have many discussions on the existence vs. the non-existence of God. He says that everything can be explained by science or physics. Ah, but this natural force you call physics, isn't that the same force that some call God, or Allah, or Yahweh, Great Spirit, the Creator or even a polytheistic deity? Isn't the reason that people simplify the definition of this great natural force is because their minds simply cannot comprehend? Perhaps the reason the beginning of the universe was described as such in the Bible (seven days, Adam and Eve) is because a student asked his professor how the world or man began, and the professor, not wanting to look ignorant, made up a simple story to explain what of course, was inexplicable at the time.


          To me, science and God are the same thing. Now where we may get into trouble is attributing human attributes to god or gods. God gets angry, God is loving, God is jealous. This is what my atheist friend has an issue with. There has been some discussion on whether man is made in God's image or whether God is made in man's image. But if man is made from the same natural forces that made the universe, are we not part of God, or whatever we choose to call the great natural force? Now when I say "man," I am referring to both mankind and womankind. One of the guys in my Christian Men's Fraternity came up with, "Since Jesus was a man, God is a man, and the Holy Spirit is a man." Whoa, don't know where he got that logic.


          JE comments:  To shift the subject slightly, when preparing a comment for my Adrian colleague Scott Elliott's volume on Bible translation (http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/060669P.front.pdf ), I learned that the Hebrew Old Testament is far less "gendered" than the Latin Vulgate and subsequent English translations.  Why this need for God to be so manly?  One wonders if the Holy Scriptures caused Judeo-Christian society to embrace a patriarchal system, or conversely, if the patriarchy informed the masculinist bias of the Biblical translators.


          Perhaps Ed Jajko can help:  did the King James translators work from the Hebrew and Greek originals, or from Jerome's Vulgate?


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        • Leonardo, Venice, and Vinci (Luciano Dondero, Italy 01/06/15 4:00 PM)
          I enjoyed Randy Black's post of 6 January.

          A small point. Randy wrote: "The Da Vinci Code implies that Leonardo's last name was Da Vinci. It was not. He was from Venice (de Vinci)."


          This is not correct. Vinci is a little town in Tuscany, by the Arno valley not very far from Florence.


          JE comments: Thanks, Luciano! I should have caught that during my editing, but that is what the collective eyes and brains of WAISdom are for.


          Surnames (and first/given/"Christian" names) were one of Prof. Hilton's favorite subjects. It's interesting that of the four Ninja Turtle Italian artists, only Leonardo is known by a "surname" of any kind: da Vinci. Nobody refers to Messrs Betto Bardi (Donatello), Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael), or Buonarotti (Michelangelo). In Spanish, this last painter is known as "Miguel Ángel." "Michael Angel" would sound very bizarre in English.  I should note too that in Spanish, Leonardo is named by mononym only.


          Wikipedia's entry on "mononym" tells us that in Turkey, surnames were introduced only after World War I.  Yusuf Kanli is traveling (I think he's in Spain presently), but if he sees this post, I hope he'll tell us where and how the Kanli originated.  Another surname-free culture:  Iceland, where first names and patronymics are used.


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          • Turkish Surnames; Drinkwater, Trinkwasser, etc. (Edward Jajko, USA 01/07/15 3:01 PM)
            Not to speak for Yusuf Kanli, but in November 2013 he mentioned that he comes from the northern Cyprus city of Gonyeli. Kanli is the name of a town a little to the west.

            I share Prof. Hilton's interest in names.  (See Luciano Dondero, 7 January.)  I find the name of the actor Sean Bean curiously compelling. It requires a decent knowledge of the language to know how to pronounce two words in apposition that are almost identical in their spelling but are not homophones. I have looked into how his name is represented in Arabic ads for his movies and there it is "Shawn B_in."  Among other names that interest me is the English "Drinkwater." Explanations for this name in on-line sources are entirely fanciful and specious. They are based on the assumption that the name exists in English/England only and ignore German "Trinkwasser," Polish "Pijewoda," Italian "Bevilacqua," etc. I can't figure out the source of this name.


            JE comments:  Water is good for you, so in Darwinian terms, the Trinkwassers of the world are going to thrive and multiply.  My favorite near-equivalent surname in Spanish would be Entrambasaguas (Between Both Waters).  It's also a small town in Cantabria, on the N Spanish coast.  Also, I'd like to put in a word for the surname Goodenough.  I once had a student with that name, and it must do wonders for self-esteem.  There's also Goodenough College in Central London, which is not a "college" in the US sense but a postgraduate residence facility for students studying in London.  Q:  What are your accommodations like?  A:  Adequate, Satisfactory, Not Bad at All.  That's the Goodenough way.



            http://www.goodenough.ac.uk


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        • More on Brown's *Da Vinci Code* (Enrique Torner, USA 01/07/15 5:48 AM)

          This discussion on God and science already took place last year, and, if I'm not mistaken, I started it by asking WAISers for the reasons behind the recent (last 20-30 years, but especially during the last few) resurgence of bestselling books and movies on God and religion.


          I have read and studied all of Dan Brown; as a matter of fact, I am in the process of writing a research article on him and a Spanish writer who is very influenced by him. Dan Brown has written several novels on the subject of God and science; many other writers from the US and Spain have done the same. Thus my mentioning him. I am perfectly aware that Dan Brown is a writer of fiction, but he writes historical thrillers. At the beginning of his books, he mentions his historical sources, and offers his legal disclaimer. His novels, as Randy Black well states, are a mix of fact and fiction. I could write a whole research article showing Randy how Dan Brown has discussed, through characters in several of his novels, creation, the Big Bang, and the existence of the soul, but I'll spare of you all the details. Believe me, I have read all of his novels. Randy Black talks about the Da Vinci Code, but either he has not read his other novels, or he has forgotten about them. I'll let you know when I publish my article. I have to work on it this coming summer.


          Regarding Randy's second question, as those of you who have read my comments know, I am a Christian, besides a Spanish professor, and one of my fields of expertise is the role of religion in Spanish literature. As a matter of fact, the fact that religion, history, and literature are important subjects in this community is what led me to WAIS. There are many Christian leaders, pastors, and organizations that have repudiated Dan Brown, especially the Da Vinci Code, including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Kan Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum) and John MacArthur (pastor of Grace to You and president of The Master's College in California) are two of the most outspoken biblical pastors in the US, and they both published their repudiation of the novelist. Here are supporting websites, a few among many:


          http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A136/dan-brown-and-the-da-vinci-code


          https://answersingenesis.org/reviews/books/how-christians-should-view-the-fact-claims-of-the-da-vinci-code/


          http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/media/lol-pope-vs-dan-brown.html


          http://www.catholic.com/documents/cracking-the-da-vinci-code


          http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/aprilweb-only/gifttothechurch.html


          Pope Francis, however, has turned things around. He has been trying to establish a good relationship between the Catholic Church and science, and recently stated publicly that evolution and the Big Bang theory are not contradictory with God's creation:


          http://www.newsweek.com/pope-franciss-remarks-evolution-are-not-controversial-among-roman-catholics-281115


          His liberal views strongly contrasts with his predecessors and with many Christian and Catholic leaders. His view on Dan Brown is so positive that, lo and behold, he invited Dan Brown to design the Vatican Easter Egg hunt that took place on Easter of 2013:


          http://www.newsweek.com/pope-franciss-remarks-evolution-are-not-controversial-among-roman-catholics-281115


          I could add many more sources to prove my point that Christians of all types, as well as Jews and Muslims, joined Christians in their attack on Dan Brown:


          http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4985370.stm


          To top this post off, I'll finish with a blog post that quotes an Indian newspaper article in which some Christians are so enraged at Brown, that they offer a $25,000 bounty for his head!


          http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4985370.stm


          God bless, pax et lux.


          JE comments: A Christian fatwa?  I didn't see any reference to the $25K bounty in the above article, but some Catholic leaders in India were enraged to the point of beginning a hunger strike.  This must have been great publicity for the book and film.


          A curiosity:  Have Dan Brown and Salman Rushdie ever met?  They are members of an exclusive club:  writers who have been condemned to death by religious zealots.


          Can anyone tell us how long the Vatican has held an Easter Egg hunt?  Isn't this a rather Pagan thing to do?


          ADDENDUM 8 January:  Enrique Torner sent this link which reports on the $25,000 bounty on Brown's life:


           


          http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/2006/05/going-all-muslim-on-dan-brown.html


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          • Dan Brown and Spanish Writers Today (John Heelan, UK 01/08/15 8:09 AM)
            Enrique Torner wrote on 7 January that he is writing a research article on Dan Brown and a Spanish writer who is very influenced by him. Who is the writer? I am very much looking forward to Enrique's article.

            Some years ago through lack of funds, I had to abandon my PhD research on the influence of al-Andalus's Moorish heritage on Lorca's poetry. Part of that work investigated traces of Moorish culture, writings and poetry in his work. The first indication was that the influence provided a leitmotiv, but I did not have the opportunity to flesh out that research path. In any case such influence would have been overwhelmed by the psychological turmoil between his religious upbringing and his homosexuality that underpins much of his poetry.


            JE comments: And Federico García Lorca is the reason John Heelan first made contact with Prof. Hilton, which resulted in John joining WAIS.  By my calculations, John has been the most prolific contributor to our discussions in modern times.  Since 1997, fully 2.6% of the 33,000+ WAIS posts have the Heelan byline!


            For this reason alone, I'll be forever grateful to Lorca. (I actually prefer his plays to his poetry: this semester I'll be teaching La casa de Bernarda Alba for probably the 20th time.  One of my favorite lines from the tyrannical Bernarda:  "women in church should look at no man other than the priest, and that's because he wears a skirt.")


            Returning to Dan Brown, I look forward to Enrique Torner's response. If I may piggyback an additional question: aren't there a lot of Brown imitators because his is a proven formula for commercial success?

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            • Dan Brown's Imitators (Enrique Torner, USA 01/09/15 4:51 AM)
              In response to John Heelan (8 January), the article on Dan Brown that I am working on is a comparison between his Angels and Demons and Espía de Dios (God's Spy), by Juan Gómez Jurado, a young Spanish novelist who has also become an award-winning Spanish journalist and bestselling author. He was born in 1977, and has had his novels translated into 42 languages, being on The New York Times top bestselling list several times, together with Spanish authors Javier Sierra and Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Gómez Jurado's Espía de Dios shares many elements with Angels and Demons. I really appreciate John Heelan's interest in my article. I'll be glad to share it with him and anybody else who is interested--maybe Randy Black? Regarding John's question, the answer is yes, Dan Brown has lots of imitators. However, Gómez Jurado's novel is much more of an imitator of him than anybody else. Thus my article. Wikipedia mentions an interesting controversy regarding the novel:

              "There were several very controversial issues in Spain relating to God's Spy. The main reason is that the antagonist, Viktor Karoski, is a serial killer, pedophile priest. In the book there is a highly detailed portrait of Saint Matthew's Institute, a carbon copy of a real institution in the United States (Maryland-based, as well) dedicated to the rehabilitation of sex-offender priests. Some Catholic organizations in Spain and Poland protested against the novel because of this. In both countries, nonetheless, the main reaction of the critics was fairly favourable to the novel. In the USA the reviews were positive. Booklist, i. e., praised the book as a 'First-rate thriller.'"

              JE comments:  I've heard anecdotally that there is another center for sex-offender priests somewhere in the wilds of central Michigan.  I cannot find any Internet references.  Understandably, such a place wouldn't want to draw attention to itself.
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    • Can Science Make a Case for God? Einstein and Religion (Bienvenido Macario, USA 01/05/15 4:14 AM)
      Nicolas Ruiz III asked on 4 January: "Why the desire to marry the two human peculiarities [science and religion]?"

      See: http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=90332&objectTypeId=76336&topicId=152


      I would refer to Albert Einstein's article "Religion and Science," published in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930.  He wrote:


      "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. God does not play dice with the universe."


      Albert Einstein was a self-proclaimed agnostic, as opposed to an atheist.  He believed that the existence of God cannot be proven. I get this to mean it's a waste of time to try to prove the existence of God. This does not mean he did not believe in the existence of God. On the contrary, he believed in Pantheism, the belief that nature and the universe are the same as divinity.


      Pantheism is similar to Jesus Christ's first commandment: Love God above all and everything God created i.e. mother nature. This is no different from the spirituality of Native Americans, whose great leaders said: "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. We do not inherit this earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. It's time for our people to rise up and take back our role as caretakers and stewards of the land."


      And from the Holy Bible we have this:


      "Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'"--Genesis 1:26


      JE comments:  "We do not inherit this earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."  A beautiful thought.  How many societies have actually practiced this belief?  Painfully few.



      Was humanity made in God's image?  Or was God made in humanity's image?  Here we have the central distinction between religionists and atheists.

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      • Was Humanity Made in God's Image, or Vice Versa? on Rousseau (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/06/15 4:15 AM)
        Commenting on the excellent post of Bienvenido Macario (5 January), JE asked a very subtle question:

        "Was humanity made in God's image? Or was God made in humanity's image?"


        But as J. J. Rousseau pointed out, both hypothesis are correct. He said: "God created man in His own Image and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment."


        We will easily agree that there is only one God, but how differently He is represented according to the men who wrote about Him!  See the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, plus other sacred books from Zoroaster on.


        JE comments:  Monotheism is far from universally accepted. What about the world's 900 million Hindus?  Monotheism is a view more or less monopolized by the Abrahamic Big Three--the religions of the Book.


        So who is willing to put in a word for the polytheism?  One intrinsic advantage of believing in competing gods: their conflicts more satisfactorily explain the bad things that happen to people.

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        • Humanity, God, and...Rousseau? (Alan Levine, USA 01/06/15 1:24 PM)
          I wonder if Eugenio Battaglia, or anyone else, can give a citation for the line he attributes to Rousseau: "God created man in His own Image and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment."

          While it has overtones of Rousseau, I am unaware of Rousseau ever saying anything so explicit on God. He was usually much more circumspect in his statements. This, to me, sounds more like the quip of a humorist.


          JE comments:  You can find a link for almost anything, and this one ("Atheist Empire") says it's Rousseau.  Other web sources indicate Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw.  I'm leaning Twainward on this one.


          Can anyone give us the definitive answer?


          Oops, almost forgot the link (scroll down a bit):



          http://atheistempire.com/greatminds/more.php


          And by the way, all the best to Alan Levine for 2015.  Alan:  mark your calendar now for WAIS '15, 10-12 October, Stanford.  Unfortunately, I won't have my vintage Cadillac available in Palo Alto, but we'll find a suitable substitute.  Do you think they'll loan us a Tesla?


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  • Thoughts on Muslim Modernity (Richard Hancock, USA 01/04/15 5:01 AM)
    JE's comment on my post of January 3 reads, "Couldn't we make a case that the Muslim Middle East more closely follows the US model, where 'modernity' has coincided with an increase in religious fervor?"

    In response, I would say that we should consider the overwhelming low level or lack of literacy among the Middle Eastern Muslims which has no counterpoint in the US, especially among Christians. I recall hearing a talk in the early 1980s at the U of Oklahoma by the vice-mayor of Jerusalem who described this illiteracy as overwhelming, to the point that the tale of Jews killing a live baby as a part of their religious services was universally believed among Muslims. There were a great many Middle Eastern Muslims in the audience who did their best to give the vice-mayor a hard time, but he did a great job of defending himself.



    A good friend of mine was the director of Hillel on campus and the sponsor of this meeting which was held in a University lecture hall. He was very disconcerted by the behavior of the Muslim students and vowed to conduct future meetings only at Hillel, which is the on-campus Jewish center.


    JE comments:  The "blood libel" stereotype refuses to go away.  Historically it was the Christians who cited Jewish baby-killing as a justification for their anti-Semitic campaigns (Inquisition, pogroms, etc.).


    To shift the topic slightly, WAISer David A. Westbrook argues in his book Deploying Ourselves that it is a mistake to view the "Muslim world" as somehow lacking in modernity.  It is a different modernity from the Western version.  The distinction is not just a matter of touchy-feely political correctness.  To recognize the existence of competing models of modernity is a first step towards addressing the Middle East "problem."  Otherwise, policy makers in the US will be tempted to see the external imposition of modernity--call it democratization or secular nation-building--as a solution in itself.  Experience since 2001-2003 has revealed the holes in this strategy.


    If I've misread or oversimplified Bert Westbrook's thesis, I hope he'll correct me.


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    • Thoughts on Muslim Modernity (John Heelan, UK 01/04/15 6:53 AM)
      With all respect, I find very patronising Richard Hancock's comment (4
      January): "In response, I would say that we should consider the
      overwhelming low level or lack of literacy among the Middle Eastern
      Muslims which has no counterpoint in the US, especially among
      Christians."

      One might think that it and the comments following indicate Richard's own prejudices that appear to have a tinge of hasbara about them.


      JE
      comments: I don't have statistics, but I would guess that most
      illiterate (US) Americans self-identify as Christians. I cannot imagine
      there are too many illiterate Jewish- or Muslim-Americans, even in percentage terms.

      Hasbara is Israel's public diplomacy.  I somehow had never come across the term until today.
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    • Muslims and Illiteracy (Massoud Malek, USA 01/05/15 4:48 AM)
      On 4 January, Richard Hancock wrote:

      "I would say that we should consider the overwhelming low level or lack of literacy among the Middle Eastern Muslims which has no counterpoint in the US, especially among Christians. I recall hearing a talk in the early 1980s at the U of Oklahoma by the vice-mayor of Jerusalem who described this illiteracy as overwhelming, to the point that the tale of Jews killing a live baby as a part of their religious services was universally believed among Muslims."


      Later Richard wrote:


      "A good friend of mine who sponsored the meeting was very disconcerted by the behavior of the Muslim students."


      This is not the first time Richard has made a comment critical of Muslims in this Forum. In his previous post (3 January), he tried to convince us that the a book of fantasy and fairy tales [the Christian Bible?--JE] is scientifically proven. There is nothing scientific about Jesus walking on water, raising the dead, or turning water into wine. Richard believes that reading the Bible makes you smarter and more literate. That is why American Christians are more literate that Middle Eastern Muslims. Should we consider someone who believes that Jesus came back from dead and stayed for 40 days without being seen by anyone, a literate and enlightened person?


      Richard then tells us about a Muslim-hater from Israel, a country with laws curtailing freedom of speech for its Muslim citizens, who believed that this hatred for Muslims should be spread all over the non-Muslim world.


      Why was the reaction of Muslim students who were insulted by the vice-mayor of Jerusalem disconcerting?



      I invite Richard to watch the following YouTube video about lack of literacy in America:



      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm3kQIK9-7g



      JE comments:  The following chart of national literacy rates doesn't really allow us to generalize by religion, although the three most illiterate nations, Mali, Niger, and Afghanistan, are predominantly Muslim.  But Palestine, presumably the nation referred to by the vice-mayor of Jerusalem, has a 95.6% literacy rate, comparable to Portugal (95.4%) and just behind Spain (97.7%).


      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate


      Ethiopia, for example, is Christian and also highly illiterate.  Development or its lack, far more than religion, seems to be the major predicting factor.

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      • Illiteracy: It's Important to Ask the Right Questions (Henry Levin, USA 01/05/15 12:30 PM)
        I think that the discussion of Islam and education has been side-tracked with generalizations about the causes of literacy that miss the point.

        Literacy is not a one-dimensional subject. It can be defined and measured in many different ways, and one must always ask "literacy for what?" The big controversy in Islamic education is the response to this question. Increasingly, Islamic education is provided by Madrassas, mainly focusing on the memorization of the sacred lines of the Koran. The educational impact is to turn out large numbers of youth who lack substantive knowledge and understanding beyond these sacred phrases including a lack of exposure to thinking or reasoning skills or basic knowledge of science. Such youth become increasingly frustrated with a lack of productive employment, and rely increasingly on Jihad as the answer to their frustration.


        That, in a nutshell, is the concern for educational policy. If literacy were a matter of memorization and repetition of the holy words of the Koran, these students would be at the top of the heap in worldwide testing. However, if literacy extends to a substantial vocabulary and literary canon and an understanding of concepts and measures of scientific and technical literacy, these students would be considered illiterate. This is the situation that should be debated, not that of "overall literacy" rates.


        Further, national development is not the dominant determinant of literacy, although it is important and confounded with religion. Cuba is at a very low level of economic development in Latin America, but has the highest literacy rate in language and mathematics, by far, in Latin America according to UNESCO comparisons of achievement.


        JE comments: Cuba is an impressive case, whose near-100% literacy surpasses the US and most of the "developed" world, which tend to hover at around 99%. I suspect the real figure is somewhat lower in the US, especially if you factor in the almost illiterate, some of whom may have high school diplomas.


        "Literacy for what?" is an essential question from Henry Levin. What marketable skills to the Madrassas teach?  (Wow, now I'm sounding like a STEM zealot.)

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        • What does "Literacy" Mean in Cuba? (Timothy Brown, USA 01/07/15 7:21 AM)
          Once, when I was on a US IMF debt renegotiation team in Paris, we were told off the record by the Cuban delegation that their definition of literacy differed from that of the rest of the world.

          Cuba defined literacy as the percentage of persons between the ages of 14 and 44 that the State considered capable of learning how to read and write.


          When the Mariel refugees arrived in Florida, the US Department of Education tested all the minors for the purpose of placing them correctly in US schools, as I recall, in terms of basic Spanish literacy, they were at a literacy rate similar to those of Colombia and Venezuela but below those of Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile. And, in terms of their math, science and history knowledge, they were between one and two grades below US levels. Their knowledge of history was not a surprise, but their lack of equivalent knowledge of math and science came as a surprise.


          Similarly, in the late 1980s Sandinista Nicaragua claimed, and several prominent American Latin Americanists stated in research studies, that they had successfully increased the literacy rate in that country from under 30% to about 90%. When the Nicaraguan Contras and their families were initially tested for literacy by USAID, they were found to be 97% illiterate.


          Follow-up studies by the OAS DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion) program done inside Nicaragua in the regions the Contras came from, the Segovian highlands region where between 47% and 52% of the entire population of Nicaragua lived, they found that the general population of that region was also 97% illiterate. So, then as now, I find the incredibly high literacy claims of either country hard to believe. Although, since the Cubans were deeply involved in the Sandinistas' literacy campaign, that might have been the explanation.


          Oh, and for those in WAIS familiar with the criteria for participation in IMF debt renegotiations, for some reason we did not understand Cuba still owed the US money because they had not denounced one USD aid loan, so it was still on the books.


          It might be of interest to those dazzled by Cuba's assertion that literacy rates under the Castro regime exceed those of Switzerland and all of Scandinavia to know that prior to the Revolution, Cuba's literacy rate was the highest in Latin America.


          JE comments: I've read a number of studies that debunk the notion that Cuba was extremely underdeveloped in 1959--it was among Latin America's leading nations in literacy, households with television, and (my obsession) private vehicle ownership. However, my understanding is that Argentina was the most literate nation in Latin America in 1959-'60. According to this chart (http://www.ourworldindata.org/data/education-knowledge/literacy/ ), Argentina was at 91% in 1960, and Cuba in 1959 was no higher than 76% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Literacy_Campaign ).


          "No hay duda alguna de que Fidel Castro ha hecho una gran labor de alfabetización, pero cuando dice que ya no hay analfabetismo en Cuba necesitamos más precisiones" [There is absolutely no doubt that Fidel Castro has made great strides in literacy, but his claim that there is no more illiteracy in Cuba needs further qualification.]  These words from Ronald Hilton can be read as faint praise or faint damn. (América Latina de ayer y de hoy, 1970, p. 56).

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          • What does "Literacy" Mean in Cuba, Elsewhere in Latin America? (Henry Levin, USA 01/08/15 4:13 AM)
            I have no favorite in the comparison of literacy rates in Latin America. I have lived in Mexico, and my relatives are in Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Each of these countries is around one standard deviation or more behind Cuba in average language test results (e.g., if Cuba is at the 50th percentile, these and other Latin American countries are at the 17th percentile or lower, to give a rough standard of comparison).

            I would question any international comparison done before the UNESCO study actually tested representative samples of students (and retested in Cuba because of doubts about authenticity of results there). Before the international comparisons of results using representative samples of students (not cherry-picked) and similar testing procedures and tests, literacy rates were reported by national authorities and were measured by witching rods rather than micrometers. More specifically, literacy was rarely defined or measured by testing. Rather, the international measure of literacy was based upon completion of a few years of primary school (usually third grade) as reported by countries. Clearly, that is a joke, even today, in Latin America and Africa. For those who would like to review the issues and the results, see Martin Carnoy's excellent book (many pages of it available free) by going to the following url: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_aRbNwLN-yoC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=martin+carnoy+++cuba&ots=K5WychdkSO&sig=aguEjGuQQZau4TUwKxV_o0ol-V0#v=onepage&q=martin%20carnoy%20%20%20cuba&f=false


            This book is strong on both sources and original research and comparisons of schooling among Cuba, Brazil, and Chile. It is based not only on analysis of test score results, but also a detailed analysis of the educational systems down to video studies of classrooms.


            For a summary of the UNESCO studies and access to the full reports in Spanish and English: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/santiago/education/education-assessment-llece/second-regional-comparative-and-explanatory-study-serce/



            JE comments:  When I visited Havana in 1998, ordinary Cubans struck me as highly literate--and you meet a lot of "ordinary" folks just walking around as a tourist.  Admittedly, this is nothing more than anecdotal.  Going back to Tim Brown's point (7 January) on the low literacy of the Marielito exiles, I wonder if this had to do with the high incident of "undesirables" that Castro put on the boats.  Out of curiosity, I wonder what the illiteracy rate is among the prison population of the US.  I found a bar graph that puts it at just under 20%:


            http://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/illiteracy.html


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      • Witnesses of the Resurrected Christ (David Duggan, USA 01/06/15 3:24 AM)
        Surely Massoud Malek (5 January) did not consult a Bible when he claimed that "Jesus came back from dead and stayed for 40 days without being seen by anyone," from which he bases his argument that belief that He did is indicative of ignorance bordering on illiteracy.

        The Gospels record no fewer than five separate appearances by Jesus to identifiable people: 1) the initial appearance to Mary Magdalene (and perhaps Mary the mother of James, and Joanna, compare Mark 16 with Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 20); 2) the walk to Emmaus (compare Mark 16 with Luke 24) with two Disciples, one identified as Cleopas; 3) the appearance to the 11 remaining Disciples while they were eating, presumably behind locked doors (compare Mark 16 with Matthew 28 and Luke 24); 4) a separate appearance to 10 Disciples without Thomas (compare John 20: 19-24 with 26-28); and 5) Jesus's appearance at the Sea of Tiberias to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (James and John) and two others (not identified) (John 21: 1-14) when he told Peter where to cast the net, and later reinstated him after having been denied by Peter three times.


        These instances do not include His appearance to the Apostles (witnesses to the Resurrection) before His Ascension (Acts 1) and to the 500 on a hill outside of Galilee, recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. Of course, these witnesses may have been biased, but bias does not indicate illiteracy, nor a motive to lie.


        JE comments: Religion is one of the WAIS Big Three topics, together with economics and politics, and Richard Hancock's religion and (or in) science post of 3 January has inspired a great number of responses.  They should keep us busy for most of the day.  Next up: Paul Pitlick.

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        • Conflicting Accounts of the Resurrected Christ (Massoud Malek, USA 01/13/15 4:11 AM)
          On 6 January, responding to my post on the topic of literacy and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, David Duggan wrote:

          "These witnesses may have been biased, but bias does not indicate illiteracy, nor a motive to lie."


          I have a lot of respect for David and always enjoy his intelligent and beautifully written posts. For example, I consider his post on "Christmas Angels" (24 December) one of the most beautiful and touching posts of 2014. I hope I didn't offend David with my January 5 post. My point was that you can't classify someone as literate or illiterate, based on his or her faith. When I wrote that Jesus was not seen by anyone, I based it on the fact that no single gospel gives an inclusive or definitive account of the resurrection of Jesus or his appearances. They give contradictory accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus, all the way to his appearances.


          It is believed that Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 3, AD 33 at 6:00 AM, and died nine hours later, around 3:00 PM. Some historians claim that contrary to the Christian belief, he was not crucified for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, but for challenging the Roman occupation. According to the Mosaic Law, a person hanged on a tree must not be allowed to remain there at night, but should be buried before sundown. Soon after Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43 and Matthew 27:57) or a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38) donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus. He asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and that, after Pilate granted his request, wrapped it in linen cloth and buried it in the tomb.


          According to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, a man called Simon of Cyrene carried the cross. They mentioned darkness in the daytime during Jesus's crucifixion; and the death of Jesus caused an earthquake and the resurrection of dead saints. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus said only one thing on the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" In Luke, Jesus's last words were: "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit."


          Was the darkness caused by a solar eclipse that lasted for nine hours (the longest one on record lasted 7 minutes 31 seconds) during the full moon (scientifically impossible)? We all know that the cult of sainthood is not a part of Judaism. Also, no one doubts that Christianity started with Jesus and no Christian became a saint before Jesus. Then who were those saints that were resurrected before Jesus?


          The Gospel of John, the fourth canonical gospel, was written in Greek by an anonymous author (or more than one author). It contains more direct claims to eyewitness origins than any other three gospels. According to this gospel, Jesus had to carry his own cross and it doesn't mention of any of those appearances described in other gospels. The Gospel of John describes Jesus's last words on the cross as: "Woman, behold, your son! I thirst. It is finished."


          The Gospel of John tells us that early on the day after the Sabbath, before sunrise, Mary Magdalene visits the tomb and she finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. She sees two angels and then Jesus, whom she does not recognize. In Matthew, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, visit the tomb. An angel comes down from Heaven and tells them that Jesus is risen and will meet them in Galilee. In Mark, three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome visits the tomb. In Luke, a number of women come to anoint Jesus's body. That same day, Jesus appears to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. They fail to recognize him until he breaks bread and gives thanks, and he then vanishes.


          When you have four different versions of the same event, then who should you believe? The four canonical gospels were written by anonymous authors and long after Jesus departed this world; they never met any of those people described in their writings.


          According to John, Mary Magdalene, the closest friend of Jesus, couldn't recognize him after less than three days! Mark and Luke don't mention that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Luke tells us that women came to anoint Jesus's body. This means that they came to roll away the stone, unearth the body, remove the shroud, rub his dead body with oil, then cover him again with shroud, bury him again, and then put the stone on the tomb! Why did they want to commit a sin by rubbing the naked body of a dead man who was already buried?


          Wikipedia has an interesting chart of comparison of gospel narratives:


          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_Jesus



          JE comments:  Apologies to Massoud Malek for the delay in posting this response to David Duggan.  Charlie Hebdo overwhelmed my inbox for a few days, and I reasoned that an all-forgiving Christ would understand my decision to prioritize.


          Next up:  Enrique Torner addresses the topic of Biblical salvation.


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          • Conflicting Accounts of the Resurrected Christ (David Duggan, USA 01/15/15 4:09 AM)

            I thank Massoud Malek for his kind remarks about my posts, and appreciate his scholarly analysis of the Biblical texts. Should we meet again, perhaps at the WAIS conference in October, I will be sure to give him a copy of my book. At p. 23 of Glimpses of Grace, in the essay, "His Trial, Our Triumph," I write that the conflicting accounts of the Gospel narrative cannot disprove the underlying assertion of Jesus' death, burial and Resurrection: "As anyone who has tried a case will tell you, it is hard to get witnesses to agree on small points, but merely because they disagree about the color of the defendant's clothes doesn't mean that he was not wearing them. 'The devil is in the details' rings true even in the Bible." Nor can I comment on first century of the common era Hebraic burial practices, so I cannot say why the women would visit the tomb to rub spices on an already-buried body. (Note that this was an above-ground burial, common in the rock-bound Middle East, with a body left to decompose aerobically. The bones would then be placed in an ossuary.)



            But to call the evangelists "anonymous" is dead wrong: Mark appears in Mark 14:51 as the young man who, when seized with Jesus, shed his linen garment and ran naked away, and in Acts 12:12 as the householder where Peter went after he had miraculously escaped from prison. Whether Matthew is the tax collector described in the gospel attributed to him is subject to debate, as is the provenance of Luke's gospel. The beloved disciple, John (see John 19:26), may not have put pen to parchment to write the gospel attributed to him, but he undoubtedly furnished many of the accounts of Jesus' life if not the theological insights equating God with the Word.



            Separately, John Eipper had asked whether any WAISers had been dissuaded from expressing anti-Islamic views because of fear of retribution. For the last 15 years or so, I've written many songs, typically new words to old favorites: e.g., "Have yourself a multicultural Christmas." While I have skewered among others Teddy Kennedy ("Bridge Over Chappaquiddick"), Kim Jong Il ("Atlantis") and the Episcopal Church's gynearchy ("Put a Bullet in Her Head": to a military marching cadence), most of these have been re-writes of Christmas carols with a strongly anti-Islamic cast. They are also insanely funny, if I say so. A professional colleague offered to have a studio set up so that I could post these on YouTube and I originally thought that would be groovy. The assault at Charlie Hebdo and Illinois' wishy-washy concealed carry law strongly counsel against that, however.


            Some who have heard my songs wonder why I don't devote my mental energy to understanding the Islamic faith, to engage it on its terms, rather than simply treat it as an object of derision. Good point. But having foreseen the clash of Islamic civilization and the West since the mid-1990s (to another colleague I then said that I believed that Islam was the "beast" described in John's Revelation 13), when there were no shooting wars between the forces of Islam and those of the "Christian" West, and mindful of Jesus' statement that "Blessed are the peacemakers," I am more persuaded by Paul's enumeration of the gifts of the spirit (1 Cor. 12: 7-11): "to another prophecy." I'll take that gift any day.

            JE comments:  Blessed are the peacemakers.  That's my favorite of the beatitudes, followed by the blessed merciful.  In the ecumenical spirit, I'll point out that the first line of the Quran describes God as the "Most Gracious and Most Merciful."
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      • Religion and Literacy (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/08/15 3:36 AM)
        I have been following the discussion about science and religion, and I found it very stimulating and profound. I do not feel capable of arguing about such a difficult and complex subject as religion. I believe it is useful and indispensable for humans to have faith as well as to use reasoning. Emotionally and psychologically, faith is indispensable and it does not need to be rationally explained except by intuition. Both faith and reason are present in everyday life for common human beings, but I do not believe it is necessary to scientifically demonstrate the existence of God or the need of Gods to explain the--still--unknown or inexplicable. From a theoretical standpoint God is an abstraction, an entelechy, with no need to be rationally explained or demonstrated. From a practical or religious standpoint, God might be a moral and ethical reference for mankind.

        However the comments I wanted to make were not about religion but "literacy," a subject that has come up in relation to religion. I must confess that I felt a little confused when I read that "Cuba but has the highest literacy rate in language and mathematics, by far, in Latin America according to UNESCO comparisons of achievement," as Henry Levin quoted. This might be true, I thought, but maybe it depends on the definition used for the word "literacy."


        I understood the "language literacy" reference definition as the meaning of 1) "the ability to read and write," or 2) "the ability to use language proficiently," but then the mathematical achievement reference made me recall another meaning: 3) "a person's knowledge of a particular subject or field."


        If the Cuban government's claims on literacy rates or the UNESCO comparisons of achievements are real, the assessment is true considering the first definition; although Timothy Brown seemed to question it according to his experiences.


        This is my own experience. The Venezuelan government also claimed some years ago that the literacy rate was 99%, after an intensive program with help from Cuban experts. I had the opportunity to meet many people from these programs and they could hardly write their name or they were at most what could be called "dysfunctional literates." So the question of "literacy for what" is critical. Sometimes official propagandistic claims of the regime must not be taken seriously.


        It is a fact that Cubans are very outspoken, extroverted and outgoing people. Add that to a good basic education, and they are also very eloquent and proficient using language compared to some other standard populations in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, so according to the second definition one will tend to agree with the "language literacy" rate, but it is also true that in Argentina they are also very eloquent and proficient using language and they are not very extroverted at all, though they used to have an excellent level of education.


        So the aspect of a basic education seems crucial to measure literacy rates and explain proficiency in language. I recall a friend from Stanford University, Martin Carnoy, actually a colleague of my brother-in-law Henry, who once told me, and I recall my surprise, that according to his research, the highest rate for an educational system in Latin America was Cuba, and the reason for this was the intervention and regulation of the state in the process, or that one of the most important aspects measured in the study was "the ability to resolve problems." I believe he still affirms that the Cuban system is the best in Latin America compared to others.


        If we adopt the third definition, "a person's knowledge of a particular subject or field," then I should mention some particular experiences we have had in Venezuela with Cuban doctors, part of a large program of more than 20,000 professionals brought from Cuba by the Venezuelan government. The literacy rate of these professionals would qualify as very low, due to their many malpractices and bad diagnoses.


        I would not dare to question the conclusions of the experts about literacy rates or the Cuban educational system, but I have the same critical reflections I once made regarding the benefits of such "exceptional" educational systems that might yield high literacy rates: is it worthwhile for a society to have these highly literate people if you do not have basic resources and opportunities to read openly and freely, the freedom to think, to express yourself, or the opportunity to practice your profession? So again, if I understand correctly, "literacy for what" seems to be the crucial question.


        JE comments:  In another instance of the WAIS Effect, José Ignacio Soler's brother-in-law Henry Levin has sent a comment on literacy, and Hank cites Martin Carnoy.  Stay tuned.


        WAIS Word of the Day:  Entelechy.  An Aristotelian concept that refers to the complete realization or final form of some potential concept or function.  A simpler definition is something complex that emerges when a large number of simple objects are put together.  I stole this from Wiktionary.


        Couldn't any society or large institution be considered an entelechy?


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        • More on Cuban Literacy vs. Quality of Cuba's Education (Henry Levin, USA 01/09/15 5:28 AM)
          I just want to give a clarification on Cuban literacy. The UNESCO
          study, which is considered to be a very good study from a methodological
          viewpoint, found that the Cuban achievement scores were, by far, the
          highest in Latin America. Strangely though, that does not mean that it
          has the "best" educational system in Latin America. An exemplary
          educational system is one that prepares students to think, debate,
          exhibit curiosity, and so on. WAISers can add their own dimensions, and
          there are huge literatures on the topic of what is good education that
          go way beyond what these test scores measure. In China and much of
          Asia, the test scores excel because students are forced to memorize
          information that will be tested. Much of Latin America also pursues a
          "tragar y vomitar" (swallow and regurgitate) approach to learning. So,
          nothing in my previous clarification on Cuba should be interpreted as
          "the best educational system" in Latin America.

          The Carnoy book points out that the Cuban educational system is much
          tighter and more restrictive than in other countries. To overly
          simplify what is meant, there is almost no freedom to deviate from the
          "official" curriculum (OC). Teachers are trained in the OC and are
          evaluated on their teaching it strictly. All teaching materials are
          designed to reinforce the OC and the system of testing is designed to
          measure it. International tests that are based upon memorization of
          "facts" and mechanical operations rather than problem-solving will yield
          high performance for these approaches, not only in Cuba, but in Asia
          and other countries that follow this regimen. School principals are
          expected to oversee this narrow approach and not permit teachers to
          deviate from it. If a principal is too lax, parents can go to party
          officials and the Ministry of Education and get the principal fired.
          Carnoy points out that this may not be the system of education that
          other countries are willing to adopt to accommodate high test scores.


          JE comments: Henry Levin knows more about education theory than just
          about anyone in WAISworld (or for that matter, the world in general),
          and he's put his finger on a central dilemma: should problem-solving be
          emphasized, or the "tragar y vomitar" approach? Standardized tests are
          biased towards facts-based evaluation. How can tests be geared more
          towards problem-solving? One rub is that such a test would possibly
          lend itself to accusations of cultural bias, whereas "facts" are
          neutral.


          Here's a question off the top of my head.  It's fraught with assumptions
          about class, religion, gender preference--you name it:  "You are going
          to host a dinner party, with four couples attending.  You must arrange
          the seating so that they alternate man-woman, but keeping in mind that
          Mrs Jones cannot stand Mr Smith, and Mr Jones espouses liberal political
          opinions, which means he should be kept at a distance from Mr García, a
          Republican.  How many seating arrangements are possible?  Also, you are
          working with a limited budget.  Should you serve the more expensive
          pork medallions, which would cut into your wine selection, or just go
          with a Honeybaked ham?"

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          • The Hypothetical Dinner Party (Michael Sullivan, USA 01/10/15 8:24 AM)
            When commenting on Henry Levin's post of 9 January, John E speculated on what a possible "problem-solving" standardized test question would look like. He came up with the following, with the caveat that it is open to accusations of cultural bias:

            "You are going to host a dinner party, with four couples attending. You must arrange the seating so that they alternate man-woman, but keeping in mind that Mrs Jones cannot stand Mr Smith, and Mr Jones espouses liberal political opinions, which means he should be kept at a distance from Mr García, a Republican. How many seating arrangements are possible? Also, you are working with a limited budget. Should you serve the more expensive pork medallions, which would cut into your wine selection, or just go with a Honeybaked ham?"


            The solution is very simple: Uninvite the Joneses! Problem solved, as now you can eat pork medallions and afford better wine.


            JE comments: Now that's solving the problem, Marine Corps-style. I like it.  After some research on Honeybaked hams, I discovered they are pricier than I thought.  The pork medallions would cost less.  But heck:  since the Joneses are out of the picture, let's go with filet mignon.


            Our next culturally incorrect problem-solving question:  whether to spend the entire summer at the Hamptons, or limit your beach time to a few weeks so you'll have money left over for spring break in Aspen.

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  • Can Science Make a Case for God? (Paul Pitlick, USA 01/06/15 3:43 AM)
    In Richard Hancock's post of 3 January, he quoted from Eric Metaxas of the Wall Street Journal:

    "'Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life--every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit earth's surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing... Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?'"


    OK--I understand that. Let's just assume that there is one (or more--must we limit ourselves to one?) creator(s). Where I find a significant disconnect about the whole religious thing is the following:



    "'He cites the finding of the Pew Research Center released two weeks ago. '73% of US adults believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; 81%, that the baby Jesus was laid in a manger; 75%, that the wise men guided by a star brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and 74%, that angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds. Fully 65% of Americans believe all four of these elements of the Christmas story, while only 14% believe none of them.'"



    How does the existence of a creator lead to virgin birth? We could speculate that perhaps one of Mary's stem cells divided and eventually the cells differentiated into a real baby. But that baby was a male--how did the Y chromosome get in there (women have two X chromosomes)? If there are creators, does that imply humans have souls? I suppose if there's a creator, he/she has to live somewhere--let's call that heaven. Why does it follow that souls can go there when their people die?



    I spent nearly 20 years in Catholic schools. They weren't Madrassas, but they discouraged questioning the dogma. As a child, you just go along with that. But as you get older, a lot of it just doesn't add up.


    JE comments:  Paul Pitlick's view leans towards Deism.  Tim Brown (5 January) offered us his version of Pascal's Wager:  that we bet our lives on whether or not God exists.  Since the risk of not believing in God (should s/he exist) is infinitely greater than believing in a God who does not exist, a rational person should go with the latter.  One problem Pascal overlooked is which god:  wouldn't a vengeful Old Testament-style deity be less hostile to secular folks than to those who worship the wrong god?  Or even to those who worship the right god in the wrong way?


    Returning to the Pew numbers cited by Richard Hancock, it's strange that some Americans apparently believe in the manger and the Wise Men, but do not accept the virgin conception story.

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  • Science and Religion: Epicurean Paradox (Massoud Malek, USA 01/07/15 3:52 PM)
    In 1997, I read in the Wall Street Journal that e-commerce is just a fad. I followed their advice and changed my mind on investing in Amazon at about $18 a share. How could a newspaper that writes about business and finance be so wrong in its field of expertise? Why, then, should I believe in the WSJ's scientific proof of the existence of God?

    I don't understand why westerners must dictate their truth to the rest of the world. There are one billion Hindus who believe in over three million gods. Doesn't it make more sense for scientists to prove the existence of countless gods managing our life and our universe?


    About 400 million Buddhists do not believe in God, because they claim that God was defined out of fear. They refuse to be God's slaves. They claim that nature and not God created this world. Isn't it easier to use science to prove their point of view?


    Western civilization is based on Greek and Roman civilizations. Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle shaped our thoughts and told us how to behave in our daily life. Those titans actually believed in several gods. Christians and Muslims are told that anyone who commits idolatry will burn in hell. Should we assume that right now, those great teachers are burning in hell?


    Epicurus, who famously said "death is nothing to us," was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshiping tradition common at the time. Contrary to Aristotle, whose teaching was incorporated into Christianity, Epicurus believed that death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and therefore feels nothing. He also believed that the gods neither reward nor punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. What is the scientific reason to believe in heaven and hell and not Epicurus?


    I am sure that most WAISers know about Epicurean paradox that states:


    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

    Then he is not omnipotent.

    Is he able, but not willing?

    Then he is malevolent.

    Is he both able and willing?

    Then whence cometh evil?

    Is he neither able nor willing?

    Then why call him God?


    JE comments:  For a refresher course on evil (or even Evil), click below.  Epicurus is featured prominently:


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil


    WAISers know that I often don't agree with the WSJ, but in the 1990s I also thought e-commerce was a fad.  How long did it take Amazon.com to turn a profit?  And who remembers the on-line grocery boondoggles?  Don't forget the most notorious of all:  Pets.com.  I took a bath on their stock.  Fortunately, my initial capital investment was modest, so the bath was small.  Call it a sponge bath.

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