Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Numbers Game

My post on atrocities caused some excitement from the headbangers of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. I'd originally noted my thoughts here and then another poster, keen to score some cheap points and unaware I had already posted elsewhere, repeated the exercise here. Before you click on these links, I'll warn you that the discussion doesn't go much beyond a load of anti-Christians shouting yaa-boo sucks. However, one interesting point did emerge - how we use numbers.

A notorious example of the numbers game is the claim that nine million women were executed as witches during the period of the witch trials. This gained popular currency from the writings of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin but dates back to the nineteenth century. Likewise, you will hear large figures bandied about for the number of inquisition victims, crusade victims and such like. If you get a kick out of that sort of thing there is a page of it here. However, there is a serious problem when we try to correct these misrepresentations and a trap that we need to avoid.

The problem is that if I counter a claim that nine million witches died, with a referenced rebuttal saying that the true figure is nearer 50,000, I still have a big number. It looks like I am belittling the death of 50,000 men and women, especially if I use the little word 'only' at some point in the discussion. The 10,000 or so executions of the Inquisition is also a much smaller number than usually given, but it is not a small number in an absolute sense. It leaves an open goal for the anti-Christian, who, without even acknowledging their initial gambit was way off beam, will accuse you of 'approving of' or 'rationalising away' these deaths. Eventually, you are guaranteed that someone will use the tabloid throw away line that "one death is too many". Frankly, I have no idea what to do about this. You can compare the actual figures to other events but that rarely helps as atheists always claim that atheism never causes anything bad to happen.

The trap to avoid is down to us, though. We must not respond to anti-Christian exaggeration in one direction by minimising in the other. In 1099, a crusader army slaughtered the population of Jerusalem. No one has any idea how many people died. It is assumed no one escaped but we have no evidence of this. We also know of plenty of survivors later living in Damascus. A good researcher could come up with a maximum and minimum figure based on population density, how many Christians had already left the city and examination of all the sources. But ultimately, it would be a mug's game. The truth is probably between 10,000 and 40,000 but could be more or less than either of these figures. One of the Internet Infidels posters took great exception to my using a figure of 10,000 which is at the low end of estimates. So rather than get into that mess again, I am going to adopt a policy for numbers. I will take the lowest standard estimate and double it. That will be my base figure for any debate on numbers of deaths. Thus, for witch trials (usual scholarly estimate 40,000 - 100,000), I will say about 80,000. For the inquisition (usual scholarly estimate 5,000 - 10,000), I will say 10,000. For the sack of Jerusalem, 20,000.

The main point of the numbers game from an anti-Christian perspective is to show what a bad thing religion is. That's why they exaggerate the numbers. They need them to be big, especially now they have to compete with Stalin and Hitler. It is worth continuing to challenge these misrepresentations but it requires care not to veer too far in the other direction.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The BBC on Intelligent Design

Last night, the BBC screened an episode of Horizon, their science strand, called A War on Science (link to BBC website). It was about the lawsuit in Dover, Pennsylvania where a school board was told that they could not have Intelligent Design (ID) taught in science lessons. I support that decision and believe ID to be mistaken on many levels, scientific and theological. However, the Horizon was still badly distorted in some ways and certainly did not give the ID crowd a fair crack of the whip. More dangerous, the programme tried to sell the idea that evolution was incompatible with religion. They did this is various subtle and less subtle ways.

First, the title of the programme and the whole approach suggested that science was under threat from religious fanatics. This is rubbish. ID is not a threat to science, it is a threat to lazy scientists who cannot be bothered to explain things to the public. The proponents of ID were interviewed in a fairground, a small town cafe and on a ferry. The proponents of evolution sat in their studies, behind desks or in a lecture theatre. Cunning. One of the spokesmen for evolution was David Attenborough, a secular saint here in the UK. However, the programme dishonestly described him as a 'zoologist', which he isn't, rather than a maker of natural history programmes, which he is. The most dishonest distortion was that the programme never said that Kenneth miller, the main advocate of evolution, is a practicing Catholic. They interviewed him extensively and never mentioned this. When they needed a Catholic point of view, they asked a Jesuit priest instead (who was also anti-ID, of course as this is the official Catholic position). The programme tried to drag the Church into the dispute on the side of ID and ended up having to admit that a single cardinal had been caught out of line.

Essentially, Horizon did not want to admit that evolution is compatible with Christianity. It wanted a conflict between science and religion, so resorted to underhand tactics to produce one. Its choice for main spokesman for evolution - Professor Richard Dawkins. Who else?

Evolution has two interconnected problems which contribute to creationism and ID. The first is that you can't put a bacteria in a lab and watch it evolve into an elephant. The evidence for evolution is diffuse, sometimes obscure and requires a good deal of hard work to get to grips with. While it is extremely convincing taken as a whole, each part of the puzzle alone cannot do the job. To actually do the legwork to put the whole picture together and understand it takes both hard work and a certain amount of goodwill towards the theory. The second problem is the goodwill is missing. This is largely the fault of atheists who want to use evolution to push their own agendas. Last night's Horizon was a good example of this. This means that Christians who support evolution have to fight both sides at the same time. The best thing that Dawkins could do for evolution is announce that it is fully compatible with religion and he was wrong to say otherwise. Then he should shut up and never say another word for as long as he lives. Presently, his ilk are the best recruiting sergeants that creationists have. He won't shut up because he wants to encourage Christians to be creationists so that he can pour scorn on them.

So the needless battle goes on.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Atheist attrocities

Is it co-incidence that the world's worse mass murderers just happened to be atheists? Probably not.

Communism demanded that anyone who got in the way was liquidated. Now we should say, "Hang on a moment, just going around liquidating people is wrong and evil." But because communism was the highest authority, this objection didn't carry much force. A Christian, on the other hand, should be bound by a higher moral code that would strongly object to mass murder. Thus, although Stalin and Mao didn't kill because they were atheists, the fact they were atheists meant that they lacked the Christian moral compass that should have prevented them from taking the path they did.

Now anti-Christians will be jumping up and down and saying "I'm moral! I'm moral!" I'm sure you are. But your morality is secular humanism which is little more that Christianity without God and with more sex. If we replaced your democratic liberalism (which says be nice) with communism (which doesn't) what's going to stop you becoming mass murderers? Nothing except your residual post-Christian humanism. History fully bears out my contentions. When we look at the history of European socialism we see that the major split was between atheistic communism and Christian socialism. The later gave birth to the UK Labour Party, German Social Democrats and various other democratic socialist and social democrat parties. All have done enormous good in Western Europe. On the other hand, we know where the communists ended up. Of course there are plenty of atheist democratic socialists but their morals tend to be exactly the secular humanism they inherited from Christianity. That's why they rejected communism too.

What about all the atrocities committed by Christians? They were terrible, too. They were also committed by true Christians much of the time, but look what happens when you take away Christianity. Modern estimates suggest the Spanish Inquisition executed about 10,000 in three centuries. The anti-Christian Jacobins managed to execute three times that number in a mere three years of French revolutionary terror. And the inqusition still form the basis of European jurisprudence. I can't say the same for Jacobin show trials.

I think the main example that people have in mind of Christian crimes are the Eastern crusades. They get the impression that these were large scale wars. In fact they weren't and there were relatively few major engagements. We can't say that without the crusades no one would have been fighting anyone. Europeans might have been fighting each other. Religion determined who the enemy were rather than whether a war happened somewhere. 'Atrocities' during the crusades involved the three days of pillage allowed after a city had fallen by assault. This was the rule of war at the time and meant to encourage cities to surrender if they knew no relief was on the way. About 10,000 died in the fall of Jerusalem when it fell to the crusaders in 1099. In 1187, Christian Jerusalem surrendered in turn to Saladin and that is why he let many people go free on payment of a ransom. Many others were enslaved. Had Saladin taken the city by storm, he would have certainly been much less generous.

On some anti-Christian websites you'll see figures of millions of deaths given for the crusades, witch trials and inquisition. These are exaggerations by a factor of a hundred. The reason they peddle these lies is because they know that the actual figures for Christian crimes can't compare with atheist ones. Hence, they have to bump the figures up.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Forgery and Christianity

One of the most common arguments we hear about the unreliability of documents about early Christianity is that they could have been faked or amended during their thousand years in Christian hands. A good example is the reference to Christ in the Roman Historian Tacitus. As far as all historians are concerned this is a bona fide passage from the pen of Tacitus. However, Jesus Mythers will try to discredit it by saying that we know some Christians engaged in some deception. Therefore it is probably that they inserted this passage with the intent to deceive.

Does this follow? Can we really suspect that anything that passed through Christian hands will have been tampered with on the grounds that some Christians have tampered with some texts. Of course it doesn't follow. The logic of the argument is exactly the same as saying all cloning is faked because of the activities of the South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. Or that all evolution research is fake because of Piltdown man (admittedly I have heard some of the more misguided creationists suggest this). Or that all Jesus Myth research is fraudulent because Freke, Gandy and Acharya S are flexible with the truth.

Christians did fake religious documents. The trouble is that we have to have good reasons for making an accusation against a particular document. Pagans also falsified religious works on a massive scale. The entire Corpus Hermeticum is complete fantasy - a pagan fraud masquerading as ancient wisdom. So, if anti-Christians want to challenge the Tacitus reference, they need to produce real evidence and not just innuendo about those wicked Christian fraudsters.

PS: Someone is willing to defend Richard Dawkins. Johann Hari of the Independent newspaper wrote this. I'm afraid I missed part two of Dawkins' diatribe due to a church meeting so don't have any comments on it. I'll try and catch it if it is repeated.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Friday, January 13, 2006

An Intelligent Discussion at the Secular Web: Is It Possible?

I have often wondered if it is just me. What, I thought, would happen if a non-theist turned up at the Internet Infidel's discussion boards and suggested, as I have, that Christianity helped bring about the rise of modern science? Well, now I know. Somebody going by the name of Duck, who says he is a non-theist, has asked this very question in this thread. Let me be clear. I am not Duck. I haven't taken on a new persona to discover if a non-theist would get a hearing. However, the headbangers have decided that Duck is a heretic atheist and will not give his question the time of day. He seems to have got bored and gone away.

I think this case pretty much proves that intelligent conversation about topics distasteful to hardline atheists is impossible at the Secular Web. Interestingly, the thread also provided an example of Sumner's Law in action. This states that any historical discussion at the Secular Web will inevitably lead to whether or not Jesus existed. It happens about page three in this case.

Incidently, some of the correspondants bring up Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel as answering the question why modern science appeared in Western europe only. Actually, it doesn't really answer this question. Rather, Diamond explains why the most advanced civilisations of history have all been in a line running roughly from Japan, across Asia to Europe. What he does not satisfactorily answer is why science appeared in late medieval Europe and not the ancient Mediterranean, the Islamic Caliphate, India or China. It is that question to which Christianity probably supplies a substantial part of the answer.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Root of All Evil?

Further apologies for the intermittent nature of this blog. I am afraid that twice weekly service may not be resuming for a little while as I am snowed under at present.

What should we make of Richard Dawkin's new show The Root of All Evil?? Channel Four have foisted a question mark on his title but I doubt the initiative for that came from Professor Dawkins. Well, I'm going to talk about how best to make a programme that portrays atheism as badly as possible. I'm not too bothered with the ethics of misrepresenting my subject, but instead I'll take my cues from Dawkins' treatment of religion.

Let's start the show with me looking good, wise and dressed like a scholar. However, all the atheists in the show will be chosen because they look shifty, have funny beards or are Texans. If I can find one with a pair of little round glasses and a scary continental accent, so much the better. That's what TV researchers are for. First, I'll visit a meeting of atheists doing harmless things and generally not threatening a fly. I'd suggest that these people are on a slippery slope towards moral disintegration and mass murder. This would be as unfair as linking a granny at Lourdes directly to a suicide bomber, but apparently that's OK.

Next, I'll visit America and find some sad secularists with a persecution complex and pour scorn on them. I'll interview a supporter of Madalyn Murray O'Hair and make out she was the representative face of American atheism (she certainly wanted to be). Then I'll talk to a wacky libertarian follower of Ayn Rand and thus prove atheism can lead to communism and fascism at the same time. Then I'll pretend they attacked me. Unfair? Well, Dawkins compares a service at a US evangelical church to a Nuremberg rally and craftily edits his film in order to make the preacher look as a bad as possible. Finally, we get a very odd scene where Dawkins claims his crew were thrown off the church's land but although the camera is on, the editing is seriously jumbled and the sound track paraphrased by Dawkins himself.

I'll wrap my show up with a visit to Moscow where I'll interview an unreconstructed Stalinist who will berate the bourgeois and decadent West. He'll promise that Communism will eventually take the world over and I'll leave with his threats echoing in my ears. Typical atheist, I'll imply. Of course, that's no worse that finding the nuttiest Moslem in Jerusalem (complete with funny beard and American accent) to represent Islam.

On second thoughts, I'll leave the black propaganda to the people who are really good at it.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Prizes for 2005

Before we finally tidy up and pack away 2005, I'd like to present my awards for outstanding achievement during the last twelve months. While many say that there are too many award ceremonies, I feel that true greatness should recognised and rewarded. My choice of categories is slightly unusual although highly relevant to the subject matter of this blog.

The award for Rant of the Year is presented to Polly Toynbee of the Guardian. The judges were impressed by the anger of her work, the bitterness of her bile and the consistent level of ignorance that she displayed. Her recent attack on Narnia merely added the icing to the cake of an outstanding year but the award is actually given for this article on Pope John Paul II's death that was in bad taste as well.

The Freke and Gandy Prize for Deliberate deception presented the judges with a tricky decision. Freke and Gandy very nearly made off with the award themselves for their latest book, The Laughing Jesus, reviewed here. However, it was decided to give the prize of a year's supply of pork pies to Morton Smith for his forgery of the Secret Gospel of Mark. Smith is dead and has been for some time. However, students still leave pork pies on the grave of Wittgenstein (his favourite snack) so there is a precedent for giving them to dead people.

The GA Wells Prize for Mutton Dressed as Academic Lamb goes to Richard Carrier for his book Sense and Goodness Without God. The judges also ordered that the book be retitled Stuff and Nonsense Without God in order not to conflict with the trade descriptions act. We commend this review.

The Lawyer's Benevolent Fund Award is granted to the year's most pointless court case. The American Civil Liberties Union have been winning this for decades. This year, however, we present it to Luigi Cascioli for this peach of a case, reported in the Times.

The Richard Dawkins Prize for the Abuse of Science goes to Sam Harris for his book The End of Faith. I get quite annoyed with Christians who claim to have found scientific proof that God exists. But I get even more annoyed with atheists who claim that science has disproved God and then don't bother explain how (a part from a few strawman arguments which assume everyone is a biblical literalist).

Finally, the Screaming Lord Sutch Memorial Award for such a complete load of garbage that it beggars belief, let alone how on earth it got printed, goes to Francesco Carotta for his masterpiece Jesus was Caesar. Utter lunacy.

Happy New Year!

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.