In Jonathan’s post titled, “Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism,” a hypothetical exchange between an atheist and an Xian highlights the morally relativistic nature of a fundamentalist worldview that defends the idea that executing a man for picking up sticks on a Saturday is obligatory at time T, but morally impermissible at T+1. In the exchange, the snarky hypothetical atheist wants to know exactly when T occurred in order to know exactly when people became morally obliged to refrain from executing Sabbath breakers.
I haven’t done a post like this for ages. Reading, as I mentioned in a previous post, a book sent to me for review, Franz Kiekeben’s The Truth About God, the author takes a whistle-stop tour through inconsistencies in the Bible (not so much to list them all, as he only mentions a few, but to illustrate the types of defences that Christians typically use). He details the inconsistency which starts the Bible off, namely the six day creation story.
Over on a recent thread about the challenges I have met in my claims of Islam, a Catholic commentator asked this question:
I agree with you that Islam has problems. I have a quick question: do you read commentaries and theology books written by Muslims to offset your bias?
To which I said:
I have had many discussions concerning Islam and my views pertaining to it. I would like to flesh out here some of the criticisms I have had and answer them properly, also offering this as a post that I can point people to when this undoubtedly pops up again.
As has been all over the news recently, there is an alleged scrap of the first written Gospel from the Bible, the Gospel of Mark, as found inside of a papier-mache mummy. This has the potential to be a boon for New Testament studies, but there has been significant controversy about how this discovery has been revealed and how it was done. Even the mummy mask that is the source for this scrap of papyrus looks uncomfortable with how things are going.
I have articulated this many, many times, but never yet as a full blog post, so here goes. What is it that differentiates the two major world religions, and how does this translate across to the behaviour of their adherents?
This is a pretty vital question for understanding the state of affairs with world religions and worldviews, especially in present day context…
Good news, everyone! My talk for the Illini Secular Student Alliance at UIUC back in April is now up for everyone to see. In my presentation, I talk about the 20th century origins of the ancient astronaut hypothesis (now in its modern TV form, Ancient Aliens), the sorts of claims about the past and why they don’t hold up, and into the sorts of claims related to modern UFOs and alien visitations–that is, close encounters. I also get to bring up my research and book on the Star of Bethlehem.
A few weeks ago on the History Channel’s sister station, H2, the astronomy-based series The Universe went on a quest to solve an ancient mystery. Previous episodes in the previous few weeks had covered the construction and purpose of the pyramids (which was pretty good), Stonehenge, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The first two certainly have an astronomical connection, such as the solstice alignment of Stonehenge, but explaining Sodom’s ruin via astronomical body begs the very serious question: was this simply a theological story or etiological myth? Apparently that skepticism couldn’t find its way to the heart of the show.
A few days ago at the National Catholic Register, a blog post was put up about the Yuletide star that I have been so interested in. The author of the piece, Jimmy Akin, wrote up about how the text of the Gospel of Matthew does not necessarily talk about a Star that moves around in such a way that it can only be supernatural. Akin, who besides having a cool red beard, is a Catholic apologist, and he categorizes his efforts here about the Star under apologetics (as seen on the blogs tag). I read the blog entry after I saw it come up in a search on Twitter, and the first thing I noted was that he said that the text does not support the supernatural reading, but he never actually cited the Greek text!
The end is Nye!
Sorry, made that joke last time, but now it seems better suited.
So last night was the much-trafficked debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and AiG founder Ken Ham. Now, I am obviously biased towards the scientific consensus; evidence tends to do that. However, I have to say that I was pessimistic about how the debate would go. I didn’t figure either side would really win, but rather it seemed there would be a lot of talking past each other. And while that happened to an extend, overall I think Nye handled things rather well.
As part of the continuing efforts to get the message out about the Star of Bethlehem and the failure to explain it with astronomy, I was interviewed on the Exposing Pseudoastronomy podcast, run by Stuart Robbins, an young planetary scientist and skeptic. In the past, the podcast has tackled lots of material from Coast to Coast AM and some of their top guests, such asRichard Hoagland, in great but comfortable detail. That should be enough reason to subscribe to this skeptical outlet.
It’s been a while since I have posted, but I have been super-busy with getting my PhD and other research-related activities. But there has been some great news when it comes to my work on The Star of Bethlehem. Over on Amazon, the reviews have been very positive, with one exception–though that person has proven to not be a charitable reader to put it nicely.
[Just to remind readers that the book I have recently edited, written by contributor Aaron Adair, called The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View. is out now in all formats from a variety of sellers. It is a great book, and one which Richard Carrier has said is “awesome”. Please support our work by buying it! It’ll make an awesome Christmas present! Over to Aaron’s launch piece for those who missed it – JP]
Nearly two millennia ago, a story was told of a wondrous star in the heavens, beaming forth to proclaim the birth of an infant, destined to rule. Coaxing priests from an eastern kingdom to travel in search of this infant, the object led them to their destination and allow for the worship of the savior of the world.
Or so the story goes. But did it really happen, and if so, what was this magnificent star? A comet? An exploding star? An astrological portent? Something more bizarre?
This week the next big book in Jesus scholarship hit the stores. Well, I guess it’s big in the sense that it is attached to a well-known name, Fox News’ host/anchor/pundit Bill O’Reilly. Earlier I had heard about his book, Killing Jesus, which was a bit easy to make fun with since the artwork for the cover suggested who the murder was, and his previous major book with a similar title, Killing Lincoln, was considered so riddled with factual errors that Lincoln-connected museums were not willing to sell it.
It’s been a good, long time since I have seen a bright, naked-eye comet in the sky. The last I remember was Hale-Bopp back in 1996, and that was a remarkable sight. But there is a lot of hope now for Comet ISON (aka C/2012 S1), which was discovered only a matter of months ago. Not only it is slated to be a very bright object, but what is more interesting to me is its orbit.
In my last post about the various ways that the Star of Bethlehem from the Gospel of Matthew had been imagined, I talked about the folks that thought it was some sort of alien craft or UFO. When I wrote it, my best efforts to find the earliest claim to that came from Rev. Barry Downing in 1968. However, Jason Colavito had discovered a slightly older reference. From there, I continued the search.
[EDIT] Sorry about this post, because I starting writing it (well, copying it from Aaron’s blog) with a view to…
About two weeks ago I was contacted about participating in a conference next year at the University of Groningen. In 2014 they are celebrating their 400th anniversary so it seems appropriate it relate to something else from 1614. In that year, Johannes Kepler published his tome on chronology, arguing that Jesus was born several years earlier than was the tradition in his time (on Dec 25 in 1 BC). In that book, he also talked about the Star of Bethlehem, and this is the apparent link for this conference.
This is Part 3 of a critical examination of the MMEL hypothesis of the Star of Bethlehem. Go to the index here.
So far in this critical appraisal of the MMEL hypothesis, there has not been much attention paid to the actual theory of what the Star of Bethlehem was other than to say it deals with conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus in the years 3 and 2 BCE. While already it is falsified as an explanation of Matthew’s account since it takes place after the death of Herod the Great (see Part 1 & Part 2), I shall not ignore what possible astronomical or astrological explanations are here. Perhaps they can explain the Star in another way (including helping create the narrative based on a back-calculation rather than an authentic historical tradition), or the conjunctions of another type can be related to what the Magi were interested in.