Sometimes I hear voices

I had a very curious experience recently. I discovered that I know what it’s like to be insane. No, save the obvious jokes; this is interesting.

This came about because I read a magazine article somewhere which I cannot now identify – recent, online, a relatively prestigious publication with a tradition of think pieces – about patterns in delusional schizophrenia. [UPDATE: the article was How reality caught up with paranoid delusions.] The thesis of the article was simple: though the content of schizophrenic delusions changes wildly in different cultural contexts, there’s an underlying motivation for them that never varies and produces a fundamental sameness.

The simple, constant thing is that delusional schizophrenics lose the capability to identify all the thoughts in their head as belonging to themselves. In an effort to make sense of their experience, they invent elaborate theories which attribute their disconnected thoughts to external agencies. Gods, demons, orbital mind-control lasers – the content of such delusions varies wildly, but the function is always the same – to restore a sense of causal order to the schizophrenic’s universe, to impose a narrative on the eruptions that he or she can no longer recognize as “self”.

It’s a startling shift in perspective to realize that the construction of schizophrenic delusions arises from the same drive that yields scientific theory-building. Both are Heideggerian rearrangements of the cognitive toolkit, strategies driven by the necessity of coping with the experienced world. The schizophrenic’s tragedy is that the most important fact about his or her experiential world (how much of it is self looking at self) is inaccessible.

A few weeks later this theory conjugated with some memories and I suddenly realized that I know what this is like! I’ve experienced it. Occasionally, in deep hypnagogic states, I hear voices.

For those of you in the cheap seats, a hypnagogic state is a kind of consciousness you sometimes pass through between waking and sleep. In general people aren’t very good at remembering what this experience is like – recall, like that of dreams, tends to fade quickly unless you make an effort immediately on full wakefulness to copy the impression out of whatever working storage it’s using into long-term memory. Through long practice I know how to do this – it’s a core part of the “experimental mystic” toolkit.

I looked it up. Turns out auditory hallucinations are not a particularly uncommon report from hypnagogia. Mine are, however, unusually coherent; where most people mostly get babble full of neologisms, I get snarky commentary on things I’ve been thinking about that’s not just whole sentences but whole paragraphs.

What unites my experience with the delusional schizophrenic’s is that while I’m in the hypnagogic state I have trouble retaining the fact that the voices aren’t outside my head. The “self” tag on those voices has been at least partially lost and is difficult to recover.

To be delusionaly insane, I now grok, would be to be like that all the time. I reintegrate my sense of self without effort after waking; the fragmented mind of the schizophrenic can’t do that and is driven to add ever more elaborate epicycles to his or her theory of the world to paper over the lack.

This isn’t the most important thing I’ve learned this year (that’d be some of the ideas in Nassim Taleb’s book Anti-Fragile, so far), but it may be the most interesting.

257 thoughts on “Sometimes I hear voices

  1. I have not had the detailed experience with hypnagogic auditory hallucination that you have, but I have experienced such – and have at times just managed to induce such while in a (self) hypnotic state. The problem (or safety mechanism?) is that even when I am expecting this, it’s so startling that I wake out of that state.

    Hrm, should implanted chips (cellphone, internal PDA, etc.) happen, perhaps such voices will then be attributed first to a buggy chip or interface – that tests good.

  2. Typo: “In general people aren’t very good at remembering this experience is like –” should probably be “remembering this experience” or “remembering what this experience is like”.

  3. Okay… my last few comments seemed to have worked okay. Most of the time, you’re talking about stuff I don’t really know enough about to do more than lurk. This is different.

    I have had two significant hypnagogic experiences (I’ve probably had a lot more, but I need to be interested enough in them to bother remembering them, and most such things are spam.)

    The most recent involved a demon who was pestering me at the edge of sleep by blowing a hurricane-like wind over my ears. I missed him the first time I woke up, and the second time, I rebuked him in the name of Jesus and he went away. Try that if you’re getting hypnagogic experiences that you don’t like (even if you’re being medically treated for them. That isn’t to say this is a substitute for medical treatments, but might be worth a shot.)

    The second most recent was an extraordinarily detailed vision of a small orbital launch vehicle, including how it was constructed, tested, and launched. I remember the motor testing room quite vividly, with Brayton grease soaking into the floor’s grout and the bench full of injector parts, the Cryomech LNP (modified to make LOX) sitting half-neglected in the corner just in case Air Liquide (or whoever) was late with their tank car. This vision didn’t really contain anything I hadn’t already understood, but the jigs and compressors for looking after the pressure-stabilized propulsion modules were new to me. I’m not sure whether that shop spins its own heads…

    I published a much older one:

    http://www.bookrix.com/_ebook-terry-wilson-the-new-sunrise/

    In both this one and the rocket shop one, I got a lot more detail after I woke up and started writing about it. (Unlike the rocket shop one, the nuclear explosion dream had details that I did not understand, but were perfectly consistent with literature and test footage when I checked them out later. Incidentally, that is evidence this dream was influenced by an external input.) Despite having a relationship with God and experience where there is no way to doubt that He is speaking to me at a particular moment, in most of these cases, it is not clear whether He’s describing things to me, or whether I’m clearing the hypnagogic fog away from a dream that was complete before I woke up (predictably enough, what others say depends entirely on who they are and what they believe. When people ask me, I explain both possibilities and start looking for, as I do with myself, accurate information of which the person was not previously aware.)

    One of these hypnagogic experiences apparently plotted the course of almost three thousand years of Mediterranean history. According to Daniel’s second chapter in the Bible, a king of Babylon had this dream, woke with a terrible start and could not go back to sleep until he had it explained to him. Not only that, but he could not remember the dream itself. He was so desperate that he was ready to exterminate the entire intelligensia of Babylon (the Chaldeans) if he didn’t get any answers. Fortunately for the Chaldeans (and I think the Antikythera Mechanism, despite being Greek, probably wouldn’t have been made if they were killed off at this point in history long before), Daniel got the same dream and its explanation. It was a statue with five levels made of five different materials, and since that history has all but completely played out since then, we know what these parts now represent.

    1. Golden Head: Babylonian Empire
    2. Silver Chest/Arms: Medianite/Persian Empire
    3. Bronze Pelvis/Hips: Greek Empire (this was the Bronze Age as well.)
    4. Iron Knees/Calves: Roman Empire (Iron Age)
    5. Clay/Iron Feet: Roman Catholic Church (Dark Ages to currently.)
    6. The Rock that smashes the statue: Kingdom of Heaven (the event being the Rapture/Resurrection.)

    That’s quite the hypnogogic experience I think!

    “In an effort to make sense of their experience, they invent elaborate theories which attribute their disconnected thoughts to external agencies.”

    This is, I think, the difference between an experimental mystic and a garden variety nut. An open thinker will investigate and let the experiences inform him while not “inventing” anything. (The quotes are careful: apparently quite a lot of actual inventions resulting in patents stem from such experiences.) There is no evidence that a hypnogogic experience has an external influence unless there is information in it that is both unknown to the person having it, and verifiable outside the experience. That means that my rocket shop dream is probably just a delusion (I did send a description to a person who might be considering one of a similar type, and if he ever gets back to me that this dream is accurate to his plans, that could change.) The New Sunrise, however, did contain information that I did not understand until I researched the phenomena from literature and video outside the dream, indicating that I must have gotten something from an outside influence. I’m not about to invent a theory as to how or why, since I already have a rather thick and well read reference as to how such things can occur, and I’m certainly glad I read it before I started having such experiences.

  4. I have had similar experiences in the same state. What distinguishes them for me is that, while I do conceptualize my own stream of consciousness as auditory, when I hear voices near sleep it’s very difficult to distinguish them from actual audio input. It feels almost precisely like hearing something; the only real difference is that various acoustic subtleties of actual heard voices are missing. (Interestingly enough, I can attribute qualities of age, gender and emotion to the “voices”, which ordinarily present as qualities of the sound, even when other qualities of the sound are missing; that probably says something interesting about the process of voice recognition in the brain, but I’m insufficiently versed in neuroscience to tell precisely what.) I can never really specifically remember what I hear later, but it’s usually intelligible and grammatical English, saying non-sequiturs. I hadn’t ever connected it to the experience of schizophrenia, probably since I’ve never actually studied that.

  5. And so begins the defense of being so oft wrong.

    “The voices in my head told me…”

  6. >”This isn’t the most important thing I’ve learned this year (that’d be some of the ideas in Nassim Taleb’s book Anti-Fragile, so far), but it may be the most interesting.”

    A bit off-topic, but this statement opens a door. Do you actually know, year-by-year, what’s the most important and/or interesting thing that you learned in that year? I’d be fascinated to see that list. It seems like a Super Bowl of notions.

  7. >Do you actually know, year-by-year, what’s the most important and/or interesting thing that you learned in that year?

    Sorry, I learn too much to easily keep track of this for more than the relatively recent past.

  8. >Have you read Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind?

    I have. Very interesting book; his hypothesis fits with my post topic in a pretty obvious way.

  9. I have had similar experiences, although not for several years. The only one that I can really remember occured as I was falling asleep. It sounded like a woman in the room calling me – just one word – my first name. It was an odd experience because it didn’t seem like a dream – it seemed like my mind was wandering about as I was just falling asleep and this voice woke me up. I didn’t recognize the voice.

    At the time, I remembered a similar previous instance not too long before, but I have no memory of that instance.

    I also have vague memories of this happening as a child – the same thing – someone calling my name.

  10. All my hypnagogic experiences have been brief moving visual images, none of which I can remember, but which I can tell aren’t real when they’re happening. It never occurred to me that it could be verbal.

  11. >All my hypnagogic experiences have been brief moving visual images

    I get visual hypnogogia too, but that seems much less prone to lose the “self” tag for some reason.

  12. This is an interesting subject. I have experienced some of the “waking up in the middle of some dream-thought” myself. Occasionally the thought I am in the middle of takes the form of someone in my dream talking to me, but I’ve always identified it as my subconcious shortly after.

    The interesting thing is that it isn’t limited to words. In fact, I seldom think in words, internally. (Or at least, it’s a separate track from the one I use to do all my work.) I usually think in terms of “algorithms” (a sort of wordless programming language with a tragically short symbol span) and pictures, and translate things into words when I’m done.

    I once was listening to one of my friend’s extra credit problems in statistics – a proof about a certain estimator of certain types of random variable series. (Distribution(max(x_i)) given distribution(x_i), I think) I couldn’t help him at the time, but apparently I was still thinking about the problem at some subconscious level. At 1 AM the next morning, I woke up with the complete proof/derivation in my head. On writing the whole thing out, and filling out some inadequately supported jumps in the derivation (that still ended up being right), the whole thing actually worked.

  13. ESR,

    Isn’t it a standard, usual aspect of experimental mysticism? AFAIK the whole point of meditation and similar practices is to temporary shut down the rational mind in order to let the subconscious mind go free for a while. And yes, the subconscious does stuff like this all the time, generates dialogues, shows us people, monsters, who have a voice, it obviously does this when we are dreaming. But in any deep meditation, trance or psychedelic trip, subconscious brain functions like dreaming kick in. So if I get it right how it works, throughout your mystical experimentations you should have been hearing the voice of the Horned God or similar voices quite frequently, a brain function analogous to how I dreamt about talking with a childhood friend a few nights ago.

  14. BTW I have felt before that sometimes I spend too much time – as in days on – just reading and thinking and writing and neglecting the other aspects of life – people, visual forms, nature, music, my own body so anything but words in my head – and I get too buried in words and words, and feel a bit like having an “information poisoning”, then it gets a bit harder to keep the “self” tag on thoughts. They don’t become an external entity talking, but they become like an automatic function of my brain no longer consciously willed or created. This doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t happen since I am married, a continuous living romantic relationship never lets get one too lost in one’s head and books, but when I was single and did nothing but thinking, reading, writing for half a week on… it was a bit of a glimpse into something that could make one go mad. The best cure was usually reconnecting with nature back then, just going out in the woods.

  15. > So if I get it right how it works, throughout your mystical experimentations you should have been hearing the voice of the Horned God or similar voices quite frequently, a brain function analogous to how I dreamt about talking with a childhood friend a few nights ago.

    No, the Horned God has never presented to me as an auditory or any other kind of hallucination. Evocation is different, at least for me – other shamans and witches have pseudosensory experiences, but for me he manifests as a vast sense of presence – as though I am filled to the skin with his power. Sometimes I speak words which are his, as surprising to me as they are to other people listening.

    Having had this experience, I understand why it makes insane religious believers (but I repeat myself) out of people. Because here again the “self” tag is lost. I know intellectually that what is going on is just an autohypnotic storm of neuron activations in my brain, an altered state of my consciousness. But it doesn’t feel like me; the emotional temptation to ascribe ontological otherness to it and construct a profoundly fucked-up supernaturalist belief system around it is definitely present.

  16. I too have “exploding head syndrome”. It’s profoundly disconcerting to be chillaxing at home, on my way to sleep, and suddenly hear a shout — which may even be calling my name — and then have to make sure that it was indeed just my head. I can’t even fathom the horror of going through “hell rides” (as Wesley Willis called his schizophrenic episodes) on a regular basis, during waking hours; it’s right up there with cluster headaches on the list of “scary chronic conditions I hope I never get”.

  17. My hypnagogic states usually involve the standard things that people used to associate with alien abduction and probing. It was a very interesting morning when I learned to recognize that I was body-paralyzed but mind-active because I wasn’t done waking up, and not because there was something in the room with me that I was “hiding from”.

    Actually, I can’t recall the last time I had to sit there and wait to finish waking up, it’s been a while.

  18. I wonder what the relationship between your hypnagogic experiences and my ‘waking dream’ experiences could be?

    With a waking dream, the ‘self’ tag is as clear as a bell, freeing the mind to explore.

    I always wake up with an astonishing sense of refreshing mental liberation.

    I must emphasize, my waking dream experiences are somewhat rare, but I’m getting better at priming myself before letting my mind sink into sleep.

  19. I read “Origin of Consciousness” about 20 years ago and it spawned my interest in cultural evolution (and the related evolutionary psychology movement). Bicameral brain physiology is thought to be an evolutionary driver for big brain development in our species and helps explain we have complex language, culture as a meme propagator, and cause/effect logical reasoning.

    Eric, one of your evolutionary predecessors probably heard a “voice” that somehow kept him alive long enough to reproduce.

  20. Eric, one of your evolutionary predecessors probably heard a “voice” that somehow kept him alive long enough to reproduce.

    One of the reasons why kids fear monsters under the bed is because a fear mechanism that is prone to false positives is of MUCH lower reproductive-fitness cost than one that is prone to false negatives. Related to this is why people believe in a god or gods: we ascribe agency to natural events that have no conscious agent because early humans who assumed agency were more likely to survive in a world full of potentially hostile humans. Add in auditory hallucinations and it’s easy to see how these could become the “voices” of the gods that our ancestors were already certain were behind the workings of the world.

  21. >The magazine article you mention sounds like Aeon’s “How reality caught up with paranoid delusions”

    Yup, that was it.

  22. “But it doesn’t feel like me; the emotional temptation to ascribe ontological otherness to it and construct a profoundly fucked-up supernaturalist belief system around it is definitely present.”

    Have you ever tried my test? Have you ever tried looking up a new piece of information from such an experience to see if there might be real information? I’m not assuming thus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you were afraid to. The most extensive and oldest book explaining the potential ontological otherness, complete with “And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many” clearly identifies the Horned God as the bad guy. I don’t need to “construct” a profoundly fucked-up supernaturalist belief system when the existence of one is backed up by over twenty thousand ancient manuscripts copied down over thousands of years in agreement with each other to the difference of nine inconsequential words. A lot of people think this work is important, since it has been translated into over three thousand languages, probably because this belief system includes good guys.

  23. >Have you ever tried looking up a new piece of information from such an experience to see if there might be real information?

    Of course. That’s what a scientist does – check a theory by its consequences.

    >The most extensive and oldest book explaining the potential ontological otherness

    You are so profoundly ignorant it’s hilarious. There are attempted theistic explanations far older and more “extensive” than the Bible; the Upanishads stand out as an example.

    >And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many” clearly identifies the Horned God as the bad guy.

    I suppose it would be too much to expect you to know better than this, but what you just uttered is lousy theology even within Christian terms. You’re not just ignorant about my (quasi-)religion, you don’t even know shit about your own.

  24. Well, Eric, I see you’ve been the victim of some deception. If you don’t want to clear it up, suit yourself. I know my religion well enough to half the last laugh when discussing it with most ordained pastors, thank you very much.

    I am ignorant of the Hindu religion and its scriptures, so I expected you to be correct regarding the age of the Upanishads. Assuming the Wikipedia page regarding them is accurate, they were started in the 5th century BC. The Bible was started in the 14th century BC. Sorry.

  25. I have had 3 instances that I can recall where I have heard voices that have not been self tagged, and all of them I was fully awake.

    The first was the weirdest until I identified the source: my then girlfriend’s mother thinking “you two would make a nice couple”. I head the voice, then a few minutes later she actually said it.

    The second was my soon to be girlfriend’s friend, thinking of me “he’s kinda cute”. I immediately knew the source for this one, but it was confirmed to me later.

    The most recent one I could just hear voices, but I couldn’t identify where they were coming from, or what they were saying. It was as if someone was muttering in the next room. If I tried to concentrate on what the voices were saying they became harder to hear, as if they were trying to avoid me hearing them.

  26. >I know my religion well enough to half the last laugh when discussing it with most ordained pastors, thank you very much.

    That’s not saying a lot either. Most “ordained pastors” have been trained primarily for parish work and routine observances – many are deeply ignorant of the theology and history of Christianity. Or at best know only a grossly simplified, idealized, and sanitized version of it.

    >Assuming the Wikipedia page regarding them is accurate, they were started in the 5th century BC. The Bible was started in the 14th century BC. Sorry

    You should be sorry, you sad ignorant tool. 1400BCE? Only if you get your history from Jack Chick comics.

    The oldest, rather fragmentary Hebrew manuscripts containing portions of what is now the Pentateuch only date to the second century CE. While Jewish tradition back-dates the component oral traditions to as early as 1600BCE, no scholar actually believes this; the very oldest parts in Deuteronomy and the prophetic books might reflect traditions dating back to 800BCE but it is generally believed on internal evidence the rest of the Pentateuch oral material is a good three centuries younger.

    No portion of the New Testament predates 50CE, and it didn’t assume anything like its modern canonical form until around 300CE. So the Bible as a whole is about 900 years younger than the Upanishads.

  27. Eric,

    Some mystic friends of mine and I were kicking around a related topic not long ago: how much do people’s internal monologues vary, and are there any interesting connections between variance and propensity for mystical experience/religiosity?

    My internal monologue has the property of sometimes addressing me in the second person. That is, I have a voice with a ‘self’ tag that nonetheless says things like ‘you’d better bring an umbrella today’. I think this is probably unusual, but after asking around I’ve come to realize that there is a fair bit of diversity in the tone and quality of mental voices. For me anyway, even more interesting effects emerge when I’m doing mystical exercises.

    We conspired to do some science on the topic since there hasn’t been much done, but coordinating across an ocean proved too difficult. An obvious thing to do would be using a survey to find out how often people only think in the first person and how often they hear a voice addressing them in the second person or in the plural (‘we’). Do neurotypicals ever have more than one voice going at a time? Are there any obvious connections to religious background? And so on.

    I suspect that variance in internal monologue is the barest whispers made by the deeper machine that drives religious and mystical experiences.

  28. @ Terry

    Did you know that God is a crazy woman?

    Anyway, your memories can include stuff that you didn’t know you have and don’t understand. This can easily happen from images you have seen or descriptions that you have heard as a child or in other situations that you don’t remember.

  29. For BRM. Your theory can’t possibly explain this:

    http://featherwinglove.tumblr.com/post/7693837639/the-fence-is-low

    (Also, I can assure you that She’s quite sane.)

    For Eric. Unfortunately, for you, Jack Chick has done his homework. I bet you never looked up the references provided along the bottom of the pages in those comics. A lot of the time, when I read a Chick tract, I already know about the stuff in it.

    And it’s not the Pentateuch, it’s the Torah. I had a real Jew put me in my place regarding that one, and I’m glad it wasn’t David Draiman. As far as how source material can be older than the oldest manuscripts you can find of it? Say I found something on github forked from code of yours written twenty years ago, but based on the “File modified” date tried to convince you that you couldn’t have written it before yesterday. How silly would that be? To deny how ancient the content of the Bible is based on the age of the oldest manuscripts is not only equally silly, but denies archaeologists their most reliable means of dating ancient events and ruins: figuring out how they kept time back then. The Bible has these convenient geneologies, boring as hell unless you like to crunch numbers. The Exodus of Israel from Egypt happened in about 1446BC, I’ve done the arithmetic from those geneologies myself.

    Finally, I’m pretty sure the original manuscripts (which are doubtless worn completely away from people reading and copying them) for the New Testament were written no earlier than 50AD, not 50BC as you claim. You’re probably about right that the modern Textus Receptus didn’t sort itself out until about 300AD, but that’s beside the point. (Incidentally, “CE” and “BCE” are a similar disrespect for those who came up with the Anno Domini calendar as “Pentateuch” is for the Torah, but not as bad. There are powerful politicks who do not want the Bible to have any credibility.)

    I do find it interesting that you argue from a standpoint of discrediting the Bible, something I know quite well, instead of supporting the Upanishads or another example.

    “That’s not saying a lot either. Most ‘ordained pastors’ have been trained primarily for parish work and routine observances – many are deeply ignorant of the theology and history of Christianity.”

    While that is generally true, I tend to hang out with the smarter ones. The pastors who best fit your description don’t like to talk to me, very likely for the same reasons they wouldn’t like to talk to you. That might be why my emails to Chick have never been returned, although it is more likely they’ve just been lost in the slush pile (Jack Chick and his colleagues over at chick.com, where you can read every Chick tract ever produced for free in xkcd-like form, are among the straightest theological shooters I’ve ever seen.)

  30. >(Jack Chick and his colleagues over at chick.com, where you can read every Chick tract ever produced for free in xkcd-like form, are among the straightest theological shooters I’ve ever seen.)

    Yeah, that confirms it; you’re a complete drooling nutter. No mere fact will ever be permitted to interfere with your delusions. It is pointless to argue anything with you and I will now stop.

  31. @ESR does that mean that the majority of what we consider Judaism is the already Hellenized Judaism? I am asking this because I am trying to estimate the effect of Greek philosophy on Judaism and Christianity and the more I learn about it the greater this effect seems to be. It might as well be that at the end of the day what we find is 90% Plato and 10% not so important ancient customs.

  32. >@ESR does that mean that the majority of what we consider Judaism is the already Hellenized Judaism?

    Theologically I think so, yes, though one has to piece this together from the evidence because it’s an interpretation Jewish scholars tend to be hostile to – for the same tribal-identity reasons that motivated religious Jews to push back the dates of the Jewish oral tradition. By the time of the earliest surviving written Jewish scriptures the Hellenizing tendency had been strong for 200 years.

    In general the tribal-law stuff is pre-Hellenic but the more abstract doctrine and interpretation of the Pentateuch shows a strong Hellenic influence – though that can be difficult to disentagle from the even stronger and earlier influence of Zoroastrianism.

  33. So – what makes people fail to recognize certain thoughts as self?

  34. >My internal monologue has the property of sometimes addressing me in the second person. That is, I have a voice with a ‘self’ tag that nonetheless says things like ‘you’d better bring an umbrella today’. I think this is probably unusual, but after asking around I’ve come to realize that there is a fair bit of diversity in the tone and quality of mental voices.

    I’ve noticed this. In fact, I find that my depression (when it flares) manifests this way. I hear “my thoughts” talking in the back of my head. “You know she doesn’t love you.” or “Your job is utterly pointless. Why bother getting up.”

    I have slowly learned to recognize the tone and pattern of “The Lizard Voice” and tell it to STFU. Actually works better than medicine for me. YMMV.

  35. @Paul Brinkley
    “So – what makes people fail to recognize certain thoughts as self?”

    It seems to be a certain neural link between the site that generates language and the one that interprets it that is “down”. When you speak, you hear yourself. But you also are aware of what you were saying by a direct link to “consciousness”. The same link should work when you just think an utterance.

    You always use the same neural areas for thinking about something, say, the picture of an orange, as you use for direct perception, say, seeing an orange. You use the same area to think an utterance as you use when you hear it. So, when you are not aware that you formulated the very utterance yourself, you think you hear it.

    The separate neural circuitry that informs you that you were thinking about it, not actually seeing or hearing it, is not functioning when you hallucinate. Be it visually or aurally.

  36. Oliver Sacks talks about people not recognizing their legs or arms as their own. I wonder if this can be neurologically related to these apparently other-derived hypnagogic hallucinations.

    I agree with Terry that the use of “BCE” for “BC” and “CE” for “AD” has no justification but spite and to insult the Christian religion. I might ask: Why is this particular era “common”? Is “BCE” in some way more accurate or “scientific” than “BC”? How so?

    Also, Homer’s poetry is generally dated to far before it was first written down. I agree any analysis of how it may have changed during the centuries of oral tradition is debatable, but that doesn’t change the probable fact that its origin was long before the first surviving documents.

  37. >I agree any analysis of how it may have changed during the centuries of oral tradition is debatable, but that doesn’t change the probable fact that its origin was long before the first surviving documents.

    Terry was babbling in his usual only superficially coherent way. His argument amounted to “Well, the Bible could be said to date to 300CE – X for arbitrary X” at the same time that the point he wanted to make depended on not applying the same liberality to the Upanishads. (I speak here of the “mukhya” Upanishads which contain the principal philosophical and theological material; others were composed later but are not considered as authoritative).

    If you’re going to argue priority of documents that derive from oral traditions, it’s legitimate to attempt to back-date from the earliest written recensions based on internal evidence. But if you’ll only do that for one set of documents, you’re ax-grinding. Terry was ax-grinding.

  38. >the use of “BCE” for “BC” and “CE” for “AD” has no justification but spite and to insult the Christian religion.

    You say this as though insulting Christianity is a bad thing. It’s a good thing, for exactly the same reasons insulting Communism is a good thing. Both should be done loudly and often.

  39. @Maximo Macaroni
    > I might ask: Why is this particular era “common”? Is “BCE” in some way more accurate or “scientific” than “BC”? How so?

    Yes it is more accurate. The plain evidence is that the historical person Jesus of Nazareth was born before 1CE, so BC, before Christ, is just plain inaccurate, “Christ” was after all BC. BCE is correct, because we have made an arbitrary determination of which year is year 1, and this is known as the common era, though it does not correspond to any specific historical event.

    Insofar as this is a statement with a hidden agenda, it is not, AFAIK, meant out of spite or insult, rather it is a neutral point, made merely out of a recognition that not everyone thinks that the turning point of history is the birth of Jesus Christ, notwithstanding the previous comments which make this even more wrong.

    And, to me, AD is even worse than BC. “Anno Domini”, “in the year of our Lord.” He isn’t my lord, and isn’t the lord of most people, even most English speaking people. And really, can we be done with Latin? We are supposed to live in an egalitarian society, not propagate the deliberate use of various mechanisms, such as Latin, to keep the riff raff down, and the gentry up.

  40. I agree with Terry that the use of “BCE” for “BC” and “CE” for “AD” has no justification but spite and to insult the Christian religion. I might ask: Why is this particular era “common”?

    It’s common to anyone still living.

    “Before Current Era” is another expansion I’ve seen.

    As far as insulting Christianity — BCE and CE are used by people who do not wish to make the implied religious statement that the use of AD would make. Modern Jews, for example, use these designations frequently when talking about Gregorian calendar years.

    Is “BCE” in some way more accurate or “scientific” than “BC”? How so?

    It’s more reflective of the arbitrariness of the Gregorian epoch. Research done after Dionysius Exiguus indicates that Jesus of Nazareth was not born in 1 CE, but at a time which we would reckon as being a few years BCE.

  41. when i was meditating, i noticed that my thoughts aren’t formulated in my conscious mind, they just pop up there. maybe the schizophrenics are right to feel like they’re not the ones doing the thinking. :)

    i wonder if the conscious mind somehow still directs the thoughts. maybe some kind of emotional feedback to let the think-thing know to keep going or think something else.

    there seem to be two psychological terms: sense of agency and sense of ownership. in the case of “my heart is beating”, i would have a sense of ownership, but no sense of agency; and when i’m moving my arm, i have both.

    i recently read some buddhist stuff about the self being an illusion (anatta); not sure what to make of it.

    i don’t think it refers to “self” as in “this organism”, but maybe it means that the two senses i mentioned are mistaken. not sure if this is all silly or if there’s something to it. what do you think of it?

    about all the funky mind-stuff you’re doing, like remembering hypnagogic states and channeling gods: is that just for fun or does it have practical value?

  42. >about all the funky mind-stuff you’re doing, like remembering hypnagogic states and channeling gods: is that just for fun or does it have practical value?

    It has value. You can’t be really sane unless you understand how the mess of evolved kluges that is your brain/mind is likely to trip up your rationality.

  43. I’ve always taken the “common” in BCE and CE to mean “generally shared”, not “vulgar”. Until this discussion, the idea that it might be that sharp an insult didn’t occur to me.

    On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with Latin tags. They’re part of English, though I grant that I’m more hesitant about using them because they seem to be getting more obscure.

    As for the self-tag, I’ve spent a lot of time with an intermediate case. It’s better now, but I’ve endured a lot of internal verbal attack in the second person. I could always tell it was inside my head, but it didn’t exactly seem to be me that was doing it.

    I’m not sure about what of all the things I’ve done have come close to eliminating it (I can go into more detail if people are interested), but Transforming Negative Self-Talk by Steve Andreas, which takes an NLP approach of changing the volume, direction, etc. of the voice made a huge difference.

  44. And, to me, AD is even worse than BC. “Anno Domini”, “in the year of our Lord.” He isn’t my lord, and isn’t the lord of most people, even most English speaking people. And really, can we be done with Latin? We are supposed to live in an egalitarian society, not propagate the deliberate use of various mechanisms, such as Latin, to keep the riff raff down, and the gentry up.

    You know, there isn’t actually a possessive pronoun anywhere in the Latin phrase anno domini: a stricter gloss would be ‘in the year of the lord’, and there isn’t even a correspondent to the the there either (Latin doesn’t have articles). That said, the fact that it’s most commonly glossed as ‘in the year of our Lord’ (mostly because older texts had anno domini nostri Iesu Christi ‘in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ’, which does have the possessive nostri) is arguably more important when figuring out what ideological load it carries.

    Also, I’m going to go ahead and hope you mean “can we be done with Latin phrases as lexical items within prestige dialects of English”, rather than “can we be done with Latin in toto.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist! I don’t think we’re in toto any more, Kansas). After all, there ain’t no law sez Latin has to be taught only in private schools, and it would be a real shame if nobody at all could read Vergil or Cicero in the original.

    Anyway, back on topic: hypnagogic auditory hallucinations can be interesting experiences, sure. What I find particularly diverting is when I notice that I’m having one: often while falling asleep I’ll realise that I seem to be listening to a song or a nonsensical monologue without the benefit of iPod, at which point the program material immediately changes channel and starts coming in at my mind’s ear instead of (seeming like it’s coming in at) my real ones. Fun stuff.

  45. @ Maximo Macaroni: “I agree with Terry that the use of “BCE” for “BC” and “CE” for “AD” has no justification but spite and to insult the Christian religion.”

    I disagree. To employ terminology that is based upon any religion’s principles is an act of proselytization that has no place in a discussion about scientific topics. That I why I use the terms “BCE” and “CE”, and I mean no disrespect to any religion in doing so. (Should I intend disrespect to anyone’s ideas, beliefs, etc., I think it preferable to say so openly.)

  46. Anyway, back on topic: hypnagogic auditory hallucinations can be interesting experiences, sure. What I find particularly diverting is when I notice that I’m having one: often while falling asleep I’ll realise that I seem to be listening to a song or a nonsensical monologue without the benefit of iPod, at which point the program material immediately changes channel and starts coming in at my mind’s ear instead of (seeming like it’s coming in at) my real ones. Fun stuff.

    If I had a way of capturing the completely invented music my brain sometimes generates as I fall asleep, there’d probably be a top ten hit in there somewhere.

    I’m pretty sure one of them was a reggae song about Popeye the Sailor Mon, that was otherwise unrelated to the famous theme tune.

  47. To employ terminology that is based upon any religion’s principles is an act of proselytization that has no place in a discussion about scientific topics

    But the calendar system in which the current year is numbered “2013” is based upon Christian principles. Changing the “AD” prefix to the “CE” postfix doesn’t change that.

  48. @The Monster
    > But the calendar system in which the current year is numbered “2013? is based upon Christian principles.

    All the more reason to not compound the error with a terminological faux pas.

  49. “If you’re going to argue priority of documents that derive from oral traditions, it’s legitimate to attempt to back-date from the earliest written recensions based on internal evidence. But if you’ll only do that for one set of documents, you’re ax-grinding. Terry was ax-grinding.”

    Eric, calling me a “complete drooling nutter” or some such isn’t particularly bothersome, since the Bible does contain such passages as “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18-20.)

    As for “ax-grinding”, you know you chickened out without offering any real argument against the points I was trying to make. The least I could say is that my ax is far sharper than yours.

    “No mere fact will ever be permitted to interfere with your delusions.”

    Eric, I dare you to prove that. So far, you haven’t even tried, and given your cowardly retreat, the same could be said for you. I find it hard to believe you couldn’t return fire regarding the Upanishads, the first I’ve heard of which was you bringing them up on this very page. If a thirty second look on Wikipedia’s page regarding them is all it takes to get you to dismiss me as a nut and walk away, you should be wondering after its true value.

    As for why I’m a nut? “You should be sorry, you sad ignorant tool. 1400BCE? Only if you get your history from Jack Chick comics.”

    Prove it. I dare you. Prove that the Biblical geneologies can’t be relied upon for the dating of events in the Bible, an issue that certainly goes beyond Jack Chick comics.

    As for “priority of documents that derive from oral traditions”, you say that as though nothing of the Bible could possibly have been written and lost prior to the earliest manuscripts we have in modern times. How do you know our oldest manuscripts weren’t copied from older manuscripts still, and older original manuscripts that might have been written? It occurs often in 1 and 2 Kings: “are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?”, which seems to refer to something other than the manuscripts of what we know today as 1 Kings and 2 Kings came from, something we don’t have. How do you know those traditions were truly oral for 1200 years? I personally find that hard to believe, especially given the strong agreement between the manuscripts that we do have.

    Regarding BC/AD vs. BCE/CE, I guess my position came across stronger than I intended. Until recently, the use of these terms, even knowing AD stands for Anno Domini, did not convey any endorsement of Christ or his teachings. Even his enemies centuries later had to admit that he lived an unusual life, did some unusual things, died and disappeared. I don’t think it’s in the Iliad, but Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of the Trojan King Priam included the line “You’re still my enemy tonight, but even enemies can show respect” (or I could quote Jesus if you prefer.) And yes, apparently the people who came up with Anno Domini did so after it was too late to figure out exactly which year he was born, and I don’t know for sure that they were friendly to his teachings.

  50. Oh man I used to work at a place processing payments.

    We used to get those stupid Jack T. Chick publications in the envelope sometimes. They were comedy gold.

    Gold, Jerry!

  51. @Terry “Incidentally, “CE” and “BCE” are a similar disrespect for those who came up with the Anno Domini calendar”

    Not really as the term is distinctly christian in origin alluding to the fact of the common Gregorian calender shared between the European nations, an allusion that Christianity was the common link of the greater culture of Europe. It’s just not overtly christian. If you don’t like the idea of the common era, just read is out as the christian era.

  52. What I find really amazing is the level of divergence that we find in humans. Many of these divergences are individually harmful, but provide a great population to choose from under stress for success as a species.
    Sadly, much of these divergences result in what we refer to as disease.

  53. “We used to get those stupid Jack T. Chick publications in the envelope sometimes. They were comedy gold.”

    Yeah, the stupid ones are. Like this one:

    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0022/0022_01.asp

    They have a really distorted view of how spiritual warfare actually works, scarcely more accurate than Constantine (the movie starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz.) While they tend to shoot fairly straight theologically, they often do so with very poor ammunition. This is why I rarely bring up Chick tracts (Eric did so when I wasn’t about to.)

  54. @ESR re: mess of evolved kluges: wow, you are selling it a bit short. I think activities of this type can have uses way beyond that.

    Remember the story that some racecar driver “mysteriously” sensed a mass accident beyond the turn, slowed down and avoided it, then in hypnosis they figured out that he saw that the spectators in the turn are looking the wrong way, sensed subconsciously that there is something amiss, and this is why he slowed down, but never realized this consciously?

    If stuff like this happens then for example any kind of “divination” from Tarot cards to jumping up and down in funny masks Tibetan or African style can be useful by brining out such subconscious observations. And yes, just to spite you a bit, even a Christian prayer can have these kinds of functions.

    I believe observe much more than we think, but we have strongly evolved “filters” in our rational minds to filter out the irrelevant and focus on the stuff that helps in immediate survival.

    What is usually called spirituality is usually tricks for turning off filters.

    When I was young I had a strong ego-loss type of spiritual experience under, er, chemical influence. I looked into how said chemical works and it didn’t make sense at all. Neither did Leary’s dictum at first, namely that set and setting matters more than the drug. Finally I realized the following: the drug did nothing else but simply confused my rational mind, made it tie itself into knots, thus shutting down the filters, so everything deep and meaningful about the experience was already there in my mind, not put in by the chemical, the chemical merely removed the filters of the rational mind so that the subconscious could come out. Then Leary began to make sense too – it is the subconscious that reacts to the set and the setting, not the drug.

    All that tapping into the inner child is the same thing – children have less strong filters.

    At any rate, my point is that the rational mind is of course very useful but I would not write off the subconsciouss as a mess – the rational mind is prone to being way too active on filtering stuff out that is actually useful.

    Furthermore, I strongly suspect that the subconscious is the source of the joie de vivre and the rational mind and its filters tend to pull one towards depression – isn’t ruminating and overthinking strongly correlated with depression, and spontaneity similarly with joy?

  55. >re: mess of evolved kluges: wow, you are selling it a bit short. I think activities of this type can have uses way beyond that.

    Yes, all the stuff you mentioned and sacred sex with hot pagan chicks, too :-). I was pressed for time and wrote a minimalist answer.

    >What is usually called spirituality is usually tricks for turning off filters.

    Er, yes, that’s one important kind of “spirituality”. But it’s not the whole story – it doesn’t include theurgic invocation.

  56. “…the calendar system in which the current year is numbered “2013? is based upon Christian principles…”

    Not to mention that it was promulgated by Pope Gregory. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

  57. Terry, you must be trolling. Constantine (the movie) was so obviously a form of entertaining parody, that never ever even attempted to get anything right (although the term “right” is not exactly appropriate in this context, I meant it largely the sense of whatever the learned, respectable theistic philosophers from Maimonides through Aquinas to Duns Scotus said), that happily sacrificed every tiny bit of tradition for entertaining effect, that even using it as a negative example is a WTF. It’s like saying Star Wars is dumb because there ain’t such things – saying so would be extremely weird because why would even anyone assume things of this kind to be?

    I agree with ESR so far that any kind of theology that is even comparable to Constantine the movie i.e. if even can be said movie got it really wrong amounts to madness.

    However I have not lost all my respect for the learned Catholics, the Neo-Scholastics, the Ed Feser kinds, precisely because what they are saying is not even comparable to anything like that, the same way you cannot compare a book about higher-order geometry to Star Wars.

    This is actually a good test for respectable (although I think still wrong) theisms – if Constantine the movie is not a wrong version of it, but is entirely uncomparable with it, then it deserves some respect.

  58. @ESR have you ever found yourself arguing in favor of something you disagree with, but it is less wrong than whatever else the other person actually believes in i.e. trying to sell social democracy to a communist or that sort of stuff?

    This Chick-type fundamentalism comes accross to me as something so incredibly wrong that I am almost tempted to try to convert them to Catholicism, which is something I don’t believe in either but I tend to have much better, more intellectually stimulating debates with them. For starters, my Catholic friends tend to not believe in anything even close to a divine punishment after death, they believe in something along the lines of too closed souls being unable to bear the perfection of the divine presence. There are at least two things interesting about that. One is that the Tibetan Book of the Dead says almost exactly the same thing minus the theistic stuff. The second thing is that something testable could be worked out from this, for such a hypothesis of spiritual openness or closedness must overlap with normal psychology at some point. After all you can’t be spiritually perfect yet e.g. a petty envious asshole at the same time. Anyway these are at least interesting debates.

  59. @esr:

    Yes, all the stuff you mentioned and sacred sex with hot pagan chicks, too

    Shhh! Quiet! Some of us quite like the fact that there isn’t enough men to go around. ;)

    And, oh, yes. That’s exactly it. The “self” tag can get lost in the hypnagogic state. You know the information you get from “voices” in a hypnagogic state is coming from yourself because even if you believed you didn’t know any “new” information before you began, when you closely examine the information it often seems that you probably did know that information already, or at least were exposed to the “new” information — or you just guessed it — and you weren’t really consciously aware of it.

    One thing tarot querents also seem to say is that “Oh, well, I already knew that, I just hadn’t really thought about it.” That’s what divination seems to be really good for is simply drawing out what a person already knows by relating to them the archetypes expressed in the cards.

  60. @ESR have you ever found yourself arguing in favor of something you disagree with, but it is less wrong than whatever else the other person actually believes in i.e. trying to sell social democracy to a communist or that sort of stuff?

    Notable pragmatic libertarians have attempted this. Milton Friedman argued for basic income because it was much more cost-effective than the merit-based U.S. welfare system; his son David advocated in The Machinery of Freedom for policies — such as school vouchers — that governments could implement to climb the gradient towards stateless libertarianism.

    This Chick-type fundamentalism comes accross to me as something so incredibly wrong that I am almost tempted to try to convert them to Catholicism, which is something I don’t believe in either but I tend to have much better, more intellectually stimulating debates with them.

    Don’t bother. You would sooner convert Eric to communism than convert a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist to Catholicism. To these people, fundamentalism is freedom. It means not having to accept any spiritual authority but the Bible. Surrendering to the authority of the Pope is not only accepting bondage, it’s high treason: fundamentalists believe that the Catholic Church is run by the Devil, its true purpose is to corrupt the Word of God and lead believers astray, and all its adherents are going to hell. Go ahead and read a few Chick tracts; you will find that this is a recurring theme in them. Chick himself has never been seen by the public nor have any photos been taken of him for decades; only a sketch of his face by a curious journalist can be found online. The reason is because Chick believes the Catholic Church is spying on him and has been keeping extensive files on him in a computer underneath the Vatican since the late 1960s or early 1970s.

  61. One more thing about Terry’s “straight shooter”: Chick is a faith-alone Christian, which contradicts both the Bible which states that the dead will be judged by their works (Matthew 16:27, Matthew 25:41-46, Rev. 20:12-13, et al.) and, hilariously, his own tracts sometimes.

    A theological straight shooter all right. Straight into his own foot.

  62. >David [Friedman] advocated in The Machinery of Freedom for policies — such as school vouchers — that governments could implement to climb the gradient towards stateless libertarianism.

    And I have argued similarly on many issues.

    I’m pretty close to David Friedman, theoretically, and was for many years before we were acquainted.

  63. Regarding spirituality and brain kludges: i think that for the most part religion (which is quite different than spirituality) is a free trade people make. They trade the massive intellectual dishonesty that they need to consume in exchange for the social benefits of being part of a large group, and the value that that group contributes to their lives.

    This is particularly evident in how people grasp at tiny straws of understanding to fill in the obvious gaps and dishonesty that the doctrine contains. I remember talking to one religious person who had a big religious conversion. He had a big interest in dinosaurs beforehand, and the final step in his conversion was his discovery of the Schofield Gap Theory, which supposedly explains where the dinos fit into the bible. Even though it is obviously dishonest, and a moment’s thought means that it all unravels, it was enough to get him over the gap. Of course, since their was a pretty girl on the other side waiting for him, and a big family who would love him despite his faults, was the real reason he wanted to make the leap. It is why idiocy like “creation science” is so popular. Now there is rationalization taken to extremes.

    This is of course true in other areas of life too. It is why democrats tend to believe in AGW, and republicans don’t. It is why many open source advocates think Bill Gates is the borg, and many Microsofties thing that RMS is a hippy commie peace, love and dope freak (and don’t even get us started on that Raymond guy.)

    It is the intellectual dishonesty that you need to buy into to support your team, and get the commensurate benefits of being on the team. Intellectual integrity doesn’t keep you warm at night, and doesn’t bring a pot roast over when you just had a baby.

    I think that the spirituality, in terms of the doctrinal support, provides them a framework to think within the context of the group think, and also offers them an emotional experience that is quite intoxicating (you need some sort of emotional, thing if you aren’t allowed to have much sex, right?) That is why they have beautiful cathedrals, music, and great festivals.

    I think often about the Jonestown mass suicide. I think trying to understand the thinking of the people there, from Jim Jones himself, through the regular folks, and down to the moms and dads who fed poison to their kids… I think that trying to get some understanding of that whole thing leads to a much deeper understanding of people in general. It is an extreme example of how people behave all the time in some smaller, less deadly way.

    [BTW, just as a side comment, I just realized how close the words “Raymond” and “Redmond” are. I bet that is a little awkward for Eric at the peace, love and dope parties…]

  64. Shenpen: “Terry, you must be trolling. Constantine (the movie) was so obviously a form of entertaining parody,”

    I never said otherwise. You’re right about me trolling, but I think you got caught the wrong way: in some ways, Chick tracts are not very good.

    Jeff Read: “One more thing about Terry’s ‘straight shooter’: Chick is a faith-alone Christian, which contradicts both the Bible which states that the dead will be judged by their works (Matthew 16:27, Matthew 25:41-46, Rev. 20:12-13, et al.) and, hilariously, his own tracts sometimes.”

    That’s actually along the lines what I was saying about the quality of ammunition. While salvation by itself is faith-alone, since Jesus did the only thing that could be done and He was the only One who could do it, that isn’t the end of fulfillment, but the starting line. Once you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, ditch the Chick tract and pick up anything by John MacArthur, “Slave” will work. That’s what I hate about JTC’s line: while it’ll explain salvation well enough, it rarely goes beyond that, and does a piss poor job when it does. Chick’s theology is a bit like this: Johannes Kepler is the first guy to understand orbits: how a satellite or spacecraft revolves about a planet or star, and his concepts are very accurate, even today. Does that mean he’s going to know the first thing when he gets behind the controls of a real Space Shuttle?

    Jeff Read earlier: “Don’t bother. You would sooner convert Eric to communism than convert a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist to Catholicism.”

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by fundamentalist, but if the definition would include myself and Jack Chick this bit is certainly correct. We know that Catholicism is really paganism electroplated with Christianity, so we’re not in the slightest bit interested.

    Fluffy Girl: “Regarding spirituality and brain kludges: i think that for the most part religion (which is quite different than spirituality) is a free trade people make. They trade the massive intellectual dishonesty that they need to consume in exchange for the social benefits of being part of a large group, and the value that that group contributes to their lives.”

    For the most part that’s true, and your example is a good one, but there is also the type of person who seeks spiritual growth for its own sake and that isn’t a social bargain at all. It is a capital offense to be a Christian in mainland China, so why is Christianity flourishing in mainland China? You might not think that’s true, but there are many reasons why it should not get much press coverage (not the least of which is that being a Christian is a capital offense in mainland China!) That doesn’t fit into your model, and it isn’t the only example, either. I’m interested in the social benefits of having a relationship with the Creator of the universe; the rest of humanity can go to hell.

    “I think often about the Jonestown mass suicide. …”

    Jonestown (and others; check out the Minecraft edition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TS1yGR0_yFw ) are examples of what happens when a genuine desire for spiritual growth gets hijacked. You don’t seem to understand that people can actually have a desire for spiritual maturity and make decisions along those lines in social settings (i.e. Eric posting “Sometimes I hear voices” on the Internet!!) When you have the wiley used car salesman ethic trying to sell you spiritual products, those are the buyers he’s trying to fool. This isn’t to say people don’t make decisions that appear spiritual for social reasons (like I said, you present a good example of that), but suicide doesn’t have any social benefits, and that’s generally pretty obvious even to practitioners of the art. Suicide doesn’t have any spiritual benefits either, but that isn’t very obvious to the spiritually immature.

    “[BTW, just as a side comment, I just realized how close the words ‘Raymond’ and ‘Redmond’ are. A bit that is a little awkward for Eric at the peace, love and dope parties…]”

    I’m gonna get me a cat, name him Eric Redmond Stallman and blame the failure of my Touro on him so ECSL can have a member with that name ;)

  65. @Terry
    > so why is Christianity flourishing in mainland China?

    For exactly the same reason. There is a great deal of enjoyment and social benefit to being part of a social group. Being part of a rebellious, illegal group has its own special thrill. Why do biker gangs, or MS-13 do what they do? Yup, same reason (though the comparison is only applicable in some small ways, I think Chinese Christians are mostly good, decent people.)

    The evidence of Jonestown is clear on this: being part of the group, and the associated self deception, is, for many people, more than enough to justify putative martyrdom, especially if the martyrdom isn’t all that common (which it isn’t in China.)

    > I’m interested in the social benefits of having a relationship with the Creator of the universe;

    A relationship usually involves a dynamic interaction between the two parties, usually by means of talking. All the “relationship with the Creator” examples I have seen have been pretty one way conversations. Of course were they really conversations between God and man that would be a realistic expectation, but in the other direction. It seems to me that God would have a lot more value to contribute to the conversation than the typical prayer life of the average Christian, babbling on about “Jesus help me find my car keys”, or “Thank you Jesus for getting me a discount on my car insurance.” But Jesus is, AFAIK, mostly mute.

    > Jonestown (and others; check out the Minecraft edition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TS1yGR0_yFw )

    Now that is truly disturbing…

    > are examples of what happens when a genuine desire for spiritual growth gets hijacked.

    But it is the same for all religious people. For the Jonestown people the hack was a rather lethal DOS attack on their cardiac functions, but all religious people get their spiritual growth (whatever that means) hijacked to satiate the agenda of their church or religious leaders.

    > Suicide doesn’t have any spiritual benefits either, but that isn’t very obvious to the spiritually immature.

    Perhaps by your definition of maturity. There have been many people throughout the ages who have felt that their deaths would lead to great benefits, Jesus, for example. But even putting him aside and the controversy as to whether the word suicide applies there, there are many people who killed themselves in the name of a religious cause. In fact, it is proving quite a problem in the middle east recently.

  66. I’ve been away and missed the digression into the religion detour, but the connection to hearing voices in your head is certainly relevant.

    Religion is a cultural trait and it is omnipresence and persistence is an indication that it has evolved so as to reinforce the survive and thrive imperative of our species. The various religious orthodoxies are essentially irrelevant to this core function. At a time in our evolution, after complex language development and before writing, religious indoctrination served an important role to propagate survival knowledge from generation to generation. Faith is a manifestation of the requirement to believe in the absence of personal experience, lest on get eaten by a sabre tooth tiger.

  67. Ancient religion functioned as society’s legal code. You can see this today in the Muslim movements to legally implement Shariah in various countries, and also in modern Orthodox Jewish communities. The ancient Hebrew priests interpreted and enforced the Law, and got to eat from the sacrifices that the people brought to them. (That was taxation, back in those times.)

    Faith was entirely another matter. The Romans didn’t care if you actually believed in the gods. All they cared about was if you publicly went to the temples, performed the rituals and kept your mouth shut. Otherwise, you might weaken their society.

    Faith, as we know it, came to the Christians via *later* Judaism, after concepts of The Messiah and Life After Death had infiltrated. The Christians ‘took the ball and ran with it’.

  68. Fluffy Girl: “For exactly the same reason. There is a great deal of enjoyment and social benefit to being part of a social group. Being part of a rebellious, illegal group has its own special thrill.”

    There seems to be a special thrill in being evil. Okay, let me define that: “evil” is “live” backwards: evil destroys life while righteousness promotes it. There are people who enjoy doing that. I wish I could understand- wait, no I don’t :p. I don’t think that’s a social aspect, I think its the opposite spiritual aspect: people who are as interested in spiritual destruction as others are in spiritual growth. Mainland China is interesting: those interested in spiritual destruction are the ones in power, and this isn’t the first time in history that has occurred. It isn’t a deathblow to your argument because it is a different way of looking at things.

    Fluffy Girl: “The evidence of Jonestown is clear on this: being part of the group, and the associated self deception, is, for many people, more than enough to justify putative martyrdom, especially if the martyrdom isn’t all that common (which it isn’t in China.)”

    Suicide isn’t martyrdom, and for that reason, the murder of the righteous can’t be compared to the Jonestown mass suicide. For the righteous, martyrdom is impractical and something to avoid: you can have little influence on the world if you’re dead. On the other hand, if you’re a righteous person faced with either forsaking your soul or getting murdered, the latter is a better bargain. Is there anything I could ask you for, a lie I could make you utter that, if I had a gun to your head, you’d rather refuse to say it and have me pull the trigger instead? What martyrdom says is that there is a cause the martyr has laid his life down for that is more valuable to him than living. In practice, it is better not to get caught, insofar as you are able to complete your mission (see Matthew 28:19-20 for some typical mission objectives.) Finally, don’t commit suicide, you’re not a martyr unless it is I who pulls the trigger.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not really like that, just playing the devil for the purposes of illustration. Crispin Glover did that for Beowulf in 2007.)

    Fluffy Girl: “A relationship usually involves a dynamic interaction between the two parties, usually by means of talking. All the ‘relationship with the Creator’ examples I have seen have been pretty one way conversations.”

    Brad Pitt said something like that to Rose Byrne in 2003 on the set of Troy, where he was the Greek warrior Achilles and she was the Trojan Apollonian priestess Briseis.

    Do you believe that such a relationship _could_ be a dialogue? Would you be prepared to listen to my case with an open mind and not dismiss the evidence without due consideration? Or, would it be a waste of my time as it was with Eric?

    Fluffy Girl: “Now that [Chaoscraft video] is truly disturbing…”

    I agree. The most disturbing part for me is the thought that if someone might have done that to the real Jonestown, it would have saved lives.

    Fluffy Girl: “But it is the same for all religious people. For the Jonestown people the hack was a rather lethal DOS attack on their cardiac functions, but all religious people get their spiritual growth (whatever that means) hijacked to satiate the agenda of their church or religious leaders.”

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by religious. If a spiritual person who is not part of such a community is not a religious person, then you have a case. I rarely get called religious (most examples can be found on this blog, actually) because my spirituality is independent of my religious community, and my spiritual identity is not tied to my religious community. Also, for most of five years (2007-2011 inclusive), I was not a part of any religious community, but remained spiritual.

    As for “spiritual growth (whatever that means)”, I recommend “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck to get you better acquainted. While Scott Peck is a rather famous Christian, he wasn’t at the time he wrote that, his first book. He was Zen Buddhist.

    Fluffy Girl: “Perhaps by your definition of maturity.”

    Perhaps. It would take me several books to describe spiritual maturity, but you can look it up for yourself in Matthew 13 as well as other parts of the Bible, Scott Peck’s “Further Along The Road Less Traveled”, and Dr. James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith”.

    Fluffy Girl: “There have been many people throughout the ages who have felt that their deaths would lead to great benefits, Jesus, for example.”

    Jesus was not a suicide. While it is obvious he could have easily avoided being crucified and saw this from a pragmatic perspective (see Matthew 26: 39, 42 and 44), and if you believe as a Christ-one, even those hiding in the shadows as it happened, he could have escaped the process at any point, Jesus did not crucify himself. Jesus chose to allow the Sanhedrin and Roman prelate of Judea crucify him; it was their decision. Certainly, if you don’t believe he was fulfilling prophecy and scripture describing him as the Lamb of God, it doesn’t make any sense for him to make that choice. That’s why I don’t count him as a martyr either. The death of Jesus was unique: he was the Saviour.

    Or, if you decide John 14:6 and so many other verses where he says this about himself are not correct, he was a complete drooling nutter (as Eric would probably put it.)

    Fluffy Girl: “In fact, it is proving quite a problem in the middle east recently.”

    Well, not just recently, but that doesn’t dull your point. I’d wager they don’t fit my lengthy definition of spiritually mature, nor have they gotten any spiritual benefit from their suicide.

    Now… I decided to give it some thought, and the line that came to mind was “In the words of my generation: UP YOURS!!!”

    That would be Randy Quaid, whose character in the really famous 1997 film “Independence Day” rammed his F/A-18 fighter into an alien battleship to save thousands of people, including his family. That was arguably a suicide, but it differs from many suicides in the aspect that it was not for himself: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) This is something God would reward and is therefore obviously of spiritual benefit. Most people I know, and know of, would sooner think of Devon hanging from her rope at the beginning of the Disturbed music video for “Inside The Fire”, or something along those lines, upon hearing the word “suicide.”

    Come to think of it, Satan himself offers a better word (not really, Peter Stormare’s portrayal in Constantine): Sacrifice. I somehow think it would be rather hard to argue that Middle Eastern suicide bombers are in that category. Survivors whose devices malfunction testify that their mission is to exterminate the people of Israel. Doesn’t sound like laying one’s life down for his friends to me.

  69. TomA: “Faith is a manifestation of the requirement to believe in the absence of personal experience, lest on get eaten by a sabre tooth tiger.”

    Eric Bana as Hector of Troy: “And how many battalions does the Sun God command?”

    That’s a pretty weak case to stake my life and eternal future on, and I’m pretty sure I’ll meet with no argument saying that. It’s reasoning like that that lets Richard Dawkins write a book like “The God Delusion” and face no significant opposition.

    “Bird signs. You want to plan a strategy based on bird signs.”

    Of course, my God backs Himself up better than that (although He has included some bird signs, lol!)

    TomA: “At a time in our evolution, after complex language development and before writing, religious indoctrination served an important role to propagate survival knowledge from generation to generation.”

    Now that’s a bunch of malarkey. As near as I can tell, complex language development and writing emerged at the same time. Of course, it’s hard to be conclusive because some modern complex languages didn’t have writing (incidentally, I know this because it is Christian missionaries who came up with the writing for those languages), and writing is how we’ve dated the emergence of complex language in the past. However, it does make a heck of a lot of sense that if you develop something as profound as language, it’s a good idea to write it down. Also, religious indoctrination doesn’t seem to have any goals related to personal survival. Certainly modern safety briefings at construction sites and the warning labels on natural gas appliances bear no resemblance whatever to “religious indoctrination”. No, whoever came up with that did so to fit his perspective of Evolution, not because it might actually be true.

    LS: “Ancient religion functioned as society’s legal code.”

    That’s more like it. In addition to your other examples, we can observe the resemblance between modern political campaigns and religious indoctrination, both ancient and modern.

    LS: “The Romans didn’t care if you actually believed in the gods. All they cared about was if you publicly went to the temples, performed the rituals and kept your mouth shut. Otherwise, you might weaken their society.”

    Amen! OMG, did I just say that?

    LS: “Faith, as we know it, came to the Christians via *later* Judaism, after concepts of The Messiah and Life After Death had infiltrated. The Christians ‘took the ball and ran with it’.”

    Meh. Judaism is a little more solid than that. As for the Christians and their game: Jesus produced the ball in John 3:16, claimed it in John 14:6, and deftly handed it off in Matthew 28:18-20, and the rest of the Bible is about the first running plays, while always remembering where that ball came from. It bugs me when people talk about Christians without mentioning Christ.

  70. LS on 2013-10-09 at 23:10:01 said:Ancient religion functioned as society’s legal code. Umm, no. In the polytheistic cultures of ancient Europe, there was no connection betwee law and religion. It would have been ludicrous for Zeus/Jupiter to prohibit adultery. Nor was there such a connection in Chinese tradition AFAIK. Neither Taoism nor Buddhism (nor Japanese Shinto) have any legislative elements. Nor Hinduism.

    Judaism seems to be the ur-religion-of-laws. Christianity derives from Judaism. Islam is modeled on Judaism. So they inherit that trait. But it’s not universal among other religions, especially ancient ones.

    Terry on 2013-10-09 at 20:38:14 said: It is a capital offense to be a Christian in mainland China… Umm, no, it isn’t. What is a crime is participation in a church which is not part of a state-controlled denomination. Those who belong to these denominations are free to practice Christianity.There are 5.3M members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, for instance. There are also 23M members of the China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

    Members of unregistered “house churches” are liable to repression by the state, but for belonging to an organization not under state control. The Roman Catholic Church is one, too. But such membership is not a “capital offense”. And the government doesn’t want a lot of martyrs and bad publicity, so the repression is spotty.

  71. @Morgan, @ESR sacred sex with a low male to female ratio has obvious advantages, but I am still bothered that basically any kind of contemporary paganism I can find is so incredibly feminist that one article I found even said “you as a man probably joined paganism in order to escape the patriarchy but don’t go overboard and don’t accept sexist discrimination against yourself” which made me go whaaat? I mean I don’t mind that this sort of thing exists, but the opposite end should also exist – and I can find no trace of it whatsoever!

    By the opposite end I mean the kind of extremely masculine, warrior-ethic paganism, that for example manifests itself currently in folk-metal of the Turisas or Cruachan type. Or the Norwegian black metal scene. OK it is sometimes worrisome that some of these guys are nazis (like Varg Vikernes), I don’t like that at all, but if you ever do anything that is masculine and pagan at the same time you cannot help but attract some nazis too, this is a unwelcome side effect but it does not in itself invalidate the whole thing. This is still an interesting scene as far as the music and stage symbolism goes. The philosopher, ideologue of these interesting neo-barbarian, masculine-pagan ways is Jack Donovan and his truly interesting book, The Way of Men. (Jack Donovan too sometimes looks like some kind of a fascist, but he is an anarcho-fascist at worst, a barbarian celebrating the gang lifestyle, not a wannabee tyrant.)

    Anyway I am curious about this sort of thing, and I can simply find no trace of it at all! I.e. NONE of the actual neo-pagan or Wiccan organizations or groups or anything I know have anything to do with any kind of high-testosterone, warrior-like, barbarian type, folk-metal type, Jack Donovan type of stuff.

    And this is really strange to me.

    Maybe they just really trying to avoid that unwelcome side-effect.

    (Needless to say, here in Central Europe this is even more unlikely given that this is not a high-testosterone place at all.)

    BTW this would also interest me as a historical interest. What kind of “magick” or “spiritual” thing e.g. a Viking warrior did before battle? What were the rituals, how were war gods worshipped?

  72. >@Morgan, @ESR sacred sex with a low male to female ratio has obvious advantages, but I am still bothered that basically any kind of contemporary paganism I can find is so incredibly feminist

    Let me introduce you to the term “fluffy bunny”.

    I’m part of a large, relatively quiet contingent of Wicca that…well, I won’t say it’s anti-feminist because it isn’t. Our attitude towards the Dianics (the faction for whom Wicca is grievance feminism by other means) is more “okay, okay, so now get over yourselves”. We’re also quite distinct from the crystal-gazing New Age woo-woos. We call the latter, and sometimes the former, “fluffy bunnies” (they overlap heavily).

    We’re the ones with the guns – no, it’s not just me, my wife and I occasionally run into other Wiccan couples at shooting ranges and those are never fluffy bunnies. Our circles have priests as well as or instead of priestesses; our male/female ratio is closer to 50/50. We have less tendency to be supernaturalist – not that I’m saying there aren’t any of us who are, but our median of that bell curve is different from the Dianics and way different from the woo-woos. A lot of us are computer programmers or other forms of tech geek. Where fluffy bunnies have endless relational drama, we have families and stable relationships (there’s a lot of polyamory in both groups but the fluffy bunnies handle it less well than we do).

    This tendency doesn’t have a name. It might, if the fluffy bunnies were more than vaguely aware we exist. They aren’t; they run into us at pagan festivals and never seem to quite process the fact that we’re not quite like them. (If they did, they might think of us as “Those boring, normal-ish people.”) Our attitude towards the fluffy bunnies is one of amused if occasionally strained tolerance. We hope they’ll all grow up someday. Some of them do.

    You don’t hear anything about us because we tend not to get press. We don’t make breathless copy for sensation-seeking reporters. We don’t fit the political stereotypes they expect (left/feminist) nor the cultural ones (hippies and goths). I think we’re actually the majority, though.

    I don’t know if Morgan Greywolf uses the term “fluffy bunny”. He knows who I’m talking about though, and I’m betting he’ll start using it now if he doesn’t already…

  73. @esr –

    I’m part of a large, relatively quiet contingent of Wicca that… . This tendency doesn’t have a name.

    I refer to myself as a “eclectic, neo-Wiccan, techno-pagan”. Which doesn’t really tell you anything. If you (sincerely) ask me about my beliefs, I’ll explain; if you think you can pigeon-hole me based upon that description, or your preconceived notions, nevermind, and go away. The people learned from were basically the same (although I doubt that most of them were shooters), and the ones I work with the most now fit your ”mainstream Wicca” definition pretty closely. Any “fluffy bunnies” I’ve met up with I’ve either just quietly shied away from, or ran like h#ll if they looked like they were going to get into any position of authority or public notice.

    You forgot to mention the “jewelry witches” – ones for whom the bigger and more blatant the pentagram, the better. (Perhaps you had lumped them in with the “crystal-gazing New Age woo-woo” bunch.)

  74. >You forgot to mention the “jewelry witches” – ones for whom the bigger and more blatant the pentagram, the better. (Perhaps you had lumped them in with the “crystal-gazing New Age woo-woo” bunch.)

    You know, I almost mentioned the big-jewelry syndrome when I was writing that comment. It’s a pretty reliable signature of woo-woo, yep.

  75. Religious propensity, as an evolved trait, is hard-wired into our psychology and explains why our ancestors would readily accept and employ group knowledge in their daily lives. The group knowledge that persisted, no matter how irrational, was knowledge that kept you alive and reproducing. Adolescents either accepted this “teaching” and stayed alive to reproduce, or died off as a consequence of learning an often-fatal firsthand lesson. This is fundamental evolutionary driver and has been ongoing for hundreds of thousands of years.

    It is also important to understand that traits are not cast in stone, but continue to evolve over time. Cultural traits have a faster mutation/adaptation cycle and consequently, religious characteristics have morphed over the past several thousand years of recorded history. If present day religion gets you laid, then it is still performing its original evolutionary function.

  76. >If present day religion gets you laid, then it is still performing its original evolutionary function.

    Morgan and I were joking about that. Mostly. :-)

  77. Terry: “Prove it. I dare you. Prove that the Biblical geneologies can’t be relied upon for the dating of events in the Bible, an issue that certainly goes beyond Jack Chick comics.”

    I don’t think anyone else here is going to bother explaining why this is so wrong so I’m going to take it on myself. Positing a date of 1400BC for the composition of the Bible and claiming that it accurately represents the truth as to what happened in the past fails on many levels.

    For a starter, there are loads of elementary mistakes with the history which are a dead giveaway for a date more like a millennium later. Domesticated camels are used to carry items in Genesis, e.g. in 37:25. This is not consistent with the archaeological evidence. Domesticated camels arose in the late second millennium, with massive increases in camel bones (not from local herds) found in the seventh century BC showing the start of serious trading routes from Arabia around this time. There are similar issues with the products carried by the merchants in the text too. Similar issues appear with the mentions of the Philistines several centuries early, Kadesh in Genesis 14:7 is likely a reference to Kadesh-Barnea, only inhabited in the middle of the first millennium BC, as is likely for Tamar, Arad mentioned in Numbers despite not existing in the Late Bronze Age, there was no settlement at Heshbon at that time and the kingdom of Edom didn’t even have a sedentary population at the time you are claiming. As well, there is no archaeological evidence for anyone ever wandering in the Sinai, especially not at the claimed sites, nor is it likely that they fled via the more inhabited north coast, given that extensive Egyptian records do not contain even a trace of the Israelite passage out – a very surprising omission if there really was one. There is much more in this vein.

    What is very interesting is that these sites were only occupied at the same time around 700 or 600BC. Combining this with recurrent Biblical themes about the failure of the Kingdom of Israel to adhere to the YHWH cult, and considerable more authorial favour being lavished on the Kingdom of Judah, one may very well conclude that these texts were being written down around that era, to provide a national text to bring together the people of Judah in the face of international agitation by nearby empires and to encourage submission to the central YHWH cult of Jerusalem.

    At this point, it’s strikingly clear that there are fairly large holes in the claim that the Pentateuch is very historically accurate. It’s possible to try to salvage some parts of them as an interwoven set of previous oral traditions set down in paper with much of the detail being provided by the contemporary state of the world at the time of writing (7th century BC), with some parts being wholly made up (Exodus + the conquest of Canaan being the elephant in the room here). But even if you do try to say that, it’s very clear that there’s no way you can do good historical dating based on the Bible as a reliable reference source and in fact I don’t think any modern (read “since the end of the 19th century”) historian or archaeologist has tried to do that. To do so would lead to stupid conclusions even worse than those reached by Schliemann’s excavations / vandalism at Troy.

  78. >Combining this with recurrent Biblical themes about the failure of the Kingdom of Israel to adhere to the YHWH cult, and considerable more authorial favour being lavished on the Kingdom of Judah, one may very well conclude that these texts were being written down around [700-600BCE], to provide a national text to bring together the people of Judah in the face of international agitation by nearby empires and to encourage submission to the central YHWH cult of Jerusalem.

    Confirming, that is how I understand modern scholars in general read the evidence.

    A point of some interest here is that this Yahwistic material was probably not yet monotheistic, but rather henotheistic. The First Commandment does not read “Worship no other god” but “Worship no other god above me”, a nuance which persists even in the King James English translation.

    “Pure” monotheism probably developed later under Zoroastrian influence. There are hints of the process in the way the titles used to refer to God (YHWH, Adonai, Elohim, etc.) changed in different layers of the text.

    The overall story seems to be one of an increasingly powerful and centralized priestly caste grafting Zoroastrian and Hellenic philosphical/theological ideas onto a root stock of primitive tribal henotheism.

  79. It is interesting how in altered states of mind, be it hypnagogic or other, we encounter some parts of “consciousness” missing.

    It might be “self” tag in ‘I hear voices’. It might be “check for being realistic” while ‘finding causes’ part is firing full throtle, where you dream / hallucinate a sequence of events which seems well connected while dreaming / hallucinating… but utterly ridiculous when fully aware (after coming out of hypnagogic state, for example).

    Going too long without sleep can cause the above…

  80. “There are hints of the process in the way the titles used to refer to God (YHWH, Adonai, Elohim, etc.) changed in different layers of the text.”

    No. The Torah consists of several distinct documents, which modern scholars have teased apart. They each refer to God by a different name as esr mentioned. In the seventh century BC, Ezra and his scribes stitched them all together (in Persia – there’s your source of Zoroaster’s influence) and was commisioned by the Persian king to go to Israel with full authority over its religious affairs. Ezra did so, ‘bearing a new Torah’, which is essentially the one in use by Jews to the present time. For those interested, here’s a very readable account of the biblical sources:

    spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/WhoWroteTheBible.pdf

    If you google around, you can find the entire book online; most of the hits only give you pieces though…

  81. David, I’m starting my reply because you started setting off warning bells as soon as I started reading your response.

    David: “Positing a date of 1400BC for the composition of the Bible and claiming that it accurately represents the truth as to what happened in the past fails on many levels.”

    I’m saying that’s when it was started. The Bible started when Moses went up a hill and visited God, and God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. If you don’t want to believe in God, pretend Moses did instead. Either way, we have a pair of stone tablets quoted verbatim in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 that were produced in about 1446BC. As for when they actually started to write the line of manuscripts that eventually became the Textus Receptus, I don’t know, but shortly the establishment of ancient Israel in 1406BC is a decent enough candidate for the Torah, once all the events are complete and things have settled down. Again, I’m talking about when the Bible was started! Will future archaeologists rediscovering the Terminator movies think that all of them were made in 1984 just because the first was?

    David: “Domesticated camels are used to carry items in Genesis, e.g. in 37:25. This is not consistent with the archaeological evidence.”

    First occurrence is in Genesis 12:16, by the way. I figure it about 1700BC, but I don’t have the numbers handy. Just because there isn’t any independent archaeological evidence of domesticated camels doesn’t mean that camels weren’t domesticated at all. Human populations were definitely smaller around 1700BC than they were in 700BC, and the camel populations probably were too. Also, archaeology has a very tough time dating anything they find that doesn’t have accompanying documentation; local writings are about the only reliable method of dating something (i.e. when examined for the Carbon-14 radionuclide, the bones of King Tut appeared to be later than those of his son. What would they have assumed if they didn’t have the writings?)

    David: “Kadesh in Genesis 14:7 is likely a reference to Kadesh-Barnea”

    Well, we know it’s not referring to the sixth and seventh stages of Homeworld (maybe I shouldn’t say stuff like that because somebody, somewhere, always takes me seriously when I do.)

    The actual verse: “And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar.”

    What he’s saying is that Enmishpat is Kadesh these days, Enmishpat is what was there back then. Whatever sources were used for Genesis when the rest of the Torah was written were not faithfully preserved. It is obvious that if the site he’s referring to is Kadesh-Barnea, he’s not referring to the 500BC edition if the Torah was written in the 1400BC ballpark. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a “Kadesh” there, or somewhere else. Also, an awful lot of the landmarks in Genesis are tiny villages and wells. If that’s all that was there when it was Enmishpat, and all that was there in 1400BC, and somebody built something big on the site in 500BC, we’d still be seeing what we found.

    David: “kingdom of Edom didn’t even have a sedentary population at the time you are claiming”

    Edom is another name for Esau. Where they were at the time, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it took them a while to settle down. Esau famously got the short end of the stick when blessed by Isaac at the same time as Jacob (another name for Israel.) The Bible doesn’t have a lot of details, but we know Israel had a really big family, and their population grew much faster than that of the Egyptians who had enslaved them, which is what got the whole Exodus thing started. It’s reasonable to expect that Edom wouldn’t be big enough to detect archaeologically until much later.

    David: “As well, there is no archaeological evidence for anyone ever wandering in the Sinai, especially not at the claimed sites, nor is it likely that they fled via the more inhabited north coast, given that extensive Egyptian records do not contain even a trace of the Israelite passage out – a very surprising omission if there really was one. There is much more in this vein.”

    Of course. And it doesn’t bother me because I believe in the miracles described. (By the numbers, modern Israel should have been wiped out easily in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Why not believe in the ancient miracles as well?) The manna God was feeding the Israelites with decayed literally overnight, except on Friday night, when it lasted one extra day. Their clothes never wore out, so they didn’t have to leave any worn-out clothing behind. After camping, when they packed up and left, they left behind nothing but footprints and tent peg holes; good luck finding those three thousand years later! They wouldn’t leave any ashes from campfires because they didn’t have any fuel to burn in the campfires to begin with. You might have a slight chance finding a spot where they put the tabernacle down, but I doubt it. If you assume the land was more fertile back then, the situation is even more bleak for finding any trace of them later: the whole strata gets blown away as the area turns to desert.

    As for the Egyptians, the Exodus was something that they very much wanted to forget. From the Merneptah Stele, it sounds like they didn’t completely forget about it, and went over to kick some butt about two hundred years later.

    David: “one may very well conclude that these texts were being written down around that era, to provide a national text to bring together the people of Judah in the face of international agitation by nearby empires and to encourage submission to the central YHWH cult of Jerusalem.”

    Hmm… write the whole Bible just as everyone loses interest in the God central to it. Makes sense to me (not!) This would include a reference to the Torah in 2 Kings 22:8, basically, “Look what we found!” How much sense does it make to write this stuff as its becoming unpopular and do such a good job of retrospection? I can’t fathom why anyone would take the notion seriously at all.

    David: “I don’t think any modern (read “since the end of the 19th century”) historian or archaeologist has tried to do that.”

    I’m thinking along the lines of what Eric said about me earlier, “No mere fact will ever be permitted to interfere with your delusions.” If you want, I can put together a list of such historians and archaeologists, and I’d guess you wouldn’t take a single one of them seriously, so I’ll wait for you to ask.

  82. “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” – so much for that idea. I’m done, Eric, you worthless coward.

  83. >“Your comment is awaiting moderation.” – so much for that idea. I’m done, Eric, you worthless coward.

    Don’t let the door catch you in the ass on the way out, looneytunes.

  84. Hm… Why must every topic on this blog become a political discussion? The original topic is interesting enough to discuss without bringing in religion and politics.

  85. Terry is a good example of the power of cultural memes to dominate someone’s beliefs and behaviors. Had he been born 10,000 years ago, he likely would have been an ardent follower of the tribal shaman and strictly obeyed the dictates of the tribe’s knowledge as regards survival habits. In the absence of any rational explanation for why these habits “worked”, it’s not surprising that they could be ascribed to a god-like entity. Given enough time, an entire background story surrounding the god-entity could evolve and contribute to the effectiveness of the indoctrination process. In true survival-of-the-fittest fashion, some god stories fare better than others. Terry is with us, in large part, because his psychological predecessors were successful at surviving and reproducing.

  86. @ESR I would propose that pure monotheisms don’t develop organically, they come from the influence of a Plato-type philosopher. For a philosopher, for an intellectual, it is very tempting to explain everything in the world reduced to One Big Cause. The same way today we are dreaming about a “theory of everything”, we are not content until all your physical theories are linked into one, we are monotheorists :)

    For the non-intellectual masses, polytheistic logic makes su much more sense – different tools for different jobs – that they even smuggle it back into monotheisms every time they get the chance, example: how the popular version of medieval Catholicism focused on saints so much that it practically became a polytheism.

  87. >I would propose that pure monotheisms don’t develop organically, they come from the influence of a Plato-type philosopher.

    In the most important case (Zoroastrianism) dualistic monotheism seems to have developed as a thought-control tool for an empire headed by a priest-king. The so-called “Abrahamic” religions inherited this feature.

  88. @LS
    >No. The Torah consists of several distinct documents, which modern scholars have teased apart.

    FWIW, I think this, so called, JEDP Hypothesis, is utterly bogus. There is practically no evidence for it, certainly no documents representing it (no one has ever found a J document or an E document) and to separate the documents you have to do horrible violence to the text.

    In my opinion it is what happens when theology departments are filled up with super liberal scholars who don’t believe what they teach, so have to fill their endless hours with arguing over how many angels can dance on the end of a pin.

    There is plenty to criticize about the Pentateuch without resorting to JEDP nonsense. Heck a couple of chapters in there are devoted to God killing everyone in the world save a single family because they didn’t measure up. They have war crimes tribunals for that kind of thing today.

  89. @Fluffy Girl: Did you at least read the eight page segment of Friedman’s book I gave a link to? (You’ll have to copy it, and paste it into your browser.) In it, the author actually takes apart the flood story you mentioned. It is obvious that it is two separate versions of the same tale, intertwined. Please check it out, and let us know what you think, afterwards.

  90. Also, archaeology has a very tough time dating anything they find that doesn’t have accompanying documentation; local writings are about the only reliable method of dating something

    Of course. Inasmuch as it conflicts with the Bible, all science must be considered suspect. And the “begats” in the Old Testament must be way more accurate than radiometric dating. For hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

    (i.e. when examined for the Carbon-14 radionuclide, the bones of King Tut appeared to be later than those of his son. What would they have assumed if they didn’t have the writings?)

    King Tut had no son. His successor was Ay, an advisor to the king. And his remains have been pretty accurately dated.

    I’m thinking along the lines of what Eric said about me earlier, “No mere fact will ever be permitted to interfere with your delusions.” If you want, I can put together a list of such historians and archaeologists, and I’d guess you wouldn’t take a single one of them seriously, so I’ll wait for you to ask.

    If you’re as much a straight-shooter as Chick, they all doubtless have very dubious credentials and will favor religion over evidence every single time. Which is of course why you read and believe them: the wisdom of the world (i.e., science and empirical evidence) is foolish (1 Corinthians 3:19) and scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), so only a historian who trusts the Bible above all else can be trusted. Round and round in circles you go.

  91. @LS
    >Did you at least read the eight page segment of Friedman’s book I gave a link to?

    No I didn’t. Pasting a link doesn’t oblige anyone to read it. If you want to make an argument, make it. Posting googled link bait isn’t making an argument. I can’t fisk it if it is in a hard to read remote link.

    However, I am extremely familiar with the arguments for JEDP, and I think they are grasping at straws. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not vacuous, speculative guesswork.

  92. @all, but especially our host –

    As long as we are talking about brain states and “religious experiences” (FSVO religious), here’s an very interesting (although long and winding) essay from author John Barnes: Invading Grace, which cites some work by Eugene D’Aquili and Andrew Newberg.

    tl;dr – there may well be a specific piece of the human brain which has evolved (at least secondarily) to provide transcendant experiences, which in Mr. Barnes’ view is the key to humanity taking the “emergency long view” – that we each must occasionally realize that there is more that matters (for the survival of our species) than the immediate here-and-now.

  93. @esr – I have a comment “awaiting moderation”, ’cause I put one too many hyperlinks in it. When/if you release it, you can delete this one….

  94. No I didn’t. Pasting a link doesn’t oblige anyone to read it.

    No one is obliged to read anything, but if you’re going to debate an issue it helps to be conversant in the details.

    It’s also a courtesy to the people you’re debating with, as they won’t have to spend a lot of time reiterating fundamental points.

  95. @Jeff Read
    > No one is obliged to read anything, but if you’re going to debate an issue it helps to be conversant in the details.

    I disagree Jeff. I think the link-paste thing is just a cheating tactic in a debate. “Here Jeff, you are completely wrong in your argument, go read this 100 page document that I googled up and barely read myself, and unless you can refute it point by point I clearly I am right and you are wrong…”

    No, like I say, if you want to make an argument make one. If you want to link-paste go ahead, say “I read this article http://xxx.com. It says a b and c, this is his evidence for a, b and c….”

    It seems to me that if you are going to MAKE an argument you should be conversant with the details, perhaps even to the point of being able to make the argument in a cogent and concise manner.

    It is fine to offer some collateral to support your point, but don’t expect to make the point with the collateral. It is just lazy, and frankly, cheating.

  96. TomA: “Had he been born 10,000 years ago, he likely would have been an ardent follower of the tribal shaman and strictly obeyed the dictates of the tribe’s knowledge as regards survival habits.”

    That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. One of the most distinctive things about my faith is how it does _not_ fit with my upbringing. You have to go back three generations in my family before you find another Christian. Eric is not the first person to call me crazy for these sorts of reasons, not by far. My little brother beat him by ten years.

    Maybe I should have my lawyer check out this page…

  97. I don’t get the cool stuff that others have described. It doesn’t happen very often, and the few times when I can remember it clearly it’s always been my mother yelling at me to get up for school.

    Of course my mother hasn’t gotten me up for school in decades (and in fact passed on some years ago).

    If it were a less-mundane topic and/or I had been raised in a pre-scientific culture it would be pretty damned convincing. It is quite distinctly my mother’s voice.

  98. @ Terry – “One of the most distinctive things about my faith is how it does _not_ fit with my upbringing.”

    I know I shouldn’t take the bait, but there is an opportunity to be instructive.

    Upbringing is nurture and predisposition to faith belief could well be a hard-wired psychological trait of evolutionary origin. That Terry possesses faith and declaims its connection to nurture is suggestive of an alternative explanation. Perhaps genetics.

    http://scienceblog.com/67185/genes-predispose-some-people-to-focus-on-the-negative/

  99. @ Fluffy Girl

    I would be very interested in your opinion on the story of Noah and the Flood on pages 5 to 7 of the 8 page document linked to by LS at:
    http://spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/WhoWroteTheBible.pdf

    (I am counting PDF pages, each of which is two pamphlet-sized pages.)

    The author has one “story” in all in bold upper case, the other not.

    There does appear to be two different interleaved stories although they aren’t both totally complete (as the author claims) because God only tells Noah to build an ark once. However, much stuff is repeated and the two biggest differences seem to be:

    God tells Noah to bring two of everything versus Yahweh/Jehovah/The Lord (depending on the version of the Bible – I checked a few) tells Noah to bring 7 pairs of all clean beasts and 2 pairs of unclean beasts and birds.

    In one version, Noah sends out either a raven and then a dove, or as the author interprets, a raven in one story and a dove in the other but, in any case… after 40 days and 40 nights versus basically a year.

  100. @BRM
    > I would be very interested in your opinion on the story of Noah and the Flood

    It pains me to genuflect to the rhetorical tactic of paste-a-link, but just for a laugh I had a look.

    What is the basis for the division he makes? There is no basis in the text. Vocabulary? Ridiculous! A selected sample that have word distribution anomalies? It is like putting all the boys and girls in separate rooms and commenting on how one room has only vaginas and another only penises.

    Perhaps he splits the text a little based on the use of YHWH verses Elohim, but that is silly. Clearly in many documents the same person is referred to by different names for rhetorical purposes all the time.

    I am embarrassed to say I have been reading 50 Shades of Grey (please don’t judge me…) Some places she is Ana, sometimes Anastasia, sometimes Ms. Steele. Each name serves a different rhetorical purpose.

    The capitalization used in the example is, obviously, not reflective in the text (there is no such thing as capitalization in Hebrew), and the split is entirely arbitrary in places. For example: Gen 7:16, why does he split it in the middle? There is no reason to do so, except that it is convenient for him to do so based on the names used. He splits it right in the middle of a clearly connected thought.

    The same is true throughout. In regards to two animals or seven pairs. Again the text is clear, two regular animals, seven pairs of clean animals. 6:20 is a general statement and 7:3 a more specific statement. Further 6:20 tells how many animals will come to him and 7:3 how many he should take (particularly relevant in terms of birds.)

    This analysis is very clever, in the pejorative sense of the word, and is exactly what one would expect from navel gazing scholars with nothing better to do than argue about irrelevant minutia.

    What is apparently being missed in his analysis is the God/Yahweh initiated an action that brought about the destruction of nearly all life on earth, and somehow this same god is claimed righteous, rather than a horrible, evil mass murder. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

  101. @ Fluffy Girl

    God and his guys slaughter one hell of a lot of people, although the flood is certainly the extreme case.

    What I find even more amazing is the idea (which the author of the linked text does touch upon) is how an omnipotent, omniscient god can regret something that he has done.

    You said:

    In regards to two animals or seven pairs. Again the text is clear, two regular animals, seven pairs of clean animals. 6:20 is a general statement and 7:3 a more specific statement. Further 6:20 tells how many animals will come to him and 7:3 how many he should take (particularly relevant in terms of birds.)

    An aspect about this is that 6:20 says two of each will come to Noah to keep alive, but 7:3 says that Noah should take seven pairs of some animals and all birds. If it was the other way around, you could call the first a general statement and the second a more specific statement. But I find the way it is written to be very odd – how does Noah find another six pairs of every kind of bird?

    There is an explicit contradiction in relation to 7:3 – 6:19 says, “And of all the living, of all flesh, you shall bring two to the ark to keep alive with you..”

    I tried to find a contradiction between the “forty days and forty nights” and the year or so it took for the waters to leave and the Earth to dry, but I couldn’t (though the way numbers are used is very odd).

    This story is written in a very weird way – there are so many places where a verse will say something and the next verse will say the same thing in a slightly different way.

    OTOH, the author of the linked text makes absolute statements which are unjustified, particularly when looking at a particular chapter in various versions of the Bible
    (https://www.bible.com is very useful for this (Lord only know why it uses a secure (https) connection)).

  102. The story of the flood (Genesis 6:5 to 8:22) does look a lot like two authors collaborating by each writing the same story and then interleaving the two versions together with the intention of turning it into one coherent story, except that, in this case, that last step was not done.

  103. God did a lot of killing. The following example (2 Kings 2:23 to 2:24) (mentioned in “Stranger in a Strange Land”) is not big in numbers but tearing children apart for sassing his priest?

    2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

    2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

    I have mentioned this before, but… The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is an interesting resource. You can look up stuff by theme (Absurdity, Injustice, Cruelty and Violence, Intolerance, Good Stuff, etc) or search by word or phrase. Ex. if you want to know why you should beat your children, search for the word “rod”.

  104. “The story of the flood (Genesis 6:5 to 8:22) does look a lot like two authors collaborating by each writing the same story and then interleaving the two versions together with the intention of turning it into one coherent story, except that, in this case, that last step was not done.”

    @BRM: No, the two authors did not collaborate. They wrote down slightly different versions of the same story – the particular version that was current among the people who they were living with at the time. In particular, there were divisions, both political and religious, between northern and southern Israel. (This should not be surprising to someone familiar with Christianity. The New Testament has four major (and different) accounts of Jesus’ life, but they were kept in separate books, so no one bats an eye.) The priests, back in the days of the prophets and the kings, had to put both versions of the story in so that everyone would be satisfied when they assembled and The Law was read to them. The fact that the versions were in conflict at various points did not bother anyone there at the time. If they heard their version, they felt respected and content. It was only much later that atheists would use these things as debating points.

  105. @ LS

    I wasn’t suggesting that two authors collaborated. I was saying that, to me, just reading the story, it has the feel of two stories interleaved together.

    It has a feeling similar to what you would get if two authors each wrote their own version of the same story, then jammed them together with the intention of turning it into one coherent story. But in this case, it wasn’t turned into one coherent story. If you are correct, that was the whole point – both versions of the story were there to satisfy two different audiences.

  106. Terry on 2013-10-11 at 00:55:55 said: … I believe in the miracles described. (By the numbers, modern Israel should have been wiped out easily in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Why not believe in the ancient miracles as well?)

    “By the numbers”. the Greeks should have been crushed by the Persians. Were Marathon, Plataea, and Salamis miracles?

    “By the numbers”, Prussia should have been crushed by Austria, Russia, France, and Sweden. Was “The Miracle of the House of Brandenburg” actually a miracle?

    “By the numbers”, Sir Henry Morgan’s buccaneers should have been crushed by the Spanish at Panama. Was the buccaneer triumph (which was followed by an orgy of looting and rape) a miracle?

    “By the numbers”, Castro’s insurrection in Cuba should have been crushed by Batista’s army. Was his victory a miracle?

    “By the numbers”, the Indochinese Communusts should have been crushed by the U.S. and its allies. Were the victories of the NVA and Khmer Rouge miracles?

  107. @LS
    > No, the two authors did not collaborate. They wrote down slightly different versions of the same story – the particular version that was current among the people who they were living with at the time.

    Do you have any evidence to support this claim? Clearly it is contradictory to three thousand years of scholarship on the Old Testament. And by scholarship I mean many thousands of people who utterly devoted their lives to the study of the Torah, to a level of familiarity that can only be described as ridiculous, or obsessive compulsive (thousand page treatises on the shapes of the letters anyone?) And also contrary to the fact that there is not one scrap of documentary evidence in support of it (never mind contemporaneous documentary evidence.) Certainly no E document or J document has ever been found, and no citations of just E or J are known.

    The gospels are quite a different matter. All the documentary evidence supports four (or more) gospels. There are practically no early harmonizations, and those that exist do not come with any traditional understanding that they are original documents. There are thousands of early manuscripts of the gospels, some within a generation of the original autographs, and abundant citation evidence in the writings of early church fathers.

    I have no problem with the concept of multiple authorship. It is plan that the end of Mark and the last chapter of John are later additions. There is lots of manuscript evidence and citation evidence to support this along with the unusual vocabulary distribution.

    The bottom line is that JEDP is an extremely extraordinary claim, and not only do I not see extraordinary evidence, I see vanishingly close to zero evidence aside from the navel gazing pronouncements of bored academics.

    And just to be clear, the only dog I have in the hunt here is a respect for evidence based reasoning. I think the whole thing is a bunch of bronze age fairy tales, promulgating a morality that I find, for the most part, reprehensible.

  108. For Rich Rostrom:

    Every now and then you get miracles, and every now and then (more often) you get people screwing up so badly that it’s more like a miracle for the other side. I’ve read Bill Fawcett as well as the Bible. I know that what most people refer to as The Vietnam War was hardly a miracle for the NVA, it was an anti-miracle for the US (early in the war, they managed to nearly sink a super carrier with a single five-inch rocket… They being the US Navy, not the NVA, which didn’t have any carriers for the US to sink. That’s among many other things, including that the US Army learned very much the hard way that it’s hard to fight effectively while you’re stoned on acid.)

    And you do have miracles sometimes (the Bible records some against Israel; God-haters tend to bring those up rather often.) Sometimes they aren’t “good” miracles either, but are a case of the least-of-evils (like the Flood), or totally inexplicable (God never explained why he screwed over Job so badly.) But here’s a recent one for you to chew on. The British attacked Vimy Ridge in World War I, outnumbering the Germans 3-to-1 and were repelled. The French attacked Vimy Ridge outnumbering the Germans 5-to-1 and were repelled. Finally, the Canadians attacked, outnumbered by the defenders 3-to-1 and took Vimy Ridge in 1917 April.

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to deny the existence of miracles, but that certainly isn’t the way to do it!

  109. Both a meditator/psychedelic user and a schizophrenic can of course experience such a disidentification (I experienced it crystal-clearly using a particular entheogen.)

    The commonality isn’t as interesting as the difference – the non-schizophrenic can gain incredibly useful insights (such as a solution to some personal or professional problem, psychotherapeutic insight or profound spiritual insight) from such an experience, something the schizophrenic is unlikely to do. Such experience can reveal what the conscious denies or represses in hyper-lucid fashion.

  110. @ESR @Morgan regarding Asatru and feminist Wicca I found a historical parallel:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sei%C3%B0r

    It seems that in old Norse / Germanic society, the practice of magic(k), Seiðr, was seen as something unsuitable and frowned upon for men, something unmanly, while much more accepted for women.

    If I get it right, they did not really separate helpful magic(k) such as healing or divination, and harmful curses, evil eye, “voodoo needle dolls” etc. Seiðr also had connotations of “poisoning”, which makes perfect sense, cursing someone with an illness can be seen as a form of supernatural poisoning. (I think it is _actual_ poisonings that created the myth of curses or evil eye. If most people don’t know about poisonous herbs or mineral, then their usage is a sufficiently developed technology to be indistinguishable from magic.)

    “In the Viking Age, the practice of seid by men had connotations of unmanliness or effeminacy, known as ergi, as its manipulative aspects ran counter to masculine ideal of forthright, open behavior.[5] Freyja and perhaps some of the other goddesses of Norse mythology were seiðr practitioners, as was Oðinn, a fact for which he is taunted by Loki in the Lokasenna.”

    This makes sense. If a society sees men as warriors who solve problems with face to face challenges, then magic(k) is always suspicious and best reserved for women.

    I propose that such old views may have influenced the creators of modern Wicca like Gardner, at least if they are, if I get the term right, “reconstructionists”.

    The part I don’t get about Gardner and Wicca is – where the heck did the idea come from to combine Pagan religion and magic(k) into one “mash” where you hardly know where one ends and where the other one begins? I mean while I know that pretty much every kind of magic(k) had quasi-religious elements such as prayer-like stuff, invocations, the reverse is not true: it was perfectly possible to be a Viking warrior who was faithful to, prayed to, engaged in rituals connected with Thor (or Odin) yet did not practice any kind of magic(k) or seidr.

    Therefore, it seems to me when and if people want reconstruct warrior-type paganisms, they have to leave the magic(k) part out or downplay it.

  111. @Shenpen: The Wiccans are modern people. They have this Romantic Era view of paganism, not to be confused with the genuine article. It’s a lot like the SCA people and their funtime reconstruction of the middle ages, where there are no serfs, plagues or pogroms.

  112. >It seems that in old Norse / Germanic society, the practice of magic(k), Seiðr, was seen as something unsuitable and frowned upon for men, something unmanly, while much more accepted for women.

    That’s not quite right. While “seiðr” was indeed considered unmanly, the magical use of runes and song-spells was not necessarily considered seiðr. We know this because, for example, in Egil’s Saga, the warrior-poet Egil Skallagrimson repeatedly used such means without any harm to his reputation as a man and a fighter and without anyone speaking of seiðr.

    The primary sources are not clear on the meaning of the term “seiðr”, and it may be that the term was not consistently applied at all. My own reading – and take this as very informed speculation, there are no doubt scholars that would disagree violently with me – is that seiðr and runecraft were perceived as different systems.

    Seiðr, “female”, was mainly concerned with divination, herbalism, and curse magic. I suspect it may have derived from Lappish and Finnish sources. Runecraft, “male”, was mainly apotropaic or used to bespell weapons and objects; also it was theurgic and associated with the cult of Odin. Significantly, we have no record in any saga or period source of women using runic magic. Song magic (galdr) was used in both systems.

    >The part I don’t get about Gardner and Wicca is – where the heck did the idea come from to combine Pagan religion and magic(k) into one “mash” where you hardly know where one ends and where the other one begins?

    That’s what’s actually historically normal across most religions; it’s the separation between thaumaturgy and theurgy that you’re taking for granted that’s exceptional.

    >it was perfectly possible to be a Viking warrior who was faithful to, prayed to, engaged in rituals connected with Thor (or Odin) yet did not practice any kind of magic(k) or seidr.

    Mostly yes, but it would have been entirely within period norms for such a straight arrow to use runecraft. And, if he had a reputation as a poet, galdr.

  113. @Terry
    > but are a case of the least-of-evils (like the Flood),

    How can “killing everyone and everything except a dozen people and a zoo of animals” be the least-of-evils? Exactly how much more evil does it get than that?

    > The British attacked Vimy Ridge in World War I, outnumbering the Germans 3-to-1 etc.

    You are confusing terms. Miracle has a prosaic meaning for sure — a fortuitous and extremely unlikely happening. Of course they happen; the laws of probability tell us that a one in a million chance happens roughly ever million or so times.

    However, plainly we are expecting you to use miracle in the sense of “a divine intervention changing the expected course of events”. The British army, or Canadian army may have fought in the name of the same God as the Germans, but are you postulating a divine preference for our snowy neighbors to the north? Or is this just “one of those things”, a random happenstance unrelated to the exercise of divine power?

  114. >God did a lot of killing. The following example (2 Kings 2:23 to 2:24) (mentioned in “Stranger in a Strange Land”) is not big in numbers but tearing children apart for sassing his priest?

    Yes, it’s easy to be critical of this view from the outside; God’s holiness must be taking into account in passages such as these. I would expect nothing less from some reprobate be they children or adults that ridicule the Almighty’s chosen priest. If one presupposes that God is no different than any other human or demi-god I could see that view point, but He’s not, so I don’t.

  115. Yes, it’s easy to be critical of this view from the outside; God’s holiness must be taking into account in passages such as these. I would expect nothing less from some reprobate be they children or adults that ridicule the Almighty’s chosen priest. If one presupposes that God is no different than any other human or demi-god I could see that view point, but He’s not, so I don’t.

    Kids are little shitheads. They don’t know any better. If every kid were mauled and eaten by a bear for being a little shithead, the human race would come to a swift end. And if mere mortal Jay “Tron Guy” Maynard can stand up to an internet’s worth of ridicule for his cosplay habit, surely your all-loving, all-gracious God, who is most holy and powerful and awesome, wouldn’t be so butthurt by a couple of dumb kids.

    So no. Taking God’s holiness into account only makes that story all the more horrible.

  116. @Fluffy Girl: “How can ‘killing everyone and everything except a dozen people and a zoo of animals’ be the least-of-evils? Exactly how much more evil does it get than that?”

    It’s hard to see when you’re part of the evil, but if a dystopia gets bad enough, that’s what you’re left with. I would expect society of Noah’s time to have a useless education system, high incarceration rates, nonsense laws, and so much criminality and apathy that the number of people willing to do anything substantial about it has come down to… eight. I’m guessing those eight were regarded in their time much the same as I’m regarded around here. They’re building a lawn ornament over 137m long and if anyone asks why, they get some “nonsense” about a coming global flood, and they’re the only eight people in the world who know anything about it. I do wonder if anyone asked how they were supposed to seal the door. I can only imagine the sinking feeling I’d get watching the door lift itself, seemingly of its own accord, and slamming into position on the Ark, squeezing the tar out at the seams: (See Genesis 7:16) I suppose they could have had a capstan and a couple of windlasses and pulleys, normal fare for such things, but compared to the Flood itself, that would have been the pittance of a miracle. What YECs debate occasionally is whether the miracle was the Flood itself or the world prior: the hand of God shoring up an ecosystem catastrophically destabilized by the Fall in Genesis 3 (Genesis 3:17-19 implies that vegetation grows with much more difficulty because of the Fall, and if extensive oxygenation were required to maintain the pre-Flood atmosphere, that might be the problem. I don’t think so personally because the Flood also happened on Mars, where we have found not the slightest trace of any vegetation.)

    Fluffy Girl: “However, plainly we are expecting you to use miracle in the sense of ‘a divine intervention changing the expected course of events'”

    Unfortunately, it is hard to tell the difference between a prosaic miracle and a divine miracle if you don’t know God, and even though I do know God, I sometimes have some difficulty. The godless want to believe that no miracle involves God, and the hardcore athiest (the type that deny spiritual happenings of any sort; I’m only 99% sure that Eric is one) will want to believe that there is no such thing as a divine miracle. For example:

    “And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.” (Judges 7:22)

    If the survivors of the Midianites (apparently there were a few) of this otherwise totally absurd 300 vs. 200,000+ pooch screw that would make Thermopylae look like a side show wrote about it in modern language, he would certainly call it a “friendly fire incident” rather than a miracle.

    Another interesting event is the sinking of the Titanic. We know from metallurgical studies and tests that the Titanic was anything but unsinkable. She was so poorly made, in fact, that any little bump with an iceberg or reef would have laid her up for years if she didn’t sink. It was also inevitable that a liner was going to have a catastrophic encounter with an iceberg at some point because of the safety culture at the time. That said, the Titanic having the extraordinary bad luck to bump into an iceberg in pretty much the only way that would have sunk her, while on her maiden voyage might have been a miracle. It was oft-said that “God Himself could not sink this ship” a bit like throwing one’s glove at the Almighty’s feet to see what He might do about the Titanic (by the way, if you assume a certain, improbably, but not impossibly, large cubit, it is possible that the Titanic was the first ship larger than the Ark.) The collision dynamics are very interesting: the iceberg is spotted with just 31 seconds warning so exactly beam on that it doesn’t make any difference which way you turn (if we knew the shape of the iceberg, it might have: perhaps “hard a’port” instead of “hard a’starboard” could have made the difference.) Murdoch had four choices: do nothing; order a turn, reverse the engines, or both. Both (and again the possibility of which way to turn) was the only way to sink the ship. Turning, and waiting until clear of the iceberg before slowing down, would have led the Titanic completely clear with no damage. Piling in head-on would have crushed the first two compartments, but it is likely (not certain, given Titanic’s metallurgy problems) that she would not have had flooding in the first five compartments. Had E.J. Smith been on the bridge, I think he would have ordered the turn without reversing the engines, but I don’t know because he famously had never dealt with an emergency before, and if he had no mental preparation, would likely have screwed up the same way as Murdoch. The weather was a factor: it was too calm for the waves breaking against the iceberg to be visible at any significant range, and (contrary to officialdom’s belief), the lack of binoculars for the lookouts was very significant: icebergs don’t move very fast, so I’d be concentrating on the area within a couple degrees of the prow with occasional (no binocular) scans for faster moving ships with running lights being a heck of a lot easier to see than icebergs.

    Both of these events: Gideon and his three hundred (I think Gerard Butler should play him :p) and Titanic are both events that do not contain any breaches of the known laws of physics, or other such event which requires the finger of God to touch Earth. Prosaic miracle? Divine miracle?

    Justin R. Andrusk: “If one presupposes that God is no different than any other human or demi-god I could see that view point, but He’s not, so I don’t.”

    Something we agree on.

    Jeff Read: “Kids are little shitheads. They don’t know any better. If every kid were mauled and eaten by a bear for being a little shithead, the human race would come to a swift end. And if mere mortal Jay “Tron Guy” Maynard can stand up to an internet’s worth of ridicule for his cosplay habit, surely your all-loving, all-gracious God, who is most holy and powerful and awesome, wouldn’t be so butthurt by a couple of dumb kids.”

    Angelica Zambrano (23 hours clinically dead near as anyone can tell) saw eight year olds in hell. Also, not all kids are evil. I can’t remember who, but some psychiatrist claimed he could observe a bunch of ten year olds for a couple of hours and predict with a fair degree of accuracy how the life of each would turn out, then went on to do so. I personally remember the bullies from junior high/middle school growing up to land themselves in prison just after they reached adulthood. There really does seem to be a volition about whether one decides to be evil or not, and the choice can be made at a young age (In my case, that choice is the beginning of my memory; I recall only two tiny glimpses of my childhood from the period before.)

    “They don’t know any better.” Yes and no. Ever hear a barely articulate three year old cry out, “That’s not fair!” and they’re usually right, at least in my experience.

    Bible (Romans 2):
    13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
    14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
    15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
    (Proverbs 22) 6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

    The Romans passage is actually rather stronger because Proverbs 22:6 is from what I call the “bullet list” section of Proverbs where there is no continuous flow of context, unlike in Romans 2. Personally, I believe that conscience comes from this:

    Genesis 2:17 “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
    Genesis 3:5 “(said the serpent) ‘For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.'”
    Genesis 3:7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

    The strange thing is, that I seem to be the first Christian to connect conscience with this tree, although I’ve had an easy time convincing my friends because it just makes too much sense. The Fall happened not merely because we pissed off the Almighty by being rebellious; it happened because we became responsible for all knowledge of good and evil long before we were ready… and then, most of the time, choosing evil (what’s best for me) over good (what’s best for all.)

  117. @Justin R. Andrusk
    > Yes, it’s easy to be critical of this view from the outside;

    Yes, it is very easy to criticize the massacre of children, what isn’t easy is to tie oneself in a logical pretzel to find some way to offer justification for such an action. Neither easy nor laudable.

    > I would expect nothing less from some reprobate be they children or adults that ridicule the Almighty’s chosen priest.

    Perhaps then you can also explain why Saul was cast down from being King for his failure to obey God’s command to kill all the Amalekites? It is all in 1Samuel 15. The instructions he was given instructed him to kill all the livestock, all the men and all the children. However, what is specifically interesting is 1Samuel 15:3 where two words for children are used. The first ‘olel which means a child or a boy, the second is more interesting. It is the Hebrew word “yanaq” which has as its basic meaning “to suck”. It refers here to a suckling child, one still nursing at the breast.

    I am wondering how a nursing child, who probably can’t even speak, can be a reprobate and ridicule God’s anointed priest? Here look at this photo, it is the picture of evil and hard hearted rejection of god, don’t you think?

    http://static8.depositphotos.com/1394201/877/i/950/depositphotos_8771840-Mother-breast-feeding-her-child.jpg

    What I think for you Justin is that you should step back from offering justifications like this. Perhaps you want to continue to believe the Bible, but at least have the decency to say “I don’t know” about these sorts of outrageous activities. At least have the decency to be a little bit uncomfortable about your god killing innocent kids. At the very least get down on your knees and pray to your god for understanding. Because it is an insult to our intelligence to read such outrageous justifications for such outrageous actions.

    I would say this to you: Terry asked me if he could try to convince me of something or other. He asked if I would come with an open mind. I say to you and he, do you have an open mind? Is your mind open enough to realistically consider what these two passages say and process them? Look in the innate sense of morality that you no doubt believe that God has written on your hearts and see if you really can align it with the mass murder of innocent kids.

    Is it really necessary to say that killing innocent children is wrong, and makes the perpetrator a bad person? A guy sticks is dick in another guy’s but and he is deserving of hellfire, a woman has an abortion and you picket the clinic, but you are totally down with slaughtering living, breathing kids? Don’t you think that those values are just a LITTLE misaligned?

  118. Fluffy Girl: “Perhaps you want to continue to believe the Bible, but at least have the decency to say ‘I don’t know’ about these sorts of outrageous activities. At least have the decency to be a little bit uncomfortable about your god killing innocent kids. At the very least get down on your knees and pray to your god for understanding. Because it is an insult to our intelligence to read such outrageous justifications for such outrageous actions.”

    Your point about the yanaq does remain outstanding, and it something that has troubled me since before I became Christian. The casualties of the Flood must have included nursing and unborn children. Abraham nearly killing his only son Isaac is also something that troubles me, and I can only imagine what the experience must have been like for them… probably rather inaccurately, too. You probably didn’t bring that up because it is clear today that the purpose is to illustrate Jesus, God’s only begotten son much later in the story. Without knowing that, instead of killing my son I certainly would have turned my back on the LORD if I were in Abraham’s shoes.

    Among the moral yoga to try includes the pragmatics: Had Saul spared the suckling children (apparently he did not), who would have raised them? Would Israel’s mothers been willing to adopt the children of their worst enemy? I don’t find it very comforting, but it is a potential explanation. Death might be better than being adopted by an enemy as well. How would an Isrealite father explain to his adopted Amalekite son, “Remember in history class about that race Saul was ordered by the LORD to completely destroy?…” You wind up in a pretzel pose either way.

  119. Is it really necessary to say that killing innocent children is wrong, and makes the perpetrator a bad person?

    The Biblical response to this would be: There’s no such thing as an innocent child outside the glory and grace of God Almighty. “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10; see also Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1 and Psalm 143:2). The Amalekites were bands of marauders who attacked God’s chosen people, the Israelites, without provocation. They deserved to die, and worse — every last one of them.

  120. Angelica Zambrano (23 hours clinically dead near as anyone can tell) saw eight year olds in hell.

    The sin that damned them? Watching cartoons. A serious treatment of Ms. Zambrano’s hallucination is suitable only for Weekly World News, which was itself a sort of long-form trolling in newsprint.

    “They don’t know any better.” Yes and no. Ever hear a barely articulate three year old cry out, “That’s not fair!” and they’re usually right, at least in my experience.

    That same three-year-old is bound to point out someone’s obvious physical characteristics, such as being fat or bald or whatever, and maybe even have an uproarious giggle at it. They don’t know that it’s rude. They have to be taught.

    That’s where the whole bit about innocent children comes from; they don’t know, so can’t make a conscious choice to do right or wrong.

  121. Jeff Read: “The Biblical response to this would be: There’s no such thing as an innocent child outside the glory and grace of God Almighty. ‘As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.'”

    While true, it doesn’t mean that murdering sucklings is a good idea. I’m actually quite curious as to how God weighs such things, between 1 Samuel 15 on one side, and verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 5:44. My previous comment, answering Fluffy Girl on these sorts of things, is still “awaiting moderation” despite not having a single link in it.

    Jeff Read: “The sin that damned them? Watching cartoons.”

    That’s one of several reasons why I don’t take the Zambrano vision very seriously (also, she was not in medical care for her 23 hour experience, so it is possible she might not have been as “dead” as she appeared to be.) No, it’s just one of many things that reinforce my current view that roughly eight years of age is when God starts expecting most people to behave themselves.

    Jeff Read: “That same three-year-old is bound to point out someone’s obvious physical characteristics, such as being fat or bald or whatever, and maybe even have an uproarious giggle at it. They don’t know that it’s rude. They have to be taught.”

    Like I said, “Yes and no.” Jeff, you must know perfectly well that the Biblical perspective of a human child is that one inherits both the knowledge of good and evil and the sinful nature that started it. It emphasizes the latter much more strongly, in fact. The behaviour you describe is the beginning of prejudice and racism, but not the end. Most kids I know who make such remarks do so to amuse, not hurt, even while the victim (which has been me on several occasions) is blushing with embarrassment. Most learn fast when the salvo is returned and their own embarrassing conditions are remarked in kind. That’s how they learn of its evil.

  122. Lest there be any doubt about the power of cultural memes to dominate someone’s attitudes, please see the foregoing several comments on religious rationalization of child killing.

    And as much as this seems like a trivial and obvious point, such memes also dominate the behaviors of the devout. See suicide bomber for confirmation.

  123. >Because it is an insult to our intelligence to read such outrageous justifications for such outrageous actions.

    First Point: I’m not down with little kids being killed, but that’s not the question at hand.

    Second Point: What makes it an outrageous action? Is is your own feeling or are you referencing another moral standard outside of the Bible?

    The point is that the creature does not get to dictate to the creator what is morally acceptable or not, it’s the other way around. The reason that Saul was given the directive by Samuel to kill every Amalekite that had breath was due to their wickedness.

    I Sam 15:33: “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.”

    I do not attempt to know the whole reason for the command, but to say that it’s an outrageous action is saying you know better than God.

  124. It doesn’t actually make sense, because if a god did create everything including the standards of ethics, and I knew this, my attitude would be different, but it does capture my feelings.

    Belief in such a god would surely not depend on faith if the god wanted to be worshipped (how the hell are you supposed to know what to believe on faith?). Another aspect, an idea I share with Ford Prefect, is that a being with that kind of power wouldn’t feel the need to be worshipped.

  125. The behaviour you describe is the beginning of prejudice and racism, but not the end. Most kids I know who make such remarks do so to amuse, not hurt, even while the victim (which has been me on several occasions) is blushing with embarrassment. Most learn fast when the salvo is returned and their own embarrassing conditions are remarked in kind. That’s how they learn of its evil.

    Indeed, which is my point. A just god would have been content to see those kids scolded or at worst spanked to teach them a lesson about what’s polite and what isn’t. But Yahweh isn’t just; his defining characteristic is jealousy (Exodus 34:14). He is insecure, easily offended, and prone to violent outbursts when pissed off that lead to people being killed or severely punished for the smallest of infractions — as we see here in the story of Elisha and the children. By the way, these are traits shared by the worst and most brutal of dictators, which leads me to think that the ancient bible stories are much more reflective of the Hebrew governance structures of the time rather than any divine revelation.

  126. I Sam 15:33: “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.”

    I do not attempt to know the whole reason for the command, but to say that it’s an outrageous action is saying you know better than God.

    “I doubt any god who inflicts pain for his own pleasure.” –Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Star Trek V

  127. On what and whose standard do you use to define what constitutes a “just” god? A number of folks on this forum are borrowing Christian capital in attempting to confine the God of the Bible into their own moral box without being able to reference where these moral statements are founded upon. Most interesting…

  128. TomA: “Lest there be any doubt about the power of cultural memes to dominate someone’s attitudes, please see the foregoing several comments on religious rationalization of child killing.”

    Not that it’s very accurate to begin with, you’ll certainly have to take that back once my answer to Fluffy Girl finally gets posted.

    Justin R. Andrusk: “I do not attempt to know the whole reason for the command, but to say that it’s an outrageous action is saying you know better than God.”

    Well put. Certainly people around here aren’t afraid of saying they know better than God, as many of them, including Eric, subscribe to Dawkins’ notion that God is just a Delusion (capitalized in honor of his book, not God Himself.)

    BRM: “Another point of view is: I wouldn’t worship the vicious, childish bastard even if he did exist.”

    See what I mean?

    BRM: “Another aspect, an idea I share with Ford Prefect, is that a being with that kind of power wouldn’t feel the need to be worshipped.”

    I never find in the Bible that any commands to worship the LORD are out of His needs as a God. What I see is that worshiping God is the best thing for His followers.

    Jeff Read: “But Yahweh isn’t just; his defining characteristic is jealousy (Exodus 34:14). He is insecure, easily offended, and prone to violent outbursts when pissed off that lead to people being killed or severely punished for the smallest of infractions”

    That’s a rather selective reading of the Bible, one that clearly excludes Romans 2 and the most famous of verses, John 3:16. There is more to jealousy than justice, and more to God than Jealous.

    Justin R. Andrusk: “A number of folks on this forum are borrowing Christian capital in attempting to confine the God of the Bible into their own moral box without being able to reference where these moral statements are founded upon. Most interesting…”

    I agree, it is most interesting, but the reason I’m not asking about moral foundations directly is because I want to keep things at a higher level than Thunderf00t vs. Eric Hovind at the Reason Rally. If it goes that way, I’ll bore pretty fast, lol!!

  129. First Point: I’m not down with little kids being killed, but that’s not the question at hand.

    You are totally down with killing little kids, if they are “reprobates” who deserve it by making relatively harmless jokes at the wrong person’s expense, or happening to have been born to one of the nomadic tribes that surrounded and sometimes looted the Israelites. After all, your moral standard is the Bible; if God demands it, it must ipso facto be right.

    On what and whose standard do you use to define what constitutes a “just” god? A number of folks on this forum are borrowing Christian capital in attempting to confine the God of the Bible into their own moral box without being able to reference where these moral statements are founded upon. Most interesting…

    What’s interesting is that you think justice is somehow a Christian or even Jewish innovation that belongs to you but not to us. When people speak of justice they usually mean that people should do right by one another, help rather than harm one another, and that retribution, good or ill, should be appropriate to a person’s deeds. God doesn’t work like that; he is all about having his minions obey his whims and make the right gestures of obeisance and fealty — sometimes just for the hell of it. (I imagine the angel who appeared to Abraham as he was about to butcher Isaac to be saying in a GLaDOS voice: “This concludes this portion of the test. The Enrichment Center would like to remind you that we do not, in fact, condone infanticide; any information you may have received to the contrary was a fabrication, made in full compliance with test protocol.”)

  130. That’s a rather selective reading of the Bible, one that clearly excludes Romans 2 and the most famous of verses, John 3:16. There is more to jealousy than justice, and more to God than Jealous.

    Yes, and Jesus also said “love your enemy”, “turn the other cheek”, and went on about what a jolly nice bloke that Samaritan was. Guess God had a change of heart about people outside his chosen nation; Jesus is supposed to be the same God who ordered the extermination of the Amalekites.

    One of the things that always puzzled me is how God could be so paranoid and full of wrath in the Old Testament and warm ‘n’ fuzzy in the New. Isn’t he supposed to be inerrant and unchanging? My hypothesis is that when the Israelites were in a position of military strength, their leaders, through the image of Yahweh, ruled with fear; when they were in a state of weakness, a softer conception of Yahweh emerged because it sure beat the hell out of the brutality of the Romans who ruled them.

    And do bear in mind that I read the Bible as an agnostic: without a preconceived notion of what god or gods exist and what they’re like. I have no reason nor inclination to take it at face value, as there really is no evidence to support the actual, physical existence of Yahweh, let alone that we were created by him. The long list of ways in which the observed universe differs from the creation account is omitted; citations in response of “creation scientists” of dubious credibility will be cheerfully ignored. And if we can’t take that seriously, than what can we take seriously? Maybe the “love one another” bits from the gospel; but those were not exclusive to Jesus, and as soon as Jesus was gone his followers turned his cult into another command-and-control structure.

    Ultimately, any justifications for the Bible being true ultimately come from the Bible itself, which is circular logic.

    (“For me it really is 2 Timothy 3:16. That policy just went pfft… This is exactly it.”)

  131. Jeff Read: “You are totally down with killing little kids, if they are ‘reprobates’ who deserve it by making relatively harmless jokes at the wrong person’s expense, or happening to have been born to one of the nomadic tribes that surrounded and sometimes looted the Israelites.”

    Jeff, if I were to condescend to such tactics as you use here, I would say you are illiterate and need to take some remedial English at SIAST or whatever its equivalent is in your area. Not only do you read the Bible through a dangerous and selfish moral filter, you’re now doing the same with this page. I’m looking forward to seeing how Justin responds.

    Jeff Read: “What’s interesting is that you think justice is somehow a Christian or even Jewish innovation that belongs to you but not to us.”

    I call this an ASROC attack. When a ship detects an incoming torpedo, it’s first priority is to persuade (if it can’t force) the submarine attacking it to conduct an evasive maneuver so as to sever the guidance wires of the incoming torpedo. ASROC is the weapon it uses, and it has a much shorter range than the torpedo the submarine is using, so it is not likely to work.

    Either that, or you ignored my Romans 2 quote completely. Or both.

  132. Jeff Read: “Guess God had a change of heart about people outside his chosen nation; Jesus is supposed to be the same God who ordered the extermination of the Amalekites.”

    And He is: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16

    Revelation eventually gets worse than the Flood, you know.

    Jeff Read: “And do bear in mind that I read the Bible as an agnostic: without a preconceived notion of what god or gods exist and what they’re like.”

    I encourage you to do so again. Maybe you’ll learn something new.

    Jeff Read: “I have no reason nor inclination to take it at face value, as there really is no evidence to support the actual, physical existence of Yahweh, let alone that we were created by him.”

    There is. But of course, you’ve promised to cheerfully ignore it, so need I continue?

    Jeff Read: “And if we can’t take that seriously, than what can we take seriously? Maybe the ‘love one another’ bits from the gospel; but those were not exclusive to Jesus, and as soon as Jesus was gone his followers turned his cult into another command-and-control structure.”

    Oh, really. I certainly hope you haven’t somehow gotten the notion that Roman Catholicism has anything directly to do with Jesus Christ. On the contrary, they are enemies! (By the way, St. Peter, the first pope, is actually Peter Magnus, not Simon Peter of the Bible.) With that out the way, can you please explain your final claim?

  133. >What’s interesting is that you think justice is somehow a Christian or even Jewish innovation that belongs to you but not to us.

    I did not say that justice was a concept strictly confined to a Christian or Jewish worldview. What I’m trying to get at is according to your own worldview on what basis is killing a child or for that matter anyone in particular either morally repugnant or acceptable? This is not to say that you cannot execute justice, but you have no basis for doing so. If the universe is truly just matter in motion, then it’s all relative and it shouldn’t matter either way.

  134. I’ll take a whack at it… This is just off the cuff while my coffee is getting cold…

    What axioms are to mathematics and metaphysics, justice is to society – rules and principles that make it possible for a society to exist given that there are people that would rather steal than earn money/food, that would murder, that would rape, etc.

    Justice is a more or less common understanding that certain kinds of activities are bad and must be discouraged and minimized one way or another. This understanding is the fundamental principles of justice. No one will attempt to keep seed grain over the winter if there is no hope of it not being stolen.

  135. Whereas, in general, Christians, to whatever degree they really are Christians, believe justice is something handed down by God.

    I have two stories – Laura Schlessinger was on the radio when I was driving home from work years ago…

    She once said something like “If there is no God, then it would be okay for people to murder other people!”

    On a different occasion, she was answering a question regarding gossip and, more or less, went through the following chain of ideas (although I can’t recall how explicitly she said the last item…
    “You shouldn’t gossip or listen to gossip” => “listening to gossip is wrong” => “listening to gossip is bad” => “if you listen to gossip, you will go to hell”

  136. It’s awfully late to be getting existential, but morals and ethics (including the concept of justice) are societal traits. They exist because they “work” in an evolutionary sense. Our species has uniquely evolved large brains, complex language, self awareness, conceptualization; and consequently we now also have a memetic evolutionary cycle to complement the physical evolutionary cycle.

    The concept of God, and the practice of religion belief, are important mechanisms of memetic persistence over long time spans.

  137. The concept of God, and the practice of religion belief, are important mechanisms of memetic persistence over long time spans.

    I agree. However, verbal expressions of morality (ex. “stealing is wrong”) and codes of law can serve the same purpose without necessarily resting on religion. A person doesn’t go to jail because the bible says not to steal but because it is against the law.

  138. @Justin Andrusk
    > What I’m trying to get at is according to your own worldview on what basis
    > is killing a child or for that matter anyone in particular either morally
    > repugnant or acceptable?

    Justin, you are absolutely claiming that morality is a religious thing, whether Christian or not. You seem to think that the only way morality can be set is if it cast in stone on Mount Sinai. But you are mistaken.

    It is parallel to the idea that God created everything in seven days, the whales, the trees, the monkeys and the seas. However, the scientific evidence completely repudiates that world view. The world as we see it today is the result of a long evolutionary process, both biological and physical, that lead the the complex world we see today.

    Morality is very similar, though it has in recorded history been subject to more direct manipulation. It is a set of memes that have moved through our society, evolved, been shaped by natural selection, survival of the fittest, and displays exactly the same strengths and weaknesses that biological evolutionary systems have displayed.

    Which is to say our sense of moral outrage comes from a long, long process of refining a moral system that works in human societies. It is very different in different places and different times, but if there is one universal meme in today’s societies it is that killing innocent children, regardless of the guilt or evil of their parents is immoral. That hasn’t always been the case, the morality of the Bible reflects that immature stage in moral development, but you’d be hard pressed to find a society today that would not agree with that.

    It isn’t pretty, and it is full of flaws and contradictions, but so is biological evolution, and all the evidence I have seen is this is exactly how morality came down to us today, until it was co-opted by the religious monsters to oppress and control.

    Sorry, it sure would be nice if morality was all written down in a book. But it isn’t like that. Actually it wouldn’t be nice, it would be terrible, because if we had a book, we couldn’t change, so we’d be stuck with crazy rules about milk and meat, or levirate marriage, or he who lies with a man as with a woman must surely die, or we all have to wear hats on Sunday and so forth. Moreover, we would have people arguing that abortion is terrible, but God is allowed to slaughter innocents at his willful caprice, and we call that holiness and righteousness. You know, kind of like you are doing.

    You accuse me of claiming to know better than god. But your world view is so closed that you don’t understand that I can’t possibly be doing that, since there is no such thing as god. You might as well accused me of claiming to be stronger that Superman, or more beautiful than Aphrodite, or have more floppy arms that the Flying Spaghetti Monster..

  139. A couple of weeks ago, someone forwarded an email to me with some stuff by one James MacDonald.

    My reply included…

    Let me see if I have got this straight…

    God creates the universe that includes humans. He also has some system of ethics – some standards for what is good and bad, what is sin. And the deal with this standard of what is sin is that everybody, that is EVERYBODY, is just so sinful that they deserve “separation from God in hell” and we don’t deserve to “draw another breath”. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. This is so all-encompassing that it doesn’t even leave room for the Christian’s usual approach that God gave us free will. Even people that have faith and love God and try their best to not be sinful are, nevertheless, so sinful that they all deserve to just die and go to hell. Except God is merciful and loves us so, despite none of us deserving it, some at least get the benefit of His mercy and don’t go to hell.

    The problem with this is that it is insane. It is like a game where you roll two dice – there are a variety of rules, but if the sum of the two dice is 12 or less, you automatically lose. It is so insane that it makes no difference at all what the other rules are.

  140. Fluffy Girl: “Justin, you are absolutely claiming that morality is a religious thing, whether Christian or not. You seem to think that the only way morality can be set is if it cast in stone on Mount Sinai. But you are mistaken.”

    *facepalm* You fail to realize that what he’s actually doing is asking for the atheistic basis for justice and ethics. You guys probably don’t realize that because it has happened far too often that after doing so, skilled religious apologetics wind up and hit the ball out of the stadium. I’m personally convinced that a godless moral basis can exist and be nearly as good as the one laid down by the real God; I know the founding fathers of the United States tried awfully hard with the Constitution, and I believe they were rather successful. Of course, part of the religious apologetic swing (the Christian one, at least) are Bible verses that tell us to expect this, including that bit from Romans 2 that I quoted earlier.

    So please tell us. What’s yours?

    Fluffy Girl: “It is parallel to the idea that God created everything in seven days, the whales, the trees, the monkeys and the seas. However, the scientific evidence completely repudiates that world view. The world as we see it today is the result of a long evolutionary process, both biological and physical, that lead the the complex world we see today.”

    I can smash this section to little smithereens, but I won’t since you guys won’t (and haven’t) taken it seriously. All that happens is that I get cowardly dismissed as a nutball because you don’t want to hear it and can’t even start to refute it.

    Related to the first argument Richard Dawkins actually used in a debate with an Australian where he famously fell silent and asked them to stop the camera (it was a blog post months later on information theory), I’m rather impressed at how close NASA’s Deep Space Network and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have gotten to the theoretical, or Shannon, capacity of the communications with probes in deep space. They’ve reached about -3dB, or about 50% of the theoretical limit.

    Fluffy Girl: “It is very different in different places and different times, but if there is one universal meme in today’s societies it is that killing innocent children, regardless of the guilt or evil of their parents is immoral.”

    I could make a rather strong case against this statement, if you like. It would start with the frequent occurrence that abortionists kill babies who survive abortions. I don’t think you want to go there.

    Fluffy Girl: “Sorry, it sure would be nice if morality was all written down in a book. But it isn’t like that. Actually it wouldn’t be nice, it would be terrible, because if we had a book, we couldn’t change, so we’d be stuck with crazy rules about milk and meat…”

    Well first, you need to know how to read. There’s a particular reason I cut the quote off at this point. You probably have this passage in mind:

    “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.”

    It occurs three times in the Torah, so it must be rather important. Is it a general prohibition about milk and meat? Possibly, in light of “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son, but I don’t think that’s the moral principle that put it in the Bible. The kid sucked on no one else’s teat but its mother’s, and the passage is pretty specific about mentioning its mother. Should mother’s milk, the source of its life, a symbol in many cases (who was it that posted that picture…) also be the source of its death?

    Perhaps the Old Testament Yahweh would be a little bit less capricious and the vicious childish bastard you think if you saw this passage in such a light. Perhaps the entire Old Testament could be read in such a way, and you wind up with a much more Jesus-like Old Testament Yahweh after doing so. Perhaps, I’ve done exactly that.

    Fluffy Girl: “You accuse me of claiming to know better than god. But your world view is so closed that you don’t understand that I can’t possibly be doing that, since there is no such thing as god.”

    Your world view is even more closed to the idea that there is a god than mine is to the idea that there isn’t one (although I can’t speak for Justin.)

  141. BRM: “A couple of weeks ago, someone forwarded an email to me with some stuff by one James MacDonald. … ‘It is like a game where you roll two dice – there are a variety of rules, but if the sum of the two dice is 12 or less, you automatically lose.'”

    I think an incorrect Catholic notion crept in here as well: if you do all the Catholic sacraments perfectly, you still can only “hope” to be saved. In Catholic doctrine there is no assurance of salvation.

    Once again, Catholicism is not Christianity; Jesus and the pope are enemies. The Bible is quite certain: if you have faith in Christ Jesus as Saviour and follow him as Lord, you [em]will[/em] be saved. Period. If you make such a decision and it still feels like a roll of the dice, there is a problem. I can help you with such problems, but I know someone who is a heck of a lot more experienced and better at it. His name’s Glen.

  142. Terry on 2013-10-13 at 19:18:01 said:For Rich Rostrom:

    Every now and then you get miracles, and every now and then (more often) you get people screwing up so badly that it’s more like a miracle for the other side.

    You mean like the corrupt and incompetent Arab armies? (The Arab Legion of Jordan was neither corrupt nor incompetent; it gave the Israelis a lot of trouble, but it was also far smaller than the Egyptian and Syrian armies.)

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to deny the existence of miracles, but that certainly isn’t the way to do it!

    I’m asking whether a surprising outcome of a military contest always reflects the intervention of God, even when that outcome leads to very bad results. (Including suppression of the Christian faith and eternal damnation of millions of people, in some of the cases I listed.)

    The three Israeli victories may be seen by you as divine intervention, but you are an evangelical Christian, and almost certainly a supporter of Israel. Most people see the success of causes they favor as evidence of God’s favor or intervention.

    At the battle of Kernstown in 1862, Stonewall Jackson sent the three brigades of his army forward side-by-side. The flank brigades lagged behind his old “Stonewall” brigade, in the center. The Stonewall brigade was driven back by superior numbers of Yankees – and then the other two brigades hit the now-exposed Yankee flanks and routed the Union army. Jackson exuberantly shouted to his aide “The man who does not see the hand of God in this is blind, sir, blind!”

  143. All of the rest of you: Why are you arguing with Terry Winglove? He’s insane. Insane – fixated on his delusional system. You might as well be arguing with an overt psychotic; he won’t change his beliefs because he has lost the capability for rational belief maintainence, if he ever had it.

    It’s important to be able to recognize insanity even when it wears a socially approved mask and sometimes emits superficially plausible word-noises. Engaging insane people in rational debate is pointless; their ability to use or imitate its forms breaks down at precisely the point where the delusional fixation begins.

  144. @Brian on the existential stuff: this is a tad bit more complicated. I would very much like to support the idea of a secular yet moral future as I would fit right in, but I am not really convinced this is doable. Generally it boils down to the question how conservative you are in the sense of how pessimistic you are about human nature. I am very much. I am afraid if everybody would be truly 100% convinced to their bones, without any sliver or hope that all they can ever get is whatever they get in their 70-80 years long stint on Earth, there would be an awfully lot of motivation to say fuck everything, let’s not play Office Space anymore but revel in the sheer exhiliaration of violence, plunder, arson and rape. Frankly the life of getting old in a boring job with nothing to look forward in old age is just not an exciting enough prospect to keep people behaving.

    What complicates the picture is that there seems to be such a thing as moral capital. I.e. acquired habits that are slowly erode if not propped up properly. The first generation of atheists in every family is usually the best people: open-minded, critical, yet having all the good bourgeois habits. But will the tenth generation be just as good or every generation of parents will find it harder and harder to keep their kids on a sane path?

    Our problem begins right at child-rearing. We simply cannot explain properly to kids everything we want them to do and not do. Not everything we make kids do or not do has an immediate reason. Usually parents realize that kids have awfully big egos, are really ruled by their whims, desires, and part of the reason we do stuff against their will is simply to make them get used to stuff going against their will i.e. the reason you don’t buy every toy they demand immediately is not that you can’t afford it or there is something wrong with the toy itself, but because there is something wrong with getting used to the idea of having all our wishes come true immediately without effort, it is jus spoiling, making the ego big, right? But how do you explain that to a kid? You can’t. And for example this is something I envy a bit about religious parents, they don’t have to explain everything.

    Another aspect of life I saw religion working fairly well was low-IQ dangerous criminals. They had the inverted kind of mind: impervious to reasoning, yet very open to superstition, in fact their religion was mostly superstition.

    At any rate the notion I want to challenge is that 100-200 years old one that when mankind or just a nation or city liberates itself from religion things will instantly get better because religion had a harmful influence only. I think it is more like it had its uses and has to be replaced somehow, so things will get surprisingly difficult for a while until someone will figure out the secular methods for dealing with the same problems.

    At the moment my approach is twofold. I engage religious crazies whenever they annoy me too much but I generally leave religious moderates alone or even learn a thing or two from them because I don’t want to tear everything down until I really have an idea what to erect in its place. Meanwhile I am looking for alternatives.

    If the research into evolutionary psychology continues without censorship we will have our replacement fairly soon in fact the outlines are already getting clear, for example now it can more or less be argued on a secular, falsifiable basis why marrying fairly early and staying monogamous is a good idea.

  145. ‘Jackson exuberantly shouted to his aide “The man who does not see the hand of God in this is blind, sir, blind!”’

    Stonewall Jackson was well known to be a religious fanatic. We all have our faults. He had worse ones.

  146. @ ESR – “emits superficially plausible word-noises”

    I love this phrase. This is language as an art form.

  147. “I would very much like to support the idea of a secular yet moral future as I would fit right in, but I am not really convinced this is doable.”

    You can have shared morality and rituals without having a theistic religion in the modern sense. There are many examples of this occurring, the most prominent case being Chinese Confucianism. Ancient pagan religions also had some element of this, since the pagan “gods” were not necessarily viewed as being all that important in a moral sense, the way Yahweh or Allah are.

  148. >Justin, you are absolutely claiming that morality is a religious thing, whether Christian or not. You seem to think that the only way morality can be set is if it cast in stone on Mount Sinai. But you are mistaken.

    Yes and you are religious whether you accept it or not, because all moral judgement’s are religious it just depends if your religion is a deity of some form or yourself. What I was trying to extract from the question is what your moral foundation is for making the statement, “but if there is one universal meme in today’s societies it is that killing innocent children, regardless of the guilt or evil of their parents is immoral.” If that is the case then on what (basis|framework|doctrine|law|meme) is it immoral? Who decides that it’s a universal meme? I want to know what your foundation for making such moral claims is not what I may think they are based on.

    I would recommend listening to the debate, “Does God exist?” Bahnsen vs. Stein, which can be found at http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2006/12/05/greg-bahnsen-vs-gordon-stein-the-great-debate to understand why your position is not tenable.

  149. @ Justin Andrusk – “If that is the case then on what (basis|framework|doctrine|law|meme) is it immoral?”

    Cultural evolution has provided us with morality as a societal trait and I agree with Jessica that most folks think that killing children is immoral. It seems to me that nature is trying to tell us that killing our children is not a good survival strategy for our species.

  150. @Justin R. Andrusk
    ““If that is the case then on what (basis|framework|doctrine|law|meme) is it immoral?
    I want to know what your foundation for making such moral claims is not what I may think they are based on. ”

    Empirical evidence shows that all humans, except psychopaths, have morals. Empirically, their religion (nor its strength) has much effect on the strength of their morals. However, social and peer pressure does have effect.

    And it is a fairy tale that modern “religious” morals have anything to do with what is written in their respective holy scriptures. All these religious morals are utterly modern and have no counterparts in the morals of the people who wrote down those scriptures.

  151. @ Shenpen

    We may just be arguing in circles, here, but:

    Societies need a moral code, a legal code and the force to (appear to) back it up. Teaching kids the moral code is important. Some people will understand and follow the moral code. Some will stay within the legal code to avoid the consequences. Some will be criminals – hopefully society will be able to catch and deal with enough of them to deter some of them, and some other (potential) criminals.

    This is how things work now. And…. I sort of see your point. There is nothing like the threat of being tortured for eternity in hell. But how many young people in our society really believe that hell exists?

    I fail to see how religion is going to make it easier to deal with a child in a toy store (other than religion’s emphasis on physical punishment).

    I also fail to see how a scientific justification for a moral code would be much help – most people know very little and care even less about science. The concept of “stealing is bad” doesn’t require a formal proof – it can be conveyed with examples.

  152. esr: “All of the rest of you: Why are you arguing with Terry Winglove? He’s insane. Insane – fixated on his delusional system.”

    Keep waving your flag of retreat, Eric. Declaring me insane is declaring me victorious because you can’t deal with what I’ve written, so you attack me ad hominem. What a loser.

    If anyone here wants to start a conversation with me elsewhere, I’m “featherwinglove” in many places, including Youtube, Gmail, and Twitter. “Winglove” is not part of my real name: Featherwing Love is a story and project of mine, I’d be happy to share most of the details about with anyone here, just not here in terms of location, much as I enjoy having the mighty Eric Stephen Raymond as my own personal herald.

    Justin: “Yes and you are religious whether you accept it or not, because all moral judgement’s are religious it just depends if your religion is a deity of some form or yourself.”

    Assuming certain definitions for “religious”, “moral”, and “deity”, I can agree with this statement, but unfortunately those aren’t the definitions we’ve been using around here generally. So, allow me to set up some definitions:

    Certain actions are quite destructive to the well being of mankind; likewise certain traits and habits are very helpful. Let’s call the ideas that prohibit the former and encourage the latter “ethics”.

    Some ideas regarding proper behaviours are clearly religious, the best example being found in Exodus 20:2-3: “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Let’s call those “moral”. Needless to say, there is a lot of overlap, and in any religious system, ethical ideas are also moral ones.

    A godless (atheist, non-religious) system must, by these definitions, have no morals. Only ethics are allowed in such a system. I don’t think it is completely impossible, but it is very difficult and unlikely to have such a system. I also don’t think that such a system would work better than the best religious system. The reason for these is that humans have a tendency to worship (i.e. find a moral anchor in) something, and likely the best case scenario in a godless system is the platform of ethics, the “constitution” as most such attempts are named. There are also things that are very unhealthy to worship and often lead to unethical behaviours. People can worship items of addiction, spouses, parents and other relatives, famous people, monuments, events, etc.. Any directives regarding worship would not be ethical, but moral, and therefore not allowed in a godless system (i.e. anything that gets worshiped becomes a “god” unto the worshiper; the first commandment appears to be written with exactly this concept in mind.)

    I think these definitions will allow us to make some more intelligent statements about what we believe and help understand each other better. On the other hand, we might just wind up going in polygons instead of circles…

  153. Terry,

    Let’s not. The words “ethics” and “morals” have real meanings. Your morals are your personal conception of what’s right and what’s wrong. The systematic study of morals is called ethics.

    Justin,

    A society which condones child murder is not going to last very long, and is much more immiserating than one which does not. That is the basis on which we make statements like “murdering children is wrong”, and it is the only basis which matters. If anyone tells you morality has any other basis beyond the consequences of one’s deeds, they are at best Joe Bauers telling you he can talk to plants and they want to drink water, not Brawndo.

  154. Jeff Read: “A society which condones child murder is not going to last very long, and is much more immiserating than one which does not.”

    I dunno… the US and Canada murder a lot of children through abortion and abortion-related infanticide and still seem to be doing rather well. In ancient times, the Roman province of Judea, ruler Herod the Great decided to kill every child under the age of two and their society got along okay for about seventy years after that. Can you name some examples of societies which have failed because of child murder?

    Jeff Read: “That is the basis on which we make statements like ‘murdering children is wrong’, and it is the only basis which matters.”

    You’ve staked quite a bit on societies failing because of child murder and yet haven’t proved that it actually happens. Are you sure there isn’t more to the evil of murdering sucklings than its effect on society?

    Jeff Read: “Let’s not. The words ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ have real meanings. Your morals are your personal conception of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

    This, of course, makes morals only about our “personal religion” and entirely subjective, with no standard by which to measure what might just be each of our own sets of incomparable delusions. I want to move beyond that, if it is possible. I’m not proposing to change the definitions of ethics and morals generally, but for the sake of our discourse. It has been done this way (with my definitions) before, but I can’t remember where.

  155. Terry: “That’s among many other things, including that the US Army learned very much the hard way that it’s hard to fight effectively while you’re stoned on acid.”

    The phrase is “high on acid”. One gets stoned on marijuana.

    In any case, American soldiers used marijuana and opiates. They weren’t crazy, and I can’t imagine voluntarily using acid in a war zone.

    Links found in the course of researching the comment:

    Two abstracts about actual drug use by US soldiers in Viet Nam:
    http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/99/4/235.short
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1032764

    Article about experiments with involuntarily dosing people with LSD to see whether it making interrogation easier (it doesn’t):

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/12/us-army-experiments-with-lsd-in-the-cold-war.html

  156. @Justin
    > Yes and you are religious whether you accept it or not, because all moral judgement’s are religious

    Says who? That doesn’t correspond with any meaning or “religion” or “morality” I am familiar with.

    What you are doing here is a little rhetorical trick. You are making some unsubstantiated claim of equivalence to make it seem like we are both saying the same thing a different way by redefining words to benefit your case.

    I suggest you take the time to find out how atheists believe morality developed. You can start with the explanation I gave you above. Morality does not need an external defining source, a designer if you will, any more than a diverse ecosystem needs a designer. Sometimes order just happens spontaneously. (And to short cut the discussion, no the laws of thermodynamics do not forbid this in a non closed system.)

    > What I was trying to extract from the question is what your moral foundation is for…

    I explained above.

    > I would recommend listening to the debate, “Does God exist?”

    Not necessary. I have engaged in these debates myself many times and the outcome hasn’t been pretty for my opponents. Sorry, no link-pasting allowed. Make the case or don’t, don’t outsource it to some random web site.

  157. Eric,

    Advice on recognizing insanity even when clothed in rationalese (aside from just knowing enough of the details of a topic to spot the bullshit)?

    More important: advice on avoiding falling into that trap?

  158. @Terry
    “I dunno… the US and Canada murder a lot of children through abortion and abortion-related infanticide and still seem to be doing rather well. ”

    Post-partum “abortion” was the rule in most of the world until only recently. It still is in many parts of the world. Rules against infanticide appeared when starvation was not a regular aspect of life anymore. Then mothers were “urged” to leave unwanted children in orphanages.

    But we should not project our morals onto the past. The classical Romans, and their contemporaries, often seem not to have been against murder as such. They often saw it as a private (damage?) affair between families.

  159. BRM: “One good rule: People that believe that an omnipotent, omniscient being created the universe are nuts.”

    Why is that a good rule?

    BRM: “Actually, let me generalize that: People who believe that an omnipotent, omniscient being can exist are nuts.”

    What if one of those people could actually make a fairly decent case that such a being actually exists? I’m guessing you wouldn’t even think once, right? Do you think at all? (See 1 Corinthians 1:19-20 for what I’m paraphrasing.)

    The basic pattern of evidence is thus, and I brought this up with my very first comment: What if the events around you relate to the voices in your head in ways that would not be possible if the voices in your head were merely in your head? I’ve had this happen dozens of times. I even have a list.

  160. @Terry
    “The basic pattern of evidence is thus, and I brought this up with my very first comment: What if the events around you relate to the voices in your head in ways that would not be possible if the voices in your head were merely in your head? I’ve had this happen dozens of times. I even have a list.”

    There is a fundamental problem with private knowledge: Other people will have different private knowledge and it cannot be decided whose private knowledge is “correct”. Your believes are yours, and yours only. That is the reason all halfway scientific fields have a rule that there must be shared and repeatable observations.

  161. @BRM there are really just two things here. What I guess religion might make easier to manage children in a toy store is that plain simply religious parents are not obliged to give rational explanations. They can just invoke some kind of don’t be greedy, it is a vice kind of stuff. What can the atheist parent say? This is not a theoretical problem, if my wife’s pregnancy goes well we are going to face this problem in a few years. If we can afford it, and it is not in itself a bad toy, how the hell can we explain psychological stuff like “we make you wait until Xmas and expect some good grades in return so that you don’t get too much used to and spoiled by instant gratification without effort”. No child would understand that.

    As for the burn-in-hell kind of stuff I mentioned low-IQ criminals and this kind of underclass folks. The ones I know are incredibly superstitious. As in he got busted on a Monday so he considers it an unlucky day and never does anything serious on Mondays kind of superstitious.(When I was young and went out a lot to bars, dance clubs, I sometimes ended up talking to really different people than the types I normally associate out with. )

    Essentially we have two problems. One is the paradox that to live rationally, one needs self control, or a small ego, so that whims or emotions don’t overwhelm intelligent choices, but our current understanding of psychology is not really good enough to nail it down correctly how this works and why. I think at the moment we cannot even define this small-ego or self-control stuff properly. Part of it is impulse control, and that is fairly easy, but the other side, the small ego stuff, the “you can be selfish but don’t be self-centered” stuff is something seriously hard to explain.

    My best explanation is evolutionary. Hunter-gatherers wanted certain stuff, food, safety, survival, but they could not afford to dwell so much on the wanting itself, they cannot tell nature they are entitled to all this. They had to set the desire itself aside and focus on the objective conditions, on how to achieve them. So they had to focus outward, not on the self, in order to finally satisfy the self. Small children could be self-adsorped, i.e. just wail and mom will fed you, but they were fairly quickly set on their two feet and taught to be increasingly self-sufficient. However in modern society it is possible to be self-absorbed and entitled even into adulthood i.e. focusing on the desire and not on the environment i.e. on the objective ways of how to satisfy it, and I think we all feel it is not a good thing but it is hard to nail down exactly why.

    So at the moment, these sort of stuff is still better understood by spiritual folsk, mostly Buddhists and Taoists, but also some of the more moderate Christians got it. And in the modern world this self-centeredness or self-adsorption got out of hand quite a bit. For example I think Roger Scruton is right when he says that popular music in the past i.e. folk songs were about the song, today pop is about the author, not the song, as in, there is little point in whistling a Miley Cyrus song disassociated from her personality and show. But you could whistle Green Grow The Lilacs without having any idea about its author. It’s just OK in itself. We rarely get good songs anymore because our modern artists care too much about themselves, expressing themselves, stage show, clips and so on, and too little about the actual music. Once we understand this problem it is easy to see signs of it all over the place.

    So this is really something we need to nail down in a secular, scientific way urgently.

    Then of course comes the question of the motivation as a second problem.

  162. >Advice on recognizing insanity even when clothed in rationalese[?]

    Yeah, you know that line about fanatics? “He can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject?” It’s a better description of insanity-clothed-in-rationalese. The main thing to watch for is fixation; your nutter has a delusional system to defend and can’t do anything else. I had observed this for a long time; very recently I understand it better – the rationalizing system spins out of control precisely because of the nutter’s need to impose a causal narrative on a subjectivity that would otherwise be too chaotic and disruptive for him to tolerate.

    You can map the boundaries of the delusion by observing where not just where the nutter’s assertions become absurd, but where he has lost the capability to notice they are absurd. There’s a loss of any sense of factual or moral proportion, an inability to get distance and say “I don’t know” or self-question in any meaningful way.

  163. @Shenpen
    ““we make you wait until Xmas and expect some good grades in return so that you don’t get too much used to and spoiled by instant gratification without effort”. No child would understand that.”

    In my experience, “don’t be greedy” or “it is bad” works whether backed by Hell or not.

    It seems to be a common misconception of young (prospective) parents that you can argue rationally with a toddler. You cannot. However, the fact that the child cannot be reasonable does not excuse you from being reasonable. If you want them to become reasonable adults, you will have to teach by example.

    Remember, they learn to do what you do and to say what you say. If you give yourself presents all the time, they will expect presents too. The happy thing is, if you can wait, they will learn to wait*, whatever you say. If you cannot wait, they will not learn to from what you say.

    *Within bounds, see the marshmallow test.

  164. @Jeff not really. Morals are ought to be cultural. I guess this is where there is a fairly big liberal – conservative gap, or maybe sociology fan – anthropology fan gap between us… your morals ought to come from your tribe, ethnic group, nation, culture, shouldn’t just be personal, because they ultimately boil down to the survival of the group, not the individual.

  165. @ Shenpen

    I agree with Winter. Reason doesn’t work with toddlers – anything you say is arbitrary to them. But I think “Don’t be greedy”, or any moral point you want to make, is something you can reasonably say to a toddler and an older child because it is something you believe – there is nothing irrational about it. The toddler won’t understand what you mean, but it does lay down some ground work in his/her mind that will mean something a few years later.

    As for the “burn in hell” stuff for lowlifes… One way of looking at this is that Christianity isn’t going anywhere, even though you and I and many people on this blog, including our host, are atheists (ESR could be said to have a religion, but he is not a theist – he doesn’t believe that supernatural gods exist). So… if some fear of God is good for lowlifes, hopefully they will pick it up.

    I think that intelligent young people that don’t believe in God and are into rap music and the morals associated with the whole hip-hop culture is bad for society, but… try telling a young person that you think there music is bad – it doesn’t work. However trying to teach a young person that the message is bad can have some effect if you have laid down the proper ground work for years before you start critisizing hip-hop.

    One piece of personal advice I can offer is: Don’t teach kids that they should share – teach them to make deals. I was amazed at how early my kids understood making deals – “let her try your toy if she will let you look at her book” – before they were four, I am pretty sure (twins).

    More advice: teach them to read and try to find some set of reading matter that they latch onto and learn to read easily for pleasure. Give them good books about how the world works. The best kind of motivation is to pursue some subject that they love, or, at least, fascinates them.

    “you can be selfish but don’t be self-centered” stuff is something seriously hard to explain.”

    So don’t try to discourage selfishness; encourage taking responsibility for decisions – that it is up to them to make rational decisions to get what they want out of life. A toddler isn’t going to understand this explicitly, but you can lay the ground work. Discipline should be based, as much as possible, on being responsible for what their choices, the idea that there are good and bad people in the world and “good people don’t do that”. Believe it or not, my Amazon parrot is on my shoulder for much of the day, but he hasn’t pooped on me for… a year? I taught him “Good birds poop on the pooping paper.” He will fly off me to go poop on the pooping paper.

    I still fail to see why morals require a formal scientific basis – morals are practical even if you don’t know why and/or the practical aspect no longer applies. Good morals are good because they have good results. I repeat that good morals can be conveyed by example and, in any case, you want to start laying the ground work for morals when a child is a toddler – long before they are ready for scientific reasons.

    And, I agree with one of Winter’s main points – teach by example. Explain why you decided to do something rather than something else. Start doing this long before the child understands you because the cumulative effect of explaining what it means to be a good person is powerful and good.

  166. The way memorable melody has fallen out of popular music (including stage music) is interesting, but I’m not convinced it’s a result of too much focus on the performer. On the other hand, I don’t have a theory about what’s going on.

    One possibility is that having music available all the time means that there’s less need to have music that you can remember.

    It’s possible that so many of the good tunes have been used up that it’s harder to compose new ones, though I don’t think this is likely.

    Not all religious people use the fear of hell, though I don’t know what the proportion is.

  167. A lot of the participants on this blog are competent individualists that are fully capable of using their productive talents to support themselves. As such, group identity and fealty to group strictures tends to be less important in the grand scheme of things because they don’t anticipate a need to ask others to support them. For this segment of society, rationality trumps memetic conformity.

    In contrast, some members of characteristically large groups may be more needy than productive; and for them, memetic conformity may be all that they can offer in exchange for their sustenance. In a strange twist, this is a rational decision on their part, because it keeps them alive.

    In yet an even stranger twist, governments tend to exploit this phenomenon in order to sustain their survival. Needy acolytes tend to be reliable voters.

  168. “Not all religious people use the fear of hell”

    My favorite story along this line is of the Hasidic Jewish atheist. He didn’t believe in God, or any of the religion in general, yet he said, “These are my people, these are our customs….”, and wore the clothes, went to synagogue on shabbos, said all the prayers, etc.

    Conformity running amok.

  169. @Nancy
    I was raised Catholic, and few, if any, people aroind me believed in hell.

  170. My favorite story along this line is of the Hasidic Jewish atheist. He didn’t believe in God, or any of the religion in general, yet he said, “These are my people, these are our customs….”, and wore the clothes, went to synagogue on shabbos, said all the prayers, etc.

    I can’t speak to the Jewish experience, only the Catholic one. If you’re Catholic then you are expected to raise your children Catholic. Which means if you are a child of a Catholic then being open about your disbelief makes your parents seem derelict in their duty. Irrespective of your belief in the big sky man, the “honor thy father and thy mother” bit is almost universal in long-term functioning societies. These are the people who fed you, clothed you, and wiped your dirty ass — you don’t repay them by tarnishing their reputation.

    It could be that this unbelieving Jew rejected the theistic bits of Judaism but still bought into the ethnic and kinship aspects — and thought publicly renouncing God to be too disruptive to the community he was a part of, and especially his family. If I were born into, say, an Italian neighborhood in New York or Boston I could totally see myself doing the same with Catholicism — having a good time and doing my thing during the week and then confessing my sins on Sunday with no intent of changing my ways, like Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s character in Don Jon.

  171. @Terry
    > What if the events around you relate to the voices in your head in ways that would not be possible if the voices in your head were merely in your head? … I even have a list.

    Does your list include all the times that the voices in your head did not in fact show up in the events around you? Did God ever not answer your prayers? What you are experiencing Terry is a strong case of selection bias.

    Sometimes when I pray to Aphrodite she answers my prayers too. I even have a list. One time I really needed a parking spot and I prayed, and one just appeared in from of me! Another time I needed a new job, and three weeks after my vehement prayers I god one. Praise be to Aphrodite!

    Of course the bitch mostly ignores me, but I worship her for those lucky times when she condescends to answer me.

    I am reminded of Elijah’s mocking of the priests of Baal in 1Kings 18:27. When you pray and God doesn’t answer your prayers, don’t you think that he is deserving of the same mocking that Elijah dished out to the Baalites whose god was similarly powerless to light a teeny little fire?

  172. Winter: “There is a fundamental problem with private knowledge: Other people will have different private knowledge and it cannot be decided whose private knowledge is ‘correct’.”

    I remember you not being able to read my English before and am getting deja vu. I’m describing private knowledge in agreement so that you don’t need to decide which one is ‘correct’ at all. Two calculators can agree that 1+1=2, each of their private knowledge is in agreement. A similar, but far more complex problem is when General Electric and the Korolev Bureau working independently on opposite sides of the Arctic Ocean in 1964 came up with nearly identical spacecraft designs, the latter being much more famous. General Electric called theirs Apollo D2, while Korolev Bureau called theirs Soyuz.

    Hopefully, you get what I mean. Now when it happens that both parties are doing something highly creative and claim to have spiritual help (Lights’ “recurring dream” and my own “Storyvoice”) and produce almost perfectly identical work (and we still are not in contact to this day), that’s when you start to wonder. In my explanatory examples, you can find a common inspiration: mathematics and engineering respectively. While a spacecraft is rather complex, the engineers on both sides gravitated towards a common best solution, one which NASA rejected in favour of the much larger and more expensive Apollo CSM they designed in-house and sourced to North American Aviation. I don’t see any reason for that to happen with music and creative literature as often as I see it happen, assuming there is no Muse.

    Shenpen: “…to live rationally, one needs self control, or a small ego, so that whims or emotions don’t overwhelm intelligent choices, but our current understanding of psychology is not really good enough to nail it down correctly how this works and why.”

    The best completely secular attempt I’ve personally read attempting to do this is “Stages of Faith” by James Fowler. It tabulates six stages of growth and does not endorse any particular religion, god, or spirituality. I believe that a hard core athiest can reach the fifth stage, and that Eric is in the fourth. The stage where you need to follow rules and proverbs without understanding them, the “What can the atheist parent say?” stage is the third stage in his scheme, and in my observation, not very many people get past that stage because they never develop enough understanding to tell the difference between procedure and principle; they don’t want to think that hard.

    Shenpen: “…focusing on the desire and not on the environment i.e. on the objective ways of how to satisfy it, and I think we all feel it is not a good thing but it is hard to nail down exactly why.”

    Actually, it’s really easy to nail down exactly why, it’s just that to do so gets you branded as being of Conservative Right-Wing Politics: such people are not adding to society but are a drain on it. In addition to that, their learning and intellectual growth has come to a slow crawl if not a dead stop. People like that are both unproductive and boring, at least to me (they also lose interest in me once my tolerance for their mooching is saturated and I quit lending them change for a coffee, bus fare, cigarette, etc..) This is probably the single biggest issue that defines Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative.

    Winter/BRM: “I agree with Winter. Reason doesn’t work with toddlers – anything you say is arbitrary to them.”

    That is Stage One of the James Fowler Stages of Faith schema.

    Winter/BRM: “The toddler won’t understand what you mean, but it does lay down some ground work in his/her mind that will mean something a few years later.”

    One of the big breakthroughs in early computer development was being handle data and instructions with the same methods. The OS is data to the BIOS which loads it up, and then the CPU executes it as instruction. This foundational information in toddlers is data that will turn into instruction in their minds when they are mature enough to handle it (when they have a better handle of self vs. other.)

    BRM: “One piece of personal advice I can offer is: Don’t teach kids that they should share – teach them to make deals.”

    That’s good. I’m going to take that home.

    Nancy: “Not all religious people use the fear of hell, though I don’t know what the proportion is.”

    I don’t know what the proportion is either, but I have a good idea of what it should be and almost always find imbalance one way or the other in Christian congregations.

    The way I look at it is this: hell is simply the default existential destruction atheists assume there is no alternative to. The biblical details about judgment and the second death are secondary. For this reason, I emphasize heaven. I really like Minecraft because it simulates heaven. It is very crude in this regard, but certainly better than nothing at simulating this: Heaven is a place where you can create; build whatever you like and have dominion over your land, herds, and flock. That’s why I think it got so popular so fast, and now, at about 11 million, I think its market is pretty close to saturation: people who like to create and have an aptitude for computer gaming. Hopefully, the market will grow, either because creative people will take up computer gaming and because computer gaming people will take up creativity (the latter is less likely, but more of what I’m hoping for.) Of course, between griefers and uncreative game modes, there are exceptions to every rule. The bottom line is, positive reinforcement is better. “I set before you life and death. Choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19, not exact.) It is better to talk about how life is good, rather than how death is not.

    Seth: “Gee I always thought you were going insane. Must be your mustache. /troll”

    I have a mustache? /shave

  173. Fluffy Girl: “Does your list include all the times that the voices in your head did not in fact show up in the events around you? Did God ever not answer your prayers? What you are experiencing Terry is a strong case of selection bias.”

    Predictably enough, no. I don’t put those events on the list. The events which have to do with God often emerge from everyday life without any anticipation on my part. I also get very, very few recognizable specific answers to prayers. The reason for the selection bias you refer to is that things without God tend to be rather unremarkable, not worth writing down. There are a couple of “flags” (hunches that I follow, which tend to be quite reliable these days) that turned out to be balderdash, but I’m getting those rather infrequently compared to the good ones.

    Fluffy Girl: “Sometimes when I pray to Aphrodite she answers my prayers too. I even have a list. One time I really needed a parking spot and I prayed, and one just appeared in from of me! Another time I needed a new job, and three weeks after my vehement prayers I god one. Praise be to Aphrodite!”

    I wouldn’t mind seeing that list, if you’d let me. (There are some things that God has answered that are not on my list because they get a bit too personal. There are also some that are too minor to be remarkable: One of the most remarkable things that I’ve noticed is that the fictional featherwings can come down with a certain illness that is best treated with lithium. As I was writing the story, Storyvoice got rather specific in telling me how to treat it, and directed me to the song Lithium by Evanescence. It is not on my list because I had already heard the song before starting the story and therefore have no solid evidence that it isn’t an elaborate delusion.)

    Fluffy Girl: “I am reminded of Elijah’s mocking of the priests of Baal in 1Kings 18:27. When you pray and God doesn’t answer your prayers, don’t you think that he is deserving of the same mocking that Elijah dished out to the Baalites whose god was similarly powerless to light a teeny little fire?”

    I’m okay with that myself. Yahweh, Baal, and Aphrodite on the other hand… The downside is that you can’t reasonably expect the God that you’re mocking to give you much positive attention. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to the true agnostic open to the possibility that God is real if He decides to prove Himself.

  174. @Terry
    ” I’m describing private knowledge in agreement so that you don’t need to decide which one is ‘correct’ at all. ”

    That is called “shared observations”. But then again, if we both have the same dreams, that is not necessarily meaning there is an agent that injects those dreams.

    @Terry/BRM
    “BRM: “One piece of personal advice I can offer is: Don’t teach kids that they should share – teach them to make deals.””

    I consider that the worst advice ever. Those who barter and deal with friends and family lose them.

  175. Winter: “That is called ‘shared observations’. But then again, if we both have the same dreams, that is not necessarily meaning there is an agent that injects those dreams.”

    A thousand people see the Moon, does that mean it’s not necessarily there? Frankly, I think it would be of huge interest to science if so many people described the same observations each from different agents (good luck identifying them!)

    One such thing, I can dismiss as coincidence. But what if it’s enormously complex? What if, for example, you write a story, and in your mind you imagine your characters as though they were real, “a picture’s worth a thousands words” so you need to edit down as you write. Your story includes a concept never before seen in literature. A week after you finish writing it over six months, you encounter a music video depicting the exact likeness of one of your characters and this otherwise unique story concept from an artist you’ve never even heard of. It’s happened to me, you want the links?

    What if it happens regularly? 2009 May 10, August 1, August 8, November 19, December 8, 2010 January 7, March 16, 2011 July 16 – and that’s from memory, the actual list is at least twice as long!

    Is it still insane to postulate that there might be a common agent involved? Especially if the source of all these stories is the sweet Storyvoice of a loving God (or a delusion to that effect – I wouldn’t be bringing Her up in a forum such as this were it not for this growing list of unlikely coincidences.)

    What are the odds? It’s probably safe to say that each of them has a probability of 1/7 or less (I know one has exactly that probability because it was a day-of-the-week thing on a previously established date in the distant future.) I’ve dropped eight dates up there, so the probability of all is 1/7^8, or 1 in 5,764,801. I tell you right now if Storyvoice gives me seven numbers between 1 and 49 with no discernible reason, I’m going to be buying my first lottery ticket in fifteen years! (I’ll probably lose two bucks and it would become an unlisted unremarkable, because if that happens, it’s probably one of those rare imposters that I encounter.)

    Winter: “I consider that the worst advice ever. Those who barter and deal with friends and family lose them.”

    I do see your point, but BRM’s is also valid. It’s about application. BRM is talking about toys and games (the training for adult life), but most parents I’ve met do have unconditional love for their children. They will move heaven and earth so that their kids don’t go to bed hungry.

    I remember that two of my featherwings had life-threatening emergencies and needed to be attended constantly 24/7 at different locations for an indefinite period, and by featherwings (humans were not qualified.) I had about half a dozen featherwings, all with children and jobs and the need to sleep and do other things critical to the plot. Storyvoice left the scheduling to me, and that having the other necessary inputs come out (Storyvoice must have either known the schedule I was going to come up with, and/or is tremendously adept at thinking on Her feet) is part of the reason BRM’s point struck a chord with me.

  176. @ Winter

    One piece of personal advice I can offer is: Don’t teach kids that they should share – teach them to make deals.

    I consider that the worst advice ever. Those who barter and deal with friends and family lose them.

    I have been thinking about this since I posted the comment.

    “Sharing” smears the concept of property, and encouraging sharing, particularly as a moral thing, encourages the idea that wanting something entitles one to get it.

    Encouraging young kids to make deals, with very young kids, doing the negotiating for both sides (“Maybe she will let you try her toy if you let her look at your new book.”) reinforces:
    (1) the concept of property, and,
    (2) the idea that two people, even if they are not on the best of terms, can both benefit by mutual, voluntary agreement.

    (2) lays the groundwork for a subtle but very important idea (that some influential thinkers didn’t seem to understand): “A deal that is good for one party doesn’t mean that it is bad for the counter-party – a voluntary deal can improve the lot of both parties”.

  177. @BRM
    ““Sharing” smears the concept of property, and encouraging sharing, particularly as a moral thing, encourages the idea that wanting something entitles one to get it.”

    Sharing encourages the idea of reciprocity, of obligation. It strengthens the idea that when you receive, you are expected, obliged, to give back too.

    Children are very keenly aware about obligations and reciprocity. They will not share with someone who does not give back.

  178. @ Winter

    Sharing encourages the idea of reciprocity, of obligation. It strengthens the idea that when you receive, you are expected, obliged, to give back too.

    My way is clearly encouraging voluntary agreements to get what one wants.

    Your statements has a wee bit of a feel of “From each according to their means, to each…”

  179. @BRM
    Do you barter with your spouse or siblings? Do you make deals with your friends where you exchange goods and services based on equal value?

    If you do I fear for your social life.

  180. You two are much closer to saying the same thing than I expected. There is value in sharing without expecting reciprocity, but if you do that with a moocher, there’s really no value to either side, and that’s something kids need to learn as well, not only to avoid moochers, but to avoid becoming them. In a healthy relationship, it becomes a system of “trading favours” anyway, and deals involving say, getting good grades are of more benefit to the child than to the parent. The relationship between children and parents (any mentally maturing dependent and his caregiver) is going to have a taste of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” but it can obviously get out of hand.

    I think BRM and I can agree that such arrangements should probably not be negotiated between children at a similar level because it destroys the concept of property and the rights associated with that concept. I think a reason this is important is because if children are brought up the way BRM proposes, it will help them grok that their parents support them out of unconditional love and not simple obligation, especially if the parents enforce a prohibition on mooching (just to be clear, that’s my term for behaviours stemming from the “idea that wanting something entitles one to get it”)

  181. I have had a weird life and I am a loner, but I can see your point.

    However, “friends” are very different than arguing kids.

    A related idea is that it is better for kids to solve arguments by agreement than by decree from parents. “How about she sits in the front seat now, and you will get to sit in the front seat coming back?

  182. A popular method of dealing with that particular situation (and many others like it, in my circles at least) is that both kids wind up sitting in the back if they can’t work it out. The exclusive item being argued over is deprived as a consequence of that argument. I don’t quite know how that fits into each of your schemes, but it seems closer to BRM’s.

  183. Regarding kindergarten politics…. If Jimmy wants to borrow Johnny’s book then Johnny can decide if he wants to cooperate. It is Johnny’s book but the adult (or Jimmy) might advocate for the benefits of sharing without working out an actual deal. If Johnny doesn’t want to share, it is his book and his lost opportunity to share. Consequently, the two approaches are not contradictory, one can both advocate for the concept of private property and advocate for the benefits of sharing.

    Common property, such as the classroom goldfish has to be shared on the basis of a set of rules, much as the government, owner of the rules, has a legitimate right to set the rules of the road. Of course, the less of that common property we have the less we have to have such rules and their consequential opportunity for tyrannical control. After all, minor traffic violations are frequently used as a pretext for oppressive searches, and other police abuses.

    Just the same way Miss Anderson CLEARLY showed favoritism to Amy in second grade….

  184. s/much as the government, owner of the rules/much as the government, owner of the roads/

  185. Fluffy Girl: “After all, minor traffic violations are frequently used as a pretext for oppressive searches, and other police abuses.”

    I say with a wink and a grin, SOD off. SOD stands for Special Operations Division, a feature of many police departments to secretly get tips from the NSA’s huge spying machine, which of course they want to keep secret. Goes something like X truck with Y license plate number might have something of interest to your drug squad. It’ll be at Highway Lowroad Truck Stop at 2900 hours tomorrow, have fun. The details were revealed, predictably enough, by Edward Snowden. DuckDuckGo is your friend ;)

    And back on topic…

  186. Fluffy Girl made me realize that I didn’t explain my position clearly. This may be why Winter disagreed as strongly as he did.

    I was referring more or less exclusively to one’s own kids arguing at home. Kindergarten is much more of a social environment where sharing and the give and take of people interacting is much different than two siblings arguing over a toy at home.

  187. If you kids don’t stop arguing, I’m going to turn this blog right around!!

  188. @LS
    > If you kids don’t stop arguing, I’m going to turn this blog right around!!

    I need to pee, can you stop the blog at the next gas station?

  189. @BRM & @Winter
    Based on my own and my two nephews’ experience as a kid I’d say the right lesson is not about sharing (an arbitrary imposition by grown-ups), it is rather about cooperating/partnerships (i.e.: “It would be so much more fun if the two of you played together!” – almost always truthful and good advice) followed later on, when time preference becomes manageable by lending & borrowing.

    Productive sharing is always about cooperation: e.g. we need to invest together in dams and dykes if we are to protect our individual property from flooding. Sharing without cooperation or a mutual lending mechanism will destroy one way or another the attitudes of proper management, responsibility, accountability liability which are based on ownership.

    My nephews finally managed to overcome their rather violent possession disputes first by defining ownership (colour-based initially) then by swapping, then by cooperating in joint games or when home alone and then by exchanging favours (lending?).

  190. So we are all agreeing?

    My point was not against property, kids have strong feelings of property rights. It was about a tit-for-tat barter arragement. Better to teach kids to cooperate and work with obligations and favors: you did my chore last time, I can do yours when you need it.

    Sibling rivalry is a curse of all times. I do not think there is any other solution than the kids growing up and realizing that they need each other too much to bicker.

  191. “Better to teach kids to cooperate and work with obligations and favors: you did my chore last time, I can do yours when you need it.”

    But that doesn’t really work unless you can trust them to return the favor/obligation in turn. Bartering/trading is pretty much the only way we know to build up trust for more flexible arrangements.

  192. @guest
    That is a strange remark for a child. Children will interact repeatedly. But indeed, barter and dealing is for enemies and strangers. But the people we intersct most with are neither.

  193. @LS “Conformity running amok.” wow, you saw that as a bad thing? Why? This is just being tribal, same thing as being a dedicated supporter of a sports team, wearing their jerseys, singing their songs, never missing a match… it is more or less well demonstrated that the No. 1 predictor of human happiness is forming strong social bonds with others. And this is just people do it, by forming these kinds of tribal identities. One on one friendships between free-thinking individuals are great, but a deeper level of bonding is only possible through rallying around some kind of flags, like in these examples.

    This is an experience that was always missing from my own life – I was raised to be this kind of free-floating modern kind of individual, our family never really belonged to anywhere besides the family (relatives) itself and even our relatives fell apart after the older members died who understood kinship is something you really have to put effort into keeping it together, I won’t automatically stay so – and maybe I am only saying this because the neighbors grass is always greener, but I truly think people who can be tribal such ways may be happier. I really miss never trying this kind of experience. Somehow I was never really cut out to be tribal, to be a fan of a band, or a sports team, or even to treat the local buddhist meditation centre as anything more than just a convenient place to calm my mind and then to and have a beer with fun people. I envy people who can go beyond that.

  194. @Winter so you think people who seem to have a hard time with their kids are setting standards for them they don’t themselves follow? I am not 100% sure I am buying it but I am not dismissing it either, as I have seen something perhaps remotely similar myself. I saw that many people pour all their failed dreams in their kids. Dad is just fat car mechanic but once upon a time he could kick a ball straight so the kid of course has to be a sports star. Mom was once thinking about art school before settling into a secretary job so like it or not, kid’s going to get piano lessons from the age of 5.

    To be honest my parents were firm believers in the philosophy that they are overworked, stressed and harried, so they can excused to be impatient, snappy, and testy, while little Shenpen has such an easy life with nothing to do but school, plus he should be grateful for all the better circumstances and shiny toys that are so much better than the grandparents could afford for them, so he should be a perfectly patient and shining little angel full of gratitude. I got plenty of the “When you grow up and work and have to win bread you will understand how hard and stressful it is on us” kinds of earfuls. And I think on one hand they were right, everybody can be excused to be snappy after a day of hard work, I never agreed with those parenting blogs which say don’t even do it if you don’t have infinite patience, but I guess people then also have to consider the example they set, you may be right in this.

    But on the third hand any family that would not try to push their kids to go a grade or two higher than their parents is either very high already or just giving it up too easily. And this is also there in behavior. Nothing scares parents more if they see their kids repeat the same patterns that got themselves in trouble back then and ultimately kept them out of the university or the best jobs etc. etc.

    I mean for example any parent who had a drug problem when they were teeneagers will just explode in rage if their teenage kids go anywhere near drugs, simply out of the immense amount of fear they feel, in the “no, not again!” sense, right?

  195. @Shenpen
    I would never “blame” parents for their children. Parenting is a very hard job and you will never do it right. The only thing you can hope for is that your children will be happy adults.

    @Shenpen
    “But on the third hand any family that would not try to push their kids to go a grade or two higher than their parents is either very high already or just giving it up too easily.”

    There is a difference between punishing your children when they have a bad grade, and sitting next to them when they make homework and go to all school related activities. The first one will not achieve much, the second one shows the kid you will make a sacrifice because you consider it really important.

  196. @ Winter

    Sibling rivalry is a curse of all times. I do not think there is any other solution than the kids growing up and realizing that they need each other too much to bicker.

    I agree. My original comment about making deals was specifically about kids arguing with each other at home (even though I didn’t make that clear in my comment).

  197. I, for one, wonder what esr would be like without the IV drip of psychedelic substances.

  198. Holy crap. It should be a test of willpower and memory to get through the comments and still be able to remember what the original post was about.

  199. @winter:
    Actually, a lot of studies have been done on married life and found that most couples barter wrt housework and many also do wrt sexual activity.

  200. “I, for one, wonder what esr would be like without the IV drip of psychedelic substances.”

    I completely believe him when he says he’s never taken a psychedelic – his atheism/materialism would not survive contact with it.

  201. @winter why would bartering be for strangers? Even amongst people who love each other bartering is a way to figure out fairness. Such as housework between spouses. “I am really not in the mood to cook today.” “You in the mood to mow the lawn then? We can switch if you want to.” Without such bartering, there is a chance that one side would do unfairly too much and the other too little, and if it happens too often it will cause some hurt feelings.

    In the long run you always barter in the sense that no love relationship nor even a friendship can work by one side giving in much more than the other one. But if an imbalance is built up in the long run it will hurt the relationship, so it is better to balance things out regularly on a short timeframe.

    This is something akin to what Hayek said about the market, i.e. that the point of the market is not simply that everybody wants to be selfish, but it is more like a way of finding out the difference between some people needing the same thing badly and some needing it not so much so it is better to route it towards the people who need it badly.

    Similarly, bartering housework is a way to figure out what the other person really dislikes and how much. If your spouse barters 3 times of lawn moving for 1 time of cooking then you know they really dislike cooking. So you set things up accordingly. So this bartering is a heuristic to find out a distribution of things that is optimal.

    What would be a friendship or marriage without barter? If both sides would simply fulfill every wish of the other, they could not economize. They could not figure out the optimal distribution of burdens that inconveniences each the least. They would be like two foolishly polite people standing forever before a door “you go first”, “no, you go first, please”.

  202. >I completely believe him when he says he’s never taken a psychedelic – his atheism/materialism would not survive contact with it.

    Assumes facts not in evidence. For all you know I might have a transcendent experience of the uncaring void at the heart of all things.

    Now let me tell you something funny. Back when I used to hang out with people who did LSD, one of the things they often said to me was that I seemed to them to be high all the time. I thought this was silly until I learned that human beings secrete small amounts of psilocybin (or maybe it was psilocin, the active metabolite) into their bloodstreams. The amount is variable, with higher levels being associated with (tell me you didn’t see this coming) increased creativity and imagination.

    So it’s possible that I do in fact have an IV drip of psychedelic substances – from my own bone marrow. It would explain much.

  203. @Shenpen
    Thiis discussion started about sharing. So I understood this to be about bartering goods

    What you call barter is about services and reciprocity. I have never encountered a couple that bartered goods. “I do your chores now, you do mine later” is the kind of dealing with obligations over a longer time span. So I would call this more an example of reciprocity.

    And this type of barter is never about really important stuff. A person who does this kind of dealing when the spouse is ill or otherwise unable to do his/her share will be single in a short time.

  204. @winter
    > And this type of barter is never about really important stuff.

    “Yes honey you can build a man cave in the basement as long as I can have a new car.”

    “Yes you can sleep around as long as you don’t take away my kids”

    “Yes I’ll marry you, as long as you give up your philandering ways”

    “Buy the Bears season pass, but put some money aside for the kids college fund.”

    Happens all the time Winter.

  205. >“Yes honey you can build a man cave in the basement as long as I can have a new car.”

    Hmmph. Real men don’t ask for permission to build a man-cave in the basement. They just do it, and if the woman issues the hairy eyeball she gets “And you were going to use that space for what, exactly?”

  206. @esr
    > Real men don’t ask for permission to build a man-cave in the basement.

    Assumes facts not in evidence. Were the man cave to be built out of shared resources (such as family budgets or plans for unused household space) there would need to be a negotiation as to how best to use those resources — which is the point of the discussion. A negotiation is not “asking permission.”

    I think “real men” treat others with respect, and don’t treat shared resources as their own unconstrained property. However, if your point is that pussy henpecked guys are a curse on both men and women, I’d have to agree. Cojones are in disturbingly short supply.

  207. >However, if your point is that pussy henpecked guys are a curse on both men and women, I’d have to agree. Cojones are in disturbingly short supply.

    I think you knew perfectly well that was my real point.

  208. @ Fluffy Girl – “Cojones are in disturbingly short supply.”

    Perhaps a byproduct of long term affluent in society and the systemic suppression of openly aggressive competitiveness. The short term consequence can be a more peaceful community life, but then your society may be unprepared when a real warrior spirit is needed. See France, Begium, & the Netherlands in May 1940.

  209. @Fluffy girl
    I do not know how things are in North America, but for the people I know fidelity is not negotiable. They demand fidelity or an open relation, but they won’t negotiate or barter. Literally, take it or leave. The other things you name as barter are far from the original “you can have my toy in return for your toy”. I think a discussion about the boundaries of the use of the word “barter” seem rather pointless. But if you trade goods/money 1:1 with your spouse/SO, I am obviously wrong.

    @Cojones
    Churchil seems to have remarked that the only member with balls of our exciled government in WWII with was our Queen. Something like that is said about Angela Merkel.

    On the other hand, I am not aware of many women (national nor international) who complain that Dutch men lack balls. So the behavior of Dutch men seem to be adaptive.

    Any illusions that the Dutch or Belgium people could have dony anything to stop the Germans are delusional. The French could have invested their defence budget better on tanks and airplanes that “fortifications”. In other words, their army was lead by geriatric fools.

  210. @Winter
    > but for the people I know fidelity is not negotiable.

    I think that is interesting. I think of the Dutch as being very socially liberal and less anal than Americans are about sex and relationships. The truth is that I think people are really intrinsically polyamarous, and it just takes a hell of a lot of guilt, social pressure and religion to keep monogamy as frequently practiced as it is.

    > But if you trade goods/money 1:1 with your spouse/SO, I am obviously wrong.

    The definition of “barter” is specifically trading without the intermediary of money. I gave some big examples, but people do it all the time. “Sure I’ll snuggle with you and watch Project Runway, just let me watch the freaking game in peace of Sunday.” “If you go to my cousin’s wedding and don’t make an ass of yourself, I’ll make sure you feel ‘appreciated’ when we get home.” It happens constantly in a relationship.

    @Cojones
    I meant to say that cojones are in short supply, but pendejos are everywhere, which might seem a contradiction but seems to be true. However, regarding political figures, I’d rather they didn’t have cojones. Brave politicians get us in all sorts of messes. I’d rather our politicians sat quietly in the corner and didn’t bother us.

    > So the behavior of Dutch men seem to be adaptive.

    I spent some time in Holland, and I found the country beautiful, and the people delightful, so I am sure you are right.

    > Any illusions that the Dutch or Belgium people could have done anything to stop the Germans

    I don’t think that is true. Once Blitzkrieg started they were screwed for sure, however, defense is far more about preparation than active fighting. They could have worked the politics better to keep Germany in check, they could have formed better alliances, they could have used their greater wealth either to buy off the aggressor or buy materiel and personnel to defend themselves. Unless it is your view that small countries are intrinsically free riders?

    Certainly though the French did a horrible job. Perhaps the archetype of fighting the previous war rather than the current one. Really, if you think about it the Germans overran a MAJOR world power in a matter of a few weeks. Pretty shocking really, I’m sure there are other examples, but I can’t think of any other time in history that a MAJOR power has been so utterly humiliated on the battlefield so very, very quickly.

  211. @ Winter – “that Dutch men lack balls.”

    Sorry, I did not intend to disparage Dutch virility, but was rather making a larger point about decline of empire. Let me try again with hopefully more clarity.

    Any longstanding affluent society tends to place a high value on maintaining the status quo of a high standard of living and normative civility. As such, natural male aggressiveness is often systematically discouraged because it tends to upset the status quo.

    While this works fine in the short term for maintaining social order, it leaves the society at great risk when neighboring aggressor countries take notice of the widespread wimpification and see a patsy ripe for overthrow.

    I mention this because the US government has become dangerously wimpified, and if you folks in Europe are expecting us to bail you out again in the next Great War, you may be disappointed. The Dutch are well know for their fluency in many languages. You may want to start learning Arabic and Farsi.

  212. @esr
    > … I learned that human beings secrete small amounts of psilocybin (or maybe it was psilocin, the active metabolite) into their bloodstreams.

    Can I get a source for that? The best I can find is bufotenin. Although similar in chemical structure to psilocin, its psychoactivity isn’t confirmed and is still being researched.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bufotenin

    I didn’t read up on any of the sources though, but this is an interesting bookmark for my followup someday later.

  213. >Can I get a source for [human-secreted psilocybin]?

    I wish I had one. I read this in print, long ago in pre-Web days. Secondary source, but I remember that the cite was to the British medical journal Lancet.

  214. @Winter @TomA virility is on the decline mostly everywhere, clearly measured by testosterone stats, and although it is not a nice thing to say I would say that Western Europe seems to be lower in this than either Eastern Europe or America. This is really simple. Virility develops by dangerous living, and the challenges that provides. You can’t make a perfect welfare society without it dropping. You either have to be poor and have to deal with corruption – which is the case for Eastern Europe – or you have to be ruthless in the American sense of lose your job, lose your healthcare kind of ruthless, in order to provide enough challenges. You just can’t raise people in a soft cocoon and expect them to become men. Having said that the Dutch virility is still amongst the better ones, partially because playing a lot of sports, especially football (and doing it well), and partially because of the very direct, outspoken culture, which always has a little bit of confrontativeness in it, in a good way. So for example Denmark or Austria are worse in this – less sports oriented and more polite, less outspoken, equals less virile.

    Aggressive competitiveness can be channelled. Perhaps a social democracy with mandatory boxing or MMA classes for every boy at school would not work so badly after all. You think I am joking, but I am not, I am seriously considering stuff like that could actually work to some extent. If we channel the aggressively competitive caveman spirit into actual caveman like phsyical fight competition in the MMA ring, the corrosive, emasculating effects of social egalitarianism outside said ring could be greatly reduced? The reason I am considering stuff like this is the great advantage that such changes would require very little changes in legislation. Phys-ed classes, gym classes are mandatory anyway… for us in HU it was even in the first two years of college.

  215. @TomA this sounds a bit like the old debate whether history as we know it has ended or not.

    I am conservative enough not to expect human nature to change much. But conditions can.

    One changing condition seems to be that a cowardly but precise guy guiding a drone from a safe place easily beats any guy with an AK and balls of steel. It seems that the ace of the cards is going to be military technology for a long time, maybe forever from now. Tech simply outgrew humans and made the differences in human qualities such as troop morale less important.

    Another changing condition is that wealth is changing shape, becoming more fragile, destructible, and also mobile, virtual, ephemeralized, not really something that one can just conquer by war without making it flee or without destroying it.

    Of course a truly serious economic collapse would cancel both conditions.

  216. @shenpen –

    It seems that the ace of the cards is going to be military technology for a long time, maybe forever from now. Tech simply outgrew humans and made the differences in human qualities such as troop morale less important.

    I think you have missed a couple of things.

    First, there have always been technological advances which have (very temporarily) given the advantage to one side or another – until either the other side figured out how to do it themselves, or worked out a superior counter-technology. (This has been going on for centuries – e.g., knights in armor vs. the long bow.)

    Second, now the morale issue moves (in part) from the battlefield to the homeland. If, by terrorism, or propaganda, or other “human factors”, you can demoralize the population which has to support the war (by sending their sons and daughters to fight, by sending their wealth to support the armed forces, by electing the leaders who will pursue the struggle), then you can win by getting the other side to give up, superior military technology notwithstanding.

  217. @ Shenpen – “Virility develops by dangerous living”

    In evolutionary terms, true hardship promotes robustness in adaptation and survival trait development. However, as I have mentioned previously, here in the US, our “poor” are literally dying of obesity-related diseases and modern “hardship” is having only one automobile and television. One recent cultural adaptation of this new form of hardship is a reliance on pharmaceutical medications as a quick fix for the health problems that inevitably arise from this lifestyle.

  218. @Shenpen
    Pampered civilized Israeli boys against ultra machismo Arab warriors. Who wins?

    The best organized army with the best technology.

    The Germans overran Continental Europe with an industrial output that was probably bigger than the rest combined and the most advanced technology. The British resisted with superior air force technology and a larger battle fleet. The USA won WWII by having an industrial (military) output even bigger than the combined output of all other combatants.

    It tend to be the biggest and fastest moving guns that win wars. Not cojones.

  219. @ Winter – “It tend to be the biggest and fastest moving guns that win wars. Not cojones.”

    It takes cojones to muster and then attack with a badass military. However, lack of cojones will ensure a defeat against even a meager (though ruthless & clever) enemy.

    As a historical note, the Germany forces in the Battle of France (Blitzkreig) had far few men and equipment than the opposing French, Belgium, and Dutch forces. Blaming the leadership of the latter is an easy excuse, but then why did the people of those countries select such poor leaders? And why are we in the US following in your footsteps?

  220. @John D. Bell

    Regarding your first point it was true up to the 1970’s when “smart technology”, electronics, computers proved to be a game-changer. Consider the MiG-29. It’s flight characteristics were excellent because that is “traditional technology”, applied physics, maybe metallurgy for light weight etc. But the “smart technology” part, onboard computers and electronics, were hopelessly behind and it was generally true for most of the Warsaw Pact hardware. The CoCom-Limits were especially geared towards “smart tech”, for this reason.

    Now of course today they could just smuggle in a million Rapsberry Pis, stick them into everything and then the rest is just applied math in programming, which belongs more or less to the traditional science and tech part, so one construct an argument along those lines…

    Your second point is excellent and let me add something. I don’t know how to put it in a nicer way, but basically media, esp. TV can blow the emotional impact of even one casualty out of its statistical proportion. This, astonishingly, gives an advantage to dictatorships employing censorship. They cannot stop vital information from getting out, there will always be samizdats, but they can reduce such emotional impacts by not letting crying war widows on major TV channels. This gives them a relative advantage.

  221. @Winter I half-agree, as explained above, but let me add that as long as it was about conventional, not counter-insurgency warfare, as in 1948 or 1967, the kibbutz boys and girls were downright insane in the cojones department as well.

  222. @TomA
    Read some more about the start of WWII. I believe Discovery Channel airs “History of WWII” and “Famous WWII battles” shows almost monthly. You might come to appreciate the advantages of controlling the air in war.

    Furthermore, you might enjoy “March of folly” by Barbara Tuchman. It might answer some of your questions. Sadly, the US presidential fool portraited was not a Democrat.

  223. The cojones required in war is layered. It depends on what type of action is involved. From the top of macro war, down to the micro war the amount of cojones increases.
    It requires little cojones to press a button and fire an ICBM. It requires a lot of cojones to kick down the door of a known terrorist’s home and enter and clear it out with your team.

    However, the level at which cojones are required moves down and down and down as technology reduces the individual risk to a soldier. Flying those Lancaster bombers over Europe to bomb the Rhineland took a lot of cojones (and causes a lot of cojones to be blown up and spread over the territories of Belgium and northern France), flying a predator to effect the same result — not so much.

    As high degrees of mechanization move down the chain the total amount of cojones required will indeed decrease considerably.

    However, one wonders at the redefinition of cojones when our President is considered to have an extra big set when he sent in a team of Navy SEALs to get Bin Laden. To me, sending other guys into harms way while you stand behind a wall of military protecting you and your loved ones, the biggest risk being an unfavorable newspaper headline, doesn’t require cojones at all. And to claim that it took cojones tells me he knows nothing about what true courage really means.

  224. @Fluffy Girl –

    However, the level at which cojones are required moves down and down and down as technology reduces the individual risk to a soldier.

    Not sure technology always reduces an individual’s risk. Cell-phone triggered IEDs surely have made Iraq and ‘Stan worse for the average trooper. And I’ve contemplated what a small, remotely- (but near-by) piloted quadrocopter with a decent webcam and essentially a derringer mounted on it would be like as an assassin’s weapon – swoop in, confirm your target by the sight picture of their face, BLAM, BLAM, swoop away. In a busy urban setting, you probably wouldn’t notice the buzzing of the rotors, and it would show up in front of you just long enough to startle you, before you were sent to The Great Beyond….

    Totally theoretical musings, of course….

  225. I didn’t intend to bog down in WWII history, but was just reacting to Jessica’s insightful observation about the diminution of cojones in society. This is but one of many corrosive trends that are currently undermining US strength (others are unfettered growth of government and the welfare state, tyranny of the majority, and the destruction of core principles). Of these, prolonged and systemic social emasculation might explain why we tend to elect such poor leaders now. Can you imagine a Viking Clan in the 9th Century selecting a weakling dullard as their leader?

  226. @esr

    >> Can I get a source for [human-secreted psilocybin]?

    > I wish I had one. I read this in print, long ago in pre-Web days. Secondary source, but I remember that the cite was to the British medical journal Lancet.

    http://www.thelancet.com/

    I went looking, but as science has been behind a paywall for decades now, there’s no hope for an everyman to find old articles. At a glance, the Lancet doesn’t even keep archives but delegates that problem to others. Those few services out there which do index them are all subscription-based.

    Since you mentioned pre-web, I went back to those days. The anti-drug propaganda campaigns from the 60s stifled recent research, so I’d think that would actually make it easier to find the very few articles on the topics, but no luck.

    Phooey

    =(

  227. @TomA
    I think that Viking raiding parties who went out to loot and rape would indeed prefer a brutish and ruthless murderer as their leader. I am not so sure whether you would appreciate such a blood thirsty robber as your president.

    In the cojones department, the head hunters of New Guinea must have ranked on top. They were not very successful as a society, though.

  228. With regards to leaders with cajones, I would propose that if the Vikings had a system of government that naturally defaulted to “lesser of two evils”, and had two options for the position, each lacking in cajones, they would probably end up with a President that had questionable cajones.

    Having said that, they probably would *still* have had leaders with plenty of cajones.

    Regardless of who becomes President, however, I do not consider them my leader–even if I’ve voted for them. I would only consider the President to be my leader if I were to be in the U.S. Military, or perhaps–and only perhaps–if I were to work in a Federal agency that reported to the Executive. I consider the company infrastructure of the company I work for to be my leaders…but even then, (and even if I were a member of the military or some Federal agency) I am ultimately responsible for my own life, making my own choices, and if I have reason to distrust anyone who I consider a leader, I don’t necessarily have to do what they ask of me.

    I don’t know how many Vikings were like that, but from what I know of Medieval Icelandic society, I would expect all Icelandic Vikings to have had the same attitude.

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