The Real Alternative

1 Comment

How science has been abused through the ages to promote racism

Tim Crowe, University of Cape Town

Race in human taxonomy – the science of classifying organisms – has a long, disgraceful history.

Individuals have used race to divide and denigrate certain people while promoting their claims of superiority. Some of these individuals were, and are, respected in their time and their fields. They include philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle and sociologists like Hans Günther. Others who’ve been guilty include biologists like Ernst Haeckel and historians such as Henri de Boulainvilliers.

What is the history of racially based classifications of humans? And does it have any scientific validity?

Starting with Kant

The eminent philosopher Immanuel Kant was arguably the first “scientific racist”. He maintained that dark-skinned Africans were “vain and stupid”. He insisted that they were only capable of trifling feelings and were resistant to any form of education other than learning how to be enslaved.

By contrast, Kant maintained, light-skinned Caucasians were “active, acute, and adventurous”.

Renowned German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach used skull anatomy to divide humans into five races:

  • Caucasians (Europe and western Asia);
  • Mongoloids (eastern Asia);
  • Malays (south-eastern Asia);
  • Negros (sub-Saharan Africa); and
  • Americans (North and South America).

But he disagreed with the common view that humans from sub-Saharan Africa were inferior. Blumenbach’s “benign” racial categorisation persisted well into the 20th century.

Samuel Morton drew on refined, quantitative assessments of skull anatomy to provide further “scientific evidence”. He claimed that interracial intellectual variation is reflected by the interior volume of the skull, and that this justified the use of Blumenbach’s groupings to determine relative racial superiority.

He regarded the Caucasian as:

… distinguished by the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments

and Africans as

… joyous, flexible, and indolent; while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character, of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity.

“Scientific racism”“ was used to justify the ownership of slaves, as well as colonialism. It reached its pinnacle in eugenics, a “science” espoused by the British statistician and sociologist Francis Galton at the end of the 19th century.

Eugenicists advocate the “improvement” of humanity by promoting reproduction between people with desired traits and reducing reproduction between people with less-desired traits. Eugenics featured in race-related legislation like Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws and apartheid-era South Africa’s edicts.

Genetic evidence

Genetic studies have examined “racial” variation from a molecular perspective. My early mentor Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago, was a pioneer in this. His research suggested that 90% of modern human genetic diversity is found between individuals within populations. The tiny balance is due to variation between populations.

This view was confirmed by subsequent studies based on DNA by, among others, Lynn B. Jorde and Stephen P. Wooding. The DNA among all human populations is 99.5% similar. Populations of the geographically much more restricted chimpanzee exhibit more than four times the genetic variation that’s found between human populations. Chimpanzees are humans’ nearest living evolutionary “relative”.

Their research shows that when humans are studied from genetic or anatomical perspectives, the pattern that’s discovered is not diagnosable geographically discrete clusters. The norm is gradual, geographically uncorrelated variation in traits and genes. This is even true within peoples who are traditionally thought to be racially homogeneous. There is no evidence of evolutionarily significant racial variation in either genes or anatomy.

The exception is skin colour. Around 10% of the variance in skin colour occurs within groups and about 90% between groups. People living near the equator have darker, more melanin-rich skin than those who live at higher latitudes. Darker skin is strongly selected for because it is a natural sunscreen that limits harmful effects of high ultraviolet rays.

Recent genetic studies indicate that skin colour may change radically within 100 generations because of natural selection.

Genetic racism revived

This overwhelming scientific evidence has not prevented recent studies based on DNA allele frequencies from claiming that there are as many as eight races of humans.

British scientific journalist Nicholas Wade used these studies to claim that natural selection between “races” produced differences in IQ, the efficacy of political institutions and countries’ levels of economic development.

These genetic studies are fundamentally flawed for three reasons:

  • Taxonomic studies aimed at determining the validity of races should be based on characters. These are features that are invariant within populations. They should not be based on traits like eye colour and gene alleles, which vary within populations.
  • Samples used in the DNA-based studies mentioned above were “cherry picked” geographically to maximise differentiation between human populations, and
  • The DNA-based evolutionary racial “trees” were generated by a statistical technique that is designed to produce tree-like patterns which reflect average, not absolute, differences between sampled items. This technique formed the basis of an approach to the construction of evolutionary trees called “phenetics”. It has been decisively discredited and generally abandoned.

Evolutionary origins

DNA and anatomy-based findings support the “Out of Africa” theory. This holds that modern humans originated in Africa. Archaic African Homo erectus immigrated into Eurasia between 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago.

About 90,000 to 92,000 years ago, a second form of humanity, modern H. sapiens, also emigrated out of Africa. This species replaced populations of Homo erectus already in the north.

Attempts to justify the scientific reality of human races warrant no further discussion. They cannot be used to assess racial “superiority”. “White” and other non-African people are in fact evolutionary refugees from Africa. After settling in Eurasia, it took only an evolutionary heartbeat for them to lose much of their epidermal melanin.

Dark-skinned humans outside of Africa are descended from migrants who “regained” their “blackness” in equatorial regions elsewhere.

The Conversation

Tim Crowe, Emeritus Professor, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Leave a comment

The problems with Big History and turning science into myth

English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane S...

Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at its launch in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lisa Sideris, Indiana University, Bloomington

In 2002, a conservative Christian pastor named Michael Dowd and his science writer wife, Connie Barlow, quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and purchased a van they decorated with symbols of a Jesus fish kissing a Darwin fish. Since that time, these two have lived largely as itinerant preachers whose message is the wondrous revelation of science.

These evolutionary evangelists are part of a growing movement that looks to science for a new sacred story that has more staying power than traditional religions. Its proponents proclaim a grand narrative of what is called cosmogenesis – the unfolding of the universe, from the moment of the Big Bang to the present – as a modern sacred myth for all people.

The new cosmology – a word that here signals both the study of the universe and an overarching religious worldview – defines human beings as the part of the universe that has become conscious of itself. We are the only creatures to have evolved an awareness of our place in the universe. Humans’ dawning cosmological awareness, it is believed, will connect us emotionally to cosmic processes, allowing us to feel more at home in the universe. Sensing our place in cosmic patterns and processes will inspire sustainable practices on Earth.

A new story is urgently needed, the argument goes, because we suffer from a crippling condition of modernity known as amythia: we lack a serviceable myth to orient us to what is real and important. The stories provided by the traditional faiths are no longer plausible or relevant in light of modern science and our global environmental crisis. We need a consecrated science, a new Genesis, according to this line of thinking.

Bill Gates is down with Big History.

The movement has unleashed a deluge of books, films, YouTube videos, websites, podcasts and university course offerings that proclaim the mythopoeic, or myth-making, virtues of science.

This new cosmology displays many of the earmarks of the Anthropocene, a new geologic age of humans. We are the dominant, planetary presence in whom the cosmos has entrusted the next precarious phase of Earth’s evolution. Our task as a species is to guide the planet into a new, hoped-for geological era – the Ecozoic – characterized by mutual enhancement of humans and the planet.

Will this cosmology spark a new wave of environmental consciousness?

‘Epic science’ as religion of reality

It was the late 1970s when Thomas Berry proclaimed the need for a new cosmic story. Berry’s diagnosis was that the old religious narratives had lost much of their power and functionality. Our storylessness was exacerbated by scientists’ seeming reluctance, at that time, to present their knowledge in grand, mythic form. That would soon change, as a wave of science popularizers – Carl Sagan, Edward O Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett – stepped in to portray science as an epic quest whose rewards are vastly superior to the charms of religion.

Today, a cluster of Thomas Berry’s devotees remain. Some regard insights from sociobiology and evolutionary psychology as foundational to the creation of a new common myth, since evolutionary science both explains our need for religious myth and provides the raw materials from which to craft it.

The universe as a story – the legacy of Thomas Berry.

In 1978, as Berry issued his call for a new story, E O Wilson identified something he called the evolutionary epic, “probably the best myth we will ever have.” Humanity’s “mythopoeic” needs would one day be fulfilled by the epic grandeur of scientific materialism. Science would claim its rightful place as a superior “alternative mythology.” With his subsequent publication of Consilience in 1998, he laid out his vision of scientific knowledge so complete and unified that it would tell us who we are and where we came from. A number of Berry’s followers seized upon Wilson’s prophetic words and set to work constructing a sacred narrative.

In a similar vein to Wilson, Dawkins has long argued for the superiority of scientifically clarified – that is, real – forms of wonder and awe vis-à-vis “fake” wonder at mysteries, puzzles or miracles.

Dawkins’ book, The Magic of Reality from 2011, is directed at child audiences. Science in hand, Dawkins takes on the true genesis of rainbows, as well as such vexing queries as “When did everything begin?” and “Why do bad things happen?” The book’s message is that science is not one way of experiencing wonder. It is the authentic way. The magic of reality is “wonderful because it’s real.”

Self-styled evangelists Dowd and Barlow promote Dawkins’ Magic of Reality as an important step toward a new “religion of reality,” and hail the so-called new atheists as daring prophets of reality.

Other advocates include religion scholars Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim and Loyal Rue; mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme; “big historiansDavid Christian and Cynthia Stokes Brown; astrophysicist and science educator Eric Chaisson; and biologist Ursula Goodenough.

Cosmology and ethics

A subset of Berry’s disciples turn not to the seductive – and reductive – paradigm of consilience, or linking together of different disciplines to form a grand unity of knowledge, but to advances in Big Bang cosmology as evidence of the implicit narrative structure of reality.

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, senior lecturers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, have teamed up with Berry’s protégé Brian Swimme to launch a multimedia phenomenon called Journey of the Universe. Their claim is that the past century of cosmological science has brought forth a coherent, comprehensive account of the universe and our place in it. We now understand ourselves as the “heart and mind” of a deeply anthropic universe in which our species’ emergence was implicit from the very beginning.

Universe Story movements promote cosmology as a source of ethics. They imply we must model our lives after the deep, meaningful patterning of the universe itself which displays impulses of creativity, intimacy and relationality. Yet, as Woody Allen recognized in a memorable scene from Annie Hall, it remains unclear how we are to get any practical ethical guidance from the perspective of an expanding universe that seems to render our earthly concerns meaningless.

What’s the point? The universe is expanding.

How might the inherent creativity of the cosmos – say, the nuclear reactions of stars – point us toward renewable energy sources and away from, say, nuclear reactors or geoengineering? Proponents offer woolly assurances that “wonder will guide us.” Yet, much of the narrative’s wonder seems directed at ourselves. We are the being in whom the universe “shivers in wonder at itself,” the one species complex enough to have pierced the cosmic veil.

A planetary education

The new cosmology has real-world impacts. It seeks to confer unity and a comprehensive context to every stage of the educational process, from childhood to professional training. The idea of E O Wilson’s Consilience similarly insists that unity of knowledge offers the best way to reform university education, to “renew the crumbling structure of the liberal arts.”

Disciplines oriented to the study of human culture will eventually cede much of their territory to science, Wilson predicts. The humanities earn their keep as disciplines that serve science by embellishing its authoritative narrative with poetry, art or dance. As Wilson explains, science provides “real” content and the humanities obligingly disseminate it in appealing forms:

“the humanities could in effect continue to do their thing, but they would have vastly richer material to work with – grander themes – because the real world of the universe, from black holes to the origin of consciousness, offers far more complex and grander themes [than the humanities or religion].”

Wilson’s followers call for a consilient college curriculum that introduces students to the Epic as the integrating theme of their entire university experience. A number of universities around the country, including Harvard University and Washington University in St Louis, offer courses on The Epic of Evolution or The Universe Story. These courses introduce students to a grand narrative whose meanings are by definition largely given in advance, whose options for student self-understanding are neatly contained and prescripted.

The new religion of reality may be coming to a classroom or pulpit near you. You will know it by its tagline: “One world calls for one story.”

The Conversation

Lisa Sideris, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director IU Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics, and Society, Indiana University, Bloomington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Is Islam incompatible with modernity?

Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University, Bloomington

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, political leaders have lined up to denounce the acts as inhuman and uncivilized, unworthy of our day and age.

French President Francois Hollande denounced them as “a barbaric act,” while President Obama called them “an attack on the civilized world.”

Unfortunately, the horrific actions of ISIS – done in the name of Islam – often get attributed to Muslims as a whole. There is the underlying assumption that there must be some core aspect of the religion that is at fault, that the religion is incompatible with modernity.

It hasn’t helped that some non-Muslim thinkers have conflated ISIS with mainstream Islam. They’ll often point to ISIS’ desire to return civilization to the seventh century as further proof that Islam – and its followers – are backwards.

Yet many leading Muslim thinkers are going to some of Islam’s earliest texts to actually promote reform. Contained within these texts are ideas many consider progressive: peaceful coexistence, the acceptance of other religions, democratic governance and women’s rights.

Indeed, Islam and modernization need not be at odds with one another. And in the aftermath of tragedy, it’s important to not lose sight of this.

A single model of modernity?

The question is posed, time and again: will Muslims ever be able to reform and modernize and join the 21st century?

Yet the subtext is almost always that the Western paradigm of modernity – the one that developed in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, that firmly embraced secularism and the (sometimes ferocious) marginalization of religion – is the only one worthy of emulation. Muslims, the thinking goes, have no choice but to adopt it themselves.

However some scholars have increasingly challenged the notion of a single model of modernity. According to them, there’s no reason that religion and modernization must inevitably be at odds with one another for all societies and for all time.

In 16th-century Europe, the priesthood had achieved considerable wealth and political power by often allying themselves with local kings and rulers. The Protestant reformers, therefore, regarded the Church as an impediment to political empowerment.

But Muslims, due to their unique religious history, continue to view their religion as an ally in their attempts to come to terms with the changed circumstances of the modern world.

Muslim religious scholars (ulama) never enjoyed the kind of centralized and institutionalized authority that the medieval European church and its elders did. The ulama – from the eighth century’s al-Hasan al-Basri to the 20th century’s Ayatullah Khomeini – traditionally distanced themselves from political rulers, intervening on behalf of the populace to ensure social and political justice.

Such an oppositional role to government prevented the emergence of a general popular animosity directed at them, and by extension, toward Islam.

For this reason, today’s Muslim thinkers feel no imperative to distance themselves from their religious tradition. On the contrary, they are plumbing it to find resources therein to not only adapt to the modern world, but also to shape it.

Islam turned on its head

Yet 21st-century Muslim religious scholars have a challenging task. How can they exhume and popularize principles and practices that allowed Muslims in the past to coexist with others, in peace and on equal terms, regardless of religious affiliation?

Such a project is made more urgent by the fact that extremists in Muslim-majority societies (ISIS leaders currently foremost among them) vociferously reject this as impossible. Islam, they declare, posits the superiority of Muslims over everyone else. Muslims must convert non-Muslims or politically subjugate them.

As a result, many have accused these extremists of trying to return Muslim-majority societies to the seventh century.

If only that were true!

If these extremists could actually be transported miraculously back to the seventh century, they would learn a thing or two about the religion they claim to be their own.

For starters, they would learn to their chagrin that seventh-century Medina accepted Jews as equal members of the community (umma) under the Constitution of Medina drawn up by the prophet Muhammad in 622 CE. They would also learn that seventh-century Muslims took seriously the Qur’anic injunction (2:256) that there is to be no compulsion in religion and that specific Qur’anic verses (2:62 and 5:69) recognize goodness in righteous Christians and Jews.

Most importantly, fire-breathing extremists would learn that peaceful non-Muslim communities cannot be militarily attacked simply because they are not Muslim. They would be reminded that only after 12 years of nonviolent resistance would the Prophet Muhammad and his companions resort to armed combat or the military jihad. And even then it would only be to defend themselves against aggression.

The Qur’an, after all, unambiguously forbids Muslims from initiating combat. Qur’an 2:190 states, “Do not commit aggression,” while Qur’an 60:8 specifically asserts:

God does not forbid you from being kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on you on account of your religion nor driven you from your homes; indeed God loves those who are equitable.

Extremist groups like ISIS are often accused of being scriptural literalists and therefore prone to intolerance and violence. But when it comes to specific Qur’anic verses like 2:256; 60:8 and others, it’s clear that they cherry-pick which passages to “strictly” interpret.

Going to the source

Not surprisingly, Muslim reformers are returning to their earliest religious sources and history – the Qur’an and its commentaries, reliable sayings of Muhammad, early historical chronicles – for valuable guidance during these troubled times.

And much of what we regard as “modern, progressive values” – among them religious tolerance, the empowerment of women, and accountable, consultative modes of governance – can actually be found in this strand of Muslims’ collective history.

Like 16th-century Christian reformers, Muslim reformers are returning to their foundational texts and mining them for certain moral guidelines and ethical prescriptions. For one reason or another – political upheaval, war, ideological movements – many had been cast aside. But today they retain particular relevance.

As a result, the reformers are distinguishing between “normative Islam” and “historical Islam,” as the famous Islam scholar Fazlur Rahman has phrased it.

But unlike the earlier Christian reformers, Muslim reformers are hardly ever left alone to conduct their project of reform. Their efforts are constantly stymied by intrusive outsiders, particularly non-Muslim Western cultural warriors who encroach on the Muslim heartlands – militarily, culturally and, above all, intellectually.

Such a multipronged assault was particularly evident during George W Bush’s presidency, during which the neoconservatives championed a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world, a theory popularized by political scientist Samuel Huntington.

Western Muslim reformers are not immune to this onslaught, either. They are frequently derided by self-styled “expert” outsiders for subscribing to what they characterize as newfangled beliefs like democracy, religious tolerance and women’s rights. According to these “experts,” there is supposedly no grounding or room for these beliefs in their religious texts and tradition.

One wonders how effective Martin Luther would have been in 16th-century Europe if he had to constantly deal with non-Christian “experts” lecturing him about Christianity’s true nature.

Meanwhile, there are a number of pundits who are eager to tie the actions of Islamist terrorists to mainstream religious doctrine.

Journalist Graeme Wood’s alarmist article in The Atlantic is a most recent example of such intrusive punditry.

“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” he wrote. “…the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Caner Dagli, a well-known scholar of Islam, rejected Woods’ argument:

All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us.

Despite such formidable challenges, reformist efforts continue unabated in learned Muslim circles. Sometimes crises and the subsequent marshaling of moral and intellectual resources can bring out the best in an individual and in a community.

The Qur’an (94:6) promises that “Indeed with hardship comes ease.” Committed Muslim reformers who take the Qur’an’s injunctions seriously (unlike the extremists) are working toward the easing of current circumstances of hardship – and calling on others to help, not impede, them in this global human endeavor.

The Conversation

Asma Afsaruddin, Professor of Islamic Studies and former Chairperson, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, Bloomington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Finding happiness without seeking

supreme happiness

supreme happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Ankush Chauhan

Mostly we look for happiness in the outside world. What we do not know is that it lies inside us. In our own mind lies the secret to be happy.

I am a Zen master and I help people find happiness. A happiness which is not the opposite of sadness. Here in this article you will find the secret to my happiness which does not depend on outside situations.

We attach too much importance to the outside world. For an average person, things like a posh house, a well-paying job, a successful business, money, car etc. are the source of their happiness.

If they do not get it, they are unhappy. As simple as that. They have made themselves dependent on those things. In other words, they are attached.

According to Buddha, the reason for all troubles is ‘attachment’. Attachment to things, people, objects etc. bring sadness/unhappiness.

The interesting thing is that we spend almost 99 percent of our lives looking for happiness. And we believe that we are going to get it by chasing money, chasing success etc.

Whatever we do chasing those things, brings a lot of tension and unhappiness in our lives.

The more we exert ourselves seeking those things that we ‘think’ will bring happiness, the more we find ourselves in depression.


Here is the Zen buddhist approach:

Accept everything in your life. A total acceptance of everything: good, bad, ugly, beautiful, pain, pleasure is needed.

As soon as you start accepting everything that comes your way, you will live in the moment.

Living in the moment will bring about real happiness. The reason why it is called ‘PRESENT’ is that this moment you are living now is a Gift from nature/God.

The present moment is a gift. Once you begin cherishing everything in it, you will discover real happiness.

All the energy of the universe is concentrated on THIS moment now. Once you discover the hidden energy by living in the present moment, you will get everything you want.

Then your life be truly happy and blissful.

Fore more on this, read:

Source: Free Articles from


Ankush Chauhan is a Zen master who helps people realize the bliss in this moment! He blogs about his meditative experiences.

Hailing from a middle class family, Ankush now works full time helping people realize the Buddha that they are. The aim of Ankush is to bring more and more people to the world of bliss and joy that is the result of spiritual awakening.

1 Comment

God and the Ancient Egyptians

English: A Grave mask of pharaoh Amenemope of ...

A Grave mask of pharaoh Amenemope of the 21 st Dynasty of Egypt. (Cairo Museum).(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Most knowledgeable people acknowledge that one of the biggie Biblical tales details God’s relationship with Pharaoh and the firstborn in Ancient Egypt. Does this relationship put God in a favorable or an unfavorable light? What follows arises out of a debate I had with an Accidental Metaphysician which I’ve edited for, hopefully, sake of clarity. It should come as little surprise that I argue that God is not shown in a favorable light in this Biblical tall tale. In fact if Egypt were to conduct its version of the Nuremberg Trials, God would now be dead in the dock.

Regarding God & Egypt

Power corrupts; absolute (omnipotent) power corrupts absolutely. Judging from the Old Testament, not even God is immune from being absolutely corrupt when wielding His absolute power! Just ask the Egyptians!

God behaved unjustly with the Egyptians. God only had an issue with one and only one Egyptian – an unnamed Pharaoh.

Okay, God had an issue or a dispute with the Pharaoh and ONLY the Pharaoh. It was the Pharaoh and ONLY the Pharaoh who refused to “let my people go”. So what does the God of justice do, punish the whole lot of the Egyptian people (and the innocent animals) with the icing on the cake being the smiting all the first-born who were 100% innocent of any possible wrongdoing. God had an issue with the Pharaoh and ONLY the Pharaoh; not with the Egyptian populace. So God behaved unjustly with the Egyptians. This is what is known in the trade as logic.

By the by, the unnamed Pharaoh was more likely as not a first-born too, so how come he didn’t get snuffed out?

To repeat the bleeding obvious, God did NOT have an issue with the Egyptian population in general. He didn’t send Moses to talk to the Egyptian people. He was directed to talk to this mysterious unnamed Pharaoh.

Now, regarding God versus Pharaoh and the first born: If you have a beef with me you don’t go around punching out the lights of my friends, neighbors, work colleagues, etc. You go toe-to-toe with me and only with me. The same principle applies with God’s beef with Pharaoh. God doesn’t go punching out of the lights of the first born.

Now let’s revisit the issue of God killing the Egyptian first-born as related in Exodus. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God had an up close and personal beef with the local Egyptians who happened to have been first-born through no fault of course of their own. You’re totally innocent of where you happen to be born in your family’s hierarchy. So God’s killing the first-born was just an easy means to an end, or, as well all know, the ends justify the means. Wasn’t that the reasoning behind Germany in World War Two? Germany had a “problem” and so Germany invoked a “solution” – an extermination policy of the innocent.

English: Depiction of Joseph reading to the Ph...

Depiction of Joseph reading to the Pharaoh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about the Livestock?

And God certainly didn’t have any issue with the animals who equally got shafted! It was also the first-born of all of the Egyptian livestock that was done away with by God. Why? What’s the point? What was God’s ‘beef’ with the livestock? It makes God a laughing ‘stock’ IMHO. I’m laughing at God. Actually animal cruelty is no laughing matter and God should be absolutely ashamed of Himself. What an idiot! It’s all nonsense if you’re not one of the true believers.

God the Omniscient?

That little incident also puts the BIG LIE to God’s all-knowing abilities since He had to have His people (the Hebrew people) mark their homes with blood so God would pass over them when He did His smiting. An all-knowing God would know which house housed who. So God’s omniscient abilities are nonsense in that a really all-knowing deity would know who was and who wasn’t devout and obedient without the need for blood markings. It’s all such a load of rubbish.

Speaking of being all-knowing, If God is all-knowing, then God knows in advance when and where the next major and deadly earthquake, tsunami, bushfire, hurricane, etc. is going to be. God however will give no warning to the innocent nor interfere with the event happening. So, any claim about God’s mercy or morality is a load of pure bovine fertilizer.

God the Omnipotent?

Besides, if God is so all-omnipotent, He could have just floated up His Chosen People* and wafted them gently across the wilderness to the Promised Land. Nobody need have suffered, no blood need have been shed, and no one need gotten snuffed out. But we know how much God loves to cause suffering and death and destruction since He’s done an awful lot of it.

God the Omniscient and the Omnipotent

A truly all-knowing and all-powerful God wouldn’t kill the innocent. Being all-knowing, He’d know who was naughty and who was nice way before-the-fact. Being all-powerful, He could, should and would (?) act accordingly. This is also what is known in the trade as logic! Alas, He didn’t! My conclusion is that God is not omniscient nor omnipotent, or else God just doesn’t plain give a stuff.

Defending the Indefensible

But of course those true believers, like the Accidental Metaphysician; those who advocate that God can do no wrong, gross over this entire episode. IMHO they are trying to defend the indefensible. God killed people without any justification and the case of the first-born isn’t the first cab off the rank. Not all of the flood victims were wicked. Ditto Sodom & Gomorrah. Even if some of the first-born, or those drowned in the flood or who were present when Sodom and Gomorrah got nuked were wicked, God still committed at best mass murder, at worst genocide. God’s punishment did NOT fit the crime. God Himself has committed crimes against humanity. God can no more morally kill His creations than human parents can morally kill their creations (i.e. – children). God is Evil with a capital “E”. But we don’t want actual morality to get in the way of good Biblical tall tales now, do we?

Painter of the burial chamber of Sennedjem

Painter of the burial chamber of Sennedjem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Observations on Historical Reality

But in reality the above story is nonsense because there is not one single shred of independent historical or archaeological evidence that the events in Exodus ever happened, especially the events in Egypt. It’s a nice story, but it is absolute make-believe.

The proof of that pudding: isn’t just amazing though that there are no Ancient Egyptian records that any of this ever happened. There’s no records of any person called Moses. There’s no record of any Hebrew slaves.

Why wasn’t the Pharaoh (of the Exodus) named? If you are writing an historical novel, you don’t name actual living persons AND have them do things they didn’t do. That’s a good way to get into trouble. You either invent a fictitious name (King Jones; Pharaoh Jones; President Jones) or not name them at all. The very fact that the Pharaoh’s name goes unrecorded is in itself a pretty good indication that this is all pure fiction, but leaving that aside.

Assuming the Exodus was true as described, from just one ancient historical document other than the Bible an associated texts, can true believers show that Moses was a real historical figure. I’m betting they can’t do it.

As to the notion of wandering around the wilderness for 40 years, well that’s a joke. I mean if you walk one mile a day, heading in a constant direction (say the rising Sun), you’ll exit any wilderness region anywhere in the world in way, way less than 40 years.

However, assuming the Exodus was true as described, the Maximally Greatest Being (i.e. – God) so beloved by the Accidental Metaphysician should be crawling on His hands and knees into Cairo to beg the Egyptian populace for their forgiveness for the crimes against humanity that God committed. His Maximally Greatest Being is maximally great all-right, great at being the greatest mass murderer that’s ever been recorded in human history. He makes Hitler look saintly in comparison. I’m sure true believers don’t worship Hitler, so why they give a stuff about their SOB of a Maximally Greatest Being is quite beyond me.


Now either this Biblical tale is tall, in which case no one should believe a word of it, or else it is a true historical story in which case no one should worship this ancient day version of Hitler and Stalin (and dozens of equivalents) all rolled into one nasty and unsavory ball of wax.

No matter how you slice and dice things, if God exists as described in the Old Testament then God has adopted a double standard when it comes to murder (He can; we can’t) and I personally cannot abide entities that have a philosophy that is central to their worldview along the lines of “do as I say, not as I do”. In any event, since we’re all God’s ‘children’, God should set a good example for us just like we expect parents to set a good example for their brats, oops, sorry, their ‘little darlings’. Further, since it is morally wrong to murder your children after they get dumped or thrust unceremoniously into this great wide world, by analogy it should be morally wrong for God to murder His ‘children’. And isn’t one of the main selling points for religion receiving moral instruction?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, with ‘friends’ like God, who needs enemies!

*That’s another strike against the concept of a Maximally Greatest Being. He discriminates. He is just the “God of Israel”. Others can go take a long walk off of a short pier for all God cares. God is NOT a god for all of humanity otherwise we’d all be His Chosen People.

About the Author

John Prytz – Science librarian; retired. 


Closer To Reality – The “Inspired” Bible

Adam and Eve. Illustration from the first Russ...

Adam and Eve. Illustration from the first Russian engraved Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many knowledgeable people, those true believers, acknowledge that theoretically, on paper at least, the concept that the authorized Bible being the inspired word of God Almighty has merit, even if God Almighty Himself is difficult to pin down. Some Doubting Thomas’s however say that this concept is pure bovine fertilizer for a whole host of reasons, not least of which are that the Bible is full of logical contradictions. What follows arises out of a debate I had with an Accidental Metaphysician and true believer which I’ve edited for, hopefully, sake of clarity.

 The “Inspired” Bible 1

If the Bible is the absolutely inspired word of God, then God did an absolutely lousy job of proofreading His Magnum Opus. The Bible (and related discards) reads like it was cobbled together by dozens of humans over a lengthy period of time, with lots of copying and plagiarism and alterations and interpretations afoot, with no particular obvious rhyme or reason why some bits and pieces of text were given the stamp of approval (the authorized Bible) and some bits and pieces were excluded. The Bible reads like the first draft of an early attempt at an anthology of interconnected science fantasy stories (complete with unicorns) that doesn’t quite hang together as a cohesive whole. For example, you get at least three different figures on exactly how many of God’s ‘chosen people’ were forced or sent into exile into Babylon.

The “Inspired” Bible 2

Writers and producers of science fiction, science fantasy and dark fantasy (horror) go to all sorts of weird and wonderful lengths to draw the reader (or the viewer) into their worldview. So too I suspect with the numerous human authors of the Bible. I mean Jonah and the ‘whale’ is marvelous dramatic plotting and a sort of “Jaws” story; we all love a good disaster film or story and thus the Noah’s Ark tale or the nuking of Sodom and Gomorrah fits that bill; ditto stories about the underdog coming out on top and the Biblical “High Noon” is your David versus Goliath fable. We also like war stories and so we have an obligatory Battle of Jericho. Another favorite is survival against all the odds and so we have the great unwashed facing off against the wilderness for 40 years. Now take the tale of Jesus missing from his tomb. That too is a marvelous supernatural plotting as were the sightings of his ‘ghost’. I mean just relating a revelation of finding a stone cold rotting corpse isn’t anywhere near as interesting.

English: By Rembrandt.

Rembrandt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible 3

Why is it logical – logic being one of the favorite themes of true believers – to accept holus bolus the bona-fides of an alleged non-fiction text (the Bible) wherein the major players and major events cannot be independently verified? For example, there’s not one single shred of independent evidence that anything that’s related in Exodus ever happened, which is a super anomaly since there should be loads and loads of it. So, it’s not overly logical to accept the events in Exodus at face value, without question, holus bolus. Speaking of logic, logic suggests that Eve must have been a man since ‘she’ derived 100% of ‘her’ genetic material from Adam. In a similar fashion, Jesus must have been a woman since ‘he’ got ‘his’ genetic material from a woman. Logic also suggests that Jonah’s adventure would have been better placed as one of Grimm’s fairy tales! I mean you can’t seriously believe Jonah’s whale-of-a-tale actually happened, not and maintain your logical dignity. Now, in conclusion, can you really name me one Biblical tall tale that features at least of the major players in the Biblical drama, that has been independently verified by Mid and Near East historical scholars and/or professional archaeologists to which there is no room or reason for debate in much the same way as there is no wriggle room about Antony and Cleopatra or the exploits of Alexander-the-Great?

The “Inspired” Bible 4

Most events and most people leave relatively little or no trace at all. But here we’re talking here about the major players and major events in the most influential ‘non-fiction’ book of all time. Biblical events aren’t just any old events. Biblical characters aren’t just any old characters. The Bible raises the bar of expectations. Billions of people past and present believe that the Bible is actual history with actual characters. They deserve to have some actual evidence. If these Biblical characters actually existed, their remains, their grave-sites, would be actual evidence. Alas, such evidence, even dry and dusty bones, are all conspicuous by their absence.

As to those grave-sites, we are talking about the major players in the most famous and best read and best-selling ‘non-fiction’ book of all time and yet no one can tell me where even one of them (like Methuselah) has been laid to rest! Of course I shouldn’t pick on true believers since neither they nor anybody else can tell me either.

However, regarding the final resting place of Moses, look up Deuteronomy 34:6. You get some hardcore geography. Having done that, and having consulted a map, how about making like Indiana Jones, find the site, dig him up, and prove to the world once and for all that Moses wasn’t just a figment of Biblical mythology.

English: Bible of Lilienfeld

Bible of Lilienfeld (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible 5

Regarding the Biblical Ages of Man:

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten” – Psalm 90:10.

“His days shall be an hundred and twenty years” – Genesis 6:3.


The “Inspired” Bible 6

Believers can quote the Bible as much as they like but for whatever statements quoted like the alleged resurrection of Jesus*, I’d like some 100% independent verification – some other source(s) material. As that Gershwin song suggested, just because the Bible says so doesn’t mean its historical fact. Where is the independent evidence for the existence of Jesus? Where is the independent (Egyptian or archaeological) evidence that the Exodus ever happened? Can you show me the grave-sites of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jonah, Joshua, Solomon, David, Ezekiel, Daniel, Goliath, Methuselah, Joseph and Mary, or for that matter any other character in the Bible? Has the grave-site of Jesus himself been identified and independently verified by ancient historians and archaeologists? True, some historical Biblical figures existed, but that’s to be expected since the Bible was written by the locals who would obviously incorporate local flavor into their tall tales. However, and for similar reasons, you’ll get real historical figures mentioned in historical novels like “Gone with the Wind”. That doesn’t make GWTW an historical and believable document.

*Oh, by the way, there is no absolute historical fact about the resurrection since not all scholars or historians agree that there ever was such a person who existed to in fact be resurrected.

English: Bible, Ilov, 1619, artist Ghazar Babe...

Bible, Ilov, 1619, artist Ghazar Baberdts’i, Genesis: Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark (Erevan, Matenadaran, MS 351) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible 7

It is not surprising that some of the minor players in the Bible actually existed. I call the Bible “Historical Fiction” not just “Fiction”. After all, the Bible was penned by the locals who lived in the area and would have been aware of the reality of various figures who were incorporated into their tall tales. It’s exactly the same as you’ll find real historical characters in “Gone with the Wind” or in the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance”. However, those novels are not exactly the sources one would go to for an overall historical account of the American Civil War or the lead-up to and history of World War II.

Anyway, I’m pleased for true believers that think the Bible is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. On the other hand, knowing that they tend to be on a quest to be closer to the theological truth, they might like to also consider reading “The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible” (1991) by classical historian Robin Lane Fox and/or “Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction” (2009) by classical scholar and anthropologist Eric H. Cline.

IMHO it’s all just myths and fairy tales for grown-ups. True believers know, and I know, that had they been born in a different time into a different culture, say Ancient Egypt, they’d be spouting with total conviction about the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the reality of Isis, Horus and Osiris.

The “Inspired” Bible 8

True believers say there are lots of independent (i.e. – archaeological?) verifications for alleged Biblical truths. There is historical integrity within the Bible that has been confirmed or documented, or so they would allege. I wish they would just name one such verification involving a major Biblical character and a major supernaturally-themed Biblical event like Jonah and the ‘whale’ and I’ll be happy to dance around that circle with them. I refer again to those books by Robin Lane Fox and Eric H. Cline.

Česky: Stvoření Evy z Bible Václava IV.

Česky: Stvoření Evy z Bible Václava IV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible: Cain’s Wife 1

One Biblical anomaly is where did Cain get his wife from? The standard answer is that Adam had “other sons and daughters” quite apart from Cain, Abel and Seth. There may have been inbreeding and incest, but when you gotta breed you gotta breed. Still, I’m not convinced.

“Cain knew his wife” – Genesis 4:17 – which precedes…

“Adam having other sons and daughters” – Genesis 5:4.

We note that Adam begat Seth at the age of 130 – Genesis 5:3 – and post Seth he lived another 800 years (dying at 930 years) and had other sons and daughters – Genesis 5:4. So all those unnamed sons and daughters were post-Seth and Seth was way post-Cain.

So again, where did Cain get his wife from?

The “Inspired” Bible: Cain’s Wife 2

Regarding Cain’s wife, as just one example, when it comes to the Bible, the left hand (Genesis 4:17) most certainly did not know what the right hand (Genesis 5:4) was doing. In general, readers of Biblical events just get multi-variations on multi-theological themes. So when it come to the Bible you can just about ‘prove’ or theologically back up or even ‘disprove’ any claim you wish to make or refute. But since you’re pontificating over an overall work of historical fiction, I’m not always sure what the overriding point is in doing so. In any event, I’m not convinced until those true believers dish up some sort of independent historical or archaeological evidence that the Bible is historical fact and not historical fiction. The burden of proof is always on those who say something is so, yet proof of major Biblical events by the major Biblical players is always conspicuous by its absence.

The “Inspired” Bible: Cain’s Wife 3

Unless true believers can provide me with some independent verification that Cain even existed, far less where his wife came from, I’ll just reword my previous comments and say it’s all mythological poppycock. It has as much reality as that of Athena being hatched fully grown from the head of Zeus, or Helen of Troy being the offspring of Zeus mating with a mortal woman by first turning himself into a swan and hence Helen being hatched from out of the resulting egg. The Ancient Greek myths zoomed in and out too but that don’t make them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You’re happy with blind faith. I want evidence, something you are unable to supply. Now, where is Cain (and his wife) buried? Surely if they existed their dry and dusty bones must be somewhere. Where?

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a paint...

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a painting by John Martin (painter), died 1854, thus 100 years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible: Job

Okay, here’s a little problem. I don’t believe Job actually existed! How do true believers like the Accidental metaphysician actually know Job existed? How do they know that all of the events as related in Job actually happened? They weren’t there. They can’t verify one single word of Job – the person or the Book. They are relying on a person or persons who they know absolutely nothing about relating the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Perhaps these authors of questionable bona-fides just made all of this up in order to present an interesting story. Has any independent Biblical historian verified all of this? Is there any archaeological conformation of any of this rather tall tale? Can anyone point out the actual location of the final resting place of this alleged Biblical character?

The Accidental Metaphysician quotes Job several times. How does he know for absolute certain that these Biblical quotes attributed to Job are accurate? How does he know the English translation is accurate? Who was the Johnny-on-the-spot writing this down many thousands of years ago? Does anyone know who he (she) was? Was this a case of someone who told someone who told someone who told someone?

According to the “HarperCollins Bible Dictionary” (Paul J. Achtemeier, General Editor), the entry for “Job, the Book of” states “Date, place, and identity of authorship are debated.” That does auger well for the accuracy of the Biblical text.

In conclusion, how does anyone know for absolute certain that this Biblical event actually happened in the way and manner described? I say it’s all a work of pure fiction even though I can no more prove that than true believers can prove the contrary. It’s all about faith, not about evidence. It’s not logical to trump faith over actual hardcore evidence. My hardcore evidence backing my point of view is that there is no hardcore evidence!

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Inspired” Bible: Moses

There’s no independent evidence that Moses ever existed, so there’s no independent evidence that Moses wrote anything. In any event, can true believers tell me where Moses was laid to rest, being such a major player in Biblical terms and all? So here’s Moses, leader of a rag-tag band of 200,000 souls wandering throughout the wilderness – the great unwashed of the times – who stayed with them and guided them through thick-and-thin for 40 years. When Moses dies, just before his motley crowd were to leave the wilderness and enter the Promised Land, did they just threw his body into some shallow and unmarked pit or maybe left his bodily corpse to the local buzzards? [Many of us like to put out food for the wild birds but that’s ridiculous.] That’s not a heck of a lot of gratitude the multitudes showed their fearless leader, old man Moses, did they now?

Actually as noted above, we know from Deuteronomy 34:6 the rough geographical location where Moses was laid to rest. It’s just a matter of some wannabe Indiana Jones finding the site and digging Moses up and thus proving once and for all that Moses actually existed.

Still, I find it amazing that my Accidental Metaphysician spends hours and hours debating historical events, like Cain’s wife and Job and Moses that more likely as not have no actual verified historical reality. He keeps going on and on and on about these Biblical events as if they were carved in stone and available as independent evidence for all to see. They’re not. As an accurate historical text, the Bible has just as much credibility as “Gone with the Wind”, “The Caine Mutiny”, “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” or “The Last of the Mohicans”. He is however presenting all of this Biblical stuff as though it was all verified historical fact, and that’s not the case, so IMHO he is being more than just slightly dishonest with his reading audience!

About the Author

John Prytz Science librarian; retired. 

Leave a comment

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum to display Lord Vishnu on silk

Special to

Victoria and Albert Museum (V&AM) in London, which claims to be “world’s greatest museum of art and design”, will be showcasing Lord Vishnu avatars on silk in its Fabric of India exhibition from October three to January 10.

Dated around 1570, this display will include a Hindu narrative cloth in silk lampas weave, depicting avatars of Lord Vishnu. It will be “the first exhibition to fully explore the incomparably rich world of handmade textiles from India”, presenting about 200 objects made by hand, including sacred temple hangings and some expressing religious devotion and examining how fabrics were used in spiritual life. “Sacred fabrics created for temples and shrines would employ the best of available materials and highest levels of craftsmanship,” Museum release says.

Commending V&AM for plans to exhibit Lord Vishnu, Rajan Zed said that art had a long and rich tradition in Hinduism and ancient Sanskrit literature talked about religious paintings of deities on wood or cloth.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged major art museums of the world, including Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay of Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Los Angeles Getty Center, Uffizi Gallery of Florence (Italy), Tate Modern of London, Prado Museum of Madrid, National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, etc., to frequently organize Hindu art focused exhibitions, thus sharing the rich Hindu art heritage with the rest of the world.

Some fragments of Indian fabric dating back as far as the 3rd century will be on display in this exhibition curated by Rosemary Crill and Divia Patel and designed by Gitta Geschwendtner, which will form part of V&AM’s India Festival.

Martin Roth and Paul Ruddock are Director and Board of Trustees Chairman respectively of V&AM, which claims to have “unrivalled collections of contemporary and historic art and design.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 867 other followers