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Changing perceptions of female beauty


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Henry Ford believed in reincarnation

Henry Ford in 1919 via Wikipedia

I don’t really believe in reincarnation, myself. The theory seems too simplistic and limiting. Also, whenever I consider it, my consciousness tends to drop a few levels to something other than the Christian spirituality that I prefer.

But I was bored tonight with my usual pursuits so browsed through my library. I came across a book,  Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology (1961) and found the passage by Henry Ford, tweeted below.

The last two paragraphs at 67 Not Out appear in reverse order in the book. I don’t know who made the mistake, the blogger or the book publisher. But other than that, everything else checks out. So this tweet isn’t some silly internet hoax. Ford really did give the interview mentioned.

There’s also another Ford interview reproduced in the book. This isn’t included in the tweet but both are in the book:

Henry Ford in Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology, The Julian Press New York, 1961, p. 270.

Henry Ford cited in Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology, The Julian Press: New York, 1961, p. 270 (Click image for larger size).

A bit of a wonky scan, I know. I did it with the hand scanner I blogged about yesterday. It’s hard to hold the book and the iPad at the same time. But I chose this version because scanning it with my real scanner would have meant bending back the cover of an old book. I tried it and bad noises started coming from the spine, so I stopped and settled with this scan.

MC


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An “unbiased” view of Islam?

My feeling is that the author of this worthy article means well but makes the same kind of philosophical mistake that so many do when promoting a particular agenda, religious belief or greater cultural awareness. Avoiding bias and attaining objectivity probably isn’t possible. Maybe we can achieve degrees of objectivity, but unless we have a pipeline to God, I doubt anyone can claim pure objectivity. That’s why we need to talk, bounce perspectives off one another, and come to working solutions.


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Jesus… myth, fact or a bit of both?


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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.


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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.


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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)

By

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.

Conclusion

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. 

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