BBC News – How religions change their mind
How do doctrinal shifts occur in various world religions?
(tags: religion christianity mormonism islam change doctrine judaism)
I Went Down to St. James Infirmary
An entire blog full of different versions of the song. Super.
(tags: music jazz blues)
The Ethics of Extreme Porn: Is Some Sex Wrong Even Among Consenting Adults? – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic
Does consent make everything OK? An article summarising responses to another article about a Kink.com shoot. (In the comments, I somehow end up arguing with someone about whether St Paul thought Jesus would be back within his lifetime).
(tags: kink bdsm sex consent porn ethics)
Against the seriousness of theology : Gene Expression
"Theology and texts have far less power over shaping a religion’s lived experience than intellectuals would like to credit. This is a difficult issue to approach, because even believers who are vague on peculiarities of the details of theology (i.e., nearly all of them!) nevertheless espouse that theology as true. Very few Christians that I have spoken to actually understand the substance of the elements of the Athanasian Creed, though they accept it on faith. Similarly, very few Sunni Muslims could explain with any level of coherency why al-Ghazali‘s refutation of the Hellenistic tendency within early Islam shaped their own theology (if they are Sunni it by definition does!). Conversely, very few Shia could explain why their own tradition retains within its intellectual toolkit the esoteric Hellenistic philosophy which the Sunni have rejected. That’s because almost no believers actually make recourse to their own religion’s intellectual toolkit."
(tags: religion theology culture)

If every hardware engineer just understood that…

Bunch of low level software people whinge at the hardware designers. A bit Windows-specific, but there are some generally applicable things in there (write-only registers, oh my).
(tags: programming embedded drivers windows hardware interrupt)

Ruth Gledhill – Times Online – WBLG: Gays could soon ‘marry’ in churches, synagogues

Civil partnerships are like civil weddings: you can't have anything religious in the ceremony. A group of theists is now asking for that restriction to be lifted so they can perform partnership ceremonies in their churches and synagogues. Seems reasonable to me: we wouldn't want to place restrictions on religious freedom, would we? Oddly, the same Anglican bishops who recently defeated an amendment to the Equality Bill providing greater gay rights (previously) also seem to want to prevent other churches from doing what they want.
(tags: homosexuality religion christianity judaism bigot civil-partnership anglican anglicanism politics)

The Richard Dawkins Foundation net forum (RDF) self-destructs — yet another big atheist board immolates itself

The Dawkins site maintainer decided to re-do their forums. The existing (volunteer) moderators were annoyed that all old comments would be lost and that their positions as mods been done away with without a word of thanks. Maintainer responded to criticism (and to attempts to organise a move to another site) by wielding the banhammer all over the place. Dawkins responds with a post exhibiting no clue about the politics of web forums and what the existing forum users were upset about. Therefore God exists.

This will, I suspect, run and run: the Graun and the Times have already picked up on it with some glee.

Remember: if you post something you think is worthwhile to a forum, keep your own copy.
(tags: lolatheists dawkins richard-dawkins internet drama atheism forum)

Sceptics Beware: The Dangers of Debunking

When debunking popular but false information, it's better not to present the false information over again, as you just re-enforce the availability bias of the false information.
(tags: rationality cognitive-bias debunking availability)

Open Mic: What Have We Wrought? | internetmonk.com

iMonk links to a short video of Os Guinness on the Biologos site (can anything good come from there?) Guinness says, “In many ways, the new atheists are partly created by the Religious Right. You can see that in America there is no vehement repudiation of religion until recently. In Europe, the atheism is a reaction to corrupt state churches. Here, you’ve never had that until the rise of the Religious Right.” Part of the reaction against religion, he argues, stems from the poor ways people of faith think about science.

The commenters almost immediately tell us that it's not that atheists are annoyed about the corruption of science, it's that we're in league with Satan (though other, more, sensible Christians also disagree with them). I've commented and linked to Suber's logical rudeness paper.
(tags: religion atheism new-atheism christianity science culture culture-war)

What Is Evil For The Darwinist, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan posts some well-reasoned letters from readers on the question of what a non-theist would call "evil" (presumably responses to the old "how can you say God is evil when you don't have a basis for morality?" question). Bizarrely, he then describes them as showing "contempt" for religion. There's no pleasing some people. The letters are good, anyway.

seek and ye shall find…. but what?

“If you REALLY had been a Christian you would have never de-converted.” vs the observation that many de-converts are former Christian ministers.
(tags: de-conversion religion christianity)

Buddhism and the God-idea

Interesting. I liked: "Whether we call those superior beings gods, deities, devas or angels is of little importance, since it is improbable that they call themselves by any of those names."
(tags: buddhism god religion)

Why it’s so hard to quantify false rape charges. – By Emily Bazelon and Rachael Larimore – Slate Magazine

False accusations probably account for 8 to 10% of all accusations, though the research isn't conclusive, and it's not clear how this compares to false reporting of other crimes. Interesting story about the falsely accused man who found support from his girlfriend who had been raped some time ago: emotions were similar on both sides.
(tags: feminism research rape crime)

Justice with Michael Sandel – Home

Harvard has put Michael Sandel's justly popular "Justice" course on the web. Well worth watching.
(tags: education philosophy morality ethics video community politics harvard justice)

Messy Revelation: Why Paul would have flunked hermaneutics

Susan Wise Bauer in Christianity Today, writing about Peter Enns, who noticed that the NT authors don't interpret the OT the way evangelicals would. I liked this bit: "This is the exactly the kind of exegesis that terrifies most evangelicals. The man who admits that meanings can be "read into" Scripture stands on the fabled slippery slope, right above a sheer drop-off, while below him churns a sea of relativism, upon which floats only a single overloaded lifeboat, captained by a radical feminist gay & lesbian & transgender activist who is very anxious to make the final decision about who gets pitched overboard."
(tags: bible hermaneutics peter-enns christianity religion paul old-testament)

What’s so great about being an ex-Christian? Intellectual integrity.

This sounds familiar.
(tags: ex-christian de-conversion atheism christianity religion)

Omnipresent G-d (LORD_YHWH) on Twitter

God's on Twitter, with some new commandments. I don't know why these atheists complain about divine hiddeness. "My word is a knife made white by heat, such as that which one uses to cut pastrami." – wisdom for us all there.
(tags: god yhwh religion funny satire christianity judaism twitter)

Science, Pseudoscience and Bollocks

An interesting essay which talks about the demarcation problem in science and argues that we should be against creation science because it's wrong, not try to argue about what science is. I'm shocked he referred to a Christian belief as "bollocks". I got told off for that once.
(tags: bollocks science pseudoscience epistemology empiricism logical-positivism karl-popper popper creationism dover)

Thunderbirds will grow a generation of mad engineers

FAB, Mr Ellis.
(tags: warren-ellis thunderbirds tv)

On The Possible God Of Philosophy And Cosmology Vs. The Personal, Historical God Of Faith

Camels With Hammers links to Dennett's remarks on hearing William Lane Craig's cosmological argument, and then talks about the gap between the source of the universe (which we should properly be agnostic about) and the gods of major religions.
(tags: daniel-dennett dennett william-lane-craig craig cosmology kalam philosophy physics)

Rock-Bottom Loser Entertaining Offers From Several Religions | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Cruel but funny
(tags: onion religion funny satire humour)

“A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations

Greta Christina talks about "other ways of knowing" and their uses, as applied to the theism/atheism debate.
(tags: religion epistemology science atheism greta-christina empiricism)

Understanding Sarah Palin: Or, God Is In The Wattles

Peter Watts gives his grand theory for why religion hasn't died out. It's all about preventing free-loading once societies get above a certain size.
(tags: peter-watts religion evolution sarah-palin politics psychology signalling)

Whence Rationality?

Some responses to the evolutionary argument against naturalism. The point that evolution is unlikely to come up with the sort of elaborate errors Plantinga mentions is new to me.

In other news:

My wife has been blogging about ancient literature. She’s started with The Epic of Gilgamesh and moved on to the Old Testament, starting with the similarities between the Flood and creation stories in Genesis and Gilgamesh. More will be appearing on scribb1e‘s journal in future.

As part of some sort of cultural exchange programme, I’ve been reading Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, a telling of the Buddha’s life using excerpts from the Pali canon. It’s interesting, although very strange in places, mostly because of the cosmology of the time. I think it could do with a glossary explaining some of the Pali words which Nanamoli chose not to translate. I’d not realised the Buddha had superpowers (he regularly reads minds, and occasionally does cool stuff like preventing a robber from catching him even though the robber’s running as fast as he can), or that lots of supernatural beings were present at his birth. I’ll probably write more about it when I’ve finished it.

Karen Armstrong’s book is a potted history of the Bible and its interpretation, starting around the time of the Babylonian exile and continuing up to the present day. Armstrong’s writing is succinct: the book is short (229 pages in the main text of my copy) and easy to read.

Armstrong sees both the Christian Gospel writers and the Judaism of the first and second centuries CE as profoundly influenced by the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Their conflicting ideas on the future of Judaism can be seen in the attitude of the Gospel writers to the Pharisees as it became clear that the future of Judaism did not lie in a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but in a revitalised Judaism which the party of the Pharisees would lead.

The parts of the book which deal with interpretation were most interesting to me. Armstrong interweaves chapters on Christian and Jewish interpretation. Later texts start out as reactions to earlier texts, drawing on them to find something useful in the writers’ times. The later texts may eventually come to be seen as scriptures themselves. Armstrong applies this idea to the Christian New Testament and to the Jewish Mishnah, as well as to modern commentaries like the Scofield Reference Bible, the source of much of fundamentalist Christian theology on the End Times.

Armstrong discussion how later commentators draw out meanings which they believe are hidden within the text, a process which she describes as pesher, referring to the commentaries produced by the Essenes. The methods of interpretation are often quite strange to modern readers, but reflect the belief that scripture was infinite, containing a variety of meanings. Sometimes passages are re-interpreted in the light of the Golden Rule, as in the case of Rabbinic punning on scripture to show God’s compassion, or Augustine’s statement:

“Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbour does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived.”

Some Christians, such as Origen, viewed the Old Testament as a commentary on the New, rather than vice versa, and produced detailed allegorical interpretations of OT events, which were taken to refer to Christ or the church (a tradition they could claim was started by the apostle Paul, in letters like Galatians).

The book contains some uncomfortable facts for someone in the modern evangelical wing of Christianity (as I once was). If evangelicals insist their approach is the only correct one, they must conclude that the church has been doing it wrong for most of its history. Worse yet, for evangelicals who claim to use only scripture to interpret scripture, is realisation that the New Testament writers would be seen as terrible exegetes by modern evangelical standards.

As I said, these are not comforting thoughts for evangelicals. While I was writing this, I found an interesting review of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. Enns has written a book which, if the review is anything to go by, talks about these exegetical problems and tries to address them, still remaining within a reformed Christian theology. Enns does this by drawing an analogy between the humanity of Jesus and that of the Bible. For this, he is well on the way to being drummed out of the seminary where he holds a professorship.

Back to Armstrong. As her story moves closer to the present day, she writes about modern scriptural interpretation with dissatisfaction, albeit tempered with some sympathy for fundamentalists who feel threatened by, well, practically everything that’s happened since about 1800. In the book’s epilogue, she calls for a return to Augustine’s principle of charity as the means of interpretation, arguing that “hurling texts around polemically is a sterile pursuit”, and that rather, the entire Bible should be interpreted as a commentary on the Golden Rule. She rejects criticism of the Bible by “secular fundamentalists”, presumably in the knowledge that in the past both Christians and Jews have seen the violent or otherwise “difficult” passages as an invitation to look deeper rather than as an invitation to imitate God or Israel’s bad behaviour.

I’m a little sceptical, because I think the horse has bolted, at least as far as Christianity is concerned (I’d be interested to hear what Jewish people think). Since Luther, the authority of the church to interpret the Bible has diminished. Everyone is their own pope, vigorously defending their interpretation and eager to anathematise the people closest to them (as Enns’s case illustrates), even more so as believers feel threatened by modern developments and batten down the hatches. I’d like it if Armstrong’s vision became reality, but I’m not sure how she intends to bring it about. More people reading her book might help. I recommend it.