Archive for December 2009

Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

December 31, 2009

The parable of the blind men and the elephant is often used by the religious (or general mongers of woo) to argue for the validity of their beliefs. The parable is meant to show that no body knows the whole truth, therefore (apparently) no one can ever say that the teller of the parable is wrong. The problem with the parable though, is that it is only half of the story. The blind men are confused by the elephant only because all of them have different results. But, once they follow the scientific method and verify each others results, compare them, and build a model, I have a feeling they would eventually come up with a pretty good description of an elephant.


There were three blind men that came across an elephant. They were all unfamiliar with elephants and had no idea what this creature looked like. Lining up against the elephant, they all began to feel with their hands:

Blind Man 1: (feeling it’s tail) Well, it seems to be some sort of brush.
Blind Man 2: (feeling it’s abdomen) I’m getting much different results. To me it feels like a huge wall. One, are you sure it’s a brush?
Blind Man 1: That’s what my results show.
Blind Man 2: Ok, do you mind if I verify it?
Blind Man 1: Of course, we need to be sure (the men trade places and recheck each others work). Yes, the results do seem to be the same when I run the test as well. Would you like to verify my results?
Blind Man 2: Let’s see what Three is up to. Three, what results have you got?
Blind Man 3: (feeling it’s trunk) it’s a great rope.
Blind Man 1: Are you sure?
Blind Man 3: Oh,yeah, I’ve picked up on it’s mystical energies
Blind Man 1: Well, we’ve been verifying each others results. Let’s come over there and double check yours.
Blind Man 3: No! I don’t need anyone to check my results. I have “Another Way of knowing”
Blind Man 1&2: Get out of the way, please
Blind Man 3: In order to say you know it’s an elephant, you have to think you know everything!
Blind Man 1&2: Shut up.

Top Ten Creationist Arguments

December 31, 2009

Protect Christmas Bill?

December 30, 2009

A new bill to protect the traditions of Christmas has been introduced by Representative Henry Brown ( R-SC) into the US Congress on 12.8.09

H.Res.951 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.

Protect Christmas? Mmmm, yes, I see. The world has suddenly been transformed into a Rankin and Bass claymation holiday special. The evil Heat Miser will soon come into town to melt all the holiday snow …. oops, I mean Christmas snow.

I get a feeling this bill could easily be crossing more than a few church/state separation lines.

Text of Bill

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
    (1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;
    (2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and
    (3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

Definitely an odd bill written by some one with a pretty tenuous grasp of the first amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Meaning, taking a neutral stance. Pretty simple, neither helping nor hindering. This bill would be helping and would thereby not be neutral.

Not to mention, most of the atrocious offenses against Christmas, at least the ones that I’ve seen causing boycotts by religious groups, are just businesses that decide to express inclusive messages during the holidays. Not really a lot a government bill can do about that without micro-managing private industry.

Silly, silly stuff.

2 Kings 2:23-24, For Real

December 28, 2009

Too funny not to post (2 Kings 2:23-24)

God of the Week: Osiris

December 28, 2009

God of the Week 12/28/09: Osiris

Osiris was an ancient Egyptian god, principally of the afterlife, as well as grain and fertility. He was the son of the god Geb and the goddess Nut. He was the brother/husband of Isis (times were different, apparently). Inscriptions to Osiris have been found on the Palermo Stone, which has been dated to 2,500 BCE, and the religion appears to have been practiced until the 6th Century CE.

Osiris was originally the local god of the city of Ded(u) (also called Dedet) in the Delta, which the Greeks termed Busiris, i. e. “Home of Osiris,” and where a strangely shaped pillar with circular projections separating bands of various colours was his symbol,^ At a rather early date he became a cosmic deity, and after oscillating between symbolizing either the sun or the sky, he finally developed into the god of changing nature in the widest sense. Thus he could become the divinity of the most important change, I. e. death, and could be evolved into the patron of the souls of the departed and king of the lower world, being at the same time the lord of resurrection and of new and eternal life.

-The Mythology of All Races, Vol XII, Egyptian and Indo-Chinese
by W Max Muller, Louis Herbert Gray, Editor

There have been parallels made between the Egyptian god Osiris and the Christian god Jesus by many scholars, such as E.A. Wallis Budge, Bruce Metzger, G.A. Wells, and D.M. Murdock (Acharya S) in her book Christ in Egypt. These theories remain controversial, however there are many overt similarities between the practices, such as a passion play of the death and rebirth of Osiris that was enacted as a means of worship and proselytism, as well as sacred meals similar to the Christian communion.

The Osiris religion did continue to be practiced until the 6th century CE despite all pagan religions being outlawed by Theodosius in the 4th century. It was the emperor Justinian that finally ordered all temples destroyed and the priests arrested.

Same Sex Unions in Ancient Christianity

December 26, 2009

Ancient Christian art and written documents show that not only were same sex unions tolerated in the ancient Church, they were celebrated. It fact, it looks as though the rigorous anti-gay rhetoric did not begin until the 14th century.

A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’sMonastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.

Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (AD 512 – 518) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life”. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.

-Colfax Record, 8/24/08

It looks like the original article from the Colfax Record (written by ThosPayne) is now offline, but here a link to the cached copy. It’s a good read.

The author of the original study, Prof. John Boswell, is the author of “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century“. It looks like some pretty interesting stuff.

We are all a product of our culture. When we assume our prejudices are revealed instead of learned, it can easily lead to ill will toward others.

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

December 25, 2009

Happy Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the unconquered sun), your chance to get all your sun worship out of the way for the year.

December 25th marks the fist day the sun starts to measurably ascend in the sky. Celebrations around the time of the winter solstice have been popular for centuries, though the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti was instituted by the Roman Emperor Elagabalus at the beginning of the 3rd century CE.


The festival of Saturnalia goes back to 200 BCE. It was a week long festival lasting December 17th to the 23.  Gift giving, merry making (often leading to extreme merry making) and a reversal of the social order, with masters waiting on their slaves, were common traditions.


There is, of course, no mention of a any particular date for the birth of Jesus in any Christian Bible document, the earliest documents having no mention of Jesus’s earthly life at all. And, other dates were used to celebrate his birthday before December 25th was made official by the pope in the 4th century CE (the Orthodox Church still celebrates Christmas on Jan 6th). There is some evidence that early Christians thought the celebration of birthdays to be a strictly pagan custom that they chose not to participate in.

But, there is actually a Christian meme to explain why JC’s birth date should be celebrated on December 25th: the 3rd century Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus theorized that because Jesus died and was reborn on the spring equinox, then he must have been conceived on the spring equinox as well (sic), and therefore would have been born in December, around the 25th. Sounds to me like he already had December 25th in mind, especially since the average human pregnancy is 38 weeks, which would put the birth closer to December 16th. Christmas was not made an official holiday until the 4th century under Pope Julius the 1st. .

7 in Jewish Lore

December 24, 2009

The Hebrew bible (Old Testament) is filled with all kinds of special numbers: 500, 40, 70, 3, 12, etc. These numbers are used whenever a number is needed to fill in a hole in the story, especially in places of great significance, like the number of the days of creation or the age of David when he took the throne*. Where do these numbers originate? Some of them may be just large round numbers. Others are a bit of a mystery. But, here is a passage from Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’s (37-100 CE) Antiquities of the Jews that might shed some light on the significance of the number 7:

Over against this table, near the southern wall, was set a
candlestick of cast gold, hollow within, being of the weight of
one hundred pounds, which the Hebrews call Chinchares, if it be
turned into the Greek language, it denotes a talent. It was made
with its knops, and lilies, and pomegranates, and bowls (which
ornaments amounted to seventy in all); by which means the shaft
elevated itself on high from a single base, and spread itself
into as many branches as there are planets, including the sun
among them. It terminated in seven heads, in one row, all
standing parallel to one another; and these branches carried
seven lamps, one by one, in imitation of the number of the
planets. These lamps looked to the east and to the south, the
candlestick being situate obliquely.
-Flavuis Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 6, section 7

Don’t think it can get much plainer than that. Numbered after the 7 planets. What were considered the 7 planets at the time and wy were they significant? The seven planets were:

  1. Sun
  2. Moon
  3. Mercury
  4. Venus
  5. Mars
  6. Jupiter
  7. Saturn

These were the objects the ancients knew about that moved independently of the rest of the night sky. And, they didn’t move in a simple fixed pattern. Anyone that has had basic earth science in grade school knows that early attempts to model the movement of the planets took some complicated models until Kepler came along with the solution in the 16th century CE.

From what I’ve gleemed over the years this ancient mystery concerning the movement of the planets is the basis of the meme “Seventh Heaven”. Since all of these planets moved independently from the sky and also independently of each other, they were thought to exist on different planes from each other, like a series of concentric domes.

The top most level would be the holiest level, the level God Almighty resides in. The lower levels would be inhabited by supernatural, but less holy, creatures. These realms are the inhabitants of the subjects of myths and there are stories, such as Plutarch’s recording of Isis and Osiris, that speak of their ascension and descension between realms. It appears that in the myths, when supernatural creatures descended levels, they took on the inferior qualities of that lower realm (at least as I understand it).

When applied to mythology, this multi-layered heaven theory makes a few of the appearances of Yahweh in the Bible make a bit more sense (internally to the myth, of course).

Yahweh, when visiting down on earth, took human form and could be seen (in the tent of meeting with Moses, eating dinner with Abraham, or walking through the garden of Eden in the “cool of the day”). However, when humans went up into the heavens to see him, like when Moses climbed the mountain, he was still in his godlike form and could not show himself. Angels, as well, are usually seen as being insubstantial beings, yet, once angels descended down to earth, they took a form that allowed them able to mate with human females, as in Genesis 6. Fun stuff, the Bible. Wild and wacky.

*In David’s case we get a trifecta of special numbers: He took the throne at 30, reigned for 40 years, which gives us a total of 70. As a bonus, he took control over all Judah and Israel after 7 years of rule.

God of the Week: Mithras

December 21, 2009

God of the Week 12/21/09: Mithras

Mithras Killing the Bull

It is possible that the god Mithra (Mithras) has been worshiped for thousands of years across three popular religions. Starting as a minor deity in Hinduism, he appears to have been adopted into Zorostrianism, until he finally became the central savior god of the Roman Mystery Religion, Mithraism.

Much of what had been know of Mithras had been lost since Mithraism was the most popular religion in the Roman Empire. It was Franz Cumont who, at the end of the 19th century, traced the origin of the Iranian god, Mithra to the Hindu god Mitra:

IN THAT unknown epoch when the ancestors of the Persians were still united with those of the Hindus, they were already worshippers of Mithra. The hymns of the Vedas celebrated his name, as did those of the Avesta, and despite the differences obtaining between the two theological systems of which these books were the expression, the Vedic Mitra and the Iranian Mithra have preserved so many traits of resemblance that it is impossible to entertain any doubt concerning their common origin.
-Franz Cumont, Mysteries of Mithra

A minor god in Hinduism, once adopted into Zoroastrianism, Mithra developed a very strong following.

… no god can be compared with Ahura Mazda, the wise creator of all good beings. Under him are the Amesha Spentas, or “Immortal Holy Ones,” and the Yazatas, or “Venerable Ones,” who are secondary deities. …

Mithra is by all odds the most important Yazata. Although pushed by Zoroaster into the background, he always enjoyed a very popular cult among the people in Persia as the god of the plighted word, the protector of justice, and the deity who gives
victory in battle against the foes of the Iranians and defends the worshippers of Truth and Righteousness (Asha), His cult spread, as is well known, at a later period into the Roman Empire, and he has as his satellites, to help him in his function of guardian of Law, Rashnu (“Justice”) and Sraosha (“Discipline”).

– Mythology of All Races, Volume 6: Indian and Iranian

Louis Herbert Gray, Editor

It was K.B. Stark, though, that made the connection between the images in the Mithraic wall murals and reliefs and the solar constellations. In these pictorial depictions, the god Mithras is shown slaying a bull, accompanied by a dog, a scorpion, a raven, and a snake. These coincide with the constellations of Taurus, Canis Minor, Scorpius, Corvus, and Hydra which all line up just below the celestial equator.

The modern philosopher David Ulansey, in Origin of the Mithraic Mysteries, expanded on Stark’s hypothesis by proposing that the character of Mithras himself, may have been a reinterpretation of the constellation of Perseus, which is poised above the constellation of Taurus in much the same way that Mithras is posed in the reliefs.

Moreover, the accompanying constellations all follow along just below the celestial equator, the Perseus/Mithras character being the only one above it. This would make the worship of Mithras, at least the Roman version of it, completely celestial in nature, perhaps giving him credit for the movement of the heavens. The title “deus sol invictus” (unconquered sun god) is found in many Mithraic ruins further tying the character to celestial events.

It is not certain how long Mithraism survived. But, when the Roman emperor Theodosius the 1st (347-395) decreed that all non-Christian religions be made illegal, it lead to the organized destruction of many religious temples. No doubt Mithraic temples were victims of this persecution as well.

God of the Week: Ahura Mazda

December 14, 2009

God of the Week 12/14/09: Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda is the chief god of the Zoroastrian faith. He is the all good uncreated creator of the universe and of all good things in it (all evil things in the world being the creation of the god Ahriman). In the mythology of the religion, this dualistic nature of the world leads to an ultimate battle between good and evil.

The struggle between the good and the evil beings, in which man takes part by siding, according to his conduct, with Ahura Mazda or with his foe, is to end with the victory of the former at the great renovation of the world, when a flood of molten metal will, as an ordeal, purify all men and bring about the complete exclusion of evil.

– Mythology of All Races, Volume 6: Indian and Iranian

Louis Herbert Gray, Editor

This concept of a final judgment and battle between good and evil was very influential to post Babylonian Exile Judaism and, later, Christianity (who appeared to have modeled their concept of the Apocalypse on it). Ahura Mazda also influenced the conception of the god Yahweh, who was transformed from a jealous tribal god, responsible for all things good and evil, to a caring and loving god with the evil adversary of the devil being responsible for evil in the world.

A hymn to Ahura Mazda from the Gathas:

” That I shall ask thee, tell it me right, O Ahura !
Who was in the beginning the father and creator of righteousness?
Who created the path of the sun and stars ?
Who causes the moon to increase and wane but thou ?
Who is holding the earth and the skies above it ?
Who made the waters and the trees of the field ?
Who created the lights of good effect and the darkness ?
Who created the sleep of good effect and the activity ?
Who (created) morning, noon, and night ?
Who has prepared the Bactrian home ?
To become acquainted with these things, I approach thee, Mazda,
Beneficent spirit ! creator of all beings !
That I shall ask thee, tell it me right, O Ahura !
How may I come,, Mazda ! to your dwelling-place (Heaven)
To hear you sing ? ”

-Gathas, translation from “The Religion of Zoroaster” by R Brown

Though the exact origin of the deity Ahura Mazda is not known, it has been theorized that he may be a derivation of the Indian god Varuna, because of the many similarities between Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism.