Conversations: Faith


Helena
There are people who believe certain propositions about the world we live in, not because those propositions make them feel good, but because they think they are true.

Lysandra
I see that it is obvious that those propositions can either be true or untrue. And if one proposition is right, the contradictory proposition must be wrong. For instance, the Bible is either the word of God, or it is not.

Helena
Exactly. Consider your example, if the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, we have misused our lives in the worst conceivable way.

Lysandra
Well, if the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for people like ourselves.

Helena
Indeed, but let us return to your example so I can expand on it a little: either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it is not. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ an ordinary man, the basic doctrine of Christianity is false. Now, you would think there are quite convincing reasons for believing that if you drink the blood of a fictional carpenter’s son you can live forever, but there do not seem to be any.

Lysandra
That is an interesting point. And you would think the fact that our continuous and public rejection of a collective delusion such as Christianity does not worry us in the least should suggest to Christians just how inadequate we think their reasons for being Christian are.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 4)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

The Mistrusted Ungulate


‘I hope that you have guessed by now what we know in any case—that this fine beast is one of our fairly close cousins. It shares a great deal of our DNA, and there have lately been welcome transplants of skin, heart valves, and kidneys from pigs to humans.

If—which I heartily trust does not happen—a new Dr. Moreau could corrupt recent advances in cloning and create a hybrid, a “pig-man” is widely feared as the most probable outcome. Meanwhile, almost everything about the pig is useful, from its nutritious and delicious meat to its tanned hide for leather and its bristles for brushes.

In Upton Sinclair’s graphic novel of the Chicago slaughterhouse, The Jungle, it is agonizing to read about the way that pigs are borne aloft on hooks, screaming as their throats are cut. Even the strongest nerves of the most hardened workers are shaken by the experience. There is something about that shriek…

To press this a little further, one may note that children if left unmolested by rabbis and imams are very drawn to pigs, especially to baby ones, and that firefighters in general do not like to eat roast pork or crackling. The barbaric vernacular word for roasted human in New Guinea and elsewhere was “long pig”: I have never had the relevant degustatative experience myself, but it seems that we do, if eaten, taste very much like pigs.

This helps to make nonsense of the usual “secular” explanations of the original Jewish prohibition. It is argued that the ban was initially rational, since pig meat in hot climates can become rank and develop the worms of trichinosis.

This objection—which perhaps does apply in the case of non-kosher shellfish—is absurd when applied to the actual conditions. First, trichinosis is found in all climates, and in fact occurs more in cold than in hot ones. Second, ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish tips, as opposed to the presence of such bones in the middens of other communities. The non-Jews did not sicken and die from eating pork, in other words. (Quite apart from anything else, if they had died for this reason there would have been no need for the god of Moses to urge their slaughter by non-pig-eaters.)’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 38-39

Confucianism and the Golden Rule


‘The so-called Golden Rule, “do as you would be done by”, appears in Confucianism as a negative: “what you do not desire for yourself, do not do to others.” The difference is subtle but crucial: Confucius does not prescribe what to do, only what not to do, emphasizing restraint rather than action. This implies modesty and humility – values traditionally held in high regard in Chinese society, and which for Confucius express our true nature. Fostering these values is a form of loyalty to oneself, and another kind of sincerity.’

– Atkinson. S., Landau. C., Szudek. A., Tomley. S. (et al.) 2011. The Philosophy Book New York, United States: DK Publishing p. 39

Hypotenuse [Noun.]


In geometry, the side of a right triangle opposite the right angle.

“About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.”
– Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance (1879)

A Gene For Language


Ever more chat
500,000 years ago

A few people have mutations in a gene called FOXP2. As a result they struggle to grasp grammar and pronounce words. That suggests FOXP2 is crucial for learning and using language. The modern FOXP2 evolved in the common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals: Neanderthal FOXP2 looks just like ours.

See other: What Makes Humans Human?

Luther on Celibacy, Women and Shirts


The Catholic Church was a thousand years old before it took a real stand in favour of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. But it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563, when it definitively adopted the tradition of celibacy.

Protestants took exception to celibacy early on, arguing that it promoted masturbation, homosexuality and illicit fornication. Martin Luther singled out masturbation as one of the gravest offences likely to be committed by those who were celibate.”Nature never lets up,” Luther warned, “we are all driven to the secret sin. To say it crudely but honestly, if it doesn’t go into a woman, it goes into your shirt.”

“We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation.” ― Lily Tomlin

American Protestants in the 17th century, fearful of radical religious sects like the Shakers that celebrated celibacy, came out foursquare against the practice.

– Courtesy of historynewsnetwork.org