Just In Time For Easter, The Annual Skeptical Article Denying Jesus Existed

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It’s that time of year again, friends; the holiest in the secular calendar. It’s a time of contemplation, yes, but in the newsroom it’s also one of celebration.

For this is when journalists flood the æther-nets, filling them with heart-chilling stories suggesting Jesus and John may have been more than just friends, that Mary was a serial divorcée, that the apostles were paid double agents in the service of Rome, that a new fragment of gospel has been discovered which reveals an appalled Jesus lecturing the world about global warming. And that perennial favorite, Jesus never existed.

It’s usually long about Monday of this week that these stories begin cropping up, posted by reporters anxious to be noticed for their “brave” acts—of writing stories their comrades wholeheartedly agree with. The flood turned to a slow leak this year, however, mainly because of events.

One story made it, through. Predictably, its theme was the commonest trope, this time given a new twist. “Did Jesus really exist? Memory research has cast doubt on the few things we knew about Jesus, raising an even bigger question“, appearing in Maclean’s.

It’s the story of frustrated academic Bart Ehrman, who examined “what the science of memory might offer to separate the historical wheat from the theological chaff in the Gospels.” Turns out the “frailty of human memory turned out to be more profound than Ehrman suspected.” The kicker?

The reason Biblical historians cannot find even the outline of a historical Jesus, argues an increasingly persuasive chorus of challengers, is that there is nothing to find: Jesus Christ never lived at all.

Stay sharp, dear reader, because the irony is about to get delicious.

Ehrman, who has a history of softening scripture, said that he has been reading what he could about memory.

[E]very act of oral transmission, Ehrman cites one memory expert as declaring, “is also an act of creation.” That means one of the few pieces of common ground between believers and skeptics–that the oral transmission of stories about Jesus in the time between his death and the composition of the Gospels could be (more or less) trusted–is turning to quicksand.

Now, if this is so, if indeed every act of oral transmission, which must include recalling one’s own memories through a sort of “internal dialog”, is an act of “creation”, how can one ever trust what one believes? Every memory you have could be challenged on this ground. Even dramatic memories are suspicious. You weren’t in Fukushima, Japan on 11 March 2011 where “allegedly” there was a tsunami and nuclear reactor accident. How do you know it really happened? According to these scientists, you can’t trust your memory on this—or on anything.

This distrust must include memories imbued by written transmissions of facts. Why? Because you had to have heard, and at some point believed, that reading things is a good way of passing on information. That could be a bad memory!

According to the theory of these memory experts theory you must doubt what you read, because what you read relies on your memory. If you don’t believe that, define the word imbued, which appeared above. Does this, and the definition of every word and fact you read, come from your memory? Of course.

Who’s to say oral memories are more fallible than visual? Visual memories are not made just on what you’ve seen, but on what you have read. And just think: who is doing the writing? People remembering, that’s who. So even if your recall of what you read is perfect, the source material itself is up for doubt.

No, it just won’t do. The Gospel accounts and Paul’s and the other Biblical epistles were not some childish game of Telephone, where each witness whispered to the next about what color Mary’s robe sash was, the details undergoing subtle changes from one man to the next. No: these men were writing of world-shaking, monumental, stunning, undeniable events.

The miracles performed by Jesus were witnessed by enormous numbers of people. As John said, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.”

This is significant for a reason no memory researcher ever mentions. If Jesus didn’t exist and didn’t perform these shocking deeds, where are all the concurrent texts denouncing the apostles as frauds? Surely contemporaries anxious to deny the obnoxious Christian faith would have hit upon the happy idea of putting into writing affidavits saying things like, “A crowd of a thousand claims to have seen this man Lazarus raised from the dead. But I was there and the man never stirred from his tomb.”

But wait. Even if these contrary documents existed, scholars would be obliged to disbelieve them. They, too, would have been written from memory.

Scholars believe in the existence of Pontius Pilate, and about many another historical figure, people about whom almost nothing is written, but what little there was was also written from memory of witnesses. Yet we wonder whether the same critical techniques applied to Jesus’s existence will be applied to these others.

Christians: Boycott Disney, Marvel, The NFL

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Probably not worth pointing out that the old rule that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble” is entirely dead. Well, words on paper, as we said before.

Used to be “freedom of association” meant a restaurant could put up a sign which read “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”, but now some Wiccan hippy nudist can sue to belly up to the salad bar whenever he pleases. The restaurant’s denial was classed “discrimination”, or maybe “prejudice”, as if these were bad things. Once upon a time a bakery run by blacks could have made it store policy that it wouldn’t serve KKK gatherings. Now they have to bake them the damned cake, or face financial ruin, the bigots.

Progressives (self-labeled) particularly insist on that last one. They argue that individuals don’t have a right over whom they’ll associate with once those individuals put up a shingle. Store owners lose the right because, well, for no real reason. Maybe racism. Or some phobia. Who knows.

Anyway, some localities are attempting a return to a literal meaning of those old words. Take Georgia, which put up a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The perpetually outraged heard of it, though, and started soiling their cages. According to CNS News, these sordid acts shocked the Georgian legislature to water down the original bill.

The new version of the bill provides Religious Freedom Restoration Act levels of protection for certain protected persons, but it explicitly says these protections cannot apply in cases of “invidious discrimination.” Of course, no one is in favor of invidious discrimination, but the problem is that in the hands of a liberal judge, everything looks like invidious discrimination even when it is not, such as religious universities or adoption agencies that want their policies to reflect their teachings on marriage. This apes the bad “fix” that gutted the Indiana religious freedom bill.

(Apes. Get it? Get it?)

In politics, this abject retreat is called appeasement, an act which, historians tell us, never works. So why is it re-tried? That the human race is insane can be the only explanation.

What happens after every attempt at appeasement? The enemy smells weakness and rushes in for the kill. As he should. After all, he learned that screeching and kicking his feet worked, so why not try more of it?

That’s what happened here. No sooner than did Georgia turn tail, than did the National Football League, Disney, and Marvel comics—all enterprises involved in mass entertainment, you notice—threaten to boycott Georgia if the now-boneless bill is passed.

The Daily Signal says:

“[T]he NFL acknowledged that the religious exemptions bill…could have an impact on the selection process for the championship game in 2019 and 2020.” Atlanta is one of four cities up for the next two Super Bowls…

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement, adding that the NFL may evaluate “whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies” when looking at Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, because tolerance and inclusiveness require making sure people of faith who don’t support same-sex marriage have no freedom to live in accordance with their beliefs.

Sexual orientation? I remind the reader, yet again, that bestiality is legal in several countries. Skip that, you bestiaphobe.

WND reports:

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” a Disney spokesman said in a statement released Wednesday, the Washington Times reported.

Also, “The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau said Tuesday that Georgia could lose up to $6 billion if 15 companies that are threatening to take business elsewhere follow through with their word.”

Will Georgia choose freedom over Spiderman versus Donald Duck movies sets? The Super Bowl only lasts one day, but, hey, it’s the Super Bowl. Mammon calls! Will Georgia fall prey to the root of all evil? The governor, Nathan Deal, a Baptist, God bless him, has until 3 May to sign.

Either way, I say boycott these companies right back. Kick them the hell out of Georgia. And out of your lives, too, dear readers. Why give money to businesses that hate you? Is your need for sappy entertainment so strong that you can’t tell bigots like Disney to take a long walk off a short dock? Instead of watching football (five minutes of action plus some three hours of commercials and gabbing) on Sunday, go to church.

The only things these greedy amoral fools love is money. Stop giving them yours.

There Is No Such Thing As An Average Man

Several readers—thanks to James, Steve E, and Ted Poppke—found the story “When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages“, which is an excerpt from the Todd Ross book The End of Average.

Story is this. Mid-last-century, an Air Force—ooh rah!—lieutenant was dispatched to measure body shapes of pilots. Everything “including thumb length, crotch height, and the distance from a pilot’s eye to his ear” was put to the tape, and, as statistical practice goes, averages were taken.

The lieutenant (Daniels) was experienced in his duty and had measured college students before.

Even more surprising, when Daniels averaged all his data, the average hand did not resemble any individual’s measurements. There was no such thing as an average hand size…

Using the size data he had gathered from 4,063 pilots, Daniels calculated the average of the 10 physical dimensions believed to be most relevant for design, including height, chest circumference and sleeve length. These formed the dimensions of the “average pilot,” which Daniels generously defined as someone whose measurements were within the middle 30 per cent of the range of values for each dimension. So, for example, even though the precise average height from the data was five foot nine, he defined the height of the “average pilot” as ranging from five-seven to five-11.

Lo, none of the four thousand pilots fit the average on all the dimensions.

Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

There’s more to the story about a supposed ideal female that you’ll want to scan.

Why isn’t there an average pilot? Suppose height was the sole engineering concern. Then 30 percent of the men measured would be average, because the middle 30 percent would be the middle 30 percent, n’est-ce pas?

Next suppose right arm length and height were of concern. Now if whatever caused a man’s height also, and in step (speaking loosely), caused his arm length, then every man’s height would track his arm length, and again 30 percent of the men measured would be average.

But since there are many causes of height (genetics plus environment), and many different, plus some similar, causes of arm length, then the two measures won’t track exactly. Because the causes differ, and although there will be some overlap, the same 30 percent of men in the middle of height won’t be the precise set of men in the 30 percent middle of arm length.

As the number of dimensions increases, the causes become more diverse and the men more unlike one another (across all the dimensions). Simple as that.

It would be a tremendous but common mistake to speak of “normal distributions”, “correlations”, and so forth to say why men don’t match the mean. None of these statistical abstractions are real. The measurements are real, the causes of the things measured are real. But “normal distributions” and “correlations” are not real.

Thus it is a mistake to say “height and arm length are normally distributed” and another mistake to say “height and arm length have such-and-such a correlation.” Nothing in the world is “normally distributed” because normal distributions don’t exist.

Our uncertainty in the unknown heights and arm lengths of future pilots (and not the ones already measured) might, at crude approximation only, be represented using a normal distribution, and the uncertainty we have in the relationship between these two measures might crudely be summarized using a correlation, but that’s all statistics can do. It remains mute on what the causes of the measurements are.

Now no one man may fit the fuzzy average across several dimensions, but it could still be that there may be groups who may who cluster around other measures beside the mean. That is, no man might be within plus-or-minus 30 percent of the average-of-all-dimensions, but some men might be within some plus-or-minus 30 percent of some-function-of-all-dimensions (which isn’t the average). What might these functions be?

Well, anything. Could be height multiplied by arm length divided by inter-eye distance all added to elbow thickness is one function which identifies a large number of similar men, who we could then say fit a type.

Since the number of possible functions increases with the number of dimensions measured, it becomes quite a chore to find representative ones. There are many functions in math! So if we want to do this algorithmically, we have to limit the functions to certain kinds (addition and multiplication, say). Or if we want to do a real bangup job, we could hunt for the various causes of the dimensions.