Piety masked with scholarship is particularly revolting

I know professors of English. I like professors of English, and can respect their work. But then some professors of English publish total rubbish like this, and it’s facepalm time.

Jesus’ resurrection: What really happened?

This scholar’s interpretation navigates between the perils of realism and fundamentalism

Read the whole thing, if you can stomach it. There’s no navigation at all; there’s nothing but totally credulous acceptance of much embellished legend, treated as if it were fact. Take the opening story, for example:

The burial of Jesus took place in haste, in keeping with Jewish law, as commanded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hange him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.” One can only imagine the eagerness of those who loved Jesus to remove his body from the cross, a position of extreme exposure and embarrassment, and to lay it gently in a crypt, safe from mocking Roman eyes. At last, the torture was over.

Having acquired permission to take charge of the body, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped it carefully in fine linens and, with the help of Nicodemus, put it in a crypt hewn from rock not far from the site of the execution on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Nicodemus had brought a mixture of embalming spices: aloes and myrrh.

“One can only imagine…” Yes, that is the one true phrase in the whole mess. It’s all built up out of imagination. We have no contemporary accounts of the death of this person, Jesus; we don’t even have reliable sources for the existence of the person at all. Yet here this Parini fellow is reciting speculative BS about how people were feeling during events that may not have happened at all.

Maybe, to Parini, navigating between realism and fundamentalism means avoiding both and dwelling on kitschy rose-colored portrayals of fantasy events?

Huge questions confront anyone thinking about Jesus. Did he really rise from the dead? Was there an actual Resurrection? If so, what would that look like? A large number of Christians throughout history have imagined a resuscitation, refusing to countenance the slightest hint that the Resurrection should be regarded as something beyond human understanding. I myself would argue this: life and death are mysterious, at best, and the membrane between the living and the dead is a porous one, perilously thin. Jesus rose from the dead, the scriptures say. I see no reason to doubt this. And yet a literalistic belief in the Resurrection cannot be, as many fundamentalist churches insist, the only important part of the “good news” of Christianity. The message of God’s love in operation in the world trumps everything and must be regarded as the necessary extension of the idea of rebirth, the social basis for true spiritual enlightenment. Nowhere more so than here does it matter that we find a proper balance between the literal and the figurative, giving full weight to the concrete meaning while relishing the mythic contours of the story.

He has no reason to doubt a magical account of a god-man rising from the dead 2,000 years ago? Really? No reason at all? Does he have a brain in his head? Perhaps I have no reason to believe that.

I can appreciate the difference between literal and figurative, like the difference between science and art, but sometimes there is no concrete meaning to balance, and the best answer is rejection of the nonsense, rather than wallowing in it.

We’re going to be seeing a lot of this pious bullshit in this month before Christmas, aren’t we?

A tragedy in Morris

The Happy Atheist

I have learned that the university bookstore in Morris has completely sold out of all copies of The Happy Atheist. I know, rural residents of western Minnesota, you were hoping to pick up a few pallet loads to give out as Christmas presents this year, and you were planning to drive in to town with your pickup trucks to get them today, on Black Friday. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Like much of the rest of the world, you’ll have to order them online. They do make entirely appropriate gifts, especially if you’ve got one of those annoying relatives who always gives out religiously-themed presents.

Atheists sink to new depths of depravity!

Ken Ham has a new post up about how evil atheists really are.

It seems like atheists will go to pretty extreme lengths to combat the words of a God they don’t even believe exists.

Uh-oh. What have we done now? Beheaded people? Tossed them in prison for believing? Stoned them to death? Persecuted people who don’t practice sex exactly as we do? Demanded legislation to allow us to demand that everyone use contraception?

No. Worse.

A recent article from the Religion News Service reports, “Atheists use a popular Bible app to evangelize about unbelief.” The article contains interviews with a number of young atheists who have chosen to use YouVersion, one of the most popular apps around, as a way of trying to shake the faith of Christians.

That’s right! We’re reading the Bible!

He goes on to whine about atheists using “supposed contradictions” and how they’re supposed to use a “literal translation”. The implication is that it is young naive atheists who don’t understand the deepities of the Bible who are doing this, but as always, Ingersoll was there first, and he knew exactly what an evil book the Bible was.

Ministers wonder how I can be wicked enough to attack the Bible.

I will tell them: This book, the Bible, has persecuted, even unto death, the wisest and the best. This book stayed and stopped the onward movement of the human race. This book poisoned the fountains of learning and misdirected the energies of man.

This book is the enemy of freedom, the support of slavery. This book sowed the seeds of hatred in families and nations, fed the flames of war, and impoverished the world. This book is the breastwork of kings and tyrants — the enslaver of women and children. This book has corrupted parliaments and courts. This book has made colleges and universities the teachers of error and the haters of science. This book has filled Christendom with hateful, cruel, ignorant and warring sects. This book taught men to kill their fellows for religion’s sake.

This book funded the Inquisition, invented the instruments of torture, built the dungeons in which the good and loving languished, forged the chains that rusted in their flesh, erected the scaffolds whereon they died. This book piled fagots about the feet of the just. This book drove reason from the minds of millions and filled the asylums with the insane.

This book has caused fathers and mothers to shed the blood of their babes. This book was the auction block on which the slave- mother stood when she was sold from her child. This book filled the sails of the slave-trader and made merchandise of human flesh. This book lighted the fires that burned “witches” and “wizards.” This book filled the darkness with ghouls and ghosts, and the bodies of men and women with devils. This book polluted the souls of men with the infamous dogma of eternal pain. This book made credulity the greatest of virtues, and investigation the greatest of crimes. This book filled nations with hermits, monks and nuns — with the pious and the useless. This book placed the ignorant and unclean saint above the philosopher and philanthropist. This book taught man to despise the joys of this life, that he might be happy in another — to waste this world for the sake of the next.

I attack this book because it is the enemy of human liberty — the greatest obstruction across the highway of human progress.

Let me ask the ministers one question: How can you be wicked enough to defend this book?

Well, we all know…Ken Ham is pretty damned wicked.

Anderson Cooper is going to be embarrassing, I bet

Brace yourselves. The heaven brigade is going to get another whirl on the mass media carousel.

AC360° Special report Sunday

"To Heaven and Back" airs Sunday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. E.T. Randi Kaye meets three people who were on the brink of death, when they say they left this world for another.

I’ll probably tune in to cringe. It’s good timing, though: after watching Anderson Cooper give attention to the silly people who claim to have gone to heaven, I’ll flip channels to watch The Walking Dead, which will be slightly more credible.

Friday Cephalopod: Black Friday

Vampyroteuthis would like you to know that it is forgivable that you visit Walmart or any of the other greedy big box stores today in search of bargains; however, the retailers who exploit their workers and gin up scarcity and treat the desperate poor as targets are going to someday find themselves dying cold, dark, hypoxic deaths, and the grim clammy bleak squid of their conscience will rise up to drag them down into oblivion. Live humanely while you can. They wait.

Belated retraction of Seralini’s bad anti-GMO paper

Last year, the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology by Gilles Seralini and others that purported to show that rats fed genetically modified corn were more prone to get cancer. The cranks loved it; Mike Adams thought it was great, it was touted on the Dr Oz show (I don’t know why they were concerned; these are the people who think cancer can be cured with herbs, urine, and drinking hydrogen peroxide).

But right from the beginning, scientists were appalled — not by the conclusion, but by the incredibly shoddy protocol used by the researchers. Biofortified went through the paper, step by step; would you believe that in a study with a control group and multiple experimental groups fed on GMO corn, the authors did not use any statistical tests to tell if there was a significant difference between any of the groups?

Let that sink in.

Here’s the first figure from the paper, and Ashley Ng’s breakdown of the data.

Created with GIMP

In the study, Figure 1 shows Kaplan Meier plots the number of rat deaths by “control group” and other “treatment groups”.

What do these mean? Well, not much because the authors failed to use a statistical test to tell if there was a difference between the control groups and treatment groups.

This is important, as all their claims relate to the incidence of cancers (and other “diseases”) in the “treatment group” compared to the “control group”. These comparisons can only be made if a statistical test shows that what you observe is not happening by chance.

Still on Figure 1, we see that several “treatment groups” of male rats receiving GM NK603 corn (the 22% group and 33% group) actually had fewer cancers than the male control group.

Similarly, a treatment group of male rats receiving 33% GM corn and Roundup had no difference to the control group, and two treatment groups receiving Roundup (A and C) had the same or less incidence of cancer compared with the control group.

I just eyeball the data, and what I see is typical noisy cancer mortality data (these are rats with a genetic predisposition to get cancer: 70% of males and 87% of females get it.) The one thing that would have looked significant to me is the higher likelihood of females coming down with cancer…but that’s a predilection already built into the strain. The problem is compounded by very small ns — there were only 20 rats in each group. I wouldn’t be surprised if the researchers had done some statistical analysis, but didn’t report it because the paltry statistical power of their study meant nothing was significant.

At the time the paper came out, Carl Zimmer also raised holy hell because it was another case of science by press conference. There were all kinds of complaints by scientists about the study, but journalists who got the paper in advance had to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from consulting with experts — they were expected to flounder about in the dark and simply accept what they were told.

Here’s a little good news, though: the paper is being retracted. The editor-in-chief of the journal has made a rather weasely statement denying any wrong-doing by the authors, but that the paper is being retracted solely because of the ambiguity of the results.

Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.

He then goes on to praise the peer-review system, which is weird, because here’s a paper with huge obvious holes that fell right through the system. And furthermore, it’s a paper with gigantic political implications — right now, it is the linchpin of anti-GMO movements around the world — and should have gotten extra-careful scrutiny.

Jon Entine at Forbes has an especially thorough dissection of the implications of the paper. It reveals that other problems have emerged.

“The study appeared to sweep aside all known benchmarks of scientific good practice and, more importantly, to ignore the minimal standards of scientific and ethical conduct in particular concerning the humane treatment of experimental animals,” concluded a prominent group of scientists in Transgenic Review. They noted the rats in the study were exposed to extreme and unnecessary cruelty. None of the results depended on the size of their tumors or how long they lived after the tumor appeared. This unethical treatment of animals was a direct violation of accepted research protocol and was by itself grounds for the article being rejected initially or withdrawn.

It was rather peculiar that the paper reported only on mortality. They were studying the appearance of cancer, so a more relevant and direct measure would have been to assess by the appearance of tumors of a particular size, and then to humanely euthanize severely affected animals. This study had them languish in a cage until they died and could be scored. There was no description of the cancers in the control group! They did seem to have a number of rats with huge, grossly disfiguring tumors that were handy for photo ops, though.

So it was a terrible, sloppy paper with gaping deficiencies that somehow slipped past peer review but made scientists gape in surprise when they finally saw it published, and it’s finally being retracted. But too late: anti-GMO propagandists are now seeing the retraction as a sign that there is a conspiracy to Hide the Truth™, and are using the efforts to apply standards of evidence to the work as proof that Big Science is out to give everyone cancer.

My Thanksgiving plans

This is pretty much my plan for tomorrow.

Although, typical selfe-centred Brit, he doesn’t seem to realize that Thanksgiving is not about celebrating our separation from England, it’s about celebrating our plundering of the wealth of the native people of North America.

We are actually literally doing no work for Thanksgiving at all. We’re going to meet up with our son in St Cloud and probably go out to a Chinese restaurant or something.

We will not be going shopping at any time this weekend. I think that’s the other, modern meaning of Thanksgiving: it’s time to launch the orgy of bourgeois capitalist consumption.

One law for all

The report takes a little too much glee at poking at the JREF, but it does seem fair: Broward County is cracking down on tax exemptions for non-profits, including the JREF and churches. If they have undeveloped or unused property, property that isn’t being used for a charitable function, they are being told to pay taxes on it.

They lead with the example of the JREF, which has an unused million dollar building up for sale, and they seem to have ambushed Randi about it (I don’t think he’s much involved with the business of the JREF, so he was the wrong person to talk to). They owe about $23,000. At the end of the video, they finally mention that the JREF has paid up about $21,000.

What I find most promising though, is that they also mention going after churches — just on their unused property so far. But they make much of the fact that these exemptions are costing the people money, and that they are going to be much more thorough in auditing tax exempt institutions, which is a good thing.

One can only hope that they eventually get around to rethinking the charitable purpose of sitting around in pews getting hectored by a priest, and start yanking tax exemptions from churches wholesale.