Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Church's role in World War One

One hundred two years ago this week, the shots were fired that began World War One. Gavrilo Princip, the nineteen-year-old Serbian who fired the fatal shots at Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, may have been the slug, but the Vatican was the gunpowder.

Prince, fame, and religious controversy

It’s been a couple weeks since we learned the tragic news of the death of a truly great performer, a pioneer in bringing soul and R&B music to mainstream. I read several news articles about his death, but I could find no mention of his religion. I’m speaking, of course, of the singer who had a #1 hit with “Me and Mrs. Jones”, Billy Paul.

How did your Bible get to you?

“The Bible has been so changed and mistranslated over time that it can’t be trusted.” Someone posted this on Facebook the other day. I asked the gentleman if he had confirmed that for himself or if he was simply repeating what someone had told him. I got no reply.

Wild bees joining honey bees, monarch butterflies in threatened existence

A while ago there were stories making all the major news outlets about the disappearance of domestic honey bees. They dubbed it “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Around 2006, beekeepers started reporting losing anywhere from 30% to 90% of their hives to CCD. The mystery was why all the worker bees in a hive would vanish, leaving behind a healthy queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees caring for immature brood.

Is Mankind "evolving" about homosexuality?

According to The Blaze, Christians are “evolving.” The story, based on the latest Pew religion poll, claims that, as a society, we are becoming more accepting of homosexuality, and The Blaze sees that as progress. Evolving from what? Evolving compared to when? Sodom had a homosexual society 4,000 years ago.

About Time, part 5: Carbon-14 dating, the ice age, and the Bible

For many who call themselves Christians, 'Take it on faith' is a mantra they use when they can't explain something. But in fact, faith should be built on evidence. Annie's claim that “The Sun'll come out, tomorrow” was a good example of real faith. After all, tomorrow's sun hasn't come out yet. We believe it will come out, we have faith it will come out. It requires faith (albeit very little) to believe it, because it is an event that hasn't happened yet. But our belief in it is based on evidence: The sun came out today, it came out yesterday, etc.

How do you determine right and wrong?

When someone is spotted standing on the edge of a roof, occasionally there are hecklers on the ground yelling “Jump!” But most reasonable people will try to talk the emotionally disturbed person out of harming themselves.
But let an emotionally disturbed person decide that he wants to take a scalpel to his genitalia, get his Adam’s Apple shaved, get breast implants and estrogen injections, and he’s applauded, as if mutilating his body is a good thing. No one says anything about his narcissism. It is considered politically incorrect to look askance at his decision, to suggest he needs emotional help.

About Time, part four: The evolution of Language – Science versus the Bible

In previous columns in this series, we’ve looked at the clashes between the creation account and the Big Bang, between the Exodus account and biblical skeptics, and the biblical record of the Israelites’ history versus the historical records of those nations around them. No discussion about the claims of the Bible versus the claims of science and history would be complete without looking at human speech.

Why won't racism go away?

“Who’s Billy’s little colored friend?”
I turned expectantly to my mother, to whom the question was addressed. I couldn’t wait to find out which of my friends was colored. Had Paul fallen into a vat of purple paint? Had Steve suddenly broken out in green spots?

About Time, part three: The Bible and the Big Bang

Creationists have done honest Bible students a huge disservice. "Creationism" is not the alternative to the theory of evolution. It is the opposite of, basically, everything scientific - as if science itself is a dirty word. Creationists' claim that God created the Universe and everything in it about 6,000 years ago makes all believers in the Bible look like idiots.

About Time, part two: Bible history versus secular history

Several Egyptian pharaohs may have ruled at the same time in different regions of the land, as archaeologist David Down suggests in his revised chronology.
Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell

A hundred years ago, the Bible was viewed as authoritative history – even by people who were skeptical of its religious merits. That view has changed. As we noted in the previous column, any archaeologist, paleontologist, scientist, or other scholar who says anything positive about the Bible is immediately branded an unsophisticated religious crank.
Should that be the case? How does the historical record in the Bible stack up against other histories? What exactly are these other historical records that scholars rely on?

About Time: Chronology and Bible skeptics

Before we got distracted by the controversy surrounding the measles vaccination, we were looking at the argument for re-dating a biblical event. Timothy Mahoney, the filmmaker behind Patterns of Evidence – Exodus, made a strong case that the main reason so many biblical scholars are skeptical about the Exodus is their understanding of the timing.

Measles stirs debate between vaccinators and antivaxxors

This column came about by accident. Here's what happened. I saw a graphic that said:
  • In the past 10 years in the U.S., the number of deaths caused by measles = 0
  • In the past 10 years in the U.S., the number of deaths caused by the measles vaccine = 108.
I thought that was interesting, so I posted it to my Facebook profile. I had no idea the issue was so controversial. Several people replied, in effect, 
‘Vaccination is vital to kids’ health, and failing to vaccinate your kids is as bad as child abuse.’
Several others replied, basically, 
‘Vaccination is a scam being perpetrated by Big Pharma, and you’re stupid if you vaccinate your kids.’
Wow! Well, anything that involves kids is bound to be an emotional issue. But you can see why I had to look into it. Here's what I found.
Most of us want what’s best for others… well, let’s be honest, most of us want what’s best for us, but by extension that includes what’s best for our kids, and we certainly want to spare our kids from sickness if we can. And in the litigious society in which we live, some take that idea to the extreme:
‘If my kid experiences any discomfort at all, I want to know who to blame.’
Consequently, there has been a backlash against the “antivaxxers” that goes like this:
‘If you don’t get your kid vaccinated, my kid will get sick and it will be YOUR FAULT.’
The huge flaw in that logic is that, if you’re so sure the vaccine works, and your kid gets vaccinated, then why should you care whether my kid is vaccinated? Yours is protected, right? How can my unvaccinated kid give your vaccinated kid measles?
But they are ready with another salvo:
‘Kids can’t be vaccinated until they’re 12 months old. These poor babies are vulnerable to your unvaccinated kids!’
That sounds scary. Except: babies have the same measles immunity as their moms, so if Mom is vaccinated... again, why are you worried about my kid?
How about this one:
'People die from measles!'
How dangerous is measles, anyway?
Worldwide, 1 out of 1000 cases of measles develops into encephalitis. Six out of 1000 cases of measles WORLDWIDE progress to pneumonia. That is pretty serious. However, in the U.S. measles was virtually stamped out by the year 2000. There were 60 cases per year on average from 2000 to 2012. From January 2012 through August 2013, there were 159 cases, a slight rise from the 60-per-year average (part of what has gotten people stirred up.) Of those, “157 (99%) were import-associated, and two had an unknown source,” according to the CDC. Of the 159, thirteen (8%) had been vaccinated.
Say what you want, but there are certain conclusions to be drawn from that data.
To keep the health care system honest, the federal government set up a program called VAERS – Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System – in which health care professionals are required to report all adverse reactions to vaccines, no matter how minor. (You may want to stop here and ask yourself: If vaccines are completely safe, why does VAERS exist?) In one report a couple years ago that followed a typical seasonal administration of a flu vaccine, there were 8,200 adverse events reported. Most of them were minor; but 604 of them (7%) were deemed serious, from permanent disability to death. 604 is more than all the people in the U.S. who contracted measles in ten years, put together. And 28 of those 604 died. I would call that an adverse reaction.
The MMR vaccine is made by Merck, the same company that denied reports of dangerous cardiac side effects of their Vioxx drug for years, before finally recalling it in 2004 and paying a fine of $950 million.
With drugs like VioxxLipator and Gardisil, we assume Merck has a profit motive, and we’re fine with that. We know they didn’t go into business for their health, they sell drugs to make money. So why should we suddenly forget about their profit motive when we talk about the MMR vaccine? They sell millions of doses to the CDC for $19.91 each. Your doctor pays them even more, $56 a dose. Good for them, if it’s legitimate. But should we not at least question whether they might possibly have an ulterior motive in telling everyone they must have the MMR vaccine, that it's perfectly safe, that it's safer to get it than to get the measles?
Wouldn’t it make good business sense, from their point of view, to persuade the CDC that everyone in the U.S. should be vaccinated? Could a company that can afford to pay a $950 million fine afford to pay someone at the CDC a few million to say 'People are going to die if they don't get the MMR vaccine!' Would such a company shrink from the idea of rewarding a few reporters for screaming, 'There is a measles epidemic brewing!'
For you or me, it would be unthinkable to sell a product that didn’t do what it claimed. Even more unthinkable would be selling a product that we know would harm one out of a thousand, or one out of ten thousand, of the people who bought it. So it is probably hard to imagine a company doing so. You and I may make such judgments based on our conscience, but most publicly held companies are answerable to no moral compass other than the bottom line.
According to the CDC, “Several severe problems have been reported following MMR vaccine. These include severe allergic reactions (fewer than 4 per million), and problems such as:
• Deafness.
• Long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness.
• Permanent brain damage.”
“Fewer than 4 per million” doesn’t sound too bad when you say it like that, until you do the math: There are 300 million people in the U.S. The CDC wants us ALL to be vaccinated. They are fine with 1,200 of us suffering from “Deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness, or permanent brain damage…”
Just as long as we spare those 60 kids from getting measles...
Please leave a comment.
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Should the Exodus be re-dated?

Last week I got to attend the premiere of a new film, “Patterns of Evidence – Exodus.” I can safely say it was the exact opposite of the last movie I reviewed, “Noah.”

Evils of religion: The cult of Islam versus Charlie Hebdo

If you’re like me, at some point last week you were asking yourself, “Who on earth is Charlie Hebdo?” Turns out Charlie Hebdo is a what, not a who… it’s the name of a popular satirical magazine in Paris, similar to The Boston Phoenix or The Onion. They delight in poking fun at sacred cows, and they haven’t spared the Islamic "prophet" Mohammed from some of their satire. On January 7, masked gunmen entered the Charlie Hebdo office shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great) and proceeded to murder twelve people and wound eleven others. If their god is so great, why does he need them to do his killing for him?

Government, Parental Rights, and medical treatment

A few weeks ago in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, a judge made an amazing ruling in favor of a child of First Nation (also called aboriginal Canadian – what we used to call Indian) parents. “Amazing,” because Justice G.B. Edward decided that the family’s aboriginal rights trumped the wishes of McMasters Children's Hospital.

Evils of religion: Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Last week, the Mormon Church officially acknowledged that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, having had as many as 40 wives. Though they stopped short of calling him a pederast (as I did in a previous column), they did admit that one of his wives was only 14 years old.

Evils of religion: Catholic Church changing its stance on homosexuality

I have one more segment on the history of the Mormons, but the news is forcing me to interrupt myself. As I write this, the Synod of Bishops is holding a historic meeting in Italy that will decide the future direction of The Catholic Church. Right now, they are leaning toward doing away with most of their former sanctions on various sexual behaviors, including homosexual activity.

Evils of religion: Land speculation, Danites, and the Missouri Mormon wars

In the summer of 1831 Joseph Smith claimed he had a revelation (D&C 57:1-3) that Independence, Missouri, was where the New Jerusalem was to be built. Good Mormons should come, quickly, and bring their money. Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1832, swearing that “This Generation will not pass away until the Temple is built in Independence.” (D&C 84:2-5, 31) Non-Mormon Missourians already in Independence disagreed. In December, 1833, Smith assured Mormons who were being attacked that “there is no other place than Missouri appointed by God for the gathering of the Saints.” (D&C 101:17-20)
Yeah, well… The Mormons were driven out of Independence in 1839. Seems God got it wrong all three times…

Evils of religion: How a sexual predator became a spiritual leader

While it was recently acknowledged by the LDS church that Joseph Smith did, indeed, practice and teach polygamy, less well known is his sordid sexual history.
Like nearly all charismatic cult leaders from Muhammed to Jim Jones to David Koresh, Smith (and his successor, Brigham Young) claimed it was “God’s will” for him to take the pretty daughters and wives of his followers for himself.

Evils of religion: The scam that became Mormonism

There is no perfect church. While I believe in the Christianity Jesus started, even a religion that has hewed as closely as possible to Christ’s teachings will be populated by imperfect people. Every religion has embarrassments both in their past and their present. How can a reasonable person decide which of these embarrassments is forgivable, and which is a deal breaker?

Evils of religion: Protestantism's present-day scandals

While your heart may go out to Protestants for all the persecution they suffered through the centuries at the hands of the Catholic Church, or even other Protestants, it does not change certain facts:
  1. Despite ‘protesting’ some of the Catholic Church’s false teachings, they held onto Catholicism's trinity (which changes God from a single Almighty being to a board of directors),Hellfire (which makes God crueler than Pol Pot), and immortality of the soul (which basically makes God a liar – after all, God told Adam and Eve they would “positively die” if they disobeyed Him. Immortality was Satan’s idea… he told Eve: “You positively will not die.”)

Evils of religion: The brutality of the early Protestants

After my last column someone wrote: “Love your articles about the awful Catholic Church, but isn’t it a bit like shooting fish in a barrel?’
He’s right. With the exception of most (but not all) practicing Catholics, people love to hate The Church. It’s not just the mind-boggling atrocities of the Crusades and the Inquisition; not simply the pedophile priests; not even the excesses of adulterous and murderous popes. It’s also that The Church has proclaimed herself THE one holy representative of God, then dressed her priests up in clothes that would embarrass Lady Gaga. Furthermore, they have amassed more money than God while doing these awful things then told their adherents: ‘Do as I say not as I do.’

Evils of religion part 5: Catholicism's worst atrocities

The pope admitted this week that 1 of every 50 priests is a pedophile. Likely, the number is far higher. Of course, the truly hideous thing is not simply the existence of pedophiles in an organization that claims to be God’s guiding light to humanity; nor the hypocrisy of the oh-so-pious fathers engaging is such disgusting practices then crying big crocodile tears when caught; the most disgusting aspect of the story is the Church’s self-serving game of hide-the-pederast, moving to other parts of the world any who were about to become an embarrassment.

Evils of religion, part 4: The lie about the unbroken chain of popes

The Catholic Church likes to claim "prepotency" (first place) among Christians based on papal succession – they insist they can prove an unbroken chain of holy leaders from Peter to Francis. Unfortunately, that is simply untrue, on several levels.

Evils of religion, part 3: Catholicism's false premise of Peter in Rome

After my previous articles, several readers – presumably Catholics – have written me demanding to know how I can allege that Peter was never in Rome. I could just as easily ask, What proof do you have that he was?
It’s wishful thinking that puts Peter in Rome. Catholics base that tradition on non-biblical sources from, at the earliest, a century after Peter, Paul and the other apostles died. Is that delay significant?

Evils of religion, part 2: Was Peter the first Catholic?

If you keep saying the same thing over and over, does it make it true? I can’t tell you how many people have screamed at me since my previous column was published, ‘Catholicism is the ONE TRUE FAITH! How dare you attack the ONE TRUE FAITH!’ Boy, if they felt that was an attack, they are really going to hate what comes next.

Evils done in the name of Religion: Part 1, Catholicism

People have no problem with the statement that“Religion,” in the general sense, has been a source of evil. But typically (except for atheists) they mean, ‘most religions except mine.’ As mentioned in the previous article, no religion has a monopoly on evil deeds. In furtherance of that point, we’re going to take a close look at the history of several faiths, starting with the Catholic Church.

No religion has a monopoly on evil

“The accusations against the priests are just Satan’s way of testing our faith in the Church.” This was said to me recently by a woman who described herself as a “devout Catholic.” It was in response to my expressing surprise at her attachment; I had somewhat tactlessly asked whether her devotion to her church wasn’t shaken by all the reports about pedophile priests.

Are things getting better or worse?

“There are Lies, Damned lies, and Statistics.”
Mark Twain attributed that remark to Benjamin Disraeli, but there is no record of Disraeli’s ever having said it. Perhaps it was one of Mark Twain’s ‘lies.’ A commenter on my previous column, however, has made great use of statistics.

"Things have always been this way!"

A recent poll asked: ‘Do you feel things are getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?’
How would you answer?

The UN’s coming attack on Religion, Part 3

In Part One we discussed the unprecedented move of the UN not only in castigating the Catholic Church for hiding its pedophile priests, but going beyond that and criticizing their doctrines on homosexuality, abortion, celibacy and birth control. It ended with the question, Does the UN have any teeth?

Is the UN a paper tiger or a sleeping lion?

Does the UN have any teeth?
It is not an academic question. There will come a time when it will need teeth.
The UN has been called by detractors the World’s Largest Debating Society. Sometimes it seems like they can’t agree on when to break for lunch. Nevertheless, since its inception the General Assembly has passed over 14,000 resolutions. Unfortunately, they are “non-binding.”

Is the UN preparing to attack Religion?

If you had to choose between Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech, which would you choose?

Now, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t have to choose, I already have both.’ Are you sure?

Do camel bones disprove the Bible?

The news just loves to jump on a story that seems to contradict the Bible.
Headlines all over the net, from USA Today to the New Zealand Herald are blithely repeating a story that biblical archaeologists have proven wrong the account in Genesis chapter 12, which says that a ruler in Egypt gave Abraham some domesticated camels.
The story goes like this:
Dr Erex Ben-Yosef and Dr Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures found camel bones in an archaeological site that was anciently a copper smelting community, a dig that has been positively dated to between the 11th century and the 9th century BCE. They found camel bones at the level of 1000 b.c.e. and later, but none earlier. They used radiocarbon dating to confirm that the bones were indeed 10th century - 1000 years before Christ.
Therefore, say they, domestic camels weren’t around Israel prior to 1000 BCE.
Leaving aside for the moment that they’re digging up a copper smelting site that dates to the exact time period when the Bible says Solomon was busy using thousands of tons of copper to build the Temple and its utensils – giving more credence to the biblical narrative, not less - there are holes in their assertion big enough to drive a camel caravan through.
Archaeologists – the real ones, not the kind who love to grab headlines claiming they’ve disproved the Bible – have established that camels were domesticated in Southern Arabia somewhere between 3000 and 2000 BCE, and were definitely in Egypt by 2000 BCE.
From Southern Arabia to Canaan is about 1200 miles, and to Egypt even less.
A camel can walk, fully loaded, about 30 miles a day for days on end.
It would therefore take a camel train about 40 days to make the trip from Southern Arabia to Abraham’s home in the Promised land, less than that to travel there from Egypt.
Honest archaeologists have found abundant evidence of a brisk trade between Judea and Southern Arabia as early as 2000 BCE. If that trade was not moving by camel, how was it moving?
So, they found bones of a camel they’ve dated to 1000 BCE. and they claim camel bones are absent in earlier excavations. However, the same articles also contain this intriguing sentence:
“Any bones found in earlier archaeological layers most likely belong to wild camels, which are believe to have been in the area from the Neolithic period or earlier.”
Well, that’s convenient: ‘We’ve decided there were no camels around when the Bible says Abraham had camels, so if any camel bones are found that could be dated back to that time period, they must be wild camels.’ How’s that for circular reasoning?
According to real experts, camel domestication had to have happened in stages. Because wild camels thrived in a desert unfriendly to any predators, they were likely easy for humans to prey on. Gradually, people would have figured out how to herd them, then how to gentle them for milking, then for draft work, and finally how to ride them. To this day, there are wild camels, camels slaughtered for meat, camels used for milking and plowing and hauling loads, and camels used for riding.
So what do the bones of a camel in a 10th century BCE dig prove? What is proven by the absence of ‘domestic’ camel bones in older digs? Well, I suppose I could just as easily claim that the bones prove:
  1. That 10th century b.c.e copper miners developed a taste for camel steak that they hadn’t had previously, or,
  2. I could claim that camels had been rare in the area prior to that time period because the mining industry didn’t justify their presence, whereas the industry got a colossal boost from Solomon’s Temple construction project, or
  3. I could as easily claim that camel-using ‘technology’ was horded by Arabians, and that thus while camels may have come to the copper area frequently carrying trade goods and carrying away copper, the absence of camel bones only proves that the traders didn’t allow the valuable animals to be slaughtered in Judea.
  4. I could even claim that, perhaps camel bones disintegrate after a few thousand years, depending on what kind of soil they ended up in.
“Hamilton cites an Alalakh text (18th century B.C.) with ration lists including that of "one (measure of) fodder - camel", the very fact of feeding it seems to imply its domestication or use as a pack animal. Camel bones were also excavated at Mari in an early house possibly dating back to c.2400 B.C.. An 18th century B.C. Byblos relief depicts a kneeling camel further suggesting its domestication and use as a beast of burden.”
Interestingly, according to that same author, “…the list of possessions gained in Egypt excludes horses…” As horses were not in use in Egypt before 1800 BCE, that’s not surprising.
But let’s reason on this: if Genesis was written in the 10th century or later as Ben-Yosef and Sapir-Hen are claiming, at a time when Egypt was famous for horses, wouldn’t that unknown theoretical writer have claimed that Abraham was given horses instead of, or in addition to, camels?
The preponderance of the evidence, then, is that the account in Genesis 12 is true: Abraham was given camels while in Egypt. His successors Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph also had interactions with them.
And a few camel bones unearthed in a 10th century BCE dig do nothing to disprove that.
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Is Jesus God?

Can you fill in the right side of this spreadsheet?
Image by Bill K. Underwood

This will be short.
A while back, a lady in Mesa told me her Bible told her unequivocally that Jesus is God. She showed me John 1:1. I showed her about five scriptures I felt showed Jesus to be God's son, not God. Yet, somehow, in her mind her one scripture outweighed my five.

Blood, medical ethics, and the Bible

In a 2010 survey on ethics, 10,000 doctors were asked, ‘What was your biggest ethical dilemma?’

The top five were:

Real advances in blood technology

The ABCs of emergency medicine are changing.
I’m sorry, but this is going to be a long, complex discussion. Anything having to do with emergency care of your body would have to be. Before we’re done, you may find yourself making a list to carry in your wallet: TXA, FastClot, Perftec, Perflubron, Hemopure.

Blood Medicine, part three

An operating room nurse responded to Part Two of this series:

“So you’re saying, if a woman in our birthing center is bleeding out, we should just let her die rather than give her blood?”
Are those really the only two options – blood transfusion or death?

Blood Medicine, part two