Category: Philosophy

The never-ending sensitivity of dogs!

How about this for a story from Peru.

Not only do dogs come in a myriad of sizes and shapes, witness our own Brandy and Pedi, but they are also conscious creatures, as in they remember and grieve; albeit in a dog fashion.

The Dodo presented this story back on the 4th March about just a dog. Read it and be swept away in the world of dogs.

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Woman At The Beach Meets A Dog Who Won’t Stop Staring Out To Sea

The reason why touched her heart ❤️️

By Stephen Messenger

Published on the 4th March, 2022

The other day, Jolie Mejía and her family decided to visit Punta Negra, a small seaside community near their home in Peru.

It was there, along a rocky shore overlooking the sea, that they came to learn a story of love in its purest form.

After Mejía and her family settled down along the shore, they were approached by a random dog who appeared to be all by himself.

“He didn’t seem abandoned. He wore a ribbon around his neck and his fur was clean,” Mejía told The Dodo. “I pet him, waiting for his owner, but minutes passed and no one came.”

The dog enjoyed Mejía’s pets, but all the while his gaze remained fixed upon the ocean.

And Mejía soon came to learn the touching reason why.

Mejía and her family considered adopting the dog themselves, assuming he had indeed been abandoned. So, when a man local to the area walked by, Mejía asked him if he knew the dog’s status.

“He explained that practically everyone in the area knows the dog and is very fond of him,” Mejía said. “He told us that the dog’s owner was a fisherman who passed away some time ago, and that the dog comes to the beach every day and stares out to sea.”

The dog, it seems, has been holding vigil — awaiting the return of his friend who will never come home.

“We were very moved,” said Mejía.

Mejía believes the dog’s owner died at sea about a year ago, and that the dog has been watching out for him daily ever since.

But though the dog’s owner may never return, the dog isn’t without friends who care for him.

The dog’s sad story is evidently well-known by people in the community, who feed him, shelter him and provide him with health care when he needs it.

A local veterinarian in Punta Negra confirmed to The Dodo that the dog’s name is Vaguito, and that he’s currently in the care of a woman who lives nearby.

By day’s end, Mejía and her family eventually parted ways with Vaguito, his eyes still cast out to sea. But his bittersweet story — one of loyalty to a love he lost, and the loyalty and love he found in the community — is one she won’t soon forget.

“I have a dog at home,” Mejía said. “I love dogs in general. His story really touched my heart.”

(Photos by Jolie Mejía)

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This is the perfect story. But it is more! It is the perfect story of how special a dog is. For this particular dog, Vaguito, clearly was loved by his fisherman and even after a year Vaguito still holds a vigil for him. It is a very lovely article, but that is the unconditional love shown by dogs to humans who care and love them back.

Cruising over the Edge

I am very grateful to the Free Inquiry for permission to republish this article!

I am a subscriber to the print edition of Free Inquiry. Have been for quite a while. In the last issue, the April/May magazine, there was an article by Ophelia Benson that just seemed to ‘speak’ to me. I was sure that I was not alone. It was an OP-ED.

I emailed Julia Lavarnway, the Permissions Editor, to enquire what the chances were of me being granted permission to share the story. Frankly, I was not hopeful!

So imagine my surprise when Julia wrote back to say that she had contacted the author, Ophelia, and she had said ‘Yes’.

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Cruising over the Edge

By Ophelia Benson

The trouble with humans is that we never know when to stop. We know how to invent things, but we seem to be completely unable to figure out how to uninvent them—or even just stop using them once we’ve invented them. We can commission like crazy but we can’t decommission.

Like, for instance, cruise ships the size of condo towers. They’re feats of engineering and ship building no doubt, but as examples of sustainable tourism, a small carbon footprint, a sensible approach to global warning, not so much. How many gallons of fuel do you suppose they burn while cruising? Eighty thousand a day, for one ship.

We can’t uninvent, we can’t let go, we can’t stop. We can as individuals, but that’s useless when most people are doing the opposite. It’s useless when cruise ships keep cruising, SUVs keep getting bigger, container ships are so massive they get stuck in canals, more people move to Phoenix as the Colorado River dries up, more people build houses in the Sierras just in time for more wildfires, air travel is almost back to “normal,” and Christmas lights stay up until spring.

So heads of state go to meetings on climate change and sign agreements and pretend they’ve achieved something, but how can they have? Have any of them promised to shut down nonessential enterprises such as the cruise industry? Will they ever? The CEOs and lobbyists and legislatures would eat their lunch if they did. They can’t mess with profitable industries like that unless they’re autocrats like Putin or Xi … and of course Putin and Xi and other autocrats have zero inclination to act in the interests of the planet.

Janos Pasztor wrote in Foreign Policy after COP26, the UN climate change conference in Glasgow this past November:

Even if all Glasgow pledges are fulfilled, we are still facing a temperature overshoot of approximately 2 degrees Celsius. In the more likely scenario of not all pledges being fulfilled, warming will be more: perhaps 3 degrees Celsius. This would be catastrophic in nearly every sense for large parts of humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable who are suffering first and worst from escalating climate impacts.

Ironically, the technologies we can’t uninvent aren’t just the material luxuries such as huge cars, they’re also intangibles like democracy and freedom and individual rights. It may be our very best inventions along these lines that are the biggest obstacles to doing anything about the destruction we’ve wrought. We believe in democracy, and a downside of democracy is that governments that do unpopular things, no matter how necessary, are seldom governments for long. Biden and Macron and Trudeau and Johnson probably can’t do anything really serious about global warming and still stay in office to carry the work through.

Pasztor went on to ask a pressing question:

So how do we avoid temperature overshoot? The most urgent and important task is to slash emissions, including in the hard-to-abate sectors (such as air transport, agriculture, and industry), which will require substantial lifestyle changes.

Yes, those substantial lifestyle changes—the ones we show absolutely no sign of making. Maybe the biggest luxury we have, and the one we can least afford to sustain, is democracy.

Democracy at this point is thoroughly entangled with consumerism or, to put it less harshly, with standards of living. We’re used to what we’re used to, and anybody who tries to take it away from us would be stripped of power before the signature dried.

This is why beach condos in Florida aren’t the only kind of luxury we have to give up; we also have to give up the “consent” part of the “consent of the governed” idea when it comes to this issue. Not that I have the faintest idea how that would happen, but it seems all too obvious that democratic governance as we know it can’t do what needs to be done to avoid catastrophe.

We don’t usually think of democracy as a luxury alongside skiing in Gstaad or quick trips into space, but it is. It relies on enough peace and prosperity to be able to afford a few mistakes.

We take it for granted because we’ve always had it, at least notionally (some of us were excluded from it until recently), but it’s not universal in either time or place. To some it’s far more intuitive and natural to have “the best” people in charge, because they are the best. It’s a luxury of time and location to have grown up in a moment when non-aristocrats got a say.

The British experience in the Second World War is an interesting exception to the “take people’s pleasures away and lose the next election” pattern. Hitler’s blockade on shipping created a very real threat of starvation, and the Churchill government had to take almost all remaining pleasures away in pursuit of defeating the Nazis. Rationing, the blackouts, conscription, censorship, evacuation, commandeering of houses and extra bedrooms were all commonplace. Much of the dismal impoverished atmosphere of George Orwell’s 1984 is a picture not of Stalin’s Russia but of Churchill’s Britain. Life was grim and difficult, but Hitler was worse, so people drank their weak tea without sugar and planted root vegetables where the roses had been.

It’s disastrous but not surprising that it doesn’t work that way with a threat that’s unfolding swiftly but not so swiftly that everyone can see how bad it’s going to get. We can see what’s in front of us but not what’s too far down the road, especially if our contemporary pleasures depend on our failure to see. We’re default optimists until we’re forced to be otherwise, Micawbers assuring ourselves that “something will turn up”—until the wildfires or crop failures or mass migrations appear over our horizons.

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I do not know what the answer is? But I do know that we have to change our ways and change in the relatively near future; say, ten years maximum.

Because as Janos wrote, quoted in part above: “This would be catastrophic in nearly every sense for large parts of humanity…”

We are in a war. Not a military one but a war with the reality of where we are, all of us, heading. We have to stop ducking and weaving and come out fighting. Fighting for the very survival of our species. Do I think it will happen? I am afraid I do not. Not soon enough anyway: not without the backing of every government in the free world.

I really wonder what will become of us all!

Are we alone?

As in: Is there life on other planets?

Last Saturday, we went to the local Freethinkers meeting in Grants Pass. It was a fascinating presentation by fellow member, Chas Rogers. Chas teaches Earth Science courses for the Rogue Community College and elsewhere.

Here is a taste of what we saw:

The Rare Earth Hypothesis argues that the development of complex life on Earth, not to mention intelligence, was an incredibly improbable thing in terms of the geological and astronomical variables involved, suggesting that the galaxy is not filled with other intelligent life forms waiting to be found.

One important factor is the Drake Equation. Here it is explained on the SETI website:

How many alien societies exist, and are detectable? This famous formula gives us an idea. The Drake Equation, which was the agenda for a meeting of experts held in West Virginia in 1961, estimates N, the number of transmitting societies in the Milky Way galaxy.

Here is that Drake Equation.

N    : The number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

R*   : The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life (number per year).

fp   : The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne   : The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl    : The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

fi    : The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

fc    : The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that produces detectable signs of their existence.

L    : The average length of time such civilizations produce such signs (years).

There is a great deal of information online for those that want to look into the question in much more detail. But I rather like this YouTube video by Carl Sagan.

(Sorry about the funny ending to that video.)

Carl was speaking of the Milky Way. There are plenty of astronomers who believe that the universe holds many galaxies. Plus, the universe is expanding drawn ever outwards by something that is completely unknown!

What a way to think outside the box for a while!

John Fowler

Never sleeping alone!

A story about an amazing gentleman.

There are so many stories about humans going beyond the call of duty in giving dogs love and attention. In my own case, complete chance meant that I met Jean down in San Carlos, Mexico, rescuing street dogs and giving them love and support before finding homes for as many as she could in America, mainly Arizona. Jean had upwards of 20 dogs around her beach-front home and all the dogs were incredible, as in attentive and friendly and well-behaved.

The following article was seen in The Dodo and I wanted to share it because it says so much about the relationship that can be achieved between a human and dogs.

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Woman Walks In On Her Dad Napping With All The Neighbor Dogs

“They come running when they see his car and follow him inside.”

By Lily Feinn

Published on the 18th March, 2022

When Catey Hall checks in on her dad, it’s not unusual to find him napping on the couch. But Hall’s dad never sleeps alone — dogs from around the neighborhood join him to make one big comfy pile.

“Dad sees, plays with and naps with one or more of these dogs on a daily basis,” Hall told The Dodo. “They come running when they see his car and follow him inside.”

Catey Hall

Hall’s dad, Lon Watson, has always loved dogs and works with the local rescue Pound on the Hill to make sure every animal gets the help they need.

“For as long as I can remember, my dad has rescued stray dogs,” Hall said. “Growing up, we always had a dog. But there was always room for a stray in need. Now that he lives alone with his wife, there’s room for several. They work with rescues in the area to find homes for the dogs in need; however, not all of them are re-homed, and they stay with dad forever.”

Catey Hall

Watson has four resident dogs at home, all of whom he and his wife have rescued and rehabilitated.

But he receives daily visits from Hooch, Fluffer-Nutter and Rosie — all of whom live nearby and have a special connection with Watson.

Catey Hall

The neighborhood dogs are happy to wait all day just for some brief one-on-one time with Watson.

Catey Hall

“The neighborhood is an unincorporated section of semi-rural Alabama. The houses are set far back from the street, so the dogs can bounce from house to house safely,” Hall said. “The dogs can usually hear my dad’s truck coming, and they will meet him in the driveway.”

Catey Hall

Luckily, Watson’s human neighbors don’t seem to mind that their dogs spend most of their time with Watson — and would never get in the way of their special naptime.

Watson just seems to have a way with every dog he meets. Even Hall’s two dogs try to get in on the action. “As a matter of fact, they try to leave with Dad when he’s here visiting,” Hall said.

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Hall’s dad is a very fine person, in my book. If one clicks the link to go to the Pound on the Hill Animal Rescue, almost the first thing that one sees is a piece written by Dana Derby. I am taking the liberty of finishing off today’s post by quoting Dana’s words.

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I am a wiggly butt, adorable puppy. Who wouldn’t want ME? I am cuddly and warm. I look at you as my hero… and you are my hero… you saved me! I want to be with you; I feel safe in your arms. And you know I love you unconditionally. It matters not what you wear, your age, your weight or if your roots are showing… I love you just for you! 

What I need to know is will you still love me? I will make mistakes. I may piddle on your best rug. If I am lonesome, I may chew on your favorite shoe… because it smells like you.

Will you still love me? I will grow into a dog. Though I will be cute, I won’t be the tiny baby you held in your arms. I may be rowdy until I learn my manners. It could be trying, at times. My tail might knock things over when I am so happy to see you it won’t stop wagging! I may run in circles, jump and bark simply because I am happy to love you so very much. 

Will you still love me? As years pass, I will slow down. We age just like humans… only at a faster rate. This is because I cannot live without you. My face may become white with age, my legs not work so well, and my eyesight could deteriorate.

Will you still love me? And when my time comes to go to the Rainbow Bridge… I will want you by my side as I say goodbye. Not so much for me, but for you. I will want to be with you during this difficult time, just as we have shared the joy and sorrow of life together for years. I am your companion and will be with you forever… and I will still love you as I live patiently in your heart.. until we meet again.

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Happiness!

Two events, by chance, lead me to today’s post.

The first was the closing paragraph in that guest post by Indiana Lee last Thursday. Let me quote him:

It’s already been said, but it’s worth saying again. A happy dog leads to a happy owner. That isn’t just a cute saying, either. People are literally known to live longer and have good mental health if they have a dog in their lives.

The second was a talk at our local (Grants Pass) Freethinker’s meeting, held on Saturday. Jerry had sent out an introduction a few days before and included in that were three videos that we were encouraged to watch.

One, in particular, was excellent. It is a talk by Robert Waldinger, and it is reproduced below.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

YouTube

It is just under thirteen minutes long; please watch it!

Therapy dogs.

What a precious dog this one is.

Margaret down in Tasmania recently sent me a link to a story about a surfing dog. It was remarkable and I am going to share it with you. (I hope that I am allowed to!)

The link was to a website called Goodness-Exchange.

Here is the story.

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The Surfing Therapy Dog Helping Those with PTSD and Autism

It’s no secret that dogs are capable of extraordinary things. We’ve seen them predict seizuresdetect cancersniff out buried truffles, and assist in the conservation of some of our world’s most precious ecosystems. But can a canine heal a wounded soul? Grab your surfboard (and maybe some tissues) because we are about to introduce a dog named Ricochet who is sure to melt your heart and bring on the happy tears. This sweet golden retriever has multiple championship surfing titles under her collar, but it’s the way she uses her unique talents to help others that truly makes her so special. 

As many remarkable stories do, Ricochet the Surf Dog’s story began where another journey ended. She was just a lil’ pup when she began training to become a service dog, where part of her training was balancing on a boogie board in a kiddie pool. In 2009 she took her first steps into the ocean, and just a short time later that year she won third place in the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Surfing Dogs Competition!

Alas, the temptation to chase critters was too great for Ricochet to become a service dog, but her owner Judy decided to focus on what she could do instead.

Courtesy of Judy and Surf Dog Ricochet

The “Aha Moment” that decided Ricochet’s destiny. 

2009 was a big year for Ricochet, as this was the year she made it clear to the rest of us what her purpose really was. One day out in the water, she decided to jump aboard the board of quadriplegic surfer Patrick Ivison, and it was at this moment that her owners discovered Ricochet’s true potential.

Surfing has been at the forefront of Ricochet’s work, but her true magic lies in the way that she intuitively adapts with each individual she interacts with. According to her owner,

“…It’s her mystifying ability to make immediate, heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connections with strangers both in and out of the water.”

Ricochet makes deep connections with all types of people, but she is most sensitive to those with PTSD who have served in the military, and children with autism. In the video we’re about to watch by the Smithsonian Channel, you can see for yourself how Ricochet has an instant calming effect on Audrey Estrada, a military veteran who suffers from PTSD and an intense fear of the ocean.

I get by with a little help from man’s best friend.

Many of us suffer from invisible threats that intrude on our mental well-being. In the U.S. alone, 6% of the population have PTSD, that’s approximately 15 million adults each year. 2

It’s a condition that is often hard to explain to other humans, so it makes total sense that a dog would make the perfect confidant. They don’t judge you, they don’t talk back or tell your secrets, they simply feel you. And in turn, carrying the weight of it all feels less heavy.

Ricochet has had such a profound impact on people’s mental health, it’s enough to make one want to ask the doctor to prescribe an empathetic dog with a pink vest. But in addition to being an adorable floof of empathy and innocence, as of 2015, Ricochet is a certified therapy dog and level II Reiki healer!

The story has only just begun.

Our wish for anything pure and good like Ricochet’s story, is that it will continue to fan out over humanity in the best way possible. And in this case, it really has.

Ricochet’s owner Judy started a non-profit called Puppy Prodigies that offers swimming lessons, canine assisted water rescue, dog training, and adaptive surfing! Click here to meet Aqua Dog Cori, a super cute female golden lab who was donated to the group and now uses her natural instinct to perform trained water rescues!

In addition to these programs, Puppy Prodigies also tackles the root of the problem that they see in many of the people they help by creating awareness for PTSD, anti-bullying campaigns, and mentorship programs. Learn more about these branches of their mission and learn how you can contribute by checking out their website here.

Catch a wave and ride that baby for as long as you can!

I hope you found this story as wonder-filled and inspiring as I did. It really made me think about the journeys that we find ourselves traveling, and the people we can help along the way if we look at our abilities through a lens of opportunity. 

If you find yourself failing at something, or your plans didn’t turn out the way you had hoped, remember Ricochet. If a golden retriever can find it’s true purpose and have such a life-changing impact on others, I have full confidence that you can, too. 

And when you do find it, stand sturdy and ride that wave of goodness!

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What a fantastic video that was. But there are many videos about Ricochet so if you want to stay with him then YouTube is as good as place to start as any.

But as we all know when it comes to dogs each dog is an individual with their own likes and dislikes. Their ability to understand us humans is magical as well. I swear that many of our dogs here at home can understand words spoken by Jean and me. Whether they interpret the words directly or associate the tones expressed with each phrase, rather like a musical sound, is beyond me. I am sure someone knows and if anyone has a link to the researcher who has discovered this about dogs then please let me know.

Correction! This is Indiana’s latest post.

Getting my ducks in a row!

I apologise but this is the next guest post from Indiana Lee not the one I published yesterday.

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Courtesy of Unsplash

Maximizing the Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Dog Ownership

Dogs do so much for us and our health. They help us overcome depression, prompt us to move more often, and give us joy through their play and cuddles — sometimes it feels as though they’re the ones looking after us! 

But, not everyone who owns a dog maximizes the health benefits that our canine companions can bring. Oftentimes, owners get lazy and fall out of a regular walking schedule, or use their dog as an excuse to stay home and avoid travel or social events. 

Finding ways to take advantage of the health benefits that dogs can bring is crucial for owners. So, here are a few tips to help you get the most from your relationship with your pup. 

Dogs and Mental Health

The positive impact that dogs have on our mental health is gaining recognition amongst researchers and healthcare providers. There are a few different theories as to why dogs are so good for our mental health, but the leading idea involves the chemical oxytocin. 

Ann Robinson, writing for the Guardian, calls Oxytocin “the so-called ‘hug’, ‘love’ or ‘cuddle’ hormone”, and is the chemical that is present when we form deep, meaningful relationships. This chemical is present when we form relationships with our parents or children, but is also at play in the pet-owner relationship. 

While the research on oxytocin and mental health is still in its infancy, we do know that dogs help us combat stressors and mental health conditions. It should come as no surprise that service dogs can help folks who suffer from PTSD or anxiety manage their conditions. But, dogs can also help anyone who is struggling with stress from day-to-day sources. 

Dogs and Physical Health

Dog owners spend about 200 more minutes a week walking than folks who don’t own a dog. This has a range of welcome health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular function, more effective immune systems, and a stronger muscle-skeletal system. 

But, thousands of dog owners do not take their dogs out for a walk or to a local dog-play park. This may be for perfectly valid reasons like a disability, but if you can walk your dog, yet choose not to, then both you and your dog are missing out on the incredible health benefits of being outdoors. 

You don’t need to start hiking mountains to enjoy the physical health benefits of dog walking. Start slow, with a walk that lasts about 15 minutes. This will ensure that neither you nor your dog will be “over walked”, which can lead to conditions like arthritis and joint pain. Preferably, aim to walk on grass or soft surfaces as these will be easier for your pup to walk on because they won’t burn their paws. 

Modifying Your Home

You might not realize it, but the design and structure of your home significantly impact the health and wellbeing of your dog. By making design choices that improve your dog’s quality of life, you can expect to have a healthier, happier dog who will reward you with plenty of affection and attention. 

First and foremost, you need to make sure your home is pup-proof. This means you need to remove any hazards like hanging objects or harmful substances like human food and cleaning chemicals. Following this, you should maintain a clean home, where your dog won’t choke or fall ill by eating something you’ve left lying around. 

Once you’ve taken care of the basics, you can get a little more creative about what you choose to include in your house. You can, for example, include pest repellant plants that are also safe for your pup that will keep mosquitoes and other pests away from both you and your dog. Small changes like buying a dog bed for your office can also make a big difference to your dog’s quality of life. 

By taking the time to keep your home clean and dog-safe, you can live with peace of mind knowing that your dog is happy, healthy, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

Travel With Dogs

Many folks mistakenly believe that they can’t take their dogs with them when they travel, or that their pet will put a wrench in their travel plans. This couldn’t be further from the truth — bringing your dog with you on your travels is a great way to stimulate them, and will only improve the connection you have with your canine pal. 

The key to ensuring you have a good time on the road is all about choosing the right mode of transportation. If you’re planning to travel with your dog in the car, then you might want to consider investing in dog cages for cars and make use of factory-installed barriers which keep everyone safe in the event of an accident. 

You can also take your dog with you via other methods like trains or via planes. Nowadays, many airlines allow you to keep your dog with you while you fly, rather than having to place them in the hold. Trains are much the same, as many dog owners choose to travel with their pets via a good old locomotive.

Traveling with dogs is also great in the winter, as many dogs are well suited to colder climates, and love nothing more than playing in the snow and cold weather camping. This can help you beat the winter blues, and improve your overall health and wellness. Just be sure to follow winter-safety travel considerations that are designed to keep you and your four-legged friend safe. 

Conclusion

Maximizing the mental and physical health benefits of owning a dog is tricky. If it’s been a while since your last walk, then it can be daunting to get out on the road again. Likewise, the idea of traveling with a canine pal is overwhelming for many folks. But, by planning ahead, and creating an environment your dog will enjoy, you can be sure to get the most from the special relationship you have with your four-legged friend.

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Dogs are the most amazing and wonderful animals ever. As has been said on this blog many times before dogs offer us unconditional love and that love presents itself in many ways.

I have written before about our Oliver.

Oliver’s eyes are to die for! His ability to read the smallest indications of an emotion on our human face is incredible.

Then there is Brandy. What a love!

Then we have Cleo who came as a puppy to be with Pharaoh.

June, 2007

Again the eyes! We still miss him.

The first day that Pharaoh was passed across to me. Devon, June 2003.

We are now down to five dogs: Pedi, Sheena, Oliver, Cleo and Brandy.

However all the dogs that we have had the greatest pleasure to love are still in our hearts.

Love!

A Valentine Day reflection.

Yesterday was, of course, Valentine’s Day.

Rather than copy something from somewhere else I wanted to be original in my thoughts about love.

Jean was happy that this be published.

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February 14th, 2022

In a world where new gizmos are coming onto the scene with what seems like ever increasing rapidity there is one thing that remains constant. It is love.

To my mind, love is a great deal more than the emotional and romantic connection between a man and a woman. Of course, that love, the romantic connection, is the one that is the subject of countless songs, poems, plays, books, and many other forms of communication, and one that goes back to almost the origins of warm-blooded life.

If one opens one’s mind, however, love can cover so much more. Love for the land; love for the distant stars in a dark sky; love for the sea; love for nature; and on and on. Too many times for me to count, and why would I want to count them anyway, each day I look out to the north-east and towards Sexton Mountain. My fondness for that sight is, I think, a form of love.

But this is Valentine’s Day. Despite the history of the day being an ancient Christian feast, as in Saint Valentine, an early Christian martyr, it has long become an important cultural and commercial celebration of romance. I sense you and me wanting to kick back against the commercial imperatives although, as you can see, I offer you a Valentine’s card.

With this card, I celebrate our love.

With this card, I celebrate that you and I found true love back in 2007; the first time this had happened to me.

With this card, I celebrate all that we have.

Dear Jeannie, I Love You!

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Here is the card:

Card and Brandy!

A rational argument for atheism.

A powerful and well-argued position from Waiving Entropy.

This is a cogent discussion article that was published back in July, 2013. Waiving Entropy is a blog that ranges across many aspects of life. As their About page states:

Waiving Entropy is a blog with humble aims. What began in 2011 as a gesture toward self-improvement evolved into a vitalizing outlet for creative expression. To write is to live more fully, and it has now become something I can scarcely imagine life without — a kind of formless, free-floating impulse that hovers about like a pregnant cloud. Fortunately, blogging is a kind of catharsis for the restless. Nothing eases an active mind like seeing your ideas materialize in a meaningful way in front of you, which is to say I write for myself first and foremost. This blog acts as both heat sink and hard drive, helping me offload scattered collections of thoughts and organize them into a coherent whole.

First, let me (with the help of WikiPedia) explain the difference between atheism and non-theism. It is in the form of a diagram:

So onto the article.

It is a long but a most interesting read.

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What Would Convince You?

By DANIEL BASTIAN

July 10th, 2013

As an atheist and former theist I am on occasion asked what it would take to change my mind on this central metaphysical question. What met conditions or circumstances would reincorporate into my worldview the conviction that God exists and, more specifically, that Christianity offers the best explanation for the world we observe?

However we may currently identify, and however strong our convictions in any one area, we must take these questions seriously. If we possess well considered reasons justifying our beliefs, then we should also consider possibilities that could weaken or undermine those beliefs. A worldview which can never be moved around, reconfigured into different shapes, is a worldview better characterized by creed and dogma than by epistemic openness and intellectual integrity. If we are to be responsible in our commitment to truth, our positions must ultimately be defeasible — open to revision in light of new information — lest we fall victim to playing tennis without the net.

With this in mind, my overriding approach is that a belief should be demonstrable on the weight of evidence and argument. If new information is forthcoming, if the evidence (or interpretation of that evidence) changes, or if arguments with greater explanatory scope and internal consistency are offered, it is our epistemic duty to honestly assess these new inputs and what it entails for our existing orientation. This is a basic feature used to build conclusions in philosophy and science and can be broadly exported to other areas of our discourse.

Before we dive in, it will be useful to clarify an oft-omitted distinction that tends to bog down discussions on this topic. The distinction is that between a “direct participant” deity — the god of theism — who intervenes in space and time and cares about how the drama of life plays out, and the noninterventionist, “absentee landlord” variety of deism. The latter is irrelevantbecause its existence and nonexistence are logically identical (from our perspective) and thus is not the focus of this essay. Rather, I will deal here with the former, a transcendent being that has a hand in the natural order and is in some sense involved in the affairs of humans. This is the territory of theism, the regime with the most relevance to our daily lives and metaphysical luggage.

The “God Hypothesis”

Contrary to some atheists, I don’t subscribe to the notion that there is, in principle or otherwise, a falsifiable “God hypothesis.” Refuting God is not like refuting the proposition All swans are white by finding a gaggle of black-plumaged swans in Scandinavia, thereby bringing us closer to the truth about the nature of swans. While I do think certain religious beliefs have been rendered untenable by the lights of modern science and historical inquiry, I don’t think we can definitively adjudge an entity’s nonexistence in the case of theism.

What we can do, however, is point out the lack of evidence where evidence ought to be — in other words, build an evidential case for nonexistence. And this is where popular conceptions of theism tend to break apart, because a god that intervenes in space and time is a god that is accessible to scientific study. In a world where Christians and other monotheists profess belief in a meddler god who influenced ancient texts, answers prayers, appoints semi-sane politicians to run for office, and worked all manner of miracles throughout history, the utter vacuum of evidence for such assertions begins to speak volumes. If demons and angels and spirits and souls were part of the furniture of reality, then their effects in the world should have been clearly documented by now. Given all that is attributed to these ethereal entities, this paradox should at the very least strike a person as strange.

Accordingly, though we may not be able to conclusively rule out the God of theism and his confederacy of celestial beings — à la Russell’s teapot — we can be reasonably confident that no such entities exist, in short, because things that don’t exist leave no evidence behind. They can’t, after all, because they don’t exist

If we want to be more careful in our language here, rather than claim outright that God does not exist we can simply say that we see no good evidence for God, and therefore (recalling John Dewey) a verdict cannot be reached on the question unless and until good reasons to warrant the belief are found. It’s an important distinction, in the same way that a jury for a criminal trial either finds sufficient evidence to convict, or not. A ‘not guilty’ verdict does not mean the defendant is innocent, only that there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt.

The purpose here is to offer 20 examples that would move a jury, namely me, beyond reasonable doubt. In so doing, we will look at a number of expectations that could be considered consistent with the claim that God exists and then see how those expectations correspond to the world we actually observe. As noted above, most of the following will interface with the generic god of theism and in the process make direct contact with Christianity in particular. My personal view is that a wider appreciation of reality reveals a universe that does not appear the way we would expect if theism were true, leaving nonbelief as a supremely rational position to hold.

1. If evolution were false. That is to say, if our scientific understanding of the diversity of life were irreparably refuted. The theological challenge presented by common descent has less to do with any putative conflict between science and fundamentalist religion than the larger dissonance it poses for teleological value systems. Those who flippantly maintain that evolution and faith are compatible rarely come to terms with what the great Book of Nature really tells us: We are an evolutionary accident, an infinitesimal, stochastically produced whimper in a four billion-year chain of existence that when compressed to a single year has man emerging within the final fifteen minutes of the calendar. If we truly are God’s chosen — the foreordained purpose of all that is and ever will be — why so much time spent with “unensouled” microbes?

This can be a tough pill to swallow precisely because it taps into something more profound than clumsy interpretations of ancient texts. Not only do evolution and deep time blunt our cosmic significance, but its ends are achieved through the instrument of death. Within the context of natural selection, death is not an unnatural state but is in fact integral to the process: it is the mechanism by which less fit individuals are removed from the gene pool, allowing those left standing to carry on. The corrosive influence of this most foundational of scientific formalisms was perhaps best expressed in a letter to the editor popularized by the late Stephen Jay Gould:


“Pope John Paul II’s acceptance of evolution touches the doubt in my heart. The problem of pain and suffering in a world created by a God who is all love and light is hard enough to bear, even if one is a creationist. But at least a creationist can say that the original creation, coming from the hand of God was good, harmonious, innocent and gentle. What can one say about evolution, even a spiritual theory of evolution? Pain and suffering, mindless cruelty and terror are its means of creation. Evolution’s engine is the grinding of predatory teeth upon the screaming, living flesh and bones of prey…If evolution be true, my faith has rougher seas to sail.”

 
Those who prefer a “God-guided” evolutionary model, moreover, must contend with the abundance of suboptimal design and overt inefficiencies with which nature is replete. Classic examples like the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the crossing of the air and food passages in vertebrates seem far removed from the realized premeditated vision of a competent architect. And if we owe our presence here to the illimitable wisdom of a Master Engineer who populated the planet in special acts of creation — as alleged by literalist readers of Genesis — we would not expect the rampant dysteleology evident in nature any more than we would expect the indisputable genetic, embryological, paleontological, and biogeographic evidence pointing to common descent.

Far from suggesting humanity occupies the climax of any cosmic production, the available evidence suggests we are an accidental scene in an otherwise haphazardly produced drama. The privileged plank on which so many religions place humanity is permanently deposed through the lens of evolution. To believe that there is some discarnate, phantasmic agency out there that harbors deep concern for our species is perhaps the most delusional, nay, conceited notion one can countenance.

 
2. If God appeared to me or made its presence known to me. The canonical gospels of the Christian New Testament are filled with post-mortem appearances. Jesus is said to have appeared to Cephas (Saint Peter) and the apostles, and to more than 500 others. In the Hebrew Bible Yahweh appears to Moses so often the two are on a first-name basis. A god concerned about the affairs of its creation, about what we believe and our eventual destination, could appear to every one of us, convincing us instantly of its existence and preeminence — yet we are left only with silence. Indeed, a direct manifestation would very likely convince me posthaste, though I would of course first ensure that I had not been in a chemically induced or comatose state at the time.

3. If we were not made of “star stuff.” Imagine the human race were composed of material utterly foreign to the rest of the cosmos. Suppose that baked into our biology were elements or unique forms of matter or energy not found in any other species, or anywhere else in the universe. Such radical discontinuity would at the very least be tantalizing enough to wax poetic about our “specialness.” Drawing a straight line from here to Jesus would be rather naïve, as scientific inquiry could lead us to other, more mundane reasons for our sui generiscomposition. But this would be a good launching pad for theism. 

As the science shows, however, there are universal inheritance patterns linking up the diversity of all life on Earth. The DNA and RNA found in all living things — from microbes and archaea to plants and mammals — are altered over time in response to changing circumstances, with more closely related kin sharing more features (and DNA) in common than more remote kin. Our bodies are littered with echoes of Homo sapiens’ evolutionary ancestry — from retroviral DNA, pseudogenes, and vestigial structures to the assortment of point mutations we share with our chimpanzee cousins. We all come from common clay, an inspiring and beautiful fact in its own right.

 
4. If a natural disaster were stopped in its tracks. There would be no explaining away a major cataclysm being miraculously averted, say, the tsunami which thumped the island of Sumatra in December 2004, laying waste to a quarter million people, 40% of which were children. A hurricane that mysteriously changed direction or an approaching asteroid that was inexplicably deflected away from Earth, trouncing the known laws of physics: divine involvement of this magnitude would likely blow the lid off my ideological center. By contrast, the biblical Yahweh saw fit to intervene on behalf of the fleeing Israelites by parting the Red Sea, and on behalf of Elisha by issuing flesh-hungry bears to maul his antagonizers. Alas, the God of the Bible has apparently grown lax over the years.

The problem of justice in a world created by a personal force remains unsolved, though certainly not unchallenged. The moral position on matters of avertable harms declares the bystander to be guilty, and as the eternal Bystander, God, should he exist, must be indicted as the worst offender of all.

 
5. If the efficacy of prayer could be conclusively demonstrated as superior to modern medical remedies. To date there have been several well-controlled, double-blind studies on the efficacy of prayer. In each of these studies, the null hypothesis was confirmed (i.e., prayer was shown to have no effect on patient condition). One of the largest and most significant of these studies was funded by the Templeton Foundation, who of course was trying to prove the opposite. Templeton solicited Christian petitioners across America and provided them with the first name and last initial of 1,802 patients to pray for. The whole unctuous affair lasted for months, and the results were published in the American Heart Journal in April 2006. No relationship observed.1

 
6. If we were to observe a true medical miracle. Qualifying phenomena include an amputee regrowing a limb — a capacity granted to starfish and many reptiles but not to us — or some other marvel outside the confines of our genetic toolkit. Or perhaps one of the millions of children who die every year being resurrected after declared death. Were the saints in Matthew more precious than these children, year after year?

Benny Hinn, Mind The Typo

7. If miracles like the ones crowding the Bible had occurred since the arrival of video cameras and modern methods of recording and preservation. Contrasting the Yahweh who intervened spectacularly in ancient times — taking up residence in a burning bush, raining fire down from the sky to establish Baal’s inferiority — or the Jesus who walked on water and transformed it into wine, with the utter absence of such enchanting productions following the arrival of video capture would seem to clinch the case against Judeo-Christianity almost singlehandedly. A falloff in miracle claims at precisely the moment our technology is capable of documenting them is not what we would expect were God as active in the world as many believers proclaim.

Frequency of miracles over time.

8. If we found two cultures who had independently received an identical revelation. As secular author David McAfee has noted, “If one religion were ‘true’, we would expect to see, even if only once in all of recorded history, a religious missionary that had stumbled upon a culture that shared the same revelations — brought forth by the same deity.”

Were we to discover that two uncontacted peoples inhabiting opposite ends of the planet worshipped the same god, lionized the same verbatim scriptures, and were bestowed duplicate revelations, this would strongly suggest divine origin or supernatural agency. Even more convincing would be the arrival of an extraterrestrial civilization that was found to have had an identical revelation to one here on Earth.

Meanwhile …

Instead, what we have found is that geography and birthparents are the leading predictors for religious affiliation. Which god one believes in and which values one adheres to are predominantly determined by the culture in which one happens to be born. This is not what we should expect if a single revelation had a more tactile connection to the truth. We find, moreover, that none of the major world religions sync up with one another; many are mutually contradictory, and even members of the same religion often disagree as much among themselves as they do with those of other faiths. Within the framework of personal revelation, we should expect more consensus in the realm of religious experience, with internal agreement and conversion rates tipped in favor of those claims with something real behind them. 

Religious demographics are better explained anthropologically, in which cultural traditions, beliefs, and norms are largely rooted in that culture’s heritage and social environment. And this is as true now as it was in the ancient world. The biblical writers, like those of the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu scriptures, drew from and adapted existing ideas to speak to their particular historical perspective.

 
9. If divine messages were embedded within our mathematical or physical laws.Were we to find some hidden intelligible code in our numeral systems or field equations escaping all plausible coincidence, this might suggest a message from above. An example could be a discernible pattern located in pi‘s unending chain of decimals that only makes sense in the context of Hindu or Christian scriptures. Suppose the pattern could be cross-walked perfectly to our oldest biblical manuscripts in their original Hebrew or Greek to the extent that we could read the scriptures strictly from the decimals. Or perhaps a string of prime numbers that could not possibly have arisen by sheer chance and carried unmistakable signs of intelligence.2

This one is abstract, and astute sci-fi fans will recognize traces of these ideas from Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact.

The Problem of Senseless Suffering

10. If there were not 10,000 different genetic disordersand counting. The wrong DNA in the wrong place can prove fatal to those with lackluster genetic heritage. Maladies big and small, especially those occurring throughout one’s life, can usually be traced to irregularities in one or a combination of genes. Some gene-based diseases threaten our quality of life and beleaguer us daily, while others kill us outright with devastating effectiveness. Such malfunctions of our biological makeup account for more than 150,000 babies per year in the U.S. alone who die from birth defects during or shortly after birth. That’s 411 every single day that an all-powerful God must choose not to rescue.

Granted, these tragic circumstances are simply the result of evolution in action paired with imperfect cell repair mechanisms. Unless we were to short-circuit the very processes which keep us humming along, genetic mistakes will continue to be a part of life for the foreseeable future. But surely that doesn’t prevent God from tidying up some of the delinquent DNA we’ve accumulated across evolutionary time. Could a God who fashioned cellular superstructures not rid our species of this “natural evil” that nudges us toward mortality through no fault of our own?

 
11. If the infant mortality rate (IMR) dropped faster than could be accounted for by scientific advances. IMR is the total number of newborn babies who die under one year of age divided by the total number of births per year. Two hundred years ago, there was a 50 percent chance of your child not surviving past its first year. By 1850, IMR for babies born in America was 217 per 1,000 for whites and 340 for African Americans. By 1950, global IMR was down to 152 per 1,000 babies born (15.2 percent). 

It is thanks to advancements in medicine and biomedical science that these numbers have been reduced to 4.3 percent today and continue to fall. Were this rate to experience a sudden sharp drop on a global scale that could not be explained by improvements in healthcare, it might just indicate that God is looking out for us and cares what happens down here.

Yet nothing like this has been observed. New life is still shuttered at staggering rates across the third world from malnutrition, infectious diseases, and a miscellany of genetic factors. One can only imagine how high these numbers have climbed historically, prior to when these types of records were kept. Salvation of these newborns has clearly been delivered by the hands of science, not by any god or goddess.

 
12. If the people of one religion experienced dramatically less suffering relative to all others. Consider that in 1990 around 12.6 million children died who were under the age of five. In 2011 the under-five toll was 7 million, and this figure is lower by about two-thirds compared with just a couple of centuries prior. One of the leading causes is malnourishment and starvation, which currently affects 800 million people — 11 percent of the world population — many of whom will not survive to the end of the year. Hunger alone accounts for more than a third of child mortality.

To put these figures in perspective, consider that every 4.5 seconds some under-five child will have died somewhere around the world. By the time you have finished reading this essay, and while men and women of faith are thanking God for parking spots and promotions, some several dozen children will have perished in misery, most likely from overwhelmingly Christian countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Yahweh is portrayed in the Bible as the Ultimate Provider, showering manna from the sky to nourish the Israelites in time of need. Once again, we see this deity has apparently grown more callous with time.

If a single faith group were special enough to reap God’s favor, we might expect different outcomes among the world’s religions. Against the harsh realities outlined above, we might see longer life expectancies, lower infant, child, and maternal mortality, fewer epidemics, and an overall higher quality of life for Jain-majority communities, say. Yet religion doesn’t seem to play a role in any of these factors, each of which are better predicted by geography, socioeconomic status, and access to healthcare. If anything it is non-religious societies which predominantly meet these conditions. Indeed, as Greg Gaffin writes in Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God:
 

“By every objective measure, open, liberal, secular societies are healthier than closed, bigoted, superstitious ones. Countries with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable, best educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according to a Human Development Index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries — Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands — all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely religious.”

13. If we did not have such a somber record of mass extinctions. Our excavation of the past has revealed that the glamour and diversity of life on Earth was punctuated by great loss and collapse. Depending on how you count species, anywhere from 30 billion to 4,000 billion (that’s 4 trillion) have met their demise, which means that 99.99 percent of everything that has ever lived is no longer with us.

The most recent event was the Chicxulub impact marking the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. This 10-mile wide asteroid not only laid the dinosaurs to rest but wiped out 75 percent of all extant species. Yet even this is eclipsed by the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction, the most ruinous event on record. Swings in climate and geologic activity around 252 mya saw 96 percent of all marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates blink out of existence. In taxonomic terms, some 57 percent of all families and 83 percent of all genera along the tree of life went extinct, as did over 90 percent of all species sea, land, and air. 

What is the most reasonable inference one can draw from these facts? I submit that an omniamorous creator god is about the last thing one would deduce from such information.

 
14. If our own species had not been jerked to the precipice of extinction multiple times in our relatively brief time on this planet. Consider man’s evolutionary past. Anatomically modern humans first arose around 200,000 years ago. For our ancestors, life was less a gift than a burdensome, calamitous, and affliction-laden existence. The absence of anything we would call medicine or quality of life meant death was a hurried and unrelenting affair, with average life expectancy hovering below age thirty. 

Disasters such as the supervolcanoes of Yellowstone and Lake Toba, genetic diseases, epidemics, and virus outbreaks variously culled our population numbers to the low thousands in a series of bottlenecks that very nearly signaled the death knell for our species. At our nadir, we were but a few thousand casualties short of joining the 99.99 percent of other species in annihilation. And if events had proceeded a bit differently, we might not be here at all.

It was Ambrose Bierce who wrote: “Religions are conclusions for which the facts of nature supply no major premises.” Our universe is no idyll. Nature’s a serial killer, the boldest and most successful that’s ever lived. It’s clever, it’s ruthless, and it’s highly efficient. Indeed, it seems as if the universe was engineered for the express purpose of snuffing out life forms with unmetered brutality. Is such a universe consistent with a benevolent God?3

Christianity’s House of Cards

15. If the Bible were non-discrepant, free of error, and internally consistent. A central feature of revealed religion is that God authors books. He doesn’t code software. He doesn’t produce feature films or compose plays. Rather, within the narrative of Judeo-Christianity, God is said to have inspired a diverse collection of writings sometime between the years 1000 BCE and 135 CE. What might we expect of a corpus inspired by the Creator of the universe? Maybe not one riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Given the claims made on its behalf, we would expect to find a level of perfection which transcends that of ordinary, man-made works, and such excellence would be positive evidence in favor of those claims. We do not find this.

No religious texts pass this test.

 
16. If the Bible, or any purported holy text, contained prescient moral and scientific truths. What about matters of ethics and morality and insights about the physical world? Here again, given the extraordinary claims made on its behalf, the Bible should exhibit an ethical blueprint that transcends the rate of cultural evolution observed across history. Yet on issues such as slavery, the status of women, penalties for various innocuous (and imaginary) crimes, and the treatment of unbelievers, the biblical texts are found to be par for the Bronze Age course. 

Consider the issue of slavery. In the time of St. Paul and the other New Testament writers, enslavement was a common and completely accepted social institution, as ubiquitous in Judea, Galilee, and the Roman Empire writ large as stock trading is to our own. What better opportunity to condemn in clear and certain terms and bring an early end to a practice that would haunt and oppress the underprivileged for the better part of the next two thousand years? Yet neither Paul nor any other biblical figure is recorded as saying anything in opposition. Not even Jesus, supposed moral exemplar to the stars, utters a word against slaveholding.4

Likewise, the Bible is bereft of insights about the universe: no scientific precocity, nothing that has stood the test of time. As Sam Harris has noted, there isn’t a single sentence in the Bible that could not be uttered by someone today or that could not have been uttered “by someone for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.” If within the pages of the Bible or other (prescientific) text we were to find passages on DNA, electricity, principles of infectious disease, astronomical and cosmological truths, references to common descent and DNA, quarks, Higgs or other subatomic particles, then one could easily advance a sensible case for divine inspiration.

And it should be assessed like any other.

As it stands, the Bible, like other primitive works, is a product of its time. Its authors betray a manifest ignorance on matters pertaining to nature and ethical judgment, just as we would expect of a work sprung from the ancient world. The confluence of these problems casts considerable doubt on the very idea that the Judeo-Christian texts are of heavenly origin. If truly these were instructional messages vouchsafed to humanity by an all-knowledgeable, all-loving agency, we should expect to see the apotheosis of ethical counsel, the consummation of moral enlightenment, and the cutting edge in cosmic literacy. We do not find this.

 
17. If the biblical texts were purely preserved. Most Christians assume their nicely printed and bound book, conveniently translated into modern English idiom, contains the pure, unvarnished words passed down from their time of origin. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, we have not one of the autographs (originals) for any text in either the Old or New Testaments. As with any document from antiquity, the originals were lost or destroyed a long time ago. What survives are copies of the originals several centuries removed from their point of provenance.

When we compare the later manuscripts to our earliest witnesses, we find hundreds of thousands of variants, some material in nature (the alternate endings for Mark’s gospel, the Johanine Comma, the silencing and disesteeming of women in Paul’s epistles), some less so (innocent copy errors and the like). The evidence of our manuscript traditions confirms that these texts have been edited, revised, and redacted down through the centuries, often by way of mistake but also for theological and political motives, and the further back we go in the catalog the more errors that appear. If God deemed it prudent to deliver us a textbook of instruction, then why was the same care not taken in preserving it for us?
 

“For most people, the Bible is a non-problematic book. What people don’t realize is that they’re reading translations of texts, and we don’t have the originals. Given the circumstance that God didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.” —Bart Ehrman

18. If we had a more reliable historical record of the life and deeds of Jesus. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t leave any writings of his own behind, and neither did any of his disciples (who were most likely illiterate; see here and here) or anyone who knew him. Christians are often surprised to learn that we don’t actually know who wrote the gospels; the titles we see at the top today were added centuries later. The gospel accounts were written anonymously by Greek-speaking persons (read: not Aramaic) several decades after Jesus’ death.

To be fair, Jesus is hardly alone on this score. Our surviving sources for most historical figures are non-autographic, non-eyewitness, and in many cases irreconcilably contradictory. This does not mean historical reconstruction is impossible, but it does complicate the task. Where Jesus differs relative to most figures from the ancient world is, firstly, that accounts of him have come down to us in the form of the gospels, which are largely theological in nature. Particularly compared to other contemporary works by the Roman-era Josephus, Tacitus, Plutarch, or Suetonius, we are not reading rote history when we read the canonical material. 

Second, many of the miracles attributed to him we would expect to be externally attested if they did in fact occur. Mark tells of a darkness which covered the earth upon Jesus’ last breath and is strangely specific as to its duration (from noon to three in the afternoon). Matthew describes a rock-splitting earthquake accompanied by a parade of corpses leaving empty tombs behind. Paul informs us that the resurrected Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at once. Surely these goings-on made it into other writings of the day? Except nowhere outside the Bible do we find mention of any of these miraculous events. Not even the other New Testament writers mention them.

In fact, the only legitimate references we have to Jesus outside the New Testament canon are from the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 93 CE, and the Roman senator-cum-historian Tacitus, writing in the second century. And neither make any mention of the miracle wonders front and center in the gospel narratives. Taken together, the scattered and contradictory nature of the historical sources calls into question any confidence surrounding the details of his life, leaving the truth about what he said and did largely inaccessible and uncertain.

It’s important to note here that such silence and contradiction are not evidence against the very existence of Jesus as a historical figure. The reality is that Jesus simply did not make that big a splash in his day. That the source material is so scant is only surprising or problematic if one subscribes to Jesus the miracle-worker as opposed to Jesus the obscure, illiterate, penniless Jew whose life was posthumously embellished by his most devoted followers. Thus the fact that we have no extra-canonical sources for Jesus’ miracles merely serves as evidence against the historicity of those miracles, not against the historicity of Jesus himself.5

 
19. If Christianity were not so divided and had not repeatedly found itself on the wrong side of history, all the while citing divine revelation. Christians claim their God embodies absolute morality, yet they are in absolute disagreement over what those morals are. One would expect a group with a direct landline to the Creator to agree upon moral matters. They do not. And they have not. With no modicum of irony, those with no religion tend to experience much greater unity on ethical matters than do religionists.

In the same way, Christians claim their faith is uniquely characterized by a relationship with God, yet they are in consummate disagreement over God’s nature and God’s will and basic Christian doctrine, testified by the 41,000+ denominations and splinter sects. When it would take the better part of a lifetime or two to sift through all of these non-negotiable disagreements and sub-disagreements, clearly we have missed the revelation. Is God not available for an air-clearing Q&A to set the record straight?
 

20. In a certain sense, the foregoing is ultimately beside the point. It stands to reason that an infinitely wise god that made entrance to heaven dependent on proper belief would know exactly what criteria each of us would require. An all-knowing god that craves certain convictions on the part of bipedal mammals and longs for our attention in the form of a personal relationship would doubtless find this essay of marginal utility. An infinitely capable god that cares sincerely about the safe haven of our souls would spare no expense, and leave no measure untaken, in ensuring our demands for evidence had been met.

That the god theists insist is real and present in our world has altogether failed to do so may point to the thin foundation on which these belief systems rest. A god that has made itself impossible to detect — that, indeed, has ostensibly crafted a universe using processes indistinguishable from nature itself — and neglected to act on our behalf when and where such intercession was most desperately needed, undercuts our expectations of a cosmos governed by a benevolent watchman.
 

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”

—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787

 
I challenge my Christian friends to compile a similar list. If practicing theists were genuinely concerned with the truth of their beliefs, they should be able to replicate this exercise. What array of facts, happenings, or circumstances might it take to convince a theist of the truth of atheism?


  1. Interestingly, in the single blind study (where the patients were aware they were being prayed for), the patient’s condition actually worsened. It is thought that anxiety crept in because the patients assumed they should be recovering since they were being prayed for, and when they didn’t, this stressed them out even more than the illness itself.[]
  2. Though this would also be consistent with the simulation hypothesis.[]
  3. That the world contains too much suffering for it to be the creation of a good God is an idea dating back to the days of Epicurus. Often when the argument from evil is raised, the theist will respond by calling attention to all of the goodness and beauty in the world. Consider Van Gogh and Picasso, Roethke and Rachmaninov, Mozart and Chopin and Bach and Miles Davis, or Caravaggio and Rothko, they may intone. But can this not be turned around? To whom, then, should we be grateful for the likes of Elizabeth Bathory, Talat Pasha, Josef Mengele, Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Kim Il Sung, Nero, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, or Vlad the Impaler?If you would count the former ensemble as evidence for God, in the interest of consistency is it not only fair you should count the latter cast as evidence against God? This thought experiment has been posed by a number of philosophers, including most recently Stephen Law in the form of the “Evil God Challenge” (YouTube animation here; foreword to a new book by John Zande here). The argument contends the following: If goodness is sufficient evidence to rule out the existence of a supremely evil being, then why isn’t evil sufficient evidence to rule out a supremely good being? Try though they might, theists cannot have their cake and eat it too.[]
  4. As historian Morton Smith has argued: “There were innumerable slaves of the emperor and of the Roman State; the Jerusalem Temple owned slaves; the High Priest owned slaves (one of them lost an ear in Jesus’ arrest); all of the rich and almost all of the middle class owned slaves. So far as we are told, Jesus never attacked this practice. He took the state of affairs for granted and shaped his parables accordingly. As Jesus presents things, the main problem for the slaves is not to get free, but to win their master’s praise. There seem to have been slave revolts in Palestine and Jordan in Jesus’ youth (Josephus, Bellum, 2:55-65); a miracle-working leader of such a revolt would have attracted a large following. If Jesus had denounced slavery or promised liberation, we should almost certainly have heard of his doing it. We hear nothing, so the most likely supposition is that he said nothing.”[]
  5. Myth and legend often, but not always, point to some historical kernel. Just because we have no good reasons to accept the fantastical claims attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, for example — on whose body it is said miraculously appeared stigmata impressed by a seraph with six wings — does not ipso facto give us reason to doubt the very existence of the figure behind them. Mythological accretion over time is common to sacred narratives, however historically rooted those narratives may originally have been. What I have found is that those who are quick to reject the consensus of scholarship (on any question, not just the historical Jesus question) do so because it is ideologically convenient for them to do so.From my perspective, the question “Did Jesus exist?” is an uninteresting one, and I would go so far as to say an irrelevant one, at least for the naturalist, because the question of historicity is subordinate to the much larger questions about supernaturalism, whether gods exist, and so forth. If we have good reasons for thinking the miracles and other supernatural contents of the gospels amount to fiction and fabrication, then should it matter that an itinerant, parabolic sermonizer was perambulating around Galilee two thousand years ago? If the figure to which the gospels point was exclusively human, endowed with no different attributes from you and I, then the question of historicity should strike the naturalist as trivial. If Jesus existed, he was simply another self-styled prophet about whom legendary stories developed. And if Jesus was merely an historicized amalgam of antecedent mythology, the naturalist position is no more or less secure.Of course, the Christian faith is pinned entirely on whether the gospel accounts are historically true as regards the nature of Jesus. So the better question is, “What kind of Jesus existed?” An answer to this question in line with Christian orthodoxy is very difficult to defend. Given how much of the gospel accounts is considered historically dubious — such as the fabrications surrounding Jesus’ birth, in which the Septuagint’s mistranslation of the Hebrew rendering for “young woman” in Isaiah was used by the author of Matthew to render ‘parthenos‘ (‘virgin’); the likely fictitious trial before Pontius Pilate; the three-hour darkness that apparently no contemporary observer noticed; the rock-splitting earthquake that history apparently felt apt to omit; the parades of corpses thronging the streets of Jerusalem for which there exists no extra-canonical account — what confidence do we have in the central tenets of Christian faith that have coalesced around the figure of Jesus, namely that he performed miracles in violation of physical law and physical causality culminating in that pinnacle of contra-physics known as the resurrection? Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us much confidence at all.In short, sure, a rabbi touting himself as the Messiah likely existed with some threadbare connection to the narratives in the gospels, along with the scores of other Messianic figures around that time period who and for whom were claimed many of the same things. But this isn’t what all the hubbub was ever about.

ooOOoo

Well if you have read to the end then you are to be congratulated.

I think it is the best argument that I have seen for the truth. I greatly admire the many people in the world that believe in some form of religion, especially in the USA, but as that quote above from Robert De Niro says: “If there is a God then he has a lot to answer for!”

Larry the guide dog!

Serendipity at work!

Yesterday morning while sitting up in bed I was browsing the internet on my iPad. I looked up TED Talks and fancied watching the story of Mark Pollock and Simone George. It turned out to be 19 minutes of incredible viewing and it is reproduced below as a YouTube video.

Towards the end Mark refers to his guide dog Larry. More of that later.

First watch the video.

It is a most amazing talk.

Next I wanted to research some more.

First I found Mark’s website that is here.

Then I came across a comprehensive entry on WikiPedia. From which the following is taken:

Pollock enrolled in a course to help come to terms with his disability. He left for Dublin with his guide dog Larry and began putting himself forward for job interviews. Prospective employers were uncertain as to how to approach him. Eventually the father of one of his college friends assigned him to organising corporate entertainment. He returned to rowing and won bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships. He engaged in other athletic pursuits, including running six marathons in seven days with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert, China in 2003 when he raised tens of thousands of euro for the charity Sightsavers International. On 10 April 2004, he competed in the North Pole Marathon on the sixth anniversary of his blindness.

Then I discovered that Larry had died: “My great mate Larry The Guide Dog died on Sunday night. An amazing Guide Dog and amazing friend.”.

He died on the 2nd May, 2010 just a couple of months before Mark’s terrible accident.

Finally a photograph of Mark and Larry!

Who do you rely on most? When I was just blind, it was my guide dog Larry who empowered me to live life independently.”

The words of Mark Pollock.

What an inspiration he must be to so many!