Continuación de primera parte de la serie

Antes de entrar a mis argumentos a favor de los transgénicos y por qué varios sectores de la izquierda política están rotundamente equivocados al respecto, quisiera atacar un argumento que siempre se me presenta, específicamente en contra de las ciencias. 

Como empezaré a argumentar en mi próximo artículo, mi juicio a favor de los transgénicos son de índole ética y científica. Aquellos que se oponen también sostienen que su punto de vista descansa en ambas consideraciones. Sin embargo, cuando empiezo a hablar de artículos publicados por revistas arbitradas, se me señala que las ciencias se han equivocado antes y que la posición mayoritaria de las ciencias ha estado errada antes.

Aunque esta posición es un non-sequitur (“la ciencia ha estado equivocada antes ergo tiene que estar equivocada con el tema de los alimentos transgénicos”), puedo entender en parte la objeción. No obstante, quiero que estén conscientes de que este es el mismo tipo de falacia sostiene a sectores de la derecha política y económica que argumentan que no existe el problema del calentamiento global.

Objetivamente hablando, aquí se presenta un problema de selectividad. Sectores de la derecha pueden escoger la evidencia que les convenga y rechazar el resto diciendo “la ciencia ha estado equivocada antes”, mientras que sectores de la izquierda hace lo mismo, pero en relación con otros temas (incluyendo el de los trangénicos). 

Aquí quisiera elaborar un poco en el tema de por qué las ciencias han fallado antes y siguen fallando actualmente y, aun así, es mejor seguir su directriz factual. Simultáneamente, con base en la discusión, quisiera proponer la siguiente consigna: “¡No a la ciencia a conveniencia!

Los teólogos de Salamanca y Cristóbal Colón

Fuera del llamado “suceso de Galileo” (frecuentemente mal comprendido), no hay otro ícono más poderoso en cuanto a la llamada “rivalidad” entre las ciencias y la religión que la confrontación que tuvo Cristóbal Colón con los teólogos de Salamanca.

De acuerdo con el relato conocidísimo, los académicos de Salamanca sostenían que la Tierra era plana, por lo que era imposible un viaje de Europa a Asia, debido a que el Océano Atlántico terminaba en “un borde” en el que posiblemente caerían los barcos. Supuestamente los teólogos de Salamanca se basaron en las Sagradas Escrituras y en algunos teólogos en la Antigüedad y el Medioevo tales como San Agustín y Santo Tomás de Aquino para sostener su punto de vista retrógrada. Por otro lado, estaba Cristóbal Colón, de pensamiento ilustrado y humanista del Renacimiento, que en claro reto a la religión, insistía utilizar sus habilidades como navegante para probar que la Tierra era redonda. Los teólogos insistían que la Tierra no podía ser redonda, porque entonces se caerían aquellas personas que viven en el hemisferio sur de la esfera terrestre. Colón convenció a los Reyes Católicos de su expedición y el resto es “historia”… 

… ¿O lo es? Cuando los historiadores profesionales escuchan este relato, no pueden evitar sonreír. Todos los detalles de este relato son falsos. Es más, casi todo ello proviene de una obra de ficción escrita por Washington Irving titulada, Una historia de la vida y los viajes de Cristóbal Colón. Como bien saben los historiadores a saciedad, durante el Medioevo ninguna persona instuida pensaba que la Tierra era plana, esto incluye a Agustín de Hipona y Tomás de Aquino, quienes manifiestamente partían de la premisa de que la Tierra era redonda. De hecho, para muchos de los que hemos leído La divina comedia de Dante, podemos percatarnos de que el distinguido poeta supone que la Tierra es redonda (así como las esferas del cielo y del infierno). Tenemos escritos y artefactos tanto medievales como renacentistas que dan cuenta claramente de que entre los educados existía un fuerte consenso de que la Tierra era redonda. Lo demás, es pura fantasía (Leer más al respecto en esta referencia, esta, esta y esta.) He aquí algunas evidencias de que los medievales y renacentistas pensaban que la Tierra era redonda:

Representación de la esfera terrestre según Crates de Malos
Representación de la esfera terrestre según Crates de Malos (2do. siglo d.C.)

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Ilustración de la obra _Sobre la esfera terrestre_
Ilustración de Sobre la esfera terrestre. La imagen procede de un manuscrito de 1550, pero el texto original se escribió por Johannes de Sacrobosco en 1250. Este libro sirvió como introducción al curso de astronomía en ciertas universidades medievales.

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El "Erdapfel" creado por Martin Benhaim
Representación tridimensional de la Tierra esférica creada en 1492 por Martin Behaim. Este globo terráqueo no se basó en ideas relacionadas remotamente con Cristóbal Colón (quien todavía no había regresado de América a Europa). Más bien, esta idea se basaba en las ideas del Papa Sixto IV. ¡Sí! ¡Aun los papas favorecían las ciencias!

 

Si los teólogos de la Universidad de Salamanca no tenían problema alguno con la redondez de la Tierra. ¿Entonces en qué consistía su problema con Colón? 

El hoy afamado marino sí sostenía que podía llegar de Europa a Asia vía el Océano Atlántico … pero usando trucos matemáticos (hoy diríamos pseudocientíficos) para mostrar que la Tierra era mucho más pequeña que lo que suponían los filósofos naturales (los científicos) de la época. Los filosofos y los teólogos de Salamanca no estuvieron de acuerdo en lo absoluto, porque ellos tenían los datos más fiables, que podían sacarse utilizado la geometría de la época (en aquel entonces mejorada considerablemente por la trigonometría) tal y como han mostrado un sinnúmero de pensadores desde el filósofo Eratóstenes de Cirene (276-195 a.C.), el primero en inferir la circunsferencia de la Tierra.

Si este es el caso, por qué los pensadores de Salamanca objetaron a Colón, en vez de promover su “experimento” para mostrar el verdadero tamaño de la Tierra? En primer lugar, esta pregunta parte de la premisa de que el experimento de Colón era de puro interés “investigativo”. En realidad Colón era un marino que buscaba fama y fortuna. La concepción de Colón como un “humanista renacentista” es pura fantasía. En segundo lugar, en una Europa que estaba devastada por la peste bubónica, combinada con el recién establecimiento de la alianza entre unos reinos en crecimiento (Castilla y Aragón), la empresa de un viaje como el que tenía pensado Colón era sumamente oneroso para “España”. 

Es más, según los mismos cálculos científicos de los sabios de Salamanca, la esfera terrestre era demasiado grande para que persistiera un viaje tan largo como el que pensaba Colón. ¿Tendría Colón suficientes provisiones para emprender un viaje tan largo? El navegante, por otro lado, intentaba convencer a los reyes y a los estudiosos de que su matemática fatula y pseudocientífica era fiable.

Sin embargo, ocurrió algo inesperado ….  ¡Se toparon con un nuevo continente entre Europa y Asia! Ninguno de los dos bandos conocía este detalle. Es más, Colón murió sin haber descubierto a América, ya que pensaba que había llegado a Asia. El crédito del descubrimiento se lo debe llevar Américo Vespucci, cartógrafo italiano que observó las discrepancias entre Asia y el nuevo continente. Por esa y otras razones, hoy América se llama “América”. Tampoco olvidemos que los nativos se asentaron en estas tierras antes que Colón y que los primeros europeos en “descubrir” a América aparentemente fueron los vikingos.

¿Podemos culpar a los sabios de Salamanca por su objeción a Colón? ¡Claro que no! Al contrario, ellos siguieron el mejor conocimiento (la mejor ciencia) de su época y, objetivamente hablando, tenían la razón. Sin embargo, su ciencia falló, no por ocultar información inconveniente, sino por no tener todas las variables disponibles a su disposición. ¡Que más da!
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Un superhéroe que no es ni de DC ni de Marvel (¡Supermán le envidiaría por haber salvado literalmente al mundo!)

Si ustedes no han tenido la oportunidad de ver la serie Cosmos (con Neil DeGrasse Tyson), les invito a que lo hagan. Para mí, esta ha sido una serie hermosa que despierta mi sentido de lo numinoso. Sin embargo, quisiera enfatizarme en el séptimo episodio titulado “The Clean Room“, que trata de un superhéroe (¡me gusta describirlo así!) llamado Clair C. Patterson. No voy a revelar todos los detalles de su historia, sino lo que es pertinente a nuestro tema (para el resto, ¡vean el episodio!)  

Patterson, fue el primero en averiguar la edad aproximada del planeta Tierra (4.5 mil millones de años). Sin embargo, su acto heróico consistió en denunciar el contenido de plomo en la gasolina. ¿Quiénes fueron sus archienemigos durante su campaña? Robert E. Kehoe y su empleador, la Ethyl Corporation. Durante el proceso, este héroe nunca utilizó puños, no tenía la capacidad de volar, no tenía las habilidades de Batman, ni podía trepar paredes como el Hombre Araña. Sin embargo, utilizó su inteligencia para combatir a grandes enemigos. ¡Olvídense de Lex Luthor! La Ethyl Corporation y otras corporaciones eran sumamente poderosas en el momento, lo suficiente para cabildear en el Congreso de Estados Unidos a su favor y denegar investigaciones que se hicieran en contra de sus intereses. Sin embargo, Patterson nunca se rindió al respecto, siempre continuó con su campaña. Gracias a él, ya no estamos tan afectados adversamente por la presencia de plomo en la atmósfera. 

La pregunta que hay que hacerse es, ¿cómo es posible que el público en general, incluyendo el Congreso, creyera que el plomo no era tóxico? Para sorpresa de muchos, la toxicidad del plomo era bien conocida en la antigüedad, especialmente por los romanos, quienes desarrollaron los sistemas de acueductos (utilizando la plomería, utilizando el plomo). Como ya he indicado, hubo mucho cabildeo por parte de las grandes corporaciones contra Patterson, también hubo mucha propaganda que intentaba convencer al público de que, gracias al plomo, había avances tecnológicos importantes. ¡Se quería demostrar que el plomo era bueno para los juguetes infantiles! (Vean todo al respecto en Cosmos)

Sin embargo, nada de esto era suficiente. La corporación tuvo que recurrir a una autoridad científica. Sin ella, fracasaba su convencimiento público. El rol científico le tocó a Robert E. Kehoe. Este argumentaba en este artículo (y en muchos otros) que la cantidad de plomo en el ambiente y en los océanos era natural y no era producto humano (¿suena familiar?). Las corporaciones petroleras, que no querían invertir en refinar el petróleo, también argumentaron que la cantidad de plomo en el ambiente era natural (¿suena familiar?). Es más, si se les obligaba a invertir en refinerías de petróleo, se caía la economía petrolera (¿suena familiar?).

Kehoe publicó su artículo en varias revistas arbitradas y de reputación. Si sus conclusiones eran falsas, ¿nadie se dio cuenta? Kehoe era un científico de muy buena reputación durante los años cincuenta y sus credenciales fueron lo suficiente como para persuadir a muchos de que sus conclusiones eran sólidas. Tanto fue así que muchos tomaron sus artículos como la “palabra final” en cuanto al tema. ¡Nadie le retó!  Durante muchos años, este fue un gran fallo de las ciencias.

Patterson fue el que le puso punto final a esta tendencia. Llamó la atención a la concentración de plomo en el océano, en la nieve de los polos del planeta y en el aire. Mediante cálculos estadísticos mostró cómo el ser humano (y no la naturaleza) estaba provocando este tipo de contaminación tóxica en el ambiente. Gracias a su persistencia y a que las corporaciones no pudieron negar la interpretación inequívoca de sus datos, Estados Unidos y otros países del mundo empezaron a requerir el refinamiento del petróleo. Estos estudios de Patterson se publicaron en varias revistas arbitradas que retaban a Kehoe, y venció. …  ¡No hay nada ni nadie que sea sagrado en la ciencia!

No solo esto redujo considerablemente la cantidad de plomo en el ambiente y en las aguas, sino que la salud de la gente (especialmente en las ciudades) mejoró considerablemente.

La lucha de Patterson no fue fácil. Los fondos de sus investigaciones en torno a la edad de la Tierra provinieron precisamente de las mismas industrias que intentaban desmentirle. Hubo intentos de soborno. Le trataron de “hacer la vida imposible” para testificar ante el Congreso de los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, varias agencias del gobierno federal de Estados Unidos (las Fuerzas Armadas de Estados Unidos, la Marina de los Estados Unidos, la Comisión de Energía Atómica, el Servicio Público de la Salud y la Fundación Nacional de la Ciencia) apoyaron a Patterson.

Quiero enfatizar este último punto porque, como dije en mi artículo previo, mucha gente se imagina a la FDA (Food and Drug Administration) como una ultraesclava servil de las grandes corporaciones … especialmente bajo la premisa de que el gobierno existe sola y exclusivamente para legitimar y privilegiar al capital. Una vista mucho más cuidadosa de la historia (como en el caso de Patterson) muestra que este punto de vista no es estrictamente correcto, aun cuando sí es acertado en muchos otros casos (no ignoro en absoluto la fabulosa obra de G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America?). Tal juicio no tiene en cuenta el rol que tienen ciertos puntos cruciales de la vida política que no son reducibles meramente al interés económico de las grandes corporaciones, especialmente los grados de sensibilidad a su población local y el grado de reglamentación vigente (aun después de la época reaganiana/hatcheriana de desregulación indiscriminada neoliberal).
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Otros héroes …

La campaña agresiva que se montó para evitar que los clorofluorocarbonos se sacaran del mercado debido al aumento del tamaño de la capa de ozono ha sido generalmente exitosa (especialmente tras el Protocolo de Montreal y la Ley del Aire Limpio en Estados Unidos). Esto ha llegado al punto de detener su incremento. Este fue uno de los más grandes triunfos del movimiento ambiental a nivel mundial. Hubo muchos héroes que merecen crédito por ello, pero la mayoría son desconocidos por el público.

Ahora, nos queda el problema más importante de nuestra generación, el del cambio climático o calentamiento global. En un momento dado, el gobierno federal estadounidense intentó falsear la información al respecto, específicamente bajo la administración de George Bush Jr., en el que distorsionó un informe del James Hansen, quien intentaba dar a conocer la urgencia de actuar ante la grave amenaza que implica la emisión sustancial de gases que causan el efecto de hibernadero (particularmente la emisión de bióxido de carbono). De hecho, esa administración de Bush hizo grandes esfuerzos para suprimir el problema del cambio climático. Su argumento principal era que “no hay suficientes estudios”, “no hay suficiente información”, etc. Los informes alarmantes sobre el calentamiento global eran sistemáticamente alterados por personas que no tenían ningún tipo de autoridad en el tema (e.g. Phil Cooney, cabildero de la industria del petróleo y que admitió públicamente haber defraudado al público … véase la información al respecto aquí y aquí). Véase también que FOX News (of all people!) también reportó este serio problema.

James Hansen y muchísimos otros científicos son los héroes que nos están advirtiendo de lo que viene si no hacemos algo al respecto. Cerca de 95% de los científicos (un fuertísimo consenso) está de acuerdo en que el cambio climático es causado por los seres humanos. Muchos de los que argumentan lo contrario (cuya mayoría trabaja para industrias cuyos beneficios se afectarían) han sido sistemáticamente desmentidos por la mayoría científica en revistas arbitradas. Para efecto de los científicos (como Patterson) no hay debate al respecto. 

Prácticamente todas las organizaciones científicas de autoridad y prestigio corroboran esta convicción:

  • American Association for the Advancement on Science (véase su documentación aquí)
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (véase su documentación aquí)
  • National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society (véase su documentación aquí)
  • Las Naciones Unidas (véase su página cibernética sobre el tema aquí).
  • NASA (véase su página sobre el tema aquí)
  • Met Office (véase su página sobre el tema aquí)
  • etc.,  etc.,  etc.,  etc.,  etc.,  etc., etc.

Muy a pesar de los grandes intereses, toda la evidencia parece apuntar a una sola dirección. Los seres humanos estamos causando el cambio climático por calentamiento global.

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¿Mi punto …?

Definitivamente no hay lugar a dudas de que en la izquierda hay una preocupación genuina por el tema del cambio climático … ¡y con mucha razón! Recomiendo encarecidamente el libro de Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. Es más, promuevo la participación activa en el ámbito político y económico para la reducción de los problemas ambientales de este siglo. La mayoría de estos son seres humanos de bien quienes, con heroicidad y dedicación, pueden vencer a los grandes intereses económicos para salvar a los seres vivos del planeta. 

Sin embargo, hay otras áreas en que vemos casi el mismo grado de consenso que encontramos en el caso del cambio climático … esta vez, es en cuanto a que en general las ciencias están a favor de los alimentos transgénicos. ¡¡¡¿POR QUÉ CARRAYOS NO LES HACEMOS CASO?!!! 

Una vez más sé que las ciencias fallan mucho. Puede ser que este consenso sea errado, así como el consenso del cambio climático puede ser errado. El problema es que la evidencia señala que los transgénicos en general parecen ser beneficiosos a la humanidad. Puede ser que nos falten variables a considerar (como en el caso de los sabios de Salamanca en el Renacimiento) o que haya intereses corporativos de por medio (como ocurrió en el caso de Robert Kehoe y compañía). Sin embargo, en el caso de este último se hace cada vez más improbable debido a un incremento notable de discusión y debate de diversas hipótesis y teorías al respecto dentro de la comunidad científica. Es más, al igual que el cambio climático, hay estudios a saciedad en torno a los alimentos transgénicos.

Tal vez el problema se halle en que el cambio climático entra en claro conflicto con intereses corporativos (por eso la izquierda lo favorece), pero los alimentos transgénicos no (por eso la izquierda lo rechaza). Esta es solo una “pequeña” sospecha de mi parte. Hasta donde he podido ver, creo que el rechazo a los alimentos transgénicos es casi todo puramente ideológico y raya en lo irracional y en lo pseudocientífico (¡Admito una vez más que puedo estar equivocado!).

Además de recordar que se cae en argumento circular si se afirma que todo producto corporativo es malo para la humanidad (aserción que ni el mismo Karl Marx respaldaría), quisiera subrayar lo importante que es promover el pensamiento claro y mostrar la evidencia debidamente cualificada en el debate público sobre este tema. Si no lo hacemos, terminamos cometiendo graves barbaridades como esta … 

Greenpeace Stunt in Peru - Associated Press
(Foto de Associated Press)

Les aseguro que Greenpeace no fue mi organización “héroe” cuando vi eso (véase lo que tuvo que decir al respecto), pero tampoco lo fue cuando hizo esto a plantaciones de arroz dorado. … De este alimento y otros hablaré en mi próximo artículo.

Hasta entonces, mediten sobre el siguiente dicho del filósofo Bertrand Russell:

No dudo que, aunque haya que esperar cambios progresivos en la física, las doctrinas actuales probablemente están más cerca de la verdad que cualquier otra teoría rival formulada. La ciencia no acierta nunca del todo, pero raras veces está totalmente equivocada y, en general, tiene más posibilidades de acertar que las teorías no científicas. Por consiguiente, es racional aceptarla provisionalmente.

— Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development

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Adoration of the Shepherds

The Christmas Stories in the New Testament

Contrary to what people use to think, there is no one Christmas story in the New Testament. There are two of them: one in Matthew 1-2, and the other in Luke 1-2. As pointed out by many Bible scholars, both of the stories are incompatible, and critically divergent from more reliable historical data.

According to both stories, Jesus was born of a virgin called Mary, and who was betrothed to a man called Joseph, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Practically the similarities end there. After that, both stories diverge from one another in significant ways. Generations of Christians have tried to reconcile these contradictions without distorting their content, with no apparent success. For example,

In the case of Matthew 1-2

  • Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, became pregnant without Joseph’s intervention.
  • In dreams, Joseph is announced by Yahweh’s angel that the child is the act of the Holy Spirit and that her child is the Son of God (the Messiah).
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem, because both Joseph and Mary lived there (Matt. 1:11).
  • Certain Magi went to Jerusalem searching for the “King of the Jews”, and who were following a star in the sky.
  • According to Matthew’s Gospel, Herod the Great and “all of Jerusalem” were startled by the claim.
  • Herod asked them where was this “King” who was born, and to indicate where he was when they find him.
  • The Magi follow the star to Joseph and Mary’s house.
  • The Magi worship him and offer the newborn three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh,
  • Later, they are told in dreams to avoid Herod and go another way.
  • Joseph is told by an angel of God in a dream to take the baby and flee. He does so, and flees to Egypt.
  • Herod unleashes a persecution against two years old children and below.
  • Herod dies, and Joseph is told in a dream to return.
  • To avoid Herod’s son, Archelaus, Joseph avoids his hometown in Bethlehem. So, Jesus’ family made Nazareth their new home.

In the case of Luke 1-2 (omitting the story of John the Baptist):

  • Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to a man called Joseph.
  • Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.
  • She was told that she was going to get pregnant by an act of the Holy Spirit of God, by covering her with His shadow.
  • Gabriel told Mary that her family relative Elizabeth, despite of her advanced age, was six months pregnant.
  • Mary traveled from Nazareth (Galilee) to Judea to visit Elizabeth. There, Elizabeth’s baby skipped in her womb, and Mary recited the Magnificat, and stayed with her for three months.
  • By the time when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, Ceasar Augustus implemented a census everywhere in the Roman empire.
  • Due to the census, Joseph (and a pregnant Mary) had to go to Bethlehem, because Joseph was David’s descendant.
  • They had to stay in an “Inn” (most probably the part of the house where animals were kept).
  • Jesus was born there, and was placed in a manger.
  • Angels gave the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
  • Shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the child in the manger.
  • The child was called Jesus.

Why are these stories incompatible?  Let’s begin with Jesus’ own birth date. For starters, according to Matthew, Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive. He died in the year 4 B.C.E. Since, he ordered children to be killed from 2 years old below, that would suggest that Jesus was born from from 6 to 4 B.C.E. Yet, according to Luke, Jesus was born when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, which was the year 6 C.E. So, there is an 11 years distance (remember there is no year 0 C.E.) between Matthew’s account and Luke’s. 

[Note: Many people ask scholars when was Jesus born, and expect a “definitive” answer. Scholars may actually tell you one of these dates. Reality is that, given these dates, no one knows when Jesus was born. Anyone who claims otherwise is either deluded (in all his or her sincerity) or lying to you. Yet, for reasons that escape me, the public won’t accept “we don’t know” as an answer. But look at the New Testament material that we have, can you decide on its basis which is the real date?]

Another source of contradiction has to do with the place where Jesus’ family lived originally. “Matthew” assumed throughout the story that Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, since they had their house there (Matt. 1:11). This is so, presumably because he was David’s descendant. then he moved to Egypt, and then to Nazareth. Yet Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, and for reasons of the Augustus’ census, had to move to Bethlehem, so that Jesus would be born there. In Luke, there is no story of the travel to Egypt or Herod’s persecution.

To make matters worse, none of these stories are considered historical by serious Bible scholars and historians. Even when they talked about historical figures (Herod the Great, Archelaus, Caesar Augustus, Cirinus), none of the alluded facts check out historically:

  • Matthew’s story:
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    • There is no record of the Magi’s visitation that “startled Herod and all of Jerusalem”.
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    • There is no record of Herod ever carrying out a massacre or persecution in Bethlehem. 
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  • Luke’s story:
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    • There was no census carried out by Caesar Augustus for the whole empire at the time.
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    • Even if there were a census, at the time, there was no irrational requirement for people to move to the cities of their ancestors’ origins. As a matter of fact, historians find Joseph’s move to Bethlehem particularly unbelievable, since David, his ancestor, was born in Bethlehem a thousand years before. And why David has to be the criterion and not any other ancestor before or after? Bart Ehrman always asks his students at this stage: “Imagine that the IRS in all of its wisdom required that you move to the city of your ancestor who lived a thousand years before. Where would you go?! And no one else in antiquity mentions this, not even ‘their newspaper’?!”

Obviously as a Religious Naturalist, I question a supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit, or the virgin birth. Even without being a Naturalist, these two factors as they are told are considered highly improbable (to the point of impossible) to be integrated to history.

The Mythical Background of the Stories

If none of these stories can be considered historically accurate and reliable, then where did the stories come from? Why were they written the way they were written.

The answer is twofold, because they are two stories, written by two different authors, with two very different worldviews, two different mindsets, and two very different messages they wanted to convey to their respective communities. 

Before starting this analysis, know that it is a popular belief that the Christmas stories are just Xeroxed copies of Pagan legends of gods who were born and raised. Yet, as most historians specialized in the subject and serious Bible scholars agree, this is not the case. The similarities with much of these legends is simply accidental, but as we will see, they are more inspired in the Hebrew Bible than on Pagan legends.
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A. Matthew’s Story’s Background

If you look at the author of Matthew’s Gospel (we’ll call him “Matthew” with quotes), you see a behavior everywhere that you don’t see in Luke. About every story you read in it, the he says: “… and this was to fulfill such and such a prophecy”.  Reading the text in Greek, we know that whoever the author of the gospel was, wanted to convince the Jewish sector of the diaspora that Jesus was the Messiah. So, he engaged in copious statements about how Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies. 

There is one small detail, though. “Matthew” evidently didn’t know Hebrew (one of the reasons we think that the author of this gospel was not Matthew (a.k.a. Levi). In fact, he used the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible extensively. The problem with using the Greek version (probably a version of the Septuagint) is that much of it is translated in a way that is close to the meaning in the original Hebrew, but there are other significant passages that distort the original meaning considerably.

To make matters worse, in order to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, he tried in many passages to fit Jesus deeds to the mistranslated prophecy from Hebrew to Greek. For example, Matthew’s Gospel is the only gospel where it says that Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on top of two animals, a donkey and a colt (Matthew 21:1-7). If you are scratching your head confused, don’t worry. We all are at first. However, the confusion dissipates once you realize that the reason why Matthew’s Gospel does present Jesus making an amazing physical feat, it is because it was prophesied in the Greek passage that said this:

Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of donkey”
(Matthew 21:5)

Yet, the original Hebrew prophecy actually said this,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout out aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9)

Notice that it doesn’t say, “on a donkey and a colt” (which is what the Greek version said), but really on a colt (to emphasize the humble reception of the king). So, not knowing that, “Matthew” (whoever he was) made Jesus ride on a donkey and a colt to fulfill the Greek version of the prophecy.

The same very thing happens with the story of Jesus’ birth. In Hebrew, the prophecy about the birth of “Emmanuel” talked about a “young woman” (‘almah) being pregnant with “Emmanuel”.(Isaiah 7:14). Yet, scholars know that the Greek version of that same prophecy translated ‘almah to the Greek parthenos (meaning “virgin”). In “Matthew”‘s mind, this meant that Jesus mother had to be a virgin! (Matthew 1:22-23)

The rest of the Christmas story is to emphasize that Jesus, not only was the Messiah, but also a Second Moses … even better than the First Moses. This is a theme that appears everywhere in Matthew’s Gospel. For instance, in the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revises and culminates the Torah (the Law). Why on a mountain? Because Moses was given the Torah in Mount Sinai (or Horeb).

In the same way, the story of Jesus’ birth is reminiscent of the Genesis and Exodus stories, but adapted to Jesus’ birth in Palestine:

  • Joseph descends from Jacob, just like Joseph the Patriarch (Matthew 1:16). And who is the next important patriarch after Joseph? Moses, right? Jesus is the very next in line after Joseph, betrothed to Mary.
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  • Just as the patriarch Joseph received and interpreted Yahweh’s induced dreams, so does Joseph, Jesus’ father has dreams from the Angel of God (Genesis 36:5-33; 40-41; Matthew 1:20-21).
  • The visit of the Magi and their gifts reminds us of a prophecy of (Third-)Isaiah about foreigners visiting Israel (Isaiah 60). The three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myhrr are simultaneously symbolic of Jesus’ kingship, divinity, and burial.
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  • Just as Moses had to be saved from the massacre by pharaoh, Jesus had to be saved from Herod’s cold infanticide (Exodus 1-2:10; Matthew 2:12-18).
  • Just as Moses fled and returned to Egypt to save Yahweh’s people from slavery, Jesus returned to Ancient Palestine to save it (Exodus 3; Matthew 2:19-23).

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B. Luke’s Gospel’s Story

“Luke”‘s story (whoever “Luke” was) has tangential similarities with Matthew’s as I stated at the beginning of this article. Yet, the reasons for the similarities are very, very different from Matthew’s. 

We have to point out that some analyses made by some scholars indicate that Luke’s Gospel was originally planned to begin the text in what we now call chapter 3. The stories of Jesus’ birth apparently were added later by the same author. This point is still debated by scholars, but I wanted to point it out anyway.

“Luke”‘s story include the story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is intermingled with Jesus’. If you take both stories side by side, you’ll notice that they are mostly the same story with the same structure. The stories only differ in the degree of importance of the main characters involved, John the Baptist and Jesus

  • John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, hence, he is born first.
  • Both Zechariah (John’s father) and Mary (Jesus’ mother) question the Archangel Gabriel on how would their respective children being conceived. Yet, Zechariah’s question expresses doubt, which is the reason why he is chastised with dumbness. Mary’s question is an inquiry, not doubt.
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  • Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:49-56) is more glorious for her than is the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79) is for Zechariah and John the Baptist. As a matter of fact, the Benedictus, praises Jesus (“God’s savior”). It is very important to point out that in the case of the Magnificat, some ancient authorities attribute this saying to Elizabeth. Many scholars believe that Elizabeth was originally the one who sang the Magnificat, while later copyists may have added the phrase “And Mary said …”. In either case, the Magnificat seems to praise Mary, “God’s servant” (e.g. Luke 1:38,48).

Yet, why are both stories so similar in structure. The explanation is very simple. They are both a mix of two stories we can find in the Hebrew Bible: 1) the Yahwist story of the conception of Isaac (as announced by Yahweh’s Angel), and 2) the story of the conception of Samuel (Genesis 18:1-13; 21:1-8; 1 Samuel 1-2). In both cases, there was an old couple who tried to have children for years together, and then Yahweh announced that they were going to have a child, which was exactly what happened. Yet, when you look at “Luke”‘s narrative, you see that its structure is mostly similar to that of 1 Samuel.  In fact, the Magnificat, and the Benedictus express exactly the same ideas and in a similar poetic form that Hannah Song does (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Some scholars go even further, it is not only that “Luke” narrated two stories that are strikingly similar to another, but that Jesus’ birth story, may have been based on John the Baptist’s birth story, which is also based on the stories of the Hebrew Bible. The thing that leads some of them to think this way is that “Luke” makes Mary and Jesus’ birth look better than Zechariah and John the Baptist’s conception. After trying many times, God finally lets Zechariah and Elizabeth have their own child. Yet, Jesus birth is even more extraordinary, because neither Joseph nor Mary “knew” each other (in the Biblical sense), making Jesus’ conception altogether 100% miraculous, because the whole thing happened without Joseph’s intervention. Elizabeth was not a virgin, but Mary was! Why is that? Because Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Son of God, because God’s own Spirit made her pregnant … hence, HE is the Father! (Luke 1:35)

Maury giving Joseph a Parternity Test
(LOL … Sorry, I couldn’t resist!  Ahem… Let’s continue!)

Notice that in this case the reason why Mary was a virgin had little to do with prophecy, and much to do with “Luke”‘s particular notion of why Jesus was called “Son of God” and why his birth was superior to John the Baptist’s. He also insinuates that he received this information from Mary herself, which is historically unlikely (Luke 2:19,51).

Further, some other themes appear throughout the story that were inspired by the Hebrew Bible:

  • Gabriel said that the way that Mary was going to be pregnant was by being covered by the shadow of God’s spirit, which reminds readers about God’s glory covering the Tent of Meetings, to make it sacred (Luke 1:35; Exodus 40:34-35).
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  • Mary visited Elizabeth and John the Baptist skips in her mother’s womb, which reminds readers of how David danced in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (Luke 1:40-44; 2 Samuel 6:16).
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  • Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, which reminds the three months the Ark of the Covenant stayed with David in Obed-Edom and his household (Luke 1:57-58; 2 Samuel 6).

No wonder Catholics noticed these pattern and included in the Litany’s to Mary the name “Ark of the Covenant”.

There are many other stories being borrowed in “Luke”‘s account, but this is enough for our literary and historical analysis.
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Comments

As popular it is that the idea of Jesus’ birth derived from Pagan birth stories, the evidence is clearly abundant (even to the point of literary content and structure) that the stories derive from stories in the Hebrew Bible. They are not historical precisely for this reason, and because they clearly conflict from other historical information that scholars and historians consider far more reliable.

Does that mean that we cannot know where and when Jesus was born?

Actually, both stories give us hints … but it is not Bethlehem. As we can see, both of these stories make Jesus be born in the City of David to emphasize that he was David’s descendant. Yet, there are also four things we have to notice:

  • Mark, the earliest Gospel (65-70 C.E.), does not begin with a birth story. In that text, Jesus apparently was revealed (to himself) to be the Son of God when he was baptized, and ministry begins when John the Baptist was arrested (Mark 1:9-11,14,15). Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth story included? Presumably and probably, because it wasn’t remarkable (at least to the gospel’s author). After all, our earliest report on Jesus’ birth (and affirmation of his humanity) comes from Paul, where he says that he was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

  • When comparing both stories, we can see that their authors are trying very hard to explain why did Jesus’ family live in Nazareth (Galilee) while simultaneously accounting for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Judea). Since the stories are too invested in explaining this fact and that the stories clearly conflict, then it seems more reasonable to suppose that he was not born in Bethlehem. That Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth, and that, most probably, he was born there.
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  • John’s Gospel seems to pick up the tradition that Jesus actually came from Nazareth (John 1:46). Notice also that this Gospel does not have Christmas story, nor does it say anywhere that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
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  • Another reason why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem is the fact that Nazareth in Galilee was an extremely poor town, which would make it (in the minds of many) unlikely for the Messiah to have been born in. John’s Gospel confirms this fact when he reports that Nathanael said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)  

Archaeologically, we know that Galilee was mostly Jewish (especially in the rural towns). Hence, Nazareth was mostly Jewish. Houses and structures from the first century confirm that it was extremely poor, and its small economic life was possible due to the fact that it was close to Sephoris. Presumably, as an artisan, Joseph and Jesus took advantage of that fact. The fact that Nazareth didn’t appear in Roman maps at the time, far from establishing its non-existence (as many people mistakenly argue), it establishes how unimportant it was. Even “Matthew” feels forced to provide a reason (a prophecy) for why did Jesus’ family ended up living there (Matthew 2:23).

So, if anything, one of the very few historical factors that critical analysis leads us to is that Jesus was born and raised in Nazareth. The other historical important factor from the stories seems to be that he was born between 6 B.C.E. and 6 C.E.

Yet, I have only addressed Jesus’ birth stories from a critical literary and historical points of view. But do these myths actually capture something valuable for all of us, and what is their spiritual message for today? That will be the subject in my next post…

To be continued …

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Una experiencia inusual

Recuerdo la primera vez que fui a un conocido supermercado de suplementos y de alimentos orgánicos en Hato Rey, cerca de Plaza las Américas. Me sentía un poco intimidado (¡sí, soy así a veces!). Era un ambiente muy inusual para mí, ya que no sabía exactamente qué comprar. Sin embargo, ya había decidido “definitivamente” que tenía que cambiar mi dieta (para los que me conocen, saben que soy obeso). Usualmente soy muy olvidadizo y no recuerdo “las primeras veces” que hago algo, pero nunca me olvidaré de esta “primera vez”. Una de las cosas que vi y que me impresionaron fue la carátula de este libro en un anaquel de venta cerca de una de los cajeros.

Kevin Trudeau - Natural Cures

¿Quiénes son “they”? Según pude captar de las insinuaciones del libro, “they” no eran otra cosa que los supremos intereses farmacéuticos en contubernio con el gobierno federal estadounidense. ¿Y por qué no quieren que conozcamos estas curas? Porque si la gente supiera que estas curas funcionan, colapsa toda la industria farmacéutica y de la medicina. El gobierno federal está sujeto a los grandes intereses, por lo tanto, quiere detener la diseminación de esta valiosa información.

Compré el libro ese mismo día.  Empecé a leerlo en casa, para luego levantar mi ceja y fruncir el ceño varias veces. ¿Abandonar el microondas? ¿Por qué? ¿Por la radiación? Eso no tiene mucho sentido. A primera vista parece que sí, pero ante lo poco que sabía del tema no me parecía plausible. Aun con mi escepticismo, quise mantener mi mente abierta a cosas nuevas y seguí leyendo; a fin de cuentas, no me consideraba exactamente una autoridad en el tema.

Cerré el libro, me acosté mirando al techo. Aunque ciertamente yo no era médico, las recetas que proponía no me parecían ser “curas” a muchas de las enfermedades (por lo que pude ver en las páginas “a vuelo de pájaro”). Al menos estaba consciente de una cosa en aquel momento, que las enfermedades iatrogénicas parecían haberse disparado en aquella época. Naturalmente, pensé que si la medicina tradicional era tan “mala”, estas alternativas eran buenas. Todavía en esta época tenía en mi mente el rastro de la mala impresión que Ivan Illich, con su libro Némesis médica, me había dejado contra la industria de la medicina en general (hasta el punto de adoptar actitudes que ahora veo como irracionales).
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Cuando la alternativa tiende a ser más fraudulenta … 

Sin embargo, me di cuenta de que la tesis “la medicina tradicional es mala, por ende la alternativa tiene que ser buena” es simplemente un non-sequitur. Después de ser vacunado, de haber tenido dos hermanos (una hermana y un hermano), ambos con Lawrence Moon Biedl y con diabetes y que fueron tratados con insulina según las dosis prescritas por un médico tradicional, tenía que cuestionar la supuesta “maldad” de los médicos y de las farmacéuticas. En muchos momentos de mi vida, también he utilizado medicina tradicional con éxito. Si este es el caso, entonces la medicina tradicional no puede ser tan mala, aun cuando fuera manejada por avaros miembros de la burguesía. Es más, hasta algunos naturópatas recomiendan que se siga con la medicina tradicional aun cuando la suya “la complementa”.

A la tercera vez que vi la portada del libro de Kevin Trudeau me dije, “¡Creo que he visto a este individuo antes!”

Sí, lo había visto en comerciales en Cable a las 2:00am o 3:00am. Me dio curiosidad y busqué información acerca de él. Resulta que Trudeau es un timador profesional. Hoy está en la cárcel cumpliendo una sentencia de diez años por engañar a los consumidores en cuanto a sus productos para rebajar, cosa que él mismo admitió. Según el tribunal que lo sentenció, él fue timador desde que tenía 25 años y que por ello fue encarcelado varias veces (aquí hay más información sobre él).

¡Eureka! Todo empezó a caer en su sitio. Al fin y al cabo, es la única contestación a mi pregunta de cómo era posible que llamaran televidentes a los anuncios de Trudeau si estos fueron grabados cuando no estaban en el aire.

Fue así como descubrí no solo que bastante de la medicina alternativa operaba exactamente con los mismos anuncios engañosos que equiparaban a muchos de los anuncios de drogas legales de los productos farmacéuticos. Es más, cuando investigué más a fondo, vi que era un territorio medicinalmente mucho más inseguro que la medicina tradicional. Por ejemplo, después de largos años de investigación tuve que concluir más allá de toda duda que los productos homeopáticos son todos fraudulentos (en esto me considero seguidor de James Randi) y que el ingerir vitaminas en mayor dosis que la normal suele tener efectos adversos al organismo. Productos asociados a estos fraudes usualmente llevaban el aviso “The FDA has not evaluated the claims made by the manufacturer”.

¿Por qué no evaluaría la Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) estos productos? ¡Sorpresa! Era exactamente lo contrario de lo que alegaba Trudeau en su libro. Él insinuaba que la FDA era una sierva de las farmacéuticas. Al contrario, la FDA deseaba regular. Es más quería regular mejor la medicina alternativa, pero no podían ¡Están por la libre! ¡Están más por la libre que los productos farmacéuticos! Esto se debe a que sus productores también tienen mollero en Washington D.C. Así mismo nos lo revela el comediante John Oliver quien también menciona al famoso Dr. Oz, otro partidario de la medicina alternativa y de suplementos vitamínicos:

Es más, descubrí que para que funcione la venta de muchos de estos llamados “remedios”, parte de su mercadeo consiste en meterle miedo al público en torno a las “malvadas” intenciones de agencias reguladoras como la FDA, quienes se encuentran “aliadas” a las farmacéuticas y los grandes intereses.

Sin embargo, llegué al punto de tener problemas con este reclamo. Más bien parece que el patrón general de la industria que no desea ser regulada es la de prevenir a la FDA de regular eficientemente muchos de los productos que entran al mercado. Esto es cierto de la industria de la medicina alternativa y de ciertos medicamentos de las farmacéuticas cuyos productos terminan a la venta en el mercado. Como el mismo John Oliver critica en su programa, el cabildeo de la industria de suplementos y de la medicina alternativa lleva a legislación desde Washington o a agencias del gobierno federal para evitar la regulación eficiente de estos productos. Generalmente no es que la FDA no quiere regular, es que ciertos intereses externos le han impedido la regulación, aun si así desea hacerlo. Y sí, reconozco que también hay elementos de la FDA que también se inclinan a la desregulación, pero la inclinación mayor de la agencia es a la de regulación.

A veces esta cizaña del miedo del mercadeo de la medicina alternativa llega hasta el punto de la formulación de teorías conspiracionistas fundadas y, muy especialmente, infundadas en torno a la insdustria farmacéutica o ciertas ramas de la medicina tales como la psiquiatría. Aunque no soy muy amigo de este campo de la medicina (por razones más o menos ligadas a unos pocos argumentos de Jerry Coyne), me pareció que ciertas noticias procedentes del mundo de la medicina alternativa llegaron al punto de la más crasa irresponsabilidad. Por ejemplo, en cuanto al lamentable incidente en que James Holmes tiroteó en un teatro que presentaba la película The Dark Knight Rises, Natural News irresponsablemente afirmaba e insinuaba (¡las dos cosas!) que la culpa del incidente era la industria farmacéutica, la psiquiatría y de la industria del cine (véase esta noticia y esta también).

Otros han sembrado dudas en la mente de muchos de que las vacunas causan autismo u otras enfermedades en los niños, aun cuando virtualmente todos los estudios en revistas arbitradas han establecido un fuerte consenso de que ellas no son las causantes de los males a los que se les atribuyen. Un estudio particular analizó una base de datos que incluyó información de la administración de vacunas a 1.36 millones de niños y no se ha encontrado ningún vínculo entre las vacunas y el autismo. Cuando se apela a la FDA como instancia que ha estudiado, analizado y garantizado que estas vacunas son las mejores medidas para el uso público, usualmente se le atemoriza al público diciendo que la FDA está comprada y que es corrupta por la industria farmacéutica. Sin embargo, tales argumentos han garantizado la reaparición de epidemias de sarampión en los Estados Unidos. África ha sido una de las primeras víctimas de este tipo de propaganda, especialmente cuando muchos de sus gobiernos y distintos misioneros cristianos fundamentalistas y musulmanes reaccionarios desalientan el uso de las vacunas (véase este artículo de UNICEF).
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¿Y los transgénicos…?

¿Y qué tiene que ver esto con los transgénicos u organismos genéticamente modificados?

En que encuentro bastante de este tipo de atemorización en sectores de la izquierda puertorriqueña que, en vez de aclarar, oscurecen la conversación y el debate acerca de estos. No es solo la derecha reaccionaria de Estados Unidos y de Puerto Rico las que impiden la investigación científica sobre teorías claramente establecidas como altamente probables (y hasta el punto de considerarse como correspondientes a los hechos) tales como la teoría de la evolución por selección natural y la teoría del cambio climático. También la izquierda en el mundo ha impedido otros tipos de investigación científica perfectamente legítimos y la izquierda puertorriqueña parece estar adoptando mucha de la retórica de miedo que se ve en grupos en Europa y en Estados Unidos.

En mi próximo artículo hablaré más sobre este asunto, pero he aquí un adelanto: Aunque mi mente está abierta y seguirá abierta a la posibilidad de que los transgénicos sean malos a la larga y que sean una genuina amenaza para la humanidad, una de las razones (no la única) por la que me he alejado de grupos que están en contra de los transgénicos es porque muchos (no todos) de los ideólogos anti-GMO son virtualmente los mismos que los que apoyan los mismos negocios fraudulentos que he mencionado arriba.

¿No me creen?

Tomen por ejemplo lo que dice el Institute for Responsible Technology sobre los transgénicos. ¿Y quiénes son los miembros de este instituto? Sorprendentemente se compone de una sola persona: Jeffrey Smith.  Entre otras cosas, apareció dos veces en el programa del Doctor Oz … SÍ, al mismísimo médico que fue investigado por el Congreso de los Estados Unidos por dar consejos fraudulentos al público (lea al respecto aquí y aquí está el estudio original al respecto). Smith también carece de expertise en el campo de los transgénicos, no es científico, no practica la agricultura, no tiene ningunas credenciales de ninguna universidad. Los voluntarios que trabajan para el susodicho instituto son todos para propagandizar su contenido, parece que ninguno de ellos es científico (en el tercer párrafo de su “About Us” de su página cibernética no menciona a científicos).

¿Y se quiere utilizar la información que provee este individuo para protestar por la experimentación transgénica en Puerto Rico?

Y esta es solo la punta del témpano de hielo …

[Nota: Cosas que no estoy diciendo — No estoy diciendo que todo el mundo que participa de la medicina alternativa quiere cometer fraude o que todo lo que propone es puro fraude. Efectivamente hay plantas medicinales que sí funcionan y que forman parte del mercado de la medicina alternativa. Sin embargo, una parte sustancial de ella sí lo es, mucho más fraudulento que en el caso de las farmacéuticas. Tampoco quiero decir que muchos naturópatas o proponentes de algunas medicinas alternativas quieran cometer fraude. Al contrario, creo que la mayoría son personas honestas que no creen (y a veces rehúsan creer contra toda evidencia) que su práctica está plagada de falsa información y que no está validada por experimentos rigurosos de las ciencias. Eso será tema para otros artículos en el futuro. Por ahora, en los próximos artículos me centraré en la propaganda contra los transgénicos y lo que la ciencia rigurosa tiene que decir al respecto.

Tampoco quiero decir que no se visiten estos lugares de productos naturales o que no se coma nada orgánico (a pesar de que los estudios más recientes a nivel científico demuestran que no hay diferencia nutricional alguna entre los productos orgánicos y los no-orgánicos). Yo mismo a veces visito a algunos restaurantes vegetarianos que venden productos orgánicos y patrocino a algunos de ellos.

Lo que sí me da lástima es ver a personas en la izquierda a quien respeto muchísimo caer en una retórica de miedo, especialmente por argumentos infundados a nivel científico y que se basan en mala información. Lo triste de todo es que cuando visito otros lugares en que se venden productos naturales, sigo viendo que algunos de los libros de Trudeau todavía están a la venta …]

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Skepticism as a Spiritual Path to Humility (2)

On December 22, 2014, in Uncategorized, by prosario2000

One of the very big problems that I’ve had ever since I’ve began adopting a skeptic point of view (for years now), For a lot of people, being a skeptic means to be a sort of “party pooper”. Do you believe that a certain collar will relieve your headache? Here comes the skeptic to ruin that belief for you!  Do you think that there is an afterlife? Here comes the skeptic to tell you that there is nothing more than the material world, so there is nothing to aspire to. It doesn’t matter what beliefs societies hold, usually skeptics are seen as those whose mission is to ruin your life.

Yet, I think that this need not be. Skeptics have a very important social function, using evidence or lack of it to give us the chance to seriously reevaluate our own unfounded, yet very dear, beliefs. Some of these beliefs held by many people have social repercussions. As Sam Harris uses to say: “Ideas have consequences.” 

The Maleus Maleficarum, perhaps one of the most despicable texts ever written during the Renaissance (not a Medieval document as many people believe), tells you what witches do, how they affect a town, how they curse people, and so on. This was precisely the same instrument that led many women and men to be burned at the stake. In Salem, a Protestant group, affected by the witch-hunting fever, but without using this document, hanged other so-called witches. Yet, these measures soon proved to be in vain, and many discovered that these accusations were indeed unfounded.

In a time where we are very lucky to live, we are no longer burned at the stake if we are heretics and don’t agree with the churches. Yet, that doesn’t mean that socially or through the media, you are being fed misinformation and socially pressured to believe it. This social dynamic can have negative consequences too. For instance, let’s use Ancient Aliens as the focus for our discussion. As it turns out, the result of our skeptic activity is surprisingly spiritual.
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Puma Punku

If I were to refute every single false statement made in Ancient Aliens, I would write an entire encyclopaedia. Yet, since my time and space for writing is somehow limited, I wish to select a particular claim made in the TV series as a sample that shows exactly it is about.

I want to clarify that true skepticism is not about debunking every single extraordinary claim made by people. As I have said before, skepticism is a position of humility which asks about evidence for the claim, and its proper critical qualification. That is exactly what I am going to do here.

Ancient Aliens is an ultraelaboration of what has been called the “Ancient Astronaut Theory” of the historical past. This theory, whose main representative figures are Erich von Däniken and Zechariah Sitchin, states that there is a lot of evidence regarding visitations of extraterrestrials in our historical past. I want to say that in principle I have absolutely no problem with this scenario. For me, it is entirely plausible that extraterrestrials might exist and that they visited us in the past. It could be that Ancient Aliens is on to something, and that the evidence it provides deserves our critical evaluation to see if it is indeed correct.

I pick the subject of Puma Punku, as shown in Season 1, the episode “Chariots, Gods & Beyond” and Season 4, “Episode 38: The Mystery of Puma Punku” as my focus for our discussion. The reason for that is that according to this guy …

Giorgio Tsoukalos - Ancient Aliens

… Puma Punku was the only place built directly by extraterrestrials (Episode 38). In fact, for Tsoukalos, compared to Puma Punku, the Egyptian pyramids are “child play” (Episode: “Chariots, Gods & Beyond”). Personally, I think that it is the other way around: the feats of Puma Punku are much simpler to explain (almost to the point of there being no mystery at all), while we still don’t have a completely satisfying theory of how the pyramids were built.  But let me not get ahead of the discussion … 

In the episode “Chariots, Gods & Beyond”, it is claimed and I quote:

[Tsoukalos speaking] I have stood before many monuments. However, Puma Punku takes the crown, because what we find there is so inexplicable … that the question how was it done, and for what purposes. Mainstream archaeologists say that Puma Punku was built by the Aymara Indians. And we all have to agree that in order to build something like Puma Punku, you need writing, you need planning, and you need some sort of an idea where which piece goes and how it ultimately all fits together. But there is one thing that all the mainstream archaeologists agree upon, that the Aymara didn’t have any writing. So how was it possible that they built all of this without plans?

I want you to pay attention to the choice of words here, because this is the way the series sow arrogance in the hearts of the public. He uses the phrase “mainstream archaeology says” for a particular purpose. He insinuates the equivalent of saying, “Aren’t these academics so stupid that they can’t see what is under their nose? Why aren’t they willing to just accept that the Aymara could not have built this wondrous monument?” Hence, many people in the public will expressly tell academics that they are far too stupid for not believing that aliens could have built this place.

I know this from experience because students have come to me … not with questions … but with all of the certainty in the universe that the pyramids and other monuments were built by or with the help of extraterrestrials. It is as if, we academics are hiding information, we can’t accept the facts! 

Yet, here are the real facts pertaining to what Tsoukalos says:

  • To make plans, you don’t need writing, just drawing.
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  • The Aymara Indians actually did have a form of pictorical writing of people and things as a way of communicating besides speech.
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  • Even supposing that they had no writing …  they actually spoke to each other. Maybe …  just maybe …  (sarcastic smile) … this was one of the ways they may have communicated their ideas about building stuff.
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  • The Aymara were humans, hence, they were able to problem-solve pretty much like the rest of humanity. In this case, they solved architectural problems in a way that was pretty successful. This is true of almost every civilization on Earth. Why should we make an exception on the Aymara? Why should we believe that only aliens could have built this place?

Perhaps the answer to this question comes from what this guy … 

David Hatcher Childress

… has to say about the subject: that there is “ample evidence” of the use machines to cut the blocks that constitute the monuments. But then another guy appears … 

Erich von Däniken

and he says, and I quote:

One of these platforms is 800 tons, and they are so smoothly polished. You have some stone, megalithic stones, with grooves which are just few millimeters inside, which definitely cannot be made with Stone Age chisels. It doesn’t work with Stone Age chisels. … 

Then Tsoukalos adds:

It’s as if only master builders were allowed to work there. Because everything is so precise, everything is so perfect, you wonder how any of this was even possible. 

This is the part where you smell something is wrong with this picture. Let’s evaluate this information:

  • Where did Von Däniken obtain the datum that one of these platforms weights 800 tons? As far as archaeologists are concerned, the heaviest stone in the site weights 131 metric tons (at least according to this reference, which is a must read for anyone who wants to know about this specific subject). Wow!  That would make Von Däniken off from the real weight by 669 metric tons margin (that’s a very big margin of error … too big!) Instead of thinking that he exaggerated the numbers to facilitate his case in favor of the “Ancient Astronaut” theory, let’s be kind and suppose that he made a mistake … after all, we all make mistakes, don’t we?!
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  • For some reason, the series makes it too big of a deal on the possibility (or “lack of it”) that the Aymara may have established equidistant holes in a single block. Equidistance is not a problem. All you need to have is a particular unit for length (using similar to a ruler or a bar) to establish the distance from hole to hole, just like we do with our rulers today.
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  • Of course the Aymara didn’t use chisels to make those holes in the blocks. It would have been impossible to do!  Yet, you could use a cilindrical stone to actually create these holes. As we shall see later, the blocks were not very hard and they could have been easily penetrated by harder stones.
  • Why can’t they Aymara have master builders of their own?  Why can’t they have architectural geniuses among them? Tsoukalos, Childress, and Von Däniken seem to suppose that there is no possibility for architectural geniuses among the Aymara at the time. All civilizations have people who are brilliant in different fields. Stating that the Aymara would be an exception to this rule would be to beg the question in the best case, or racist in the worst case.

Of course, why would Ancient Aliens suppose that it would have been impossible for the Aymara to create these holes in a block? Because, apparently, the blocks themselves were too hard. Tsoukalos tells us the following: 

One of the most intriguing things there is that the stones that were used there aren’t sandstone. They’re granite and diorite.

Von Däniken says this too. Yet, a point needs to be made about this:

  • Actually the blocks are made of sandstone (not granite and diorite). Remember that study I mentioned earlier? The authors made it clear that these blocks are made of sandstone. Tsoukalos’ statement comes from Von Däniken’s book Chariots of the Gods. And where did the latter get this information?…  ~ Sarcastic smile ~ Let’s not imagine for a second that he is making this up in order to convince people about his theories by providing false information! Nope … let’s suppose he made another very, very big mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

Von Däniken keeps telling us:

American professors who went there with their computers and modern measurements, they were really shocked. In their literature, they say it is impossible to reconstruct Puma Punku. It’s absolutely impossible!

And yet … 

  • … contrary to what he says, experts in the field know that this was entirely possible, mainly because they can provide the best explanations of how they did it. One piece of evidence in favor of this that scholars know, but that is actually never shown in Ancient Aliens, is what actual peer-reviewed journals actually do show us (remember those from my earlier post?). For example, take an article called “Who Taught the Inca Stonemason their Skills?” by renowned authorities such as Jean-Pierre Potzen and Stella Nair. It is found in this published journal, which, unfortunately, most of the public does not have access to. But don’t despair!!!  Michael Heiser has made it available for us (click here to download it!)  In that article we see something like this image…

Stone in Puma Punku

You may wonder what are you looking at? You are looking at one rock in Puma Punku which was being turned into one of those amazing blocks that Ancient Astronaut theorists admire so much. Why is there a wavy surface? This is caused by pounding stones being used to create those blocks. To eliminate the wavy surface, the Aymara used polishing rocks and sand, and then you’ll have a flat surface. All of these stones and sand have been found at the site where they built these blocks.

  • And who the heck are the professors that say that this is impossible? We are left with this unsubstantiated claim by Von Däniken.

Given the fact that Von Däniken, Childress, and Tsoukalos apparently ignore this fact. It is not surprising that they turn to lasers (LASERS!!!!!!!) as the most likely explanation (?) for the smooth surface of the blocks … even when we have evidence of blocks in the making!!!  

In Season 4, Episode 6, we find even further claims about Puma Punku. Childress actually went there and showed how “exact” was the work of the Aymara indians who created the monument. In the process, he stated that the blocks were made with “perfect” 90 degrees angles. He also stated that moving these blocks would have required antigravitation mechanisms, and says that these blocks are made of granite. To this I can say:

  • If he is in the site, and identifies sandstone and andecite blocks as being made out of granite, then he is doing one of two things: he either doesn’t know much geology or he is deliberately lying.
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  • It is unlikely that the rocks were carried by an antigravitation or floating alien device. We know this because all of the rocks had drag marks, which are usually present in stones dragged to the site in question.
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  • The angles of the blocks are not perfectly 90 degrees. We can see this just by looking at Childress using a square. You can see clearly that as he uses it, there is a small but significant space between the square and the side of the block …  It would not be there if it were a perfect 90 degrees angle.

Childress Measuring Puma Punku Block

What I’m showing here is not just one case where there are massive misinformation, and probably deliberate omissions and deception from the people of Ancient Aliens. If you make the same analyses I’ve carried out in each show, from seasons 1 to 7, you will find similar distorsions, confusions, omissions, and lies. I think that what we have seen here is enough to make the point of our discussion.
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What Are the Spiritual Consequences?

As far as it goes, all I have done is to expose these people as they are, at least in the eyes of academics. They are a bunch of misinformers and liars. Nothing more, nothing less.

So what? What about spirituality?

Here is the thing. When we are honest Reality seekers and debunk false beliefs and deceptions (even self-deceptions), wonders begin to appear before your eyes, sometimes without even knowing it.

Take Puma Punku, for instance. Do we really need aliens with advanced technology to explain the monument? The answer is no. We (humans) did this. Retain this thought in your head for a while, and let it sink in…

… We, humans, made this happen!!! In every single civilization, we find the incredible wonders that resulted from those mental and physical tools that the Universe has given us through our evolutionary journey (our Great Story):  our ability to see, to measure, to problem-solve at different levels, to create beauty, to make such achievements that even to this day, with all of our advanced technology, we cannot help but to stare at these marvels, and say: “Wow!”, and let our creations take our breath away.

Isn’t that extraordinary? Don’t these monuments connect you to the past, to other human beings like you? And when scientists find how they did them (sometimes in ways that are much simpler than they seem to be on their face), don’t you feel much closer to them?

Don’t you imagine what myths, stories, world views that moved them to make such things?

As we travel from society to society, be insightful, try to make those monuments time machines that connect you to the past. Let the ghosts of thousands of builders, architects, and artists speak to you about how fortunate you are to belong to the same species that made all of this happen.

What else is there to say?

Final Note: For these and other refutations, I highly suggest that you go to Youtube.com, and watch the documentary Ancient Aliens Debunked or visit their website. I want to warn, though, that there is a small part of the documentary where I certainly disagree, and that is when it tries to validate the Biblical tale of Noah and the universal flood, of which there is no evidence whatsoever. With that particular exception, the documentary is very well made. I also highly recommend the books by Jason Colavito who, for years, has dedicated his life to debunking the Ancient Astronaut Theory. I also strongly encourage you to go to his website for more information.

 

Skepticism as a Spiritual Path to Humility (1)

On December 18, 2014, in Philosophy, Religion, Science, by prosario2000

One of the most interesting passages in the New Testament comes from the Gospel of John, where Jesus predicts the manner in which his disciple Peter is going to die:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go (John 21:19).

As I’ve said in a previous post I expressed my change of path from Roman Catholicism towards Religious Naturalism, and the reasons why.I do not hold a spiritual life with faith in a supernatural God, but instead living an evidential faith in Ultimate Reality. As I also stated in that same post, I believe in two forms of evidence:

  • Eidetic evidence (a priori relations of ideas) which include the investigation of formal and material essences (logic, mathematics, geometry, philosophy, etc.)
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  • Empirical evidence (a posteriori matters-of-fact) which include investigations made by natural and social sciences, as well as the Humanities. 

Both sorts of evidence are deeply worked by their respective disciplines, subject to intersubjective validity and critical evaluation by a community of Reality seekers, leading us many times to wherever we do not want. All of these Truth-seeking disciplines have something humbling to teach all of us. Very much like Peter’s destiny (according to John’s Gospel), if we follow evidence critically evaluated by a community of Reality seekers, it may will lead all of us sometimes to where we do not want to go. Yet, unlike Jesus’ words, this sort of evidential faith does not announce our definitive death, but is, instead, very life-giving.

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The Roots of Intellectual Humility

Without any spirit for denigrating John’s Gospel, a book I admire very much. I remember John‘s version of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus appeared out of nowhere to his disciples with the exception of Thomas. Later, after Christ was gone, Thomas returned and when the rest of the disciples told him about Jesus’ resurrection, he didn’t believe them. Yet, Jesus appeared again, this time showing Himself to Thomas and told him:

“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:27-29).

After so many years investigating in my fields of research, Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, it seemed to me that the lesson should be the reverse, that Thomas’ is the best approach. He should be blessed precisely because he sought evidence. We should require and evaluate critically the evidence for claims being made by anyone or anybody. Even during the time I was Catholic, it seemed to me that fields that required evidence were actually more humble than any process that asked me “to believe without seeing”.

On the other hand, while religious convictions actually led me to love science in general, I was bothered by a lot of people who, on the basis of pure blind faith (especially basing themselves on the passage I just quoted) told me things like:

Scientists think that they know everything, they are arrogant.

Look at how complicated science is, how simple God is.

If you agree with evolution, it is because you don’t have enough faith.

I went to one retreat in our parish guided by some people of John XXIII group, and the speaker told us about how science always presents us that we are pure matter, hence unworthy and purposeless. He cited the “fact” that scientists say that we only use 10% of our brain.  Why are scientists thinking that the rest of our brain is purposeless? Doesn’t that mean you are unworthy?  But, he argued, the Gospel revealed that you are worthy and that God created nothing without a purpose. Of course, I wanted to explode … and I did!!!

-“Sir,” I said, “I’m sorry to contradict you in the middle of your presentation, but scientists do NOT say that we only use 10% of our brain. That is just not a fact.”

-“But scientists,” he said,”say that all the time.”

-“Actually no renowned neurologist has said that. It is one of those beliefs that are repeated so often that people believe it. For neurologists and anyone who knows better, if you only used 10% of your brain, you would be a vegetable. For vision to work properly, you need to use at least 33% of your brain, for crying out loud!!!”

-“Be that as it may ….”

… and he continued, only to repeat the same false statement at the very end, when I shouted: “THAT’S FALSE!” A lot of my parish friends were a bit startled (putting it gently). Some wanted to talk to me later about the specific subject and I told them that this was one more occasion where a religious person (I don’t blame the John XXIII group, just the speaker) wanted to create the science vs. religion dichotomy, trying to make faith as superior to evidence based reasoning. I also told them this needed not be, since all truth discovered by science shines on faith and makes us discover truths. Isn’t all truth God’s truth?!

Although a lot of Catholics and Christians in general do recognize the validity of science, there are still too many people who on the basis of blind and naive faith want to minimize science.

Yet, as a Philosopher, in my mind, I contrasted this general attitude with a better one taught by Socrates. When he went to the Oracle of Delphi, he was told that he was the wisest man in all of Athens. Socrates didn’t believe this to be true, so he asked around the following question to people whom he considered wise: “What is the good and the beautiful?” After a series of questions and answers, using elementary logic, he actually showed that these wisest people, who actually claimed to know what the good and the beautiful were, actually didn’t know a thing about them. As a result, Socrates did consider himself the wisest man in Athens, not because he was knowledgeable, but because he recognized from the very beginning he was not, while others claimed to know, but did not know.

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Humility, Skepticism, and Peer-Review

For me, Socrates’ lesson illustrates what is true humility, specifically intellectual humility. People who, on blind faith, claim that scientists are all arrogant and that what they claim is false are truly arrogant. On the other hand, scientists in general are far more humble when practicing their own respective fields. The reason is that, contrary to what people think, scientists and scholars in general try their very best to very high standards of research. And as time goes by, scientists are ever more critical and thorough with their own research, thanks in a great part to peer-review.

What does peer-review mean? Generally it means that you publish your work through a professional publisher or journal, and whatever you say you did will be challenged and tested. First, the science or scholarly journal will generally try its best to guarantee the high standards of the content of the articles published. Second, once published, others can actually look at your data, critically evaluate it, reproduce the experiment, or review the primary sources, and so on. The more your paper survives this process, the more solid is the evidence that you provide in favor of your hypothesis or theory.

Now, there is no guarantee at all that every article you read in those journals will be infallible. As a matter of fact, a lot of these articles have been retracted over the years (for instance, see this case, and this one … and this one too). In other cases, some of the publications could be embarrassing to a journal in question, just as the Sokal Hoax showed. Even the “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List” episode made many people raise their eyebrows on the quality of a certain technological journal.

Some anti-science websites try to sell this as a failure of mainstream science. I see it, on the contrary, as a great triumph in many ways, and shows that the peer review process does indeed work. The whole purpose of peer-review is precisely to purify science from fraudulent information too often portrayed as science. This is the reason why I praise the Retraction Watch website, which alerts scientists and the public in general about retracted papers either by criticizing academic journals for not upholding higher standards for their articles or by informing them and the rest of us about which important articles were retracted because of errors, lack of sufficient information, or outright fraud. Through this process, we are helped to retain the best evidence we have available. As a Popperian philosopher (regarding this subject), I think that trial and error is the very essence of scientific process and progress.

This means that the scientific process itself is inherently flawed, because it is essentially a human activity. Humans are imperfect. No scientific theory is invulnerable from future refutation for this reason. Yet, again, this process shows far more humility than, let’s say, other worldviews based on deeply flawed texts or authorities who do not allow anyone to question them. If you think that I’m exclusively talking about religion, guess again! As we shall see in later posts, religion has no monopoly in this area. A lot of non-religious people will in fact defend such texts and authorities with every fiber of their being no matter what.
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Skepticism, and Honorable Tradition

The root of all knowledge is not blind faith, but doubt. As a former anarchist, I still sympathize strongly with an attitude preserved by the best anarchists I know (e.g. Noam Chomsky). Defy authority! This does not mean to rebel against any type of authority for no reason. We are called to question authority wherever we feel that authority fails to serve the public. Such a challenge, though, must be humble, since authority may be right. I want an authority that imposes traffic lights on society rather than one that doesn’t.

Knowledge and scientific activity is all about questioning authority (within reason). You can be the greatest scientist in history, yet if you publish a scientific article, know that perhaps someone will challenge you, test your hypothesis, check your data, check your experiment, and so on. And this is something that we see since the beginning of Philosophy (which is also the birth of Science), when Thales, with his proposals, questioned mythical views on the origins of the world. Socrates himself was a skeptic, and (according to Plato) was put to death because of his continuous questions and criticisms to his society’s worldviews. It is no wonder that Pyrrhonism became a branch of Platonism, which itself remitted to Socrates’ philosophy.

Since then, skepticism appears again and again in Philosophy, even in Modern Philosophy: René Descartes (with his Cartesian method), David Hume, and so on. Today skepticism is expressed best by many Philosophers of Science as well as scientists themselves. Isaac Asimov, the famous science and science fiction writer,  expressed a doctrine that I’ve adopted for myself:

I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.

Skepticism is not about not believing anything, but just questioning, challenging, and ask for evidence within reason. And the wondrous thing about such a position is that it does not refrain you from obtaining knowledge of the truth. It helps you discover a lot of it, and far from being something dull and boring, it turns out to be something more exciting that is far more spiritual than people are willing to believe. Yet, not everyone is prepared to accept it. Just ask Socrates how he ended up in deep trouble, because of it.

Again, evidence will drive you where you, your friends, and your society will not want to believe or go. Yet, if you follow the evidence, Ultimate Reality, the God I worship, will undeniably speak to you about yourself, society, history, and the universe … and every day, It will tell you something new.

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About True New Testament Scholarship vs. Simcha Jacobovici

On December 6, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

In my earlier blog, I responded an article written by Simcha Jacobovici regarding his recent discoveries “proving” that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. This is the n-th claim for that, even though there is no evidence to support it.

Of course, my problem is that I am not a New Testament scholar, and amateurish at best. However, as I indicated in my previous blog post, Richard Bauckham (a recognized New Testament scholar) has been responding to Jacobovici’s and Barry Wilson’s claims in their new book The Lost Gospel. I want to share with you the series of responses written by him. I hope you see why Jacobovici and Wilson are misleading the public. Bauckham’s whole writing is called “Assessing The Lost Gospel“, and there are 7 parts of it linked to NT Blog, managed by Mark Goodacre. Thank you Mr. Goodacre for making these available!!!!

I hope you enjoy the reading. Again, this is an intellectual elephant stepping on an intellectual ant on this subject. Yet, you can always learn a lot in this process.

Recently, the famous filmmaker Simcha Jocobovici wrote an article pertaining a book he recently co-authored with Prof. Barrie Wilson titled: The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene.  I won’t spend too much time talking about the book, because some real Bible scholars have dedicated some articles debunking its claims, needless to say that they point out Jacobovici and Wilson’s utter carelessness regarding their deal with available documents (take for instance renowned scholar Richard Bauckman’s essays debunking Jacobovici’s claims herehere, and here) .

I’ll concentrate my efforts in illustrating why no one should give Jacobovici any credibility whatsoever. I’ll be using his recent article as a means to that end. In fact, his article (as well as the book, TV series and documentaries) shows his incompetence when dealing with issues regarding the Bible.

For example, he states that the evidence for Jesus’ being married to Mary Magdalene before writing his book “has been overwhelming”. What is his evidence? Let’s look at each of them:

1. “This may come as a shock to most people, but the fact is that none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate. The Gospels call Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51, John 20:16). Rabbis, then as now, are married. If Jesus wasn’t married, someone would have noticed.”

Actually, they did notice!  First of all, it is a very popular opinion that during the first century CE, people could only be called “Rabbi” if they were married. Many people may be astonished to know that this rule did not exist during Jesus’ lifetime. This rule only existed after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and specifically after the Pharisaic reforms during the last two decades of thee first century CE. This rule began to be enforced during the second century CE. This was after Jesus.

Second, there were plenty of people called “Teachers” during Jesus’ lifetime who were celibate. The clearest examples of this were the Essenes, Jews with a monastic lifestyle who lived in Qumran, and who wrote the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. We have testimony from Josephus and from archaeology itself that they never married.

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. “The greatest promoter of celibacy for Christians was Paul.”

Actually, both Jesus and Paul were promoters of celibacy. In fact, Jesus was anti-family in many important ways.  Don’t believe me?  Here, let me show you some passages?

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Then [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” …

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers, and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21; 31-35)

Apparently, Jesus was implying that you should give up your family to do God’s Will (and also implying that neither his mother nor his brothers were doing it, because they were not backing his mission). Did he oppose to the notion of having a family in principle? The answer is “No”. He was aware that Yahweh considered family important, as the Torah (the Law) dictated. At one point, when a rich man asked to follow him, Jesus asked if he observed the Law, even the commandment “You shall honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:16-22).

Yet, why would Jesus oppose his own family (see that the Gospels never mention “his wife”), and even tell other people to “hate” (a prophetic hyperbole) their own families to do God’s work?  The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was an apocalypticist. He thought that the Kingdom of God was at hand and that the full duty of everyone is to prepare for its arrival. There is no time to lose!!!  Family, in this sense, is a distraction from an urgent duty.  As a matter of fact, Jesus saw celibacy as a valid choice for anyone looking for Yahweh’s Kingdom:

“[Jesus’] disciples said to him, “if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But [Jesus] said unto them, “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:10-12).

Jacobovici states that the Apostle Paul was a fanatic about celibacy, that “only when it came to sex Paul was more severe than Moses and Jesus put together.” Yet, it was Paul himself who expressed exactly Jesus’ position on this matter very clearly when he wrote to Christian converts in Corinth. Just like Jesus, Paul was an apocalypticist, as was every first century Christian in his time:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:

It is well for a man not to touch a woman.

But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

To the married I give this command –not I but the Lord– that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife [Paul here is referring to Jesus’ actual words on the matter — Matthew 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12].

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Now concerning virgins. I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife?  Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (fragments of 1 Corinthians 7).

Jesus would actually endorse every single suggestion made by Paul in this letter.
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3. The whole story of Attis and Cybele. (Read it in Jacobovici’s article, too long to place it here).

The whole point made by Jacobovici regarding Paul thinking that Attis looked very much like Jesus, and the whole story of Attis castrating himself is made bogus by our previous analysis. Regarding celibacy, Paul was within the mainstream of early Christian apocalypticism, even to the point of total and absolute coincidence with Jesus’ own teachings … even to the point that Paul actually quoted Jesus when giving Corinthians advice!

Also note that Paul had a visceral hatred towards Pagan religions and rituals. These are expressed throughout his letters, and he does so in a very Jewish manner –talking about pure and impure, etc.– (e.g. advice not to go to Pagan courts for Pagans are perverts 1 Corinthians 6; or Pagans as being associated with the unjust and all sorts of perversions Romans 1:18-32).
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4. If one looks at the Gospels without Attis-colored Pauline glasses, there are many, many hints that Jesus was married. Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body (Mark 16:1).

Let’s remember that the Gospels also talk about Mary Magdalene and other women who were always by his side during his ministry (e.g. Joanna the wife of Chuza; Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses — the latter probable family–; Salome). The reason for trying to prepare Jesus’ body for an appropriate burial was because he was buried in a hurry two days before. These women were not “Jesus’ wives”, but rather Jesus’ economic sponsors and followers, and who were devoted to him during his ministry.

[During Jesus ministry:] Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jacob, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.  On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared … Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [that Jesus resurrected] to the apostles (Luke 23:55-24:1,10)

So, I think that the context of the reason why Mary Magdalene visited Jesus’ tomb for anointment is perfectly clear, and it has nothing to do with whether she was married with Jesus or not (most probably NOT!)
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5. Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics — or “wisdom seekers” — were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. After the fourth century, the Church burnt Gnostic holy books and the people who believed in them. As a result, until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to … They all tell the same story — Jesus was married. More than this, for his Gnostic followers, Jesus’ marriage and sexual activity was more important than his death and resurrection. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his “Passion” on the cross.

This is yet another evidence that Jacobovici does not know what he is talking about … He has NOT read ANY of the Gnostic Gospels, and he does not know anything about Ancient Gnosticism.  If you read any of the Gnostic Gospels — and I mean ANY of them — you will never find any reference at all to “Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s passion in bed”. This is one of the claims he produced out of his rear.

The Gnostics hated all of bodily pleasures, and I mean ALL of them (including sexual pleasures). This is a constant theme in all Gnostic literature. They embraced and radicalized the Platonic view that everything that is matter and of the flesh is intrinsically evil. As a matter of fact, according to the Gnostics, the one true God did not create the material physical world, He inhabits a place of spiritual perfection called the “pleroma”.  The physical world was created by Yaltabaoth, or the Tetragrammaton, an evil god. This god is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. He, along with the supervisors (archons) of the world, imprisoned souls in the material body, and kept them as slaves of the world using all sorts of pleasures and desires.  Hence, all pleasure is evil. The Gnostics considered themselves to have the light of “knowledge” (gnosis), and that Jesus was one of those pure spirits who incarnated (or did not, depending on the Gnostic sect), and revealed this “knowledge” to special people … such as Mary Magdalene.

(Notice that “gnosis” is a Greek word that means “knowledge”, not “wisdom”. Jacobovici does not know Ancient Greek, making a mistake in his exposition. The Greek word for “wisdom” is “sophia“.)

If you read the two Gnostic Gospels which express a certain closeness between Jesus and Mary Magdelene (the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip), you see that there is no “passion” nor “bed” anywhere.  In the case of the Gospel of Mary, you find a Jesus who appears to Mary in a vision (not in a body) and reveals some esoteric teachings regarding the soul, knowledge, and the ignorance created by the material world. Some of the Apostles have an imperfect knowledge of this teaching, which is a reason why Peter objected, and Levi defended her, even when he did not know what this teaching meant. This is all there is!  If you don’t believe me, I kindly invite you to read the Gospel of Mary (or what we have of it) for yourself (click here to access it).

What about the Gospel of Philip (access it here)? In this Gnostic Gospels, the Apostles are actually furious that Jesus is kissing Mary more than he is kissing them. Why is everyone kissing each other?! If you think that this is a Romantic action, guess again … it isn’t!  For Gnostics, kissing is a sign of “passing gnosis” (passing knowledge). Notice that nothing in the Gospels indicate that he kisses Mary more because she is his wife. Instead, he is giving her a privilege over all of the other Apostles. When the Apostles complain, Jesus says: “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.” … ~ My face of confusion~.

You might say that this Gospel describes Mary as his “companion” (koinonos), yet, contrary to popular opinion, this word just means “companion”, not necessarily wife or sex partner. The range of meanings of “companion”, and the lack of use of the term for “wife”, tells us conclusively that Jesus and Mary were not married.

Last, but not least, I am just assuming (for the sake of the argument) the most extreme and sensationalistic interpretation of a manuscript that is all broken (i.e. that Jesus kissed Mary more than the Apostles, that Jesus kissed Mary in her mouth, etc.) Today, some scholars on this subject agree with that the original text most probably looked like this (the brackets indicates the actual holes in the manuscript we have available and how these scholars fill that gap):

As for the Wisdom who is called ‘the barren’, she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of [the saviour was Mar]y Ma[gda]lene. [Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disci[ples, and used to] kiss her [softly] on her [hand]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”

But notice a pattern here! Mary is constantly being given privilege over the Apostles?  Why is this? This is not a historical fact, but a widely used literary device. As you can see, the Gnostics saw themselves as those who really, really, really knew what the truth is. What about the rest of the Christians (who beg to differ from them)? They simply have either imperfect knowledge or no knowledge at all. By this literary device, Gnostics are saying: “We received that real knowlege from Mary Magdalene, while the rest of Christendom received ignorance from the Apostles.” This is not an unusual literary device. The author of John’s Gospel (although not Gnostic) used something similar to underscore how the “beloved disciple” was vastly superior in knowledge and closeness to Jesus than Peter, Jesus brethren, or the rest of Jesus’ disciples.  We see this literary resource again in the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus confides in Judas and reveals to him why he wants to die: because Jesus hated his own body, regarded as something evil. We also see the “kissing act” in the Second Apocalypse of James, where Jesus kisses Jacob (James) on the lips to give him knowledge.

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6. The documentary Last Tomb of Jesus and Jacobovici’s book Jesus Family Tomb.

Besides the fact that all serious Bible scholars (and again, I mean ALL of them) have criticized both the documentary and the book for sheer sloppiness of fact, we need to say a few words about it. In both the book and the documentary, Jacobovici makes the claim that he found the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth along with the tomb of “Mariamne”, and other names that are strongly associated with Jesus’ disciples and family. As scholars have pointed out, names like “Jesus”, “Jacob”, “Levi”, “Joseph”, “Mary” and so on, were extremely common. In a time where there were no last names, you had to refer to them by some attribution “Jesus of Nazareth”, “Mary, the mother of Joses”, “Levi also known as …”, “Joseph, son of Heli” and so on. Hence, a lot of the probability statistics used in the documentary and the book are far from being an exact criteria to determine that these names indeed correspond to Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles. In other words, the probability calculations are bogus.

Regarding the rest of the claims, just read the Wikipedia pages regarding the Last Tomb of Jesus (here), and Jesus Family Tomb (here). See? Jacobovici is incompetent!

The rest of the article is bogus and, again, I leave the response to a competent scholar, Richard Bauckman (links are provided at the beginning of this article).  But, as you can see, Jacobovici does not know as much as he makes the public think he knows. It’s all for public manipulation and money!

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My Change in Religious Perspective — 3 (Final)

On November 11, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

“What is the difference between
a Seventh Day Adventist
and a Unitarian?  A BIG one.”
~ David Sloan Wilson

This is the final post from a series of posts (see part 1 and part 2) about my change of heart regarding my religious views.

Usually, when I practice religion and spiritual life, community has been very important to me. Most recently, I was asking where would I find a community of religious or spiritual people where I could actually share my Naturalist religious views in any way. I decided to join a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church as that path that sort of community.

At first I didn’t know what it was. I have heard of “Unitarians” (without the “Universalists”), and used to confuse them with Unity, another very different group. I know that during the process of changing my views, I had noticed Michael Dowd talking about Unitarian Universalists, and how in their churches, they explained the Great Story of the universe to children in Sunday School, and that there were atheists belonging to several Unitarian Universalist churches (something very odd for me at the time).

UU symbol

Much later, I learned that Unitarian Universalism was something relatively new. Their origin dates from the early 1960s, and it was the result of the merge of two Christian denominations. First, the Unitarians, whose assertion was that God could not be a Trinity, and that Jesus was an excellent prophet of ancient Palestine under Roman rule, but not God himself. Second, the Universalists, who believed that at the very end of times, everyone will be saved by God. Even though Unitarian Universalism does not assert either of those things (at least not in their original sense), it is a faith focused on action more than creed. The UU symbol has two circles representing the union between the Unitarian and the Universalists. The Universalists used to be represented by a circle with a cross at the side, meaning that Universalism was a Christian faith, but that it did allow for the possibility of people of other faiths to be saved. That was replaced by a flaming chalice, because all UU services begin with lighting a flaming chalice.

I was a bit worried over rumors regarding the “fact” that the organization was a cult much like Scientology (see, for instance, this video and this one). Yet, when I examined those claims carefully, I noticed that they were totally baseless. Whoever makes such a claim, most probably, classifies as “cult” any religion that does not adopt his or her Christian conservative views, is a small movement, and does not state the Bible as its final authority (watch the videos whose links I just provided, and Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults …  a phony authority on the subject of cults). As a response to this claim, a Unitarian Universalist created this video.

For a fuller story about UU is all about, here is a video that explains it very well.

UU seemed to me the ideal community, since we learn from all religious and non-religious views and traditions, not just Christianity. There are Roman Catholic UU, Christian UU, Jewish UU, Humanist (Atheist or Agnostic) Universalists, Islamic UU, Buddhist UU, and even Pagan UU.  All of our congregations also participate in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Contrary to what is said often, UU does not hold a relativistic view of truth or ethics. For the community, reason must play a major role in spiritual life, as is the quest for truth. This means that UU embraces science as one of the key factors to know the world and provide the technology that will make our lives better. There is also a call for us to participate in the world to make it a better place.  It is not surprising that in many parts of the world, UU members actively participate in progressive politics. There is also a series of affirmations that express the core convictions of anyone who becomes a UU:

  • The inherent worth and the dignity of every person.
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  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
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  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
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  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
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  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large
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  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
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  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

It also recognizes its sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
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  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
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  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
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  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors and ourselves.
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  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
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  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I joined a UU group here in Puerto Rico which is very small in number, and that I hope that it grows and thrives. As a former Catholic, I’m still in the process of getting used to this new UU dynamic as well as this spiritual community. I’m also getting used to thinking like a Religious Naturalist using a theistic language. It is a tough journey, but I think those will be my grounds for spiritual growth in my near future.

I hope this gives you an idea of where I am right now spiritually.

My Change in Religious Perspective — 2

On October 21, 2014, in Religion, Science, by prosario2000

In my previous post, I expressed my reasons for abandoning Roman Catholicism (and traditional Christianity as a whole). I will now will explain my religious views.

A Moderate Naturalism and a Spiritual Nature

It is sort of unusual to argue that spirit is material. This view comes mostly from ancient philosophy, which conceives the soul as something diametrically opposite and, sometimes, opposed to the physical body. This goes as far back as Plato, who established the realm of ideas as the place where our souls originally come from, but fell, and now it is a prisoner of matter. Matter is corruptible, changing, and temporal. It is not the natural state of the soul to be contaminated with it.

As a contemporary Platonist, I have to point out the deep (but historically understandable) fallacy in which Plato fell into: that truths-of-reason and the spiritual realm are one and the same thing. Plato correctly distinguished between those objects that are understood but not sensibly perceived and those that are perceived but not understood. Yet, due to the fact that our minds (souls), not the bodies, are able to grasp the former, then that would mean that minds and the objects of understanding are essentially the same. Further, since he needed to explain how the physical objects participate from the ideal realm, he fell into another fallacy: that a Divinity (the Demiurge) actually created these ideas as a way to create a great material organism that participates from His Divinity (all of this is expressed in Timaeus). Judeo-Christianity only perpetuated these fallacies in lesser or greater degree (which is, once again, can be perfectly understood given its historical background).

My Platonist position about the objects of understanding is similar to Edmund Husserl’s:  logical truths are essentially formal apophantics, and mathematics is formal ontology. Formal logic prescribes a priori all forms of truth whatsoever, while mathematics deals with the forms in which objects can be given. Both are a priori disciplines, meaning that they are only known through reason (i.e. they are truths-of-reason), and they are the unconditional, absolute, and logically necessary basis of any truth or anything whatever. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that logical truths and mathematical objects exist, as well as formal categories, and so on. I extend this to ethical values in general, as well as ethical principles, among others.

There is no possible deity that can determine absolutely anything relating to mathematics and logic, nor can God make a genocide good in principle, nor make a square be round. As a matter of fact, gods or God (as traditionally conceived) Who can create and/or intervene in the physical world, must belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, not of truths-of-reason. Hence, spiritual activity (unconscious, subconscious, and conscious, elementary or highly evolved), also belongs to the realm of matters-of-fact, as Frege, Husserl, and other philosophical realists saw very clearly.

If both, material and spiritual realities belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, then in some sense they must be related. Contrary to Plato, who saw matter only as decadent and corruptible, what science has discovered recently is that matter is a thriving activity and self-creative. In fact, as has been pointed out by so many people, Ultimate Reality seems to be made up of nothing but emergent nested creativity:

  • From quarks to atoms
  • From atoms to molecules
  • From molecules to stars
  • From stars to galaxies, etc.

The material world is intrinsically emergent, where a new complexity emerges from another. Today’s cosmology is an emergent cosmology. It is within this creative activity, especially through evolution, organisms (autopoietic beings) came to be, who could replicate their genetic code, and through natural selection’s tinkering of the code and the emergence of forms of unintended cooperation, a rich variety of complex living beings came to be. Among them, many animals developed brains that could process few bits of information. Then through natural selection some minds became increasingly more complex and modular, specializing each more in operations of the senses, of action and reaction, and avoiding harm.

Humans today have a brain whose parts and modules have been inherited from our ancestors. Each of them became more and more conscious until humanity gained some spectacular abilities, such as to foresee consequences of its actions, of creating solidarity systems for collective action, and a wonderful way of adapting to the environment (needless to say our ability to make the environment adapt to us). Our souls literally come from active, self-creating matter.

For this, we should be thankful for matter, energy, and our own souls. We should celebrate our material origins and our emergence in this wonderful universe, so full of sacred moments. I remember the ecologist theologian Thomas Berry saying in a very moving statement:

We need to experience the developmental story of the universe as our sacred story. ..There was a time when the oxygen in the air had been created by the plankton in the sea. This oxygen, though, was poison, it was deadly… It nearly killed every living form. A transformation had to take place. Forms had to invent a way of using the energy to create organic substance in an inorganic world. Animals can’t do that. Only plants can do that. That’s why Ecclesiastes says that all life is grass, because all life depends on what grass can do. This I think is a moment of grace…. The invention of sexuality is a moment of grace. Evolution could not happen without the invention of sexuality. That one life form can live of another life form, that is another moment of grace. A Divine that creates the universe that can create itself, that is the miracle of creation.

In this light, everything material becomes sacred.

About God and Prophecy

I don’t believe in a supernatural God anymore. In that sense, you can call me atheist, just as most of us are atheists regarding Zeus, or Odin. I am an atheist regarding Yahweh and regarding Jesus.  I don’t believe that Jesus is God, but I do believe about Jesus what practically all historians and Bible scholars hold as true: that Jesus existed as an apocalyptic prophet who was later deified by Early Christians, a process which culminated with the Councils of Niscea and Constantinople. For more on this, buy Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God (I have a big difference of opinion regarding the issue of Jesus’ burial, but the rest of the book is great). Simply speaking, there is no supernatural God. I don’t accept supernatural miracles anymore, nor do I think there are angels, nor a lot of things I used to believe when I was Catholic. The best apology for such a kind of God was Hans Küng’s Does God Exist? (a book that is very rich in knowledge, wisdom, and rigor of thought, and I highly recommend reading it), and still I was unsatisfied with his answer. 

That being said, I am not antitheist, nor do I intend to become another antitheistic activist like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. I do respect a lot of theists who hold their belief in a supernatural God. It just didn’t work for me. My aspiration is to work along with religious people for a better future, and I do care deeply about religions in general.

I do believe in a God, and that is Ultimate Reality. God is a proper name, a personification of Ultimate Reality. Once again, He is a personification, not a person. He is a mythical way of relating to Ultimate Reality of which all of us are part of. He (or She if you prefer) encompasses all of material components, its energetic processes, and material and spiritual events. He also incorporates all of the history of the universe, or what Thomas Berry called The Great Story. Others have called it Big History. The Great Story is the one that incorporates every single story of the universe, even humanity’s history, incorporating mythical histories, all forms of understanding the relationship between humanity and the universe, religious thinking, ideals, moral values, and so on. 

This is the Great Story of a creation that happened and is still happening all over the world. Humanity is a big contributor to this evolution. We have the huge problems of world hunger, climate change, wars, etc. In a world like this, God has made us an evolutionary gift: we can foresee the consequences of our actions or lack of them as basis to make decisions individually and collectively. We are moral beings (to make decisions based on values), who are able to be ethical beings (to make decisions based on objectively good values).  As Peter Parker’s uncle used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Paraphrasing A Course in Miracles (but in a radically different sense), each of us have the mind, the eyes, the ears, the voice, the hands, the arms, the legs, the feet … in other words, the body as instruments of salvation.

As a Religious Naturalist (and even when I was Roman Catholic), I recognize the role of being a prophet of this time. When I was young, and belonged to Líderes de la Paz (a missionary Roman Catholic group), I learned that a prophet is the one who announces and denounces righteously in God’s name.

Notice righteously, not self-righteously. To be righteous requires a lot of humility, as opposed to self-righteousness, which requires a lot of arrogance. Someone told me that for St. Theresa of Avila, “humility is the truth”. There is no better definition out there than this one. Both reason and experience of Ultimate Reality (of God) will keep us humble constantly. For this, we need Philosophy, Formal Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and so on. It is necessary to pay attention to God’s own revelation (discovered facts) through all of these science. On that basis. we can make our own individual decisions, and help redirect society to help it make the best collective decision.

On such foundations, we can actually know what it is going to happen if we don’t do anything about climate change. It is not God’s punishment, but the result of our own sin.  Even when people don’t like the term “sin”, we have to recover it within this Naturalistic view. For theologians, “sin” is not merely doing something wrong, it is making a wrong decision that disrupts our relationship with God. Within a Naturalistic reconception, our refusal to understand Ultimate Reality and not dealing with establishing our right relationship with God is a sinful behavior. Our indifference and hatred to manifestations and expressions of God such living beings, including xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and others, are sinful, because they disrupt our relationship with God’s own creation of which we are part of. In light of this, we can say “Amen” when we can restate Naturalistically what the author of 1 John says:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

 

An Evidential Faith

As we act this way, the deal of living spiritually is living in integrity. That does not just mean being honest. It means that I should align my mind and my actions with what factual evidence that empirical sciences can show us. Rev. Michael Dowd has talked about an evidential faith. This phrase is so strange because people think of “faith” as believing with no evidence. Actually, faith is synonymous with trust. Some people trust that God exists, and do so blindly. In my case, I think that we should trust evidence as it is revealed by the sciences in general, we should have an evidential faith to live in integrity.

What about things you don’t know? Simply speaking, I can speculate about could probably exist, but on the basis of evidence. Of others sorts of claims I will remain a skeptic, in the same sense of Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer.

Short Summary of my New Religious Views

Rev. Michael Dowd has expressed in a metareligious sense the following principles:

  • Reality is my God.
  • Evidence is my Scripture.
  • Big History is my creation story.
  • Ecology is my theology
  • Integrity is my salvation.
  • Ensuring a healthy future is my mission

I hold all of these from a Naturalistic standpoint. Is there anything more to say?

My Change in Religious Perspective – 1

On October 14, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

Recent months have been a very tough period for me, especially regarding the religious and spiritual aspects of my life. As many of you know, some months ago, I left Roman Catholicism and have adopted a sort of Religious Naturalist view   My change of views is mostly a result of a self-criticism and self-evaluation of my own beliefs in general that I constantly do every once in a while.

A lot of my friends were very surprised. Some were happy, others sad, and others couldn’t care any less. Yet, I soon discovered in Facebook that it didn’t matter how many times I told the reasons for my change of mind, some people continued guessing for “other” reasons for it.

Let me set the record straight. I didn’t leave Catholicism for the recent scandals we all know about, nor its dark past. The Church is made out of humans, and any other religion with the same social problems most probably would do the same thing. Any group without accountability (and the Church had much of that for centuries) would be just as abusive. I can only say that at the very least, the Church has been mostly kind to me during my whole life, especially my intellectual life and living the Gospel the best way I could. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had any bad episodes, but most of my experience with it has been for the better. This statement of mine doesn’t intend to diminish other people’s horrible experiences with the Church, but at least I want to clarify mine.

The reason why I left the Church is something very simple: I stopped believing in its core doctrines and dogmas. There were multiple reasons for it, but here are some of the reasons:

  • One of the factors had to do with my philosophical research on the relationship between the brain and the mind. Once I understood the basics of brain processes due to our evolutionary process, I gradually saw how a mental life and consciousness are in great part the result of modular interaction in the brain, especially through the continuous exchange of information (the brain as an organ of computation). The mind is real, but it is inseparable from the body and brain functionss. It is like trying to separate the software that runs in your computer from the computer itself. In fact the mind and the ego (the “I” of our consciousness) are emergent properties of brain processes. This would directly go against the Church’s teaching of the soul as being the substantial form of a body and that it can be subsistent (i.e. it can be independent from the physical body). From the point of view of neurobiology and philosophy of the mind, the separability of the soul and the body is meaningless. The soul is the result of body processes, without it, the soul goes extinct. I think that Raymond M. Smullyan’s reading “An Unfortunate Dualist” was a big influence when I reached this conclusion.
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  • We have another difficulty, even if we posit, along with Thomas Aquinas, a rational-spiritual subsistent soul beside animal souls.  The problem is that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the rational soul with all of its essential properties (memory, understanding and will) are nothing more than developed mental faculties that we have inherited from our non-human ancestors and that anyone can find in varying degrees in other non-human animals. From this perspective, the distinction between both kinds of souls (animal soul and rational soul) makes no sense at all. The rational soul is just another kind of animal soul (using Thomas Aquinas’ terminology).
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  • I have long rejected the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope (which was never a dogma before the XIX century, and not everyone believed it, especially during the first centuries of Christianity). I didn’t believe either that Jesus established a papacy as we know it today, and in many ways, the Papacy had become institutionally the opposite of the message of the Gospel. Sorry, but Mt. 16 or the end of the Gospel of John don’t serve to provide the foundations for the Papacy at all (at least with the kind of earthly power it had in the Middle Ages until today). It seems more that the Papacy is just the result of the accidents of history, especially after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West and the Western kingdoms’ competition with the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western rivalry against Muslim powers. (Many people would say that I’m being “simplistic”, and to some extent it is true. The problem is that I can’t explain the long history here, that would be another subject for another post … or perhaps a book?) The dogma of the infallibility of the papacy, that the Pope can proclaim a certain moral or religious doctrine as true ex cathedra is the ultimate act of institutional arrogance, especially as a response to nineteenth century Modernism.
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  • I had a very serious problem with Christianity’s notion of God in light of what the Puerto Rican economist Francisco Catalá Oliveras has called: “Funes’ syndrome“. I’ve talked before about it.  It is the implicit prejudice that many of us have that perfection in the world is possible, and that such perfection would be functional. I would contrast this with what I call Catalá’s principleIn this world perfection is impossible, and if it were, it would be dysfunctional. If this is true, then that means that things and activity do work in this world, precisely because of their imperfection. If this is true in the case of the entire Cosmos, wouldn’t the allegation of God’s perfection beg the question? If a supernatural God exists, and created the world, He would be as imperfect as all of us. If God interacts with us, it is because He is imperfect. And that would mean that His “plan” for the Cosmos is also imperfect and ever changing. This is incompatible with the traditional notions of God, including the Catholic one.
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  • If God is imperfect, and interacts with the world, God must be a Being in process, which was the insight formalized by the philosopher A. N. Whitehead, and later developed by Process Theology by John Cobb. This sort of philosophy and theology underscores metaphysical relationality over substance. I have my criticisms against some things held by process philosophy and theology, but I think that most of it is sound and consistent with the actual behavior and creativity of the universe.
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  • Daniel Dennett’s views on free will also made a big impact on my philosophical thinking (read his book Freedom Evolves). Although in many aspects I’m still a bit unsatisfied about Dennett’s solution that free will can coexist with determinism, I think that most of his points makes such a view plausible. I also think that his point that you don’t want an immaterial principle not causally linked to the world as a solution to the free will v. determinism is worth holding on to.
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  • The theodicy problem. I found a lot of very clever and wonderful responses to this problem, but all of them left me unsatisfied in the end. I have to say that I’ve read a lot of the literature about it, the most touching intellectually and spiritually being Marilyn McCord Adams’ book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, and Gloria Schaab’s The Creative Suffering of the Triune God. Still, as brilliant as their expositions are, at some level there was still a problem with our current understanding of God’s goodness and his omnipotence.
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  • The problem of original sin was another headache, especially from an evolutionary standpoint. The point of view of a humanity devoid of sin and malice that made a mistake and then the mistake itself is inherited as well as its effects to all of us is simply implausible. Needless to say that the mechanism of this inheritance makes no sense within the traditional dualistic view of the body and the soul: through our genes we inherit everything that makes us good and bad, and make us die, but original sin is spiritual (?). A Naturalist account of death and birth makes far more sense than the traditional doctrine of original sin. The understanding of humanity’s sinful nature can be explained very well as a continuation of the violence and destruction experienced and carried out by our ancestors. Also, it understands death, suffering, and destruction as necessary for life and intelligence to rise and thrive. It is to death and suffering that we are all here, and we can celebrate them … and even welcome them, and then transform them into blessings of joy and life.
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  • Finally, at the end of the day, the traditional Christian framework of salvation makes no sense. Whatever is the loving Self-giving of God for the salvation of souls as an expression of His love, He could have done way better than to sacrifice His Own Son. It is not that I haven’t learned anything from this framework, nor that there are rich and beautiful ways of looking at it. But, at the end of the day, why kill His Son when an Almighty God can do much better and still express His Love?

Now, some Catholics will argue that I didn’t study hard enough. I guarantee you, ever since I was little, I’ve been well informed of both Catholic history and theology. Others will argue that this is what happens when you take a Progressive theological stand. Yet, that still does not respond or answer any of the questions formulated above. Others will tell me that I didn’t have enough faith. Well, unless you show me how do you measure faith in someone, I think that such a statement is speculative.

Now, I want to say that I still read a lot of theology, and each day learn something new from what theology has to offer, especially when it is written by very knowledgeable and amazing thinkers. But when I look at the Bible, I read it mostly from literature, from the pieces of wisdom it has, and so on, but I no longer hold it as a foundation for my faith. I still read it every single day of my life, but with new eyes, and new philosophical and theological frameworks. I also read the Qur’an, and other sacred texts to learn from them.

In a sense, I still feel the Catholic Church as my mother, since it taught me a lot that I still incorporate in my intellectual and practical life. I am fully blessed by those teaching, and I never regret them.  I don’t discard returning to it again, but as far as it goes, I can’t believe in its core doctrines, which I find impossible for me to hold at this stage. My move to a sort of Religious Naturalism that conceives God as the personification of Ultimate Reality is one I’ve done where my intellect and my spirit can align much better.

In my next post, I’ll explain this view.

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