Friday, January 30, 2015

    Labeling GMO foods - followup to January presentation

    For those of you interested in knowing whether or not what you're buying is GMO, here's an article from the NY Times that doesn't offer much reassurance about product labeling.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Bookworm Report #5 The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer

    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    The Quest of the Historical Jesus
    by Albert Schweitzer

    There are a large number of books that are supposed to show that the man the Christians call Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene was an historical figure, i.e., was a real person that lived and walked the roads of Galilee 2000 years ago.  One great attempt is by an almost saintly figure, Albert Schweitzer. His book is titled: The Quest of the Historical Jesus. The paperback dated 2001 contains 562 pages.

    For the most part, there are 354 pages of typical Christian dogmatic prose and “interpolations”* of what The Bible is supposed to teach or what should be a true interpretation of the original written materials. It includes discussions of eschatology and contain citations from biblical literature and what those citations should really mean.  Schweitzer then gets to the subject of the book – the quest of the historical Jesus. However, he never gets to the point in question: Was there ever a person named Jesus as depicted in The Bible that appear in any historical source other than that which can be found only in religiously-biased writings?

    The title of Chapter 22 (page 355) is: “The Most Recent Disputing of the Historicity of Jesus.”  Christians who are looking for an historical Jesus – as was Schweitzer – often quote from Flavius Josephus who wrote The Jewish Antiquities ca. 93-94 A.D.  On page 359, Schweitzer uses a questionable quotation from Josephus’ book 18, chapter 3, section 3.  That quotation consists of a 126-word highly disputed passage. That passage begins with these words:  “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. . .”  It then goes on to state that: “He was the Christ; and when Pilate, on the indictment . . . condemned him to the cross . . . [but he] [re]appeared on the third day . . .” At the end of this section it is alleged that Josephus recorded that: [his followers were considered] to be “the tribe of Christians . . .”

    Strangely, following this Josephus quotation presented by Schweitzer, Schweitzer states, “This note is either inauthentic or so extravagantly interpolated that it can no longer be presented as credible evidence.”  (Here Schweitzer appears to be destroying his own thesis.)

    A complete condemnation of this passage as being a fraudulent interpolation by an unknown Christian copyist is presented in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by C. Dennis McKinsey.  Beginning on page 100, McKinsey presents 18 major errors in this oft-quoted section from Josepheus beginning with: “[Josephus], a devout Jew, would not imply that [Jesus] was divine.”  And, “a devout Jew would never say that Jesus was the Christ.”

    After fully describing 18 major errors in this passage, this is added, “[O]n page 50 of The Mythical Jesus, Patrick Campbell notes that the historian Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, considered this passage to be a forgery as do many theologians.” 

    Question: Did Schweitzer achieve his quest, i.e., show there was an historical Jesus?  Not in these 562 pages!
    - - - - - -
    * The word “interpolation” in this case means inserted information that is believed to be true or is believed to have actually occurred or been handed down by oral tradition. For example: The Bible states that wise men from the east visited the baby Jesus after having followed a star in the east. Somehow the wise men became the three kings. The names of the three kings are somehow known to be Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Somehow we now know their mode of transportation.  It should be noted that many astronomers have searched ancient astronomical records and attempted to recreated events that could have caused a conjunction of stars, or planets or asteroids or comets that would have resulted in the star of Bethlehem. No such phenomenon has ever been found or replicated in a planetarium.

    Thursday, December 25, 2014

    Religion with God? Column from NY Times

    This column bears re-reading even if you saw it in the NY  Times.  The comments section is, as always, revealing of how people think on the topic.

    At HSGP, we recognize the need for community mentioned in the column, even if we're not big on ritual.  Our Humanist Community Center is not a psuedo-church consuming vast amounts of resources, as one commenter put it, but a focal point for building community for freethinkers and other like-minded people, a place where non-theists can feel comfortable and not worry about adherence to dogma.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014

    Another way of explaining why everyone needs to be vaccinated

    Recent HSGP speaker Will Humble did a fine job of explaining why vaccination is a good thing.

    Here's another explanation, this time in pictures.  (Actually a "comic" but I wanted you to take it seriously.)

    Sunday, December 14, 2014

    Interesting comments on the Christmas Season

    I am constantly surprised at how many of my fellow Humanists actively celebrate "Christmas".   Sure, many of us pay lip service to "Solstice" but then run out and buy gifts for all the relatives.  Personally, I'll admit to doing a tiny bit of decoration, but more in the mood of bringing light into these dark winter days (such as they are at this latitude!)  But the materialism surrounding the season has repelled me for years and the idea that our national economy depends on Christmas spending is downright boggling.

    Here's a New York Times columnist with whom I rarely agree, but I think he's made some interesting points in this op-ed.

    And by the way,  Happy Solstice to all!

    Sunday, November 30, 2014

    Bookworm Report #4 by Russell Pizer "why we believe in gods"

    why we believe in god(s) (143pp, © 2011)
    “A concise Guide to the Science of Faith”
    by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD with Clare Aukofer
    with a forward by Richard Dawkins
    •  •  •  •  •
    This is an unusually small book.  Though it has 143 numbered pages, it is really only about half that length because it measures 4½” wide by 7” high and ¾” thick.  A fast reader could probably finish this in a few hours.  However, it is a book the reader will probably want to read two or maybe even three times.  This is because of the large number of endnotes that contain related and/or  apropos information.

    The title is in lower case letters probably because the author purposely did not want to spell the word “god” with a upper case letter G.

    The Forward by Richard Dawkins has this to say, “Darwin, though not religious in his maturity, understood the religious impulse. He was a benefactor of Down Church and regularly walked his family there on Sundays then continued his walk while they went inside. He had been trained to the life of a clergyman.  William Paley’s Natural Theology was his favored undergraduate reading.  Darwin killed natural theology’s answer stone dead, but he never lost his preoccupation with its question: the question of function. It is no surprise that he was intrigued by the functional question of religiosity.  Why do most people . . . harbor religious belief? . . .

    “‘Fast food’ is a leitmotif of the book: ‘if you understand the psychology of fast food, you understand the psychology of religion.’  Sugar is another good example.  It was impossible for our wild ancestors to get enough of it so we have inherited an open-ended craving that, now that it is easily met, damages our health.”

    “Thomson’s chapters identify a series of evolved mental faculties exploited by religion, each one beguilingly  labeled with a line familiar from scripture or liturgy; ‘Our Daily Bread,’ ‘Deliver Us from Evil,’ ‘Thy Will be Done,’  ‘Lest Ye Be Judged.’ . . .

    “To most of us, the arms-extended gesture of the worshipers looks merely foolish. After reading Thomson we shall see it through more penetrating eyes: it is not just foolish, it is infantile. . .”

    The Preface ends with: “We [the non-religious] now know why and how our minds manufacture and spread beliefs in god(s). [N]ew research continues to add to what we know. This knowledge can free us. Anything we can do, no matter how small, to loosen fundamentalist religious’s grasp on humanity strikes a blow for civilization and boosts the chances for truly global civil society – and perhaps even for our species’ long-term survival. . .”

    Mr. Thomson concludes his amazingly logical, carefully researched and scientifically based explanation as to why people believe in god(s) with this:

    “It is . . . so much easier to believe. Religions offer sets of rules and, when combined with all of our adaptive mental mechanisms, eliminates the need for serious thought about the issue.  The 2010 Pew Poll on Religion actually found that agnostics and atheists were more knowledgeable about the world’s religions than believers were, which would seem to indicate a higher level of thought about the issues involved.

    “But there is hope.  In a June 6, 2010, ABC News interview, physicist Steven Hawking, considered by many to be one of the greatest scientific minds of our or any time, said, ‘There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority; and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.’ As most people know, without the aid of science, Hawking would long ago have succumbed to the ravages of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’) no matter how many people prayed for him. Instead, his fine mind survives and continues to learn and teach, aided by an array of technological accouterments. . . .

    “As demonstrated in this book, science – specifically the cognitive and social neurosciences – shows us how and why human minds generate religious beliefs. More than an outline is apparent and with each passing day, psychological mechanisms, the neuroanatomy, and the neurochemistry of religion continue to come into sharper focus. . . .

    “Religion may offer comfort in a harsh world; it may foster community; it may incite conflict.  In short, it may have its uses – for good and for evil. But it was created by human beings, and this will be a better world if we cease confusing it with fact.”

    If someone asks you to say "grace" at Thanksgiving

    We will be spending Thanksgiving with my daughter, her boyfriend and the boyfriend's family.  I know that my daughter has been religious in the past and it's likely that the rest of the attendees are also on the religious side.  In case someone asks me to say "grace" at the bounteous table, it seemed reasonable to be prepared.  The internet, as we all know, is full of suggestions for every occasion, including this one.

    From the website Secular Seasons there are a number to choose from.  Some I found in interesting were these:

    ........ from the humanist writer Nicolas Walter:

    Let us think thrice while we are gathering here for this meal. 
    First, let us think of the people we are with today, and make the most of the pleasure of sharing food and drink together.

    Then, let us think of the people who made the food and drink and brought it to us, who serve us and wait on us, and who clear up and clean up after us.

    Finally, let us think of all the people all over the world, members with us in the human family, who will not have a meal today.

    For those who find these humanist graces too long, or don’t want to be reminded of the suffering of others just before a celebratory meal, there are these simple words of secular thanks and good wishes:

    We are thankful for the food on this table.
    We are thankful for this time together.
    Our thoughts go out to family and friends;
    We hope that they are safe and well.

    Or these words of humanist benediction
    For the meal we are about to eat,
    for those that made it possible, 
    and for those with whom we are about to share it,
    we are thankful.

    From the Science Notes blog on Wordpress:

    What a great occasion! We are gathered here together in the safety of our home, each of us taking a moment from our busy, separate lives, to enjoy this wonderful meal with ones we love. Let this evening be a special time in our lives, a blessed stopping point in which we can simply enjoy who we are, where we are, and what we are doing. Let us enjoy this magnificent now with family and friends. Thank you, mother, for preparing this beautiful meal.

    Presumably one could substitute for "mother" as appropriate

    We have created this meal to serve and sustain our lives. Let us enjoy this meal in the full knowledge that all life is purposeful action aimed toward our highest value, our own precious lives and happiness.

    Many of the suggestions I found were way too wordy, especially for folks who are sitting there looking at that glorious meal in front of them.  (You didn't think they were going to bow their heads and close their eyes, did you?)

    This one from the American Humanist Association is a perfect example of TMI:

    A Non-Believers Grace
    I offer my deepest appreciation and my most profound apologies to the plants and animals whose lives were forfeit for our good health this day.

    We give thanks to the ranchers and the farmers, their workers and their hands whose skill, sweat and toil have brought forth this bounty from the Earth.

    We are grateful to the workers in the fields who pick our food, the workers in the plants where our food is processed, the teamsters who carry it to market and the stockers and the checkers who offer it up for our selection.

    We are particularly appreciative for those at this table who have prepared this food with love and affection for our enjoyment and nourishment this day.

    We remember fondly those who the miles and circumstance keep from joining us today as we remember those who are no longer with us and are grateful for the time we have shared with them.

    We enjoy the warmth and fellowship that surrounds this gathering as we share the fervent hope that people the world over can share the good fortune, warm feeling and conviviality that embraces this gathering.

    Thank you.

    Besides the length, I personally also have a little problem with the concept of apologizing not only to the animals but the plants.  If you need to apologize, then don't eat them.  Otherwise, perhaps you could thank them too for their contributions in some manner that doesn't introduce guilt at the very beginning of the speech.  I trust the writer buys only humanely raised and slaughtered turkeys or artisan tofurkey and gently-pulled heirloom carrots.  Needless to say there were lots of interesting comments on the original publication.  Enjoy them at

    And finally, if you're with the right group to appreciate it, here's a short one from

    Thank you glycolysis and electron transport chain, which we are about to receive your STP bounty through phosphorylation.  Amen.

    Trying to figure out the grammar on that one gave me a headache, but I'm impressed that the spell checker got all the words right.  From