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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

Prof. Karen L. King recently unveiled the translation of a fragment of Coptic papyrus at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. This is the papyrus:



 According to Prof. King, this is what it says:

This has obviously gotten a lot of media attention. Ever since Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, people have been fascinated by this old question. Did Jesus have a wife?

However, Prof. King says that this papyrus does nothing to prove or disprove the idea that Jesus was married. When asked if this proves that Jesus had a wife, she said,
"No, this fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. The comparatively late date of this Coptic papyrus (a fourth century CE copy of a gospel probably written in Greek in the second half of the second century) argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus."
She says that the fragment only proves that early Christians discussed it and held the belief that he was married.  Now, I'm no Harvard Professor, but I would have to disagree. This isn't a fragment showing what Christians discussed or talked about. This is a fragment showing what Jesus actually allegedly said.  If the fragment is accurate, then it isn't proof that Christians discussed Jesus' marriage. It's proof that Jesus discussed his own marriage.

So the question then is whether or not the fragment accurately depicts a conversation between Jesus and disciples, or if it's just more early Christian apocrypha. That is, whether or not this conversation ever actually happened.

One of the main issues with the fragments reliability is pointed out by Darrell L. Bock, senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He says that  it represents "a very small minority in a much later period than original Christianity ... It is a fourth century text in a fringe gnostic group that is not representative of the larger groups that are [part of] Christianity."

In other words, the people writing this account were a group that had already split off from "original Christianity" and who do not necessarily represent their views. Does this automatically mean that their account is false? No, but it should at least give us pause. Bock also said that "this is one text among a mountain of texts that say Jesus was single. If the papyrus is authentic, it would be the first text to suggest that Jesus had a wife". We would have to start finding a lot more scrolls that describe him as being married before we started to seriously consider the possibility.

A quick side note about that last claim, that this is one text among a mountain of others that say he was single.  Daniel Peterson, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at BYU said of all these contradicting texts
"Well, honestly, I can't think of a single one that does ... The fact is his marital status is never discussed ... The earliest historical documents about Jesus simply don't say one way or another," Peterson said. "You can't prove that he was, but you can't prove that he wasn't."
So was Jesus married? Possibly, but if we are ever going to find the answer to that question, it won't be from this fragment.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nikola Tesla on Religion

Nikola Tesla, probably the greatest inventor in the last several hundred years, is another one who is sometimes called an atheist. Not often, though. His religious background is fairly well-known, but his name is occasionally added to lists of famous atheists.

The reason is quotes like this:
"Religion is simply an ideal. It is an ideal force that tends to free the human being from material bonds. I do not believe that matter and energy are interchangeable, any more than are the body and soul. There is just so much matter in the universe and it cannot be destroyed. As I see life on this planet, there is no individuality. It may sound ridiculous to say so, but I believe each person is but a wave passing through space, ever-changing from minute to minute as it travels along, finally, some day, just becoming dissolved."
This quote in particular is used to claim that Tesla did not believe in religion, the soul, or Einsteins physics. None of this is true.

"Ideal" can mean many things, such as "a conception of something in its perfection" or "an ultimate object or aim of endeavor, especially one of high or noble character," but even in its most negative connotation, which I think Tesla was using, it means "something that exists only in the imagination." This is absolutely true. Religion exists only in the mind. However, that does not mean that God also exists only in the imagination. It does not mean that Tesla does not believe in God. In addition, just because religion only exists in the mind, it does not mean that religion is bad. Tesla speaks of religion as a positive, liberating force, "[freeing] the human being from material bonds."

Another quote, which illustrates Tesla's spirituality, is this one, in his autobiography:
"The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. My Mother had taught me to seek all truth in the Bible; therefore I devoted the next few months to the study of this work."
Tesla attributes the gift of mental prowess to God and not only viewed the Bible as the source of all truth, but apparently devoted months at a time to its study. And this one:
"Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment and merging of races, and we are still far from this blissful realization, because few indeed, will admit the reality  that "God made man in His image"  in which case all earth men are alike. There is in fact but one race, of many colors. Christ is but one person, yet he is of all people, so why do some people think themselves better than some other people?"
So not only did Tesla believe that peace could only come through the realization of the doctrine that we are all alike, but he derived this truth from Christian doctrine. In other words, he used Christian doctrine as a way to say that we all equal and no one is better than any other person. As with most things involving Tesla, we need more of that.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thomas Edison, Not an Atheist

Thomas Edison is often (falsely) credited as the greatest inventor ever, and one of the greatest names in science. He's also often described as an atheist. The belief that he was an atheist is so prevalent that many atheist organizations, such as Atheistempire.com and Atheists.org, claim him as such and often use quotes to support the idea, although the latter was good enough to include that "pantheist" is a better word for Edison, they still continue calling him an atheist, as if pantheism was a type of atheism.

One of the more famous quotes is,
"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. So far as religion of the day is concerned, it is a damned fake… Religion is all bunk."
This quote is not taken out of context. He really did not believe in Heaven or Hell, the afterlife, or a personal god, but that does not mean he did not believe in any God. Much like Thomas Jefferson, Edison was a theist, even though he had some serious disagreements with the religions of his day.

In an October 2, 1910, interview in the New York Times Magazine, Edison also stated:
"Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me — the fabled God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love — He also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness, and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us — nature did it all — not the gods of the religions."
This actually caused a bit of an uproar, with public accusations of Edison being an atheist. He never allowed himself to get wrapped up in the public drama, but he wrote the following privately in a letter:
"You have misunderstood the whole article, because you jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God. There is no such denial, what you call God I call Nature, the Supreme intelligence that rules matter. All the article states is that it is doubtful in my opinion if our intelligence or soul or whatever one may call it lives hereafter as an entity or disperses back again from whence it came, scattered amongst the cells of which we are made."
Edison specifically states that he believes in a Supreme Intelligence, but not the god of modern religions. Nature was Edison's god, and he considered it a sentient force. An Intelligence. He was a pantheist, believing that everything is part of an all-encompassing immanent God, or that the Universe (or Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.

Edison put it even more simply when he wrote on a piece of stationary from his office,
"I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe."
In addition, his family also testified regarding his belief in a Supreme Being:
"He never was an atheist. Although he subscribed to no orthodox creed, no one who knew him could have doubted his belief in and reverence for a Supreme Intelligence, and his whole life, in which the ideal of honest, loving service to his fellowman was predominant, indicated faithfully those two commandments wherein lies `all the law and all the prophets."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Law of Moses

One common objection to many religions, and certainly against Christianity, is that the laws and edicts of God seem cruel, harsh, or unjust. As stated by Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion:
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
This is a valid point and serious, complex issue. There are parts of the Old Testament which seem legitimately immoral, even by Christian standards.

The following is not meant to be an explanation for all of these inexplicably harsh acts, but can at least resolve issues relating to the Law of Moses, which is sometimes offered as an example of God's immorality on the grounds that it contains laws that are racist, sexist, or otherwise immoral.

The Law of Moses can be split into several categories, and has been dozens of times, such as:

  • the Ten Commandments
  • Moral laws - on murder, theft, honesty, adultery, etc.
  • Social laws - on property, inheritance, marriage and divorce,
  • Food laws - on what is clean and unclean, on cooking and storing food.
  • Purity laws - on menstruation, seminal emissions, skin disease and mildew, etc.
  • Feasts - the Day of Atonement, Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks etc.
  • Sacrifices and offerings - the sin offering, burnt offering, whole offering, heave offering, Passover sacrifice, meal offering, wave offering, peace offering, drink offering, thank offering, dough offering, incense offering, red heifer, scapegoat, first fruits, etc.
  • Instructions for the priesthood and the high priest including tithes.
  • Instructions regarding the Tabernacle, and which were later applied to the Temple in Jerusalem, including those concerning the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant (in which were the tablets of the law, Aaron's rod, the manna). Instructions and for the construction of various altars.
  • Forward looking instructions for time when Israel would demand a king.
Nobody really has many complaints about the Ten Commandments or the Moral laws, with the exception of some penalties for infractions. Food and Purity laws are thought to have been thought up to help fight the spread of some diseases. Likewise, I'm not sure I've ever heard complaints against the laws regarding Feasts, Priests, or the Tabernacle. Most of the complaints seem to be against the Social Laws. These are the laws regarding dealing with slaves, the role of women and divorce, and other issues.

So what would God say if He were standing here and we told him that the Law which He gave Moses was immoral? He'd probably agree.

The pattern in the Lord's teachings is that He gives us a law, waits for us to master it, then comes and gives us a higher law. For example, in the Old Testament, He says, "Thou shalt not kill," or "thou shalt not commit adultery." 

So even God seems to think that the law given to Moses was not an ideal law. He even says this in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, He says,
"8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
But didn't He teach us those ways? You mean the law he gave us falls short of the lofty celestial standard? Yes, Jesus also acknowledges  the imperfection of the law in the New Testament. The Pharisees came to him in Judea, trying to debate with him. They asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife "for every cause." Jesus said it was unlawful, and the Pharisees asked why, then, did Moses give a provision for it in the law. Jesus explained:
"He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."
Meaning that there are portions of the law which were given by God, but were not in line with God's eventual will for them. However, because of their hardness of heart, it was the law they were prepared to follow. To teach them to be all full of love and kindness would be like teachings calculus before addition and subtraction. They just weren't ready. So he taught them a lesser, imperfect law that they could handle, which would prepare them for a higher law.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Unmoved Mover and Quantum Physics

There aren't many philosophically sound arguments for the existence of God. If there were, there'd be a lot more theists by now and a lot less of everything else.

However, Doug Benscoter, at Fides et Ratio, believes that the cosmological argument of the Unmoved Mover is not only sound, but is even consistent with modern physics.

His formulation of the argument is:

1. Evident to the senses is motion. (Premise)

2. Everything in motion has its motion sustained by another. (Premise)

3. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, or else there is an infinite regress of sustaining movers. (Implied by 1 and 2)

4. There cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining movers. (Premise)

5. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (From 3 and 4)

He then goes on to briefly address a few issues that may arise with the second premise and explains how objections can be resolved by rewording the premise. A full explanation can be found HERE.

The only other objection I could see being raised is to premise 4, only because it comes close to begging the question. If there cannot be an infinite regress, then there must be a First Cause. Why would we even bother with the other premises?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Evidence Against Young-Earth Creationism

I am a theist, and a Christian, but I am not a fan of believing in claims that appear to be more than demonstrably false. To believe in a claim that is proven false absolutely requires that the adherent willfully closes their mind to truth. If there is a God, then that is certainly not what he intended for us.

One of these claims which, in my uneducated opinion, is more than demonstrably false is Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). I don't mean to offend anyone who may believe in Young-Earth Creationism, but to my mind, I can't imagine why He would do that.

To create the Earth in one week, 6,000 years ago, would require pretty significant, and frequent, violations of known laws of physics. If He could accelerate the Creation process in such a way, then why did it take a week? If He is capable of performing such huge violations of the laws of physics, then why not just snap your fingers and have it all be there? I don't know that there is a coherent answer.

In addition, if He did create it in one week, 6,000 years ago, then why would He also create huge amounts of physical evidence that it took much longer? Literally everything in the universe, from coral and tree rings, to the time it takes starlight to reach us, testifies that the universe has been here for much more than 6,000 years.

The more insightful among you may say that He did that in order to mask his presence, such as in an old refutation to the Argument from Non-Belief. He needs only those who are prepared to know of His existence in order to protect the unprepared. But that doesn't quite fit. No matter how God created the Earth, He could have masked His existence. Old-Earth Creationism doesn't bring us any further to proving his existence. In fact, wouldn't Old-Earth Creationism be the more reasonable model, if He were trying to hide His influence, since it looks much more like the natural process?

A bigger problem is that if God did leave such evidence as fossils and such in order to throw us off, it would be closer to deception than masking his existence. In other words, it would not simply be the absence of positive evidence, it would be the presentation of negative evidence. God would be telling a lie, rather than simply not saying anything at all, and according to Christian canon, God cannot lie.

In other words, no matter how you choose to interpret the first few chapters of Genesis, it difficult to see Young-Earth Creationism as not conflicting with the rest of the Bible and how we conceive of God, in addition to simply leaving many, many questions unanswered, and contradicting the many signs to the contrary.

D Rizdek on Fine Tuning

A user over at Debunking Christianity, named D Rizdek, made a comment on the Fine-Tuning which was noteworthy enough to be made into it's own post. He said,
"Fine tuning only makes sense if there is no god. If there is no god, then it is quite remarkable that all the universal constants seem to be "just so" such that matter/energy comes together in atoms, then molecules, that gravity is "just right" so that planets and suns form that give off light that nurtures life, blah blah. But that's only remarkable if there's no god. But of course that indicates there's no god.  
If there IS a god, then it's all mundane. It's all arbitrary. Matter and energy can behave anyway this god wants it to. There need be no universal constants at all, or they can be ANYTHING this god desires, because,well, it's god. God can design things any it want's to. Life need not have a planet it live on IF god designed it otherwise. Matter/energy need not come together to form atoms, planets and stars. What would be the point if life doesn't need them. Besides, if god wanted atoms, planets or start, they'd just appear without any constants. Because that's what gods do. It's only after applying human limitations on god that one can use the argument from fine tuning. The reasoning is that because WE are limited in how we must interact with the immutable physical universe, somehow the theist becomes ingrained in thinking their god must also be thus limited. They believe he must come up with "just so" constants otherwise nothing would work."
Rizdek says that Fine-Tuning only works if there is no God because if there is no God, then it is remarkable that all these constants line up in a way that allows life to form. If there is a God, then it is not remarkable, it's to be expected.

I may be mistaken, but his argument seems to be:
  • If God exists, then the universe would allow life to exist.
  • The universe allows life to exist.
  • This isn't particularly impressive.
  • God does not exist.
In addition, the post that came from this comment stated that:
"The burden of proof would be on the theist to show why God would want to produce a world which was naturalistically sustained and so on rather than one supported supernaturalistically."
Here is a response to that:

Argument from Non-Belief

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dawkins, Darwin, and the Holocaust

In Richard Dawkins book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins write an exceedingly long footnote attempting to deny Hitler's connection to Darwin. This connection has long been used by Christians to assert the destructive potential of science, and to try to discredit the theory of evolution. Dawkins writes,
"The popular canard about Hitler being inspired by Darwin comes partly from the fact that both Hitler and Darwin were impressed by something that everybody has known for centuries: you can breed animals for desired qualities. Hitler aspired to turn this common knowledge to the human species. Darwin didn't. His inspiration took him in a much more interesting and original direction. Darwin's great insight was that you don't need a breeding agent at all: nature--raw survival or differential reproductive success--can play the role of the breeder. As for Hitler's 'Social Darwinism'--his belief in a struggle between races--that is actually very un-Darwinian. For Darwin, the struggle for existence was a struggle between individuals within a species, not between species, races or other groups. Don't be misled by the ill-chosen and unfortunate subtitle of Darwin's great book: The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. It is abundantly clear from the text itself that Darwin didn't mean races in the sense of 'A group of people, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin' (Oxford English Dictionary, definition 6.1). Rather, he intended something more like the OED's definition 6.II: 'A group or class of people, animals, or things, having some common feature or features'. An example of sense 6.II would be 'All those individuals (regardless of their geographical race) who have blue eyes'. In the technical jargon of modern genetics, which was not available to Darwin, we would express the sense of 'race' in his subtitle as 'All those individuals who possess a certain allele.' The misunderstanding of the Darwinian struggle for existence as a struggle between groups of individuals--the so-called 'group selection' fallacy--is unfortunately not confined to Hilerian racism. It constantly resurfaces in amateur misinterpretations of Darwinism, and even among some professional biologists who should know better."
As a theist, and a Christian, I can tell you that, when it comes to Hitler's atrocities being inspired by the ideas of Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins as absolutely, undeniably correct.

Weren't expecting that, were you? That's right, Dawkins is correct. Hitler was not likely inspired by Darwin. However, in the quote above, Dawkins falls back on his old habit of dodging a question rather than answering in a way that actually resolves the issue. If I were to answer the question in an exceedingly long footnote, "Was Hitler's holocaust inspired by the writings of Darwin?" I would do it like this:
"The popular canard about Hitler being inspired by Darwin comes partly from the fact that Darwin's Origin of Species did have a link further back in the causal chain leading to the Holocaust. Darwin did inspire a few family members and friends, such as Charles Davenport, who became major proponents of eugenics and a major force behind its implementation in numerous countries. It is fairly well-known that Hitler and the Nazis were inspired by American policies in eugenics. Darwin inspired eugenics and eugenics inspired Hitler. Does this mean that Darwin inspired Hitler? Absolutely not. Eugenics was an unethical corruption of a scientific truth and is not at all what Darwin intended. It has little or nothing to do with Darwinian evolution by natural selection. The Holocaust was not the fault of science. If Christians are going to try to say that the Crusades are not the fault of Christianity because it was the result of a perversion of the doctrine, then they must apply the same reasoning here, or they are guilty of a double-standard. In addition, the Holocaust cannot be blamed on any single cause. As with all historically significant events, it was an extremely complex series of events which led up to it. The Holocaust likely would have happened regardless of what Darwin wrote, or whether he wrote anything at all. Saying that Darwin inspired the Holocaust shows an ignorant and short-sighted view of history. If Christians are going to try to say that 9/11 was not solely caused by religion, but was the culmination of many other forces, then they must apply the same reasoning here, or they are guilty of a double-standard. Darwin did not inspire Hitler or cause the Holocaust. The Holocaust cannot be blamed on science. Deal with it."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Book of Mormon and Rev. 22:18

I sometimes hear it said, or see it written, that The Book of Mormon must be false because it is an addition to the Bible, and God has commanded us not to add to, or subtract from, the Bible. The Book of Mormon is an addition, therefore it must be false.

One of the main justifications for this claim is Revelation 22:18-19, which reads,
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
John says that we are not to add to, or take away from, 'the book of this prophesy", or God will send plagues our way and remove us from the Book of Life.

But what does he refer to when he says, "the book of this prophesy?" It is commonly assumed that he refers to the Bible. The argument even depends on that assumption, but what is the Book of this Prophesy?

It is unlikely that it refers to the Bible, because the Bible didn't exist at that point. It is generally accepted that The Book of Revelation was written in about 95 AD. The Bible didn't exist until around the 4th century AD.When John speaks of "the book of this prophesy," he could not have been referring to The Bible. It didn't exist yet.

The only book in existence at the time of his writing, which contained "this prophesy" was the book he was writing, The Revelation.

This interpretation is further supported by the fact that this injunction against adding to the word of God had been given before. An often quoted instance is Deut. 12:32
"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."
If it were true that this referred to all of God's word, rather than the specific book or section in which it is found, then every sacred writing after this point would then be false. In attempting to disprove Mormonism, the argument effectively disproves Christianity and most of Judaism.

This command is also repeated in Proverbs 30:6, but if the injunction in Deuteronomy referred to the collected works up to that point, then this command, as well as the instance in Revelation, is also invalid because it an addition to scripture.

In addition, even the Bible seems to disagree with this interpretation. Among other things, Revelation describes to individuals in the Last Days who are specifically referred to as extra-biblical "prophets". Revelation 11:10 says,
"And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth."
If we apply the interpretation that revelation is finished, then we now have the Bible testifying of future prophets who will somehow prophesy without receiving the word of God. Prophets who don't prophesy.

The history of these churches also testifies that this interpretation is wrong. Early church fathers added to, and subtracted from, canon all the time. There is literally not a church in existence today which has not done it. Even the formation of the original Bible would have been a violation.

Scripture was added to collections previously recognized as the word of God countless times during the development of the Old Testament, and during the development of the New Testament. Church leaders and founders took existing, recognized canon and added whole books, or took books away. Clearly they did not interpret this as it is read today.

Critics of the Book of Mormon also sometimes say that the argument that the command refers to a specific book, or section of a book, rather than the Bible as a whole, still discredits Joseph Smith because his Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible did just that.

However, that reasoning clearly doesn't hold water because countless "true" Christians have come out with their own translations of the Bible, each of which has numerous alterations to the text, and yet none of these fall under this criticism.

The Book of Mormon cannot be criticized on the grounds of violating the warning in Rev. 22:18. If this criticism were valid, then most of the Bible would then be invalidated. In addition, the Bible clearly speaks of prophets other than those in the Bible, thus revelation must continue after Bible times, otherwise, the Bible is invalidated. Finally, numerous church fathers in history have added or omitted entire books from canon and modern Christians routinely make alterations without criticism.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Atheist Blogger Goes Catholic

Leah Libresco,
author of Unequally Yoked

Leah Libresco, author of the atheist blog Unequally Yoked, used to write about an atheistic view of ethics and religion. However, about two weeks ago, on June 18, she wrote a post called This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal. In it, she announced that she aparently believes in God and intends, at least for the time being, to join the Catholic church.

She said that a debate with a friend led to realization that she believed  "that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.  And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth."

This realization was followed by "hugs and playing Mumford and Sons really, really loudly."

Libresco said that she met "smart Christians for the first time in college" and “was ready to cross-examine them,” but found there were “some big gaps in my defense of my own positions.” She used her blog as a way to seek out people who would ask the tough questions which would force her to refine her personal philosophy.

Regarding that blog, she wrote, "That left me with the question of what to do about my atheism blog.  My solution was to just not write anything I disagreed with." She then went on to explain that she has been writing with her new perspective for about a month and a half, so readers have already had a preview to the new content and material. This material is similar enough to her old work that it didn't quite cause a stir. Nevertheless, as of June 19, the blog moved to the Patheos Catholic channel.

Her final post on Patheos Atheist ended with a reassuring note.
"...Over all, I feel a bit like Valentine in this speech from Arcadia. 'It makes me so happy… A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.'"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bill Maher, Jesus, and Horus

There is a scene in Bill Maher's film, Religulous, in which he compares Jesus to a number of other Gods in order to show that Jesus was simply stolen from other cultures. Here is the clip:


This clip spawned an infographic which circulated around the internet and which was then edited by another atheist in a way that actually surprised me.

I know all that text can be hard to read at that size, so you an find an enlarged version HERE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jesse Anderson and the Infinite Money Theorum

"It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times?
Stupid Monkey!"
The Infinite Money Theorem states that a million monkeys with a million typewriters, given a million years, will type out all the works of Shakespeare.

About a year ago, a Nevada software developer named Jesse Anderson claimed that a computerized simulation of a typing simian had completed  "A Lover's Complaint," a narrative poem by Shakespeare.

CNN reports that Anderson's virtual monkeys began typing on August 21, 2011. Using open-source software called Hadoop, he created a huge group of "monkeys" that input random strings of gibberish. When a chunk of text matches a word used in Shakespeare's catalogue, it gets crossed off of a database of the plays and poems.

The problem is that this completely misses the point of the theorem. The theorem, at least as applied to the origin of life implies that the words must be in order. The analogy between randomly creating Shakespeare and DNA randomly forming in primordial seas necessitates it, because the argument requires the formation of a complete strand of DNA, not a single segment.

Therefore, the work of Shakespeare produced by the monkeys must also be a complete strand, not individual letters.

Anderson reported that trillions of character combinations have so far been used, but Shakespeare has presumably not yet been reproduced.

However, even if it were, there would be other things to take into account, such as the fact that amino acids are soluble in water. Even if it could have formed in ancient seas, it immediately would have broken up again.

While evolution by natural selection is an adequate explanation of the development of complex life, and it is an explanation that I do accept as truth, we cannot yet explain how that life originated in the first place. Even Richard Dawkins admits this.

But whatever the case, Anderson's virtual monkeys do not prove that such complexity could come about so quickly.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bart Ehrman and Some Dead Babies

Bart Ehrman
The following comes from Bart Ehrman:
“In terms of the historical record, I should also point out that there is no account in any ancient source whatsoever about King Herod slaughtering children in or around Bethlehem, or anyplace else. No other author, biblical or otherwise, mentions this event. Is it, like John's account of Jesus' death, a detail made up by Matthew in order to make some kind of theological point?”
 ― Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don't Know About Them 

 I'm curious what Ehrman considers an "ancient source," and I mean that in all sincerity. No sarcasm. While it is true that no contemporary of Matthew, Biblical or otherwise, commented on it, we do have some quotes from only a short time later.

 First is the 2nd-century apocryphal Protoevangelium of James of c.150 AD:

"And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them." 

The first non-Christian reference to the massacre is recorded four centuries later by Macrobius (c. 395-423), who writes in his Saturnalia:

"When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son." 

Some skeptics view the story as being apocryphal or symbolic because it is not even mentioned by Josephus, but many scholars argue for its historicity. R. T. France argues for plausibility since “the murder of a few infants in a small village [is] not on a scale to match the more spectacular assassinations recorded by Josephus” and Gordon Franz points out that Josephus also fails to mention other important first century events, such as "the episode of the golden Roman shields in Jerusalem which was the cause of the bad blood between Herod Antipas and Pontus (sic) Pilate".

Also, Barclay finds Josephus' silence not relevant, comparing him to John Evelyn, who failed to mention the masscre at Glencoe. Paul L. Maier argues that skeptics and Biblical scholars alike have tended to "regard opinion as fact, and have largely avoided a careful historical search into the parameters of the problem". After analyzing the arguments against the historicity of the infant massacre Maier concludes they all "have very serious flaws". Maier follows Jerry Knoblet in arguing for historicity based on the "identical personality profiles that emerge of Herod" in both Matthew and Josephus.

While it may be true that no contemporary of Matthew mentions the massacre, and that certain parts of the Bible, even in the life of Jesus, are the product of later Christian interpolation, the jury is still out of the massacre of the infants. Scholars are divided and there are reasonable grounds to believe it happened, while arguments against its historicity "have very serious flaws." But despite what Ehrman thinks, the incident is mentioned by ancient authors, depending on his definition of "ancient," with the oldest reliable source being c.400 AD.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Religulous and the Founding Fathers

Bill Maher is actually a fairly insightful individual when it comes to social issues or politics, and he does have a regrettably accurate view of some aspects of modern Christianity. I say "regrettably" because I have to admit that he is right in some of what he says about theists these days. A significant percentage of theists at least seem to be deluded sheeple clinging to demonstrably false claims.

However, that doesn't mean that he is always right. In his documentary, Religulous, he talks about the Founding Fathers and whether they established America as a "Christian nation." In order to support the claim that they did not establish such a nation, he offers three quotes, seen in the video below:


Again, those three quotes were:

"Lighthouses are more useful than churches." - Benjamin Franklin

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." - John Adams

"Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man." - Thomas Jefferson

In offering these three quotes, Maher steals a page out of Dawkins playbook by using quotes that are either  taken wildly out of context, or which simply do not exist.

Benjamin Franklin actually never uttered the words, "Lighthouses are more useful than churches." This sentence cannot be found in any of his writings or correspondences. It is generally agreed that this is a paraphrase of a sentiment written in a letter to his wife shortly after he survived a shipwreck. To his wife, he wrote:
"The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received: were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house."
Here we see a much more accurate view of Benjamin Franklin's beliefs, more of which can be read HERE.

To be fair, John Adams did actually utter the words used by Maher in the documentary, but Maher takes them far out of context. Adams only meant these words hypothetically, and not as being representative of his own beliefs. This is made more than clear when we read the words in context:
"Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell."
When read in context we see the actual opinion of Adams, and what is likely the opinion of several other of the Founding Fathers. He was rightfully disgusted by the history of religion and Christianity, but he also understood that we would be worse off without it. In Adams' view, religion doesn't prevent this world from being paradise, it prevents it from being Hell. More on John Adams view of Christianity can be read HERE.

Thomas Jefferson is the real Wild Card here. He did say (most) of the words that Maher quotes, and they do accurately reflect his feelings of Christianity, but again, the context is enlightening. The quote is an abbreviated form of his words in a letter to Dr. Joseph Priestley, in 1801. He writes:

"DEAR SIR, -- I learnt some time ago that you were in Philadelphia, but that it was only for a fortnight; & supposed you were gone. It was not till yesterday I received information that you were still there, had been very ill, but were on the recovery. I sincerely rejoice that you are so. Yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind, & for the continuance of which every thinking man is solicitous. Bigots may be an exception. What an effort, my dear Sir, of bigotry in Politics & Religion have we gone through! The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into the hands of power & priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement; the President himself declaring, in one of his answers to addresses, that we were never to expect to go beyond them in real science. This was the real ground of all the attacks on you. Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, -- the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, - endeavored to crush your well-earnt & well-deserved fame."

Thomas Jefferson actually considered Christianity to be the most sublime and benevolent philosophy that had ever shown on man. Knowing this, we can now plainly see what he meant when he called it perverted. He was not using the word in the sense of being "characterized by sexually abnormal and unacceptable practices or tendencies," even though that does seem to fit some denominations today. Rather, he meant it in the sense of "having been corrupted or distorted from its original course, meaning, or state."

In other words, he meant "perverted," not "perverse."

His view that Christianity was truly "sublime" and that it had been corrupted is further evidenced by the way he spoke of other Christians in his day. Refusing to even acknowledge their faith, he referred to them as "Platonists." In a letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816, he wrote about a "wee-little" book of his, known as the Philosophy of Jesus:
"I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature." 
Jefferson's Philosophy of Jesus was one of his first efforts to produce his own version of the Bible, taking only the actual teachings of Jesus and compiling them together. Of Jesus' philosophy, Jefferson says, "A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen." He clearly thought very highly of "real" Christianity. In fact, it is somewhat amusing to note that when he referred to himself as a "real Christian," he underlined it for emphasis.

The emphasis not only draws attention to his affection for Christianity, but also to his disdain for modern Christians. He says they "draw all their ... dogmas from what [Jesus] never said nor saw," and that if "[Jesus] were ... to return on earth, [He] would not recognize one feature."

This is the definition of "perverted," not "perverse." Jefferson clearly did not view Christianity as something terrible or evil, but rather as the "most sublime & benevolent ... system that ever shone on man." Though it had been twisted and turned into something else by modern Christians. More on Jefferson's view can be read HERE.

Back to Bill Maher. He uses these faulty quotes to support the idea that the Founding Fathers had a negative view of religion and did not intend for religion to play a large role in society. I'm not a historian, but I don't believe so.

In 1787, the year the Constitution was written and approved by Congress, that same Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance which outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territory and stated the basic rights of citizens in a similar way as the Bill of Rights. In the Northwest Ordinance, they emphasized the essential need to teach religion and morality in the schools, saying:
"Article 3: Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."
In other words, schools and education were to be forever encouraged specifically because people need to learn "religion, morality, and knowledge." The study of religion and morality is not required simply as an intellectual exercise,  but because it is a necessary ingredient for "good government and the happiness of mankind."

George Washington echoed this sentiment in his Farewell Address, saying:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity...And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
But just because they viewed religion, in general, as an essential part of public and private welfare, doesn't mean that they promoted Christianity specifically. For example, Thomas Jefferson wrote a bill in Virginia regarding "Establishing Elementary Schools" in which he writes:
"No religious reading, instruction or exercise shall be prescribed or practiced inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination."
In other words, religion was to be taught in schools, but only religious tenets which were universal to all religions. We can only speculate what these universal tenets might be, but some of the Founding Fathers have hinted at their opinion. For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote:
"Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion."
From this we may gather that Benjamin Franklin considered the following to be universal religious tenets:

  1. Recognition and worship of a Creator who made all things
  2. That the Creator has revealed a moral code of behavior for happy living which distinguishes right from wrong.
  3. That the Creator holds mankind responsible for the way they treat each other
  4. That all mankind live beyond this life.
  5. That in the next life individuals are judged for their conduct in this one.
If the Founding Fathers had their way, these basic principles would be taught in schools, beginning in Elementary Schools, and they would be held as "indispensable supports" to government and prosperity.

On a brief side note, there is a somewhat controversial line from the Treaty of Tripoli which states that "the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This is absolutely true. The United States were not founded on the Christian religion. However, "Christianity" is not "religion." While they did not intend to found a nation specifically on the Christian faith, it is more than clear that they intended for the United States to be a generally, fundamentally religious nation.

I do actually agree with Bill Maher that the Founding Fathers would be displeased by the current religious condition in America. Not because we are too religious, but because we are not religious enough. They intended for religion to be taught in schools and for it to be held as an important pillar of our society.

Instead, we live in a nation that seems to be forever on guard for new ways to erase God and religion and where any discussion of religion quickly degenerates into childish shouting matches. Under the Founding Fathers, the nation clearly lived an undeniably religious lifestyle.

Alexis de Tocqueville was a french political thinker and historian who visited America in 1831. He was so impressed by Americas government that it inspired his book, Democracy in America, one of the most definitive studies on the American culture and constitutional system that had been published up to that time. He wrote:
"On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things, to which I was unaccustomed.In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country." 
The Founding Fathers produced a nation in which religion was, unlike its modern counterpart, a force of liberation and freedom, and where religion was an important part of the lives or American citizens, regardless of race, class, economic status, or political party. This was a sharp contrast to Toqueville's description of Europe at that time. His description also closely fits modern America:
"The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained in a very simple manner the gradual decay of religious faith. Religious zeal, said they must necessarily fail the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately the facts by no means accord with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and debasement; while in America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world, the people fulfill with fervor all the outward duties of religion ... The unbelievers of Europe attack the Christians as their political opponents rather than as their religious adversaries; they hate the Christian religion as the opinion of a [political] party much more than as an error of belief; and they reject the clergy less because they are the representatives of the Deity than because they are the allies of government."
The nation established by the Founding Fathers was exactly how they wanted it. True, it was not a Christian country, but it was a very religious country. Religion was taught in schools, as they intended. It was a force for liberation, as they intended. It was one of the fundamental pillars of America, as they intended.

I wish mainstream Christianity was still the sort of organization that could fulfill this role in America. Even in Jefferson's day, it had been deeply "perverted" from Christ's original message. I am not arguing that we return Christianity to schools and society. Given the way most Christians think and reason now, that would be a catastrophe.

Nevertheless, the Founding Fathers did establish a religious nation. They were believers, perhaps not in Christianity, but in God. Bill Maher's quotes are misleading, and he is simply wrong.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ehrman on First Century References to Jesus

I recently stumbled across a quote by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a Biblical Scholar who started his career as an Evangelical Christian, but became an atheist due to the numerous (hundreds of thousands) of textual errors found in the Bible. Bart said the following in a 2010 debate:

The first thing I thought was, "What about Josephus?" Josephus was a Romano-Jewish Historian, meaning that he was a Roman of Jewish descent. Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to Jesus in Books 18 and 20.

The first reference, known as the Testimonium Flavianum (meaning the testimony of Flavius [Josephus]) reads:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
 There are numerous arguments for and against the Christian references in the writings of Josephus, and the Testimonium Flavianum is no different. Many scholars have different opinions regarding its authenticity.

However, it is generally agreed that the section was altered by Christian writers, most likely Eusebius in 324. Nevertheless, scholars also agree that the alteration was built around an authentic reference to the execution of Jesus.

One of the ways we know this is because we have found older copies of Josephus' writings which do not include these changes. In 1971, Schlomo Pines uncovered a 10th century Arabic version of the Testimonium which differs in small, but important, ways from the Greek text. For instance, the Arabic version does not blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. The key phrase "at the suggestion of the principal men among us" reads instead "Pilate condemned him to be crucified". And instead of "he was Christ," the Syriac version has the phrase "he was believed to be Christ".

In other words, Josephus does actually reference Jesus, but then Christian writers came and messed it up. So in Josephus, we have a first century reference to Jesus from a Roman historian and religious scholar. Bart Ehrman is mistaken.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reproducing Religious Experience

A few years ago, there was a study done in which a scientist used electromagnetic currents to give subjects feelings similar or identical to those experienced in reported "religious experiences."

There have been studies like this for decades. The most famous ones, and certainly the ones that were the most fun, involved giving subjects LSD in a controlled environment.

The study was not done to disprove the existence of any religion. In fact, they claim that "we have not attempted to refute or to support the absolute existence of gods, spirits, or other transient phenomena that appear to be prominent features of people's beliefs about themselves before and after death... However, we have shown that the experience of these phenomena, often attributed to spiritual sources, can be elicited by stimulating the brain with specific weak complex magnetic fields."

However, this information is almost always cited as proof that there is no God and that religious experience is false. It is a simple fact that this is not proof that God does not exist. However, it is evidence. It is evidence that there is no God and that religious experience is a delusion. In other words, based on the results of this and similar studies, we cannot conclude that there is no God. We can only conclude that is it less likely than we thought. How much less? I don't know. Even Richard Dawkins can't put an exact number on it. But this does give us reason to doubt.

I think the reason that this is taken as proof of God's non-existence is because of the false assumption that God, if He exists, works exclusively through mystical, abstract, non-physical means, but this is not a Christian doctrine. The Atheist demands magic. The Christian is comfortable with chemicals. The Atheist demands that God operate entirely outside of our bodies. The Christian is comfortable with religious experience being just that — an experience, and thus experimental. The idea that God doesn't always work through ridiculous violations of the laws of physics, but through natural processes, is not new the Christians.

Furthermore, you cannot prove that something does not exist simply because you can replicate it. If this were true, then we could conclude that there is no Federal Reserve because people fake counterfeit money. We could say that there is no such thing as love because there is Ecstasy. There are no natural lakes because there are man-made lakes.

The existence of a counterfeit does not indicate that it is not based on something authentic. It only means we need to be more careful before coming to conclusions about what is true or false, because even if there was a God, a good percentage of religious experiences must still be false.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why PZ Myers Won't Debate

Where is your god now???
Just a few weeks ago David Marshall, author of Christ The Tao, challenged PZ Myers to a debate over whether or not Christianity has uplifted, or oppressed, women.

David Marshall has not gotten a response, as predicted, but another popular Christian blogger has. Myers has responded to the invitation of Vox Day to debate the exact same topic.

Myers reasoning can be read here, but basically sums up to Myers finding Day morally reprehensible, and not wanting to give "the other side" any more credibility.

What's curious to me is that this is becoming an identical situation to Dawkins refusal to debate with Craig.

Marshall thinks that Myers has chosen to respond to Day, and ignore him, because Day is the easier target for Myers typical tactic of using slander and mockery (rather than logic and reason) to provoke his readers to rage against Christianity. Marshall says,
"Instead of implying that he won't debate because we're all racist, women-hating savages ..., or because PZ Myers owns this vast stockpile of credibility and doesn't want any of it leaking out to nourish undead believing memes, PZ might just admit, 'My whole schtick involves pretending that we atheists are a breed apart, and that the solution to religion is to mock it, deride it, and slander those who believe it.  I would lose credibility with my crowd if I were found on stage reasoning -- really reasoning, thinking and discoursing and looking at evidence and trying to really understand, rather than just slandering and dancing and posturing -- with the other side.'"  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Christianity and the Birth of Modern Science

It's a pretty common view these days that science and religion are at odds, or that they work against each other. This is tragic. What is even more tragic is that this view is often accurate. Theists make claims which are demonstrably false and consider it a badge of honor to obstinately refuse to listen to reason, or to promote a conception of God which even they admit makes no sense.

Another view is that science and religion are independent of each other. Science is about the physical, whereas religion is about the metaphysical. Science is empirical, religion is more philosophic. Rejecting religion because of science is like rejecting politics because of science, or rejecting economics because of science. The two have nothing to do with each other.

Recently, I came across another idea which I had never heard, but the more I look, the more sources I see that hold this position. Some scholars apparently think that religion has not been a hindrance to science. In fact, they believe that modern science owes a lot to medieval Christianity.

One example is James Hannam, who holds a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. He wrote an article called Christianity and the Rise of Science. In this article, he argues that Christianity is largely responsible for the rise of science as we have it today for a number of reasons, including:
  • The preservation of literacy in the Dark Ages.
  • The doctrine of the lawfulness of nature.
  • The need to examine the real world rather than rely on pure reason.
  • The belief that science was a sacred duty.
I highly suggest you read the full article, linked above, for a complete explanation. Another article by Hannam is Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages.

A misconception about apparent conflict comes from a few high-profile cases, such as Galileo, but these are not characteristic of the entire Middle Ages. The idea that science and religion were in conflict did not become popular until long after in the writings of Voltaire. 

We think that science and religion were in conflict for the same reason that people are afraid to fly in airplanes. We never hear reports of planes successfully landing with no trouble. We only hear about the horrific crashes, so we have a distorted view of how common they are. Likewise, we never hear about all the support religion gave to science and education in an era when it was hard to come by. We only hear about Galileo's trial so our view is distorted.

Another mistake is equating "religion" with "Christianity". Even in the Middle Ages, religious communities in other parts of the world, such as in Muslim regions, saw many fundamental advances in science and mathematics, including a theory of evolution by natural selection which was common knowledge among Muslims almost a thousand years before Darwin.

Much of history is simply a matter of perception and interpretation. If Hitler had won WWII, our textbooks would be very different, regardless of what actually happened or who was actually "right", but it seems there is a certain number of scholars who interpret history such that not only has religion not been a stumbling block for science, but that we may not have had science without it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TIL that Evolution was taught among Muslims almost a thousand years before Darwin.

Here's another post on Reddit that has exploded into something interesting. I submitted a post called TIL that Evolution was taught among Muslims almost a thousand years before Darwin. The comments turned into a pretty interesting discussion about the relationship between science and religion, the history of Evolution as a scientific idea, the effect of religion on peoples minds, and many other things.

This submission hasn't blown up the way IAmA Former Mormon Missionary. AMA did, but there are some pretty interesting insights that are definitely worth checking out.
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