Neanderthals in Europe Died Out Thousands of Years Sooner Than Some Thought, Study Says

Neanderthals, our heavy-browed relatives, spread out across Europe and Asia about 200,000 years ago. But when did they die out, giving way to modern humans?

A new analysis of Neanderthal sites from Spain to Russia provides the most definitive answer yet: about 40,000 years ago, at least in Europe.

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abrev7 asked: Worship is appropriate when Someone is perfect! Young men will whistle at a pretty girl admiring her beauty, or cheer for a football play. Why deny God His due? Have you ever considered the Mandelbrot set? Even math glorifies God!

You’re not getting the point. It’s one thing to be admired because you’re beautiful; it’s entirely another thing to warrant worship because you’re perfect. However, if we’re to take OT stories at face value, god demanded* worship. Some beautiful people don’t demand attention. A great play can’t make any demands. Both of your examples are also subjective because while the girl hears whistles from some young men, she won’t hear any from others and while the play is good to fans of football, it is of no interest to people who aren’t fans of the game. The point that you’re missing is that a perfect being would have no deficiencies and thus wouldn’t throw tantrums when people worship other deities. He wouldn’t murder their infants and children because of it. He certainly wouldn’t damn you for eternity because you didn’t accept his plan for atonement through Jesus Christ. Your beliefs are ludicrous.

What’s more ludicrous is your kettle logic. You go from pretty girls to football to Mandelbrot sets as if one term in pure mathematics is supposed to intimidate me. You’re using the set as an underhanded variant of the odious design argument. The set, like an algorithm, is an example of complexity arising from the implementation of rudimentary rules. It isn’t designed; it self-organizes over time and in accordance to the rules it’s given. Mathematics, whether pure or applied, is an extension of logic. It doesn’t glorify god. You’re simply blinded by predilections. What’s worse is that you can’t grasp a basic point. My response to that initial question flew over your head; as did my point in your last ask. I’ll repeat it in words a child could understand: if someone is perfect, they wouldn’t demand to be worshiped because they wouldn’t lack anything. More specifically, anyone reading the OT will quickly realize they’re reading about a god who has self-esteem issues—so concerned about his popularity, his approval rating, and how he fares against other deities.

*Some may quibble about the use of the word demand preferring instead the word command. However, the commandments weren’t simply orders given by an authority. They were ultimatums with consequences that were sometimes fatal. Given that the so called commandments were more like ultimatums, it’s hard to see the difference between demand and command in this context.

abrev7 asked: Why do you insist upon consensus to prove existence? That seems nonsensical to me. I know that I myself exist, I have certain attributes and yet it is very possible that people who do not know me could debate about my "attributes." Some may argue he is 6'10" others may say I have naturally green hair, the fact that there may be conflicting or even wrong opinions does not cancel my existence, nor does it cancel out God's.

What’s required of you is to go back and reread the question I answered. I was specifically asked, if a thing existed having the attributes we usually ascribe to god, shouldn’t we call it god? Thus, before answering the question, I highlighted the fact that religious people don’t even agree on the attributes in question. We are therefore stuck on the prerequisite and can’t really answer the question I was asked. In other words, the prerequisite is that we, at the very least, roughly agree on a set of attributes—whatever those may be. Then, if we locate a being fitting that description, we can decide whether or not to call it god.

Ultimately, it isn’t because we don’t agree on those attributes that I state that gods don’t exist. Given the content on your blog, you want a specific god to exist. I definitely don’t need to address a lack of consensus as it concerns Yahweh’s attributes. My reasons for knowing that Yahweh doesn’t exist have nothing to do with a lack of consensus. I have other reasons—reasons you’d be familiar with if you consider other posts on my blog (see here, for a brief example).

By the way, you attempt to defend your point with a false analogy. The attributes Christians want god to have are highly unlike our attributes. We’re not quibbling about his height, eye color, and so on. If we want to point at a flaw in his attributes, we’d point, for example at perfection. Christians claim he’s perfect and yet he demands worship and thus, exhibits deficiency. Christians claim he’s all-loving yet he will punish people eternally for temporal misdeeds. 

ladoniaart asked: If a thing existed that had the attributes that we typically ascribe to "God" shouldn't we call that thing God?

First we’d have to agree what these attributes are. Then we’d have to discuss why it’s apt to call this entity god. On the former, there is no consensus. The theist claims that god is uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, and personal. The Christian then adds that her god is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, perfectly judicious, omnipresent, sovereign, and existing apart from everything else. The deist will argue that his god is not personal. The pantheist who conflates her god with the universe will not claim that her god is immaterial; she will also add that her god is one with everything—hence hylozoism and/or animism. The panentheist might agree on that point but will add that his god is transcendent; thus, his god isn’t just spaceless and timeless, but extends beyond both.

Bhakti Hindus will disagree and say that gods can take human form in the form of an avatara. This finds a historical correlate of sorts in the gods of mythology. Demigods are gods who became men or men who did great deeds and became gods. Indeed a historical inquiry into the origins of modern Christology reveals this phenomenon in early Christianity. Jesus wasn’t thought to be god while he existed, assuming he was historical. He came to be equal to god decades after the fact—as is attested prominently in the Gospel of John (90-100 CE). Thus, what I survey above shows that the attributes aren’t generally agreed upon.

Would it be apt to call such a being god? I don’t think so. What’s required is that we agree on what attributes constitute a god. After that there must exist a being who has all of those attributes. That’s precisely the being we can’t locate—neither through empirical methods nor revelation nor any other means. There’s also the problem of contradictory attributes. How can a being be perfect whilst mandating worship? How can a being be omnibenevolent and perfectly judicial? In other words, how can there be wrathful justice where there’s perfect love? Human love is fallible and regardless of that, a loving parent won’t disown his son when he drives drunk—won’t disown his daughter when she needs an abortion at 15 years of age. Yet Christians and Muslims posit a god who will punish sinners eternally for temporal misdeeds. How can god be timeless whilst interacting in time? How can a god be one with everything and transcendent simultaneously? It either exists within all things or exists apart from all things.

The notion of god is altogether incoherent. There’s simply no way to synthesize disparate concepts and thus reduce them to a singular archetype. We can only devise archetypes based on shared attributes. It’s something I’m already thinking about with hopes of applying these archetypes in a book I plan to write on gnostic atheism. The book is years away at best and will require consultation from a number of disciplines. It’s not an easy task, but I think it’s a necessary direction to go in, especially since opponents quibble about our focus on this or that religion and/or god concept. Such a project will simply follow atheism to its ultimate conclusion.

What are we doing complaining about Richard Dawkins being a liability to atheism when we have someone like PZ Myers likening the suicide of a depressed man to nothing but a mere distraction from other issues?

Christians Should Give Up On The Moral Argument

wisdomfish:

If atheism is true, there’s no basis for objective moral values and duties. And if everything’s ultimately reducible to physical processes and matter just behaving according to law, it seems pretty tough to build a moral foundation that doesn’t leave you as a total subjectivist.

Here’s what I mean: If there’s no good and no evil, like Richard Dawkins says in his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, then there is “no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” in our universe. How’s that for a description of reality?

What this means is that if atheism’s true, then what’s “good” or what’s “evil” is basically just you saying what you happen to like or what you happen to not like. So as an atheist, you could say “I don’t happen to like the idea of human trafficking” or “I don’t prefer to be the victim of spousal abuse.” But you couldn’t have any kind of real, moral grounding to call it objectively evil—if atheism is true.

Mikel Del Rosario

Usually, for the moral argument to work, the Christian first has to paint his opponent as a normative relativist—as if that’s the only position available to opponents who reject your sort of substantive realism. I’m an atheist. I’m also not a normative relativist. Furthermore, Dawkins isn’t my voice. I have my own and thus, I will disagree with him about some things though as I show later, he’s not actually saying what Rosario thinks he’s saying.

Once setting aside the normative relativism you want us to accept, the next thing to do is to address the moral argument as usually formulated. To that we now turn. Thankfully, I’ve already addressed this argument before and at length. 

Let’s consider the argument as commonly formulated:

P1 If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

P2 Objective moral values and duties do exist.

C   Therefore, God exists.

Without providing any alternatives just yet, I’ll attack this argument directly. Starting with P1, it’s useful to point out the predilection that’s hiding in that sentence. How can you know that objective moral values and duties can’t exist even without a god? You can’t know that. Thus, you’re simply assuming that that’s the case; it follows that you’re imposing faith rather than knowledge. I agree with P2. P2 is the only sound premise in the argument. However, it is possible to have true premises and a false conclusion. That makes for an invalid argument.  Let’s assume both premises are true. Though this would require a separate discussion, C is demonstrably false. The Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist. God, according to Christianity, is triune. Thus, I can demonstrate that there’s no father or no son or no holy spirit. Those are my options. I am very adept at demonstrating the nonexistence of the father and the son based on the empirical methodology of history. By default, the holy spirit is cancelled out since they’re one.  It follows that the argument is then invalid.

You argue that morality becomes relative if god doesn’t exist. Yet we seem to agree that it’s objective though, on my view, it can be demonstrated that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist. The question is, how then is it objective without god? Can we offer an explanation?  Ethics has become one of my focuses for precisely this reason and I’ve come across a few explanations that are compelling. Granted, some are incomplete. Some are less compelling than others. But the fact that an explanation is incomplete is no reason to reject it and it certainly doesn’t warrant certainty that there is no possible explanation. That’s precisely what Rosario claims, however: without god, not only can we not have objective morality, but we can’t offer an adequate explanation for its existence. This is false. Thus, relativism isn’t the consequence of morality without god.  

Also, towards the end, he mentions moral ontology and seems to imply a distinction it has with moral epistemology.  Relativism and objectivism do not have to be at odds.  After all, even William Lane Craig acknowledges what I call moral classes (compare that to socioeconomic classes).  For instance, the West has more moral knowledge than the Korowai in Papau, New Guinea and thus, Westerners are a higher moral class than the Korowai are.  This relativistic knowledge rests on moral epistemology and not on moral ontology.  Something can be objectively wrong though some culture or some person refuses to recognize it.

The Moral Argument for God rests on what Christine Korsgaard calls substantive realism—the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”1 Like Korsgaard, I agree that substantive realism begs the question since it assumes moral standards without providing a basis for them. What’s worse is that theistic substantive realism also assumes the existence of god and thus, further begs the question. It’s viciously circular. So, in light of this, what’s my alternative?

Korsgaards’s view—a view that I share—is procedural realism, which states that “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”2 You can consider for example Kant’s CI procedure, a few of which are compatible with human moral behavior. This is a point argued forcefully in my recent essay on the possibility of a pluralistic moral algorithm.3 Also, the view is compatible with societal norms, moral universals, and the emergence of law at different times throughout history. If the procedures come before the answers, then there’s no need to assume that we know the answers before we find them. It follows that Adam Smith’s problem-solution idea is another procedure we can consult. I expound on that idea and formulate a working model that aligns with our moral behavior.4 Given what I’ve surveyed, it should be obvious to anyone that the apple has fallen far from the relativist tree.

Lastly, there’s something I need to correct in Rosario’s quote. He misquoted Dawkins and misunderstood what Dawkins is saying.  Dawkins said the following:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”5

He’s not speaking of this relativism Rosario invokes. He’s clearly alluding to nihilism—both existential (made obvious by “no purpose”) and moral (made obvious by “no evil, no good”). Those are completely different views; they have no place in Rosario’s presentation. Apologists fancy themselves philosophers, but in my experience they’re always missing a key characteristic in every good philosopher: an attention to detail. To confuse relativism for nihilism is an egregious error.

Notes & Works Cited

1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p.36-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

2 Ibid.

3 The notion of a pluralistic moral algorithm and consequently, an individualistic moral algorithm can be related to procedural realism. Procedural realism states that “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”Korsgaard adds that because people are rational agents, they have an ideal person they want to become and they thus guide their actions accordingly. What’s most important on her view is that moral agents self-legislate. Self-legislation aligns perfectly with the notion of both an individualistic and a pluralistic moral algorithm. It also aligns perfectly with Kant’s autonomy formulation of his categorical imperative which states that one should act in such a way that one’s will can regard itself at the same time as making universal laws through its maxims. Arguably, something much simpler than Kant’s formulation can be at play when speaking of autonomy and self-legislation. However, Kant’s formulation of the Kingdom of Ends takes us from individualistic to pluralistic because the formulation states that one should act as if one were through one’s maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.

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5 Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, p.120. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995. Print.

logosthenes asked: hello! i think it's mighty dedicated of you to write such lengthy posts refuting every single point. i couldn't imagine lasting through two paragraphs without seeing red. aha. i think it's a good thing that people like you exist to combat the forces of ignorance.

Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it. Hope you continue to read and enjoy. :)

There is No Problem of Good

wisdomfish:

So, becoming an atheist doesn’t seem to help us make better sense of evil. But even more than this, the atheist position’s got another problem to deal with: The Problem of Good. In other words, naturalism has the challenge of providing a sufficient moral grounding for goodness itself—in addition to making sense of evil in the world. And that’s a pretty tall order for a philosophy with absolutely no room for God.

— Mikel Del Rosario

In my experience, a lot of Christians seem to think that an inverse argument defeats an argument. In other words, if one can simply turn an argument on its head, it’s defeated. Before showing you why there’s no Problem of Good, I want to point out that it is based on a false analogy.

The Problem of Evil cites an incongruity between an omnibenevolent, loving deity and the existence of evil in the world. The Problem of Good, on the other hand, cites a supposed incompatibility between naturalism and the existence of good—as if naturalism is somehow equivalent to a perfect, all-loving deity. The analogy is simply false.

The strongest version of The Problem of Evil doesn’t point at all evil but at gratuitous evil. In other words, even in a world where god existed, it’s reasonable to expect murderers. However, in a world where god exists, can one expect genital mutilation as a religious practice (note: I am not caricaturing Judaic circumcision but rather highlighting the practice as seen in extremist Islam)? In a world where god exists, can one expect child sex rings? Some evil is too gratuitous to be compatible with such a deity.

On naturalism, however, this is what you would expect. If humans are susceptible to functional and structural abnormalities and thus susceptible to various psychological shortcomings, it is reasonable to expect a pedophile, a psychopath murderer, and so on. In a world without god, one’s personality isn’t due to a divine soul but rather to whatever state the brain is in; furthermore, one’s personality is subject to change because of neuroplasticity and the possibility of damage or adverse effects from sleep deprivation, drug and/or alcohol abuse, and so on. We would also expect some people to be born defective. Thus, evil is explained quite simply on naturalism.

How about good? That’s also not a problem. Earlier I showed that it’s based on a false analogy; however, another thing that’s clear is that it’s a variant of the Moral arguments for god. Instead of saying that morality has no grounding if not in god, this argument states that good can’t arise naturally. The notion is simply false. If evil can arise naturally due to neurological, psychological, and, one might add, genetic abnormalities, good is simply the default state in the absence of the aforementioned. Altruism arises in nature. Empathy, cooperation, and a care for kin arise in nature as well, so it’s no surprise they exist in a social animal like humans. Such cooperation is the very basis of nuclear families and ultimately societies. There have been and are societies and cultures that have had no contact with even the notion of the Judeo-Christian god, so a believer would be hard pressed to explain how those people are good. To say they have in them a god-infused soul or primordial goodness is to beg the question. The naturalist need only remind you that kindness toward each other is expected. If this is truly the only life one has, assuming said person is normal, why would you lead a life of discord, lack of empathy, and so on? It’s simply not conducive to your continued survival or well-being.

Given this brief survey, it’s safe to conclude that there’s no Problem of Good. Good and evil are to be expected in a world of psychological beings subject to neurobiological and genetic plasticity. Evil, however, is incongruent with your beliefs and given the vast literature on the subject, it’s a tough philosophical problem to address. On my view, if one simply presses against my amygdala, I’ll be dubbed evil.

For as long as evil has existed, people have wondered about its source, and you don’t have to be too much of a scientific reductionist to conclude that the first place to look is the brain. There’s not a thing you’ve ever done, thought or felt in your life that isn’t ultimately traceable to a particular webwork of nerve cells firing in a particular way, allowing the machine that is you to function as it does. So if the machine is busted — if the operating system in your head fires in crazy ways — are you fully responsible for the behavior that follows?1

If you damage or impair my orbifrontal region, I might display an inordinate lust for children.

In a celebrated 2003 case published in the Archives of Neurology, for example, a 40-year-old Virginia schoolteacher with no history of pedophilia developed a sudden interest in child pornography and began making sexual overtures to his stepdaughter. His wife reported his behavior, and he was arrested and assigned to a 12-step program for sex offenders. He flunked out of the course — he couldn’t stop propositioning staff members — and was sentenced to prison. Only a day before he was set to surrender, however, he appeared in a local emergency room with an explosive headache and a range of other neurological symptoms. Doctors scanned his brain and found a tumor the size of an egg in the right orbitofrontal cortex, the region that processes decisionmaking and other so-called executive functions. The tumor was removed and the compulsive sexuality vanished along with it. Less than a year later, the tumor returned — and so, almost in lockstep, did his urges.2

Simpleton apologetics is never well-thought out. People like Rosario and certainly bloggers like yourself seek to misrepresent competing views—to reduce them in such a way as to make them appear ridiculous. Yet naturalism, despite your wishes, isn’t ridiculous. It’s, in fact, far more cogent than your beliefs. Your beliefs are actually ridiculous and persist only because you’ve simplified them the way modern Christians are fond of doing. “God is good” is a modern phrase that finds its roots in selective reading. If taken as is and when adding the fact that there’s no way to read the entire Bible as allegory, it’s impossible to believe that your god is good. He, on many occasions, purportedly murdered children callously for no reason other than the fact that their parents worshiped other deities or committed some act he considered abominable. Therein lies the most demented aspect of Christianity: the belief in inherited sin; the notion that a child can pay ransom for the crimes of his forefathers. The problems are completely on your end. It’s high time you accept that.

Works Cited

1 Kluger, Jeffrey. "Evil Brains: Can Science Understand Them?"Time. 3 May 2013.

2 Ibid.

The Secret Gospel of Mark (Coming Soon)

Robert Conner

While cataloging material in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958, Morton Smith discovered a quotation from a letter of Clement of Alexandria copied in the end pages of a 17th century collection of the letters of Ignatius. After more than a decade of collaborative analysis of the find, Smith published his conclusions in 1973, setting off a firestorm of controversy in the New Testament studies guild.

In 1975, a Jesuit scholar, Quentin Quesnell, claimed the letter had been forged and implied that Smith was the forger, moving the focus of debate off the text itself and onto Smith. Since then the pages containing the letter have been removed from the book and possibly destroyed, while Catholic and evangelical writers, none of whom have ever seen the pages in question, continue to claim that Smith forged the letter.

Following his death in 1991, accusations against Smith took on a considerably more personal tone, highlighting his alleged homosexuality and by implication his dishonesty and moral perversity. Although the question of authenticity remains unresolved, the controversy has opened a window on the intellectually corrupt nature of apologetic New Testament studies, a subject of greater importance than the authenticity of early Christian texts.

For anyone not familiar with The “Secret” Gospel of Mark, this essay by Robert Conner is a great place to start. The Secret Gospel of Mark is a pre-Canonical longer version of Mark survived only in a letter some attribute to Clement of Alexandria—a second and third century writer who was very familiar with gnosticism and pre-Christian Judaism. This secret Gospel of Mark has notably gnostic elements, some of which are homoerotic. In fact, this is one of the reasons people rejected the authenticity of the letter and accused Morton Smith of fabricating it. Regardless of attacks on Smith’s character, the Mar Saba letter might be authentic. From the essay:

Ehrman conceded, “At the outset, however, I should emphasize that the majority of scholars Smith consulted while doing his research were convinced that the letter was authentic, and probably a somewhat smaller majority agreed that the quotations of Secret Mark actually derived from a version of Mark. Even today, these are the majority opinions.” Ten years after the publication of the Mar Saba letter, Smith noted that twenty-five experts attributed it to Clement, four did not, and six had no opinion.

Regardless of the apologists within New Testament Studies, the Mar Saba letter deserves more attention than it gets, specifically because it features gnostic elements—which, if one is familiar with the history of Christianity, should be seen as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, form of Christianity. That Secret Mark was only survived by that letter and that further, Clement’s knowledge of gnostic and pre-Christian Judaic influence survives only in fragmentary quotes should give anyone pause. Perhaps this reveals the extent to which proto-Othodoxy suppressed alternative and probably more authentic versions of Christianity. That is to say that Christianity wasn’t what has passed down to the modern day and thus, more authentic versions were closer to the mystery religion that first took shape. Ultimately, Secret Mark is important to the history of Christianity and even if it isn’t an authentic Clementine letter but rather a letter forged by a later writer in his name, the case can be made that the writer sought to preserve an earlier Markian Gospel which preserved early Christian practices. 

The Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius, and Consensus by Ken Olsen ›

The subject of the Testimonium Flavianium, the brief passage about Jesus found in the manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities 18.63-64, came up on this blog not long ago in Larry Behrendt’s guest post on Reza Aslan’s much-discussed book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth from July 24. Behrendt criticizes Aslan for dismissing the Testimonium as a source for information about the historical Jesus and labeling scholarly attempts to “cull through” the extant text for a sliver of information “futile.” Behrendt writes: ‘To say that such “culling through” is impossible badly misrepresents the current opinion of most scholars.’ He points out that John Meier’s reconstruction is accepted by at least some respected scholars, including Raymond Brown and Bart Ehrman.

Behrendt’s criticisms of Aslan’s position on the Testimonium are not entirely clear on some points. On the one hand, Behrendt allows that it is not beyond the pale to dismiss the passage entirely, but then he criticizes Aslan for dismissing scholars’ hypothetical reconstructions of the “original” text. Further, Aslan is clearly stating his own opinion and makes no claim to be in agreement with, or to be representing, the current opinion of most scholars. Aslan acknowledges that scholars do attempt to extract historical information from the Testimonium, but considers their attempts futile. I could be wrong here, but if I may attempt to extrapolate a bit, I think the basis of Behrendt’s criticism is the reasonable principle that one should not dismiss a widely held scholarly opinion without giving a reasoned defense of one’s position - and Aslan did not do this.

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