Fantastic book - feels like it was written specifically for me.
Essential reading for any self-professed scientist or sceptic. Waller reaffirms the val Fantastic book - feels like it was written specifically for me.
Essential reading for any self-professed scientist or sceptic. Waller reaffirms the validity of the scientific method whilst acknowledging that individual scientists are just as human as the next person with the capacity to lie, cheat and exaggerate for egoistic purposes. The book also touches upon the philosophy of history as well as religion and its relationship to science....more
Essential reading for anyone wanting to better understand how we got here. Dawkins does a wonderful job of explaining adaptive complexity and it becom Essential reading for anyone wanting to better understand how we got here. Dawkins does a wonderful job of explaining adaptive complexity and it becomes clear that Darwinian evolution is not only scientifically sound but also axiomatic: that which can survive does so, and that which cannot survive, does not! In the chapter entitled 'Doomed Rivals' Dawkins also discusses the scientific alternatives to Darwinian selection and demonstrates why they are flawed.
He also shows how punctuated equilibrium, often vaunted by the media as problematic for Darwinists, is in fact perfectly compatible with the neo-Darwinian Synthesis. Indeed, in the fifth edition of 'On the Origin of Species' Darwin wrote: “...the periods during which species have undergone modification, though long as measured in years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retain the same form.”
If anti-evolutionists like Rick Santorum et al. actually took the time to read popular science works such as this there would be no intelligent design movement.
So often when one hears anti-evolutionists 'teaching the controversy' one wonders if they have even understood evolutionary theory at all. Mike Huckabee's comments that evolution is 'all about random selection' belies the common misunderstanding of the theory held by many.
Dawkins demonstrates that evolution is the non-random accumulation of random mutations over staggeringly long periods of time; humans did not spring into existence directly from ape-like ancestors via a billion to one coin flip as many anti-evolutionists would have you believe....more
I think this will go down as one of the great, if not the greatest, coffee-table book of my generation. IInformation is Beautiful by David McCandless.
I think this will go down as one of the great, if not the greatest, coffee-table book of my generation. Information is beautiful is dedicated to the Internet and, indeed, almost every page seems to reflect a quintessentially contemporary concern or interest. The book's overarching theme seems to be that information is important because it empowers one to change the world for the better. Aimed partly at Guardian readers with similar interests and views as McCandless, the info-graphics on climate change, politics and theology will no doubt provoke a response from right-leaning readers who might not agree with the language or even the data employed by McCandless and they will no doubt cite Twain's 'There are lies, damned lies and statistics' cliché.
There are also a few errors or typos in places, for example, Judas Priest and Deep Purple are described in the Rock genre-ology as both Rock and Metal, although this may be true it seems to be a typo. And sometimes the info-graphics can be accused of over-simplifying or misconstruing information. For example, in evolutionary biology the concept of punctuated equilibrium is often portrayed by the media as antithetical or problematic for Darwinian evolution and indeed the info-graphic on this subject may be interpreted as implying as much. But, having read Richard Dawkins' 'The Blind Watchmaker', I know this is not in fact the case.
I expect that any book of info-graphics, no matter how well researched and designed, could be accused of over-simplifying complex issues which often require detailed and patient reading as well as a nuanced interpretation rather than a brief, facile and aesthetically pleasing glance. But one does not thumb through a book of info-graphics looking for comprehensive essays on complex issues. The power and usefulness of the info-graphic is its ability to present information in a dramatic and effective way.
I think there are three possible responses a reader can have to any info-graphic. Sometimes the information is already known and accepted in advance as being true by the reader and merely bolsters pre-existing beliefs or opinions, as will be the case with most Guardian readers and the climate change info-graphics. Sometimes the information in a diagram is unknown to the reader and, depending on the simplicity or complexity of the subject, the info-graphic can either form a new belief instantly or inspire one to research the topic further before doing so. For example, after finding the info-graphic on Amazonian deforestation I went on-line to see if it were true and, sadly, based on what I could find, it seems to be true and so I have formed a new opinion on this subject. Thirdly, an info-graphic may contradict a pre-existing belief. When this happens one can either deny the information altogether, dispute the reliability of the data or its interpretation or research the topic further and then, based on what one finds, either confirm or disconfirm one's prior beliefs.
My favourite info-graphics were the Rock and Dance music Genre-ologies. I have always been aware of House and Drum 'n' Bass music for example but never really appreciated what they were or where they came from. When I learned, however, that D'n'B was influenced by Dub Reggae (which I already love) it made a connexion and so now I'm listening to Goldie's seminal D'n'B album Timeless which I really like. This, I guess, is the power of the info-graphic....more
True Grit is a great yarn that makes for excellent light bedtime reading but which also develops a serious tone in places,
This review has spoilers!!!
True Grit is a great yarn that makes for excellent light bedtime reading but which also develops a serious tone in places, (especially towards the end) thanks to the central character Mattie Ross and her very serious and religious nature. In the hands of a lesser writer this character may have felt puritanical and isolated readers but I could do nothing but admire and sympathise for this strong-willed, stubborn little mare of a girl.
The two other main characters, Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf, are also entirely likeable yet flawed people. Portis writes beautifully. The opening and closing lines of the novel are perfectly formed and stick in my memory. True Grit has moments of fine humour and also (although I have never visited 19th century Arkansas or the Choctaw Nation myself and can only guess) a deep sense of historical authenticity. Part adventure story, part lament for the Wild West, part character study, it's easy to see why the Coen brothers put this on the silver screen.
Here a couple of quotes to give a flavour:
“ ‘Watch out for those chicken and dumplings ‘, he told me. Some of the men stopped eating. ‘They will hurt your eyes,’ he said. A dirty man across the table in a smelly deerskin coat said, ‘How is that?’ With a mischievous twinkle the drummer replied, ‘They will hurt your eyes looking for the chicken.’ I thought it a clever joke but the dirty man said angrily, ‘You squirrelheaded son of a bitch’ and went back to eating.”
“He stood up and said, ‘Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.’ ‘One would be as unpleasant as the other,’ I replied.” ...more
Richard A. Burridge - What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography
When I began reading ‘What are the Gospels’ I did wonder what, if a Richard A. Burridge - What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography
When I began reading ‘What are the Gospels’ I did wonder what, if any, were the ulterior motives for Burridge in arguing that the gospel genre was Βίοι. As an agnostic-atheist I have learned that even the most sober and scholarly Christian academics are sometimes motivated or influenced by their faith rather than by purely honest intellectual curiosity. This is not to say that non-Christian academics have no biases of their own which affect their work but it has been noted that New Testament scholars often have the most difficulty in overcoming their biases because of their various theological commitments. And having read elsewhere about the quest for the historical Jesus I have come to realize just how much historians (and Christians) rely on the gospel material, and so this was very much at the forefront of my mind before I had even picked up the present work.
In reading the book, however, I learned that Burridge actually began with the intention of arguing the exact opposite position to the one he eventually adopted and thus seems unlikely to have had any faith-based objectives here. I very much doubt that Burridge, in arguing that the gospels are a sub-species of Graeco-Roman Βίοι, is serving any wider apologetic purpose whatsoever.
Perhaps this is only my own axe-grinding atheistic agenda coming through but, when it comes to the implications of his work however, Burridge seems completely blind to or disinterested in, at least what I consider to be, the more salient points; namely, the reliability of the gospel stories and sources and also the strong parallels they share with other tales from Graeco-Roman literature. To give just one example from Burridge’s own work, the Last Supper of Jesus is eerily mirrored in Plutarch’s Life of Mark Antony: “Another extended death scene occurs in Plutarch’s Antony where we have a ‘last supper’ with friends, with discourse and instruction, on the night before the subject’s death...” (p.166) And a similar story is also described in Plutarch’s Cato Minor. Did both Jesus and Mark Antony or even Cato have a last supper as described or are these stories merely works of apophthegmatic fiction, or did the one happen and not the other? The answer of course is that (unless we regard faith as epistemologically sound) we can never be sure. However, given that Plutarch himself distinguished Βίοι from history, I would guess that many of these stories represent plausible yet unhistorical works of literary art rather than historical reportage.
Burridge amply succeeds in demonstrating the many parallels between the gospels and other Βίοι with regards to both form and content but seems to shy away from the implication that the life of Jesus, whether itself real or imagined, was presented by the evangelists in a way reminiscent of other stories which deal with other figures from history and legend. Another example is seen in Evagoras’ birth, which was said to have been accompanied by omens or portents, his ancestry was traced back to Zeus and his precocious nature as a boy is described. By demonstrating that the Life of Jesus shares similarities with other figures from Βίοι, Burridge is effectively demonstrating where the Christians may have got their ideas from.
These parallels have been noted by a variety of authors whose efforts have long been derided as the proverbial and pejorative ‘cottage industry’ and whose scholarly grounding and authority has also been mocked. The accusation of ‘parallel-omania’ has been made and a concerted effort is now underway to systematically ignore these questions. If there is blame to be laid however, at least some must rest on New Testament scholars themselves for failing to satisfactorily recognise and address these subjects.
To give Burridge his due, he does discuss the syncretistic nature of Christianity, especially that of John’s community: “A social setting is needed in which ideas of traditional Greek philosophy, Platonism and Stoicism, could be coupled at a popular level with those of new cults and sects, including the proto-Gnostics; links are also to be made with the Jewish world of the Old Testament, Rabbinic arguments and the ideas of heterodox or ‘non-conformist’ Judaism. The work of Philo of Alexandria demonstrates that this heady mixture was available at a sophisticated level; however, such a syncretistic culture spread all the way down the social scale and was thus capable of influencing the early Christian communities.” (p.233) Burridge continues: “Finally, it would be strange if the author/editor (s) of the Fourth Gospel did not realize the parallels with Βίοι, given the many other links to Graeco-Roman and Jewish philosophical and religious ideas and literature which are found in John.” (p.254)
This kind of language may shock the more conservative biblical scholar whom prefers to see the gospels as a unique gift from God but Burridge, as a liberal scholar of the classics as well as the New Testament, recognises the context within which the gospels were produced, namely the Graeco-Roman literary milieu of the 1st century eastern Mediterranean. Burridge states that a link between the gospels and Hellenistic literary culture “...is demanded both by the generic features of the texts themselves and also by the social setting of early Christianity within the eastern Roman empire of the first century AD.” (p.255)
But there is no deeper consideration of the implications of this realization for the nature of the gospel stories. This, from my perspective at least, was the elephant in the room throughout the course of the entire book and it is largely ignored in the concluding chapter. Perhaps Burridge does not see these problems or, alternatively, simply does not regard them as either problematic or even interesting. Whatever the case may be, he does not directly address these questions. Or so it would seem.
At the very end of the book Burridge, in considering the hermeneutical implications, dons his religious hat: ‘If the gospels are indeed Βίοι then this demonstrates that the early church was interested in the life and teachings of Christ and this, in turn, should spur today’s evangelicals to re-focus on the same.’ Is this it? In fact, it is not. Mingled in with this religious instruction are a few fleeting lines which betray what is really at the back of Burridge’s mind in his concluding chapter. He cites Kysar’s argument that if Jesus did not appear in the flesh then why did the evangelists depict him as having done so? Why Burridge would conclude an otherwise intelligent and scholarly work, which largely succeeds in arguing that the gospels do in fact share many parallels with Graeco-Roman Βίοι, with such a bone-headed and defensive apologetic remark is beyond me. There can be little doubt that the evangelists, or at least the editors of their work as it has come down to us, thought that Jesus waked and talked; they had faith that he had appeared in the flesh and so they wrote the narrative of his life, perhaps as a direct polemical response to doubters, Docetists or Gnostics. Burridge himself identifies the many similarities that the gospels share with polemical and didactic works of Graeco-Roman Βίοι: “... we have seen that a major purpose and function of βίοι is in a context of didactic or philosophical polemic and conflict.” (p.80) But Burridge (rather predictably for a Christian academic) seems reluctant to discuss the consequent reliability of the gospel material as works which incorporate apology and polemic.
That Burridge has something more serious at the back of his mind here is made even more apparent by his insistence on the historical reliability of the gospel stories. Despite each gospel’s unique portrayal of Christ, something long recognised and celebrated by Christians as a variety of interpretations rather than as a mass of contradictions, they must nonetheless have a historically reliable kernel of truth: “...because this is a Life of an historical person written within the lifetime of his contemporaries, there are limits on free composition...” Kingsbury uses the phrase ‘variety with limits’ and Burridge is very keen to emphasise the ancient pedigree of the gospels by equating the evangelists to the early church. Whatever the age of the gospels, they are ultimately second or third generation post-Paul Christian texts.
After having demonstrated the commonalities the gospels share with other works of literature whose historical nature is often dubious, as noted by Plutarch himself, Burridge clearly struggles to reconcile this insight with his faith. Even if we assume that Christ walked and talked in early 1st century Palestine, a fact not as apparent in the earlier Christian texts as it becomes in the gospels, a great deal of literary invention (especially for a man as ill-attested as Jesus) would not be impossible. Certainly, Plutarch would have been constrained in what he could say of infamous statesmen such as Mark Antony or Cato, but the same does not apply to an obscure Jewish preacher from Galilee, of whom there are no sources either non-Christian or even Christian contemporary to his supposed lifetime.
A great examination of warfare. I read this book I don't know when but I remember a few anecdotes. Orwell describes how, whilst fighting on the front A great examination of warfare. I read this book I don't know when but I remember a few anecdotes. Orwell describes how, whilst fighting on the front line, he couldn't bring himself to shoot a distant Fascist soldier because he had his trousers round his ankles, evidently having been urgently summoned from some prior business. Orwell also talks about how, when one is in the midst of an historical event, it never seems so at the time....more
I'm a big fan of Bart Ehrman because, as an erstwhile Christian and venerable New Testament scholar, he is adequately equipped to discuss these subjec I'm a big fan of Bart Ehrman because, as an erstwhile Christian and venerable New Testament scholar, he is adequately equipped to discuss these subjects but unlike many Christian academics his agnosticism lends him an air of intellectual honesty which I, as an agnostic atheist interested in Christianity, sometimes find lacking in other New Testament scholars. Ehrman has a respect for his Christian material that axe-grinding atheists may lack but is not clouded by personal subjectivities and religious dogmas. Put simply, Ehrman is not afraid to call a spade a spade.
'Jesus Interrupted' is a work that covers a lot of ground in a short space and I would recommend it to anyone beginning a study of the New Testament. It is, however, rather a hodge-podge of different subject areas, many of which Ehrman had previously or has since covered in more detail elsewhere.
'Jesus Interrupted' makes largely the same point as Ehrman's earlier work 'Misquoting Jesus', namely, that the New Testament should be read for what each individual author or editor had to say rather than as a single text with a single unifying dogma. But whereas 'Misquoting Jesus' demonstrated this point through textual criticism and the study of changes to the text in the course of its transmission, 'Jesus Interrupted' makes the point by looking directly at the text itself.
Chapter 2 of this work looks at some of the discrepancies in the gospel narratives of Jesus. Whilst scholars have long recognised and celebrated the different flavours of the evangelists, Ehrman, as an agnostic, is not afraid to see contradictions where Christian scholars prefer to see nuances of emphasis.
In chapter 3 Ehrman attributes these contradictions to different dogmas. Ehrman states (p.62): "Many of the differences among the biblical authors have to do with the very heart of their message. Sometimes one author’s understanding of a major issue is at odds with another author’s, on such vital matters as who Christ is, how salvation is attained, and how the followers of Jesus are to live."
Chapter 4 then discusses the question of authorship of the books of the New Testament. This ground is covered in more detail in Ehrman's later work 'Forged'.
Chapter 5 deals with the quest for the historical Jesus. Again, this is an area Ehrman has covered before and at greater length in 'Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium'. Ehrman uses the the usual methodology of various criteria (contextual credibility, independent attestation and dissimilarity) to establish which traditions about Jesus are the most reliable. This methodology, whilst useful, does not offer nor does it claim to offer, any cast iron guarantees. To take a few example, Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist because this would have been an embarrassment to Christians and so is not likely to be untrue. Indeed Christianity, as it emerged and now exists, would find Jesus' early inferiority to John the Baptist embarrassing but it may have been the case that the earliest Christians did not possess such an exalted view of Christ as later emerged, especially in the gospel of John. In actual fact, John the Baptist was a well known and admired preacher discussed at good length by Josephus and so an association with him may have offered prestige rather than ignominy.
That Jesus, as Messiah, was believed to have come from Nazareth may also be a legend explained by the fact that the evangelists claimed this was prophesied (although we don't know by whom) or from a confusion with the place Nazareth (which according to Rene Salm was not inhabited in the early 1st century) with the word Nazarene. Paul is described in Acts as the ring-leader of the Nazarenes and there are a few etymological theories on its original meaning.
Chapter 6 looks at the transmission of the bible and the formation of the canon which Ehrman explores in greater detail in 'Misquoting Jesus'.
Chapter 7 deals with the theological development of Christianity and the notion that the faith is not so much the religion of Jesus but the religion about Jesus. Again, Ehrman explores this subject in more detail in works such as 'Lost Christianities'....more
I am a big fan of Bart Ehrman because, as an erstwhile Christian and venerable New Testament scholar, he is adequately equipped to discuss these subje I am a big fan of Bart Ehrman because, as an erstwhile Christian and venerable New Testament scholar, he is adequately equipped to discuss these subjects but unlike many Christian academics his agnosticism lends him an air of intellectual honesty which I, as an agnostic atheist interested in Christianity, sometimes find lacking in other New Testament scholars. Ehrman has a respect for his Christian material that axe-grinding atheists may lack but is not clouded by personal subjectivities and religious dogmas. Put simply, Ehrman is not afraid to call a spade a spade and this is what he does in Forged.
Ehrman tells us that the consensus opinion amongst scholars is that the word ‘forgery’ is considered inappropriate apropos the pseudepigraphal books of the New Testament. Throughout the course of the book Ehrman explains that the arguments made to demonstrate that 'forgery' is an inappropriate label are themselves flawed and, thus, forgery is an acceptable term. Ehrman identifies three broad categories of authorship for the 27 books of the New Testament:
Orthonymous (correctly named) - 7 of Paul's epistles and Revelation was written by a John but is not, and neither does it claim to be, John the apostle.
Pseudonymous (forged) - 6 Paulines, Acts (although anonymous it misleadingly implies authorship by a companion of Paul), 1st & 2nd Peter, James and Jude.
If 11 of the 27 books of the New Testament are forgeries and the texts we have today have been changed, as argued by Ehrman in 'Misquoting Jesus', how can we possibly hope to know what the earliest Christians believed? When later Christians of a particular dogma forged and interpolated the earliest writings of the church in order to harmonize them with their own views, how can we be sure what or whom we are really reading?...more
After having read and reviewed E.P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus, a work which focuses not so much on the question of the historicity of Je
After having read and reviewed E.P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus, a work which focuses not so much on the question of the historicity of Jesus rather than on the question of what can be known of him via the gospels when his historicity is assumed, I turned to the more sceptical G.A. Wells and his work The Historical Evidence for Jesus which is a continuation of Wells’ earlier established 3 point thesis:
Our earliest sources for Jesus are so vague that he may not have existed
Christianity could have emerged without him
It was only from ca. AD 80-90 that Christians began to believe that Jesus had lived in Palestine some 50 years prior
As a Jesus agnostic beginning with no assumptions nor predilections I have no problem with the idea that Jesus did or did not exist so long as the evidence of the New Testament can be successfully demonstrated to establish this or that position. Whilst I think Wells’ work is imperfect I was impressed by it. Wells argues convincingly that there is a problem with the gospel Jesus and his conspicuous absence from the Pauline corpus but is less compelling in his case for the non-existence of the man altogether. Indeed, it seems that Wells himself abandons this position during the course of his own book.
For my part, although contextual credibility and academic consensus are not in and of themselves proof, I do recognise two points: firstly, the eminent plausibility that a preacher of the apocalyptic variety (as imagined by Schweitzer and his modern successors such as Bart Ehrman and E.P. Sanders) could well have been present in 1st century Palestine and, secondly, the overwhelming consensus amongst scholars that Jesus did exist. On the first point, let it be said that plausibility is not tantamount to probability, many things are plausible but this does not guarantee their actual existence. On the second point it should be noted that, if the last few hundred years of New Testament scholarship has taught us anything, it’s that we should be wary of academic consensus. From Markan priority to the pseudonymous authorship of many of the books of the canon and even the history of the church itself, we have good reason to be cautious here.
After now having read authors such as Sanders, Ehrman and Wells, it seems that one’s ultimate opinion on the historicity question rests upon the way one chooses to resolve two key questions: firstly, do the Pauline epistles and the other early epistles reveal the ignorance of these authors regarding a contemporary or near-contemporary historical Jesus as depicted in the gospels? Secondly, how does one infer the process by which the gospels came to be written. These two problems seem to lie at the heart of the matter. Furthermore, in order to resolve these problems one must choose to interpret the evidence in a particular way and this interpretation will itself be informed by one’s prior assumptions, sentiments and inclinations.
Given these considerations, I have chosen to remain an agnostic with regards to the historicity question, although I do agree with Wells that the gospel Jesus seems largely if not entirely absent from the earlier Christian documents. The better explanation for this fact would be Jesus’ non-existence altogether, rather than the idea that Paul and the other early writers were ignorant of him or had little interest in his words and deeds. Given that history is a scale of probabilities, and that the former explanation is more probable than the latter, I lean towards the notion that Jesus did not exist.