Monthly Archives: February 2006

Willful Ignorance

As I sit here typing away, I’m frankly and completely flummoxed. Someone has had the audacity to call me, ME of ALL people Willfully Ignorant. ME?!?!

http://tatteredthread.blogspot.com/2006/02/cosmic-landscape-chapter-7.html#c114089489860259182

The background is somewhat long and drawn out but to summarize, the commenter and I disagree on the Anthropic theory of the Universe. He has invested a lot of time and energy in learning all about the current thinking on the origin of the universe and applying his own interpretation. I can respect that and I heard him out in previous comments (which can still be found on the respective posts) and even spent a significant amount of time trying to understand what he was talking about. In the end, I was relatively unsuccessful but despite his interruptions, the review of the text that started this whole thing, “The Cosmic Landscape” continued.

Apparently, at some key point in the text, my comments on the text disagreed with something he held to be true. Specifically, the Anthropic theory of the universe. At the moment, it really does appear that this theory is yet another attempt by the religious to slip their mythology into our lives in the guise of science. Is this the case? I have no clue, I haven’t had time to finish the book yet. Maybe it doesn’t but as of chapter 6 it certainly appears to be the case. I’m open-minded (despite the claims of certain commenters) and await further developments in the rest of the book.

At this juncture, I am forced to conclude that the person in question is simply a religious fanatic of some sort. Of course that’s his right but I will say that no religion I’m aware of would consider his behavior appropriate. Insults and name-calling are certainly not a Christian ideal. He’s entitled to his opinion and is free to post it as commentary on my blog. I have no problem with people hearing every side of every story. There is no higher ideal than the truth. It’s important to remember, however, that the truth is seldom delivered by people who hurl epithets at their opposition.

More than the irritation at my disagreement though, I’m amazed that anyone could call me willfully ignorant. My highest goal in life is to know as much about everything as possible. I don’t want to be ignorant of anything. To call me Willfully Ignorant is simply astonishing. In this specific instance especially, I don’t see how the argument can be made. The commenter can only be complaining about one of two things that I’m apparently refusing to learn about:

It’s possible he/she believes that I’m not trying hard to enough to learn about physics. To this, I’ll simply point out that I’m reading the book. I’ve read half a dozen others throughout my life and any ignorance of physics (which is considerable) is not willful. Willfully ignorant people don’t read books on the things they’re trying to remain ignorant of.

The other possibility is that he/she believes I’m ignorant of religion. If he or she really is a religious zealot, then the argument would simply be that I’m trying to evade his or her arguments so that I can continue to deny the existence of his or her choice of deity. If that’s the case, it’s just silly. I’ve spent more time reading the Bible than the average Christian and more time with the Qur’an than 99.9% of other non-Muslims so I’m far from ignorant of religion. I’m not denying the existence of anyone’s deity. I don’t subscribe to any deities personally but as I haven’t done an exhaustive survey of the universe I can’t speak as to where yours is.

In any case, to those who disagree, please disagree. But do not post disagreements of the form “you’re a ___” or “what a ___” as they’re just going to get deleted. Back your disagreements with facts, not insults. If I’m wrong I’ll happily admit it, I love to change my mind and do so often. Do not, however, expect me to just change my mind because you said so. In the end, we all have ultimate dominion over our own minds.


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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 30

Chapter 30: The Sons of Jacob

Seeing all the children Leah gives birth too really has Rachel jealous. She goes to Jacob and says simply, “Give me children, or I shall die.” Jacob responds in a rage that it’s really not within his control; God’s the one that has denied you children. Rachel responds by asking him to have sex with the maid, Bilhah. Bilhah thus bore sons Dan and Naphtali. During all this, Leah had stopped having children so she tells Jacob to have sex with her own maid, Zilpah. Zilpah bears Gad and Asher.

Years later, Reuben (Jacob’s eldest, by Leah) finds some mandrake root. The JSB reports mandrake is an aphrodisiac and the NASB that it induces pregnancy directly. Whatever the intended use, Rachel finds out about the mandrake and asks politely if she can have some. Leah replies snidely in the negative and says she’ll only give Rachel the mandrake if Jacob spends the night in her bed rather than Rachel’s. Rachel agrees and as a consequence of her night with Jacob, Leah bears a fifth son, Issachar and later a sixth son Zebulun and finally a daughter Dinah. During all this, God also remembered Rachel and she bore a son, Joseph.

After all this fruitful multiplying, Jacob asks Laban for leave to return to his homeland. Laban hesitates, he knows that he has profited by Jacob’s presence because of the Lord’s blessing. Laban again asks what wages Jacob would demand to remain in his service. Jacob replies that he demands no wages but that when he does leave, that he be allowed to take every dark-colored sheep and every spotted goat from his flock. Laban deviously agrees to this arrangement.

Leaving Jacob, Laban arranges for every sheep and goat matching Jacob’s description to be removed to the care of his sons miles away. The intention being, of course, to make sure Jacob gets nothing on his departure. Jacob, however, has a plan of his own. It was believed in these days that the offspring of an animal would resemble whatever the parents saw at the time of conception. So Jacob placed white shoots at the place where the normally dark-colored goats mated and arranged for the sheep to see other dark-colored animals while they were mating. By this arrangement, Jacob produced a mighty herd of animals with the appropriate coloration.

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Jacob Meets Rachel

Jacob resumes his journey and after a while comes to a well, capped with a huge stone, with three flocks of sheep around it. Jacob asks the herders where they’re from and they respond that they’re from Haran and that they know of Jacob’s uncle. As they say this, Laban’s daughter Rachel comes up to them with her flock. Jacob asks why the flocks are just sitting there; why don’t they water the sheep and then put them back to pasture since it is still early in the day. The herders respond that they can’t water until all the flocks are together; the JSB points out that the rock is too large to move without the help of all the shepherds together.

Jacob sees Rachel for the first time (and the size of his uncle’s flock) and is immediately smitten with both. In a Herculean effort brought about by his passion for Rachel (and the wealth represented by the flock perhaps), he moves the huge rock by himself and waters her flock. With little ceremony, Jacob kisses Rachel right there on the spot and tells her that he’s Rebekah’s son. Excited by the news, Rachel runs to her father who comes out to greet Jacob warmly.

Jacob stayed on with Laban for a month; when asked what he thinks his wages should be, Jacob replies that he would serve Laban for seven years in exchange for the hand of Rachel, his younger daughter. Laban agrees and Jacob serves him for seven years. At the end of the seven years, Jacob says to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is fulfilled, that I may cohabit with her.” Laban executes a huge feast in the couple’s honor and at the end manages to somehow slip Jacob his older and less attractive daughter Leah instead of Rachel. Not noticing the switch, Jacob marries Leah. Both sources explain that this may have been made possible by the cover or darkness or traditional veils worn for such occasions.

After discovering the switch, Jacob confronts Laban who explains coolly that elder daughters are always to be married first. The JSB suggests that perhaps Rachel herself had a hand in this arrangement in an attempt to save her sister the shame of remaining unmarried. Laban calms Jacob by telling him to wait until the bridal week is over and then he shall have Rachel too in exchange for another seven years of labor. As promised, Jacob and Rachel are also married soon after.

God looks down and sees that Leah is unloved so he ‘opens her womb’ but Rachel remains sterile. Leah conceives Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Apparently she wasn’t all that unloved.

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 28

In chapter 28, Genesis goes through a big plot reversal and we get a totally different line of reasoning for the departure of Jacob. The JSB attributes this to a change in authorship. The NASB ignores the conflict altogether.

Rebekah bemoans to Isaac that Jacob must not take a Canaanite wife. Isaac calls for Jacob and after giving him yet another blessing and instructing him vehemently that he must not have a Canaanite wife, he sends him to his uncle’s house to find a wife there. His wrath from chapter 27 is missing entirely. Meanwhile, Esau overhears Isaac’s instructions to Jacob and correctly deduces that marriage to the locals (including Hittites) is displeasing to his father. In a misguided attempt to make amends for his previous two marriages, Esau goes to the house of Ishmael and there takes yet another wife. Esau has gone from a vow to kill Jacob to an attempt to emulate him.

Jacob, now on his way to his Uncle’s house, camps for the night and sleeps with a rock for a pillow. That night, he dreams of a stairway (a ziggurat more likely, a stepped pyramid) leading to heaven with angels walking up and down. The Lord comes to him and promises him the land on which he rests for the use of his descendants and reminds him that he will always be with him. Jacob awakens and immediately erects a pillar to God in the place and renames the place Bethel, “house of God.” The chapter closes with Jacob’s somewhat self-serving promise that if the Lord sees him safely back to his father’s house, he will set aside a tithe for him.

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This post is one of a multi-part series. To view the rest of this information or find out what the microscope photos are actually pictures of, visit our main website at http://www.tatteredthread.com/

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 27

Years later, Isaac lays dying and blind from old age. He calls Esau to his side and asks him to hunt some game and with it prepare a meal for him with the promise that when he returns, he will give him his final blessing before he dies. Rebekah is listening in the next room and as Esau goes to hunt, she begins plotting with Jacob.

Over Jacob’s objection that they’ll get caught, the two devise a plan by which Jacob can steal Esau’s final blessing from his father. Jacob dresses in Esau’s clothing and fetches a goat for the meal. His mother prepares the goats for the meal while Jacob dresses in their skin to mimic the hairiness of his brother. Their preparations made, Jacob enters his father’s room with the meal. Immediately suspicious, Isaac feels his son’s arms and smells him to confirm his identity. Though the voice is not right, Isaac is apparently assured that he is the correct son and gives Jacob his blessing. In it, Jacob is made master over his brothers. Based on the law of the day, a deathbed blessing such as this was looked upon as legally binding. So despite the deception, it could not be reversed.

Not longer after the deed was done, Esau returns from his hunting and finds quickly that his blessing has been given to his deceitful brother. After much bewailing, Esau is offered a lesser blessing. Esau is doomed to serve his brother but promised that eventually he will break free from his servitude. Furious, Esau vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah overhears this as well and sends Jacob off to stay with his uncle Laban in Haran while his brother cools off. To cover her tracks, Rebekah goes to Isaac and rants that Jacob must not take a Hittite wife and therefore must be sent away.

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 26

The land was in the grip of famine so Isaac went to Philistine where Abimelech was king; the Lord directs him to stay out of Egypt but rather to reside in Philistine and he would fulfill the oath he had sworn to Abraham. The usual promise is made, “I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven,” etc since Abraham kept God’s commandments.

So Isaac stayed in Gerar and, like his father, claimed his wife was his sister to avoid difficulties with the local ruling class. This time, before the usual damage can be done, Abimelech sees the two “fondling” each other and calls Isaac in to explain himself. For a change, the confronted man tells the truth and Abimelech issues an edict that no one is to bother either of them on penalty of death.

Isaac remained there and eventually became exceedingly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that the Philistines became jealous, filled his wells with earth and kick him out altogether. Isaac settles in a nearby valley in which his father had previously encamped but again quarrels with the locals over water rights. After several attempts, they finally find a spot where they can remain unmolested. After they’re settled, they receive a visit from the king. He states simply that, “We now see plainly that the Lord has been with you” and that they have come in search of a truce. Isaac grants the truce and they seal the deal with a feast.

When Esau was forty, he took two wives, both Hittites. Isaac and Rebekah are more than a little displeased that their son married outside his clan.

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 25

After Sarah’s death, Abraham takes another wife, Keturah. She bore him six more children. All of Abraham’s possessions were still willed to Isaac, however. His other sons received gifts while Abraham was still alive. Abraham died at 175 and was buried in the same field with his wife by Isaac and Ishmael.

Twelve sons were born to Ishmael and each formed the head of a tribe. Ishmael lived to 137.

Isaac was 40 when he took Rebekah as his wife; she, like Isaac’s mother, was barren until Isaac pleaded with the Lord on her behalf. When she did conceive, it was with twins. The Lord told Rebekah that the sons within her would both be the originators of a great many people but that the older would be subservient to the younger. The eldest twin was covered with red hair; his name was Esau, the younger, Jacob.

Esau grew to be a skilled outdoorsman while Jacob was a quiet homebody. Isaac favored his eldest son because of his taste for game while his wife favored the quieter son. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, his brother came in from the field half starved. Esau asked for some of the stew but Jacob refused unless Esau should swear away his birthright to him. Esau impulsively agrees, trading his rich inheritance for a cup of soup.

This post is one of a multi-part series. To view the rest of this information or find out what the microscope photos are actually pictures of, visit our main website at http://www.tatteredthread.com/

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 24

Abraham, now really old, calls his senior servant to him (the NASB identifies this person as Eliezer of Damascus) and orders him to find a wife for his son Isaac and makes him swear that it shall not be anyone from Canaan but that he will go back to Abraham’s birthplace to seek her. He makes his servant seal this oath by placing his “hand under my thigh.” The NASB indicates this is to be taken literally; the JSB specifies that this is actually a euphemism for grasping Abraham’s penis to complete the vow.

Abraham further specifies that the woman found must return to Abraham’s land and that only if the woman found does not agree to return with him should he be released from his vow. The servant thus sets off to Nahor. Once there, he sets down to water the camels and kneels to say a prayer. He asks the Lord to guide him in his quest. The servant says that he will ask a woman coming to the well for a drink and asks that God’s chosen should not only offer him a drink but also offer to water the camels. The words are barely from the servant’s mouth when Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, should appear. The servant asks her the proposed question and she gives the appropriate answer, marking her in the servant’s mind as the chosen wife.

The servant offers her a gold nose-ring [JSB] or a gold ring [NASB] and two gold arm-bands [JSB] or two gold bracelets [NASB] and asks who her parents are and if there is room for his retinue to encamp with her household for the night. She replies with her parentage and indicates there is room for him. Rebekah runs inside to tell the family of the stranger and the sight of the gold jewelry immediately activates the hospitality of all. Before eating, the servant relates his story and asks if Rebekah will leave with him. The family consents and in return all are showered with rich gifts of gold and silver. She then receives the blessings of her family and departs. The party returns uneventfully to their home where Isaac takes Rebekah as his wife.

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On Religion

Much ado has been made about the various grand accomplishments of mankind over the centuries. Scholars point to the great pyramids and the other seven wonders of the ancient world as Herculean monuments to man’s genius and modern thinkers consider the computer, modern medicine or skyscrapers as the pinnacle of human achievement. All of these wonders of man’s creation are child’s toys though when compared with his greatest work, his magnum opus, religion.

The primary thing to remember about all these manmade wonders is that they are mere passing fancies. A lot of work went into the Pyramids but they’re done and for the most part, no one has laid hand to them since. They took decades to build and are indeed grand engineering wonders but they had only limited influence over future generations. Currently we’re in the midst of a computing boom and it seems in the context of today’s world that computers are the ultimate answer to man’s needs on this Earth. Some day soon, though, this too shall pass and computing will go by the wayside just as the Pyramids and Gardens of Babylon did when their time had passed.

Religion is a totally different beast; mankind has been working on and refining his religious practices since the first people sat by a fire and gazed up at the stars and shared stories about great hunters in the sky and forest spirits. The religious practices of today are an incredibly well-tuned and marvelous achievement in man’s quest to bring some grand overarching meaning to his existence and to enforce a code of behavior on his society. They are the result of the work of thousands of years of human effort and undergo constant refinement. Of all man’s creative works, religion is the one we’ve stuck with the longest and put the most energy into. Even today, some of our greatest minds spend their time honing their respective religions to have the greatest possible appeal to the rest of the humans on the planet. When you look at religions today in a purely analytical light, their architecture is almost like that of a biological organism. They have complex facilities for the recruitment and retention of followers which include well-formulated answers to many of the recurring questions of human existence. Lastly, they each contain a code of conduct intended to not only protect the people involved but also protect the interest and livelihood of the church itself.

Recruitment
The primary means of recruiting new inductees for a religion is simply by having your existing members give birth. Religious parents live in dire fear that their offspring will leave the fold and be subjected to the punishments promised to the unfaithful. In many cases, the parents even send the children to special schools for the specific purpose of making sure that the children stay within the religion the parents have chosen. Sometimes ritual mutilation is used to permanently mark children as initiates of a religion but generally the rites of induction are primarily ceremonial and educational for the child born into a religious home.

In addition to birth-based recruiting, almost all religions have directives in their texts to recruit new souls for their cause. To aid in the execution of these directives, the authorities in a religion also provide strong moral and spiritual arguments to be used to persuade the new candidates. Invariably there is a grand and generally vague reward for those who are faithful to the religion and a horrific punishment for those who are not. The punishments are usually much more specifically described than the rewards. Through a process of threat and reward, new souls are drawn from religions with weaker arguments and rewards into those with stronger ones. Religions have developed a wide range of intellectual and coercive arguments to fit many different types of people. The simplest of these generally depend on the liberal use of fear, the promise that if the person fails to profess allegiance with the religion being offered that they will suffer horribly or that they’ll miss out on some great opportunity. Typically these amount to some form of salvation after death or the promise of wealth and success in life. The most blatant and appalling of these actually tell their followers that if they will give money to the church then the benevolent God will return it to them in the form of an even greater personal blessing of some sort.

Retention
Once the initiate accepts the religion, retention is typically a much simpler matter. The threats used to bring the person into the religion in the first place are still present but they are supplemented by a much more powerful positive force, a strong sense of community and fellowship. Humans require friendly contact with other humans so religions supply this fellowship by requiring periodic meetings of their members. These vary from several times a day to several times a week but the function is the same. Through the camaraderie of seeing and speaking with others of the same faith, the bond of religion is strengthened and renewed. The religious leaders will also organize additional activities, especially for the younger members, which are intended to be fun and diverting to build a psychological link in the follower’s mind between the fun activity and the church which organized it. Religions also typically collect some form of material wealth from their followers in the form of tithes. In addition to helping support the ongoing activities of the church, it also gives the person giving the tithe a feeling that they’re contributing towards some greater material good in the world.

Rules
Sociologically, religion’s greatest contribution to mankind is the establishment of a more or less universal set of social rules. For the most part, the religions of the world agree on these rules and they boil down to the simple premise that you should treat people as nicely as you’d like to be treated. These rules act as a safeguard to the welfare of the members of the church but often include directives intended to advance the church. Churches tend to prohibit activities which would diminish the number of followers born into the church by outlawing birth control and non-procreative sex. Most also command their followers to tell others about their faith to help swell the ranks of the faithful.

In summary, religion is the most intricately constructed creation in the history of mankind and has consumed more time and energy than any other work this species has undertaken. Whether this is a good or bad thing is left primarily as an exercise for the reader. Clearly religion has had it’s positive and negative results during our history but there’s no way to know how our would we be different without this most elegant of social constructs.

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The Bible – Genesis – Chapter 23

Sarah dies at the age of 126 in the land of Canaan. Abraham grieved for his wife but was soon forced to face the logistical difficulties of obtaining burial space for her in a foreign land. He first asks his Hittite hosts to sell him only a burial space. They reply that he should have any space he should choose for nothing as he’s the ‘elect of God.’ Abraham responds by choosing a cave on the land of Ephron. Ephron refuses to sell just the plot of land for the burial and instead insists that Abraham buy the entire field in order to extricate himself (at least according to the NASB) from local taxes on that land. Abraham, over a barrel, agrees and pays the outlandish sum of 400 shekels of silver. Sarah is then laid to rest in the cave aforementioned.

This post is one of a multi-part series. To view the rest of this information or find out what the microscope photos are actually pictures of, visit our main website at http://www.tatteredthread.com/

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