Sunday, August 27, 2017

In honor of Houston... of Texas... and our future... a chapter from EARTH.

While offering up hopes and prayers for our fellow citizens in Texas, here let me give you all an Excerpt from my novel, EARTH (1990), presenting a glimpse of Texan resilience in the near future:
------
They were still pumping out Houston from last week's hurricane when she got into town. Teresa found it stunning how the city was transformed by the calamity. Avenues of inundated shops rippled mysteriously just below floodline, their engulfed wares glimmering like sunken treasure.
The towering glass office blocks were startling vistas of blue and white and aquamarine, reflecting the summer sky above and bright-flecked waters below.
Limp in the humidity, rows of canted trees marked the drowned borderlines of street and sidewalk. Their stained trunks testified to even higher inundations, in the past. Under fluffy clouds pushed by a torpid breeze, Houston struck Teresa like some hyper-modernist's depiction of Venice, before that lamented city's final submergence. A wonderful assortment of boats, canoes, kayaks and even gondolas negotiated side streets, while makeshift water taxis plowed the boulevards, ferrying commuters from their residential arcologies to the shimmering office towers. With typical Texan obstinacy, nearly half the population had refused evacuation this time. In fact, Teresa reckoned some actually reveled living among the craggy cliffs of this manmade archipelago.
From the upper deck of the bus she saw the sun escape a cloud, setting the surrounding glazed monoliths ablaze. Most of the other passengers instantly and unconsciously turned away, adjusting broad-brimmed hats and polarized glasses to hide from the harsh rays. The only exceptions she saw were a trio of Ra-boys, in sleeveless mesh shirts and gaudy earrings, who faced the bright heat with relish, soaking in it worshipfully.
Teresa took a middle path when the sun emerged. She didn't react at all. It was, after all, only a stable class G star, well-behaved and a safe distance removed. Certainly, it was less dangerous down here than up in orbit.
Oh, she took all the proper precautions -- she wore a hat and mild yellow glasses. But thereafter she simply dismissed the threat from her mind. Any real danger of skin cancer was minor if you stayed alert and caught it early. Certainly the odds compared favorably with those of dying in a heli-zep accident.
That wasn't why she'd avoided taking a heli today, skipping that direct route from Clear Lake, where the NASA dikes had withstood Hurricane Abdul's fury. Teresa used a roundabout route today to make sure she wasn't being followed. It also provided an opportunity to collect her thoughts before stepping from frying pan to fire.
Anyway, how many more chances would she have to experience this wonder of American conceit, this spectacle that was Houston Defiant? Either the city moguls would eventually succeed in their grand, expensive plan -- to secure the dikes, divert the water table, and stabilize everything on massive pylons -- or the entire metropolis would soon join Galveston under the Gulf of Mexico, along with large patches of Louisiana and poor Florida. Either way, this scene would be one to tell her grandchildren about.
-- assuming grandchildren, of course.
The water-bus passed a perseverant shopkeeper peddling his soaked fashions from pontoons under a sign that read, “PRE-SHRUNK, GUARANTEED SALT RESISTANT". Nearby, a cafe owner had set up tables, chairs and umbrellas atop the roof of one of their bus's stranded, wheeled cousins, and was doing a brisk business. Their driver delicately maneuvered around this enterprise, and the cluster of parked kayaks and dinghies surrounding it, then negotiated one of the shallow reefs of abandoned bicycles before regaining momentum on Lyndon Johnson Avenue.
“They ought to keep it this way," Teresa commented softly, to no one in particular. “It's charming."
“Amen to that, sister."
With a momentary jerk of surprise, Teresa glanced toward the Ra-boys and saw what she had not noticed before, that one of them wore a quasi-legal Big-Ear amplifier. He returned her evaluation speculatively, touching the rims of his sunglasses, making them briefly go transparent so she could catch his leer.
“Water makes the old town sexy," he said, sauntering closer. “Don'tcha think? I love the way the sunlight bounces off of everything."
Teresa decided not to point out the minor irregularity, that he wore no sign advertising his eavesdropping device. Only in her innermost thoughts... and her lumpy left pocket... did she have anything to hide.
“You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She answered, giving him a measured look he could take as neither insult nor invitation. It didn't work. He sauntered forward, planted one foot on the seat next to her, leaned forward, and rubbed the close-cropped fuzz covering his cranium.
“Water serves the sun, don't ya know? We're supposed to let it come on come on come. It's just one of His ways o' lovin', see? Coverin' Earth like a strong man covers a woman, gently, irresistibly... wetly."
Fresh patches of pink skin showed where over-the-counter creams had recently cleared away precancerous areas. In fact, Ra-boys weren't many more times as likely to develop the really deep, untreatable melanoma tumors than other people. But their blotchy complexions heightened the image they desired -- of dangerous fellows without respect for life. Young studs with nothing to lose.
Teresa felt the other passengers tense. Several made a point of turning toward the young toughs, aiming their True-Vus at them like vigilant, crime-fighting heroes of an earlier era. To these the boys offered desultory, almost obligatory gestures of self-expression. Most of the riders just turned away, withdrawing behind shadow and opaque lenses.
Teresa thought both reactions a bit sad. I hear it's even worse in some cities up north. They're nothing but teenagers, for heaven's sake. Why can't people just relax?
She herself found the Ra-boys less frightening than pathetic. She'd heard of the fad, of course, and seen young men dressed this way at a few parties Jason took her to before his last mission. But this was her first encounter with sun-worshippers in daylight, which separated nighttime poseurs from the real thing.
“Nice metaphors," she commented. “Are you sure you didn't go to school?"
Already flushed from the heat, the bare-shouldered youth actually darkened several shades as his two friends laughed aloud. Teresa had no wish to make him angry. Dismembering a citizen -- even in self defense -- wouldn't help her now-precarious position with the agency. Placatingly, she held up one hand.
“Let's go over them, shall we? Now you seem to be implying the rise in sea level was caused by your sun deity. But everyone knows the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting because of the Greenhouse Effect --"
“Yeah, yeah," the Ra-boy interrupted. “But the greenhouse gases keep in heat that originates with the sun."
“Those gases were man-made, were they not?"
He smiled smugly. “Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides from cars and TwenCen factories, sure. But where'd it all come from originally? Oil! Gas! Coal! All buried and hoarded by Her Nibs long ago, cached away under her skin like blubber. But all the energy in the oil an' coal -- the reason our grempers dug and drilled into Old Gaia in the first place -- that came from the sun!"
He bent closer. “Now though, we're no longer enslaved to Her precious hoard of stolen fossil fat-fuel. It's all gone up in smoke, wonderful smoke. Bye bye.” He aimed a kiss at the clouds. “And there's nowhere else to turn anymore but to the source itself!"
Ra-worshippers were backers of solar energy, while the more numerous Gaians pushed wind power and conservation instead. As a spacer, Teresa ironically found her sympathies coinciding with the group whose appearance and style were the more repulsive. Probably all she had to do was let these fellows know she was an astronaut, and all threat and bluster would evaporate. Honestly though, she liked them better this way -- loud, boisterous, reeking of testosterone and overcompensation -- than she would as fawning admirers.
“This city ain't gonna last long anyway," the Ra-Boy continued, waving at the great towers, up to their steel ankles in Gulf waters. “They can build their levees, drive piles, try to patch the holes. But sooner or later, it's all goin' the way of Miami.”
“Fecund jungle's gonna spread --” one of the others crooned through a gauzy, full-backup mouth-synthesizer. Presumably it was a line from a popular song, though she didn't recognize it.
The growling motors changed pitch as it approached another stop. Meanwhile, the leader leaned even closer to Teresa. “Yessiree, blistery! The Old Lady's gonna brim with life again. There'll be lions roaming Saskatchewan. Flamingoes flocking Greenland! And all 'cause of Ra's rough lovin'."
Poor fellow, Teresa thought. She saw through his pose of macho heliolatry. Probably he was a pussycat, and the only danger he presented came from his desperate anxiety not to let that show.
The Ra-boy frowned as he seemed to detect something in her smile. Trying harder to set her aback, he bared his teeth in a raffish grin. “Rough, wet loving. It's what women like. No less Big Mama Gaia. No?"
Across the aisle, a woman wearing an Orb of the Mother pendant glared sourly at the Ra-boy. He noticed, turned, and lolled his tongue at her, causing her fashionably fair skin to flush. Not wearing True Vus, she quickly looked away.
He stood up, turning to sweep in the other passengers. “Ra melts the glaciers! He woos her with his heat. He melts her frigid infundibulum with warm waters. He ..."
The Ra-boy stammered to a halt. Blinking, he swept aside his dark glasses and looked left and right, seeking Teresa.
He spotted her at last, standing on the jerry-rigged third-floor landing of the Gibraltar Building. As the waterbus pulled away again, raising salty spumes in its wake, she blew a kiss toward the sun worshipper and his comrades. They were still staring back at her, with their masked eyes and patchy pink skins, as the boat driver accelerated to catch a yellow at First Street, barely making it across before the light changed.
“So long, harmless," she said after the dwindling Ra-boy. Then she nodded to the doorman as he grinned and ushered her inside.
--------
That's from chapter 22 of EARTH (1990). See the wiki fans run about my predictions from EARTH! Of course I needn't point out other themes, like citizen smart mobs equipped with cameras who had pretty much ended crime a decade earlier, resulting in mass layoffs of police. Or Climate Change, duh? Well it wasn't duh in 1987. (See also a reading discussion guide to the novel.)
Oh, speaking of Texas and Houston, here's prescient and extremely relevant wisdom from the city's namesake and a mighty Texan-American. Good luck Texas! The Union stands with you. And now back to our regular rhythm....

116 comments:

Steven Hammond said...

Thanks, David. I liked it and had a look at the predictions wiki as well which was interesting.

While pondering the melting ice caps and climate change, I thought I'd ask if anyone here had seen this fairly recent paper regarding the platinum anomaly at the Younger Dryas boundary layer which adds evidence to the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis? https://www.nature.com/articles/srep44031?WT.feed_name=subjects_chemistry

I became interested in this after watching an old episode of the Time Team archaeology show on youtube where Allen West (one of this paper's authors) was discussing the theory. It appears the hypothesis has had its ups and down--being written off by some opponents prematurely, perhaps. In any event, this theory seems to have many implications especially in regards to megafauna extinctions, climate change and paleo-cultures in the Americas. I have no expertise in this area, BTW.

locumranch said...


From the last to the current thread:

From his erroneous declaration of Marxism being 'just an economic theory' (as well as his apparent ignorance of Marx's 'Communist Manifesto') to his insensitive use of the racially offensive 'maroon' derogatory, our friend Larry_H may have a point about the rather unsurprising alliance between ISIS-like extremist groups & other political rebels who appear more legitimate.

Let's use SYRIA as a case in point: First, we have Assad's oppressive totalitarian regime (aka the 'recognised authority or tyrant'); second, we have brave & democracy-minded rebels (Yay Democracy!); third, the freedom-fighting pro-terrorist Kurds (aka 'the PKK'); fourth, we have the Assad-defying Turkmen racial supremacists; fifth, we have the Assad-defying Sunni extremists known as ISIS; sixth, we have the pro-Rebel anti-ISIS US led NATO coalition; and, sixth, we have the pro-Assad anti-ISIS & rebel hating Russians.

In 20 words or less, please distinguish the 'Good Guys' from the 'Bad Guys', remembering always that the Pro-Democracy Rebels are allied with ISIS against Assad & the Russians who are also fighting the Kurdish Terrorist PKK who are allied with the US Coalition against ISIS & Assad who are allied against the Turkmen who are allied with both ISIS & the US Coalition against the Kurdish Terrorists.

Either DISCUSS or ADMIT that your cherished belief in the Dichotomy of Good & Evil is a grotesque moral oversimplification.

Now, from the excerpt of 'Earth' above, DISCUSS how Teresa & the Union helped all those harmless Ra-boys or ADMIT that they only offered dismissive mockery (as in 'So long, harmless') rather than any sort of help.

Good luck Texas! The Union stands with you, just as it stood with New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, just like it stood on the neck of the Old Confederacy. Either the feds stand with you or they stand on you, depending on pomp, circumstance & the perceived threat you represent, and on that you can always depend . And, so long to you, Texas, assuming that you remain harmless



Best
________

Two choices for Steven_H: (1) Forget the 'Platinum Anomaly at the Younger Dryas' Hypothesis as it distracts from the Just World Fallacy because who's gonna fight the good fight against climate change (or dedicate themselves to an upright moral life of self-sacrifice) IF an asteroid strike or volcanic eruption can kill us all at random intervals. Or (2) Embrace the randomness of fate, ignore the climate change hysteria, try to get the hell off this doomed rock of ours and/or eat, drink & be merry because tomorrow we die.

Jumper said...

Ignore the hysteria. Yes.

https://eic.rsc.org/soundbite/a-real-fake-tan-melanin-minus-mutation/3007873.article
New drug makes melanin increase. I think it was Bruce Sterling who posited this, with lifeguards, surfers and hipsters as first adopters, but my memory could be faulty. I hope this is not seen as cultural appropriation; I'd like to see its widespread use.

In '68's Clockwork Orange all the older housewives have green, blue, purple or crimson hair. How off-putting at the time. We were supposed to believe this was some fad of the future? Now of course in 2017 it's common to see a 40-something woman with green hair shopping.

So I expect malanin enhancement will start off fringe, get going in Hollywood. Then the extreme triple-dosing among the what-the-hell slackers, and two decades after that all the older ladies who used to be white will be black as the ace of spades for stylistic reasons wanting to seem youthful.

David Brin said...

Steven Hammond, I am interested in the Dryas hypothesis indeed.

Locumranch is at his best! Saying a few things that are true… e.g. that Marxism is more than an economic theory. Like Freud, Karl made brilliant observations and contemporary analyses, then let himself be flattered and suckered into making grand (and teleologically-loony) extrapolations…

…and that Syria is a bloody mess without any good guys… though at least the Kurds respect their women a bit and sometimes vote a little and have kept internal peace and development.

Though locum’s bias as a Putin-loving puppet warps all judgements.

“Either DISCUSS or ADMIT that your cherished belief in the Dichotomy of Good & Evil is a grotesque moral oversimplification.”

Bah. Strawman. Generally, there are spectra. And I dissed all the liberals who proclaimed Ronald Reagan to be “evil.” He did some evil things as a pawn of the then emerging (now dominant) oligarchy, but he was still on a spectrum. The US right still contained many decent folks who promoted Supply Side Voodoo cause it SOUNDED as if it might work.

In contrast to today’s confederacy7 which genuinely is evil at its core, promoting fast restoration of plantation lord feudalism in alliance with outright treason, glorified idiocracy and BoR relishing of looming armageddon. Um… what’s not to denounce?

He identifies with … Ra-boys? Oh! Yes! He does! It all makes sense! (Oh, but it wasn’t liberals or dems or smartypants who betrayed New Orleans, fool.)

Tony Fisk said...

@jumper. I saw Clockwork Orange a while ago.

We have problems, of course, but how relieved I was to see that it didn't depict the society I see today.

I skimmed. As if the random capitalisations weren't enough of a tip-off, loco goes full rapture-mode at the end. First they ignore, then they deride, then they threaten, then they delay, then they claim it's all too late...
Meh.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin quoting locumranch:

“Either DISCUSS or ADMIT that your cherished belief in the Dichotomy of Good & Evil is a grotesque moral oversimplification.”


Well, that's easy. Admit, of course. Except its his dichotomy, not ours.


He identifies with … Ra-boys? Oh! Yes! He does! It all makes sense! (Oh, but it wasn’t liberals or dems or smartypants who betrayed New Orleans, fool.)


Loc equates anything the federal government does with urban progressives. Which makes it kinda weird when his red-state Republicans are the ones running the place. Like somehow, it's the fault of progressives that mom and pop stores are run out of town by Walmart, but Republicans will save them!

Jumper said...

What's a Ra-boy?

LarryHart said...

My in-laws live in Austin, fortunately (for now) getting not much more than a Noah's Ark level rainstorm. They're on very high ground, so they seem to be ok. What an age we live in that instantaneous communication is possible.

And locumranch can go screw himself.

LarryHart said...

Jumper,

In the novel, Ra-boys worship the sun (Ra being the Egyptian sun god). They avoid using sun-screen despite the depleted ozone layer which allows "sleeting ultraviolet" directly to the surface. They're the masculinist cult of the book's world. Loc would feel right at home.

They'd also be the ones to look directly at an eclipse a la Donald Trump, and for much the same reason--"You can't tell me what not to do!"

locumranch said...



Jumper, It was Larry Niven (circa 1970) who had his characters popping melatonin pills in space.

And 'Rah Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah, Weagle Weagle , War Damn Eagle, Kick em in the butt, Big Blue' to the rest of you if you think that any of your elected Republicrat or Democan representatives would take a bullet for you or the place where you live.


Best

David Brin said...

Jumper, try reading the post itself?

Robert said...

locu, I have faith in my fellow men and women. Yes, I do believe that the Democrats in Congress for my state (which is so firmly Blue it's sad, excepting for the fact that Republican politicians are almost uniformly apeshit insane and need to be tossed out the airlock) WOULD throw themselves at me to try and keep me safe from a gunman. But then, I also believe that quite a few Republican voters would as well.

Why? Because we as individuals are better than you think, locu. And that you think otherwise? Is quite sad. I feel sorry for you and that mindset you are stuck in. It's not healthy. It's going to gnaw at your side, give you ulcers, and finally kill you at a young age.

*holds out a hand* Here. Join us. Take a chance. Have faith in people. Ultimately? It's the only way to truly live. Because if we work together, if we trust each other? We will thrive.

Rob H. who has lurked and been distracted by other stuff of late, but still reads the blog

David Brin said...

Is "He" rendering judgement on this?
http://www.npr.org/2017/08/27/546391430/texas-becoming-a-magnet-for-conservatives-fleeing-liberal-states-like-california

Steven Hammond said...

I'm glad you're interested in the YDIH, @David. The science in the article seems sound to me, but someone will need to replicate the results of this paper and (I suspect someone is doing this right now.) It does seem that measuring platinum levels at the appropriate boundary layer is easier and more replicable than looking for nano diamonds and melted spherules there. Platinum seems to be an easier proxy to measure for an impact event. Also, the Greenland ice core data showing the same platinum spike at the boundary layer is strong corroborative evidence.

Regardless, it's very fascinating to me and brings up so many questions. Where was the impact--on the ice sheet or land--and is there a crater? If it hit the ice sheet, did freshwater melt effect the Gulf Stream? Are the Carolina Bays ice impact craters? What were the mechanisms of megafauna extinctions (mammoths/mastodons, dire wolves, giant ground sloths, the american lion, short-faced bear, camels in the americas etc). Was very quick in the form of wildfires and death of the plants the herbivore megafauna ate, or change in climate changes resulting in insurmountable changes in the ecosystem etc.

If the impact hypothesis appears likely, does that make the "overkill hypothesis" theory of Pleistocene megafauna extinction go away? What about ideas such as "Pleistocene Rewilding"? If the prime mover in late Pleistocene extinctions was a comet or asteroid and not human action, is there any moral force behind proposals for that? (Though I still think Pleistocene rewinding would be frickin' AWESOME!) ;) I do like history though, and if living my life over again might be a paleobiologist instead of a clinical gastroenterologist.


Lastly, in regards to exotic skin and hair color changes for fashion, I am reminded of the popularity of "black patches" described by Samuel Pepys in his diaries in the time of Charles II. Fashion is weird to me...

Here's a link: http://aquaeyeshadow.blogspot.com/2011/11/face-patches.html

Paul SB said...

Rob,

Do you remember a discussion we had here a couple years ago about optimism vs. pessimism? We can to some of the same conclusions. Being the eternal pessimist makes a person vigilant, ever on guard for ways in which he might be cheated. That constant vigilance turns the majority of them into paranoiacs who drive away the benefits of friends and allies, and justifies their isolation with smug superiority and contempt. Ultimately they may not die particularly young, but they most certainly create their own misery, both emotionally and from all the stress-related illnesses they cause themselves. An optimist might get ripped off once in awhile, but they learn from, keep smiling on, and are much happier people for it.

Don't be surprised if locum bites your offered hand. It's in his methylations by now.

Paul SB said...

I heard a bit of this on the radio driving home awhile ago, and it hits on the major theme of that book Dr. Brin referenced a few months ago called "Born Anxious" as well as much of Robert Sapolsky's research. Last time I heard a forecast of the economy, they mentioned the labor force participation rate, and it occurred to me that we tend to look on those who are not actively seeking work as lazy good-for-nothings, but given the numbers of people who have crippling disabilities, maybe that harsh, oh-so-Republican judgement is misplaced. Any scientist will tell you that science is not about politics, and rarely does it support one side or the other. Science is all about the complexities of the real world we live in, but you can't get complexities on a lawn sign or bumper sticker.

Here's a case where the implications clearly shoot down one side of the partizan fence. The right wing has always used assumptions about genetics to justify their policy choices. They believe that people who are wealthy got that way by being smart, and smart is something you are born with. Poor people, on the other hand, are stupid and genetically inferior. They reason that therefore it is unethical top tax the rich to support the poor, because any of the hard-earned money you give to those worthless, smelly poor people will do them no good. They are incurably stupid, or inferior in other genetically-determined ways. This same determinism is behind a lot of racism and sexism.

The science of genetics has come to realize that it is not so simple. Epigenetic shows that the environment changes the expression of genes, so it is no longer written in stone that DNA determines things like intelligence, susceptibility to disease or a host of other traits that stalk you more the further down the ladder you reside. This article goes into the role early life adversity plays in adult health. Controlling for usual suspects like drug use, alcohol tobacco and bad diet, it has been shown that growing up in bad neighborhoods dramatically increases people's susceptibility to both physical and mental diseases.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/25/545092982/nadine-burke-harris-how-does-trauma-affect-a-childs-dna

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re- Comet theory for extinctions

The problem that I can see is that we need multiple impacts at just the correct times to account for the extinctions of the MegaFauna in
Asia, Europe, Australia, America, New Zealand

Whereas the common factor of the advent of Man seems a bit easier to understand

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Do you remember a discussion we had here a couple years ago about optimism vs. pessimism? We can to some of the same conclusions.


My dad:
"The optimist says 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' and the pessimist agrees with him."

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Is "He" rendering judgement on this?


If so, His aim is bad. Houston is one of the more liberal areas in Texas.

More to the point, will Ted Cruz be consistent with his stance during Hurricane Sandy and vote against federal aid for hurricane victims?

Steven Hammond said...

@ Duncan Cairncross, you saidRe- Comet theory for extinctions

"The problem that I can see is that we need multiple impacts at just the correct times to account for the extinctions of the MegaFauna in
Asia, Europe, Australia, America, New Zealand

Whereas the common factor of the advent of Man seems a bit easier to understand"

Yeah, the Quaternary Extinction events were NOT simultaneous, so there are likely multiple factors in play. That being said, there DO appear to be 30+ genera that went extinct apparently right at the onset of the Younger Dryas. Might some species have lingered on in a very different environment until other stressors led to extinction? I think it's likely. Also, the impact is not thought to be anything near as violent as the K-T event so the results would play out differently as well.

My own suspicion is that many species were already stressed from human interaction and the impact event killed off some in various ways and others hung around for awhile but were already in a death spiral. Pure speculation, of course, but if the hypothesis becomes more accepted, then the fine points can be sorted out to some degree. I suppose, based on the evidence, one could suppose there was a significant extra-terrestrial impact event that left the residue at the YD boundary layer but had no real effect. That seems to be unlikely to me.

Tony Fisk said...

Not quite a bullet, but the Houston PD are asking the public for volunteers with boats to help ferry the stranded. The response.

David Brin said...


Duncan, multiple impacts from a broken-up comet are very possible.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
"multiple impacts from a broken-up comet are very possible"

Yes - but thousands of years apart?

David Brin said...

The Perseids and Gemenids each came from a single comet. They rain on us from the same direction on the same day every year.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I suppose it is possible that the comet falls are timed and locates such that every time humans invaded a new continent a few bits of comet land on that continent and exterminate the megafauna that has happily lived through many previous climatic shifts

Possible - but not very likely

Tony Fisk said...

Paleontologists have been able to map the decline of megafauna in an area fairly precisely from the drop in spore density of a dung loving fungus in the soil.

The extinction wave that travels across Siberia W-E is quite pronounced.

Paul451 said...

Steven,
"What about ideas such as "Pleistocene Rewilding"?"

The problem with Pleistocene Rewilding is that the only remaining megafauna is that which co-evolved with humans, which tends to require human intervention to maintain population control. With native US large herbivores you just throw in some native large predators are suddenly their whole behaviour changes. With African herbivores, such as elephants (one of PW's targets for North America to replicate the mammoth/mastodon), even lions aren't enough to control their numbers.

There isn't much megafauna left that can roughly self-balance without humans. (Which is surely the aim. What's the point of introducing a species if you have to kill a third of them off every ten years?)

Paul451 said...

Oops. "PW" was meant to abbreviate the group named Pleistocene Rewilding because I don't know how letters work.

Paul451 said...

Comet/human timing coincidence.

It is possible, I guess, that humans expanded in the wake of a regional comet impact. Both because of climate shifts for a year or ten messing with local food sources, and because it opened up ecosystem opportunities in new habitats. A combination of "Whelp, we better try somewhere else" and "Hey, look, predator numbers are down in Scary Cat Valley".

But yeah, seems like the most parsimonious answer is just people, entering a new area, plucking the low-hanging fruit, until they've changes the shape of the orchard.

(Aside: In northern Australia, there's a native tradition/law against hunting animals that don't flee. Presumably at some point they noticed that hunting got harder next year when you killed the easiest-to-kill critters this year.)

Steven Hammond said...

Paul451 said: "It is possible, I guess, that humans expanded in the wake of a regional comet impact. Both because of climate shifts for a year or ten messing with local food sources, and because it opened up ecosystem opportunities in new habitats. A combination of "Whelp, we better try somewhere else" and "Hey, look, predator numbers are down in Scary Cat Valley"."

I think the impact on the humans (at least in North America) was likely more extensive than due to whatever happened at the onset of the YD. Remember the Clovis culture was really very widespread at the time but then...gone. Right at the YD onset. A catastrophic event that shattered and fragmented the Paleo-Indian culture of the time appears plausible to me.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr. Brin said, "Is "He" rendering judgement on this? "

"He" always did have shitty aim. The areas of Texas most impacted by Harvey are blue Democratic areas.

Paul SB said...

Zepp,

It makes me wonder how the Grope Administration will respond to this disaster. The Shrub's lack of response to Hurricane Katrina made him look like the moron he is. Might Trump decide to do little for this hurricane because it is mostly affecting "losers" (a.k.a. people who aren't spectacularly wealthy)? If he fails as abysmally at this as Bush Jr. did with his big hurricane, his approval rating will plunge even more, causing him to lose even more Republican support.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Paul SB said, "It makes me wonder how the Grope Administration will respond to this disaster."

There was a disquieting presser with Gov Abbott, who praised FEMA and Chairman Trump to the skies for the magnificent job they had done in dealing with Harvey.

Of course, with the disaster still unfolding, FEMAs role is pretty much limited to getting food and water to shelters the city and state already set up--the "Lily Pads". It's far too early to judge FEMA--or Trump's--response.

Watching him, I felt like shouting, "Blink twice if you are being held against your will." The whole thing sounded forced and coerced.

I think Trump is making a mistake going to Houston tomorrow, and taking the Slavic arm candy with him. We're still in the "rescue" portion of dealing with the flooding, and indications are it's going to worsen again tonight. They don't need Trump there swearing he's made Houston the driest city in America.

LarryHart said...

Here's one of the reasons why we're stuck with Trump for 1241 more days. There are too many people like the writer of this article giving congress cover not to do anything:


...
Imagine what could happen if that were true. Any presidential remark deemed objectionable could be characterized as "sabotaging" constitutional values. Rather than requiring unconstitutional acts, we would impeach for unconstitutional thoughts, even though our Constitution's standard certainly isn't high thought crimes and misdemeanors.

This can seem weirdly incongruous, given the other presidential impeachment in our history: Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about something relatively trivial; many view Trump as opposing fundamental American values. But Clinton deserved impeachment because he lied under oath. I was one of the experts who testified before Congress during Clinton's impeachment hearings and, despite voting for Clinton, I maintained that perjury clearly fell within the standard regardless of the subject. Presidents don't get to lie under oath any more than Congress gets to choose impeachment standards depending on the president. While this may be frustrating and inconvenient, there is no proof Trump has committed any crime or otherwise impeachable offense.
...


He's fine with having impeached Bill Clinton for the crime of perjury, as trivial as the subject of the perjury was. But apparently violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution itself, let alone obstruction of justice and abuse of office for personal gain don't rise to that same level. It was legitimate to impeach Clinton, but no matter what ridiculous extremes this illegitimate president reaches to demonstrate his unfitness to hold office, any attempt to take his hand off the wheel is mere politics and sets a dangerous precedent.

Trump IS a dangerous precedent. Impeachment was invented for him.

LarryHart said...

From the same Tribune column above:

Presidents don't get to lie under oath any more than Congress gets to choose impeachment standards depending on the president. While this may be frustrating and inconvenient, there is no proof Trump has committed any crime or otherwise impeachable offense.


First of all, congress does get to choose impeachment standards depending on the president. Who decided not to remove Clinton after all? Who decided not to pursue the issue with W or with Trump? Impeachment standards are whatever congress says they are.

Second, there is proof that he violates the emoluments clause right there in the Constitution every day. Deciding not to pursue that as a mere technicality is in itself a political act, and is indeed a case of congress choosing impeachment standards. Beyond that, it's becoming more and more clear that Trump attempts to obstruct the investigation into his own wrongdoing any way he can.

For someone who argues the case as he does against Clinton, this seems awfully darned hypocritical.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Steven

Re- Clovis Culture
As far as I can see the early humans arrived in North America - and found paradise!
They immediately invented the distinctive "Clovis Point" for killing the easily killed megafauna -
After a very short period (400 years) that point (specialized for big stupid game) became obsolete
No more megafauna!

And they went back to the points for smaller prey

The Bison either followed man across the "land bridge" later or developed the massive herd strategy and survived

Alfred Differ said...

@Locumranch | I have argued that 'Intelligence equals Life' in the manner that Maxwell's Demon is synonymous with Intelligence. As we know it, only LIFE is capable of the anti-entropic, coordinated & non-random action of stimulus-response, but Alfred is too focused on the nuts, bolts, neural tubes & notochords of the so-called 'higher (vertebral) intelligences' to see his category error, much in the same way that many academics assume literacy to be the sole measure of IQ.

I’ll quote here more than I usually would because I’m responding late.

Maxwell’s Demon is an impossibility unless your physics theory allows him to be omniscient and allows backward time travel so he can take the knowledge he’s acquired at the end of the universe to affect changes earlier. With each change, he has to wait to the end again to acquire the needed knowledge of effects for each cause. If one exists, he is a very patient fellow.

If one is disinclined to believe such a being exists or has any interest in doing the work of Maxwell’s thought experiment, the impossibility is sound. Only in a shrinking universe or closed universe (allowing for cycles) can one get entropy reductions en masse.

Life isn’t anti-entropic. Life is more like a heat engine that pushes entropy out of one place, dumps it in another, and adds to what it moves in order to accomplish this. Life uses energy gradients to do this. Inside each of your cells there is a bit of imposed order that comes at the expense of what goes on outside the cell. Multi-cell organizations simply push it further out.

Maxwell’s Demon isn’t anywhere except our minds as a wonderful little thought experiment. It’s non-existence places constraints on ALL viable physics theories much like the speed of light limitation does. Dig into the statistical mechanics behind it and there are wonders to behold. The information the demon needs simply isn’t available to him in sufficient time to act… unless you allow time travel and that huge intelligence at the far end of the universe. You also have to make it possible for that intelligence to distinguish one identical particle from another as we learned about quantum possibilities after Maxwell. Good luck with that. The information involved to do the demon’s work is VAST and likely can’t be encoded on any structure smaller than the universe itself.

A.F. Rey said...

Veering off topic for a moment, PolitiFact had an article on how many families owned slaves in the slave-holding states. According to at least one estimate, it was between 20 and 25 percent of households on average, with Mississippi having almost 50 percent of households owning slaves. And this did not count households that would rent slaves from others.

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/aug/24/viral-image/viral-post-gets-it-wrong-extent-slavery-1860/

So while the large plantations did have most of the slaves, apparently slave-owning and slave-use was common even among the small farmers (if you consider 1 in 4 as "common").

Tony Fisk said...

Despite the hand wringing that one hears about Africa being an ecological basket case,* it's the megafauna that evolved alongside hominids that have survived best.

Interestingly, horses and camels evolved in the Americas and migrated westward into Africa a few million years before man went East. Those herds survived. The stay at homes did not.

* Possibly because we now realise what the rest of the World has lost, and what Africa now stands to lose?

Steven Hammond said...

Hi @ Duncan Cairncross.

You said: "As far as I can see the early humans arrived in North America - and found paradise!
They immediately invented the distinctive "Clovis Point" for killing the easily killed megafauna -
After a very short period (400 years) that point (specialized for big stupid game) became obsolete
No more megafauna!

And they went back to the points for smaller prey"

I think that's true...generally. Were the big game they hated really that stupid? (See my query about the horse below) No matter, the relative homogeneity of the lithic artifacts from the Clovis culture in a wide geographic area is interesting to me followed by very distinct regional traditions of tool making with no intervening transitional period. Sure Folsom points are also fluted and suggests an origin from the Clovis culture and are used to hunt bison, but why not just use Clovis points? Bison are still megafauna and survived somehow, so why change from the tried and true technology? And if there is no megafauna elsewhere warranting the big Clovis-type point but communication and trade with other areas has not been disrupted, why isn't there a similar trans-american lithic culture to that of the Clovis with similar technology everywhere?

It certainly may be due to increased specialization amongst the various regional groups, but if EVERYONE is faced with nothing larger than a whitetail deer or a moose to pursue ("semi-megafauna"?), why the (apparent) SUDDEN change from homogeneous culture to regional cultures? This suggests to me a rather sudden and disruptive event but there are certainly other possibilities. I suppose the Younger Dryas climate event WAS pretty rapid and disruptive whatever the cause. To me, though, seeing the evidence of an extraterrestrial impact (not proven..yet), next to massive climate change, extinction of numerous megafauna at the same time, and profound changes in human culture in a large but circumscribed region (the Americas) is all quite suggestive that an impact or impacts by an extraterrestrial object led to this.

On the subject of megafauna and overkill, does anyone know the current reason why the horse lived on in Eurasia but became extinct in the americas? The fact that horse did not evolve alongside humans in the Americas, migrated to Eurasia, but went extinct in its homeland is perplexing to me if I'm pondering the overkill hypothesis. Also, what's the deal with the "Black Mats" at the YD boundary layer at many sites? I honestly don't know what to make of them after reading several pro and anti YDIH papers.

Alfred Differ said...

If we had a time machine and could look, we'd probably find extinctions moving into North America as humans arrived and then another set after a small impact event on the ice sheet. A prey species under duress from us could be finished by the impact OR an impact could put it under duress to be finished by us. Both strike me as plausible.

As for delays, I'd bet money those will be found to be human related. You might find multiple impactors, but you WILL find humans changing in fits and spurts.

Steven Hammond said...

Alfed Dilfer said:"As for delays, I'd bet money those will be found to be human related. You might find multiple impactors, but you WILL find humans changing in fits and spurts."

Yes, that's the most interesting thing, I think, Alfred. What humans do and why. Cultures change and individuals change. An impact may have changed PaleoIndian civilization more rapidly than it was changing already, but it WAS gong to change regardless. It's what we do. It's what biological life does as well.

We (as a species) have such an enormous impact and have for thousands of years. It's amazing to think that what we have done as a species (burning fossil fuels, agricultural practices etc), could have an effect as great as the impact of a frickin' comet or asteroid hitting the earth or exploding in the atmosphere and blotting out the sun for many years. Might be a good meme in the making, there. :)

Tony Fisk said...

@Steve
On the subject of megafauna and overkill, does anyone know the current reason why the horse lived on in Eurasia but became extinct in the americas?

Horses evolved in Americas, and spread westward long before man evolved. They first encountered hominids in Africa, and were able to adapt and co-evolve, along with other African megafauna.

The spread of Homo Erectus into Eurasia did have an impact, but not as massive as the subsequent saps, and Asian horses were also able to adapt.

Unfortunately for them, American horses' first encounter with hominids was the full enchilada, and they were wiped out. The beasts of burden of the first Europeans represent an ironic sort of re-wilding.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Tony Fisk:

Thanks! That's really informative. I suppose I'm not quite ready to discount an impact as contributing to the horse extinction in NA despite your info, but this is certainly evidence for the overkill hypothesis for megafauna extinction in the Pleistocene.

I really like the give and take here and I'm really here to learn from what I've found as one of the most knowledgeable and considerate groups of posters on the web.

I suppose it may be reasonable to ask folks here the question: "What evidence would convince you that the Younger Dryas was precipitated by an impact event?" I'm asking not as one with any vested interest in one side or another, but as someone looking for insight into what leads to sea-changes in perception such as the acceptance of plate tectonics or the K-T event leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The whole YDIH is relatively young and I aim to follow the story in a somewhat journalistic way-- as an outsider seeing how the scientific community and knowledgable people view and accept or discount a scientific hypothesis. The horse thing may or may not have anything to do with this event (or non-event).

Alfred Differ said...

I'm already inclined to think the Younger Dryas event was an impactor. The break-up of human culture in North America is enough for me. Post-glacial civilizations come and go, but land trade has to take a huge beating before routes are abandoned and technologies evolve along separate paths. HG's are known to be long-range traders when they wished it. It strikes me as implausible that they would stop because the local fauna changed enough to cause specialization. Humans would just find something else to trade... unless they couldn't. An impactor could be enough to stop them, though.

Steven Hammond said...

I am by no means unfamiliar with the contradictory opinions and evidence again the YDIH. This abstract of a paper made me smile given the vehemence of the language which is somewhat unusual in scholarly papers:

ABSTRACT

In this paper we review the evidence for the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis (YDIH), which proposes that at ∼12.9k cal a BP North America, South America, Europe and the Middle East were subjected to some sort of extraterrestrial event. This purported event is proposed as a catastrophic process responsible for: terminal Pleistocene environmental changes (onset of YD cooling, continent-scale wildfires); extinction of late Pleistocene mammals; and demise of the Clovis ‘culture’ in North America, the earliest well-documented, continent-scale settlement of the region. The basic physics in the YDIH is not in accord with the physics of impacts nor the basic laws of physics. No YD boundary (YDB) crater, craters or other direct indicators of an impact are known. Age control is weak to non-existent at 26 of the 29 localities claimed to have evidence for the YDIH. Attempts to reproduce the results of physical and geochemical analyses used to support the YDIH have failed or show that many indicators are not unique to an impact nor to ∼12.9k cal a BP. The depositional environments of purported indicators at most sites tend to concentrate particulate matter and probably created many ‘YDB zones’. Geomorphic, stratigraphic and fire records show no evidence of any sort of catastrophic changes in the environment at or immediately following the YDB. Late Pleistocene extinctions varied in time and across space. Archeological data provide no indication of population decline, demographic collapse or major adaptive shifts at or just after ∼12.9 ka.
The data and the hypotheses generated by YDIH proponents are contradictory, inconsistent and incoherent.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jqs.2724/abstract

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Steven
As Tony said the North American experience was different

Fully developed humans with an extensive tool kit expanding into an area that had no experience of man at all

A large herbivore cannot afford to run away from a small creature - it would just be too expensive - But it also does not have to worry about small creatures

Humans were the first distance killers - they could kill a large animal with almost no risk to themselves

I believe that the humans spread very fast from "Alaska" south - just killing and eating as they went
The "Clovis" tool kit did not have tools for vegetables

At the end of a very short period the big tasty animals were no longer "available" and people had to adapt to what there was - including vegetables

The reason that the Clovis culture was uniform was that it expanded fast - it split into other cultures after it stopped expanding and had to utilize the resources of specific areas

This is an excellent book about North America from the end of the dinosaurs on
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005652CHS/ref=oh_aui_d_detailpage_o07_?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I had not realized just how important geography was!

Alfred
I do not see "Trade" as being important here
Trade would develop later after the cultures had differentiated enough to make it worth trading



David Brin said...

I heard a theory that the asteroid that caused the Dryas extinction also wiped out nearly all humans in the Americas and the few boys & girls who repopulated didn’t include the secretive old men who could make Clovis points.

‘Humans were the first distance killers - they could kill a large animal with almost no risk to themselves ‘

a combination of distance weapons, plus dogs, plus super-endurance human runners… arrayed in relay teams, being able to chase any herd to exhaustion. And who drops first? The old beasts… but especially the young colts & fillies.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Tony -- I first heard about the Cajun Navy over at CJ Cherryh's blog, but was thinking more along the lines of civilian fishing vessels and pleasure craft, rather than flat bottom skiffs (although, in retrospect, they [and airboats!] make more sense). Despite the willingness to help, there's going to be some bottleneck when the waters get too deep for the 4x4s and pickups with trailers transporting the boats. I was having flashbacks to WWII's Hooligan Navy as well.

Paul451 said...

MadLib,
"civilian fishing vessels and pleasure craft, rather than flat bottom skiffs (although, in retrospect, they [and airboats!] make more sense)"

Indeed, a flood is very much like a swamp or river delta. Bluewater- and lake-craft would be rubbish.

"Despite the willingness to help, there's going to be some bottleneck when the waters get too deep for the 4x4s and pickups with trailers transporting the boats."

I don't know how they've handled it, but my plan would be to put in at a ramp (made or makeshift) above the floodwaters of a river or large creek that merges with the flood-waters below.

Paul451 said...

Steven, paraphrasing his own question,
"What evidence would convince you that the Younger Dryas was precipitated by an impact event?"

I don't think that's the only question. There's "Do you think that the YD climactic event was caused by an impact", then "Do you think the loss of American megafauna was caused by the YD climate event", then "Do you think the break up of the Clovis Culture unity was caused by the climate event, the effects of the supposed impact directly, the megafauna extinction, or something else?"

--

Alfred,
"It strikes me as implausible that they would stop because the local fauna changed enough to cause specialization. Humans would just find something else to trade..."

Resource collapse doesn't happen gradually. Unless there's a very visible hand changing the rules, you generally see a continued acceleration of consumption right up to the collapse. We've got lots of examples. With the YD culture, they would have instantly and continent-wide lost the centre of the cultural practices. It takes time to recover from that, during which there's a thousand points of recovery across the continent(s). Each recovery-bubble expands until it meets another bubble. That leaves you with thousands of cultural boundaries to negotiate trade across. That's an event utterly unlike a wave of expansion from a single point across a resource-rich landscape.

Eg, This forms from a single point.

It collapses back to This.

Then re-emerges, but forming This and not the original unity.

"Please excuse the crudity of this model. I didn't have time to build it to scale."

That doesn't mean the collapse was due to overhunting and not the YD climate event or an impact, I'm just saying that the overkill hypothesis by itself is still enough to explain the cultural shift.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Paul SB, I like that model very much! And I think this by you is spot on:

I don't think that's the only question. There's "Do you think that the YD climactic event was caused by an impact", then "Do you think the loss of American megafauna was caused by the YD climate event", then "Do you think the break up of the Clovis Culture unity was caused by the climate event, the effects of the supposed impact directly, the megafauna extinction, or something else?"

The developers of the YDIH probably DID incorporate too many hypotheses within their original paper which made the theory a target from multiple angles. Here's a link to the 2007 paper by Firestone et al that started the whole thing. http://www.pnas.org/content/104/41/16016.abstract

They could be correct about many of these aspects, but focusing just on evidence for an impact leading to the YD climactic event would be prudent. Maybe that's where they're back to right now with the platinum at the boundary layer evidence in the paper I linked to way up top.

Oh, and thanks to everyone for their thoughts and knowledge!

Paul451 said...

PaulSB.

Paul451.

Not necessarily the opposite things, but certainly different things.

Steven Hammond said...

Sorry, Paul451!

(Rookie mistake, doh!)

LarryHart said...

@Paul 451,

Heh. My work is done.

Paul SB said...

Paul SB says ...

While it's nice of Steven to attribute some bit of good thinking to me, the credit for that one goes to Paul 451 (no biggie, Steven - even our host has done it). I haven't been here for most of yesterday. Paul451, your petri dish analogy is a good one - easy to understand and get the point. On the subject of points, after Clovis what you get is the Folsom assemblage, which centers around fluted projectile points that are quite a bit smaller than Clovis. It's generally thought that Folsom points were used primarily to hunt bison, which, of course, have not gone extinct. When you look at variability in Folsom compared to Clovis, it would seem to fit your petri dish analogy fairly well, except that the microbes would be just different shades of the same color. I'm not sure at what point the atlatl was abandoned. It's utility for hunting mammoth was no doubt greater than for bison, but that does not make the technology useless. More likely they learned Liebig's Law of the Minimum the hard way with the extinction of megafauna.

The technique most commonly used in North America was to get large animals stampeding off cliffs. This would wipe out entire herds, and create far more food than a band could eat before going bad. They would typically just cut off the drumsticks and leave the rest to rot. The same was true for buffalo for quite a long time, though we know that they didn't drive the buffalo to extinction, Wild Bill & Co. did most of that. Be sure you never say this to Native Americans, though. I have worked with quite a few and most of them want to maintain that their ancestors lived in perfect balance with nature, which in their minds makes them smarter than we are. I don't entirely disagree with the sentiment, as quickly as we are flatlining the ecosystem. But the evidence of wastrel megafauna hunters is there in the ground and in museum collections all over the continent.

LarryHart said...

Finally, someone gets it, although he doesn't go far enough to explain the point:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/opinion/trump-identity-politics.html

...
According to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, for example, about 48 percent of Republicans believe there is “a lot of discrimination” against Christians in America and about 43 percent believe there is a lot of discrimination against whites.
...
Second, it is wrong to try to make a parallel between Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. To pretend that these tendencies are somehow comparable is to ignore American history and current realities.
...


By just leaving the assertion without further clarification, the writer simply "proves" to the WHITE LIVES MATTER people that they are right, that it is politically incorrect to say that whites are discriminated against, but in fact, the writer himself is doing so right there.

To clarify, though, the reason "it is wrong to make a parallel" is because BLACK LIVES MATTER is an assertion that blacks should count just as much as everyone else--that the fact that they are not so treated is an injustice which requires fixing. WHITE LIVES MATTER is an assertion that whites count more than anyone else, and that the fact that others are demanding fair treatment is an injustice which requires fixing. Or to be more charitable--an assertion that the BLM folks are demanding special privileges for black people, so it's ok to also demand special privileges for white people.

I could use my catch phrase here, but I'll spare you. :)

To the first paragraph above, I wonder what individual respondent's definition of "discrimination" is. It seems to me that they consider challenges to their positions of privilege as "being discriminated against." For example, keeping Jews out of your country club is "discriminating against Jews". Having Jews allowed to join your country club is apparently "discriminating against Christians." But as a good liberal, I might be wrong, so I'd be interested in alternative explanations of how white Christians are beleaguered in the US.

LarryHart said...

An old scene from "The Simpsons" :

Mr. Burns: Is it ok to cheat in order to win a million dollar bet?

Smithers: No, sir.

Mr. Burns: Let me rephrase that. Is it ok if I cheat to win a million dollar bet?

Smithers (exuberently) : Yes sir!


What brings that to mind? The excuses being made for not investigating the high crimes and misdemeanors of Donald Trump by people who would persecute any Democratic president for much less.

Marino said...

Larry Hart: so I'd be interested in alternative explanations of how white Christians are beleaguered in the US.

because they're forced to make and sell wedding cakes to gay couples? Or that they cannot have parties involving "strange fruits" and fiery crosses while wearing sheets anymore? :-)

Jumper said...

Not allowed to teach the kids that the world is 6,000 years old.

Here's on the progress of the anti-gerrymandering movement:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/magazine/the-new-front-in-the-gerrymandering-wars-democracy-vs-math.html

LarryHart said...

@Marino,

I get that you're being snarky, but those aren't "alternate explanations". They're confirmations of my own suspicion.

The wedding cake thing, I can sort of see their point, even though I ultimately equate it with "refusing to serve blacks at the diner." I think there is something uncivil about a business refusing to serve certain minorities, but I can understand how some people would consider that forced discrimination against their religion. To that, I would point out that it's not strictly speaking discrimination against Christianity. Presumably, an orthodox Jewish businessman or a Muslim businessman would also be prohibited from refusing to serve a gay couple. So I take issue with "separation of church and state" being interpreted as "discrimination against Christians."

The other example, that prohibitions against lynching amounts to "discrimination against whites"? Yeah, my point stands.

Erin Schram said...

Larry Hart asked,
I'd be interested in alternative explanations of how white Christians are beleaguered in the US.

To tease, let me give a link to the article, "Yes, There Is Christian Persecution in America And Here’s What it Looks Like" at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/yes-there-is-christian-persecution-in-america-and-heres-what-it-looks-like/

The author Benjamin Corey flies a false flag for the first four paragraphs, so let me provide his punchline immediately: "But as it turns out, it’s actually the critics attempting to defend the violence-loving political religion named Christianity who are persecuting the people of Jesus."

I read another article that evangelical Christians are more likely to believe that poor people impoverish themselves through their own actions and therefore don't deserve help. And that should not matter, because Christian doctrine is to help the poor whether they deserve it or not. Jesus of Nazareth coined the phrases, "Love your enemy," "Turn the other cheek," "Give the shirt off your back," and "Walk the extra mile."

Remember how the South claimed the Civil War was about States' Rights? Yet they passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which let them trample over the rights of northern states. They were hypocrites. How can Christians nowadays claim that Christianity is persecuted when their behaviors that others protest go against official Christian doctrine? To quote an internet meme, "If you think Trump is a good God-fearing Christian but Obama was not, your religion is White Supremacy." The mainline churches are reacting, issuing bulletins reminding their congregations that racism and white supremacy are sins.

As for the wedding cake dilemma, it could be a delicate moral issue if the baker were some other anti-homosexual religion than Christianity. In contrast, a baker following the Christian love-your-enemy philosophy would say, "I disagree that two men marrying is truly a marriage, but I will bake as fine a cake as I can despite my disagreement."

LarryHart said...

Erin Schram:

I read another article that evangelical Christians are more likely to believe that poor people impoverish themselves through their own actions and therefore don't deserve help. And that should not matter, because Christian doctrine is to help the poor whether they deserve it or not.


Those two statements don't necessarily conflict. As long as the conclusion is "...so I'll try to help them anyway, even if they don't deserve it." If the conclusion is "...so I'm not gonna help them, and Jesus wouldn't want me to!" then there's a problem.


Remember how the South claimed the Civil War was about States' Rights? Yet they passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which let them trample over the rights of northern states. They were hypocrites.


Hey, they were for their states' rights to enforce demands on other states.


As for the wedding cake dilemma, it could be a delicate moral issue if the baker were some other anti-homosexual religion than Christianity. In contrast, a baker following the Christian love-your-enemy philosophy would say, "I disagree that two men marrying is truly a marriage, but I will bake as fine a cake as I can despite my disagreement."


I'm guessing the religious objection is not to serving gay men, but to participating in a "wedding" which they consider to be against God. I've never understood the correlation between traditional sex roles and worship of God, but in many people's minds, that correlation is so much there that it shouldn't even require explaining, and just asking the question is proof that you hate their religion.

Paul SB said...

I think I've told this one before about a Chinese programmer I knew when I lived in Denver back in the '90s. He worked for HP for many years, until some rather militant Christians discovered that he did not go to one of the churches on their approved list - he was Buddhist. As soon as they found out they went to their manager and insisted that HP could not be an institution that God smiles upon if it employs sinners, and their entire nationwide network of churches would boycott HP if they did not get rid of him. He didn't last a week. I will believe that Christians are being persecuted when they are losing their jobs because of their religion.

And Erin, you seem to be the type who takes the kinder words of Jesus to heart, which is commendable, and quite rare in my experience. But be careful not to be going down No True Scotsman Lane. You find kindness in Christian doctrine, but many others find in it an excuse to hate anyone who is outside their club. It's the unsurprising consequence of any religion which teaches that there is an unseen divinity to which we must all be obedient. For them, the love and kindness stuff is just window dressing for the faint-hearted. The burning and smiting and forced conformity is what it's really all about. (I can hear the Christo-Daleks shouting "You will obey!")

LarryHart said...

From the article posted by Eric Schram:

The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are two different types of Christianity. One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity. The civil political religion named Christianity is addicted to both political power and violence, and thus finds the message of Jesus offensive. When they encounter the other kind of Christian- the kind that actually believes in following Jesus- they have an immediate need to persecute them in some for or another, as we see in the case of Dr. Beckum, who actually did lose his job because of speaking the name of Jesus.


Thank you for that one. After 50 years of reading comics, I finally understand what the story of Captain America returning after a period of decades following WWII is all about. Just substitute "American" for "Christian" in much of the above and tweak some of the specific references, and there you have it. There are Americans who value power and violence over all else and call that patriotism or love of country. And when they hear about actual American values, they have an immediate need to condemn.

But as Cap himself said, "There has to be someone who will fight for the dream, against any foe."

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

You find kindness in Christian doctrine, but many others find in it an excuse to hate anyone who is outside their club. It's the unsurprising consequence of any religion which teaches that there is an unseen divinity to which we must all be obedient.


Kurt Vonnegut thought the problem was the fact that Jesus was the Son of God. That the lesson to those who persecuted Him was "Oh boy, did you pick the wrong person to be mean to!" And that implicit in there was the idea that there are right people to be mean to.

He proposed a religion in which some homeless guy who no one knows or cares about says and does all the things Jesus said and did, and that at the end, God makes it clear that however people treated that man, they were treating God too. The story would be almost identical, but in a way, it would be a different thing, in fact the opposite thing. Kurt didn't actually put it that way. :)

Paul SB said...

Larry,

I'm not too sure about Mr. Vonnegut there, though the Son of God thing is important. Vonnegut is assuming that Yeshua really was the unique Son of God, and it really is about what social club you are a member of. The whole Son of God thing strikes me as being just another part of the politics. Make him unique and directly connected to the big guy upstairs so you can only get to Heaven by going through him and therefore by obeying his church leaders. I think of it differently, though. Remember the story about Socrates going to the Oracle of Delphi with one of his army buddies? Supposedly the Pythian Priestess declared that Socrates was the smartest man in the world, which floored him. He didn't think he was that smart, so he interpreted the Priestess to mean that before the gods we are all equally foolish, and she could have pointed at any random person for that. Likewise I don't read Yeshua was being half as stuck up as his followers. Could he not have meant that he is the son of God just as we are all His children? I certainly find that more palatable, but I can guess what locum bridger will say...

Erin Schram said...

Paul SB said,
But be careful not to be going down No True Scotsman Lane.

The requirements to be a Christian are quite short, so I cannot dismiss White Supremist Christians as non-Christians. The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed were written to renounce heresies about the divine nature of Jesus, so all they say about proper Christian behavior is, "the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins." The Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount are better guides for Christian behavior, but are not used to test false doctrine.

LarryHart posted Benjamin Corey's lines:

The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are two different types of Christianity. One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity.

That labeling clarifies two types of Christianity, but saying the second group are not true Christians would be the No True Scotsman fallacy. And I disagree with Benjamin Corey about numbers. We Jesus-centered Christians are more common than politics-centered Christians. Rather, we American Christians have been lazy and taught a convenient mixture of the morality of the USA and the morality of Jesus in our churches. American neighborliness is a good first step toward loving one's neighbor as Jesus preached. And we learned that criticizing other denominations' behavior made all Christians look petty, so we kept quiet about our extremists. That let a few groups of Christians, such as Prosperity Gospel and Dominionists and Republican politicians, renounce a major part of Jesus's preaching for their own agenda. We need to speak up.

This is me practicing speaking up in a safe forum. My postings in Facebook led to disagreements where I shut up before I stick my foot in my mouth.

Erin Schram said...

LarryHart said,
[Kurt Vonnegut] proposed a religion in which some homeless guy who no one knows or cares about says and does all the things Jesus said and did, and that at the end, God makes it clear that however people treated that man, they were treating God too.

Jesus covered that in Matthew 25:41-45.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Paul SB said...

Erin,

FacePalm is not known for its civility.

Tony Fisk said...

Hospitality in Norse culture was based on the notion that Odin was an inveterate traveller, and you never knew just who it was you were giving a roof to.

Steven Hammond said...

I think we have to remember that the New Testament (especially Paul's writings) is full of descriptions of Christians as unjustly persecuted righteous people. Perhaps the Book of Revelation (not written by Paul) is the best example with believers suffering through the Great Tribulation and that remnant being justified eventually by their holiness, steadfastness etc. and the wicked being put in their place. Evangelicals tend to eat that up. And, of course, the writers in the New Testament present Christians as being persecuted because , they usually were. Things changed after Constantine, of course, but modern evangelicals, at least, read this 2,000 year old document and are/ pretty certain that they will be persecuted (or should be persecuted), because that's part and parcel of being a Christian. So if they really aren't persecuted , they may have to look for ways people talk about them or treat them that might, sorta be like persecution.


I grew up in evangelicalism, and really left it after actually delving into the moral and intellectual inconsistencies I saw. Not to say I don't think there is profound truth in most of what Jesus appears to have taught in the gospels--far from it. One thing that really struck me was that even in the gospels, Jesus is not always kind and loving and one who practices enemy love, but we sometimes see a violent and retributive Jesus (see the parables in Matthew where parables found elsewhere are redacted and have a pretty nasty result for the enemies of Matthew's group). In any event, it's so very difficult to know which sayings of Jesus were actually his own, that I've becomes essentially an agnostic trying to live by what I see as the most profound and loving aspects of what we find in the NT and discounting others--I certainly do not see the traditions of any organized church as authoritative. For anyone interested here's one of those "higher criticism" articles about the violence in Matthew which I found pretty useful in trying to understand the two faces of Jesus presented in the NT.

The pacifist Jesus and the violent Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/860/1416

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Likewise I don't read Yeshua was being half as stuck up as his followers.


Vonnegut's point doesn't depend on Jesus actually being stuck up. It's all about what he represents in the story. Instead of "Be kind to people," you have people thinking it's about "Be kind to the people who are well-connected."

LarryHart said...

Stephen Hammond:

In any event, it's so very difficult to know which sayings of Jesus were actually his own, that I've becomes essentially an agnostic trying to live by what I see as the most profound and loving aspects of what we find in the NT and discounting others


I'm Jewish by upbringing, and I sometimes think I admire Jesus more than Christians do. It makes me wonder why the "We are a Christian nation" people keep wanting to post quotes from the Old Testament in courthouses. Never the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount or anything actually attributed to Jesus.

In college, my girlfriend's roommate was a stereotype from small-town Iowa, for whom I was literally her first Jew. She didn't even recognize words that I thought everyone knew from television, like Bar-Mitzvah. And she could not understand how someone who made a point of not believing in the divinity of Christ could enjoy "Jesus Christ Superstar".

David Brin said...

Stephen & LH: There is a distinct difference among the gospels. Linguistic analysis suggests that Mark was written by someone who might have actually known Jesus. Or known folks who did. OTOH, Matthew was clearly written at least a century later. This can be verified by reading the jailhouse scene. In the older version, it is the "mob" that demands Barrabas instead of Jesus be freed. In Matthew it is "the Jews."

In Mark's time, no one would have said "The Jews" were responsible for the condemnation, since they were still Jews. In fact, the main branch of Christians - led by James - were just one more Jewish sect. They all died defending their section of the wall when Jerusalem fell..

...leaving Paul - whom no one in Jerusalem trusted and who had been sent away on a hopeless mission to the gentiles - as the sole torchbearer! And even so, Identification with "the Jews" remained strong. For all his horrific faults, Loony John of Patmos thought of Christians as Jews.

But in Matthew, "The Jews" declare "may it be on our heads and our children forever!" Um...? Who SAYS stuff like that? Even a committed atheist wouldn't. It was written after Christianity had completed its split to become a mostly Greek mystery religion, in bilioius competition with Judaism. And there is no way that "Matthew" had ever met anyone who ever met Jesus.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

But in Matthew, "The Jews" declare "may it be on our heads and our children forever!" Um...? Who SAYS stuff like that?


Yeah, it sure sounds like a bad fiction passage. Like Rumplestiltskin giving away his evil plan by talking to himself out loud. And up there in quality with "It was a dark and stormy night", or "The sea rolled and heaved like some big rolling, heaving thing."


Loony John of Patmos...


Heh. I'm just reminded of the prognosticating animals in "Existence" who you named Patmos and Tarsus. :)

Steven Hammond said...

Larry Hart,

You are a man after my own heart! (Stop the groaning! :) )

I believe our host, David, has said some similar things and I do wish that Christians would realize how subversive Jesus was to so much of the Old Testament (as was Paul to be honest) using the words of the Old Testament creatively to mean things different than the original writers meant them-- in fact often using them to mean "exact opposite things." :) Peter Enns has been a helpful scholar to me pointing this out.

That being said, Christians often don't realize how much the Jewish teachings and writings had changed over time and how flexible and alive the Jewish religion was during Second Temple times. There is a caricature of the Jewish people of the times and the Pharisees that is very shallow and prejudiced that has gripped Christianity for far too long. Unfortunately, that lack of understanding of both what Jesus taught and what second temple Judaism was has had horrific repercussions.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Matthew was clearly written at least a century later. This can be verified by reading the jailhouse scene. In the older version, it is the "mob" that demands Barrabas instead of Jesus be freed. In Matthew it is "the Jews."


Besides that, what are Jews being blamed for? Fulfilling God's plan? Providing salvation for Christians? I mean, the crucifixion is the reason for the season, right? He died for your sins? I think I read that somewhere.

I don't remember now if it was a real NRA bumper sticker or a parody that I saw that read "If Jesus had had a gun, He'd be alive today!" I wanted to add, "...and you'd be headed for Hell."

Jumper said...

In common law if someone hires a murder most of the blame still falls on the one who pulls the trigger. I support common law in this regard.

So you can figure out what I think of people telling me it wasn't the Roman soldiers who killed the preacher. They were just following orders!

That's the lesson that is so transparent anyone can see it. It's also the one no one ever, ever acknowledges.

Steven Hammond said...

Gah!

I start writing a post and there are two ahead of me when I finish! Yes, Matthew's gospel alone should give any traditional Christian pause and empel them look deeper into what this "holy book" actually is, where it came from, and question why it should be authoritative.

I mean how can you reconcile the very different messages income places in the OT and the Sermon on the Mount not to mention the different messages from gospel to gospel? It would drive you crazy to attempt to do that, and perhaps that's half the problem with modern American Christians. UK Christians seem to be more reasonable, I've found.

LarryHart said...

Stephen Hammond:

Gah!

I start writing a post and there are two ahead of me when I finish!


That's just part of the fun. :)

LarryHart said...

Hey, speaking of the Bible, is there any way of knowing or estimating how many inches of rain were involved in the Noah's Ark flood?

I wonder how close they're getting in Houston.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Linguistic analysis suggests that Mark was written by someone who might have actually known Jesus. Or known folks who did. OTOH, Matthew was clearly written at least a century later.


Maybe it was the line from "Jesus Christ, Superstar" that went "Then, when we retire, we can write the gospels, and they'll all talk about us when we've died." But I always just kinda took it as given that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were apostles of Jesus. I just found out this past year from my daughter's Christian friend that Matthew and one of the others was not. That blew my mind. I didn't know the gospels had been outsourced.

David Brin said...

Oh, BTW, even if the jailhouse mob really would - all in unison - call down a perpetual curse on all generations of future Jewish children... who gave a jailhouse mob the RIGHT to do that? Could anything more blatantly say: "Fallible and angry and bitter humans wrote this, and God had nothing to do with it."

Paul SB said...

I think if people knew how the Book was cobbled together at Nikea three centuries later, and how very political that council was, people might read it a little more critically. We are supposed to apply a product of Roman-era political diatribe to our lives today, but few people acknowledge the very political nature of religion. I've found Christians from Europe more reasonable about religion as well, for the most part. Probably they have all those centuries of bloody holy wars, inquisitions and brutal witch burnings in their own past, while Americans, if they know anything at all about history besides George Washington throwing a dollar across the Potomac, they think all that brutality is just a thing of the past or some peculiarity of Europe that makes us so much better than them. I recently got a doctor who is a Coptic Christian from Egypt, though I haven't really talked religion with her. I would be interested in finding out how preserving books written by women that were left out of the Bible by Constantine's crew affects the way they think about people.

Larry, I've read estimates of how much rain it would take to submerge the entire world, and there isn't enough water on Earth to do it, unless you propose some extreme subsidence of the continents. That would require some bizarre tectonics. But I see what you're getting at. :]

Jumper, the moral messages in stories are very easy to manipulate. Different cultures can interpret the same story in so many ways it makes a mockery of the idea that there can be one Truth. Was the Tortoise and the Hare about slow and steady winning the race, or was it about what happens when you brag too much? Americans are so unnaturally competitive that they had to change the meaning of that one or it would run against their national psyche/propaganda.

Paul SB said...

Here's a pdf of a classic paper called "Shakespeare in the Bush." It's a wonderful example of how different cultures can understand the same story entirely differently. When you think about it, the Middle East of 2000 years ago was a very different culture than anywhere today. This makes a bit of a mockery of there being anything universal in any holy book. Times change, generations gap, and everything gets assigned new meanings as the ages pass.

https://hdo.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Shakespeare-in-the-Bush.pdf

Darrell E said...

I applaud Christians that view their religion as a religion of love and peace based on Jesus's teachings. And I'm fine with settling for that. But I wish that such Christians could also see and acknowledge that their vision of their religion is very different from almost all other versions of Christianity throughout history. They are heretics with respect to nearly the entire history of their religion and with respect to much of their present day coreligionists.

Likewise I wish that they could see and acknowledge that they are picking what they want from their scriptures to support their conceptions of their religion and ignoring that which does not support, or which refutes, their conceptions. Ignoring it or devising elaborate rationalizations to dismiss it as inconsequential to their conceptions of their religion. And that they are doing this even just with respect to Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus per the New Testament was very clearly not just about peace and love. Per the New Testament Jesus was depicted on occasion as, arguably, just as cruel and barbaric as Yahweh often was in the Old Testament.

I acknowledge that some of Jesus's "teachings" are pretty good moral teachings that are of benefit to any society. But two things. 1) They are not unique to Christianity. Other cultures also realized the same moral concepts and some predate Christianity. This does not invalidate Christianity having realized them it merely shows that Christianity is not exceptional for having realized them.

2) If you believe that the best moral teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are the only parts of the Bible worth celebrating why hold on to the rest of it at all? If you believe in a modern, "liberal" conception of Christianity in which almost all of the Bible is parables, allegory, metaphors, or something other than a somewhat accurate accounting of the history of Christianity, then why Believe any of its core claims at all? If you have discounted so much of it already, why stop at where ever it is you have stopped? I'm pretty sure the answer will be, ultimately, personal Faith. I get that. I just think that it can be inhibitive rather than liberating and potentially dangerous.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

even if the jailhouse mob really would - all in unison - call down a perpetual curse on all generations of future Jewish children... who gave a jailhouse mob the RIGHT to do that?


I'd guess the implication is that they were voicing a generally-accepted opinion. That "Jews" as a gestalt voluntarily cursed themselves and their descendants.

Paul SB:

I've read estimates of how much rain it would take to submerge the entire world, and there isn't enough water on Earth to do it, unless you propose some extreme subsidence of the continents. That would require some bizarre tectonics.


It would only have to submerge the Tigris-Eurphrates valley. That might not be much harder than flooding Houston. And there were no skyscrapers back then except for the Tower of Babel.


But I see what you're getting at. :]


For anyone who doesn't, what I'm "getting at" is whether global warming will prove that God didn't promise not to do it again. Because I take it as given that God doesn't break His word.

LarryHart said...

Darrel E:

If you believe that the best moral teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are the only parts of the Bible worth celebrating why hold on to the rest of it at all? If you believe in a modern, "liberal" conception of Christianity in which almost all of the Bible is parables, allegory, metaphors, or something other than a somewhat accurate accounting of the history of Christianity, then why Believe any of its core claims at all? If you have discounted so much of it already, why stop at where ever it is you have stopped?


Well, I don't believe in the religious sense, so you're probably not talking to me. But I can speak to some of what you're asking. I'm with Dave Sim in simply not crediting the notion that God--the omnipotent, omniscient, Creator of the Universe--had a human Son who is somehow genetically His Progeny. It's not a matter of disbelief in the story--the whole idea is nonsense semantically.

So maybe what I'm doing comes down to the same thing Dave (Sim) does, which is deciding with my own intellect which things sound like something God would be in favor of, and which things don't. I don't believe anything just because it is written in Scripture, but Scripture, like any writing, can be a jumping off point to get one thinking about many issues.

As I already mentioned, I was not raised on the Christian Bible, so my first comprehensive exposure to the story of Jesus really was "Jesus Christ Superstar", and that version seemed authentic. A man who didn't really believe in his own divinity, but who understood that the myth had taken on a life of its own and that he had to go with the flow rather than try to swim against it. And who maybe got swept up in the myth to the extent that Kurt Vonnegut warns against in the intro to Mother Night, "You are who you pretend to be, so be careful who you pretend to be."

I'm not saying I take the musical as Revealed Truth, but it does inform everything I've come to know about Jesus since I was ten years old.

Steven Hammond said...

Darrell E said...
" If you believe that the best moral teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are the only parts of the Bible worth celebrating why hold on to the rest of it at all? If you believe in a modern, "liberal" conception of Christianity in which almost all of the Bible is parables, allegory, metaphors, or something other than a somewhat accurate accounting of the history of Christianity, then why Believe any of its core claims at all? If you have discounted so much of it already, why stop at where ever it is you have stopped? I'm pretty sure the answer will be, ultimately, personal Faith. I get that. I just think that it can be inhibitive rather than liberating and potentially dangerous."

This is pretty similar to my reasoning as I've journeyed away from Christianity as a religion and it has been definitely liberating (if unsettling) to give up any real "certainty". It is definitely interesting exactly where people "stop" as they start thinking critically about Christianity and the Bible.

For myself, there may some residual hope I hold that Jesus' life meant something good for humanity, but it's nothing certain and if there is some greater meaning or result, it's a universal meaning and not exclusivist or dependent on "faith" in my mind. It would be something akin to Rene Girard's idea of the Jesus story exposing sacrificial violence and seeing that play out to some degree in the decline in per capita violence through history that Pinker has described.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

For myself, there may some residual hope I hold that Jesus' life meant something good for humanity, ...


Again, it helps that I'm not encumbered by the fear that my soul's disposition depends on what I believe (or act as if I believe), so caveat emptor.

To my thinking, Jesus's effect on humanity results from the story, not from whether the story elements are true or not. By living, teaching, and dying as He did, Jesus gave birth to a story that lasted for millennia and influenced humanity quite strongly, for good or for ill.

Darrell E said...

Steven Hammond said...

"This is pretty similar to my reasoning as I've journeyed away from Christianity as a religion and it has been definitely liberating (if unsettling) to give up any real "certainty"."

I have much respect for that. I've had it much easier in that I was not raised to be a Christian or any other religion. Though being born and raised in the US and Western Europe I was raised in a Christian dominated culture. So we have different perspectives. I am an outsider looking at Christianity without having been preconditioned to accept or revere it. To me it is just another of the many mythologies that humans have devised over the ages. While aspects of it are interesting it seems exactly as plausible to me as any other mythology I've ever learned something about. Which is, not very plausible at all.

LarryHart said...

"Jesus's effect on humanity results from the story, not from whether the story elements are true or not."

I agree. But the story has had, and continues to have, such a huge effect on people's world view and thus behavior that I think it is correspondingly important to consider whether the story is a "good" one and whether it is true, in any part. There are plenty of great stories. A huge number of which are better by just about any metric than the Bible, except provenance if one Believes, but very few people make those stories the center piece of their world view in the way that many Christians have and do with the Bible.

Jonathan Sills said...

Larry, believers in Biblical Literalism have to believe the entire world was covered with water, because that's what the Book says.

And if you don't subscribe to that (I certainly don't - too many places, including within the Flood story, where the text disagrees with itself), then there's nothing saying God ever promised anything of the sort. You can't really hold Him to promises He never made, can you?

A.F. Rey said...

I've read estimates of how much rain it would take to submerge the entire world, and there isn't enough water on Earth to do it, unless you propose some extreme subsidence of the continents. That would require some bizarre tectonics.

Not subsidence, but uplift. The speculation goes that the Earth was much flatter before the Flood, and the mountains were only raised up after (or perhaps during) the deluge. That explains why there are fossils on mountains (since all fossils were deposited during the Flood, according to Young Earth Creationists).

Not that the tectonics are any less bizarre with that scenario... :)

LarryHart said...

Abel in the "Sandman" graphic novel series tells the story that the raven who Noah first sent out uhhhh.....excreted the land which was then available for the dove to find.

In any case, since this is becoming the unofficial "Jesus for non-Christians" thread, I figured I'd relate a personal anecdote which demonstrates how confusing Christian mythology can be for outsiders.

My wife is Catholic, so I never tried to hide Christianity from our daughter, and indeed her pre-schools were at Christian church schools. At about age 6, she was first exposed to the Easter story, and she asked me if it meant that Jesus was dead.

I explained (from the POV of the story) that, although he had died, he was not actually dead, and that he had gone up to Heaven to be with God.

Then, I could see the wheels turning in her head as she tried to parse the difference between "dead" and "gone to Heaven".

Helpfully, I told her that He was alive when he went to Heaven. After another awkward pause, I acknowledged that most people don't do it that way.

I'm pretty sure her parting shot before going off to play something else was, "Jesus is a weird person."

LarryHart said...

Johnathan Sills:

Larry, believers in Biblical Literalism have to believe the entire world was covered with water, because that's what the Book says.


It's been awhile since I read the original. Is it an omniscient narrator saying that, or one of the characters? Because a human being can be forgiven for looking around and seeing no land from horizon to horizon and equating that with "the entire world" being covered with water.


And if you don't subscribe to that (I certainly don't - too many places, including within the Flood story, where the text disagrees with itself), then there's nothing saying God ever promised anything of the sort. You can't really hold Him to promises He never made, can you?


I'm not trying to hold God to anything. I'm hypothesizing that God never lies, and trying to use that to prove that the story of God's promise never to flood the earth like that again might be just that...a story.

David Brin said...

If all the mountains were lifted after the flood... um might that deserve a mention?

If Noah was commanded to bring two of every beats, but he had a hateful grudge against dinosaurs and hence disobeyed, might that deserve a mention?

In fact, the latest version of creationism accepts evolution! They know that calculations show the ark would have to be the size of a mountain, to carry all the known species. So Noah carried only two of each "kind" or genus, not species, and they then radiated into all the niches we now see.

Ah, adaptability and agility. To bad their relished goal is to strum harps and sing praises for eternity of drugged bliss, in an infinity of time without any change, ambition, challenges or new people or curiosity. The Mormon afterlife sounds way more interesting. And it is definitely NOT standard "christian."

Jonathan Sills said...

To a Biblical Literalist, there's no such thing as "one of the characters" - remember, every word in there (including the ones that contradict each other!) is supposed to be the literal, invariant Word of God, not metaphor or misinterpretation. So to one of that ilk, the entire world was flooded, because it says in there that the entire world was flooded.

On the other paw, if it was just the Tigris-Euphrates river valley that flooded, then all God promised was not to flood the Tigris-Euphrates river valley that badly again. Houston's still up for grabs. :)

LarryHart said...

@Johnathan Sills,

Biblical inerrancy is a funny thing. Suppose the Bible had a sentence which said "And Pharaoh said, 'Your God cannot defeat the gods of Egypt.'" Would that really mean that God couldn't defeat the gods of Egypt? Or wouldn't it simply mean that Pharaoh actually did say that?

In any case, you're gonna make me go to the source, aren't you? :)

At least a source.

https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-7/


And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.


"Prevailed upon"? Seems to leave a lot of wiggle room as to the extent of the coverage.

OTOH, you seem to be correct about the covenant. There are several different mentions, but the gist of it seems to be that God promises not to destroy all life on earth any more. The Gulf coast alone isn't a violation.


And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.


Still, aside from all this, I'd be curious to know if there is any scientific theory as to how many inches of rain likely fell during the real-life event.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

if your daughter is right, I can just imagine how apoplectic our local trolls would be to hear that Jesus was a WEIRDO. :]

BTW, I wonder if anyone here has read the Jefferson Bible. I understand it is quite a bit shorter than the one that comes to us from Nikea, because old Uncle Tom decided to leave the superstitious silliness on the cutting-room floor. Of course any attempt to edit one of the most influential books of Western history is going to caught up in the culture of the times in which it was done, which is exactly why there can be no Truth. It goes with Sapir/Whorf - as log as humans think linguistically, there can be no perfect understanding between any two hominids, much less people separated by thousands of years.

As far as the current flood goes, the typical conservative response to natural disaster, just like sickness or unemployment is, if they got hurt it was their own damn fault for not being prepared. But when it happens to their own, they change the immediately.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

As far as the current flood goes, the typical conservative response to natural disaster, just like sickness or unemployment is, if they got hurt it was their own damn fault for not being prepared.


They might see it differently when the victims include oil refineries. :)

In any case, that's kind of ironic in this situation, where people are actively discouraged--in some cases forbidden by law--from "being prepared" for the effects of climate change. I suppose it's no worse than insisting that sickness is the individual's fault while pushing to allow corporations to dump toxins into the environment at will.

A.F. Rey said...

Still, aside from all this, I'd be curious to know if there is any scientific theory as to how many inches of rain likely fell during the real-life event.

Alas, it is moot, since rain was not the only source for the water. Genesis mentions "the fountains of the deep," which is interpreted to mean that subterranean water was a significant, if not the major, source of the flood waters.

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c010.html

If all the mountains were lifted after the flood... um might that deserve a mention?

Perhaps God needed a better editor. ;)

If Noah was commanded to bring two of every beats, but he had a hateful grudge against dinosaurs and hence disobeyed, might that deserve a mention?

I believe the latest explanation (along with the "evolution within kinds" you mention--aka "microevolution" is true but "macroevolution" is a Satanic lie) is that the dinosaurs went extinct after the flood occurred. And they were baby dinosaurs, so that they didn't take up too much room and/or eat all the cows (which, fortunately, there were 7 pairs of those "clean" animals, so they had a few to spare). :)

I'm still not clear, though, on how the two kangaroos, platypuses, and Tasmanian devils migrated to Australia after the ark landed. And why there?

Jonathan Sills said...

"Still, aside from all this, I'd be curious to know if there is any scientific theory as to how many inches of rain likely fell during the real-life event."

Well, given as there isn't any scientific consensus as to whether there even was a "real-life event"... (There are those who say the original version of the story comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the one who prepared for the Flood was named Utnapishtim. Others believe that this tale was added to Tablet XI by an editor who took it from the even older Epic of Atrahasis.)

Erin Schram said...

David Brin said,
Oh, BTW, even if the jailhouse mob really would - all in unison - call down a perpetual curse on all generations of future Jewish children... who gave a jailhouse mob the RIGHT to do that? Could anything more blatantly say: "Fallible and angry and bitter humans wrote this, and God had nothing to do with it."

For better examples of Bible fallibility, how about two distinct nativity scenes in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke that agree only that Jesus was born in Bethelem to Mary and Joseph of Nazareth? Or the plot holes in the story of Cain and Abel big enough to sail a battleship through? My students were amused at the beginning of the Book of Ruth where the deceased husbands of Ruth and Orpah were named Coughing and Wheezing. That story was an old family tale of King David's great-grandmother Ruth, not religious scripture, and the name of Ruth's first husband was apparently swapped with the disease that killed him.

The Bible is supposedly infallible because it was written by prophets and disciples, who recorded that prophets and disciples often make mistakes. I don't follow the logic. Difference between several manuscripts show that God was not serving as a copy editor.

I follow the Lutheran sola scriptura only because without it non-scholars decide that the parts they like are correct and the parts they don't like are errors.

Paul SB said,
Jumper, the moral messages in stories are very easy to manipulate.

Published Sunday School material adds a boring moral message to each Bible lesson. I started teaching straight out of the Bible as a cost-saving measure, and I discovered that my students preferred that. I am not wise enough to find a definitive moral in a Bible story, so I let them reach their own conclusions. I was teaching religion, not morality.

Darrell E said,
1) They are not unique to Christianity. Other cultures also realized the same moral concepts and some predate Christianity. This does not invalidate Christianity having realized them it merely shows that Christianity is not exceptional for having realized them.

2) If you believe that the best moral teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are the only parts of the Bible worth celebrating why hold on to the rest of it at all? If you believe in a modern, "liberal" conception of Christianity in which almost all of the Bible is parables, allegory, metaphors, or something other than a somewhat accurate accounting of the history of Christianity, then why Believe any of its core claims at all?


1) I have no problem with humans achieving wisdom without direct revelation from God.
2) Religion is about the relationship between humans and God. The relationship changed over time, with direct conversation between God and Abraham, the covenant with the Jewish people, and salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible is mostly history of that relationship and how it influences our personal relationship with God. Moral teachings are a small part of it.

David Brin said,
If all the mountains were lifted after the flood... um might that deserve a mention?

Would Noah and his family have noticed? "Our part of the world was flat, but during the flood we floated into a ragged land with giant spires of rock. Let's call this one Mount Ararat."

I like the theory that only the Tigris-Euphrates river valley flooded, perhaps with a tsunami from the Persian Gulf.

LarryHart's daughter said,
"Jesus is a weird person."

Yes.

Tony Fisk said...

@Larry (on discussing Easter with daughter)

"Chocolate Zombie Jesus" - You *know* it makes sense!

Tony Fisk said...

On the question of "could rains cover the Earth"?

Clouds certainly could but water? On the face of it*, no, not permanently. Although I'm sure you've seen the graphic of how much rain was dumped on Houston (there's also Scott Meyer's earlier hypothesis), and TC Yasi dumped enough rain on Eastern Australia to cause a detectable drop in sea level (a few mm, but still...).

However, the question immediately got me thinking of the 'Snowball Earth' hypothesis.** Ice is slightly less dense than water, so there'd be a little more to go around. I'm not sure this theory requires complete coverage, though. Just a sufficient chill to explain extensive glaciation in Equatorial regions, and it may have produced frozen oceans.

Also, there's more water in the Earth than just the oceans. If that were present on the surface... possibly before subduction had dragged all the cometary debris under? (this is wild speculation, btw. I have no notion! I wasn't even there!)


*(sorry!)
** Quite feasible. It was a long time ago, when the Sun was dimmer. Even today, without CO2, Earth would have an average temp of -18C, not 15->16C. The difference is explained, ironically, by water vapour. (CO2 is the base current to water's emitter in the amplifier circuit)

Steven Hammond said...

Eric Schram said:

Religion is about the relationship between humans and God. The relationship changed over time, with direct conversation between God and Abraham, the covenant with the Jewish people, and salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible is mostly history of that relationship and how it influences our personal relationship with God. Moral teachings are a small part of it.(my emphasis)

I'd be very interested to know what you mean by the salvation bit there. You see, that's the very thing that I saw as immoral and unfair and so started investigating evangelical universalism, reading George MacDonald (who I still love) and on to scholars like Peter Enns, (I highly recommend his book The Bible Tells Me So), Dominic Crossan, Rene Girard, etc. I suspect you have a very different definition of "salvation" than the usual fundie/evangelical one as the original meaning, from what I've read, has nothing to do with an afterlife, hell etc., but I would love to know how you interpret that.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451 | I'm just saying that the overkill hypothesis by itself is still enough to explain the cultural shift.

I'll admit that I could be wrong. I'm no expert in the field. Not even close. It just doesn't feel right, though. Humans aren't like the critters in the petri dish. We move and trade and it doesn't take much of a motivation to get us to do it. We CAN be stopped if conditions change and turn a once viable part of the ecosystem into one we cannot cross with relative safety, but that kind of change probably involves climate. Even war zones get crossed by the adventurous.

Maybe in the early era of modern humans I could see this, but the YD event was practically yesterday. Sure, we didn't have lactase persistence, blonde hair, and blue eyes, but we were otherwise like us physically.

If I had to bet my house, I'd probably bet on a mix of the possibilities. One doesn't need a dinosaur killer to alter how we behave.

This stuff is still fun to ponder, though. The academic debates are a joy to read. Pop some more popcorn and ignore reality TV for this real reality. 8)

Steven Hammond said...

Alfred Differ said:

If I had to bet my house, I'd probably bet on a mix of the possibilities. One doesn't need a dinosaur killer to alter how we behave.

This stuff is still fun to ponder, though. The academic debates are a joy to read. Pop some more popcorn and ignore reality TV for this real reality. 8)


Yep. I have to think if there was a significant impact right at the time of massive cultural change, sudden species extinction and profound climate change, that impact had, well...some impact. ;)

I too find the academic debates fun and I like to try and read between the lines. Why was the original Firestone paper so far-reaching and grandiose? They lumped climate change, megafauna extinction and the end of the Clovis culture together and got very specific about the "black mats",fires, the Carolina Bays etc. Was it just to gain some attention to the impact idea--to needle traditionalists into engaging with the idea of an extraterrestrial impact at the onset of the YD doing something significant? Did they just want to raise their idea above the surface of the pond of more mundane published work?

The most recent paper about the Pt at the YD boundary seems to be the YDIH folks saying to their critics: "OK, your technical skills are crap so lets dumb it down for you. Here's this platinum we've found at the boundary layer. No need to look for nano diamonds, magnetic spherules or carbon spherules. Measure platinum at the boundary layer. Simple. Can you handle THAT ya ham-handed mooks! (High-fives all around)

David Brin said...

You guys keep having fun here if you like! Great discussion and fun.

I am moving onward.

Erin Schram said...

Steven Hammond asked,
I'd be very interested to know what you mean by the salvation bit there. You see, that's the very thing that I saw as immoral and unfair and so started investigating evangelical universalism, reading George MacDonald (who I still love) and on to scholars like Peter Enns, (I highly recommend his book The Bible Tells Me So), Dominic Crossan, Rene Girard, etc. I suspect you have a very different definition of "salvation" than the usual fundie/evangelical one as the original meaning, from what I've read, has nothing to do with an afterlife, hell etc., but I would love to know how you interpret that.

I am impressed with Steven Hammond's insight. I used the standard phrasing about salvation, yet he deduced that I see it differently than evangelical Christians. To me, salvation is about freeing myself from the fears and falsehoods of the world so that I can be a better person and help others more. (I like helping them with math and science, but that is another discussion.) As for the afterlife, Lutheran doctrine says that I cannot earn Heaven by my own actions, so I leave the matter in God's hands. He is an old friend and I trust his judgment (pun intended).

People are lovable creatures with individual character and individual aspirations, but we become trapped by our sins, by mistakes that redefine us as less than ourselves. For example, a racist who learned that blacks are inferior on his father's knee is unlikely to overcome that misconception on his own. His actions due to his racism will diminish himself. Salvation is God lifting us out of our sins so that we can lead a proper life. God made a covenant with the people of Israel to create a people who learned wisdom. God became human as Jesus so that he could reassure us, "I know. I lived a human life, too." And he sacrificed himself so that we would take him seriously.

Samples of Peter Enns' book, The Bible Tells Me So, were displayed at Amazon, so I read them. He had a long journey to his enlightenment about the Bible. I reached it by the easy path of a child-like sense of wonder.

Paul451 said...

New thread's politics, so I'll leave this here:


PaulSB,
I think if people knew how the Book was cobbled together at Nikea three centuries later, and how very political that council was, people might read it a little more critically. We are supposed to apply a product of Roman-era political diatribe to our lives today, but few people acknowledge the very political nature of religion."

You could say the same about the core of the Old Testament/Torah, if the theory that its authorship dates within the window between the decline of the Assyrians and the rise of the (neo-) Babylonians when the king of Jerusalem suddenly found himself with a nice little empire of his own and a burning reason to invent prior-justification. Drawn from earlier separate regional stories, but given a hard politically-driven once-over. Ie, the whole one-people/one-law thing, the repeated morality tales of dividing-and-being-punished or staying-true-and-being-rewarded. One people, one origin, one law, one religion, one god... and hey one king maybe why not...

Re: The Texas flood.

The current narrative that's being built up on the right is the self-reliant, community-oriented people, looking out for each other. Unlike those people during the New Orleans flood, who were just animals. And "I see the Cajun (read as Confederate) Navy rushing to help, but I sure don't see the leftist/liberal/anti-fascist/BLM Navy".

Paul451 said...

Larry,
C'mon, it's not that freakin' ambiguous.

"And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered."


All the high hills, under the "whole heaven", meaning across the whole world, were covered, and the waters continued to rise until they covered the mountains.

(15 cubits and the mountains were covered?)

"And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark."


And everything on Earth died. All of them.

I mean, yes, the story was obviously just an exaggeration of Tigris flooding, just as every culture that lives in a flood-plain has a "flood the world" myth, but the story itself doesn't offer any ambiguity. Everything flooded, every mountain was covered, every animal/bird/insect died.

--

Tony,
"On the question of "could rains cover the Earth"?
Clouds certainly could but water? On the face of it, no, not permanently."


Well, if you go back far enough. It did. Before thicker, lighter continental crust had formed from the cruft skimmed off the subduction of ocean plates.

The Earth enough to form a solid crust, then the rains came and oceans covered the face. Actually it probably happened a few times, then a big impactor caused a resurfacing event, then cooled, rained, then smash!, then cooled, rained, until finally at some point it stuck.

--

David,
"Noah was commanded to bring two of every beats"

Steven Hammond said...

Hi Erin, we must move onward, so I'll think about your response and move to the next thread. I'll have something worthwhile to say to your gracious and helpful response then. Thanks again.

Steve

Steven Hammond said...

Erin,

Forgot to say that my response will be tomorrow. (My posts on the next thread were before I saw yours.)

Onward! (and in my case, 'To bed!" )

LarryHart said...

I'll post this here because I don't see the Bible being discussed on the next threat (yet). Might re-post as appropriate.

One problem I see with Scripture is that it's presented as a combination of great literature, accurate history, and some sort of instruction manual on human life and civilization. The problem as I see it is that those are three very different things. There's a certain amount of Heisenberg-uncertainty that keeps it from being all of those things with 100% accuracy.

Dr Brin, of course, has moved....onward!

onward!