The Bible Wheel: Patternicity on Steroids

Why do people see faces in nature, interpret window stains as human figures, hear voices in random sounds generated by electronic devices or find conspiracies in the daily news? A proximate cause is the priming effect, in which our brain and senses are prepared to interpret stimuli according to an expected model. UFOlogists see a face on Mars. Religionists see the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. Paranormalists hear dead people speaking to them through a radio receiver. Conspiracy theorists think 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration. Is there a deeper ultimate cause for why people believe such weird things? There is. I call it “patternicity,” or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

~ Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise,
by Michael Shermer (Scientific American, Dec 2008)

In my recent post If I am an Atheist, why have I kept the Bible Wheel site up? I answered that question as follows:

The main reason is because it is a rare and highly detailed record of the process of deconversion. I began this site in 2001 when I was a fully convinced believer who described himself as a “a non-denominational blood-bought Bible-believing Trinitarian Christian” (see my old FAQ). My transformation, which was a slow process that spanned a few years, is recorded in thousands of articles and posts here on my site, blog, and forum (which began in 2007 and now has about 56,000 posts). It is a very rich resource for personal insight as well as the psychology of belief. I am particularly interested in the role cognitive biases play in the maintenance of unjustifiable beliefs. This has been the focus of many of my recent articles, especially The Art of Rationalization: A Case Study of Christian Apologist Rich Deem.

Consistency is key to avoiding cognitive bias, so I try to apply the same standards to myself as those I criticize in my articles. Was I simply deluded as so many Christian apologists seem to be? This site provides a lot of raw data to help answer that question. I may, of course, find myself hoisted by my own petard. If so, so be it!

As it turns out, I have indeed been hoisted by my own patternistic petard, and I couldn’t be happier for it. I’m actually getting rather giddy debunking myself. The world brightens as blinders constricting my vision to the limits of The Pattern fall from my eyes. Belly laughs erupt as I recognize the folly of my former beliefs. This happened the other day when my wife Rose and I read some of my old writings. We laughed loud and clear for at least 15 minutes. I felt refreshed for days. It reminds me of the last scene in the movie Steppenwolf when Harry laughed along with his judges and so broke free from oppressive fantasies in the Magic Theatre of his mind.

One of the most effective ways I have found to “break the spell” of patternicity is to compare my patterns with contrary patterns promoted by other believers. Like the story of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti in which psychiatrist Milton Rokeach brought together three men who each claimed to be Jesus Christ and confronted them with one another’s conflicting claims, bringing myself face to face with similar but contrary claims helps me see that mine were not really different than theirs, especially when theirs strike me as obviously false and easy to refute (which they usually do, since they are not, after all, my patterns!). And so I free myself.

The Bible Wheel Pattern

bw_500The Bible Wheel is a powerful matrix for patternicity. History is littered with circles filled with symbols and geometric forms created by mystics entranced by sacred texts presumed to be divinely inspired. One of the oldest examples is from the ancient Jewish mystical text, the Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Formation) which explains how God created the world through “32 mystical paths of wisdom” consisting of the first ten natural numbers and the 22 Hebrew letters. The text says that God put the 22 letters “in a circle” and by them “depicted all that was formed and all the would be formed.” I was using this circle to categorize the symbolic meaning of the Hebrew letters when I noticed that the 66 books of the Bible could be displayed as three wheels within the wheel of 22 Hebrew letters. And so the Bible Wheel, a modern incarnation of this ancient concept, was born. I explain how this happened in my article Debunking Myself: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.

My primary claim was that God designed the entire Bible on the pattern of the Hebrew alphabet. My evidence consisted of examples of “connections” between the themes and content of the books on a given Spoke with the symbolic meaning of the Hebrew letter. As we shall see below, my claims were far from unique.

Contrary Pattern: The Mystery of the Menorah and the Hebrew Alphabet

mystery_of_the_menorahThe authors of this book make essentially the same claim as I did, with one very important difference. They condensed the 39 books of the Old Testament into 22 so they could correlate them with the Hebrew alphabet. They then claimed, as I did, that God designed the entire Bible in accordance with the sevenfold pattern of the Menorah and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Their enthusiasm was extreme, just like mine. They thought they had found patterns that proved the divine design of the Bible, and they repeatedly asserted that the pattern “fit perfectly.” For example, here are a few snippets from the Foreword to their book:

  • The concept put forth in this book will give you a renewed appreciation for the divine design of the Bible.
  • When we first saw this amazing truth, we were filled with a sense of God’s majesty and perfection.
  • The truth of the Bible’s divine inspiration emerged with new meaning.
  • The correlation matched perfectly!
  • Once again, we found a perfect match!

Their claims, and the enthusiasm it evoked in them, were much like mine. They even put the Hebrew alphabet in a circle on the cover of their book. But there was one little difference – the correlations they found were between entirely different letters and books! This really disturbed me when I was a believer because it gave weight to the skeptics claim that patterns like mine could be found no matter how the books were arranged. I now see they were right. Claims of “perfect correlation” are false and misleading because they represent a tiny cherry-picked collection of “hits” from a vast ocean of misses that they ignored. It is a textbook example of confirmation bias, just like the Bible Wheel.

Contrary Pattern: The Original Bible Restored, by E. L. Martin

restoredbiblebookIn this book, Ernest Martin “restored” the Bible to its “original” structure by following the pattern of the modern Tanakh (Hebrew Old Testament) and the “manuscript order” of the New Testament books. He then enumerated the books in a unique way to arrive at the “perfect” number 49 = 7 x 7 (which is so much better than 66 since that is based on the number of imperfect man (6) and too reminiscent of 666 for numerological comfort).

Martin then displayed his 49 book Bible in a symmetric chart based on the number 22 which he related directly to the Aleph and Tav (first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet). He represented the symmetry by displaying a perfectly balanced scale with the number 22 on either side. This really disturbed me when I was a believer since it directly challenged my claims concerning the uniqueness and improbability of the “divine design” I had found in the Bible Wheel. And worse, the symmetry was based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, just like mine! I dealt with this challenge by writing a scathing refutation (see here).

restoredbible

It is easy to see why believers would find this pattern convincing. Martin carefully designed it to be based on the numbers 7 and 22. He amplified the connection with the number 7 by selectively grouping his 49 (7 x 7) books into 7 divisions, much as I did when I created the Canon Wheel. We both thought that the product of our selection was “no accident.” Here is what he said (source):

This number 49 is, of course, 7 times 7, and seven represents the symbolic number of completion or finalization. One could spend many pages giving biblical references concerning the significance of the number seven. … Why are these sevens and multiples of sevens important? They show that it was no accident that the total number of Old and New Testament books came to 49 in number (7 times 7) in the enumeration maintained by the early Jewish and early Christian authorities. But there is more to it than that. There are also (as Christ taught) three divisions to the Old Testament:

  1. The Law,
  2. The Prophets, and
  3. The Writings’ (the Psalms) Division.

To these can be added the four divisions of the New Testament:

  1. The Historical Books [Gospels and Acts],
  2. The seven General [or Catholic] Epistles,
  3. The fourteen [2 times 7] epistles of Paul, and then
  4. the final Book of Revelation.

When one adds the three divisions of the Old Testament with the four of the New Testament, we arrive at seven divisions for the complete Bible. This seven-fold division was no accident.

No accident? No shit! Martin carefully selected the seven divisions to fit his pattern. There were many possibilities he rejected in the process. And his divisions are not consistent. He arbitrarily grouped the Gospels with Acts to create one division, but then arbitrarily divided the Epistles to create two divisions. Note also that he emphasize the number 7 in the latter while ignoring the number 5 in the former.

cw_500Martin’s selection process is particularly intriguing to me because I did essentially the same thing to create Canon Wheel. Like him, I used lots of arguments from history and the Bible to establish the validity of my selection (see here and here). Here are the divisions I used. Only two are the same as Martin’s:

  1. The Law (Torah)
  2. Historical Books (Joshua – Esther)
  3. Wisdom (Job – Song of Solomon)
  4. Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel)
  5. Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi)
  6. NT History (Gospels and Acts)
  7. Epistles (Romans – Revelation)

These seven divisions form a very nice pattern when displayed on the Bible Wheel. I said it revealed the “sevenfold symmetric perfection of the Holy Bible.” I considered this to be over-the-top irrefutable proof of divine inspiration. I now see it as the product of selection bias.

Contrary Pattern: The Roman Catholic Bible Wheel

When I was a believer, I thought one of the most significant features of the Bible Wheel was that it settled the centuries-old dispute between Catholics and Protestants concerning the canon of Scripture. I was convinced that the Bible Wheel patterns proved it was designed by God and so necessarily excluded the Catholic canon with its “extra” deuterocanonical books. I just “knew” there could be no pattern, but never actually bothered to check. I have now checked, and much to my surprise I found it very easy to make a Roman Catholic Bible Wheel. I simply followed the order of books as listed in the Vulgate (same as the Douay-Rheims version), and followed the tradition of counting Jeremiah and Lamentations as one to give a total of 72 books. These books can then be displayed on three wheels within a wheel of 24 spokes, corresponding to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. Thus, Catholics can claim their Bible is “sealed from Alpha to Omega” just as I claimed that that Protestant canon was “sealed from Aleph to Tav.” Only their claim has a much better ring to it, given that the Alpha and Omega are descriptions of the divine found within the text itself and are ubiquitous in ancient Christian art and literature as seen, for example, in the Chi Rho I placed in the center:

RomanCatholicBibleWheelChiRhoI compare the Catholic and Protestant Bible Wheels in my article Battle of the Bible Wheels.

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20 Comments

  1. Posted October 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    That’s hoist with your own petard. A petard is a bomb, not something you could be hung by.

  2. Posted October 12, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Excellent! Thanks Wm Jas. I had never actually looked up the meaning of that phrase. The wiktionary says that the idiom means “To be hurt or destroyed by one’s own plot or device intended for another; to be ‘blown up by one’s own bomb’.” That’s what I always thought it meant. So neither “hoisted” nor “hung” makes good sense in our modern English. I need to look into this more, but the hour is late.

    Thanks for taking time correct my mistake. Learn something new every day, eh?

  3. Posted May 1, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Rich,

    I just met your site, and I know why you became an unbeliever.

    You are an unbeliever because you still don’t know the truth.

    OK. Then please enlighten me.

  4. Pieter
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    I am a Man
    I am a Son to my parents, a Husband to my wife and a Father to my children.
    I am also a Mentor, a Leader and an Educator; to name but a few.
    And none of these contradicts any of the other, because each one describes the real me from a different perspective.

    All of these designs on top are magnificent, because the Word of God is magnificent.
    And you should know that the Word of God is a person.
    You should not doubt His revelations to you because it seems to conflict with the revelations given to others. Rather count it a blessing.

    Canon is not decided by patterns, although they might be useful.
    Canon is decided by the Word of God, because He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

  5. Posted May 14, 2015 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I am a Man
    I am a Son to my parents, a Husband to my wife and a Father to my children.
    I am also a Mentor, a Leader and an Educator; to name but a few.And none of these contradicts any of the other, because each one describes the real me from a different perspective.

    I don’t see how your analogy applies. The Roman Catholic and Protestant Bibles differ in both content and order. They cannot both be the “complete revealed Word of God.” The Council of Trent declared that Christians must accept their canon. And besides, there is no proof that either pattern was designed by God. That’s the real issue: How do you discern between chance and design? The only evidence for the patterns is picking and choosing “connections” out of a very large dataset. Such cherry picking is the root of most delusions. People can find patterns in any book. This kind of delusion is as common as dirt.

    We have a similar problem with the other patterns, such as the Isaiah-Bible Correlation. Other people use a different order of books and yet think they have found connections that indicate God must have designed them. None of the patterns fit all the data. They all contradict each other. And again, the only “evidence” is cherry picked “connections.” It is evidence of nothing but the human ability to find patterns in anything.

    You should not doubt His revelations to you because it seems to conflict with the revelations given to others. Rather count it a blessing.

    How do you discern between real and imaginary patterns? Are you saying I should believe every random claim made by any pattern finder if it happens to be based on the Bible? That makes no sense.

    And why should anyone begin with the presupposition that the Bible is inspired? Who told you that? It can’t come from the Bible because the Bible doesn’t even define itself. That’s why the Catholics and Protestants cannot settle their argument over what books it is supposed to contain.

    Canon is decided by the Word of God, because He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

    OK – so which Bible does the “Word of God” say is the true one?

  6. Gnade
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Richard, the truth is found in the truth
    God’s sinless Son is the truth. Seek Him. Seek to wholeheartedly trust and
    obey Him!

    His words and deeds can be found in the KJV of the Bible.
    Seek the Teacher of teachers and be blessed!

  7. William
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Greetings Rich,

    I enjoyed your perspective! Thank you very much for it.

    I’m reasonably certain that attempts to create things like bible wheels or other extra-biblical sources of “truth” are direct results of the protestant reformation and it’s attempt to eschew any sort of institutional religious authority. In rejecting things like a Pope (Catholicism) or a Council of Patriarchs (Orthodoxy), we’re left with a situation where it’s basically MY interpretation vs. YOURS – something Luther sadly alluded to when trying to unify his church with Calvin’s and Zwingli’s.

    And in order to gain an apologetic upper-hand, we resort to extra-biblical phenomena like those you’ve described to create an “Ah-Ha!” proof that our interpretation of the faith is the correct one. As you’ve come to realize, most of that stuff usually ends up being a bunch of bunk since most of it is lethally poisoned with personal selection bias.

    What I would like to suggest is that authority in God’s church does not come from the scrutiny of scripture. It comes from the Holy Spirit as it passes from one ordained “apostle” to another in continuing, unbroken succession – as we can arguably observe in the New Testament. And it is an institution protected by God Himself since we are promised that not even the gates of Hell will prevail against our faith. Therefore, it is those men, alone, that have the right to authoritatively interpret scripture.

    What’s interesting is that such a regime was unambiguously practiced by the Jews through the old and early new testaments. It was described as the “Chair of Moses” by Jesus himself when describing the Pharisees and practiced since the Jewish exodus out of Egypt. The oldest Christian churches, with their episcopal authority, claim that their episcopate (church leaders) are the direct heirs of the apostles, who were ordained by the highest Jewish priest, and thus sit in that chair. The primary argument between those faiths is generally a question of “who and how many” sit in the seat (a major over-simplification on my part).

    I know that submission to a council of mere men in a religious context is an outrageous impossibility for someone who is both protestant and American. But I offer this as a counter – if one’s interpretation of the faith didn’t exist in the 5th century (where it was unambiguously hierarchical), how on earth could they claim to be part of the church? I guess the church died not long after conception and their Manifest Destiny, American Protestant Individualistic Hyper-Confidence Complex brought it back? Forgive me for rolling my eyes =)

    Anywho, just a thought. Thanks again for your views!

  8. William
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Greetings Rich,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your articulate response! A few thoughts, if you may allow;

    Our differences on the bible wheel may be as simple as a difference in paradigm, but as I see no direct reference to such a device within the texts. As such, it is by definition extra-biblical. Specifically, the bible wheel is a tool created by the practitioner of what is largely considered a pseudo-scientific discipline that is then used to analyze scripture itself. The fact that the tool can be readily modified (by your own admission) to suit protestant and catholic canons indicates that it is a product of the author’s bias and such examples are probably the reason numerology and patternicity can’t graduate from the “pseudo-science” classification most academics place upon them.

    That doesn’t mean a bible wheel’s without merit! Just be willing to call a spade a spade.

    Also, I fully understand that you weren’t trying to reject traditional religious authority per se. But the bible wheel was very obviously an evangelical Christian’s attempt at establishing some sort of transcending, unifying truth. I think you even admit to as much in your writings. I only intended to re-introduce the notion of episcopal authority as an answer to the classic protestant problem of “who decides?” And a monster problem it is. Check out the estimated number of independent Christian sects pre-Henry VIII (of England) vs. today. There’s so many, no wonder you see these poor Christians struggling for anything to get an authoritative edge. “The answer is in the King James Bible! The answer is in a number wheel! The answer is holding snakes! Maybe it’s in icons and polyphony!”

    The alternative to snakes and number wheels that I suggest is that Christ ordained apostles with the authority to decide matters for the church. Under those apostles are priests. And under those dudes sits the deaconate. Below that is the laity (me). The fundamental difference between this hierarchy and the number wheel is the ordination by Christ and the empowerment via the Holy Spirit into a position of divine authority. There’s also more historicity for the episcopate than there is for the “protocanononical core” you claim to have existed, as canon wasn’t approaching establishment for the buds of the major Christian branches until the 4th century. Even the authenticity of the gospel of Mark, the first to have written, has been subject to debate. We do, however, see much proof for the existence of the episcopate because what is a Pauline letter in itself if not a loving correction sent to a church from an espicopal authority?

    So to be clear, the Holy Spirit does not and will not “speak clearly through his fickle followers” on ecclesiastical issues. He/It does so through the empowered episcopate – which WE are NOT automatically a part of upon coming into the faith. Think of the American president and his cabinet. They make the major decisions that We The People are generally bound to, but we have little if any part in evaluating. You may counter that you elected the president. I’d rebut by saying that you did only if you’re a member of the Electoral College.

    Naturally, submission to the episcopate requires faith in such authority, but we Are talking about the Christian religion, so faith is a reasonable assumption. If this is merely an argument about the existence of a god in general, any rhetorician knows that the existence of the divine is as provable or disprovable as the existence of happiness. You can say you have it both when you really do and really don’t.

    And please reconsider the notion that because there is more than one competing episcopal authority, you have a logical obligation to dismiss them all. I could use identical logic to dismiss the fields of quantum mechanics and astrophysics as nonsense because there are competing and mutually exclusive theories that as-yet cannot be empirically confirmed or denied in both fields. Another great example of inconsistency in the sciences comes from a quip my brother-in-law (a maxillofacial surgeon) likes to use. “Ask 10 peers for a consult, you’ll get 11 different opinions”. By your logic, I probably just shouldn’t have the surgery. However, we know uncertainty is not an excuse for dismissal.

    A few closing thoughts:
    Your line about Pharisees and Sadducees assumes they were mutually exclusive of one another – like protestants and catholics. I humbly point out that these two groups had an inter-working relationship like the administration of the Sanhedrin – the High Jewish Court.

    By the end of the 5th century (meaning about 401 to 500), virtually all of the major doctrinal issues that divide the ancient church in the present had already emerged. Nicaea defined the trinity and that there is only one church, Chalcedon defined the personhood and godhood of Christ and Carthage settled the canon until Luther decided he had the right to open it back up 1100 years later. Some say that Constantinople in the 7th century defined canon for the orthodox, but it was merely a confirmation of Carthage and attendees explicitly refer to it. Also, there were already rumblings between Greek and Latin Christians as to the authority of the bishop of Rome – no material disagreements on the necessity of the episcopate, however.

    I’m assuming your claim of catholic bias stems from the fact that the 5th century was also the time of Augustine. Please remember it was also the time of Chrysostom. As the 7 ecumenical councils of the church were completed by the end of the 8th, if you’d like to use that as a benchmark, it’s very supportable, especially since no major fragmentation occurred in the interim, although you leave out the Oriental church using anything past the 5th, which is a bit of a problem. Maybe the issue is the possible anti-catholic residue of a once-evangelical and not any bias on my part? It’s pretty common knowledge that most evangelicals look upon the catholics (or really ANY church with an authoritative hierarchy) as heretical because evangelicals know that the local church is the supreme authority on matters of faith, even if Paul himself sends them a letter of admonishment and correction. They clearly have right of refusal =).

    So using either the 5th or 8th centuries, if the True Church is ever to have really existed, it was Catholic, Oriental or Orthodox. And not a bible wheel to be found between them.

    Sorry, this was WAY longer than I anticipated.

  9. Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Hey there William,

    I very much appreciate your dissertation. [wink] But when all is said and done, I see absolutely no justification to believe the Catholic teachings about the existence of Christ, let alone the doctrine that the church descended from Apostles who were themselves ordained by him. There may have been a charismatic first century Jewish dude name Yehoshua around whom the Christ myth grew, but that is irrelevant since it is obvious that most if not all that is said of him is mythology, much of which was invented after he died (if he existed at all). I agree with the modern consensus that there is essentially nothing we can know about the “historical Jesus.” It’s like trying to write a biography of Joseph Smith using only the official Mormon sources. If my skepticism seems extreme or unreasonable, consider the fact that Joseph Smith made up his religion out of whole cloth less than two hundred years ago. Now there are millions of Mormons. If he could do that in an age of telegraphs, photographs, newspapers, and fact checkers, how much easier would it have been for people like him to make up a religion in the first through fifth centuries when everyone was a thousand times more ignorant, gullible, and superstitious? And besides that, religion is not looking for skeptical fact checkers, but rather gullible believers. If there is a rational God, I could not imagine that he would expect anyone to believe in the Catholic church.

    Great chatting!

    Richard

  10. MichaelFree
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    William,

    You said:

    “All the contradictions I’ve ever been presented with are generally hazards of individual interpretation that are readily dismissed with another interpretation.”

    The Medianites in Numbers 31 were ordered to be murdered by God, and to have their things stolen. This was done for religious reasons (unjust reasons in other words), because they tempted the Jews with other Gods. God in the Bible said “do not kill” and “do not steal”, and yet orders his followers to break his own commandments = contradiction.

    You said:

    “-“Errors” is super-vague, but I fully accept that translation errors are common when converting a text from one language-in-time to any other.”

    Richard can attest better than I can to the errors littered throughout the Bible. I’ve only read the Gospels.

    -If by “Logical Absurdities” you refer to supernatural events, then they are readily acceptable within the context because WE ARE discussing a religious text. The “logical absurdities” explain why it was written in the first place. Something very different and interesting seems to have happened!

    If you valued the truth you would interpret that book according to reality, with metaphors being interpreted as metaphors and truth being interpreted as truth. Literal Adam and Eve and literal Noah’s ark are logical absurdities.

    You said:

    “-“Moral abominations” are in the eye of the beholder’s chosen morality. Scientifically speaking, there isn’t even a “good” and “bad”. Only causality. What “moral” rubric are you using?”

    See my last comment.

  11. MichaelFree
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    William,

    Your religion, your morality, and your ideology, have nothing of value to offer me. If God showed itself in the world and was just like your religion says he is, then God would have nothing of value to offer me; I’d rather be dead than to live for eternity with your God.

    I’ve washed myself of my past sins and I serve my fellow human beings every day. I am not a hypocrite, and I do it for honor, not for a promise of eternal life.

    I’m done talking to you.

    Enjoy yourself.

  12. MichaelFree
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    William,

    One more thing.

    Untold numbers of war veterans throughout the centuries have suffered from PTSD. They are ashamed of what they participated in. This shame comes from inside of them. They find it difficult to live with themselves. And that is the nature of violence, it is abhorrent and inhuman, the exact opposite of how each of us wants to be treated by other people. It is one thing to protect yourself from violence using enough force to restrain the violence from continuing to occur, but it is entirely another thing to commit violence towards peaceful people who want no part of violence. A persons choice of religion is not a reason to commit violence towards them, so it is unjustified, just like your God.

    Take care.

  13. William
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Greetings Richard,

    I apologize. The error of address was not corrected earlier and I mistakenly assumed that it was ok. I repent.

    First, you don’t seem to know what a strawman actually is. It is when you craft a weak version of your opponent’s argument so that you may easily “burn” it – by proxy burning your opponent’s actual, stronger argument. It is Not challenging the validity of one of your opponent’s premises, which is what I’m doing. If you’re looking for a fallacy to cry out, you could try Begging the Question, but I still don’t think it fits. Obviously I’m biased in my favor.

    If I’m not clear enough – you don’t get to define “atheist”. I don’t either. If we disagree on a common definition…

    That is called semantics. So yes, the problem appears to come down to semantics, as they usually do.

    You are smart enough to realize that you can’t defend your stated, defined view if you have a burden of proof. The fact that all defined views have an inherent burden of proof is a fact you irrationally, religiously ignore. In fact, the only claim that doesn’t is one of “undefined” – without any “buts” or addendums (another reference for hypothesis testing). But we both know that’s too neutral (because it’s impeccably, scientifically neutral) and you would probably consider switching your views to that as an unacceptable concession.

    Understandably, you’re therefore going to do anything and everything you can to shift the perception of that inherent burden off of you as expeditiously as humanly possible because failure to do so requires you to rationally admit the nigh-immediate death of your claim. After all, what is this website if not a public challenge to “Come And Take A Shot At Richard’s Unassailable Claim!”?

    So here’s my semantic on “atheist”.

    Theos is an affirmative word and Atheos is the negative form of that word. It is “God” and “No God”. It follows the simple rule of grammatical negation. That is an actual, extant logical convention of creating the negative absolute equivalent of the original – in this case easily achieved by adding an “alpha”. I’m not sure how I can make that any more clear to you, Richard.

    Assuming you don’t wish to argue the significance of the suffix “-ist”, you arrive at “follower of god” and “follower of no god”. The negation of Theos does not create “follower of no god in particular, but open to some unknown god.” There’s no one Greek (or Latin) word I’ve ever come across to convey that in either affirmative or negated form. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I’ve just never seen it. You may find a solution in conjuncting words, but you’ve got to be very careful about which you pick, as I’ll later show.
    Non-theist, as I correctly identified previously, means precisely “something other than a theist”.

    Expanding “theist” (which is theos + ist) within the statement yields “something other than follower of god”. Compare to “follower of no god”. These are not logical equivalents. They never will be. This is not a matter of opinion. It is only a matter of “discussion” to people who have no real idea what they’re actually talking about.

    To be clear, feel free to call it an “ad hoc” definition as you need, but it’s classroom Greek. And it’s a sophomore-level example at very best.

    If your definition strays substantially, it may be possible that you source your expanded definitions from sources that create those definitions with a specific purpose already in mind – perhaps sources already sympathetic to your claim. In such a case, you would have to claim the privilege of relativism in order for your definition to not be total garbage. But taken to extremes (and there’s nothing really prohibiting that) unbridled relativism makes rhetoric impossible as anything can ultimately mean anything else.

    Continuing with the semantic, what you identify as “Strong Atheism” is just “atheism” and “Weak Atheism” approaches “non-theism”. And you’re right; not the same.

    And this is of supreme relevance because we’re still trying to identify what you actually believe in correct terms. The labels that you eschew are necessary in order to craft any kind of communicable statement concerning your belief.

    The “Hail Mary” descriptor I’ve seen thrown is “Agnostic Atheist”. Let’s take a second and tear apart this absolute train-wreck of a term. It takes a word describing neither belief nor disbelief in god and conjucts it with a word describing disbelief in god.

    In case you totally missed it, the claim of the second term immediately contradicts the claim of the first. And I’m supposed to accept that as the bedrock religious view of the quintessentially rational?

    Oh, I almost missed something… Let’s assume for a moment that your personalized definition of “atheist” is valid. As you admit to your thread being anti-Yahweh, where exactly does that fit in your faith-definition? Are you an Agnostic Atheist Anti-Judeo-Christian? You’re a man that neither believes in God nor disbelieves in god but disbelieves in the Judeo-Christian god but is open to the existence of an unknown god? What, exactly, is the Greek word for THAT? Can you provide proof Yahweh isn’t real?
    Your religious views appear no more rational that those of the Pastafarians.

    And closing on the anti-catholic bit, I typed it earlier, I’ll type it again. I referenced the 5th century, you immediately cried “catholic” in your December 17 & 18 posts and had a few critiques of my allegedly catholic god and insisted the 5th century was when the catholic church developed. Feel free to scroll up. I’ll draw the similarity like this – are you familiar with the Rorschach tests psychologists use? Look at the picture, tell me what you see? It reveals personality and emotional traits. You saw the inkblots of the 5th century and immediately conjured Catholicism and attacked it when I’m no such thing. Also, the idea that Catholicism somehow emerged more in the 5th than any other is also partially telling. That’s a bias revealed. But don’t feel vexed about it. You can almost define “American Evangelical” as “someone who thinks Catholics are idol-worshipping, bible hating heathens” and you were once an evangelical.

    And the snide remarks – if one lobs a petard, it’s fair game to lob it back. I’m sorry if I offended.

  14. William
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Hey You two,

    I replied before I saw the additional comments. Apologies.

    Reductionist fallacy? Chimps and dolphins are also self-aware. Independent of divinity, man is simply another animal unless proven otherwise, Richard. Please try again.

    Youtube is a poor source for info, but I’ll bite. I asked if Chimps are sad at the end of a battle due to killing other chimps. Not “do they ever get sad”. Please re-read.

    Richard, the “cop” works because animals respond to the carrot or the stick. The notion that the irreligious are as bad as the religious is a sweeping generalization so broad and void of substance that I won’t address it except to inform you that you can do better. Continuing, The elimination of rival males and subjugation of females is a natural practice by most pack animals, especially pack predators. I’ve said this before. Do you deny it? If so, seek correction from a zoologist. They’ll provide.

    Richard, every act of God in delivering His justice will be an act you will always agree with? Is a supreme being somehow subject to your approval? If it exists, of course not! You basically posit that you critique the text because you plain ‘ole don’t like it. As a completely and equally valid counter: Tough shit. I don’t like taxes, but their reality does not depend on my belief.

    The Art of Rationalization applies to you as well, Richard. You could subtitle it “A collection of ad hominem fallacies to make you feel better when people do a good job of disagreeing with you”. It’s extremely self-serving.

    Quote “Readily dismissed? Don’t be absurd. All intellectually competent non-delusional informed readers of the Bible know that it is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. E.g.: The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. The four contradictory accounts of the passion week. The ministry of Christ being three years in John and one year in the synoptics. The lack of mention of James in John. How Judas died. The sequence of events the the four gospels. Etc., etc., etc.”

    Christian scholars of every stripe have written whole libraries in response to each of these, Richard. Your arguments are not novel in the least. Do you need me to do the google search for you?

    My faith has maintained that a legalistic view of Genesis is an incorrect one for centuries. I think I’ve said this before.

    The followers of your morality of love will be slave to the followers of the morality of might. The communal utilitarian will always endure the egoist. You cannot conquer the sword with the smile. Your best chance of making it work require everyone taking vows of extreme poverty and living on land devoid of natural resources or the conquerors shall visit. I’ve said this before.

    I think I’ve already addressed most of your objections.

  15. MichaelFree
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    William,

    I do have a reply after all.

    I’ll make it simple because I’m not interested in history or philosophy, contradictions, errors, or logical absurdities.

    Animals and human beings can’t be compared when it comes to human morality. Human beings get to make an informed choice before our words and before our deeds that affect other people. Not being a hypocrite is a powerful motivating force for anyone that was raised in a family environment where the rules were to get along with one another, no religion needed. It takes more than one person existing in the world for there to be such a thing as a hypocrite. Not being a hypocrite requires true words and peaceful deeds to be done to other people. The good, true, and peaceful way.

    My whole premise is that your God is evil for purportedly doing violence to non-violent non-believers. It’s really disgusting and shameful to imagine such a thing happening to real people (non-believers). It’s unacceptable spiritually. And as we’ve seen the scenario then transfers to the real world showing itself in religious violence. It’s real fear-conjuring witchcraft to purport to have a God that does violence to non-violent people. To me it’s unacceptable, and I’m not an atheist, I believe in a deity, but I’m not religious.

  16. MichaelFree
    Posted December 28, 2015 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    I said:

    “remember objective morality between human beings requires two or more human beings to exist, and our collective opinion as a species establishes natural law by way of objective morality”

    Just to clarify:

    If the collective opinion of the vast majority of humanity, say ninety-five percent of us, says that homosexuality is wrong and unnatural and should be outlawed and punished, and five percent say homosexuality is right and natural and should be lawful and that people who have a problem with it should mind their own business, does the “collective opinion” of humanity establish natural law? The answer is no. There are two sexualities in the world, heterosexuality and homosexuality, but there is only one “do not murder”. Homosexuality is right and natural. People do not get to establish their human-made customs and traditions as natural law, no matter how many people’s opinion agrees with it.

    There is only one:

    Do not physically assault other people.
    Do not rape other people.
    Do not murder other people.
    Do not torture other people.
    Do not enslave other people.
    Do not steal things that belong to other people.
    Do not lie to other people.

  17. William
    Posted January 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Greetings Richard/Michael/Anyone Else!

    Happy new year and I hope the holiday season was great for everyone!

    I’m delighted that you’ve not opted to delete! Thanks Richard =)

    I shall resume by verifying that I am a Christian with the long-enduring understanding that I cannot meet the burden of proof of my claim without non-rational posits like “faith”. If any of you have responded under a different assumption, it’s due to the preconceived notions you brought with you. “Faith” is a vital, non-rational requirement for the Christian religion and I don’t shy away from that fact.

    Ok, with that out of the way, I’ll try to respond to Richard’s latest counters as he presents them-

    My obsession with “terms” and “labels” stems from the fact that they are fundamental in creating and defining the ideas we present. If one has difficulty defining reasonably precise terms and syllogisms to accurately describe and defend their belief, then the belief cannot be recreated, accurately understood and evaluated by outside parties independently of the author. As this process is necessary for determining the rationality any claim, it is essential to Richard’s claim of superior rationality that this process be possible. Apropos – my focus on terminology and form is relevant even if Richard doesn’t see it.

    The fundamental problem with identifying as an “agnostic atheist” is that it makes no material claim that is any different from that made by the classical definition of “agnostic”. It posits belief in no God, but then immediately concedes that there may be a god that is unknown. Aside from the obvious etymological train-wreck that the term itself represents, it cites the exact ambiguity already espoused by “agnosticism”.

    Why is this relevant?

    Because if either of the terms claim that there may be an unknown god, then HOW ON EARTH can one positively assert that the Christian God is not extant if they espouse either of these labels? It’s a titanic failure of logic to say “There may be a God I don’t know about, but it’s not Yahweh” and then assume that such a statement does not create a burden of proof (that Richard furiously denies he has). This failure of logic is one that is, strangely, very intimately espoused by Richard in his self-professed desire for rationality. Furthermore, his inability to see this colossal inconsistency in a fundamentally defining aspect of his current life provides substantial support for the idea that his views may be as irrational as those belonging to the “irrational” Christians he mocks. True, Christians can’t prove Yahweh exists. But Richard’s views profess that he can’t prove Yahweh doesn’t exist – if he actually adheres to those views. His consistent, thematic attacks on various tenants of the Christian faith are unquestionably inconsistent with even the contemporary definition of “agnostic atheist” because that label does not posit that Yahweh isn’t real. It posits that He’s simply “unknown” at the very best. Such obviously atheistic, or even anti-theistic, behavior is proof-positive that Richard espousing the troubled label of “agnostic atheist” is like watching a man trying to wear a shirt that doesn’t fit his body. It allows for critique, but not attack as it cannot be certain it’s correct by definition.

    Next, on The Art of Rationalization – yes. I certainly did read it. It struck me as a work that provides emotional support under the guise of faux-intellectualism to self-professed non-theistic rationalists who wish to reinforce their views with a treatment that assumes the falsehood of arguments provided by their “opposition” that they have actually yet to prove as false. Which logical fallacy best represents this quasi-academic work? False Dilemma? Hasty Generalization? Begging the Question? There’re all arguably there, but I went with Ad Hominem because it’s the easiest to convey. Allow me:

    Ad Hominem Fallacy: “Attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.”

    Richard: [Rich Deem] is the perfect storm of cognitive dissonance: bound as a scientist by the laws of logic and facts while simultaneously committed to the fundamentally irrational belief that the Bible is (or at least was in the originals) the “inerrant Word of God.”

    Clear as day- Richard labels the man a “perfect storm of cognitive dissonance” which is obviously an attack on a personal trait. Furthermore, the entire follow-up is based on the liberal application of a completely incorrect definition of “cognitive dissonance”. Rather than sourcing Wikipedia (Which is not recognized as an acceptable source of scholarly information by ANY credible academic institution) I recommend using a source a bit more peer-reviewed. And as much as I disagree with Rich Deem’s view on scripture, he doesn’t seem the least bit emotionally disturbed by his approach to the scientific world. As the emotional disturbance due to conflicting ideas is what quintessentially defines the term, he doesn’t seem to be cognitively dissonant at all – exactly opposite from the “perfect storm” you label him.
    Perhaps Richard was writing “The Art of Rationalization” to subliminally express his reversal from Protestantism?

    I’ve already covered Richards counter about “agnostic atheism” above, but I do want to point out that I laughed a little when I was described as smelling of “satanic arrogance” by a man that professes “agnostic atheism”. If carefully worded rhetoric troubles Richard, then I think he’s may be in the wrong game as a self-professed rationalist. And I don’t claim to be able to prove Yahweh exists! I merely assert that he can quite possibly be the “unknown god” that your beliefs insist COULD exist, and is merely unproven to you personally.

    I would like to take a moment to dismiss Richards claim that love is an acceptable root for non-religious morality. First off, “love” is an abstract social-science convention that is just as non-rational and unprovable as the existence of god. I COULD stop there, but I’ll indulge the idea further because it’s flaws are so apparent.

    First, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection”, from Oxford. As such, deep affection is defined by who it INCLUDES just as much as it is defined by who it EXCLUDES. To say that you have some sort of “deep affection” for all of humanity means that you have no “deep affection” for anyone in particular. This is argued quite strongly in “The Social Conquest of Earth” by Edward Wilson. Our fundamental social units have been “clans” since time immemorial.

    We continue that clan behavior to the present day with clubs, religious organizations and other defined social groups because we have always wanted to belong to a collection of other people with shared attributes. And, unfortunately, these groups are defined just as much by the excluded as it is the included. US! And THEM! Cavemen (us) were driving other cavemen (them) out of the Villanovan valleys, Egyptians (us) were driving Hittites (them) out of the Levant and then the Japanese (us) were driving the Chinese (them) out of Manchuria. Always us versus them. We always shared tremendous love for the rest of us, at contempt for all of them.

    Even in this modern age of rationalism and politically correct peace, we still simulate war where young men armor-up to go combat each other while being cheered on by young, nubile women (with pom-poms) from both sides – each side demanding victory for US and shame for THEM. It’s called college football season! And it is a gentle reminder that we are defined by both our beloved clan-mates and our much loathed rivals.

    There has never been a shared, universal love in any species that has ever been proven to exist and the notion that such a thing exists is a non-rational posit that is virtually IDENTICAL to those Richard blasts Christians for sharing.

    To be clear, universal moral love like self-love is unprovable and non-rational, just like the existence of God.

    Some attempt to wiggle out of this trap by forwarding the idea that “The Golden Rule” is somehow sufficient in it’s own right to be a basis for secular morality. The obvious problem for the golden rule is that it is endlessly subject to the biases and norms of the people invoking it. Take an 19th century British noble, for example:

    “If I were an uneducated, lowly savage, I would want some wise, enlightened people to rule over me and raise me up! Thus, me must colonize these poor savages and lift them up to be proper, enlightened subjects of the realm just like us!” Thus the golden rule justifies racial colonization and subjugation.

    Another problem with the golden rule as a sole source for morality is that it lacks a tie-breaker for competing moral views. For example:

    A patient is in a coma and is on life support. Doctor “A” would never want to go on as a “vegetable”, so the plug must be pulled on the patient! However, Doctor “B” would want life support to go on indefinitely in case they awoke!

    So what’s the tie-breaker? Do we pull the plug or not? The golden rule, by itself, doesn’t tell you.

    Another – I’m broke, my child is starving and the man next door is selling bread. I don’t want my child to starve, but I don’t want to be stolen from either. So what do I do? The golden rule doesn’t tell me.

    The fundamental reason that religious moral codes are superior to secular moral notions is the provided carrot (reward) and stick (punishment). If God exists and I behave in a moral manner, I’ll be rewarded with paradise. If God exists and I behave selfishly, I’ll suffer some sort of punishment that I cannot escape.

    Secular morality rewards me with a false-promise of a less-dangerous world as the carrot. As for the stick? It has none. It provides no punishment that I cannot escape if I “break the rules”. And if I behave because I’m afraid of jail or fines, then secular morality is merely Right of Might dressed in a T-shirt that says “love”. Thus it is, and will always be, an inferior moral basis to religious morality.

    As a final comment on the morality of might – it is simply what exists on this planet before you lay some non-rational posit over it like “love”, a customized definition of “integrity”, the golden rule or even “God”. Natural selection shows us that it is nature’s “default” morality. The only reason we assemble in clans is to concentrate that might so we may wield it as we wish. It is as religious beings that we may transcend that if transcendence is even possible (as it is, also, a non-rational posit).

    I very eagerly await Richard’s reply! Michael, I apologize for not replying directly, but I felt most of the issues you raise are addressed in my exchange with Richard.

    Oh, and how on EARTH am I a fundamentalist, Richard? Are there any bible-beating protestants you know that advocate the episcopate over scripture? I don’t know any…

  18. MichaelFree
    Posted January 16, 2016 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Put a lighter’s flame to your skin and then times that pain by infinity and then times that by an eternity in time, and there you find the God of Christianity. He does the most immoral thing to simple non-Christians. His deed is worse than any human being can even imagine of doing to another human being.

    I think that when one is going to worship a God they should worship a God that is more moral than any human being could ever hope to be. God is also very cool when God wants you to be treated the way that you want to be treated by other people in life.

  19. William
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Hi Rich… what a fascinating blog. You are amazingly gifted, both mathematically and analytically, but is it possible that your gifts are blinding you to simpler truths? I, also, am intrigued by all the “secret stuff” in the Bible, but Jesus taught openly, to the commoners, and revealed secrets, not created them. The Bible is about morality, which cannot be created by man; as Paul explains, we can know it but not achieve it! Why is there a conflict between selfish and selfless love? All other natural phenomenon trend towards entropy and stability. How is it that some identify the morality of Christ despite the overwhelmingly superior (worldly) benefits of selfishness? I would guess that you love your wife; why is it that you feel compelled to recognize and cherish her personhood, possibly up to the point where you would die for her? Brother, spend a little less time numbering the books of the Bible, and a little more time thinking about what the stories mean to you as a human being. God be with you.

  20. William
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    P.s. ….as a coder, isn’t it obvious that without design, there is no meaning? Our human tendency to see patterns in random sequences merely ratifies the meaningfulness of our human experience. The coexistence of meaning and randomness does not refute meaningfulness.

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