Saturday, June 15, 2013

Duke Pearson - Apothegm

For some reason I wish I'd written a piece called "Apothegm".  It's a word that isn't used often enough.

Freddie Hubbard (tp) Willie Wilson (tb) Pepper Adams (bars) Duke Pearson (p) Thomas Howard (b) Lex Humphries (d)

Duke Pearson: Gaslight

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; James Spaulding, alto sax & flute; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Duke Pearson, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Mickey Roker, drums.

Meredith D'ambrosio-Phil Woods: I'll only miss him when I think of him

The Continuing Argument Over The Claim To Know The OoL Without Any Evidence At All

“Organisms are far more complicated than the things that physics and chemistry are usually focused on.”
Therefore God?   

Can you read? I mean, really, can you read?

Therefore it’s impossible to guess what an organism is like without evidence of what that organism was like. As I said, several times.

Can you tell us? How about something much easier for which there is some, slight evidence available?  What was the common ancestor of human beings and mushrooms like at the time those two lines of descent diverged? Go on, show us how easy it is to reconstruct an organism from far more recent time and with genetic evidence of shared physical characteristics to give you help in determining that. Go on, give us detailed information about its physical structure, its reproduction?  Don't just assume that it reproduced like MODERN fungi, which are the produce of as many hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary change as we are.  Tell us about its habitat in any but the most generalized speculations, including how it interacted with it.

Or tell us, since the evidence of the common ancestor of us and the fungi is known about primarily because of genetic evidence, did the original ancestor of us all have genes? Did it?  How do you know it did and where did those come from? Did they form spontaneously, assembling from non-living matter? Oh, and, what about that cellular chemistry and physics that we know is necessary for those genes to do anything? Did that just happen to come together by random action in the first organism? I wonder what the chances of that happening are.  I suspect it would have been the most incredible instance of the most infinitesimally small probability of an event happening in the history of the Earth, perhaps in the universe.  I suspect if it were possible to calculate those improbabilities, it might rival the figures given for the "fine tuning" of some of the relatively less complex aspects of the non-living universe.  That is an enormous problem for the assumption that modern life is relevant to the original organism, the common parent of all life on Earth.  That modern life is the only kind for which we have actual physical evidence, from many hundreds of millions of years after the presumed first organism to have arisen.  That is an even more enormous problem for the atheist trying to sell your model "original" organism with genes, the genetic mechanism and physical structures necessary for them to work.

Or is it, as I suspect, that the original form of life was far different from what we know from far, far on in evolution and those large, interacting molecules and physical structures are the product of millions of years of evolution?

And don’t forget the containing structure, if there was one. It would almost certainly have been necessary to contain the chemistry you so casually assert, to amass the concentrations of molecules essential for reproduction.  Miller and Urey's experiment had a containing vessel, a rather complex one but hardly as complex as a containing membrane for even a one-celled organism.   How did that form in, one imagines, one of the most complicated actions inert molecules may have ever performed all by themselves. And don’t forget the implications of reproduction, a membrane that would have had to split and heal itself during reproduction, successfully the first time.   And what about consumption of nutrients and metabolism? Go on, tell us how that happened spontaneously, by chance.   And what about the probability of it?  If you're going to assert its probability, you'd certainly have to have some mathematical estimate of its probability.  How do you calculate a probability of an event like that?  I know your hero has claimed to do that but he's kind of bad at thinking things through.  I mean, have you read about his lapses of mathematical logic in his "first bird to call out" nonsense?   It's part of the same series as the one you object to.

You could avoid the problems of your complex proposals, and the abiogenesists seem to come up with new complex scenarios more often than some of the more contentious religious sects spawn new denominations, by admitting that they are all based on absolutely nothing but speculation and ideological desire to nail your imaginary coffin for God shut.  It is not science, it's making up creation myths with chemistry and physics.  I suspect that most experienced biologists might be amused by the simplistic assumptions you guys make about living beings in their far greater complexity than you'd like to consider.  Don't expect anyone to be impressed except those predisposed to accept a superficial and very unstable castle built on sand, one which will fall down frequently, discrediting the effort, in the end.   You should just admit the ultimate atheist quest was foolish and ill advised to start with.

I hope you don't try to pull out the old Razor in this argument because your favorite scenario wouldn't stand the first cut with it.

Update:  I have learned one thing in my latest brawl over the entirely evidence free "science" of the one and only, real, living organism that constituted the presumed first ancestor of us all, by us meaning all known life on Earth.  The near frantic desire to forestall any possible fact that leaves the question open to the non-scientific conclusion that it is possible that there was a creator and that evolution was the means that the creator made the diversity of life on Earth is a good indication that the motives of the effort are founded in ideological materialism and not in any evidence of what that unknown, entirely unique being not born of life, not born of another living being was, actually like.  Given the myriad  possible forms that life took, given the myriad of ways in which it may have assembled and began to live, with its entire and vastly cand, up to that point, unprecedentedly complex coming up with the one and only right description could only be done by an act of extraordinary, even mystical, insight.

The thing I've found the most astonishing in this is how some actual scientists convince themselves that the treat and glorious quest to wrest the creation of life from God is a simple little thing for which a merely plausible seeming story will suffice.  Well, it won't.  Such "science" will never produce knowledge that is reliable.  It will be less stable than psychology.  At least we know something about what the animals psychologists are alleged to study are like.  And see what nonsense that field has generated.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Why Are You Spending So Much Time on This?

Because the theophobes use lies of this type in their propaganda and the documentary proof that they are lying is readily available.  It might be a better question to ask why they feel it's necessary or desirable to lie about Jefferson, Madison, Adams, etc.  The proof that those were, far from being anti-Christian, professed Christians is certainly more solid than many of the sciency arguments used to promote atheism, such as abiogenesis and multi-universe-string, membrane,M-theory.  It is certainly more solid than the myth based evo-psy and the more tenuous speculations of neuro and cog sci.  That documentary evidence, preserved in the hand writing of those men is 100% reliable, they said what they said, they often said it more than once to more than one person.  Primary documentary evidence expressing the thoughts of Jefferson et al will not be over turned except through later recantations and those don't seem to be available.  As I pointed out this morning, even if they produced the alleged letters to Paine, subsequent and previous declarations would prove it was a temporary apostasy, not a permanent one.  

I do these posts as a service to anyone who wants to refute the big mouthed, small-minded atheists who have done so much to damage and divide the left, to waste our time.  

Thomas Jefferson's Skepticism of Plato And His Belief in Jesus

One of my few direct confrontations with Jerry Coyne, who writes like the Andrew Breitbart of neo-atheism, included him citing Plato as an authority on the question of morals.  I rejected that citing Plato's hatred of democracy, his aristocratic hatred of non-aristocrats, his likely involvement with two bloody aristocratic putsches in Athens and his insane adoration of the horrible, fascistic military regime of Sparta, under which he would not have been allowed to live since the practice of philosophy was banned there as counterproductive to its war machine.  Coyne didn't take it well.  He sent me an e-mail telling me I was a "sourpuss" and asking me to not comment at his blog anymore.  I, of course, complied with the request, though I never promised not to cite such an amusing e-mail.  One is not to notice the contents of Plato's writing, the intellectual dishonesty of it, everything set up in the most absurd and puerile manner so that his Socrates always wins the argument.   One is not supposed to note his likely involvement in the blood baths his relations and friends drew from the population of Athens, twice.

Reading this letter Jefferson wrote to John Adams, in which he specifically identifies the corruption of Christianity by Platonism, I would guess he means through Augustine and the other neo-Platonists, I couldn't resist posting it as a refutation of a number of neo-atheist myths all at once.  Note the passage I've underlined and the date, about five years after the death of Thomas Paine, in relation to the frequent neo-atheist assertions about the phantom correspondence Jefferson allegedly sent to him.

Monticello, July 5, 1814
Dear Sir,

I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato's Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself, how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this. How the soi-disant Christian world, indeed, should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it? And particularly, how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato? Although Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world and honest. He could not be the dupe of mere style, of which he was himself the first master in the world. With the moderns, I think, it is rather a matter of fashion and authority. Education is chiefly in the hands of persons who, from their profession, have an interest in the reputation and the dreams of Plato. They give the tone while at school, and few in their after years have occasion to revise their college opinions. But fashion and authority apart, and bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him, his sophisms, futilities, and incomprehensibilities, and what remains? In truth, he is one of the race of genuine sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first, by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly by the adoption and incorporation of his whimsies into the body of artificial Christianity. His foggy mind is for ever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen through a mist, can be defined neither in form nor dimension. Yet this, which should have consigned him to early oblivion, really procured him immortality of fame and reverence. The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticisms of Plato materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained. Their purposes, however, are answered. Plato is canonized: and it is now deemed as impious to question his merits as those of an Apostle of Jesus. He is peculiarly appealed to as an advocate of the immortality of the soul; and yet I will venture to say, that were there no better arguments than his in proof of it, not a man in the world would believe it. It is fortunate for us, that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women, and children, pell-mell together, like the beasts of the field or forest. Yet 'Plato is a great philosopher,' said La Fontaine. But, says Fontenelle, 'Do you find his ideas very clear.' 'Oh, no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable.' 'Do you not find him full of contradictions?' 'Certainly,' replied La Fontaine, 'he is but a sophist.' Yet immediately after, he exclaims again, 'Oh, Plato was a great philosopher.' Socrates had reason, indeed, to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for, in truth, his dialogues are libels on Socrates. 

Note:  I don't set up Jefferson as any kind of moral authority, as anyone who read my criticism of his slave owning from last week could see.  I don't set up any of the "founding fathers" as moral authorities or even as being particularly wise or admirable.   My position on them, that they were men of their time and, in many cases, not even especially fine contemporary examples of that.  In many ways I think Jonathan Edwards has more to learn from in that regard, though, with Jefferson, I'm not a Calvinist.

My purpose in going over this is to correct some of the more widely held myths of people who claim to be champions of the truth and the enemy of myth and superstition.  Only their record shows they and those authorities they depend on are quite eager to create a phony, myth filled account of people such as Jefferson, contradicted by his own words, in the plainest and most clear of terms.  He was aware of that danger and plainly said it was his motive in not publicizing his religious convictions in a letter to Benjamin Rush,

Washington, April 21, 1803.
Dear Sir,
In some of the delightful conversations with you, in the evenings of 1798-99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic: and I then promised you, that, one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other. At the short intervals since these conversations, when I could justifiably abstract my mind from public affairs, the subject has been under my contemplation. But the more I considered it, the more it expanded beyond the measure of either my time or information. In the moment of my late departure from Monticello, I received from Doctor Priestely his little treatise of 'Socrates and Jesus compared.' This being a section of the general view I had taken of the field, it became a subject of reflection while on the road, and unoccupied otherwise. The result was, to arrange in my mind a syllabus, or outline of such an estimate of the comparative merits of Christianity, as I wished to see executed by some one of more leisure and information for the task, than myself. This I now send you, as the only discharge of my promise I can probably ever execute. And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed. It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behoves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God and himself. Accept my affectionate salutations.
Th: Jefferson.

Note:  This letter was written about six years BEFORE the death of Thomas Paine.   If "Dr. Conway" saw the letters noted yesterday, they were almost certainly forgeries. 

If It's Not OK To Make Up Stuff About The Origin of Life Why Do The Sci-guys Make Up So Much

This is an answer to an objection to my saying we know nothing about the origin of life because we have no evidence of what it was like in a piece posted here last February.  The enduring and vital importance of a largely debunked claim that a 60 year old experiment is relevant to the real and only origin of life on Earth to atheism is, if anything, a sign of its shakiness as an intellectual enterprise.  The entire "science" of abiogenesis was begun by Oparin as a scientific demonstration of atheist faith, Miller and Urey and many of the others involved in the effort share that goal.  Only, as I point out, unless they are going to disclaim any right to their efforts being the product of intelligence, they might have done the opposite.  That is probably the product of their discounting the intelligence of religious folks.  Arrogance is a form of stupidity, pride frequently leads to a fall for just that reason.  Only that's not a product of scientific research but an observation of  the more basic intellectual  resource of human experience,  just as science is.   I'll bet you just hate that fact but a fact it is.

I was just pointing out the fact that no one has the necessary evidence to know anything about an actual event in biology because no one has the evidence of what it was like. That’s not such a startling statement, it happens to be 100% accurate and known, though not admitted to nearly as often as it’s pretended to not be the case. When I had my last long argument about it there were neo-atheists who denied that we were all descended from a common ancestor whereas I was speaking from the assumption of conventional Darwinism that we are all descended from a common ancestor. That’s the idea that makes most sense to me.

The problem with Miller-Urey, and you’d know it if you had read anything much about the problem, is that they didn't show how amino acids formed on the pre-life Earth, they showed how they made them in a laboratory out of c. 60 year old assumptions they made about what the conditions were like, on little to no evidence. AND THEY HARDLY RECREATED EVEN THOSE CONDITIONS IN THEIR LAB. It was totally artificial. My point is that if you are going to claim that, or any other lab experiment, as being relevant IN A BRAWL WITH ID PROPONENTS, that you are handing them the point that it was done through intelligent designs, designs of beings of far less intelligence and ability than the Designer, they are asserting did it under far more difficult conditions. You’re handing them the ability to point that out entirely unnecessarily because you can’t address anything about the actual Origin of Life.

The honest study of evolution is not dependent on anything but actual evidence that evolution and the ravages of time have left us. That evidence is overwhelming that species evolved over billions of years. I call that a hard fact. How it happened is less clear but it is absolutely clear that happened BECAUSE OF THE EVIDENCE.

However, materialists, having as much of an emotional need to destroy their doubts that there was no God involved, have been trying to do science surrounding the question of the actual Origin of Life for which there is no evidence available. Evidence free “science” didn't start with the Discovery Institute, it’s been part of that very atheistic effort all along.

You know, there was a time I was surprised that I’d have to insist on the actual evidence in these arguments with atheists. But my experience of the past five years have made me see how their talk about being 1010% evidence based is hogwash. They’re as willing to suspend the necessity of evidence as any creationist. And a lot of them have advanced degrees in science and work at distinguished research universities.

The new atheists are lying when they claim to be evidence based. They don’t care about science at all, they don't care about the historical record either, as my posts of the last few days show.  They don’t care about intellectual integrity. It’s a fundamentalist faith in materialism  motivated by a deep desire to feel superior to other people, a hatred of them and their religious beliefs and, I've come to conclude, a real and deeply felt theophobia. Their abuse of science is based in their emotional need to have their preferences serviced by science, which they mistake as some kind of magical oracle instead of what it is, a sometimes quite effective and often fallible human construct as dependent on human abilities and as liable to human failings as any other human institution.  Including religion. When it’s pointed out that science can’t do what they want it to, they’re as ready to try to distort it or to throw it aside as any creationist is. You’re just the mirror of the ID industry, you have no more integrity than they do.

THEOPHOBIA, a fear of God or gods or of things to do with God is an explanation of the febrile content of popular atheism.  I think it is a neurotic condition that needs to be investigated a bit more than it is.  There's a reason your heros, PZ, Coyne, Dawkins, Hitchens could use the emotions of you guys to get the biggest audiences in atheism as those with less in common with Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Andrew Breitbart languish in obscurity.  Hate sells, so does fear.  Popular atheism is the same thing just using a different vocabulary.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Using Jefferson Like a Cheap Ad Man As "A Drop of Reason"

Last night I think I located the source of Barbara Ehrenreich's statement, "Tom Jefferson who advised a young friend: in your philosophical thinking don't forget to open up the question of whether there is such a deity."

In an article about the phony Jefferson quote the atheist club, the "Backyard Skeptics" put up on a bill board in the picture above, their leader (?) Bruce Gleason admitted that the quote was spurious.

He agreed that Monticello was an authoritative source.

"You're absolutely right," he said. "I should have done the research before I put my billboard up."
The quote on the billboard is an abridged version of a quote that first appeared in a 1906 book called "Six Historic Americans," by John E. Remsburg, who attributed it to a "Letter to Dr. Woods."

It reads: "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies."

The Jefferson Library knows of no letter to a Dr. Woods ever written by Jefferson, or of any appearance of the phrase anywhere in his writings.

On a page about spurious quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson Library writes: "We are asked about this one on a fairly regular basis. As with many spurious Jefferson quotes, it is frequently seen on various Internet sites. Many sites do not cite a source, but a good number of those that do attribute this quote to a letter from TJ to a 'Dr. Wood.'

"As far as we know, TJ never wrote to an individual calling him/herself Dr. Wood. Another suspicious element is the statement that he does not find in Christianity 'one redeeming feature.' One presumes that Jefferson did, in fact, find some redeeming features in Christianity, otherwise he would not have taken the time to paste together his own versions of the Bible."

As with so much of this popular atheist erudition, the people who are always claiming evidence, intellectual rigor and the such as the property of their ideology,  when you look into their claims, the evidence shows the opposite.  

Gleason said he would do some more research on the quote, although he didn't think it misrepresented Jefferson's views.

As what I posted the last two days proves, anyone who did even the small amount of research into Jefferson on religion and, specifically, Christianity, would have to honestly conclude that statement does misrepresent Jefferson's views.  Atheist propaganda is full of that kind of misrepresentation, more on that in a minute.

Following up links on the newspaper story led me to another instance of Gleason's idea of scholarship.

Gleason, 56, isn't just a nonbeliever. He thinks religion is actually bad. "You will never see an atheist suicide bomber," he says.

Apparently Gleason's research methodology never turned up the Tamil Tigers, other Marxist-Leninist-Maoist groups wedded to terrorism and various anarchists who embraced "propaganda of the deed."  The record of atheists with political power is uniformly bloody, based in terror as a means of gaining and maintaining power.  But I've written on that before.


But Gleason, from everything I've read about him this morning, would seem to be a propagandist and blow hard, not a scholar or a journalist.  Looking up the source of the quote, I found that The Secular Web" ("a drop of reason in a pool of confusion") has posted Six Historic Americans by John E. Remsburg* and, indeed, that is a place you could read the spurious quotation in the phony letter to the apparently fictitious Dr. Woods.  In turn, he gives his authority on which he based his "quotations" alleged to document Jefferson's disdain for religion and Christianity in particular.

The "Memoirs, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson," edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, a grandson of the distinguished statesman, was printed in four large volumes, and published in 1829. From these volumes, and other writings of Jefferson, I have culled some of the most radical thoughts to be found in the whole range of Infidel literature.

I looked at the Project Gutenberg edition of the Memoirs, Correspondence ... and didn't find that letter, which the Jefferson scholars at Montecello apparently don't know either.   In his perusal of the letters in that early collection, he must have, somehow, missed those letters to John Adams, Joseph Priestly, Benjamin Rush and others** that I posted yesterday, only, as can be seen in Remsburg, he didn't, he merely misrepresented them to suit his own atheist ideology.   

It was from this book or on some other atheist, uh, scholar based on what Remsburg said, that I believe Barbara Ehrenreich used to make her statement.  Remsburg says:

In a letter to his nephew and ward, Peter Carr, while at school, Jefferson offers the following advice, which though thoroughly sound, would be considered rather questionable advice for a Christian to give a schoolboy:

"Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you" (Jefferson's Works, Vol. ii., p. 217).

Looking up the letter, here is what Jefferson said in his advice to Carr concerning Religion.  Note what Remsberg left out in the elision between "blindfolded fear" and "Do not be frightened".  

4. Religion, Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty and singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine, first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible, which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change of the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know, how contrary it is to the law of nature, that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time have resumed its revolution, and that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions, 1. of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended, and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven: and, 2. of those who say he was a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, and the second by exile or death in furca. See this law in the Digest, Lib. 48, tit. 19, § 28. 3. and Lipsius, Lib. 2. De Cruce, cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned, under the head of Religion, and several others. They will assist you in your inquiries; but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement: if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that, increases the appetite to deserve it: if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject any thing, because any other person, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by Heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision. I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some, however, still extant, collected by Fabricius, which I will endeavor to get and send you.

I don't see anything but advising him to think hard about it, read lots of different things and to make up his own mind. 


Remsburg's eagerness to turn Jefferson, who repeatedly said he was a Christian, who believed in God, who believed that there were consequences for our conduct in a "future life", into a 19th century style atheist isn't rare among his fellow ideologues.  A Dr. Conway reported knowing about letters Jefferson wrote to Thomas Paine showing just how much of an infidel he was.

The published writings of Jefferson, which, however, do not contain many of his most radical thoughts, would indicate that he regarded Jesus Christ as a historical character. In a contribution to Frazer's Magazine for March, 1865, Dr. Conway shows that he was sometimes disposed to entertain the mythical hypothesis. Mr. Conway says:

"Jefferson occupied his Sundays at Monticello in writing letters to Paine (they are unpublished, I believe, but I have seen them) in favor of the probabilities that Christ and his Twelve Apostles were only personifications of the sun and the twelve signs of the Zodiac."

This was the opinion held by Paine during the last years of his life.

Apparently this alleged correspondence reporting Jefferson was a convert to Dupuis' POV on the topic was only seen by Dr. Conway because I haven't seen anyone else who saw it.  It wasn't in any of the collections I looked at.  I read all of the letters to Paine I found there, which were pretty few and none of them discussed stuff like that.  In a letter to John Adams he congratulated him for taking on Dupuis in the original, saying he'd read a short summary of it, not saying he was particularly convinced by it.  His letters to Paine are all quite short and deal with political and purely temporal matters.  I got the feeling he didn't especially want to discuss other things with Paine, odd considering his long and numerous letters expressing his enthusiasm for the topic of religion, especially the Unitarianism of Priestly and Channing, quite a bit closer to mainstream Christianity than the later 19th century version of it, what we're more familiar with today.   

Since Paine died in 1809 and Jefferson wrote up into the 1820s, anything he might have said to Paine clearly wouldn't have been his final word on the topic.  At any rate, other than "Dr. Conway" reporting he'd read the letters, those, unlike Jefferson's letters to Priestley, Adams, Rush, etc. and his Syllabus, aren't known to really exist.  If anyone has them, I'd like to see what they said and if they'd been inspected for authenticity.  

These unavailable letters are still a part of the atheist use of Jefferson in their propaganda.  That they might well be entirely fictitious, as real as pink unicorns, doesn't keep them from citing him.  Considering how they use the real, known letters and documents, quote mining them more dishonestly than creationists have Darwin, lying about letters that some of them just have looked at in order to opportunistically and mendaciously clip them, this is just another of the cases in which the advertising of an ideology doesn't match its performance.  Which is the sum total of Jefferson's critique of established religion's use of the teachings of Jesus.   Ironic, isn't it. 

*  Remsburg was a prominent 19th-early 20th century atheist ideologue, a member of the American Secular Union.  

**  I will post some passages I quickly word searched in the four volumes at my annex later.  But I want to check them for accuracy and completeness first. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jefferson on "The Unthinking Part of mankind....."

It's been another busy week so I haven't finished the second part of what I'm working on.  Since what can be taken as the first part of this series, posing the full version of Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, one of the documents most frequently lied about in atheist discourse was put up last year, some of these things take me a while to complete.   In the mean time, I'll post Jefferson's 1803 letter to the eminent scientist and, by his own words, "A Christian minister,"  Joseph Priestley.

Far from being the "godless atheist" that Barbara Ehrenreich and many contemporary atheists like to assert he was, Jefferson made a description of the intellectual ancestors of the kind of atheist who have grabbed the mic and made themselves so obnoxious and divisive.

His character & doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions & precepts, from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man.

The "untinking part of mankind,"  who "throw off the whole system in disgust"  and who "pass sentence as an imposter on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man."   I don't think contemporary atheists care for the idea that they are "the unthinking part of mankind," though it's undeniable that they "throw off the whole system in disgust" and "pass sentence as in imposter" on Jesus.  It's not a rare thing for atheists to heap up a whole catalogue of charges against Jesus, his words and acts.  It's as common as litter on an American sidewalk to have them deride Jesus as a fraud, when they're not denying he ever existed.  As can be seen in the passages from John Adams in which he rejected Charles Dupuis, those guys have been at it a long time.  The 19th and 20th centuries, with more organized efforts to debunk Christianity which "quote mined" people such as Jefferson, Madison and Adams even before anyone ever heard of Charles Darwin, suckered in large numbers of "the unthinking part of mankind," of the sort Jefferson noted.  And, in a rather extraordinary irony, that kind of "quote mining", distorting the actual record for ideological dishonesty, is regarded as erudition among them and among the equally unthinking in the more general audience.

Washington, Apr 9. 1803.

“Dear Sir,—While on a short visit lately to Monticello, I received from you a copy of your comparative view of Socrates & Jesus, and I avail myself of the first moment of leisure after my return to acknolege the pleasure I had in the perusal of it, and the desire it excited to see you take up the subject on a more extensive scale. In consequence of some conversation with Dr. Rush, in the year 1798–99, I had promised some day to write him a letter giving him my view of the Christian system. I have reflected often on it since, & even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the antient philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate, say of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Antoninus. I should do justice to the branches of morality they have treated well; but point out the importance of those in which they are deficient. I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and show in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, character, & doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, & even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him; when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, & presented in very paradoxical shapes. Yet such are the fragments remaining as to show a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent & sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the antient philosophers. His character & doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions & precepts, from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man. This is the outline; but I have not the time, & still less the information which the subject needs. It will therefore rest with me in contemplation only. You are the person who of all others would do it best, and most promptly. You have all the materials at hand, and you put together with ease. I wish you could be induced to extend your late work to the whole subject. I have not heard particularly what is the state of your health; but as it has been equal to the journey to Philadelphia, perhaps it might encourage the curiosity you must feel to see for once this place, which nature has formed on a beautiful scale, and circumstances destine for a great one. As yet we are but a cluster of villages; we cannot offer you the learned society of Philadelphia; but you will have that of a few characters whom you esteem, & a bed & hearty welcome with one who will rejoice in every opportunity of testifying to you his high veneration & affectionate attachment.”

The website I link to above gives this passage from a draft note that indicates he sent his Syllabus mentioned yesterday to a number of people so they could review it and spread it.
An undated memorandum in the Jefferson MSS. is evidently the draft of a note with which Jefferson transmitted copies to his friends:

“A promise to a friend some time ago, executed but lately, has placed my religious creed on paper. I am desirous it should be perused by three or four particular friends, with whom tho’ I never desired to make a mystery of it, yet no occasion has happened to occur of explaining it to them. It is communicated for their personal satisfaction & to enable them to judge of the truth or falsehood of the libels published on that subject. When read, the return of the paper with this cover is asked.”

I wouldn't be surprised if the "falsehood of the libels" which Jefferson hoped to refute by his Syllabus were contemporary accusations of "goddless atheism" which were started even during his lifetime.   A number of those were accusations made against Jefferson.  Today they're obviously made in an attempt to claim Jefferson for a religious position he clearly rejected and objected to being associated with.   That's not done only by the unthinking but the uninformed, those too lazy to look at the record - yes, I mean journalists, bloggers and blog commentators, among others - but by professional distortionists published by Prometheus press and other outlets of modern atheist propaganda.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

About What Jefferson Said About Christianity Part 1.

The so-called "skeptics" movement was begun as a means to promote atheism while not seeming to promote atheism.  Anyone who has studied it will see that most of its earliest and most prominent members were the kinds of atheists who hold religious people and religion in contempt, much of it with a good dose of class and intellectual snobbery thrown in for good measure.   The moving force behind organized skepticism, Paul Kurtz, was primarily a promoter of atheism, often a paid employee of the Stalinist enemy of religious belief, Corliss Lamont.  Practically all of the prominent members of the early "skeptics" movements were atheists, often presenting even the scientific research into telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis and other topics with no actual religious content as a danger to their materialist faith, even when the researchers themselves were not religious and their research, published in journals far more rigorously reviewed and refereed than the "Skeptical Inquirer" or any of the other official "skeptical" magazines.  Those have a lot more in common with The National Enquirer than they do a scientific journal.

For a movement that is supposed to be all about rigorous evidence, fearless and objective confrontation with the logical consequences of that evidence, "skepticism" and its parent, ideological atheism, has a remarkably shoddy record of both of those.  As I posted last Sunday, as good a journalist as Barbara Ehrenreich went with one of the frequent instances of atheists lying about what an eminent person has said about religion, John Adams, in that case.  If she had even read the letter she, or more likely some atheist authority she based her misrepresentation on, had read the actual letter they'd have seen that Adams didn't say what they wanted him to say, in fact, the phrase, "the bloodiest religion that ever existed" was part of a question dealing with the corruption of the teachings of Jesus and within an endorsement of Christianity as, not just truth, but revealed truth.

Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?

I'm still pretty shocked that as good a journalist as Barbara Ehrenreich wouldn't have checked her source in its original form, doing something that would have earned a college freshman caught doing it a failing grade.  At least it would have in a research paper in my field.  But that's not uncommon with atheists, in my experience.  When it comes to a condemnation of religion, an endorsement of their ideology, they are as ready to misrepresent as any fundamentalist, perhaps more so.  There's not much of a price to pay for that kind of lying within the milieu they operate in.  At least theoretically, a biblical fundamentalist would believe that bearing false witness was a major sin with real consequences and doing so would discredit their sincerity in a way that it seldom has with atheist misrepresentation.  I'm unaware of any atheists who have suffered professionally from misrepresenting religion. Still, I would have expected more from Ehrenreich.

For more evidence, you can look at the frequent atheistic quote mining of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, they entirely misrepresent a longer document which both endorses Christianity and, in Madison's case, hopes for its universal adoption.  Far from condemning Christianity, he opposed the state establishment of a single sect as impeding the progress of the spread of Christianity.

Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.

Can you believe it's a sin to tell a lie if you don't believe in sin?  I ask with the intention of provoking a discussion of that point.


I was curious about what Ehrenreich attributed to Jefferson, though she didn't quote him or give any indication of what letter or document she based her assertion that he advised a young friend," in your philosophical thinking don't forget to open up the question of whether there is such a deity,:.  I looked for the source of the assertion but didn't find anything I think matched her assertion.  I wouldn't be surprised if Jefferson said something that could be opportunistically construed to constitute an attack against God, as conceived of by Christians or Jews, I doubt it would stand up as that when an entire document is consulted and certainly not when you consider all of Jefferson's statements on the subject.

First, even if he said it, questioning the existence of God isn't an anti-religious act, it certainly isn't unknown even in the scriptures.  The Rg Veda, the Jewish scriptures, the Christian scriptures, all contain that kind of challenge.  Perhaps other religious texts do as well but those are the instances I'm familiar with.  Questioning what God is like or could be like, even questioning the action or inaction of God is questioned by no less of a religious personage as Jesus when he said,  "My God, why have You forsaken me?"

It would have been helpful to have the exact alleged quote and a citation so the original could be seen.  Though from what I'd already seen of Jefferson, I think he might have said he could well have advised questioning the trinitarian view of God.  He had no problem declaring his belief in God as presented by Unitarians.  Here's a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse in which he says as much.

Your favor of Dec. 20. is received. The Professors of our University, 8. in number, are all engaged. Those of antient & modern languages are already on the spot. Three more are hourly expected to arrive, and on their arrival the whole will assemble and enter on their duties. There remains therefore no place in which we can avail ourselves of the services of the revd. Mr. Bertrum as a teacher. I wish we could do it as a Preacher. I am anxious to see the doctrine of one god commenced in our State. But the population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one Preacher well. I must therefore be contented to be an Unitarian by myself, altho I know there are many around me who would become so if once they could hear the question fairly stated.

So, Jefferson was a "Unitarian by myself".  But what else can be known about his relationship with Christianity.   Here's a longer passage from a letter to Timothy Pickering in which he seems to agree with Madison about  the desirability of Christianity, as Jefferson believed it to be, being universally adopted:

I thank you for Mr. Channing's discourse, which you have been so kind to forward to me.  It is not yet at hand, but it is doubtless on its way.  I had received it through another channel. and read it with high satisfaction. No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel…. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.

It doesn't exactly sound like a rejection of Christianity in favor of what atheists usually mean when they  talk about deism being a species of atheism.  I believe the Channing he refers to is William Ellery Channing, the author of "Unitarian Christianity".   I strongly suspect that was the "discourse" Jefferson was referring to and endorsing by, at least, implication.  Even if that isn't the case there is no doubt Jefferson said, "I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also."   Those aren't words to gladden the atheist heart.  That Jefferson, as well as Madison and Adams was opposed to the establishment of a state religion obviously didn't keep all of them from endorsing Christianity and of hoping that everyone would become convinced of the teachings of Jesus.

In the elision (after the word "infidel") Jefferson mentions Joseph Priestly, whose theology he explicitly endorsed later in his life.  In a letter he wrote to Priestley in 1801 he said:

This was the real ground of all the attacks on you. Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,—the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man,—endeavored to crush your well-earnt & well-deserved fame.

Here is an interesting document, Jefferson's 1803 "Syllabus of an estimate of the merit of the doctrines of Jesus, compared with those of others," drawn up for Benjamin Rush.  Among other interesting items, some of them which could justly be considered slightly antisemitic, Jefferson shows that when he endorses deism, he doesn't mean what most people mean by that today.

II. Jews. 1. Their system was Deism; that is, the belief of one only God. But their ideas of him & of his attributes were degrading & injurious

Apparently, when Jefferson said "deism" he meant what is more often call "unitarianism." then and now.  You can see that more clearly when he said:

1. He [Jesus] corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.

Deism, in the modern meaning of the word, would pretty much preclude many of the things Jefferson stated he believed.  Ehrenreich said: "the founding fathers were mostly Deists, as we know, meaning they thought there might once have been a god who set things in motion and then just walked off and retired from the scene. They were, in other words, what would be called today "godless atheists"

No, they'd seem to be closer to the conservative wing of the Unitarian Universalists who are specifically theists and consider themselves to be Christians.  Perhaps even more Christian than a modern Unitarian Universalist would be comfortable with admitting, he also believed that sin had consequences in a "future state".

3. The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state, which was either doubted, or disbelieved by the Jews; and wielded it with efficacy, as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Leos Janacek : The Cunning Little Vixen

I never saw Where the Wild Things Are until I was an adult and didn't see the point of it.  For me, when I think of Maurice Sendak my first thoughts are the beautiful production of The Cunning Little Vixen he did.  Theatrical magic at its highest, even in this far from perfect video.

My friend who sang with them is somewhere in this production but I can't find him.


The order of day-old chicks I was expecting tomorrow came in the mail this morning.  I'll be busy doing what I expected to do tonight, this morning.   May manage to post something later.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Arthur Berger: Suite For Piano Four Hands

Rodney Lister & David Kopps, piano duet

I miss Arthur Berger.  He was a wonderful person and composer.

Items From Lou Harrison's Music Primer

Lou Harrison's Music Primer is a pamphlet, printed from hand lettered pages with small, blank squares preceding the "Items" of musical information and advice.  Harrison meant that the owner of the pamphlet color or decoupage or otherwise personalize their copy by filling the squares.  Mine is incomplete in that those squares are blank.  As I recall, I bought it after reading Ned Rorem recommending it as bound to inspire compositional creativity.  I can't say that much of itwas of use to me, that way, though several of the items were inspirational.  I was, for example, inspired to learn Esperanto after reading this:

that might be done to your vocal works in translations, make one version yourself directly in the international language endorsed by UNESCO ~ Esperanto.  This language is particularly musical anyway, more so, I think, than the majority of the ethnic tongues, which, like Topsy, "just growed".

Good advice, I'd say, having heard what can happen to as august and disaster proof a masterpiece as Bach's Magnificat sung in English

 "My-y so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oul -   Doeth magni-FY The Lord! Doeth magni-FY The Lord!... And it wasn't just that the obscenely huge Mormon Tabernacle Choir was accompanied by an enormous, romantic era sized orchestra.

There is stuff in the book which is obvious nonsense, the attempt to force Indonesian, especially Balinese intonation, based on quite different principles, into Harrison's notions about just intonation.  I don't know about chronology but it might have something to do with Leonard Bernstein's embarassing related balderdash given in his Norton Lectures.  Better to consult Colin McPhee's great study on that topic.

But most of what Harrison said is quite useful and thought provoking.

There is this statement to live by:

ally rather chance a choice than choose a chance.

Which is responsible for me giving up one of the most ill chosen topics for a paper in my grad-school years.  Christian Wolff, an indeterminacy disciple of John Cage had been frustrating me for months.  Reading that in the Spring of 1972 made me realize that there wasn't anything to be said about indeterminacy and that anything interesting in the sound patterns generated by it was purely accidental. I told my adviser I was abandoning that topic and I've never bothered with it since.

It might also be the thing I read during my education that has had the most profound and general effect on my life.  Musically, I always, to every one of my students tell them that they should always make their own choices because if they're following other peoples requirements, they are writing music for those people instead of themselves, that they should let those people write their own music.

More generally there is this observation made c. 1970, back when young people of my generation were at the height of self-congratulation on their originality

style can neither be encouraged nor prevented.  Forget the matter.

If you ignore the stuff about just intonation or, more sensibly, see it as a suggestion for experiment, most of Harrison's Primer is full of advice to try things, to do things, to listen and think for yourself and to not be afraid to go your own way.  It's also an encouragement to look beyond the limits you find yourself in now.   He notes somewhere in it that young people aren't allowed to make many choices, again, during the period when young people of my generation were most full of themselves on just that point.  If we'd only taken more of his advice we might have defied the expected and things might have changed for the better.

I think I'll give my copy to a student and say they should color the squares as they see fit.

What John Adams Really Said About "The Bloodiest Religion"

What with all of her longstanding and frequently expressed hatred of religion and, especially, Christianity, one of the great ironies of the life of Barbara Ehrenreich must be that her truly fine piece of Nellie Bly style reporting, "Nickled and Dimed" is probably most often read by Christians with the expressed intention of it informing their religious obligation and action.  Or, at least, that's been my observation.  In my memory I can recall it being the current book of two or three Christian book groups I know of and quite frequently in the bibliography or "see also" of explicitly Christian articles.  Just by the percentages of Christians, Jews, other religious people and the tiny number of atheists and agnostics, most of those who read Ehrenreich are members of those religions.

Generally, I like Ehrenreich's work and loved "Nickled and Dimed," though many of the people I knew whose life she did her best to document in all of its impossible desperation are in a far worse position than she placed herself in, without her education and intellectual resources, without her knowledge that this was a temporary research assignment.  I don't think she would disagree with that observation, then or now.

I was steered to read  this address she gave quite a while ago now.  The original was given on the occasion of, "the acceptance speech for the 1999 Freethought Heroine Award"

While there are a number of problems with the text, one that jumped out at me was her saying:

Then there was the makeover of the founding fathers, who are often portrayed, by the Christian Coalition and their ilk, as a bunch of real solid Christians who founded this nation, etc. You've all heard that. I hardly need to remind this group that that particular invasion of religion into our history is not true--the founding fathers were mostly Deists, as we know, meaning they thought there might once have been a god who set things in motion and then just walked off and retired from the scene. They were, in other words, what would be called today "godless atheists" and they founded this country. We need to remember that.

There are some specific examples--John Adams once described the entire Judeo-Christian tradition as "the bloodiest religion that ever existed." Of course there was Tom Jefferson who advised a young friend: in your philosophical thinking don't forget to open up the question of whether there is such a deity. Then there was Ethan Allen (the revolutionary hero, not the furniture store), who wrote the first anti-Christian tract ever published in America. So these are the kind of guys who founded this nation.

Well, I'll agree that the "Christian" Coalition and their ilk frequently distort history but it's also true that atheists frequently do as well, and in no case is that more obvious than in their presentation of the "founding fathers".  For example,  I'm familiar with the letter in which Adams wrote that phrase and Ehrenreich's  characterization of it is a compete distortion of what he said.  A fuller quote, which I'll give before giving the whole letter might be:

The Hebrew unity of Jehovah, the prohibition of all similitudes, appears to me the greatest wonder of antiquity. How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.

Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?

Already, it can be seen that, far from rejecting Judaism and Christianity or the possibility of their being revealed religion, he said that he disagreed with Dupuis, I believe he means Charles Dupuis, author of Origine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle, a rather absurd 18th century debunker of the reality of Jesus.  I believe Dupuis was one of the major figures in the 18th century deism fad, which is clearly at odds with the idea of revelation.  Adams clearly says, " I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable."  He goes on to say "As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation."  Hardly something you'd expect a deist to hold with, at least not in line with the quasi-atheist spin that is generally put on deism these days.

You can read more about Adams and Jefferson on the topic of religion in these letters, somewhat over-edited for my liking.  Ehrenreich might consider this passage from Adams:

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, 
are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.

And this:

Twenty times, in the course of my late Reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible Worlds, if there were no Religion in it." ! ! ! But in this exclamati[on] I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell. So far from believing in the total and universal depravity of human Nature; I believe there is no Individual totally depraved. The most abandoned Scoundrel that ever existed, never Yet Wholly extinguished his Conscience, and while Conscience remains there is some Religion.

I don't hold much with the cult of the "founding fathers," something that is most commonly cited to bad ends but there is something really annoying about seeing them distorted to bad ends of any kind.  Here's the entire letter


Quincy, 27 December, 1816.
I do declare that I can write Greek better than you do, though I cannot say, so well as you can if you will. I can make nothing but pothooks and trammels of the frontispiece of your amiable letter of the 15th. If you had quoted your authority, I might have found it.

Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.

It would be idle for me to write observations upon Dupuis. I must fill thirteen volumes. If I was twenty-five years old, and had the necessary books and leisure, I would write an answer to Dupuis; but when, or where, or how should I get it printed? Dupuis can be answered, to the honor and advantage of the Christian religion as I understand it. To this end I must study astrology as well as astronomy, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit.

But to leave Dupuis to be answered or reviewed in Edinburgh or London, I must inquire into the attributes given by the ancient nations to their divinities; gods with stars and new moons in their foreheads or on their shoulders; gods with heads of dogs, horns of oxen, bulls, cows, calves, rams, sheep, or lambs; gods with the bodies of horses; gods with the tails of fishes; gods with the tails of dragons and serpents; gods with the feet of goats. The bull of Mithra; the dog of Anubis; the serpent of Esculapius!!!!

Is man the most irrational beast of the forest? Never did bullock, or sheep, or snake imagine himself a god. What, then, can all this wild theory mean? Can it be any thing but allegory founded in astrology? Your Manilius would inform you as well as Dupuis.

The Hebrew unity of Jehovah, the prohibition of all similitudes, appears to me the greatest wonder of antiquity. How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.

Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?

The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.

I know how to sympathize with a wounded leg, having been laid up with one for two or three months, and I have felt the delightful attentions of a daughter. May you have the felicity to celebrate as many more lustres of Madam Vanderkemp as human nature can bear.

The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) [1854]

I don't see much in that of use to contemporary atheist polemics, not without exactly the same kind of distortion that would make it useful to an assertion of an establishment of fundamentalist "christian" religion in the hands of the "Christian" Coalition.

Answer To Someone Who Predicts Those Mind-Reading Machines Are Just Around The Corner

Yeah you are right, now we just need to wait till someone invents some sort of high resolution eeg or mri technology.

They should invent an fMRI machine that doesn't register brain activity in a dead salmon first. They could invent one that can pick up activity at the yet to be invented super-duper Fiber-Theory scale of matter and it still wouldn't tell you a thing about what is going on in someone's mind without them telling you about it.  Minds are experienced, not observed externally.  That is unless you want to concede the possibility of psychic perception, which you clearly will never do.  And even that would require verification from the person whose mind was being sympathetically experienced. 

I've stopped being surprised at how superstitious some people can be about science. It generates its own species of magical thinking, as a reader  at my blog pointed out recently.  Especially among atheists who claim to not believe in magic.