I’ve recently joined the Humanist Association of Wisconsin. We’re just getting started creating videos, and this is the first one. As time goes on, I expect the editing quality and diversity of ideas (other presenters, etc) to improve. Episode 1 is Can We Be Good Without God?
Author: Tim...Stepping Out
On The Jesus Myth Issue
A few weeks ago, PZ Myers released a video on Jesus mythicism, explaining why he doesn’t subscribe to it. Among other things, Myers pointed to prominent players in the community, and how they often tend to be ethically dubious, often right wing troll mongers.
And despite the inklings of logical fallacy in his positioning, I couldn’t help agreeing with him about that particular impression. Even if some mythicists make an adequate case for the problems of assuming Jesus historicity, I’ve been frequently struck over the years by other blatant illogical, grotesque, and even morally bankrupt, political positions of prominent mythicists.
To be honest, it’s one of the reasons why I took a step back from attempting to be a featured player in the community. I’m just not interested in being mentioned in the same breath as some people in the mythicist community (that is not to say that I think that about all mythicists…quite the contrary).
During this same time, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are either involved in the mythicist community, or are community adjacent, have taken vocal positions in favor of historicity.
I don’t have a grand conclusion to this dilemma, because although I appreciate the problem of parsimony, economy, and value with regards to scrubbing a person out of history, I personally land somewhere in between mythicism and historicity, where I presume
- Jesus Christ of the Gospels probably didn’t live at the time purported
- The Jesus Christ of the Gospels appears to be a composite of a variety of figures
- The writers of the Gospels therefore had no discernible link between them and the original Jesus Christ, aside from reverence
- I’m suspicious of the notion that the Apostle Paul lived and wrote between the 30s and 50s CE
- I’m suspicious that Paul lived and wrote leveraging the canonical name assigned to him
- I’m not convinced that the handful of Pauline passages which seem to make some sort of reference to Jesus’s humanity should actually be interpreted as a legitimate reference to actual earthly humanity
I’m not sure how or if the reader has parsed this issue. If you have thoughts to share, let me know.
Thoughts and Prayers
Back when I was a Christian, I found the idea of “thoughts and prayers” to be empty words. Usually, if the typical believer identifies that someone could use their thoughts and prayers, odds are they probably need something more than that. How about a sandwich?
Currently, as a non-believer in magic words, I find the gesture even more worthless.
Such is the case with Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills Safety who suffered a cardiac arrest during the Bills-Bengals game Monday night. Best guesses so far is that he suffered from commotio cordis, a fairly rare phenomenon common among young athletes who experience blunt trauma to the sternum area.
As I understand it, the medical approach to cases like Hamlin’s is that the patient’s body temperature is significantly reduced, especially in the head, thus reducing the metabolic requirements of the brain. This approach reduces the potential for the brain suffering major injury due to reduced blood and oxygen flow.
How unfortunate that the human body suffers from this problem. If the heart stops for a significant amount of time, the brain is at extreme risk of dying. Even a small amount of time without oxygen can render severe, lifelong mental deficiency.
Yet, believers pray to God that Hamlin doesn’t die because of the poor design this designer chose us to have. And if he survives, their prayers were answered. If he happens to have lifelong disabilities because of his injury, well God is still good for keeping him alive.
Nevermind that it was science and medicine (not via divine intervention) that discovered clever and creative ways, after centuries of practice and piles of dead bodies, to significantly improve outcomes from injuries such as these.
I don’t really have a bottom line here. Just griping. Hope you’re all having a great start to the new year.
Snowflakism in Religious Studies
I was watching a Youtube interview featuring James Tabor, a towering figure in New Testament studies, on Bart Ehrman’s channel. What struck me in this interview is that Tabor said that, given the percentage of his students who come from a religious evangelical background, he’s inclined to call the so-called “authentic” Pauline letters the “early letters”, so as not to offend those religiously minded students.
In other words, in this scholarly setting at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where one of the top biblical scholars in the world (arguably in the history of the field) teaches, he has to censor overwhelmingly consensus scholarly opinions so as not to melt the delicate little snowflakes who seek to advance the field.
The supreme irony here is that it’s usually conservatives who are quick to call college students “snowflakes” for being offended by certain topics. Yet it’s that same ideologies which can’t stomach the notion that the Bible is not the pinnacle standard for honest virtue.
I cannot imagine a more dishonest paradigm. It’s *literally* the same issue as biology professors skirting that the Earth is ~4.4 billion years so as not to offend the Young Earth Creationists in class.
Of course, the evidence for the interpolation, redaction, and outright apocrypha present in New Testament Pauline writing is blatant and obvious from a number of different lines of evidence, not just writing styles, manuscript age, Christology, (political) agenda, word choice in the Pastorals and other non-authentic Paul New Testament material, but also from the Marcionite corpus, which lacked the obviously inauthentic Paul letters.
So is there any hope for this field?
My sense is no, there is not. This is not just because of the kid gloves with which prominent scholars treat their students, but also from the fact that many of the most likely future students of the field are hopelessly biased in their desire to encapsulate, embrace, and authenticate the New Testament’s ideology.
This Virgin Birth Nonsense
I was recently invited to an acquaintance’s Evangelical mega-church. I responded “thanks, but I’m not a believer.”
Unaccustomed to such heresy, he asked defensively “why not?”
I’m tentative about real world interactions such as these. I don’t want to alienate people or torpedo burgeoning friendships. So in this case, I tried to leave it at “none of it seems very convincing.”
I understand the ultra-religious well enough to know that the apologetics constructed for these events make perfect sense to them, so I wasn’t too surprised at his continued pushback.
“Fine,” I thought, “welcome to my odd universe (AKA Tim’s undertanding of Jesus).”
I brought up to my friend the problem with the virgin birth. My first impulse when I think about the virgin birth is that it was evidently an evolution of an earlier theology which lacked such magic, but included an invisible spirit which permeates the community and lives within the Christian practitioner. For the sake of flowing conversation, I avoided such tedium.
Instead, my inner rationalist came out.
“Isn’t it an obvious case of Occam’s razor?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we ask questions like: is there a simpler explanation?”
“Such as?” my antagonist goaded.
“Such as it was simply an invention by Iron Age primitives? Or a cynical church high on their congregation’s credulity? Or an add-on that came decades after Christianity’s advent? Magic proposed to embellish Jesus’s biography?”
My friend muttered something about faith, and we let the topic die. It was probably enough pushback to signify the death of that friendship…you can’t win them all, I suppose.
I’ve thought a lot about the virgin birth. We learn from Irenaeus of Lyon (AH i.26.1-2) that the Ebionites and Cerinthians did not believe in the virgin birth. Yet we are led to believe, both by Irenaeus in AH iii.11.7, as well as later church fathers, that both groups used some Gospel which looked like the Gospel of Matthew.
If we imagine what such a Gospel would have looked like, we might conclude it looked something like Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, this puts us in-line with the Marcan priorityhypothesis (the notion that Mark was the first-written of the Synoptic Gospels, followed by Matthew and Luke), which currently enjoys majority scholarly consensus. Thus, a discernible trajectory becomes evident: Mark was written with its own agenda, and copies of it were made which eventually evolved, as a result of competing agendas, into Matthew and Luke.
Given attributes of the Synoptic problem, specifically that there are occasional disagreements between Gospels, even though one relied on another, we might presume that there was intellectual flow between the communities which were appending to the core narrative, and when disagreements arose, such disagreements were codified in each respective Gospel. Thus, we might be able to tease some truth out of Irenaeus’s assertion about the 4-Gospel canon (which he himself put forward): “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars…”
In other words, each Gospel represented the agenda of the sect and geography in which it was interpolated and redacted.
I have often asked the question: who invented the virgin birth? Based on Irenaeus, it could not have been the Ebionites. Based on what little we know about them, it probably was not the Cerinthians, either. The best I can do is to consider the schism (not necessarily political, but more time and distance) between the Eastern and Western Valentinians. This quasi-Gnostic group, who (curiously) elevated Paul as their Apostle of choice, had a Western sect which did not recognize the virgin birth; yet their Eastern sect did.
Two potential candidate hypotheses emerge:
1. The original virgin birth Valentinians traveled West to Rome, encountered Christians (or other philosophies) who rejected the virgin birth, and the Westerners redacted the virgin birth out of their theology.
2. The Western Valentinians never believed in the virgin birth, and when traveling west retained the original philosophy. The Easterners evolved the virgin birth philosophy later, independent of the westerners.
Given that the virgin birth represents the more complicated philosophy, and that we can already presume virgin-birth-less Mark preceded Matthew (and its virgin birth narrative), the 2nd hypothesis seems more likely correct: that the western Valentinians brought to Rome an earlier theology, and the Easterners later evolved the original philosophy. This specific evolution might help to explain, and indeed be at the root of the ferocious in-fighting which arose in the early Christian church between 100CE and 155CE.
But why should such a theology as the virgin birth have sprung up?
A rationalist might rely on some of my earlier thoughts expressed in my conversation with my zealous friend: that it was simply an enhancement to the narrative invented by someone intent on increasing congregation size.
In my opinion, the virgin birth solved a perception problem.
A late Jewish polemical text, the Toledot Yeshu, asserts that Jesus lived in the time of Jannaeus, and was a result of Joseph ben Pandera tricking and raping Mariamne. Though the earliest extant copies of this text date to the 11th Century CE, the text itself is aware of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (“He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air”), which was written perhaps sometime in the mid-2nd century. This narratives is also echoed in some manner by Celsus, against whom Origen wrote in the mid-3rd century CE.
A story was circulating in the non-Christian world in its early days that Jesus was an illegitimate son – a consistency problem for even the most credulous believer. This story ran contrary to a solidifying narrative within the New Testament that Jesus was conceived through divine intervention.
Though we do not know how Jesus would have responded to such accusations in real life, we have tales of a contemporary competing savior type, Simon Magus, constructing a tale similar to Jesus: “For before my mother Rachel and [my father] came together, she, still a virgin, conceived me…”
This is not the only parallel between Simon Magus and Jesus, but it is interesting we see some evidence of Simon constructing a story which parallels the eventual Orthodox story of Jesus, let alone such a critical component of the Orthodoxy.
In my mind, this parallel suggests a few possibilities in terms of the Orthodoxy’s evolution:
1. The two are mutually exclusive
2. There were accusations of Simon plagiarizing pre-Orthodoxy Jesus attributes
3. There were competing leaders in the early church who had their own attributes, and those attributes eventually were merged into a single Jesus character in the subsequent generations by church fathers.
My personal opinion, given the blurring of other lines and characters in early Christian history, is that Jesus’s attributes were merged with other Christian and pre-Christian leaders to eventually synthesize the Orthodox Jesus we have today.
Fun With Stats: Macronutrients vs. Calories (Preliminary)
See the first post in this topic for appropriate background.
After 7 days of painstaking weighing and recording of all my food intake, along with macronutrient breakdown of those foods, I have collected enough data to start building some preliminary models. Of course, 7 days is not enough to definitively conclude anything, but I thought I’d share what I have found so far.
My starting weight was 213.8 lbs, and my current weight is 206.0 pounds. That amounts to almost 8 lbs lost the first week – no doubt this is primarily due to glycogen and water weight lost, but presumably a couple/few of those pounds were fat. Unfortunately, some of that weight loss was probably muscle, although I have been doing daily, light resistance training on my Weider weight machine – I always do this near the end of my fasting window, usually around 15-16 hours without eating. My rationale is that insulin levels are low and growth hormone is high, which aids in muscle preservation.
This is my dataset so far:
As you can see, the initial quick drawdown of weight has slowed, and I have been at 206lbs for a couple days. Also note I have taken efforts to vary my macronutrient percentages a great deal – the past few days, I ate high carbohydrate percentages despite being hypocaloric (even the 2152 calorie day was probably hypocaloric, given my weight).
Base Model (Only Macronutrient Percentages)
Below is R-Studio output (the statistics package I’m using) for a linear statistical model I’ve built which compares the daily percentage of weight loss to the percent of fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
In this output, there are a few t hings to note:
- Notice the Pr(>|t|) column values under the Coefficients sections. Fat=.331, Carbohydrate=.331, and Protein=.325. All of these are quite a lot higher than 0.05, which indicates they are not significant contributors to the model
- Adjusted R-squared is 0.6031. This is higher than expected, but this is explained by the fact that percent of weight lost is usually very low. A value closer to 1 indicates that the outcome variable (percent of weight lost) is explained by the input variables (percent fat, percent carb, percent protein)
- Overall P-Value for the model is 0.1408. To feel confident in the model, we would be looking for a value less than 0.05.
- Overall, this is probably not a very good model
Altered Model (Macronutrient Percentages With Calories)
Next, let us consider the same model, but add caloric intake to the list of explanatory variables:
There are a few things to note here:
- The overall p-value and r-squared value for this altered model indicate a better model than macronutrient percentages alone
- The p-value is still greater than 0.05, suggesting the model is not statistically significant, with confidence of 95%.
- The best variable is the log(totalcal); however it is still 0.117, well above the 0.05 threshhold
*Note: I transformed the totalcal variable to take the logarithm of it. This is a common statistical technique used when one variable has a very wide scale, or when it is quite a lot larger than other variables
Given that total calories has so far been a better predictor of percentage of weight loss, how good is it by itself? Here are the results:
As you can see from above, the p-value of this model is 0.2729 – the worst performing model of the 3. Adjusted R-squared is 0.07924 – again, worse than the other two models. So far, the calories-only model is worse than calories plus macronutrients.
So far, the best model to predict percent weight change is total calories AND macronutrient percentages. I’m still very early into this process, and linear modeling might not be the best solution. Rather, the best solution might be logistic regression, analyzing whether weight was lost on a given day given food intake. Even still, a person can eat perfectly for days in a row, and not lose any weight – that’s just the nature of weight loss. So ultimately, I don’t know what later models will look like, or what variables or techniques will be best for my personal results.
Below is a plot of my weight loss given caloric intake. As you can see, I can both lose weight and remain the same, despite a wide range of caloric intake. I have yet to gain weight on a given day.
I’ve noticed that a lot of high carb eating also involves high fat eating. I suspect this is a problem, both from a biological perspective (the interplay between fat and carbohydrates during the metabolic process), and also from a calorie perspective – it is very easy to overeat when eating some of these things – for example, I ate a piece of toffee-cream pie yesterday, which was nearly 700 calories, half of which was fat. When eating a low-carb/high fat diet, it is difficult to get 700 calories at once.
I also have not eaten many vegetables during this process. This would have been helpful, at least from a hunger perspective, during my high carb days. (Select) Vegetables also are a great tool in low-carb eating.
I just went 3 days on a high carbohydrate diet. I plan to spend the next 3 days on a low carbohydrate diet. A few things I have not done yet:
- Eaten hypercaloric (overeat)
- Skip time restricted feeding
- Eaten very high protein
Upcoming Statistical Analysis: Macronutrients, Calories, and Weight Loss
I’ve been on-and-off low carbohydrate dieting for a few years now. My personal problem is lack of discipline. The trend goes like this: I realize I’ve put on more weight than I meant to, I get serious about eating better, I cut excess sugar, alcohol, and useless carbohydrates from my diet, I drop some weight, apathy sets in, I get bored following a rigid diet, repeat.
My rationale for following a low carbohydrate diet is quite simple, despite its multi-step formula:
- Eating triggers the pancreas to release insulin in varying amounts depending on the macronutrient (sugar=high, fat=low, protein=sustained medium).
- Insulin delivers the broken down components of food (glucose, fatty acids, etc) to our cells to use for energy and storage
- Excess eating triggers excess insulin
- Over time, muscle cells become resistant to insulin delivery, which leads to higher levels of insulin in the blood, along with higher levels of glucose in the blood. This eventually leads to metabolic syndrome, and for many, type 2 diabetes
- High levels of insulin causes muscle cells to prioritize glucose uptake, rather than fat metabolism.
- High insulin encourages free fatty acids to be stored in fat cells.
- High insulin discourages stored fatty acids (triglycerides) from being broken down and released from fat cells
- This creates an environment where stored fat tends not to be used for energy, which leads to fat accumulation
- Limiting the initial secretion of insulin prevents this fat accumulation in fat cells
- This can be done by caloric restriction
- Theoretically, it could also be done by eating foods that are less insulinogenic (insulin secreting)
Over the past few months, I have become receptive to the idea of time-restricted feeding (also sometimes referred to as intermittent fasting). One problem overweight people can face is that their base insulin levels tend to be higher than non-overweight people. It can literally be the case that an overweight person’s fasting insulin level is higher than a thin person’s post-eating insulin level!
*Source: Twenty-Four-Hour Profiles and Pulsatile Patterns of Insulin Secretion in Normal and Obese Subjects; Polonsky, Given, and Cauter
One strategy I recently tried was to use time restricted feeding (a daily routine of going 16-20 hours without eating – eating within a 4-8 hour window) without limiting carbohydrates. This did not work very well, and I found myself stagnating in weight loss while I was doing it. When I combined low carbohydrate eating with intermittent fasting, weight loss resumed. One thing I do not know is whether my caloric intake was high when I did this (I suspect it was).
As I mentioned above, I tend to lose momentum in my weight loss efforts, and then gain the weight back. So, I thought I would add some extra incentive for myself by adding an extra layer of intrigue to the process.
One of the things I have wondered for a long time is how caloric intake relates to this weight loss process, versus macronutrient composition. For example, if I eat 2500 calories comprised mostly of fat (say, at least 65% fat), will that affect weight loss (or gain) differently than if those 2500 calories came mostly from carbohydrates?
Different camps of researchers have different opinions about this, but the majority of researchers (at least from what I can tell) advocate a calories-in-calories-out model, rather than assuming the above insulin model implies one can increase their fat proportion of their diet to lose wight.
My gut instinct, based on research from Kevin Hall (source 1), is that the differences in weight change will be negligible, regardless of macronutrient composition (given consistent caloric intake/deficit) – one article Hall authored even suggested fat restriction is more effective than carbohydrate restriction; I suspect the reason low carb diets tend to be more successful than other diets has to do with satiety – high fat diets lead people to be less hungry. It also seems to be the case that it is much easier to overeat high carbohydrate food than it is to eat high fat food. However, Hall has also stated that protein metabolism is different enough from carbohydrate and fat that people can eat more protein calories than the other macronutrients.
I have to admit, I am drawn to the idea that we can alter macronutrient composition and be able to eat more than we otherwise would in a high carbohydrate diet.
My plan is to build statistical models to answer the following questions:
- Is caloric intake predictive of daily weight change?
- Does macronutrient composition data improve the models I create?
- Is macronutrient composition a better predictor of weight change than caloric intake? (especially when caloric intake is high)
- Is there anything surprising from the (to-be-created) models?
This process will require tedious calorie counting, food weighing, and abstinence from eating foods that I don’t know enough about. I’ve been collecting data for 5 days, and the data I have is shown below. Once I have more data, I can begin building statistical models. The trouble is my current data tells me very little right now, as my low carb+time restricted feeding has led me to lose weight every day so far. Clearly my basal metabolic rate is more than 1800-2000 calories per day…at least when time restricting and limiting carbohydrates.
My goal is to collect many different days with varying caloric intake, time restricted feeding, and macronutrient composition. As the dataset grows, the model will be more reliable…at least for my own body chemistry.
Jesus Myth Series: From Moses To Gnosticism
The second video in my Jesus Myth Series is up on Youtube.
New YouTube Post
I’ve posted a YouTube video discussing Simon Magus, and my thoughts about him
Fun With Stats: Dwindling Christianity
Religiosity is declining in America. In 1948, the first year Gallup began tracking America’s religiosity, 91% of Americans identified as either Protestant or Catholic. In 2018, the total percentage of Christian Americans, which now tracks denominations beyond Protestant and Catholic,was 67%.
Much of this rapid decline occurred after 2000. In 2000, 80% of Americans identified as Christian. Since then, Christian affiliation has fallen by a whopping 16%. In that same time, Americans who identify as having no religious affiliation have increased from 8% to 20%.
Below is a graph showing this decline. The steepest decline has been among Protestants. Catholic numbers have fallen too, but not as impressively as Protestants. The remaining non-Catholic Christianities have actually increased in numbers since 2000.
I built statistical models using Gallup data from 2000-2018. I omitted inclusion of pre-2000 data because it seems intuitively less predictive of future patterns than post-2000 data. Though Christianity’s numbers were falling before the turn of the century, the rate of decline increased after 2000.
I used these models to predict future growth or decline of Christianity.
The fields below show a range, which represents a 95% confidence interval, of anticipated Christian affiliation in the coming decades.
My models, which all used Caret-machine learning linear models in the statistics package R, anticipate a roughly 1% decrease in association in all Christianities per year. If these models hold, America will have fewer than 50% Christians between 2040 and 2050. If recent trends hold, American Protestantism may be entirely gone by then. These models also show those Americans with no denominational affiliation will represent about 40% of Americans by 2050, doubling its current number.
Interestingly, these models also predict alternative Christianities will increase during this time, and Catholicism will only trend slightly down.
Of course, there is a chance trajectory slows during this time, rendering these estimates entirely incorrect. But I was unable to find a realistic model which anticipated this, given the steep drop since 2000.
Below are predictions in graphical format from now until 2050.