On Mythmaking and Twitter Arguments

I am writing this post because I quickly realized Twitter is not the proper medium for this conversation. This guy sent 19 tweets in a row. Twice. That’s too damn many to respond to properly, especially as the topic is such that I cannot respond to each tweet with a single tweet. Twitter isn’t a good place for much conversation, anyway, because 140 character limits make it much harder to say anything of note.

So, here’s my responses. I will be displaying every single tweet that was in the conversation already. @SelocnairBrian, I invite you to respond in the comments. If you insist on responding via twitter, and your response is again 19 or more tweets, I’ll be forced to write another post. I cannot explain my response to your “arguments” succinctly enough for Twitter.

It started with me posting the following image:

Brian started the conversation with the following three tweets:

To which I responded as follows:

I will now add a few things.

First, the practice of head binding appears to be just one of the weird things humans do. Perhaps some people with oddly shaped heads appeared to have greater intelligence, so others decided to force their children to have heads of that shape hoping to increase their intelligence. That’s a perfectly natural explanation, full of common flaws in human thinking, and every bit as provable as the “large headed creature” hypothesis. Indeed, as there is outside evidence that those flaws in human thinking exist (over-eagerness in seeing patterns, confusing cause and effect and correlation), and no outside evidence that “large headed” creatures exist outside of humanity, the hypothesis I’m proposing has a greater prior probability and is therefore more reasonable.

Second, I really was programmed to use Christian methods of thinking, programming that I still notice popping up in my daily life, such as wanting to say “thank god” when something good happens or wanting to pray when I desire a given outcome. Nearly every single conclusion I have come to that contradicts anything in Christianity (at least the form of Christianity I held to) has been carefully considered and is a hard-won conclusion. To deny my deconversion experience, to say it is not valid, to accuse me of not using common sense or thinking for myself, is to deny a huge part of what makes me the person I am today. I tend to take that personally, probably as personally as a woman who has been raped would take someone flat-out denying that she had undergone a traumatic event. What I went through was almost definitely not as traumatic as rape, but it was still quite traumatic, and I demand that this experience be acknowledged in this type of conversation.

Third, people have made up stories forever. This is common sense. A person catches a big fish, enough to feed his whole family. When telling of his catch, he exaggerates the size of the fish just a little, maybe even by accident. Someone else goes and tells his story in the next village, exaggerating just a little more, again possibly by accident. The process continues until you have a man catching a fish that feeds the entire village, a fish so massive as to have required an epic struggle against the elements. This is the common sense version of how legends begin. For more on the topic, see this article on how myths are created and for more on how human memory works (or doesn’t), check out this article on memory.

This is all common sense stuff. All of it shows that history becomes legend, and quite quickly, barely resembling the historical account. To assert that humans, at any point in time, wrote only history flies in the face of all common sense and everything we know of human nature.

As I said in the tweet, we also completely make up stories and then put them into a historical setting so they seem more real or more realistic. There’s a whole genre of historical fiction. Abraham in the Bible appears to be a case of historicizing, but more on that shortly.

This is the first set of 19 tweets, broken up by my more thorough responses.

This is… an astonishingly terrible method for arriving at truth. Some ancient texts say that Bumba vomited, and that produced the sun, stars, moon, animals, and people. Some say that Pan Gu broke out of an egg and the pieces of the egg became the earth and heaven. Others say that Vishnu ordered Brahma to create the world, and Brahma did. How are we supposed to know which ancient myth to believe when they contradict so greatly? We look at outside evidence. That’s the common sense way.

All sources of information that we have come through men. The Bible was written down by men. It was translated by men. It is interpreted by men every Sunday around the world, in differing and often contradictory ways. When a disagreement arises about the Bible, there is never any settling it; it just results in yet another sect of Christianity until we have 40,000 denominations. Contrast that with real data in science, where disagreements are settled through objective observation and repeated experimentation, resulting in comparatively less disagreement. A Christian in England will have entirely different ideas about the Bible than one in Alabama, but a scientist in England will almost certainly agree with a member of his field in Alabama. The scientific method is specifically designed to reduce human error, but there is no method for knowing who interprets the Bible correctly.

Again, YES I WAS. And again, and again, and again, I begged god to give me help in following him, I strived to believe, and received nothing. If god does exist, he abandoned me.

That seems like circular reasoning because it IS circular reasoning. Further, archeology shows more and more that the Bible is wrong, despite the fact that archeologists were trying to prove it historical. I’ll provide more on this in a bit.

This is some of the worst reasoning I have ever seen – an absolute display of the power of cognitive dissonance. As I and many others have demonstrated time and again, common sense does not prove anything in Christianity. Further, I tried giving myself to god and it did not work.

This is nonsensical, as I was living a Christian lifestyle at the time of my deconversion.

As I’ve demonstrated above, common sense contradicts this statement.

This statement is badly in need of any evidence. There is nothing, anywhere, that shows that humans at any point did not desire to make up stories. Claiming otherwise is an extraordinary claim and needs extraordinary evidence.

Strawman much? All of those things have entirely naturalistic explanations. (Makeup I’m gonna leave alone because I don’t care.) People (or the ancestors of people) were killing each other before weapons existed, and likely invented weapons as a better way to hunt. People thought ancient religions were true (nobody denies this!) so “im gonna build a temple to worship my imagination” is a strawman. I’m not arguing ancient people didn’t believe in gods; I’m arguing they were wrong. There’s a huge difference there. As for the rest, I sincerely doubt that any strange rituals were suddenly thought up wholescale; instead, what is likely is that a very small ritual just started, possibly from a priest attempting to gain control, and it grew and grew and became something much grander. Rituals aren’t even that difficult to explain, as it is possible to cause pigeons to invent rituals. We even take advantage of the ability of animals to develop superstitions when we train pets, for training is simply teaching an animal to perform a task or “ritual” over and over in hopes of receiving some reward.

The only way? No, not as gradually as civilizations changed. This lengthy essay deals specifically with this argument as applied to the origins of Christianity.

No, it makes no sense at all, and “overactive imagination” is a strawman. First of all, if all these supernatural things were so common in the past that they explain all of ancient human behavior, why don’t we see anything supernatural changing entire civilizations anymore? Secondly, I know of no instance throughout human history wherein an entire civilization changed so suddenly that a supernatural explanation is demanded. Thirdly, if you believe gods are talking to you in your dreams, as many people in ancient times believed was possible, that could cause all sorts of bizarre behavior. Fourthly, there is an evolutionary advantage to assigning agency where there is none, because it is better to assume a rustle in the grass is a tiger than the wind, because if you assume the wind when there is a tiger, you will die. (Incidentally, this tendency to assume agency can explain entirely all inventions of gods.)

Pretty much everyone in America is familiar with the story of Cinderella, which has a Chinese version. A major plot point is that she has tiny feet, and a common practice in China was to bind the feet of noble women so they would be tiny. It was believed this was beautiful, for some reason.

I responded only sporadically to this nonsense, much of which I have said better above. My tweets are the following:

I certainly could have done better. In any case, what follows is the next barrage of tweets he sent out, interspersed with my response.

First of all, Wikipedia is not government funded. Secondly, it is only as biased as the entire community, because anyone can edit any article. Thirdly, the specific section I linked to is little more than four quotes from three archaeologists, all of whom say that archaeology has shown inaccuracies in the Bible. Fourthly, I said it is a starting point because Wikipedia should never be treated as more than a starting point for research, not a source in and of itself.

Here’s one archaeologist who has this to say: “In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That’s a modern discipline. They were telling stories.”

Here’s another archaeologist saying of the Exodus story: “Really, it’s a myth”.

Here’s a third archaeologist saying there is no evidence for Abraham and the other patriarchs, as well as much else in the Old Testament.

I’m sure I could find more, but I’ll stop at three for now.

Again, this is nonsensical, because I was living as a Christian at the time. I am no longer living as a Christian, because no god answered my pleas for help in staying a believer. If you refuse to accept this fact, that I begged god for help and was met with silence, then talking to you is a total waste of my time.

Do you have any real evidence for any vampires, mermaids, etc, or are you expecting me to accept on pure say-so? I have looked for evidence for vampires and mermaids specifically (although more so dragons and unicorns), at least in books, and found none that is compelling.The Bible is not a reliable source. I’m not going to believe anything that’s in the Bible unless there is outside verification. That’s just common sense.

True, that doesn’t make them myths. Them being completely made up is what makes them myths, just as Lord of the Rings is a myth because it was made up (and is written in the mythic style).

I have never, to the best of my knowledge, every had anyone try to sleep with me in my dreams. Also, I have no control over my dreams.

No, it really doesn’t. It only appears to because you are so ignorant, even more so than I used to be (hey, at least I’m not calling you a liar the way you called me a liar). If you learned more about science, archaeology, and biblical studies, you would find that all of the evidence points away from Christianity. If you had grown up without exposure to religion, you would see all religions as equally nonsensical.

You really have no concept of how quickly oral traditions change stories, do you? Find a large group of friends and play a game of telephone.

We have very little from the first and second centuries: “We have as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts (six of which were recently discovered and not yet catalogued) and a first-century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel! Altogether, more than 43% of the 8000 or so verses in the NT are found in these papyri.” [Source, emphasis added] That means that for over half of the canonical New Testament, the originals are far gone.

Using common sense again, why would the Vatican lock away manuscripts that could help prove the Christian religion? If there are more manuscripts locked in the Vatican, it is most likely that they are embarrassing to Christianity or outright disprove some of the claims.

Further, the crusades were not a period of book burning, and again, why would Christians destroy evidence for their own religion? Instead, they would work harder to preserve them than anything else, and indeed we have thousands of manuscripts preserved after Christianity became powerful.

I disagree completely, because I don’t like lying. But then, my parents are sincere believers, so they were merely telling falsehoods they accepted as facts.

Sorry, that’s simply wrong. Here’s a short YouTube clip on the subject. And here’s an article that describes several of the changes.

All biblical text sounds like men speaking, because it is. There are laws that condone slavery, allowing beating of those slaves as long as they live a day or two (Exodus 21:20-21). There is a law that forces a woman to marry her rapist with no option of divorce (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Numbers 31 tells the story of the Israelites ordered into battle, Moses yelling at the soldiers for not killing the women (an action not rebuked by god, although striking a rock was), and how to divide the spoils of war. Leviticus 20 is a laundry list of various crimes to be punished by death. The book of Job treats children as replaceable, and its response to the problem of evil is essentially “I’m god, you’re a worm with no right to question me even though I’ve just allowed all of your children, cattle, and servants to be killed and you to suffer an illness that caused everyone to turn on you just to win a bet.” Even in the New Testament, Paul calls for death for homosexuals in the end of Romans 1 and Jesus asks for his enemies to be slain before him in Luke 19:27. That’s not even mentioning the extremely immoral position of god when he threatens infinite eternal punishment for finite crimes (hell).

The teachings of Buddha are better, and he emphasized that he was not a god and predated Jesus. The laws of Jainism are better, and they predate Judaism.

If you’ve heard demons, you probably have a mental disorder and should possibly be on medication, because demons are not real.

I do not trust the Bible, for reasons largely outlined above.

As for the argument from authority, well, that’s fallacious. All humans are fallible, and none are safe from being liars or simply mistaken. Besides, the majority of phds (at least in philosophy) are atheists, most archaeologists disagree that the Bible is historical, only 21.5 of biologists believe in god at all, and many scholars are atheists, so you probably don’t want to make an argument from authority here.

To wrap it up, here are the main points I think Brian was making:

  1. The Bible is reliable; archaeology upholds it.
  2. Demons are real, as are all other mythological creatures, such as vampires and mermaids.
  3. Common sense proves Christianity.
  4. People did not start making up stories until long after they first started to write; they originally just wanted to tell what happened.
  5. Actual supernatural beings are the reason for all human behavior, such as makeup and mummification of the dead.

Even the barest application of reasoning shows that 2, 4, and 5 are ridiculous. If someone said such things to me in person, I would laugh in his face. They are entirely contradictory to common sense, for reasons I have outlined above.

The first and third can at least be taken seriously, for it is to be expected that someone raised within Christianity and only exposed to Christian sources, would have those conclusions. Unfortunately, to those of us who have stepped outside that bubble, these statements are as ridiculous as saying that the moon is made of green cheese. I have tried to outline some reasons behind this, such as pointing out specific stories in the Bible that have changed or that are contradicted by archaeology, but this is a much more difficult case to make.

Again, @SelocnairBrian, feel free to respond to all of this in the comments below, and anyone else feel free to jump in and tell me if I’ve got anything wrong here.

Brian, I have no hope of changing your mind, but I have tried my best. You are hearing hoof-beats and thinking centaurs, when really the most reasonable explanation is horses.


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