Friday, March 30, 2018

Did Jesus really rise?

I never did write about this.  Or at least, I only mentioned it in passing.  But given that it is really the most important reason for my deconversion -- I could have and would have stayed at least Christian if I could have found evidence for the resurrection -- I have always felt like I should write a full post about it.

The first question we have to answer is, do you actually want to know?  I mean, we'd go about this differently depending on what you want.  Do you want to justify your preexisting belief in the resurrection?  Do you want to show it's at least plausible?  Or do you want to know if there's actually good historical evidence for it?

Let's assume you do want to know if there's good historical evidence for it.  If you don't want that, you'll have to go elsewhere.  In this case, we'll want to use a methodology which will give us the best knowledge of history possible.  Every discipline has a gold standard.  In medicine, the gold standard is the double-blind, randomized controlled trial.  In history, it's multiple independent contemporaneous sources, backed up if possible with archeological finds.  Does the resurrection of Jesus meet this standard, or not?

Archeological finds, I think we have to acknowledge, are not to be had.  There are lots of supposed relics of the crucifixion, but in none of these cases do we have any proof they actually belonged to Jesus.  The only real candidate is the Shroud of Turin.  However, it doesn't have provenance (that is, we can't trace it back any further than 14th century Europe) and it carbon-dates to the Middle Ages.  No legitimate historian would admit an archeological find as proof of anything if it had no provenance and didn't date to the right time.

All right, let's get into multiple, independent, contemporaneous attestation.  What does this mean?  Multiple is easy--more than one.  The more sources you have, the better the historical evidence is.  Independent means that the different accounts don't rely on one another--that one writer wasn't looking at the text of another.  When we know that one had access to the other when writing, or when one references or copies from another, we don't truly have two accounts--we have the original, and a secondary source.  Contemporaneous means, normally, during the lifetime of the person written about.  Major historical figures have quite a footprint of contemporary writings--letters to and from them, orders they wrote, gossip about them by friends.  The Resurrection, being an event, doesn't have a lifetime, but the best evidence would be writings within a couple of years.

How many of these does the Resurrection have?  There are multiple accounts, for sure.  Some people cite the four gospels plus Paul, but I don't agree.  The Synoptics, at the very least, copied each other or use the same source.  So I think we have to count all three synoptics as one.  It's not very credible to think that, in decades within the Christian community, John didn't read the Synoptic Gospels, but I will grant John as independent because at least he does not follow those accounts.  Paul, at least, seems truly independent, because he probably wrote first, though the information he gives about the Resurrection is sparse.  So that makes three possibly-independent accounts.  The really unfortunate part is that they are all from the same point of view.  There is no record of Pilate saying the body disappeared and wondering why, or any record of anyone hearing the apostles' account in the first decades after the Resurrection and considering the evidence for it.  You only have religious individuals making religious claims.

What about the non-Christian sources that write about Jesus?  There are a few, though even later than the gospels -- Josephus in the 90's, Tacitus in the 110's.  I tend to discount these altogether, because they are obviously getting their information about what Christians believe from the Christians themselves.  They are  So I would trust it as an account of what Christians believed at the time, but it's no more credible than me saying, "Mormons follow a man called Joseph Smith, who saw an angel bringing him gold tablets."  I'm recounting the religious beliefs, but it's obvious where I got those beliefs, and that I don't share them.  Some people also think that some of what we have from Josephus is a forgery -- he wouldn't have written "Jesus was the Christ" unless he was a Christian, which he wasn't.

How contemporaneous are they?  There's a ton of argument on this topic, but let's take the Christian community's dating of about the 70's for the Gospels and the late 50's or early 60's for Paul.  (I am not sure this is right -- it's largely based on the assumption that the gospels wouldn't include the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem if it had already happened, whereas I think the opposite -- they made sure to include it because it had happened.  And Paul is supposed to have died in 66 or so, but that assumes that the writings of Paul aren't pseudonymous, which isn't a sure thing.  But let's grant the dates.)  That still leaves all record of the Resurrection starting thirty years out.

Thirty years is not a long time to remember something.  For instance, most sixty-year-old people can tell you any life-changing events from when they were thirty, like their wedding day or the birth of a child.  But it's a very long time for oral history to develop, especially within a religious community.  When I was in Regnum Christi, it was about sixty years from its founding and we had a very complicated mythos, much of which wasn't true.  It passed from person to person orally many times, and it must have grown in the telling.  You see, when two versions of the same story are circulating within an excited ideological community, the bigger story always wins.  It's very embarrassing to be the person saying, "Well, that's not what I heard from Other Apostle, I heard it was only one angel."  If a Different Apostle says it was two, everyone jumps on board with two because it's a better story.

I've participated in this myself.  I had a friend who went blind and later regained her sight.  The real story was that she was prayed over by the Pope, and several months later, she started being able to see a lot better.  But that's not how I told it.  I left out the words "several months later" because they softened the story, made it less exciting and miraculous-sounding.  There's a lot of prestige in being a witness to a miracle.

Thirty years also means that any other witnesses who could back you up or refute you are going to be hard to find.  Think of a woman who brings a sexual-harassment claim thirty years after the fact.  She remembers it well, or claims to, but where are all the people who could confirm her story?  One is in another state and can't fly in for the hearing; another honestly cannot remember because it wasn't the big deal to her it was to the victim; a third has passed away.  This would have been a much bigger deal in the ancient world, where there wasn't any Facebook to find people who've dropped off the map.  It's important to remember that if Jane says, "I was groped by Bob, and Stacey was there and saw it," we have one account: Jane's.  We don't have Stacey as a witness, because Stacey didn't write anything.

So no, the Resurrection story is not very well attested.  We have a lot more evidence for almost everything else we know about this time--about Caesar's activities, about Pilate, about Herod.

But, you may claim, surely if there were a flaw in the Resurrection account, contemporaries would have called it out!  Well, yes and no.  As I pointed out, Christians wouldn't be likely to find fault with an account, especially one written by a high-status church member.  And non-Christians could have criticized till they were blue in the face--who would have listened?  Their contemporaries would have put it down to hatred of their new church.  Even if these criticisms had been written down, who would have taken the time to transcribe and preserve them for 2000 years?  Worse, we know that the Christian community actively destroyed texts they thought were heretical or irreligious.  So this objection is no good.

The strongest argument that I have ever found in favor of the resurrection is that the apostles, all eyewitnesses, died as martyrs rather than deny it (except for Judas and John).  The only problem is that this too is a historical claim, to be evaluated historically.  Or rather, it's three claims: first, that these men professed a belief in a physical resurrection; second, that they were put to death; and third, that they could have gotten out of being put to death if they had denied the resurrection.

And the fact is, none of these are well-attested.  The only claims we have for someone believing in the physical resurrection are the accounts we have already talked about.  So instead of 12 apostles plus 500 believers Paul talks about, we still have only three independent accounts.  The evidence that the apostles believed in the resurrection is no stronger than the evidence for the resurrection itself.

Did all ten of the "martyred" apostles actually get put to death?  Again, we don't know.  The only written reference that's under a century old cites only Peter and Paul as having been put to death, and it doesn't say anything further.  All the other martyrdom stories for the apostles were written centuries after they died.  Paul's account, for instance, has Paul's head bounce three times on the way down the hill, which was supposed to have caused Rome's famous three fountains.  But these accounts are fantastical and not written by eyewitnesses.

So the third question, could any of the apostles have saved their lives by denying the resurrection, can't be answered.  Maybe they could, maybe they couldn't.  It seems to me unlikely that the Roman Empire, in choosing to put Christians to death, much cared whether they claimed that Jesus was risen from the dead.  Their concern was that the Christians wouldn't sacrifice to their gods, and that they were causing too much unrest within the Jewish community.  After all, Pilate put Jesus to death without Jesus making any specific claim.  Christians were just trouble.

Okay, so we can admit that the historical evidence for the resurrection isn't the very best.  But it still is some evidence.  Generally my habit is to believe an account unless there's a reason not to; for instance, if someone tells me they were raped, I believe it unless they have a history of lying.  After all, rape is a lot more common than false accusations of rape.  But that a person would rise from the dead is, on its face, pretty incredible.  I'd argue you'd need more evidence for that than you would to believe that, say, Caesar crossed the Rubicon.  Caesar crossing the Rubicon is the sort of thing we'd expect to happen--it happens all the time--whereas a dead person returning to life is unprecedented; you can't even calculate how improbable it would be.  So if you believe it on the basis of the evidence available, you have to set your standards of belief pretty darn low.

If your standards of belief are this low, what else would you be forced to believe?
*You would have to believe in any number of other miracle-workers who lived near Jesus' time, and whose miracles are better-attested than his.
*You would have to believe that any man who had been accused of misconduct by three people was guilty.  This means Trump is a serial sex offender; Roy Moore is a serial sex offender; and Bill Clinton is a serial sex offender.  You should be certain about it, even if none of the accusers has any additional evidence or supporting witnesses.  All three of those men should go to prison.
*You would have to believe in ghosts and alien abductions.
*You would have to believe that Joseph Smith took three men to see an angel holding the famous golden plates of the book of Mormon, and that eight further men saw and touched the golden plates but not the angel.  These eleven witnesses attested in writing to what they had seen.

So can you still believe in the resurrection?  Of course; it hasn't been disproved.  Though there isn't sufficient evidence to be convincing on its own, if you have other reasons for belief, such as spiritual experiences you find credible, then you might still choose to believe in the resurrection.  No one can prove you're wrong--the resurrection is only badly attested, not debunked.

But many will suggest that, if I don't believe in the resurrection, I should suggest a different explanation of what happened -- one which accounts for the evidence we have, without huge leaps of reasoning.  And I will, but that will have to be a separate post.

Further reading:
Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection
Resurrection debate

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How to fry things

I got feedback on a post and so you get more of that kind of post!  Enbrethiliel said she likes when I post recipes, so I'm going to talk about how I got brave enough to learn to deep fry, and at the end I'm going to share the recipe for the battered fish I made the other night.

For years, I never attempted to fry anything, because I was afraid I would set my kitchen on fire.  And then I did try to fry things and it turned out bad, so I quit.  My usual M.O. with trying new things is to assume that all the rules and tools are unnecessary and I can just experiment.  This approach works well with gardening, but with frying there are definitely some rules it's helpful to know.

If you don't want to make nasty food, spatter your kitchen in grease, or set your kitchen on fire, follow these simple rules:

1.  Use purchased oil for frying.  Meat drippings are not sufficient and will scorch and spatter.  So will butter or olive oil.  Peanut oil is my oil of choice, but shortening is said to be good too.  I've tried both soybean and corn oil and didn't like the taste, but they won't result in disaster and they're both cheap.

2.  Use a heavy, deep pan.  A cast-iron skillet is deep enough, but a dutch oven will spatter less and is a better choice.  You don't need a deep fryer to deep fry.  You just need a pan.

3.  Don't move a hot pan full of oil, or pour oil into a wet pan.  Start with a dry, cold pan on a cold burner, turn the burner on, and add the oil.  Turn the burner off and allow the oil to cool before you move it.   A pan of oil is heavy, and if your arm twitches or trembles, you'll spill scalding oil everywhere and may start a fire.

4.  Have a thermometer and use it.  Most frying is done between 300 and 400 degrees.  At this temperature there isn't usually any wild splattering, and any splatters that do hit you won't be terribly painful.  If you don't have a thermometer, it's way too easy to let the oil overheat.  Or if the oil is too cool, it soaks into the food and makes it nasty.  Spend the $10 or so and get a food thermometer.

5.  Know how to deal with a grease fire.  Never throw water on a grease fire.  Keep a lid handy to smother a fire that starts in the pan.  I hear you're also supposed to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  I've never ever had a fire start when I was frying anything, but better to be prepared.

6.  Keep kids out from underfoot.  I know, easier said than done, right?  But if they're likely to grab pans or careen through the kitchen, wait till a time when you have backup.

7.  Always fry food that is as dry as you can make it.  Battered food, of course, is a bit wet from the batter, and potatoes have a little dampness, but don't just throw in freshly washed veggies or anything.  Oil splatters aren't caused by hot oil; they are caused by water boiling under the hot oil.

8.  Stay in the kitchen while you're frying.  Things happen pretty fast.  That doesn't mean a fried meal takes less time than a baked or boiled one -- it's about the same, just because you will have to do many 5-minute batches.

All right, so you're ready to fry!  The easiest things to fry are things that don't require breading: steak fries, for instance, or potato chips.  Make sure your pan is dry and pour in oil just deep enough to submerge the food.  ("Deep" doesn't mean all that deep.  An inch or two is adequate.)  Start heating it up - medium high is good, but once it gets to temperature, you may want to turn it down a bit.  Go prepare the food -- chop the potatoes, batter the fish, bread the chicken.  It'll take a bit to heat the oil, so that's why you do that first.  Pause now and again to check your oil, and turn it down if it gets too hot.  375 is about right for most things, unless you're frying very large pieces.

Once it's hot enough and the food is ready, carefully drop it into the oil.  I tend to get nervous and want to keep my fingers far from the oil, but if you drop it in from a height, you'll get a splash.  If you lower it carefully into the oil, you're unlikely to get splattered.  But you can always use tongs or a slotted spoon if you're nervous.

Never overcrowd the pan.  There should be room for the food to move around a bit.  Better to do many batches than to eat food that didn't turn out.  Check the thermometer again.  The temperature of the pan lowers a good bit when you've put food into it, especially if the food is cool, so you may need to crank the burner up a bit.

Most food is fried within a few minutes, so stay right there while it cooks. Some things may need to be flipped over if they tend to float a bit.  Watch the food more than the clock.  If you're following a recipe, the temperature and size of the food is calibrated so that when it's brown on the outside, it's done on the inside.  If not, you'll just have to cut open some of the first pieces and make sure they're done inside.  When you find raw middles and dark outsides, that tells you your oil is too hot and you should go down to 350 or so. 

When you take the food out, it's best to put it on a rack, if you have one, with a tray below to catch oil drips.  If not, a plate lined with several paper towels will do.  If the food is going to be salted or sprinkled with sugar, do it right away, while your oil is getting back to temperature.  Then you can do the next batch.

Once it's all done, shut off the heat but leave the pan in place so you don't spill it.  Serve the food right away.  If the oil is pretty clean (i.e. it doesn't have lots of blackened crumbs in it or anything) you can use it again for another purpose.  If it's nasty and full of burned bits, pour it into an old can when it's cool and freeze it before throwing away -- it's less messy that way.  Never pour it down the drain. 

Leftovers of fried food usually isn't good. You know how it is.  Even a professionally-fried french fry is nasty by the time it's cold.  So eat what you can while it's hot.

Frying sounds intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.  You just have to be able to give it your full attention while it's cooking.  It also does tend to get you hot and sweaty and the kitchen smelling of grease.  So it's not something I like to do more than about weekly.  But, since frying isn't the world's healthiest method, it's just as well.  It's nice for a special occasion or to make an ordinary day special.

So without further ado, here's the battered fish recipe I made last Friday!

Battered Fish (Without Beer)

4 pollock fillets (any fish will do)
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay (feel free to sub your favorite seasonings)
1 cup water

Heat your oil to 375 degrees F.  Make sure the fish is thoroughly defrosted and dry it with paper towels.  Cut it into serving-size pieces -- about the size of your palm.  A little sprinkle of flour also helps dry it off so the batter will stick.  Then mix the batter ingredients together.  Dip the fish in the batter a few times, trying to get it all over.  You only need the batter to stick long enough to get into the oil -- it cooks fast.  Carefully lower the fish into the oil with your fingers or with tongs.  Try not to let the fish pieces touch each other, or they'll glue together.  My pan fits about four pieces per batch -- you'll likely need to do several batches.

Fry the fish 3-5 minutes -- until it's golden brown.  Remove it from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon.  Let cool a bit on a rack or paper towels while the rest of the fish cooks.  Serve as soon as it's all cooked, with tartar sauce, ketchup, or malt vinegar.

The same batter can be used with other things.  I had some left so I sliced up some onion rings and battered those.  They were delicious -- the batter was light and delicate and crisp.  Definitely will make again.

Once you've got the hang of frying, the sky is the limit.  Fish 'n' chips?  Fried chicken?  Falafel?  Potato chips?  Tempura vegetables?  Doughnuts?  Deep-fried Oreos?  Whatever you want to do!  Fried food is delicious and you don't have to stick with only the offerings fast food restaurants have.

Do you fry?  What's your favorite thing to fry?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Universal bean dip recipe

Lately I've been domestic-goddess-ing it up a lot, which amounts to fewer blog posts.

I made two quilts.

I made Kouign Amann, a Breton pastry I learned about on the British Baking Show.

I made pie.

I've also made a lot of bean dip lately.  I love bean dip of all kinds.  I just didn't use to make it because I didn't have a blender, and a food processor doesn't get it really creamy because it's more for chopping.  Since I got one this past Christmas, I've been trying lots of kinds of bean dip.

I discovered that it doesn't really matter what kind of bean dip you're trying to make, the method and proportions are pretty much the same.  You need cooked beans, oil, acid, and flavoring.

So, for instance, black bean dip can be made like this:

1 can of black beans, drained
2-4 Tbs olive oil (or other oil)
1-2 Tbs lime juice
jalapenos, onions, cayenne, chili powder, garlic, cumin, and/or salt to taste

You blend the beans with the oil, then add the other ingredients.

Meanwhile my white bean recipe has a little twist: I like to cook the seasonings in the oil.

Onions, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, and garlic, cooked in 2-4 Tbs of olive oil
1 can white beans
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
salt to taste

That's it!  The only important thing is to mix in the oil before the acid, so the blended beans really drink it in.

Can you make hummus like this?

Turns out you can!

1 can chickpeas, drained
2-4 Tbs olive oil
(tahini if you have it -- I never do)
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
parsley, cumin, garlic, salt

Now some blenders do not like to blend anything that doesn't have enough liquid in it.  If yours is like that (mine is) make sure the oil is added at the very beginning, and add more if it's not blending.

Bean dip is good on crackers, bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, and so on.  If you eat the last of it with a spoon, I'll never tell.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bad news for rural mothers

Since I was in college, I've heard bad things about our local hospital, Warren Memorial Hospital (WMC).  It was understaffed, it took forever to be seen, the ER waiting room was always full.  When John was hospitalized there years ago for diverticulitis, it took hours for him to get any pain meds and he was kept without food for half a day longer than he needed to be, because that's how long it took to see a doctor.

But the doctors and nurses there didn't seem to be incompetent, just too few.  And in recent years, I have been hearing it's been a lot better.  It might be Obamacare--forced and subsidized insurance means they're not carrying the burden of all the uninsured people in the county, as they previously did.  Or it might be that the hospital was bought out by Valley Health, a big hospital group.  The town has started to be spotted with Valley Health signs: my doctor, the kids' doctor, the lab, the nursing home, the urgent care.  Everything's owned by Valley Health.  But they do a good job, so far as I know, so I haven't been making a big fuss about the monopoly.

It turns out I should have been.  Lately the government put in a big, beautiful road which goes around town and makes it a lot easier for people in certain neighborhoods to get to the freeway.  And on that road, Valley Health is building a new hospital.  The plan is to close WMH, which is admittedly old, and build something much nicer.  So far, so good.  But they're not building a labor and delivery unit.  No ob/gyn services will be offered at the new hospital.  The staff of the women's care wing are getting laid off, and women with delivery dates after June are being told to change their plans to deliver at the next closest hospital, Winchester Medical Center (WMC), half an hour away.

Half an hour isn't that far.  But, of course, it's further from some parts of the county.  And even half an hour is a long time to ride in a car when you're in labor.  I'm a person who has had very fast labors, so I wouldn't have wanted to deliver somewhere so far from where I live.  And what if it were in rush hour?  It's taken me an hour to traverse the same distance once, when there was a traffic jam.  I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be keen to deliver on the side of I-81.

Of course, I have homebirths.  But I had homebirths in part because I knew we were very close to a hospital and could have been there in five or ten minutes in an emergency.  I didn't have a homebirth because I wanted medical help to be unavailable; I had one because I wanted to stay in the safety of home so long as there weren't any worrisome warning signs.  There weren't, and I never went in .... but imagine my midwives trying to transport a laboring woman for 35 minutes, while the baby is in distress or the mother is bleeding.  That is much, much too long.  Women aren't going to want to sign up for a homebirth if there's no closer care than that.

And then there's the question of prenatal care.  Not everyone in town has cars, but the bus only goes around town.  It doesn't go to Winchester.  You can take a cab, but round-trip cab fare to WMC runs about $70.  A lot of people here can't spare $70 a month, on top of the doctor bill, to get checkups.  That means warning signs like high blood pressure will be missed.  High blood pressure, leading to pre-eclampsia, is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.  That's why women who don't have access to prenatal care are much more likely to die.

That's really what this comes down to: women and babies dying.  Rural women are 60% more likely to die in labor, and lack of access to ob/gyn care may be why.

WMH has been delivering about 375-400 babies a year in recent years.  That's not a lot -- way less than WMC -- but it's been enough to have an L&D unit all this time.  So why isn't Valley Health keeping it now?

The answer is that Valley Health also owns WMC.  They're not losing any business by this move, because there's no hospital closer than WMC for people to go to.  They want to save money on building a new L&D ward by diverting all those people to WMC.  Yes, it is likely to raise maternal and infant mortality in our county.  But!  It helps their bottom line, so what else do we expect?

Our struggle here is echoed around the country.  Hospitals are closing L&D wards in rural areas, to the detriment of maternal and infant health.

Right now women in the area are protesting the decision, hoping it's not too late to save maternity care in the county.  They've got a facebook group and had a protest.  There's a bigger rally coming up soon -- March 17th, at the gazebo.  I just don't know that Valley Health is going to listen to us.  Most of our elected representatives seem to be on our side, but the hospital is privately owned -- it doesn't have to keep an L&D unit open if it doesn't want to.  I just hope the bad publicity and the weight on their consciences will do the trick.
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