Tuesday, August 26, 2008

21 Grams

[Evans, 1946]

Those who believe that the body becomes lighter [at the moment of death] seem to think that the soul has weight, weight that must of necessity depart with it, and — with that brisk disregard of strict veracity which so frequenly marks discussions of this nature — have claimed that dying men, at the very moment of their decease, have been placed on delicate scales that have recorded their mortuary degravitation. But these persons have never been able to specify in just what ghoulish laboratory this took place, or what private home was so interestingly equipped, or the names and addresses of the relatives who so commendably placed scientific and religious curiosity before sentimental concern for the patient's comfort.

Most of those of a religious bent believe in life everlasting for the faithful, a continuation of the life force that reaches far beyond the limitations of mortal flesh. In such belief systems, death is not an end but a transformation: though people shed their corporeal selves at the moment of demise, that
which made them unique beings lives on to rejoin the Creator. We call this intrinsic personness "the soul," an entity described in the dictionary as "The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life."

Yet as much as we believe in the concept of "soul," this life spark remains strictly an article of faith. As central as it is to our perception of ourselves, it can't be seen or heard or smelled or touched or tasted, a state of affairs that leaves some of us uneasy. Without the soul, dead is dead. But if it could be proved to exist, a great deal of anxiety over what happens to us when we die would be vanquished.

Enter Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. The doctor postulated the soul was material and therefore had mass, ergo a measurable drop in the weight of the deceased would be noted at the moment this essence parted ways with the physical remains. The belief that human beings are possessed of souls which depart their bodies after death and that these souls have detectable physical presences were around well before the 20th century, but claims that souls have measurable mass which falls within a specific range of weights can be traced to experiments conducted by Dr. MacDougall in 1907.

Dr. MacDougall, seeking to determine "if the psychic functions continue to exist as a separate individuality or personality after the death of brain and body," constructed a special bed in his office "arranged on a light framework built upon very delicately balanced platform beam scales" sensitive to two-tenths of an ounce. He installed upon this bed a succession of six patients in the end stages of terminal illnesses (four from tuberculosis, one from diabetes, and one from unspecified causes); observed them before, during, and after the process of death; and measured any corresponding changes in weight. He then attempted to eliminate as many physiological explanations for the observed results as he could conceive:
The patient's comfort was looked after in every way, although he was practically moribund when placed upon the bed. He lost weight slowly at Scale the rate of one ounce per hour due to evaporation of moisture in respiration and evaporation of sweat.

During all three hours and forty minutes I kept the beam end slightly above balance near the upper limiting bar in order to make the test more decisive if it should come.

At the end of three hours and forty minutes he expired and suddenly coincident with death the beam end dropped with an audible stroke hitting against the lower limiting bar and remaining there with no rebound. The loss was ascertained to be three-fourths of an ounce.

This loss of weight could not be due to evaporation of respiratory moisture and sweat, because that had already been determined to go on, in his case, at the rate of one sixtieth of an ounce per minute, whereas this loss was sudden and large, three-fourths of an ounce in a few seconds. The bowels did not move; if they had moved the weight would still have remained upon the bed except for a slow loss by the evaporation of moisture depending, of course, upon the fluidity of the feces. The bladder evacuated one or two drams of urine. This remained upon the bed and could only have influenced the weight by slow gradual evaporation and therefore in no way could account for the sudden loss.

There remained but one more channel of loss to explore, the expiration of all but the residual air in the lungs. Getting upon the bed myself, my colleague put the beam at actual balance. Inspiration and expiration of air as forcibly as possible by me had no effect upon the beam. My colleague got upon the bed and I placed the beam at balance. Forcible inspiration and expiration of air on his part had no effect. In this case we certainly have an inexplicable loss of weight of three-fourths of an ounce. Is it the soul substance? How other shall we explain it?2
MacDougall repeated his experiment with fifteen dogs and observed that "the results were uniformly negative, no loss of weight at death." This result seemingly corroborated MacDougall's hypothesis that the loss in weight recorded as humans expired was due to the soul's departure from the body, since (according to his religious doctrine) animals have no souls. (MacDougall's explanation that "the ideal tests on dogs would be obtained in those dying from some disease that rendered them much exhausted and incapable of struggle" but "it was not my fortune to get dogs dying from such sickness" led author Mary Roach to observe that "barring a local outbreak of distemper, one is forced to conjecture that the good doctor calmly poisoned fifteen healthy canines for his little exercise in biological theology.")

In March 1907 accounts of MacDougall's experiments were published in The New York Times and the medical journal American Medicine, prompting what Mary Roach described as an "acrid debate" in the latter's letters column:
Fellow Massachusetts doctor Augustus P. Clarke took MacDougall to task for having failed to take into account the sudden rise in body temperature at death when the blood stops being air-cooled via its circulation through the lungs. Clarke posited that the sweating and moisture evaporation caused by this rise in body temperature would account both for the drop in the men's weight and the dogs' failure to register one. (Dogs cool themselves by panting, not sweating.) MacDougall rebutted that without circulation, no blood can be brought to the surface of the skin and thus no surface cooling occurs. The debate went on from the May issue all the way through December . . .3
It would take a great deal of credulity to conclude that MacDougall's experiments demonstrated anything about post-mortem weight loss, much less the quantifiable existence of the human soul. For one thing, his results were far from consistent, varying widely across his half-dozen test cases:

1. "[S]uddenly coincident with death . . . the loss was ascertained to be three-fourths of an ounce."

2. "The weight lost was found to be half an ounce. Then my colleague auscultated the heart and and found it stopped. I tried again and the loss was one ounce and a half and fifty grains."

3. "My third case showed a weight of half an ounce lost, coincident with death, and an additional loss of one ounce a few minutes later."

4. "In the fourth case unfortunately our scales were not finely adjusted and there was a good deal of interference by people opposed to our work . . . I regard this test as of no value."

5. "My fifth case showed a distinct drop in the beam requiring about three-eighths of an ounce which could not be accounted for. This occurred exactly simultaneously with death but peculiarly on bringing the beam up again with weights and later removing them, the beam did not sink back to stay for fully fifteen minutes."

6. "My sixth and last case was not a fair test. The patient died almost within five minutes after being placed upon the bed and died while I was adjusting the beam."

So, out of six tests, two had to be discarded, one showed an immediate drop in weight (and nothing more), two showed an immediate drop in weight which increased with the passage of time, and one showed an immediate drop in weight which reversed itself but later recurred. And even these results cannot be accepted at face value as the potential for experimental error was extremely high, especially since MacDougall and his colleagues often had difficulty in determining the precise moment of death, one of the key factors in their experiments. (MacDougall later attempted to explain away the timing discrepancies by concluding that "the soul's weight is removed from the body virtually at the instant of last breath, though in persons of sluggish temperament it may remain in the body for a full minute.")

Dr. MacDougall admitted in his journal article that his experiments would have to repeated many times with similar results before any conclusions could be drawn from them:
If it is definitely proved that there is in the human being a loss of substance at death not accounted for by known channels of loss, and that such loss of substance does not occur in the dog as my experiments would seem to show, then we have here a physiological difference between the human and the canine at least and probably between the human and all other forms of animal life.

I am aware that a large number of experiments would require to be made before the matter can be proved beyond any possibility of error, but if further and sufficient experimentation proves that there is a loss of substance occurring at death and not accounted for by known channels of loss, the establishment of such a truth cannot fail to be of the utmost importance.2
Nonetheless, MacDougall believed he was onto something — four years later the New York Times reported in a front-page story that he had moved on to experiments which he hoped would allow him to take pictures of the soul:
Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, who has experimented much in the observation of death, in an interview published here to-day expressed doubt that the experiments with X rays about to be made at the University of Pennsylvania will be successful in picturing the human soul, because the X ray is in reality a shadow picture. He admits, however, that at the moment of death the soul substance might become so agitated as to reduce the obstruction that the bone of the skull offers ordinarily to the Roentgen ray and might therefore be shown on the plate as a lighter spot on the dark shadow of the bone.

Dr. McDougall is convinced from a dozen experiments with dying people that the soul substance gives off a light resembling that of the interstellar ether. The weight of the soul he has determined to be from one-half ounce to nearly an ounce and a quarter.4
MacDougall seems not to have made any more experimental breakthroughs regarding the measurement of the human soul after 1911 (at least, none considered remarkable enough to have been reported in the pages of the New York Times), and he passed away in 1920. Nonetheless, his legacy lives on in the oft-expressed maxim that the human soul weighs 21 grams. (At the moment of death, MacDougall's first test subject decreased in weight by three-fourths of an ounce, which is 21.3 grams.)

What to make of all this? MacDougall's results were flawed because the methodology used to harvest them was suspect, the sample size far too small, and the ability to measure changes in weight imprecise. For this reason, credence should not be given to the idea his experiments proved something, let alone that they measured the weight of the soul as 21 grams. His postulations on this topic are a curiousity, but nothing more.

An interesting counterpoint to this item is another widespread belief of those long-ago times, one which held that the human body gained weight after death — the exact opposite of what Dr. MacDougall was attempting to prove:
More prevalent is the other belief, expressed in the phrase "dead weight," that a body weighs more after death. But it only seems to weigh more. We carry our own bodies about so easily that we are unaware of what an exertion it really requires. And when, in some emergency that forces us to bear the additional weight of another body, we feel a gravitational pull of from two hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds, we are astonished and assume that the other body has somehow acquired additional heaviness. The weight of a corpse, or even of an amputated limb, is startling when felt for the first time. A husky man, flourishing his arms about, has no idea that they weigh as much as twenty-pound sacks of sugar; and a jitterbugging girl doesn't realize that she is throwing a couple of forty-pound legs around as if they were ping-pong balls.1
Sightings: The title of the 2003 film 21 Grams was taken from this belief.

Last updated: 17 July 2007

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Sources Sources:

1. Evans, Bergen. The Natural History of Nonsense.
New York: Vintage Books, 1946 (pp. 129-130).

Iserson, Kenneth V. Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?
Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, 1994. ISBN 1-883620-07-4.

2. MacDougall, Duncan. "The Soul: Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together with Experimental Evidence of The Existence of Such Substance."
American Medicine. April 1907.

3. Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 0-393-05093-9 (pp. 173-175).

The New York Times. "Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks."
11 March 1907 (p. 5).

The New York Times. "The Human Aura Has At Last Been Photographed."
5 February 1911 (p. SM8).

4. The New York Times. "As to Picturing the Soul."
24 July 1911 (p. 1).

5. The New York Times. "Picturing the Soul."
25 July 1911 (p. 6).

6. The New York Times. "Aura and Soul."
28 August 1911 (p. 6).

The New York Times. "He 'Weighed Human Soul.'"
16 October 1920 (p. 13).

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Documentary Hypothesis - an introduction

Keep in mind while reading this that Christian apologists are not biblical scholars and they make many ridiculous assertions (about the DH and other things) that are not backed up by facts. The most common assertion is that the DH is losing ground in the academic world. I am part of the academic world and let me tell you that is not the case. There are no academic journals that make a case against the DH and the only websites you will find that make any claims against the DH are also websites that take the creation accounts in the Bible are literally true (I mean, give me a break, Theistic Evolution FTW). The DH is the most popular and plausible way to explain apparent contradictions and doublets (sometimes triplets) in the Bible. The DH gives the Old Testament new and clearer meaning. This is especially true when you learn more of the history and archaeology behind the events. For people who are worried about the DH effecting their theology, it doesn't. The DH talks about how the written sources that comprise the Torah were edited together. There is nothing in the DH about whether or not the supernatural events that happen in the stories contained in those sources are true. The DH makes no claims, for example, about whether or not there was a Flood survived only by Noah and his family. It only makes claims about how the two stories of the Flood were edited together to make a single account - not whether or not those stories are actually true. I personally think that the DH is the best defense against apparent contradictions in the Bible.

The Documentary Hypothesis

The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is a scholarly framework that seeks to explain the compilation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as an editing together of several disparate sources, generally known as J, E, D, and P.
This framework specifically contradicts the traditional conservative view that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch.
The DH is based on textual analysis of the Pentateuch, and as such is inherently independent of other lines of evidence often considered in Biblical studies. It should be noted that other lines of evidence, such as archaeological evidence, are consilient with the DH.

The DH splits most of the Torah (and much of the post-Torah Deuteronomic History) into four sources.
'J' - or Jahwist.
'E' - or Elohist.
'P' - or Priestly.
'D' - or Deutronomic.

This split is done by a number of criteria.
1) Linguistic style and development.
2) Emphasis on particular themes (including the times at which different names are used for God).
3) Duplication of stories.

1) Theological Interests

a) Name of God - The multiple sources all use both Yahweh and Elohim (the claim that the DH splits the text between text that uses one name and text that uses the other is another strawman). However, if we look at all the J texts, they are consistent in that people started to call God Yahweh right from the beginning (Gen 4:1 and Gen 4:26). The P and E texts, however, are both consistent in that people only started to call God Yahweh when he revealed his name to Moses (Ex 6:2-3). Additionally, whilst the J author does call God Elohim, he only ever does this whilst narrating events - he never has a character refer to God as Elohim.

b) Nature and Role of Priests - In all the P text, priests of the line of Aaron are the only people with access/communication to God. There are no angelic visitations, dreams, talking animals, or anything else like that. All the other sources include God communicating with people via these means. E and D both repeatedly refer to prophets and prophesy. Neither P nor J ever does (P uses the word once - metaphorically - to refer to Aaron himself). P never mentions judges - only allowing Aaronid priests to mediate. P also does not classify non-Aaronid Levites as priests, and only allows the Aaronids have access to the Urim and Tummim. P only allows atonement for sins via sacrifices brought to Aaronid priests. In short, in P sources, the Aaronid priests and only the Aaronid priests have access to God. In D, on the other hand, all Levites are considered priests.

c) Nature of God - in P, as I have mentioned, the only contact with God is through priests. God never appears in person. He is never referred to as merciful or kind - indeed, the words "mercy", "kindness", "grace" and "repentence" are never used in P. The God described in P is implacable and all stories about him refer only to his wrath and justice; never to positive character traits. All the stories with positive (and more human) character traits of God are in J and E. In J, on the other hand, God makes frequent personal appearances. He walks in the garden in Eden, personally makes Adam and Eve's clothes, personally closes the door of the Ark, and so on. In E as well, God wrestles with Jacob and appears personally to Moses. In P, on the other hand, God never makes a personal appearance.

d) The Tabernacle is mentioned more than two hundred times. All except three of these are in P (where it recieves huge amounts of attention). E and J never mention it once.

e) J often refers to the Ark of the Covenant. E never mentions it once.

f) The Urim and Tummim, divining items that the High Priest holds, are mentioned only in P.

g) In E, it is only ever Moses's staff that performs miracles. In P, it is only ever Aaron's staff that performs miracles.

2) Doublets and Triplets

There are more than 30 cases of repetition of stories and/or laws in the Torah. Often the two (or occasionally even three) versions will be slightly different. There are also many apparent contradictions. When the Torah is split stylistically into the J, E, P and D sources; all these every single one of these repetitions ends up with the two or three different versions being in different styles and from different sources. I won't bother listing them all here. Similarly, the vast majority of the apparent contradictions disappear since the contradictory text is split between different sources.

3) Linguistic Evidence

In the same way that one can easily tell Chaucer from Shakespeare, Shakespeare from Dickens, and Dickens from modern authors by the changes in the English language that have taken place over the centuries, we can also distinguish between different ages of the Hebrew language used in the Bible.

a) The Hebrew used in both J and E is early Hebrew.

b) The Hebrew used in P is from a later development of the language, but still earlier than the Exilic period.

c) The Hebrew used in D is from a later still development of the language, from the Exilic period.

4) Narrative Continuity

a) We can take each of the four sources individually, and reading only the text that is stylistically assigned to that source in isolation we get a continuous narrative in more than 90% of the text breaks. For example, the J text taken individually - skipping over all non-J text - it shows a consistent narrative flow as if it were a single written document&183;

b) Additionally, the J and E texts show narrative flow when combined together. They also show ideosyncratic phrases at their joins as if they were combined by an editor who left traces of their handiwork as they stitched the two sources together.

c) Similarly, the places where J and E are joined to P show phrases that indicate traces of a (different) editor.

4) Similarity to other parts of the Bible

a) The language and terminology of D is very similar to the language and terminology of the book of Jeremiah. None of the other sources are.

b) The language and terminology of P is very similar to the language and terminology of the book of Ezekiel. None of the other sources are.

c) The book of Hosea quotes and/or refers to sections of the Torah. It only ever does so with regard to sections assigned to the E and J sources, however; not the P and D sources.

d) The Court History of David (most of 2 Samuel), as well as much of Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel, is very similar in language and terminology to the J source - to the extent that some scholars believe it was written by the same hand.

5) Miscellaneous Stylistics

a) J and P both refer to Mount Sinai repeatedly. E and D refer to it as Mount Horeb. There are no exceptions to this.

b) The phrase "in that very day" is not found in any source other than P.

c) The phrase "with all your heart and with all your soul" only ever occurs in D.

There are a couple of dozen examples like these of phrases used only in one source and never in others. Again, I won't bother listing them all here.

Of course, if we wanted to go into detail, we can actually infer much more about exactly where and when each of the documents was written - but that is way beyond the scope of this current essay.

Evidence that Moses did not write the majority of the Torah

(Note: The biggest piece of evidence that Moses did not write the Torah is the archaeological evidence that there was no Exodus or Conquest, and therefore that it is incredibly unlikely that Moses ever existed. However, for the sake of argument, I am assuming in this thread that Moses did exist, and therefore my evidence and arguments here do not presuppose that he was merely a legendary figure.)

1) Evidence of multiple authors

The text of the Torah is clearly written in a variety of styles and in language of a variety of ages. This is clearly not the work of a single person, as has been explaind in the preceding sections.

2) Lack of any authorial claim

Nowhere in the Torah do any of the authors actually identify themselves. This, in itself, is not surprising. The authors of most texts do not go out of their way to introduce themselves.

3) The Point of View of the Text

The Torah does not talk from the point of view of Moses.

Firstly, the text never talks from the first person perspective when talking of Moses. It always refers to him in the third person.

Secondly, the Torah refers to states of events that occur during the narrative, and then says that they are like that "to this day". This is a clear indication that the writer is talking about events that happened in the past, not events that are happening as they write.

Thirdly, the text talks about what Moses did "across the Jordan". Since the text is clear that Moses died before ever getting chance to cross the Jordan and enter what would become Israel, then someone talking about what Moses did "across the Jordan" would necessarily be on the other side of the Jordan to where Moses was - i.e. the Israel/Judah side - and therefore could not have been Moses.

4) Anachronisms

Moses lived - according to the Bible - from about 1660 BCE to 1440 BCE. However, as spin has already pointed out, the Torah makes many references to people and places that simply did not exist at that time. Therefore, whoever wrote about them must have lived at a later time, when they did exist.

As a side note, the time when these people and places did exist is a good match to the time periods that the Hebrew used in the different DH sources can be dated to - yet more consilience.

(Note: There are many other anachronisms in the Torah that would indicate it was written much later than the time of Moses - but to go into detail about them would derail this thread into yet another argument about archaeology and the accuracy of dating techniques.)

5) The book reports Moses's own death

This is a good indicator that he didn't write it. Of course, apologists over the centuries have often claimed that Moses could have written about his own death because he was a prophet - but this does not match the text. The Hebrew Bible is full of the utterings of prophets, and the text that includes Moses's death is not in the style of someone prophesying. It is in the matter-of-fact narrative style of the rest of the story of his life.

In fact, the style of the writing about Moses's death is such a good match for the style of the previous writing that it also makes the other common apologetic for this - that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah and then Joshua added a postscript about Moses's death - also improbable.

The following are pairs of verses which contradict one another in
the books of the Jews: (This is just a quick list to demonstrate the DH)

2 Samuel 8:4(7 HUNDRED horsemen)
1 Chronicles 18:4(7 THOUSAND horsemen)

1 Chronicles 21:12(THREE years famine)
2 Samuel 24:13(SEVEN years famine)

Deuteronomy 2:19 & Deuteronomy 2:37(Moses deprived land of
Joshua 13:24-25(Moses gives land of Ammon as inheritance)

2 Samuel 24:9(800,000+500,000)
1 Chronicles 21:5(1,100,000+470,000)

2 Chronicles 36:9(EIGHT years, three months +10 days)
2 Kings 24:8 (EIGHTEEN years, three months)

2 Samuel 10:18(700, 40,000 HORSEMEN)
1 Chronicles 19:18(7000, 40,000 FOOTMEN)

1 Kings 7:26(TWO thousand baths)
2 Chronicles 4:5(THREE thousand baths)

2 Samuel 6:23(Michal had NO children)
2 Samuel 21:8(Michal had FIVE sons)

Genesis6:3(mankind shall not live past 120 years)
Genesis 11:10-32 (500,438,433,464,...etc.)

2 Chronicles 9:25(4,000 stalls)
1 Kings 4:26(40,000 stalls)

Isaiah 40:28 (God does not FAINT nor WEARY)
Exodus 31:17 (God RESTED, and was REFRESHED.)

Genisis 1: (God creates Plants, THEN animals, THEN man and
Genesis 2: (God creates man, THEN plants, THEN animals, THEN

Ezekiel 45 and Ezekiel 46 (DOCTRINES of offerings and sacrifices)
Numbers 28 and Numbers 29 (CONTRADICTORY DOCTRINES of
offerings and sacrifices)

1 Chronicles 8:29-38 (One list of NAMES)
1 Chronicles 9:35-44 (A CONTRADICTORY list of NAMES)

2 Samuel 5 and 2 Samuel 6 (David brought the ark AFTER fighting
the Philistines)
1 Samuel 13 and 1 Samuel 14 (David brought the ark BEFORE
fighting the Philistines)

Genesis 6:19-20 (Noah was to bring onto the ark "of EVERY living
thing of all flesh, TWO of EVERY sort shalt thou bring into the ark,
to keep them alive ....male and female....of fowls....of cattle....of every
creeping thing of the earth...").
Genesis 7:2-3 (Noah was to bring onto the ark "Of every CLEAN
beast thou shalt take to thee by SEVENS, the male and his female:
and of beasts that are NOT CLEAN by TWO, the male and his
female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the

2 Samuel 8:1 ("David took METHEGAMMAH out of the hand of
the Philistines").
1 Chronicles 18:1 ("David...took GATH and her towns out of the
hand of the Philistines").

2 Samuel 8:8 ("And from BETAH, and from BEROTHAI, cities of
Hadadezer, king David took exceeding much brass").
1 Chronicles 18:8 ("Likewise from TIBHATH, and from CHUN,
cities of Hadarezer, brought David very much brass").

2 Samuel 8:10 ("Then Toi sent JORAM his son unto king David")
1 Chronicles 18:10 ("He sent HADORAM his son to king David")

2 Samuel 8:12 ("Of SYRIA, and of Moab, and of the children of
Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek").
1 Chronicles 18:11 ("from EDOM, and from Moab, and from the
children of Ammon, and from the Philistines, and from Amalek.

2 Samuel 8:13 ("And David gat him a name when he returned from
smiting of the SYRIANS in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand
1 Chronicles 18:13 ("And he put garrisons in EDOM; and all the
EDOMITES became David's servants").

2 Samuel 8:17 ("and SERAIAH was the scribe")
1 Chronicles 18:16 ("and SHAVSHA was scribe")

1 Kings 15:33-16:6 ("In the THIRD year of Asa king of Judah began
Baasha the son Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, TWENTY
FOUR years..... So Baasha slept with his fathers, and was BURIED
in Tirzah"). 3+24=27.
2 Chronicles 16:1 ("In the THIRTY SIXTH year of the reign of Asa,
Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah"). But he died in the
twenty seventh year!. Was he resurected?. So how did he invade
Judah 10 years after his death?.

Ezra 2:6 (2812)
Nehemiah 7:11 (2818)

Ezra 2:8 (945)
Nehemiah 7:13 (845)

Ezra 2:12 (1222)
Nehemiah 7:17 (2322)

Ezra 2:15 (454)
Nehemiah 7:20 (655)

Ezra 2:19 (223)
Nehemiah 7:22 (328)

Ezra 2:28 (223)
Nehemiah 7:32 (123)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Brothers Grim

Nicholas Grunke, the son of Methodist minister Kerry Grunke, enlisted his twin brother Alex, and friend Dustin Radke, to help him score with a girl he'd seen only in a newspaper photo - in her obituary. The three boys, then all 20, first went to Wal*MART to buy condoms and then to the cemetery to dig her up. They planned to take her home. Fortunately, they failed to break into the concrete vault enclosing her coffin.

The state of Wisconsin, where the crime occurred, did not have a law against necrophilia, so tried to convict the trio on sexual assault, as the lady in question was unable to consent. The charges have since been dropped, and the state has banned sex with dead people.

You might recall that earlier this year two homeskooled boys in Texas, Matthew Richard Gonzalez and Kevin Wade Jones, dug up the body of an 11-year-old boy buried in 1921 to fashion a bong from his skull.

What's up with white boys and dead people? Is it a lack of socialization? Too much DIY? Is it some strange conflation of world religions and multiculturalism - maybe the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead and an earth-friendly green practice of not letting anything go to waste?

Alfred Kinsey suggested, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, that men denied socially acceptable sexual oulets, like consensual sex with humans, were more likely to engage in strange practices like beastiality, not explicitly prohibited by their parents or church. So parents, don't assume your kids know they shouldn't have sex with donkeys (or the dead) - it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me".

Just some fun!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Neanderthals, modern humans share ancestor, scientists say

By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 9, 2008

Neanderthals and modern humans shared an ancestor that lived about 660,000 years ago, according to scientists who have pieced together the first complete sequence of maternal DNA from humanity's closest cousins.

The DNA evidence also verified that the two species did not interbreed during the 10,000 to 20,000 years they coexisted in Europe and western Asia after humans migrated there from Africa. The last of the Neanderthals died out about 30,000 years ago, though some scientists speculate that at least a few of their genes live on in humans.

"Neanderthals made no lasting contribution to the modern human [maternal] DNA gene pool," a team of German, American, Croatian and Finnish researchers wrote in Friday's edition of the journal Cell.

The team focused on mitochondrial DNA, a relatively short string of 16,565 As, Ts, Cs and Gs that spell out 13 genes for controlling the energy sources of cells. Unlike nuclear DNA, which is unique for every person, mitochondrial DNA is passed virtually unchanged from mother to child.

Members of the research group are engaged in a two-year effort to decode the roughly 3 billion letters of nuclear DNA contained in a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal bone fragment discovered in a Croatian cave.

In the process, they collected enough maternal DNA to sequence that genome with a high degree of certainty, said lead author Ed Green, a postdoctoral scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Comparison of the Neanderthal sequence to 10 human sequences suggests that the species diverged 520,000 to 800,000 years ago -- earlier than the 400,000 years scientists had previously estimated using fossil finds.

Scientists have sequenced maternal DNA from thousands of people around the world to study the history of human migration out of Africa. All of them are distinct from the Neanderthal version, Green said.

Most scientists accept the view that there aren't any Neanderthal genes in the human genome, but evolutionary geneticist Jeff Wall of UC San Francisco said that only "large amounts of high-quality Neanderthal nuclear DNA sequences" will resolve the issue once and for all.

I've been gone but here is the Mangrove Killfish!!

Link to original article!

It's one of the golden rules of the natural world ? birds live in trees, fish live in water.

The trouble is, no one bothered to tell the mangrove killifish.

Scientists have discovered that it spends several months of every year out of the water and living inside trees.

Hidden away inside rotten branches and trunks, the remarkable creatures temporarily alter their biological makeup so they can breathe air.

Biologists studying the killifish say they astonished it can cope for so long out of its natural habitat.

The discovery, along with its ability to breed without a mate, must make the mangrove killifish, Rivulus marmoratus Poey, one of the oddest fish known to man.

Around two inches long, they normally live in muddy pools and the flooded burrows of crabs in the mangrove swamps of Florida, Latin American and Caribbean.

The latest discovery was made by biologists wading through swamps in Belize and Florida who found hundreds of killifish hiding out of the water in the rotting branches and trunks of trees.

The fish had flopped their way to their new homes when their pools of water around the roots of mangroves dried up. Inside the logs, they were lined up end to end along tracks carved out by insects.

Dr Scott Taylor of the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Programme in Florida admitted the creatures were a little odd.

"They really don't meet standard behavioural criteria for fish," he told New Scientist magazine.

Although the cracks inside logs make a perfect hiding place, conditions can be cramped. The fish ? which are usually fiercely territorial ? are forced to curb their aggression.

Another study, published earlier this year, revealed how they alter their bodies and metabolism to cope with life out of water.

Their gills are altered to retain water and nutrients, while they excrete nitrogen waste through their skin.

These changes are reversed as soon as they return to the water.

Previously their biggest claim to fame was that they are the only known vertebrate ? animal with a backbone ? to reproduce without the need for a mate.

Killifish can develop both female and male sexual organs, and fertilise their eggs while they are still in the body, laying tiny embryos into the water.

They are not the only fish able to breathe air. The walking catfish of South-east Asia has gills that allow it to breathe in air and in water.

The climbing perch of India can suffocate in water unless it can also gulp in air.

Friday, August 1, 2008

High IQ turns academics into atheists

By Rebecca Attwood

Intelligence is a predictor of religious scepticism, a professor has argued. Rebecca Attwood reports

Belief in God is much lower among academics than among the general population because scholars have higher IQs, a controversial academic claimed this week.

In a forthcoming paper for the journal Intelligence, Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, will argue that there is a strong correlation between high IQ and lack of religious belief and that average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 countries.

In the paper, Professor Lynn - who has previously caused controversy with research linking intelligence to race and sex - says evidence points to lower proportions of people holding religious beliefs among "intellectual elites".

The paper - which was co-written with John Harvey, who does not report a university affiliation, and Helmuth Nyborg, of the University of Aarhus, Denmark - cites studies including a 1990s survey that found that only 7 per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God. A survey of fellows of the Royal Society found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God at a time when a poll reported that 68.5 per cent of the general UK population were believers.

Professor Lynn told Times Higher Education: "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God."

He said that most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence - and their intelligence increased - many began to have doubts and became agnostics.

He added that most Western countries had seen a decline of religious belief in the 20th century at the same time as their populations had become more intelligent.

Andy Wells, senior lecturer in psychology at the London School of Economics, said the existence of a correlation between IQ and religiosity did not mean there was a causal relationship between the two.

Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck, University of London, said that any examination of the decline of religious belief needed to take into account a wide and complex range of social, economic and historical factors.

He added: "Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response."

Alistair McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian theology at the University of Leeds, said that Professor Lynn's arguments appeared to have "a slight tinge of intellectual elitism and Western cultural imperialism as well as an antireligious sentiment".

David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability - or perhaps willingness - to question and overturn strongly felt intuitions."