Thursday, November 15, 2012


Some of the things I point out may rightly be dismissed as nitpicking.

An example would be the claim regarding the origin of cretin, although the source is correctly identified - the French word, indeed, for Christian, the route by which Murdock claims this came to signify idiot is with great likelihood wrong. No evidence whatsoever connects this change of meaning with pagan disdain for Christianity, and some evidence connects it with an entirely different development:
English cretin is borrowed from French crétin 'stupid', which comes to the surprise and delight of etymology-lovers, ultimately from Latin christianum* 'Christian'. In Romance languages, the term for 'Christian' was used also for 'human being' to distinguish people from beasts; the semantic shift which gives the modern sense of cretin 'a stupid person' apparently came about in Swiss French dialects especially in reference to a class of dwarves and physically deformed idiots in certain valleys of the Alps, used euphemistically to mean that even these beings were human, and from this came the semantic shift from 'Christian' to 'idiot'. [1, pp. 254, 255]
The first attestation of crétin signifying 'idiot' is from the 18th century[2], which places it about or more than a millennium after the area had been converted to Christianity. We would expect earlier evidence of crétin with that meaning were it the case that pagan Savoyards already in late antiquity or early medieval times used the noun/adjective Christian as a word denoting stupid people. An 800-year lack of attestation is quite sufficient here, even in the face of the claims of evidence having been destroyed - Murdock's favorite excuse for lack of evidence. If the destruction of evidence were that complete - in this case even destruction of evidence that would support the Christian contention of there having been persecution of Christians in antiquity and so on - we would expect to know nothing about antiquity whatsoever.

A positive claim of this kind needs some supporting evidence. The theory it props up cannot itself serve as evidence of the claim being correct. But why care about tiny details such as this? I can present a rather good reason, and in the words of Acharya S herself:
Moreover, when doing investigative research into religion, dating back thousands of years, one must use a variety of sources, ancient and modern. ... This "deep archaeology," or detailed reconstruction of the past, is difficult and time-consuming, requiring painstaking investigative and detective work, as well as innovative thinking. It is not the plopping of a spade into the ground and finding a magnificent, intact building with a plaque identifying it, the year in which it was built, and the builders, as well as the era's politics, religions, mores, etc. The restoration of the past is nitty-gritty, down-in-the-dirt, up-to-the-elbows, under-the-microscope, hard labor, not cursory or casual scanning. The reconstruction of literary evidence likewise requires extensive digging, brushing and piecing together. It is not a simple process of miraculously discovering a "primary document" in pristine shape that spells out everything. This reconstruction is not found neatly laid out in a single volume in a central library, on a CD, compiled in an orderly organized fashion. If it were, it would already be known, and there would be no point to digging. ... In excavating the truth, then, many sources must be used, many sciences consulted. ... Around the world are strange artifacts, icons, idols and edifices that require our scrutiny and decipherement, as they do not possess identification tags and instruction manuals. And where there is writing, it must be translated, with a mind to capturing the nuances and idioms of the time, place and people. Such an extraordinary ability to think "like a native" of hundreds and thousands of years ago cannot be fully grasped, especially if the data is fragmentary, if the entire culture is not well understood, from the language spoken, the food eaten, the clothes worn, [...] and so on. [3, pp. 9, 11 and 12; this quote is somewhat stitched together, but does not misrepresent the point being made.]
It stands to reason that with such ambitions, any minor error that creeps in will be problematic. Yes, we can come up with models where several errors to some extent cancel out. If one method dates something as 5000 +/- 250 years old and another method to 4500 +/- 200 years, both cannot be right, however, we can have a good idea about the precision the methods have, and the likelihood of errors creeping in, and we can figure out some reasonable idea about the likelihoods as to what its age is. Even then, the precision the further back we go does decrease, for obvious reasons. Of course, the errors need not cancel out, but there's a reasonably good chance they will. The confidence in a result should be directly proportional to the likelihood that errors in the data cancel out.

However, if we decide to ignore evidence that does not support our thesis and do not at the very least account for why that evidence is to be ignored (other than it not supporting the thesis), it is much less likely the errors will cancel out, and increasingly likely they will in fact accumulate. We can see in Acharya's books how all the mistaken factoids are of the kind that support her thesis - every single one of them contributes to the error. An error that grows and grows and grows.

Secondarily, the quoted text implies that Acharya S thinks of herself as a person whose abilities at least approach being able to interpret the literature and remains of ancient cultures as well as a native would. With the kind of sloppiness when it comes to details that I already have documented several rather glaring instances of, it is hard to think the accuracy in her work to be satisfactory.

Finally, I find it interesting how her reliance on just a few sources - Higgins, Drews and a small handful of others - contradicts this stance:
This reconstruction is not found neatly laid out in a single volume in a central library, on a CD, compiled in an orderly organized fashion. If it were, it would already be known, and there would be no point to digging. [3, p. 11]
It seems she does think such a thing already exists to a great extent - excepting just a few tiny details - in Anacalypsis. (Which, to be honest, is two volumes.) Despite there being more than a thousand references in The Christ Conspiracy, five authors account for more than a third of those. A lot of it is identical to the stuff presented by Jordan Maxwell in his videos (compare, for instance, his rather paranoid The Naked Truth-documentary to her books. The parallels are uncanny, yet she only credits him a few times throughout The Christ Conspiracy, and even fewer times in Suns of God. His documentary definitely was published earlier than any of her books.)

With the ambition that The Suns of God and The Christ Conspiracy are results of, we must demand precision or at least reasonable fact-checking. The preponderance of mistakes, the occasional quote-mine, and even downright fabrication (although I have not come across more than maybe one single fabrication by her hand - most iffy claims are all well enough beyond the firewall of earlier sources, so the culprits guilty of these fabrications are generally already dead - she only perpetuates their fabrications) is sufficient evidence that her thesis is not sufficiently well backed up.

Acharya herself has stated even in her books that only a lie needs to be propped up by lies: "nothing needs to be shored up by a forgery unless it's forgery" [4][5, p. 29]. Should not the same standard be applied to her works?

Interestingly, her fans do not seem to even think that this has any relevance even if she were guilty of these charges. I maintain that she is - but what use is maintaining that and even demonstrating it if that has no impact on the perception of the quality of her work?

There is a final, even worse problem. The reasoning she presents is weak, and in believing her reasoning to be valid, this reinforces bad reasoning skills, and her fans thus learn mistaken ways of assessing what is true or not. If their great idol reasons this way, clearly these ways of reasoning must be correct!

Another rather strange thing is it seems some of her fans do not realize why quote-mining is misleading. But writing a post explaining that feels like explaining the obvious - and I am quite certain the absolute majority of readers here already realize why quote-mining is wrong. Is writing such a post really necessary? Well, some people seem so ignorant of reasoning that it might just be. A thing that I suspect is kind or related to the previous point: learning from Acharya is learning shoddy thinking.

[1] Campbell, Lyle. Historical Linguistics an introduction, 1999
[3] Acharya S, The Suns of God, 2004
[4] Robert M. Price, Acharya S, Point of Inquiry, Specifically 5:45 onwards.,
[5] Acharya S, The Christ Conspiracy, 1999

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