Friday, March 31, 2006

I give up

That's how I'm feeling right now. It won't last, but right now, I feel like giving up the fight against religious irratioalism.

What got it going was an argument I got into with a guy handing out tracts on State Street. Topic: historical reliability of the gospels. He tried claiming that there are manuscripts of the gospels dating from 70 to 100 A.D. I told him that was totally inconsistent with everything I had heard from sources across the board, and if it was a development that had happened in the last eight years, I would have heard given that I try to stay up on such things. He refered me to a website called EveryStudent.com as a source for this claim. [Evidently, he was thinking of a different website.]

But what really got me was when he started on external confirmation. I brought up contradictions in counterpoint, specifically whether the women told anyone about the tomb. He said any archaeologist would tell me that this just strengthens the story's reliability.

At this point, I felt the need to ask him if anything could convince him that the Bible was not historically reliable. His answer: no.

For awhile walking away from that, I thought of it as just another bit of hypocritical apologetics.

Then I thought about it some more. The guy wasn't some big shot leading thousands astray with bogus arguments. He was just a guy. Who completely refuses to check his beliefs against evidence. Who is one of the next generation of people who will be running our world.

That is reason for despair.

The case against polygamy

Polygamy, for reasons that make no sense when thought about carefully, has become a weapon in the fight against gay marriage. Now it's good to see some sober analysis.

Prayer studies

Both Monday and today, PZ Myers spent some time flogging a study on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. It was apparently a well-done study with a negative result, but he still thinks it was a waste of money.

Unfortunately, this may be one of those necessary wastes, like money spent testing psychics. If you don't spend the resources doing good studies, you'll have to deal with a lot of bad studies and people who take them and shout "Aha! Naturalism has been overthrown!"

Randi's return

As many of you may know, James Randi had a stroke shortly after the TAM 4 conference. The commentary is still being covered by other people, but he's produced two short audio messages. Have a listen.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Skeptics Circle #31

The 31st meeting of the Skeptic's Circle is up at Terra Sigillata.

Craig Blomberg. Sigh.

That's my one-word summary of this interview with Craig Blomberg, part of a series of interviews by a blog called Cafe Apocalypsis with evangelical scholars on "faith based scholarship."

Of all the names of interview subjects, Blomberg is the one I recognize as Lee Stroble's first interview subject in The Case for Christ. According to Strobel, he is "one of the country's foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus." He was also called upon in William Lane Craig's apologetic textbook to defend the reliability of the gospels. He work is notable for a particularly bold defense of the church's traditional claims regarding the authorship of the gospels.

This is what had me sighing:
(1) In what way does your faith enhance your scholarly investigation of the Bible?

I know from my experience and the experiences of hundreds of evangelical scholars, that critical questions need not destroy my faith. I have seen too many remarkable events in my life and in the lives of countless other Christians, the timing and meaning of which fit perfectly with what have typically been called "answers to prayer," including the scientifically inexplicable, that I cannot logically attribute these to chance or random selection.
As someone who's read things like this essay by Michael Shermer, my inclination is to think this remark needs no comment.

This supposed intellectual heavy-weight could not pass critical thinking 101.

Sigh indeed.

Left Behind commentary

An absolutely fascinating commentary on the Left Behind series at Slackivist. Among the topics: evangelism as sales and the work of visitation pastors.

I may have to make this blog part of my regular reading.

Chick tract parody

Ah, this brings back memories of the hours I wasted in high school on Dungeons & Dragons websites. I honestly think Jack Chick has a wider following in such circles than among his intended audience.

I am Nebuchadnezzar








King Nebuchadnezzar
You scored 77% Pride, 37% Envy, 52% Ambition, and 45% Deceitfulness!
You are King Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylon. You are part of a long tradition of Middle Eastern dictators. Like any good dictator, you possess the attributes of pride and ambition in good measure. Your ambitious nature drove you to conquer much of the Middle East, including the kingdom of Israel. You subsequently put the people of Israel into bondage. You also tend to be very direct with your friends and enemies alike. You prefer to tell people exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Your position in society and your imperial army give you the ability to do this with impunity. Unlike many Middle Eastern despots, you are a very good ruler and you happen to treat your own people quite well. You might be a biblical villain, but I’m sure you’d make a good dictator in the 21st century, if given the chance.







My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:



















free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 91% on Pride





free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 31% on Envy





free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 39% on Ambition





free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 32% on Deceitfulness
Link: The Which Biblical Villain Are You Test written by MetalliScats on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Hat tip: Satan

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

To Andrew Sullivan

Andrew-

The Iraq war is a disaster.

I address this to you because there was a time when you had me convinced that it was, on the whole, worth it. You see, I had always liked the idea of America bringing freedom to Iraq, but when the bad rationalizations for the missing WMD came out ("maybe they were moved to Syria") that was it for me. Clearly, they had always been the main reason for going to Iraq, and if they weren't there, we had no business being there.

You thought otherwise. I listened. I didn't agree immediately, but I listened, as a reader of your blog. As someone who respected your ability to think about politics issue by issue rather than acting as a syncophant for one party, supporting a flat tax and a gas tax, supporting gay marriage and opposing hate crimes laws to protect gays. As someone who could support the war but criticize Bush for executing it poorly.

Around the time of the first set of Iraqi elections, I felt I had to admit that you had been vindicated. Clearly, democracy was comming to Iraq, and that was something that could, I supposed, make the war worth it on the balance. Not perfect, but good on the balance. I had to give it to you.

The thing is, things aren't turning out so well. An Afghani man was nearly executed for apostacy, allowed to live on the pretense that he was insane, and ultimately forced into exile for fear of extra-judicial killing. In a government which, like Iraq's, we installed. Under a constitutional provision shared by the Iraqi constitution. Democracy in Iraq could have made the war worth it. Theocracy, which we appear to be headed for, will not.

We had to do something about the Taliban. They were sheltering Osama bin Laden. Iraq, however, had nothing. Nothing.

And the way things are looking right now, nothing looks like the sum of the good to come out of the Iraq invasion.

John W. Loftus on Hell

John had a great post on Hell on monday, which ended with an anticipation of how some of his commentors would respond:
[Presuppositionalists, don't even start. If you cannot see that it's plausible that the traditional view of hell is unjust without having an ultimate moral standard, then you're just not thinking].
Indeed. Saying we need the traditional view of hell in order to be moral is like saying we need flat-earthism in order to be rational.

But some people still tried to rebut his post.

Quote of the Time Being

Test everything. Hold on to what is good.
-St. Paul

Hat tip: DagoodS

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

End of GodorNot

The God or Not carnival has been permenantly discontinued due to the fact that, for two editions in a row, there have been no theist submissions.

I AM chalked it up to unwillingness, maybe it would be better described as a lack of enthusiasm, though. Whichever the case, I noticed it all along through the carnival's existence.

In my hands

Bart Ehrman's Misqupting Jesus. Review likely to follow.

Atheists and child custody

Via Andrew Sullivan, Eugene Volokh has written a law review article on how parents' opionions, including irreligion, are often used against them in custody battles. A reader adds that Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his grave.

Bart Ehrman to debate William Lane Craig

Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus and Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium will be debating Christian apologist William Lane Craig tonight on the subject of Jesus' resurrection.

According to an IIDB poster, a transcript will be available in early May. I'll be sure to read and comment on it then. The second Ehrman book I mentioned contains a pretty clear statement of Hume's argument against miracles. As I explained in my critique of Craig's book Reasonable Faith, he actually ignores a central point of Hume's argument when he tries to refute it. We'll see if he does better this time around.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dealing with, learning from fundamentalists

Today, I listened to a friend's worries that a friend of hers was regurgitating "fundeamentalist talking points," including one regarding HPV.

The response was to explain that there's a vaccine, and it's not being sold here, but not to mention that it's because the religious right wants HPV for scaring people into abstinence. This is the issue that was delt with so bluntly but eloquently by PZ Myers awhile back:
Here's a disease that kills about a third of the women who get it. It turns their reproductive tract into a nest of tumors that can spread and shut down the kidneys, metastasize to the lungs, the gut, everywhere, that sterilizes them and can cause horrible agony. The treatment involves radical hysterectomy, bilateral adnexectomy and lymphadenectomy, words I'd rather my family never even have to learn.

And it's preventable.

Yet these sick, evil people want to be able to hold this horrible disease as a threat to their daughters, their friends' daughters, their neighbors' daughters—they want to be able to say to their kids, "If you don't obey my rules, your womb will rot and dribble out your private parts, and you'll thrash in pain for a while before you die and go to hell." They like the idea of a disease that they can say is not prevented by condoms, so they can continue to preach abstinence with threats.

How would it feel to have an opportunity to protect a child from this affliction, to turn it away out of some sanctimonious sense of misplaced propriety, and then to have her die in front of you of this preventable disease years later? Would it feel like vindication? Or a senseless waste?

"Culture of life," my ass. These people are barbarians. Can we please just agree that the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family are the equivalent of the old women taking bits of broken glass to their daughters' vulvae and get these monsters out of civilized public discourse?
Part of my friend's reason for caution was not wanting the other girl to feel she was attacking her religious beliefs. There are times, though, when this blunt approach is necessary. Maybe not so blunt when dealing with friends. But we need to error on the side of stepping on religious toes.

This also made me think of the way some evangelists have turned telling people "I love you, but you deserve to rot in hell for disagreeing with me" into a sort of art form. It's the pitch that Hellbound Alleee parodied so brilliantly last week. Decent people need to master the same art, basically saying, "I love you, but you're dispicable fundy" in the nicest way possible.

The best approach I can think of is to start off with, "There are parts of Christianity that many people don't like to think about" and perhaps go into an example, like Dan Barker's "Am I going to hell?" story from Losing Faith. Then launch into how barbaric orthodox Christianity is, or something like that.

Conspiracy theorist comming to campus

This guy is looking to come to campus - as a student leader, I got an e-mail asking for help sponsoring a visit. As a similar event happened last semester, and the year before that, I have no doubt he'll find a sponsor.

Ugh.

Related post: Did a controlled demolition bring down the towers?

Commenter kudos

There are currently 52 comments in the debate thread I set up titled "Re SocialScientist777." It's been going for about a month and a half, even after I stoped posting in in, thanks to the efforts of SS777 and SevearlSpeciesOf. That's impressive.

Legal fictions

Eugene Volokh on the Afghani apostacy case:
Naturally, a "dropped for lack of evidence" result is far from perfect. But here the perfect may be the enemy of the good. Sometimes liberty progresses through small steps and legal fictions.
He has some less encouraging news as well, though:
What's worth remembering about the case, though, is that "even moderate Muslim clerics, as well as members of Rahman's own family, have said that death is the only fair and logical punishment for him." If that's "moderat[ion]" as Muslims go, that's mighty troubling.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lee Strobel and imaginary writing

In addition to picking up The Case for Faith again after awhile, I've also picked up Strobel's earlier book, The Case for Christ. Though I'm reluctant to admit it, I once thought the arguments were pretty impressive. Then I realized Strobel had simply ignored the views of non-evangelical scholars even as he attacked them, but that's a story for another day.

What really struck me upon re-reading is a passage from his chapter on archaeology. Previously, I had read Richard Carrier's essay on the date of the problem of the Bible indicating that Herod and Qurinius ruled at the same time. Carrier critiques several pieces of questionable archaeology supposedly vindicating the Bible on this point. Now Strobel's take on it:
"An eminent arcaeologist named Jerry Vardaman has done a great deal of work in this regard. He has found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call 'micrographic' letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after the death of Herod."
From reading Carrier's essay, it's clear that the micrographic writing claim is the nuttiest of the defenses of the census' date. To be blunt, the letters are imaginary, somewhat similar to the pictures of the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese sandwiches. This goes beyond standard apologetic straining into the purest of woo woo.

My first reaction to this was to say that Strobel is an embarrassment to apologetics, but there is little in evangelical Christianity that is not embarrassing.

I'm getting to kinda like this style of problem-a-day critiques of Christian apologetics.

Good news - sorta

Orac reports that Abdul Rahman, who was going to be killed for apostacizing from Islam, will be allowed to live. Partly of the defense is he may have mental problems. Hurrah!

Now we just have to keep Iraqis from killing gays and we're all set.

Owned

Partially, anyway:
25 %

My weblog owns 25 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?

It's nowhere near as bad as GrrlScientist, though worse than some:
Kevin Vranes: 6.25% or 12.5%
John Lynch: 6.25%
Janet Stemwedel: 31.25%

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Honest, Josh?

Been taking a look at Josh McDowell's The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, Here's Life Publishers 1981).

He has a section on Hume under the heading "OBVIOUS OBSERVATION #5," in which he dismissively refers to Hume's arguments as "this biased view of history." What really caught my eye about this section, though, is the two stories he tells:
I was invited to be a guest lecturer in philosophy class. The professor also was the department head. After I presented literary and historical evidence for the deity of Christ, the professor began to badger me with questions and accusations on the resurrection. After about ten minutes, a student interrupted and asked the professor a very perceptive question.

"Sir, what do you think happened that first Easter?"

The professor looked at me, then back at the student.

"I don't know what happened," he said, cautiously. Then before the student could comment, he added, "But it wasn't a resurrection!"

"Is your answer the result of examining the evidence?" the student responded.

The reply was, "No! It is because of my philosophical outlook."

At another major university, several students took my first book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, to the chairman of the history department for evaluation. After several months, one of the students visited the chairman and asked for his opinion of it.

"It contains some of the most conclusive arguments historically for Christianity I've ever read," the professor responded.

The student got all excited. Then the department head added, "But I won't come to the same conclusion as Mr. McDowell."

"Why?" the student asked, puzzled.

"Because of my philosophical outlook," the answer came back. (pp.19-20)
What a testament to the regularity of nature, that two professors should give the exact same answers to McDowell's arguments! Or did McDowell perhaps put straw men in their mouths?

They laughed

A month and a day ago, I asked for help writing a parody of a tract. I handed some out today alongside the very evangelists I was spoofing. Here's my tract:
THINK FOR SELF

DID YOU KNOW?
MANY PEOPLE fail to think critically?
The human capacity for self-delusion is boundless. - MICHAEL SHERMER
Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, that is the main reason. - RUSSELL

DO YOU REALIZE?
The harm that DOGMA does?
...from the age of Constantine to the end of the seventeenth century, Christians were far more fiercely persecuted by other Christians than they ever were by the Roman emporers. - RUSSELL
What good fortune for those in pwer that the people do not think. - HITLER

HAVE YOU HEARD?
That YOU can THINK FOR YOURSELF
You are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace, and joy. Trust yourself. - DAN BARKER

WILL YOU BELIEVE?
That NO BOOK is infallible?
The Bible is such a gargantuan collection of conflicting values that anyone can prove anything from it. - ROBERT HEINLEIN

WILL YOU TRUST?
Your ability to THINK AND REASON
Skeptical scrutinty is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense. - CARL SAGAN
The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. - THOMAS PAINE

REMEMBER:
You must listen to reason, NOT DOGMA
A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma. - CARL SAGAN

WILL YOU
"THINK FOR SELF"?
[]I CHOSE TO TRUST MY OWN ABILITY TO THINK AND REASON
There is joy in rationality, happiness in clarity of mind. Freethought is thrilling and fulfilling -- absolutely essential to mental health and happiness. - DAN BARKER
[]I CHOSE TO REJECT REASON AND TRUST RECEIVED DOGMA
It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to infidelity. - ABRAHAM LINCOLN
When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon. - THOMAS PAINE

Please send this tract to us to let us know that after reading it, you have decided to trust reason in your life.
MADISON BAPTIST CHURCH
2323 Portage Rd - Madison, WI 53704
I simply stood next to one of their guys began asking people "can I give you something to read?" The guy was impressed, and took one of them and laughed. Then he took it over to the rest of the crew, and they all stood around it - I watched from a distance, but the first guy wasn't the only one laughing.

That made my day, seeing the targets of my satire laugh at it.

I didn't actually spend much time handing them out, but there were a couple times where someone took my tract but wouldn't take his. His response was "oh, people will always be more ready to hear that." He also tried to insist that I didn't really believe it.

Good times.

Ugh

An Internet Infidels moderator is forced to offer a slapdown of those who would claim in effect, "If you believe in an HJ, then you're not an atheist":
When did this ever become acceptable?
You cannot validly claim you are an atheist and yet lump together ideologically with religious people who are engaging in theology and purport to present them as critical scholars.
We have had people in the past who have claimed to be atheists here and upon investigation, have been exposed as frauds.
I hope that is not the case with you because the smell of fish wherever you post assails my olfactory system to a significant degree.
Or
Or are those arguing for an HJ wanting the next step of people falling on their knees and asking Jeebus into their hearts?
My own thoughts on Jesus Mythicism can be found here and here.

My Unitarian Jihad name


My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sibling Main Gauche of Mild Reason.


Get yours.



Hat tip: Brother Hand Grenade of Warm Humanitariansim aka The Eternal Gaijin

Friday, March 24, 2006

Faith is bad for you

A group at Madison is putting together an anthology from any and all undergrads who want to submit. Here's my entry:

Faith is bad for you, kids. Kinda like cigarettes.

First, I suppose, I should explain what I mean by "faith." It's one of those weasel words whose vague meanings allow them to be used for pushing a lot of nonsense. In one usage, it means anything believed without absolute certainty, i.e. "you have faith that you will not pass incorporeally through your chair." In this context, the implication is that all faith-beliefs are rationally equivalent.

Bullshit. Almost none of our beliefs are absolutely certain. We all think the year is 2006, but maybe we're living in the Matrix. We all think the civil war happened, but maybe God created the world in 1921 (complete with bogus historical documents and people carrying false memories). We all think the sun will rise tomorrow, but maybe it don't.

If someone tells you you are basing your beliefs on "faith" because those beliefs are not absolutely certain, they're really saying that no belief is rationally superior to another. Clearly, however, it's more rational to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow than that it won't, and when I say faith is bad, I don't mean we shouldn't believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

Rather, I'm talking about beliefs that people believe while admitting no rational basis. Such belief is encouraged to an extent in some quarters of modern society. One is told that all religions are good, but it doesn't really matter what religion you have, no need to rationally look at which one is right. Advocates of such a position seem to miss the point that religions disagree, and to pretend that a bunch of contradicting religions can all be right is to deny the word "contradiction" it's generally assigned meaning.

Not long ago I wrote an essay to the effect that faith is only dangerous when people fail to keep straight what is believed on faith and what is believed on evidence. Some creationists, for example, will simultaneously insist that the evolution/creation controversy is a matter of faith and that the evidence supports creationism. It's a rather clever psychological strategy for staying convinced of an ideology: go around thinking your beliefs are rationally superior, but whenever you might be led to worry the evidence is against you, just remember it’s all a matter of faith. Being able to think the evidence is on your side, is a big help for swallowing the fundamentalist belief that everyone who disagrees with you deserves Hell, yet fundamentalists also need to be able to dodge the evidence when confronted with it.

In my previous essay, I contrasted this view with the view of Martin Gardner, author of The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. In it, he explains he thinks God's existence cannot be proven, going so far as to say, "Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything! To a rational mind the world looks like world without God. It looks like a world with no hope for another life. To think otherwise, to believe in spite of appearances, is surely a kind of madness." Nevertheless, he declared a belief in God on faith. Gardner, I noted, condemns fundamentalism generally and the belief in hell for unbelievers specifically. Hard to damn unbelievers if you admit belief is a matter of faith.
Shortly after writing that essay, though, I had a little run in with one of the evangelists that stands out on library mall on weekends. I had been making a habit of confronting them, trying to see what reason they can give for supposing their beliefs are true. What did it was when one explained to me that the Holy Spirit lets believers know that the entire Bible is true.

"Does the Holy Spirit allow everyone to know this?"
"No."
"Why not?"
"I don't know."
"And you believe the Bible when it says that that those who do not believe are condemned?"
"Yes."
"And belief is contingent on whether God decides to give someone the Holy Spirit?"
"Yes."

I remember distinctly the look of disgust on the face of a classmate who had stopped to listen to our conversation. I also remember being unable to see any way for a faith like that of Martin Gardner to keep from straying into the sort of faith I was seeing then.

Yes, faith is bad for you. The habit of taking things on faith may seem harmless, but like many habits, it can have nasty consequences in the end. Let us, as a society, give it up.

The essay I refer to is here.

More on the rise of theocracy

I've already mentioned a respected Iraqi cleric saying gays should be killed, now there's evidence that it's happening.

Also, John Loftus comments on the death sentance on the Christian convert in Afganistan.

Andrew Sullivan talking about atheists

Andrew Sullivan has posted a couple e-mails from atheists, one on a custody battle and another responding to a post on how atheists are the most distrusted minority in the U.S.

It's worth reading, all of it. One letter thanked him for supporting atheists as a Christian. It is nice in a way - he's shown some uneasiness about irreligion on other occasions - though he's also as big an opponent of fundamentalism as you'll find.

I'll try to read the American Sociological Review article as soon as it comes out and will comment on it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sistani on gays

Kill them.

In the worst manner possible.

Yup. That's the verdict from Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, supposed religious moderate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I Fight

Last week, I picked up Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith for the second time. Lee Strobel, for those who don't know, is a fairly big name in the world of evangelical Christianity. His The Case for Christ sold over 2 million copies - not Left Behind numbers, but still pretty high.

The Case for Faith is a book every atheist should read, a reminder of why fundamentalist Christianity is worth fighting against.

In chapter four, Strobel's interview with Norman Geisler, we get a rationalization of the divinely sanctioned murders in the Old Testament.

Innocent children? What innocent children?
"Let's keep in mind," he said, "that technically nobody is truly innocent."
Next we see how theism imbues human life with value - equivalent to that of a rose bush:
"People assume that what's wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it's wrong for me to take your life, because I didn't make it and I don't own it. For example, it's wrong me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own the bushes in my yard."
Chapter six, with J. P. Moreland, is dedicated to explaining the doctrine of Hell. Moreland does an excellent job of clearing the confusion regarding this doctrine:
Well, for one thing, hell is not a torture chamber... hell is the worst possible situation that could ever happen to a person."
With that cleared up, Moreland explains why the punishment is infinite:
"What is the most heinous thing a person can do in life? Most people, because they don't think much about God, will say it's harming animals or destroying the environment or hurting another person. And, no question, all of these are horrible. But they pale in light of the worst thing a person can do, which is to mock and dishonor and refuse to love the person that we owe absolutely everything to, which is our Creator, God himself.

"You have to understand that God is infinitely greater in his goodness, holiness, kindness, and justice than anyone else. To think that a person could go through their whole life constantly ignoring him, constantly mocking him by they way they choose to live without him, saying, 'I couldn't care less about what you put me here to do. I couldn't care less about your values or your Son's death for me. I'm going to ignore all of that' - that's the ultimate sin."
After this explanation of why unbelief is a worse crime than torturing another human being we have chapter seven, whose purpose is to explain why Christianity as a whole can't be held responsible for the torture of unbelievers.

This is not healthy for a society

From TPM Cafe:
1) when Bush was at the City Club in Cleveland on Monday, someone in the audience cited my book and asked whether Bush would comment on how he felt about the relevance of the Apocalypse to the current-day Mideast. He spent five minutes evading the issue and the word. He has to. If he has to talk about these things, he'll lose a lot of people, and if he ducks, true-believers may start to wonder.

2)some 45 percent of American Christians (especially evangelicals and fundamentalists) believe that we are heading for Armageddon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Guess who's back...

The Taliban, or something close to it:
An Afghan man is being tried in a court in the capital, Kabul, for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Abdul Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam and could face the death sentence under Sharia law unless he recants.
To quote Orac: "Is this what we're fighting for?"

A future of incompetence

A few days ago, I was sitting with one of my friends in a restaurant, and the conversation turned to politics.

"The Republicans are..." I began. "Well, both parties are incompetent."

This, we agreed, nicely summed things up. The Repbulicans are because they cannot run a country, and the Democrats are because cannot run an election, even against an opponent as incompetent as our current government.

I got to wondering if this will be a permenant state of affiars. Here's the rub: incompetence isn't much of a rallying cry. "He ignored good expert advice" doesn't bring people people to the polls like "he's getting our boys killed in an unjust war." In the future, we may hope that major social problems disappear, which leaves nothing to get excited about, just hard to fight, low-grade incompetence.

The Republican/Democratic dichotomy also gives reasons for a continued status. The political reality is in a race between a guy who can run a government and a guy who can run a campaign, the latter will win.

I predict that America's future will be one of governance by master electioneers who can't do much else. Who will stop them? I like to think myself relatively well informed, but can I, working only part-time to keep myself informed, really compete with operatives working around the clock to misinform me? It seems that anyone with a life is doomed to be a sheep. Baah.

Welcome to your future, America.

How dare Feingold propose censure

From a capus paper:
Mr. Feingold’s resolution is a cheap political stunt which undermines the commander in chief during wartime. It is a shame that our own senator fails to understand one of the basic tenets of American life: holding the president accountable to the law is tantamount to inviting the terrorist hoards to take the lives of countless innocent Americans.
Brilliant.

Monday, March 20, 2006

South Park/Scientology update

The creators of South Park have issued the following statement:
So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Atheists, evangelicals, public perceptions

From an article I found via PZ Myers:
"Atheists are not very well-thought-of in America," says John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "It's still acceptable to criticize atheists in a way that's not polite. People may harbor negative views about Jews, Catholics, Muslims and evangelicals, but they know they're not supposed to voice those views, so they don't. But it's still OK to say anything bad you want about atheists."
We're not supposed to voice negative views evangelicals? I don't know how wide-spread that feeling is. Let us stand up and say it is silly. In fact, it is silly to think any ideological group should be protected from criticism.

Quote of the Time Being

Do you know what Jesus said? That the problem in your life and mind, is not the availability or the lack of availiability of truth, it is the hypocrisy of our search.
-Ravi Zacharias, fundamentalist apologist.

If you do not find this quote as ammusing as I do, read my critiques of the introduction and first chapter of apologist William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith

A letter from Elizabeth Dole





















At first, I was just going to post this out of amusement at the phrase "generous gift of $1" (see this explanation). Let's take a closer look at this, though:

  • Democrats rely on billionaires
  • Democrays DO NOT off new ideas
  • Democrats are negative

  • Notice any new ideas in this letter?

    It would seem that the Republican party is pandering to the extremely stupid, and finds this is a sucessful strategy. The American political future looks bleak.

    The Onion strikes again

    Poverty-Stricken Africans Receive Desperately Needed Bibles. Heh.

    CotG 36

    The 36th Carnival of the Godless is up at Daneil Morgan's old blog. He retired it awhile back, though now he's back as part of John Loftus' crew.

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    V for Vendetta

    Great movie. Screenplay by the Wachowski brothers, they've redeemed themselves for the dreck they gave us in the second and third Matrix movies.

    It's based on a 1980's graphic novel, and carries it's share of offbeat grit. It's set in a dystopic future England that's been compared to Orwell's Airstrip One, but it doesn't feel as potentially prophetic. Perhaps it seemed more plausible in the 80's with the shadow of the cold war looming. It doesn't matter though, V is a superhero flick, and doesn't need a realistic setting, just a stylish one, which is delivered well. It has a drug-addicted talking head promoting the government's lies, a debauched priest at the heart of the conspiracy, and a Dear Leader who communicates, even with his inner circle, mainly though a movie sized screen.

    The plot revolves around a hero who casts himself in the model of Guy Fawkes; I suspect this will help ticket sales in the U.K. He wears a mask of the would-be bomber, partly symbolic of his mission (and techniques - he also plans to blow up parliment) and partly to hide the scars created by the same experiment that gave him his superhuman reflexes. The experiments also made him somewhat crazy - in addition to blowing up buildings, there's an array of odd and amusing declarations, beginning with his rambling introduction of himself where he shows off the number of v-words he can use in one sentence.

    The only thing I ever found wrong with the movie, in fact, is that the original comic obviously had too much good material to be condensed into a two-hour movie. Fascinating milieu, fascinating character, neither could be explored quite as much as they deserved. At one point in the movie, I worried I was seeing a two-hour comic book comercial, enough to rouse interest, not enough to satisfy. It was satisfying in the end, I think, but I still may try to find the book to get the full experience.

    Say it with me: Scientology is a scam

    Ed Brayton on Comedy Central's decision not to show an episode of Sout Park trashing Scientology:
    The rumors are that Tom Cruise, the world's most prominent scientologist, threatened the network that he wouldn't do any publicity for Mission Impossible 3 this summer, and since Comedy Central and Paramount, the movie's distributor, are both owned by Viacom, they caved in...

    This is a fairly serious matter, I think, given the history of Scientology using threats to intimidate individuals and media outlets from printing or showing any criticism at all of their little scam (and yes, that is precisely what it is).
    I've seen one blogger resort to replacing some of the letters of "Scientology" with asterisks when writing about the subject, in order to avoid the website being found by Scientologists using Google.

    I will not be that blogger. I will not be Comedy Central. I will stand up with Ed Brayton and say "Scientology is a scam."

    I will link frequently to Operation Clambake.

    I will link to the episode where it is available online. [Link replaced with working one.]

    I will write Comedy Central and Viacom to protest.

    Join me. The blogosphere is pretty well up in arms about this, but to any other bloggers who haven't written on this, please do so. Drop me an e-mail, if you like, I'll post links.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Censure Bush

    Via Michael Reynolds, a plurality of Americans support censuring President Bush over the wiretapping scandal.

    I just e-mailed Herb Kohl to tell him to support it.

    Could this happen? The Democrats don't have a majority in the Senate, unfortunately. Still, it's worth spreading the word that there is indeed strong support for such a measure, even if the Republicans in Congress won't listen.

    Skeptic's circle up, as is Dembski's number

    The latest Skeptic's Circle is up at Paige's Place.

    This one's worth it just of Runolfr's post on how Dembski has endorsed thermodynamics arguments.

    I still remember the day my mother, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, explained to me the difference between the actual Second Law of Thermodynamics and the imaginary creationist version. That was what convinced me forever that Creationism is a lie. Now, a leading light of the Intelligent Design movement, supposedly far more sophisticated than those creationists, has revealed himself to be either an ignoramus or a fraud.

    I'm saving the screen shot:















    Click for full version.

    Oh, and listen to the audio. Here's the last sentence: "But one would think that at least this would be considered an open question, and those who argue that it really is extremely improbable, and thus contrary to the basic principle underlying the second law, would be given a measure of respect, and taken seriously by their colleagues, but we aren't."

    I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard.

    Infallible atheists - an inerrancy challenge!

    I've posted the following challenge over at Internet Infidels:
    Take any well-respected book on freethought or skepticism: Why I am Not a Christian, The Demon Haunted World, etc. Find one error. Double points for an internal contradiction.

    There's one catch, however. The error must be proven to the same standard of proof demanded of those who allege contradictions in the Bible.

    Go.
    Further explanation on my part:
    Yes - fundamentalists talk of the Bible's "amazing accuracy," but all it really means is that if you try really hard, you might be able to resolve all the problems, and even if you can't, you can resolve enough to persuade yourself that the others have resolutions somewhere.
    Please leave your comments on that thread.

    Brace yourselves

    Skeptic magazine is hosting a conference called The Environmental Wars where both Michael Crichton and Chris Mooney will be speaking. Should be interesting.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    I can fly!

    We, the undersigned

    I just sent an email to prochoix@prochoix.org to have my name added to a list in support of the signers of the manifesto "Together facing the new totalitarianism," who include Irshad Manji, Salman Rushdie, and Ibn Warraq. A death threat has recently been issued against all twelve of them. Here's the statement of support:
    "We support the signatories of the Manifesto 'Together facing the new totalitarianism' On Saturday, March 11, a thread on the British Islamist site, www.ummah.net, issued a death threat against the 12 signatories. The text of the threat is very clear:
    'Excellent - makes killing the kuffar [apostate] all the bit easier... Now we have a hit list of a 'Who's Who' guide to slam into. Take your time but make sure their gone soon - oh and don't hold out for a fatwah it isn't really required here.'
    We, the undersigned, wish to express our unequivocal support for and solidarity with the twelve signatories and our outrage at the Islamist movement's attack on them. We stand firm with the 12 against this reactionary movement and join in their call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all."
    Please send your name to this address to oppose Islamic totalitarianism.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Notes on Losing Faith

    I've been reading Dan Barker's Losing Faith in Faith. I posted one quote already, today I've got some choice quotes with comentary:
    All of that could be left to the experts who, I believed, had already figured it all out and who could provide experts who, I believed, had already figured it all out and who could provide the historical, rational, documentary, archeological evidences if anyone ever asked. (No one ever did.) [p.22]
    I suspect this is a typical attitude of Christians. They don't know much about the alleged evidence for Christianity, but have some idea that it's there.

    I think Barker does a good job of capturing how evangelists get people to convert without ever providing a good reason to suppose Christianity is true:
    I think the answer lies with assumptions. Christians do know how to think; but they don't start deep enough. A thoughtful conclusion is a synthesis of antecedent presuppositions or conclusions. The propriatary nature of Christ's sacrificial atonement, for example, is very logical. Logical, that is, if you first accept the existence of sin, the fall of humankind, the wrath of God and divine judgement. If you don't buy the premises, then, of course, the conclusion can not be logical...

    The reason evangelists are effective is because they capitalize on people's unquestioned assumptions, desires and fears.
    It can be a little hard to believe that people shouting assertations, or handing out pamphlets that quote the Bible without giving any reason to suppose it is true, can work. Apparently, though, these things can capitalize on some people's unquestioned assumptions

    A section from Barker's deconversion story is also worth quoting:
    To press my point, I decided to create some cognitive dissonance. "What would happen to me," I asked, "if I were to die right now?" They were silent. "Bob, you're an ordained minister. You know your Bible. What happens to unbelievers?"

    "Well, the Bible says they go to hell," he responded.

    "You know me," I continued. "I'm not a bad person. I'm honest. If I walk out of this restaurant and get killed by a truck, will I go straight to hell?" They didn't want to answer that question, squirming in their seats. "Well, do you believe the Bible?" I pressed.

    "Of course," Myrna said.

    "Then will I go to hell?"

    "Yes," they finally answered, but not without a great deal of discomfort. Perhaps it was not a nice lunch topic, but I wanted to make the brutality of Christianity real to them. I knew it would be hard for them to imagine their God punishing someone like me. I later heard that they were perturbed with me for having coerced them to say I was going to hell. It forced them to acknowledge that, as much as we wanted to be friends, their religion considered me the enemy." [p.42]
    This is an extremely telling scene. A large percentage of Americans may believe that non-Christians go to Hell, that the Bible, with its stories of divinely sanctioned murder, is inerrant, but they just because they answer abstract questions that way doesn't mean they like to think about it, especially when given concrete examples. This fits with how Barker describes himself as a fundamentalist
    I used to read all the ugly arts of the Bible, but for some reason they were "invisible," even beautiful. was taught that God was perfect, loving, and righteous--so there could be no questin in my mind as to his character. Any apparent contradictions or ugliness could be ignored in the faith of the "mystery" of God's ways. [p.9]
    This should be a key point to keep in mind when dealing with fundamentalists. If you're actually trying to win someone over, it's worth saying, "I know you don't like to think about this, but..."

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Christianity vs. Islam

    Awhile ago, Jim Benton asked me to join in on the discussions of Islam and Christianity on his blog. I made my first contribution today, telling him that they aren't perhaps as different as he thinks:
    John 3:18- "he who does not believed is condemned."

    In orthodox Christianity, Hell is indeed where unbelievers go. Granted, there is the rationalization that they go there because everyone is a sinner and can only be saved by belief, but this is the eqivalent of saying, "We don't kill unbelievers, they're just not allowed to have food."

    Also, some Christians do claim that unbelievers really believe in God, or claim, as one leading evangelical does, that the unbeliever "willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God's Spirit on his heart" and for this reason deserves damnation. I wish I still had the book that quote comes from, as the guy cites Bible verses in his support, but the citations are there at any rate.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Faith healing.

    A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to talk to Dan Barker, currently the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, about his experiences in Kathryn Kuhlman's choir.

    I first read about Kuhlman in Terrence Hines' Pseduoscience and the Paranormal, in the section on faith healers. He delt with a number of healers, including definite frauds like Peter Popoff, but Kulhman caught my interest because there was no indication she used any trickery to convince people of her power - just a bit of psychology. Hines described one case where a woman whose cancer kept her from walking without a brace took off the brace and went running around the stage. In the excitement of the moment, she had felt no pain, but the next morning, she was in worse shape than ever - likely having damaged he back running around. She later died.

    William Nolen, author of A Doctor In Search of a Miracle supported the judgement that Kulhman was sincere - though Nolen wasn't so sure about everyone who worked for her.

    My first question, then, for Barker was "Do you think she was sincere?" He thought so, partly because he himself had believed it and tried faith healings of his own. This of course included the standard praying for people, but it also included attempts at quick sucess by laying on of hands, and he did have apparent sucess, at times. On one ocassion, he told a member of a singing quartet who had lost his voice, "In the name of Jesus, be healed" and the man instantly got his voice back. There were also failures, though. One time he woung up telling a woman, "Be it unto you according to your faith," implying she would have been healed if she had had more faith. "She had to talk out of that meeting not only unhealed but rebuked." Barker had used a classic rationalization of the sort made by frauds, but he believed it. His opinion of Kulhman was nicely summed up by the statement, "I was not a phony, and I don't think she was either."

    Barker also mentioned how mater, after becoming an atheist, he went to a Peter Popoff service, and his reaction was "what a joke." A quick comparison of Popoff's and Kulhman's websites make Popoff look a hundred times phonier, with his "miracle money" pitch - though it should be noted that Kulhman is dead, and the website set up by followers.

    A interesting sideline of all of this is he told me that if I found out she was a phony, it would be a relief and he wanted to hear. Why? It means he would be less responsible. But if both he and she were sincere, it would mean they were on level, even though he was a bit player compared to her. However, he actually provided me with one indication she was not sincere. At least once a per service, someone in a wheelchair would get up at and walk around. Standard faith healer's trick; just use people who don't need wheelchairs. Perhaps, though, this was the work of people who worked under Kulhman.

    Nolen's book also speaks of an incredible will to believe among her followers, with people getting up and declaring themselves healed when, at least to a doctor, they obviously weren't. Barker had an interesting story about this - when he was at Popoff's meeting, he couldn't take it, so he stood up and said, "This is a joke. This guy's been exposed on Johnny Carson." One disabled veteran left with Barker, but most of the audience turned on him. Even after the exposure of Popoff. Amazing.

    Quote of the Time Being

    The good advertiser is not the one who makes people think, but the one who makes people think they are thinking.
    -Owner of an ad agency, quoted in Dan Barker's Losing Faith (p. 60)

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Gibberish

    Rick Santorum is spouting nonsense once again:
    The importance of the cause is clear: what could be more important than showing that only a shallow, partisan understanding of science supports the false philosophy of materialist reductionism with its thoroughly unscientific denial of formal and final causes in nature and its repudiation of the first cause of all being?

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Atheist clergy

    At Debunking Christianity today:
    As a former fundy (and a currently ordained, although deconverted minister pastoring a church!), I greatly appreciate your honest and excellent writing! I'm very much in the theological closet and wish to remain totally anonymous for now, and I'm sure you can understand that.
    It occurs to me that the ministry must be a horrible job - your skills are all geared towards having a certain viewpoint, and if that goes, you don't know what to do. From the comments
    The last church I belonged to before admitting I didn't really believe in all that god stuff was a Presbyterian church. The pastor was so disgruntled. He tried to pretend to believe, but his attitude clearly reflected his true feelings. He would make comments like "I am sick of being a martyr for this church!" and "I should just toss in the towel and become an English teacher!" He is now a non-believing English teacher at a high school.
    The ministry, thouugh, isn't exactly ideal preparation for teaching (though one could be worse-prepared).

    I also just encountered the following passage in Dan Barker's Losing Faith:
    It was during the summer of 1983 when I told myself that I was an atheist. Nobody else knew this for about six months. Some of my friends, and my wife, were suspecting something, but since I still had a pretty sucessful ministry, the outward appearance was as if nothing had happened.

    Between the summer and Christmas of 1983 I went through an awful period of hypocrisy. I was still preaching, and I hated myself. I was living with the momentum of a lifetime of Christian service, still receiving invitations to minister, still feeding my family with honoraria from preaching and singing engagements in churches and Christian schools. I knew I should have just cut it off cleanly, but I didn't have the courage. In preparation for some vague need for whay might lie ahead, I took some classes in computer programming, telling my wife that I enjoyed computers and that perhaps I could supplement our income with this skill.
    Barker eventually became co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In a way, it's like being a political operative who switches sides, but even a political operative's skills are more generalized than a minister's. I am thus led to repeat John's question: how many ministers just wish they had a way out?

    Gullibility

    From today's edition of Randi's newsletter:

    A VERY STRANGE STORY
    A woman going by the name of "Dr. Kaz deMille-Jacobsen" had been a guest speaker at my mother's church, and the congregation had been very impressed with her "inspiring" life story.

    Among other things, this woman claimed that:

  • She is the illegitimate grandchild of film director Cecil B. deMille.

  • She was married to famous pop star Fabian, and later to "Roberto Andretti of the famed car-racing family."

  • Her production companies had won several Oscar and Grammy Awards.

  • She founded world-wide charitable organizations.

  • She had a net worth of over $100,000,000.

  • She had been on presidential advisory committees under three American Presidents...

  • As you sweep the broken shards of your baloney detector off the floor, you may be asking yourself: people believed this?

    The answer is: Yes. Lots of them.

    "I have here in my hand..."

    A list of 50,000 professors who identify with the terrorists. Brought to you by David Horowitz, the man who claims to be fighting McCarthyism.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Aliens as gods

    Michael Shermer wrote an interesting reflection on the connection between the idea of gods and that of extraterrestrials.

    This is a theme that came out in Susan Clancy's Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens She writes: "Since the 1960s, countless abductees have said they are 'thankful' they've been 'chosen,' they 'feel less alone,' they feel 'blessed' because of their experiences."

    There's another connection. To the inhabitants of the ancient world, it must have seemed entirely plausible that that things like rain, sun, and disease were all the work of supernatural entities. The belief must have started as speculation, but evidence quickly reared its head to confirm this belief. It would have taken the form of legends, hoaxes, and hallucinations, as well as a great many instances of selective thinking and such causing people to see evidence of spirits in their every day lives. Today, our knowledge of evolution, cosmology, etc. makes aliens seem plausible to us, and evidence comes forth in the form of the false memories and hallucinations of abductees.

    I suppose, as Shermer argues, that there's some of the religious element in more serious enterprises like SETI. However, it would be a mistake to call them "imaginary." "Hypothetical" is more like it. There is some chance, however hard to pin down, of a civilization existing elsewhere in the cosmos. Contact with aliens would indeed be likely to bring great benifits, and as long as hope is tempered with the willingness to carefully examine alleged evidence - a position Sagan always advocated - we aren't going wrong.

    Happy B-day PZ!

    Here's wishing a happy birthday to PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame. Thanks to Orac and Grrl Scientist for the tip.

    Index for my critique of Craig

    This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

    Sometimes, reporters are just dumb

    Two days ago, I suggested that Lee Strobel's emotional state at his time of conversion is what screwed up his investigation. The idea troubled me a little, though, Strobel doesn't supply that emotional picture of himself.

    Today I remembered all the reporters who've produced sensationalistic garbage on UFOs and psychics and what not, which shows that many reporters just don't have a clue on how to investigate extraordinary claims. The apparently weird course of Strobel's investigation does not seem to require anything other than general incompetence in order to explain.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Reasonable Faith, chapter 8

    This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

    Bible and gay marriage

    Two days ago, I made the following comment: "I don't understand why people oppose homosexuality based on the Bible. No where in the Bible does it say homosexuals should not be allowed to marry. It says they should be put to death, but nowhere in the Bible does it say they should not be allowed to marry." (The people in the room loved it).

    I spoke too soon.

    Turns out there are politicians running in Ohio and Texas who want to follow the Biblical precept.

    If these guy's get more than, oh, 10% of the vote, I'm moving to Canada.

    UPDATE: Looks Kilgore, the one in Texas, lost his primary. Got 9.75% of the vote in one county. I guess that's a relief.

    Reasonable Faith, chapter 7

    This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

    Further inside Lee's mind

    My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields. In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who are able to communicate in accessible language, and who refuse to limit themselves only to the politically-correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn't make sense to rule out any hypothesis from the outset. (Case for the Creator large print p. 54)
    This passage, I believe, speaks for itself.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Inside the mind of churched Lee Strobel

    Today I picked up a copy of Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary by Lee Strobel. I first became familiar with Strobel via his Case for series, the most recent entry of which regurgitates a lot of Intelligent Design garbage while claiming it "interviews the world's top experts and follows the evidence wherever it leads," leaving me wondering where Richard Dawkins was on his list of interviewees.

    It seems every time I read the personal story of a Christian apologist, I end up feeling bad for the guy. Lee's story, as told in Inside the Mind, involves how one day, he was criticized by a prosecutor for doing a lighthearted interview of a kid who had seen some of his friends get shot, and he was reminded of it when hearing a sermon at a church his wife got him to go to. The pastor also asked people to check out the claims of Christianity, so, "Using my legal training, which gave me knowledge about evidence, and my journalism background, which gave me skills in ferreting out facts, I began to read books and interview experts" (p. 29-30) I wonder if he interviewed any atheists; he never does in his more recent books. Inside the Mind certainly gives no sign that he did so. He also admits he came in to the enterprise without having ever thought about the issues; "Admittedly, I hadn't analyzed the evidence for and against the existence of God before I concluded that He didn't exist" (p. 17) He uncritically accepts the claims of the early church regarding the authorship of the Gospels. More striking is his section on prophecy:
    Next I turned to the Bible's prophecies, an area I was especially cynical about. I had written a lot of articles over the years on predictions about the future - it was one of those New Year's stories that all beginning reporters got stuck doing - and I knew how few prognostications actually came true. For instance, every year people in Chicago insist that the Cub are going to clinch the World Series, and that hasn't come true in my lifetime!...

    My first line of defense was that Jesus may have intentionally maneuvered His life to fulfill the prophecies so that He would be mistaken for the long-awaited Messiah...

    My second line of defense was that Jesus wasn't the only person to whom these prophecies applied... (pp. 35-36)
    Earlier, Strobel had said he was greatly influenced by Josh McDowell's The Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Now, I'm just put in library request for the 1979 edition, but here are the only three objections to Biblical prophecy mentioned in the 1999 edition:
    Objection: Fulfilled Prophecy in Jesus was Deliberately Engineered by Him...

    Objection: Fulfilled Prophecy in Jesus Was Coincidental - an Accident


    "Why, you could find some of these prophecies fulfilled in the deaths of Kennedy, King, Nasswer, and other great figures," replies the critic....

    Objection: Psychics Have Made Predictions Like the Bible's(pp. 192-195)
    It does not seem that Strobel was able to come up with objections on his own. Rather, he could only think of those provided by McDowell. Dunno - maybe McDowell patterned the section of the '99 version on Inside the Mind, but I doubt it. However, it looks rather like Strobel got nearly brainwashed when he was intellectually and emotionally vulnerable.

    Blonde and burnette twins

    Special to The Uncredible Hallq

    When Kylie Hodgson gave birth to twin daughters by caesarean section, she was just relieved that they had arrived safely.
    It was only when the midwife handed them over for her to hold that she noticed the difference between them.

    Remee, who weighed 5lb 15oz, was blonde and blue eyed. Her sister Kian, born a minute later weighing 6lb, had brown hair.

    "It was a shock when I realised that my twins were two different colours," said Kylie, 19. "But it doesn't matter to us - they are just our two gorgeous little girls."

    The amazing conception happened after two eggs were fertilised at the same time in the womb.

    Both Kylie and her partner Remi Horder, 17, are of mixed hair color. Their mothers are both blondes and their fathers are brown.

    According to the Multiple Births Foundation, baby Kian must have inherited the brown genes from both sides of the family, whilst Remee inherited the blonde ones.

    "I'll explain it all to them when they get older about why they look so different," said their mother.

    [To those who aren't fans of The Raving Atheist and are confused by this post, I suggest reading this and this, or, if necessary, this.]

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Reasonable Faith, Chapter 3

    This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

    Carnival? What carnival?

    Somewhere in the 'sphere:
    Hey.

    [rubs sleep from his eyes]

    *belch*

    Excuse me.

    Ummmm... Existential question of the moment: why are you folks all standing in my bedroom?

    I'm doing what?

    Hosting the 35th Carnival of the Godless?

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why"

    The WaPo has a story on Bart Ehrman's most recent book, of the same title as this post. Andrew Sullivan comments:
    I remember distinctly deciding not to study theology in college, despite my intense interest, because I was frightened that the more I understood, the less I would believe. And so fundamentalism becomes more attractive in modernity. Why? Because it is the only kind of faith that simply banishes all such arduous and nerve-wracking sifting and thinking and doubting.
    Could the problem with liberal religion be the difficulty of compromising between faith and reason? An interesting thought, thought it's worth remembering that most American fundamentalism is itself an exercise in compromise. Few evangelicals support St. Thomas' conclusion that heretics ought to be killed, despite its acceptance for much of the Medieval era and the logic with which it follows from tenants of orthodox Christianity, for if unbelief risks eternal damnation, why not punish it as harshly as crimes like murder, which causes harm only in the temporal sphere? Fundamentalism, though, provides at least the illusion of certainty. Sullivan asks about the viability of a third way, but I think if anything this shows the need to tell people that it is OK to live without religion.

    Arm the Teachers!

    Only metaphorically, not the way some NRA members want to. Ed Brayton has a series of reports on the Michigan Science Teachers' Association conference:

    Off to See the Teacher(s)
    Friday Night Report
    Real Friday Night Report
    Saturday Morning Report - Brace Yourselves
    More Convention Coverage

    One part really struck me:
    More than anything else, though, I had a lot of conversations with teachers who related stories about the dificulty of teaching evolution these days. Many teachers told us that every semester when they get to the evolution unit, they would inevitably get phone calls from parents either demanding that their child be given an alternate assignment or condemning them for teaching a "myth" and demanding that it be "balanced" with the teaching of some form of creationism.

    When asked how they handled such calls, responses varied. Some were more animated in their responses than others. One or two said that they just don't bother to teach it anymore, they just teach about the basic facts and don't really discuss evolution as a unifying explanation for those facts. One man told us that he actually does present both sides, that he shows a video called Evolution: Fact or Belief?, a young earth creationist video, to his class along with evolution. Another said that he lets his students present their views to the class in a presentation.

    But most said that they just explained to the parents that they had no choice but to teach the approved curriculum, which includes evolution, and that they would have to take it up with the parents. I was a little discouraged by the responses. I think we need to work with teachers to help them respond in a more positive way. Almost every high school biology teacher has to deal with some sort of negative reaction every time they teach it, so we need to help them respond to such reactions without rancor or condescension but also without giving in to the demands.
    Amen. There should be a project to distribute a "Teaching Evolution 101" handbook to every primary and secondary science teacher in America. First page:
    When faced with the question of whether evolution is a fact, the correct response is: "Evolution is a scientific theory, much like atomic theory or germ theory. Translated into laymen's terms, evolution is true, creationism isn't, deal with it."
    Okay, maybe not so flippiant, but you get the idea. Include responses to the most common creationist tripe, lists of online resources, and a section of how evidence from various sections of the standard curriculum supports evolution.

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Reasonable Faith, chapter 6

    This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Lying people into the kingdom

    This is a rant set off by visiting the website for Lee Strobel's The Case for the Creator.

    Simply put, he puts all the worst dreck of modern creationism into one book:
    -The implications of the Big Bang and its biological counterpart, the Cambrian explosion
    -The insurmountable problems that are leading more and more scientists to reject Darwinism
    -What the textbooks never told you about archaeopteryx, Haeckel’s drawings of embryos, and other icons of evolution.
    Cabrian exposion the biological counterpart of the Big Bang?
    Not exactly. Nor is it true that Haeckel's drawings of embryos have any place in the modern case for evolution. And those scientist that reject "Darwinism" (if we take this to be mainstream biology, though the identification makes as much sense as calling all of modern chemistry "Daltonism") are in a tiny minority - compare hundreds of people of all names to hundres of "Steves."

    Here's the thing that gets me though: according the the fundamentalist Christianity of Strobel et. al., such lies could keep people from eternal damnation. As King James puts it, "Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life... but he that believeth not is condemned." The insanity of this formula should be self-evident, but the story of creationism makes it undeniable. There's no caution in there of, "If you slander honest scientists in the process of converting someone, they'll go to Hell anyway, so be careful not to do that." The result is a situation where someone who spends a lifetime lying about
    thermodynamics could end up saving many souls, but Stephen Jay Gould, who worked tirelessly to promote good science, is now rotting in Hell. This is paradox should make it almost impossible to take an intellectually honest look at evolution and remain an orthodox Christian.

    Quote of the Time Being

    Beware of the man of one book.
    -Thomas Aquinas, quoted at Internet Infidels

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Quote of the Time Being

    Laws against holocaust denial (which 14 countries have) were never a good idea. The best defence against new-Nazis is reason and ridicule, not the criminal law. But at a time when the western world is battling to defend free speech against religious zealotry, they look particularly indefensible.
    -The Economist

    Skeptical haiku

    The 29th Skeptic's Circle is up, and it comes to us in the form of haiku! My favorite is Josh's Josh's suggestion on what to say to people who think design detection is easy.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Pollen and faith

    A brief anecdote from an encounter with street evangelists last Friday:

    "You know, the Bible says faith is evidence of things not seen."

    I've been ready for this one for awhile.

    "Would you say that floating grains of pollen is faith?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "Little grains of pollen, moving at random in a fluid on a film."

    "Uh, no."

    "Well, in 1905, Albert Einstein wrote a famous paper..."

    "Now you're talking science." I think this was meant as an objection.

    "...showing that the random movement of pollen grains in fluid, known as Brownian motion, could be explained by atomic theory, and he did the mathematical equations showing this. It was one of the things that helped convince scientists that atoms exist. It was evidence of atoms, which at the time could not be seen, since the electron mircoscope hadn't been invented yet. So by your definition, floating pollen grains are faith."

    After a vague pause, "So your definition is wrong."

    "No it's not, because it's the correct definition," he said, gesturing to his Bible.

    "So you're saying pollen is faith?"

    "No. Pollen's a substance."

    He showed a lack of any idea on how to respond to my argument, other than assert that the Bible had to be right on this one.