Sunday, April 30, 2006


Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner-- President Not Amused?:
Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, "and reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Really bad math

The blog Good Math, Bad Math has a wonderful smackdown of Richard Swinburne's flimsy argument for the resurrection:
This stunning conclusion was made based on a series of complex calculations grounded in the following logic:
(1) The probably of God's existence is one in two. That is, God either exists or doesn't.
(2) The probability that God became incarnate, that is embodied in human form, is also one in two.
(3) The evidence for God's existence is an argument for the resurrection.
(4) The chance of Christ's resurrection not being reported by the gospels has a probability of one in 10.
(5) Considering all these factors together, there is a one in 1,000 chance that the resurrection is not true.
Where to start with shredding this? Is it even worth the effort?

By a similar argument, I can say that probability of pink winged monkeys flying out of my butt is one in two: that is, either they will fly out of my butt, or they won't. The probability that those monkeys will fly to the home of this Oxford professor and pelt it with their feces is one in two. If pink winged monkeys fly out of my butt, that's an argument for the likelyhood of a fecal attack on his home by flying pink monkeys.

Review of John Loftus' book

At the beginning of this week, my copy of John W. Loftus' Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains arrived in the mail. I promised John a review; here it is.

John Loftus, like Robert M. Price, is a former Christian apologist who credits apologetics with leading him out of Christianity. Price summarized how this process works quite nicely: "I went from believing the Bible because it was the Bible to believing the Bible because I thought the facts backed it up, to finally not believing the Bible once more evidence convinced me I'd been seeing only what I wanted to see."

It's always interesting to get an insider's perspective on the art of apologetics, and Loftus was on the inside somewhat longer than Price. The peek that Loftus provides in this book is brief but intriguing. On one hand, it took a box of articles and books sent to him by a cousin to convince him that the universe is as old as scientists say it is, somewhat odd since his mentor, William Lane Craig, based his argument for the existence of God on the most accurate science of the universe's origins. Loftus notes that "Before [getting the books and articles] Dr. Craig's Kalam cosmological argument based upon a Big Bang was just seen by me as a philosophical argument to prove that God exists. Isn't that strange? It's probably no different than when I was an apologist I never truly considered these arguments. I only read skeptics to debunk them." [John - I think you're missing a "how" in there, as in "how when I was..."]

On the other hand, there is a revealing passage in which Loftus quotes extensively from an article he had written as an apologist. He quotes it to show how confident he was of his apologetics at one time. It does contain the phrase "I think I can prove that God exists," but he also critiques numerous dead ends: proof by the Bible, by prayer, by life experience, by miracles, by prophecy. In doing so, he shows a mind that was already learning to squeeze out bad arguments.

In an e-mail to me, Loftus compared his book to a Josh McDowell book, given the large number of quotes from other sources that he uses. First, don't be so self-depreciating, John! Also, though there is some resemblance to McDowell, the book also reminded me of his mentor William Lane Craig's book Reasonable Faith in it's text-bookish format, perhaps not surprising given that Loftus has 20 years of experience teaching philosophy. He covers the range of topics in philosophy of religion and Christianity: faith and reason, arguments for the existence of god, attonement, miracles, hell, the problem of evil. Most of it is stuff I'm familiar with, so I have a little trouble judging how well it works as an introduction to the material, but his layout of the history of attonement theories is quite clear, and that's something I didn't know too well before. For this reason, I think newcommers should have little trouble understanding the material.

In addition to given the basics of each subtopic in the field, the book has a few real gems. The first is what Loftus calls the outsider test: he makes the point that people's religious opinions are largely determined by accidents of birth, so people should try to critically examine their beliefs from the perspective of an outsider. It's an excellent way to begin a book, especially if it is to have any impact on the religious.

Also noteworthy is his treatment of the Old Testament. It's something that many non-Christians, and even liberal Christians, aren't liable to think much about. When talking about it, it helps to have Loftus' perspective as someone who once took it seriously. Reading this section, I was also reminded of Dan Barker's story of leaving fundamentalism, which began with questioning the existence of Adam and Eve. The Old Testament provides a nice "soft target" for getting fundamentalists to question the Bible.

The discussion of the Old Testament leads right in to another gem, the discussion of the superstitious mindest of the time. In a way it seems obvious, but it is something I had never seen discussed in depth before. I had seen, of course, Richard Carrier's "Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire," but Loftus hits both Old and New Testaments, and uses them alone as his sources. Loftus notes the willingness of ancient Israelites to go back and forth between gods, leading to the conclusion that perhaps they weren't so different, as well as raising the question of "How could they so easily reject their 'history,' unless there was no real history to reject?"

The section on the resurrection struck me as a little too cursory, though this is undoubtedly a result of my distorted perspective; I am more familiar with attempts to prove the resurrection as an historical event than any other area of Christian apologetics. Here, though, is where one of the book's strengths comes in. Because citations for other books come in the course of the text rather than footnotes or endnotes, the book is a very good guide to further reading. I do wish, though, that he had plugged Richard Carrier's online writings a little harder and the book The Empty Tomb a little bit less. The book has some interesting material, but the online essays do a better job of cutting to the core issues.

However, there is some memorable material. In the opening, Loftus sets up a hypothetical situtation of a missionary from Iran comming to America to preach a new religion. The scenario is designed to put the reader in the position of those evangelized by Paul in the first century, making the point that people were gullible for believing him so easily and that we should be skeptical of the claim of the resurrection today. The section could have been significantly strengthened, though, by bringing back the scenario in the conclusion, asking "If this a missionary gave you evidence for his religion such as we have for Christianity, would you believe it?" It's rhetorical strategy that Richard Carrier has employed to great effect, and it's the best strategy if you don't have the space to deal with every last angle of the question.

My biggest gripe about the book is actually about visual presentation. Points are emphasized with boldface, italics, and fairly thick underlines. It takes getting used to, partly because it's not the normal way to do things, but partly, I think, because boldface and thick underlines stick out too much. I found my eyes darting from one boldfaced sentence to the next, disrupting the flow of the reading and making the prose style feel rougher than it really is. When the book is revised, all the boldface and underlining, except in section headings, should be replaced with italics or left out altogether. Italics are more conventional and stick out less.

Oh but as far as visuals go: I didn't immediately catch the significance of of the cover art, but John, you couldn't have made a better choice! I'll let readers figure it out for themselves, but it's a nice summary of the entire book.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"I now feel a great pity for them."

PZ Myers, after going to a Kent Hovind talk. I felt the same way after reading the first couple chaters of William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith (see review in sidebar).

Peter Kirby's blog

I just added a few links to the reading list in the sidebar, including the blog of Peter Kirby, who runs He's got a good post up on the question of whether the gospels were intended as history (with an emphasis on intended).

Sam Harris on the Colbert Report

Check it out. I've tried watching the Colbert Report, and I can't say I like the main segment as much as the Daily Show's. However, he's developed and interviewing routine that puts Jon Stewart to shame.

There may be more than meets the eye in this one, though. Like Amba, I immediately thought of this Ann Althouse post when I saw the segment. In Amba's analysis:
Colbert is something far more subtle than a fundamentalist, but on some level he means what he's saying, and is making fun of himself for meaning it by impersonating a fundamentalist's absurdly over-the-top way of saying it. No wonder Harris is baffled: it's impossible to tell where Colbert is really coming from. If you assumed he was mocking religion itself and therefore agreed with you, you'd fall into a trap.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Student free speech

The march on the capitol I photoblogged yesterday was part of a larger "day of silence" that takes place at many high schools across the country. Basically, students go silent for the day in recognition of the troubles many gay teens have to go through. There's been some attepmts to counter this, though. From Ed Brayton:
In response to the Day of Silence, a group of religious right organizations sponsorded a "Day of Truth", encouraging kids to speak out against homosexuality. At Mira Loma High School in California, a group of students staged an after school protest in response to the Day of Silence, wearing t-shirts that said "Homosexuality is Sin". 13 students were suspended when they refused to take off the shirts. A suit will be filed, of course. Probably many suits, since the same thing happened at other schools.
Here's hoping that in the future, such students are allowed to wear their t-shirts but are brutally, viciously ridiculed. Signs with Bible quotes wouldn't be a bad idea - I'm thinking things like "Now, therefore, kill every male among the little ones."


More from Zeyad's archives.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Looking on the sunny side...

Healing Iraq went up on my sidebar awhile ago, but I just now started reading old posts from the site.
Islamic clerics (of all denominations) never fail to disgust me...

Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighbourhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or café. I see all that and more.
Reading Iraqi blogs, part of me feels we can't abandon these people. But is there really a damn thing the U.S. military can do to keep Iraq from civil war and/or theocracy?

Heavy photoblogging

There was a march on the capitol yesterday in opposition to the proposed anti-gay marriage ammendment to Wisconsin's constitution. You can read the Daily Cardinal's story if you like, but I'll let my photos speak for themselves.

Skeptic's Circle 33

The 33rd Skeptic's Circle is up at science and politics.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bathroom art blogging

Supposedly, somewhere in American there's a bathroom with a Nietzche quote and a witty reply. I decided to re-create the exchange, and add my own ending:

Interesting link...

Some right-wing blogger who claims to have degrees from five different Christian universities has linked to my manifesto. He speculates that my blog name is "some sort of Arabic pun, probably anti-American." Weird.

Even weirder is that the post is a very long series of incoherent attacks on various liberal bloggers. It's almost as if he's hosting a blog carnival or something.

More bad news from Iraq

From Andrew Sullivan:
The great hope for Shiite moderation in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, has a representative in the U.S.: one Fadhel Al-Sahlani. He's both a Holocaust-skeptic and someone who believes that Israel should not exist. Just noticing the actual content of Muslim moderation in Iraq.

Photomingo blogging

A student group at Madison had a small event where people got together to paint lawn flamingos and then plant them on campus. Here's mine. What do people think?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Prayer Request: Stop being psychos"

That's Mark Murphy's comment on the evangelists I tangled with last weekend.

Thanks for the link, man.

Monday, April 24, 2006

In my hands

Why I Rejected Christianity by John W. Loftus.

Review to follow, as you requested, John.

One nice feature I've noted so far: he includes a list of his Christian writings in the back. It will be interesting to read some of those.

Quotes of the Time Being

"For the Americans in the middle, who have no strong partisan allegiances, we have failed to articulate a real plan or vision," say Markos Moulitsas Zúniga and Jerome Armstrong, two of the most popular Democratic bloggers. "It's not that people know what we stand for and disagree; it's that they have no idea what we stand for," say James Carville and Paul Begala, two of the architects of Bill Clinton's winning presidential campaign in 1992. The junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, one of the Democrats' most admired politicians, has tried to make a joke of it. "You hear this constant refrain from our critics that Democrats don't stand for anything," he remarked the other day. "That's really unfair. We do stand for anything."
-from The Economist

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"A pastor who doesn't believe in hell"

Here's the sequel to yesterday's post.

In the middle of the day, I went out and posted 20 copies of my manifesto on the same bulletin boards from which they had hung their "free iPod!" signs the previous night.

Quite a few people I knew were there just hanging out prior to the evangelists comming, but most didn't stay. One of my friends, Dani, did. She had made a sign with "Free Hugs" on one side and "Truth is round like a -" followed by a picture of a golden apple with "Kallisti" written on it (an allusion to the Principia Discordia and the Illuminatus! trilogy.)

Other changes included our attempt to hang our poster of website excerpts from a chair- didn't work so well, chair kept blowing over. We were also more active handing out the tracts I had made up. Chad had made up a few of his own as well. Below the fold is the text of mine.

I'd say the conversations I had with evangelists were generally more frustrating yesterday than Friday. The State Street Society blogger came up to me and complained that I had gotten in his mom's face last night. I immediately identified he as the Loving Fundie, and said I had handled the situation poorly but had reacted the way I did because she had claimed something that was so blatantly false. Then he proceeded to defend his mother's assertion. I pointed out that we have an autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, letters written by him, letters written to him, newspaper stories involving him, etc. Then he trotted out Josephus, and asked if I even knew who Josephus was. I said I did, but that it wasn't a contemporary newspaper account (Josephus was a Jewish historian writing decades after Jesus died). He argued that there were no newspapers back then, to which I said that it doesn't matter why the evidence isn't there, it isn't there.

Then he trotted out the most absurd argument in all of Christian apologetics... well, maybe not the most absurd, but it's up there. His argument was that the Bible is reliable because we have lots of copies of it. I said that copies do not equal independent sources, to which his response was "That's your opinion." In fact, he had constantly been insisting that the whole thing was a matter of opinion - not just whether the resurrection happened, but whether there was greater evidence for it or for Ben Franklin. Later, I wished I had asked him if he really believes God damns people for things that are a matter of opinion.

I was rather shaken by the whole encounter, though, and had to spend a little time recovering before I could go back to my athevangelism. I have trouble dealing with the fact that there are people that irrational in the world.

The next conversation I had, with Philopseudes, was even worse. It began with me shouting out "Appeal to force is a fallacy!" He asked what I said, and I told him, as well as explain that appeal to force, also known as appeal to adverse consequences, is where someone says "agree with me or something bad will happen to you," and it's a fallacy because that fact taht someone says that gives you no reason to suppose their beliefs are true, and in fact gives some reason to suspect that the claim is false. Somehow, I think because he told me I needed to have faith, the conversation got from there to me saying "I don't have a telepathic link to God. Christians area always saying humans are fallible, but that means I could be wrong, you could be wrong."

"Yes, but God wrote the Bible, so the Bible isn't wrong."

"The point is that you could be wrong about that."

"But I'm not, because the Bible is God's word."

He was, in short, even less rational than the blogger.

He also said I sounded like a very angry person. Dani happened to be listening, and chimed in that I was her ex-boyfriend, and she knew I was one of the least angry people in the world. I did tell the guy, though, that I do get angry at the things like "kill homosexuals, kill blasphemers." Philopseudes pointed to the speaker and asked if the guy had said any of those things. "Hey, I've been to your website. I know you think the Bible is the word of God down to six day creation of 24 hours each."

I did have one more encouraging encounter, though. A guy in a United Church of Christ sweater took one of my tracts and shook my hand. I told him I had been raised UCC. Later he gave the tract back to me to send in on his behalf:
In case you can't read the writing, it says "A pastor who doesn't believe in Hell."

Just this morning, Dani sent me a link to the joys of an episode of an Ray Cameron apologetics show. She noticed that yesterday, the speaker had been using the Comfort Method, which was lampooned on Goosing the Antithesis awhile back. It's the one that starts "Have you ever told a lie..."

Zack's response is a quite good one, though as I heard it that night, I thought of others. One is to ask what they would think the intended message was if they saw a war protestor with a sign saying "Bush is a thief and a liar." Obviously, the sign doesn't mean he maybe told a lie once, thus showing they are not giving words their generally assigned meanings.

As good as it is to oppose abuses of the English language, a better response is probably as follows:

"Have you ever killed a child?"


"Have you ever ordered someone to kill a child?"


"But if you had, what would that make you?"

"A murderer."

"Read the first few verses of I Sam 15 to me. Now what does that make God?"

The end was sort of anti-climactic. The evangelists announced that they'd be tearing down at 7:30 because of weather, so that's when they'd have the drawing for the iPod nano. There was a group sitting by the side saying that had all put their names in the drawing, and if any of them won they'd get up on the mic and say "I'm a big fat queer," but they didn't win. Oh well.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Are you the Uncredible Hallq?"

Most most memorable quote from my Friday evening last night. But some background, first.

Some weeks ago, when out on State Street Friday night, I found out that the people who hand out tracts there are from Maranatha Bible College. I went to their website, which in turn got me to this blog, where I found a post that began as follows:
For years the library mall area in Madison has been used to protest wars, promote homosexuality, host rock and roll festivals and promote godless agendas.
I began telling fellow college students about it. They were all quickly up in arms to do something about it.

Many of my co-conspirators had a concert to go to Friday, so couldn't help for long, but we did go parading around campus and State Street with my "Smile, there is no hell" sign and a sign with printouts from the evangelists' website, including the above quote. Even though they couldn't stay the whole time today, it was a nice pump up, and they'll be great to have for tomorrow.

I suppose I should, like ApostateAbe, give a cast of characters:

Chad and Bill, my two main assistants
The State Street Society blogger
The Loving Fundie
The Exorist
The Tolerant Inerrantist
Mark Murphy, of Opiate of the Masses

Early in the evening, an evangelist who I dub Philopseudes came up to us and said, "You know, they [the evangelistic speakers] are drawing more of a crowd."

"We're not giving out free iPods," I replied.

"I didn't mean to imply anything by it, I was just making an observation."

"You know, you're a very bad liar."


"Because you claim not to have been implying anything when you obviously were."

"Do you mean to indicate truth is determined by number of people who believe?" Bill asked him.

"No, really, I was just making an observation," replied Philopseudes.

Then there was a guy who came up to us and noticed "Hey, you have stuff from my blog." He was quite happy about this, and insisted he was glad that we had come out here, and that his group was much less judgemental than other Christians ["For years, the library mall area..."].

He also may have been the guy who said that there was more evidence for Christianity than other religions. Whoever said this, I countered by granting the point but saying UFO cults have even better evidence.

Then there was the Loving Fundie who told us that there was more evidence for the resurrection than that Benjamin Franklin ever existed. "What fucking bullshit!" I replied. Probably a more temperate response would have been better, but it was indeed bullshit. I told her I had read quite a bit of Christian apologetics, and was curious to hear where she had heard that claim. She replied with something about just having picked a historical figure, as if there is more evidence for the resurrection than the existence of any person, ever.

That was enough to make the encounter memorable, but then she dropped the point as if the question of evidence was unimportant and went on a long speech about how before she accepted Jesus, she had been unable to love anyone, and He changed her life.

"And now you believe all those who do not believe are condemned?"


"That frightens me."

She just kept going on, though, about how much Jesus had changed her life. Unlike the SSS blogger on being judgemental, her stuff about loving people came off as completely sincere.

When she was gone, I said to Bill, "In some ways, people like that are more frightening than Muslim terrorists. Muslim terrorists don't tell you you're going to go to hell with a smile on their face."

"Yeah, they don't have the capacity for doublethink."

At some point, I mentioned Sam Harris' argument that the Bible's redeeming feature is that it's a mess of contradictions. I wonder, though. The sincere belief of many fundamentalists of God's universal love for the most part makes truly less dangerous. However, a large group of people believing in a loving God who damns unbelievers is a group capable of believing anything, like the Red Queen believing six impossible things before breakfast. When one considers the paths such a group could be led down, it's a disaster in the waiting.

At various times throughout the night, people asked me how I was sure there was no hell. That culminated in my encounter with The Exorcist. By that time, I had worked out that trying to tell people about Descartes and Hume's conclusions about sunrises was a dead end, so I brought up the Invisible Pink Unicorn instead.

"Well, that's more of a fantasy," the Exorcist said.

"Hell is also a fantasy, a very, very sick one."

"I know, but..."

I cut him off with "Way to go!" and a request for a high five. He wouldn't give me one. Instead, he launched into his story of how he met a guy at a rock concert who believed himself to be possessed by demons. I interjected early on that one oft-quoted psychiatrist said he had never met a demon that wasn't allergic to thorazine. The Exorcist laughed and moved on. The high point of the story was that when they were driving in a car, the Exorcist rebuked the demon and there was a scream comming from the back of the car, which was empty. The story went on after that for awhile, including a bit where they burned the guy's copy of the Book of Satan. The Exorcist told me that "After we burned the book, in the house there was this..." [Me: bracing myself for something else supernatural] "...sense of peace."

Then, I expected him to give some kind of point to the story, like that demons and Hell must be real, but he went on into a very rambling version of the standard evangelistic pitch. After I had had enough and he had, more than once, mentioned that it was his first time witnessing, I told him "Practice in front of a mirror. Work on it." That was the end of our conversation.

After Chad arrived mid-way through the night, I went to get a third sign I had in my dorm room, which says on one side "It's okay to be gay!" and, on the other "It's okay not to believe in God." At one point, a guy came up to us and he said he knew there were a couple points in the Bible that seemed to condemn homosexuality, but he didn't think they really said that. Then I showed him our screen shots from the website of the evangelists, and gave some generalized signal of agreement. Interesting experience, though. I had always kind of assumed that softened readings of the Bible on homosexuality were just a lame attempt by people who don't think the Bible is inerrant to get those who do to be accepting of gays, with neither side taking the interpretations seriously, but this guy seems to be a counter-example.

Now, the title of this post. Guy comes up to me "Are you the Uncredible Hallq?" "Yes." "I'm Opiate of the Masses, I was just going to post a picture of you." I told him I had read his blog some, and would read it more in the future. I think it's the first time I've found out about someone through the blogosphere and then met the person in person.

I also had a small bit of interaction with the speakers, if indirect. Whenever I heard them mention hell, I'd shout at the top of my lungs "Appeal to force is a fallacy!"

There was one other thing I heard out of the loud speakers: mention of being certain you're going to heaven. It stood in striking contrast to constant questions of "are you certain there's no hell?" That's the problem with intellectual honesty: many people find it unattractive. Evangelists wouldn't be able to make the same hard sell pith if their message was, "All the best data we have indicates you'll go to heaven if you do what we say, but if contrary data emerges we'll be sure to tell you." Similarly, people want better assurance that there is no hell than that there is no reason to suppose there is, in spite of the fact that there is no better assurance that we aren't all brains in a vat.

Bill said he had to talk Pascal's Wager over with three people that night. By the end, he was quite enthusiastic about my idea to make up a sign that says, "If you're living like there are fewer than 8 million gods, you'd better be right!" We'll see how that goes tonight.

Friday, April 21, 2006


After a long hard session of athevangelism. I'll write about it tomorrw, but I'm going to sleep now, even though I normally stay up later on week days. For now, read this

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Psychology of street evangelists

From today's Dily Cardinal:
In the New Testament, Peter warns: "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. ... If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."

Thus, the evangelists feed on this tenet; by receiving scrutiny, they feel holy. And though they draw from Scripture, such distorted attempts at witnessing do not glorify their Lord...

These Christians are fueled to offend others by a psychological motivation to feel righteous, and the only solution to their psychosis is to ignore or condemn their efforts. According to Hallisey, a day of witnessing resulting in complete crowd conversion would likely be a "terrible day."
It's an interesting article and all, though as I pause to look over it, I'm wondering what this last sentece I quoted is saying. Who would the conversion be a terrible day for? The sane world, or the evangelists, because they wouldn't get their persecution fix? If the later, there's a good prank waiting to be done, but I'm not sure what the quote is saying.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A fair and balanced blog

A new blog, Swords Crossed, brings a lefty and righty blogger together under one domain name. It's an interesting turn in the world of blogging. I'll be reading it, at least for a start.


Ed Brayton has a post on theocrats, arguing that basically while the risk of theocracy is small and not all conservative Christians should be labeled theocrats, real theocrats do exert significant influence.

Brayton defines Christian theocrats as those who want to institute the moral elements of Mosaic law, and gives a list of highly influential ones in the modern world. Perhaps the one most worth worrying about is Greg Bahnsen. He's widely considered a leading Christian apologist. Not number 1, that probably goes to Bill Craig, (who's still said some pretty scary things), but in discussions of top apologists, there's always a minority who proclaim themselves fans of Bahnsen.

I think worries about Mosaic law miss the point, though. We don't need to go to the point of killing homosexuals and blasphemers to take a horrific step backward. Jailing those who criticize fundamentalism would be plenty bad, and given some rhetoric I've heard, that wouldn't be too far of a step.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

George Takei (and a reformed evangelist?)

Yesterday, it was Dan Savage speaking on campus; today, George Takei. He's the actor who played Sulu on the original Star Trek, who also came out of the closet last October. I mentioned it once before, in reference to Rocky Horror Picture Show, but didn't really know the details.

Apparently, what motivated him to come out to the media (as opposed to friends and family, which he did in the 80's) was a gay marriage bill in California. In a political event I had been completely oblivious to, the bill passed the legislature and would have made California a historic first if not for veto by Arnold, who had made noises of reaching out to gays during his campaign.

He talked about the time he spent as a child in the internment camps of WWII, and drew the connection between past opressing of Japaneese Americans and current oppresion of gay ones. The description of the camp was quite jarring: taken by train, barbed wire fences, guards in towers with machine guns, it sounded like a concentration camp. No one was killed, of course, but that would have been an easy next step. It makes the dystopic fiction envisioning U.S. concentration camps seem not so far off. If it could happen here, in what was supposedly a strong democracy, it just might happen again if U.S. politics took a turn for the crazy. It's one of those times where I tell myself not to be too pessimistic, it probably won't happen, but no one saw the Holocaust comming either.

Takei himself expressed a great optimism that people will see the light, and that things have improved considerably. He talked about the numerous ways in which things have improved in America since the founding: abolition, women's rights, civil rights, etc.

It was also nice to hear about the ground-breaking diversity that Star Trek had when it was first made. To an extent, much was slipped by executives. Roddenberry also knew, though, that there were limmits to how far he could go.

I also got quite tense at one point when, before the speech started, I looked behind me and to my right to see a guy who I was pretty, if not totally, sure was one of the evangelists who holds up pretty nasty signs on Library Mall fridays. I felt ready to argue with him if he decided to start a confrontation, though as Takei's speech began, I felt assured that he was a good enough speaker to deal with any trouble. Surprisingly, though, the guy didn't do anything through the whole question and answer period. When it came time for autographs, he was one of the first in line. I watched from a distance as he made his way up. At his turn, they exchanged some words, shook hands, and laughed.

As I sat down to write this, I realized that this particular evangelist is not one I had seen out recently. Does that mean anything?

It was kind of a nice moment, even though I'm not entirely sure what happened.

An evangelist attack I missed

This is one where I wasn't there, but in today's Badger Herald, there was a column on a recent bit of evangelism on Library Mall.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dan Savage comes to campus

I haven't blogged much so far today, but it was with good reason – sex columnist Dan Savage came to give a talk at Memorial Union theater, and was waiting on blogging until I had it to write about.

He got introduced by a guy in a suit, then came on stage in a t-shirt and baseball cap, explaining that his good shirt had fallen in the toilet. The introducer mentioned that he had been offered his job as a columnist while working as the manager of Four Star Video. I think I had read that before in his AV Club interview back in February, but it gave me a kind of weird feeling when I heard that and thought, "Hey, I was just there today paying late fees."

Going in, I was expecting a much more aggressive personality. He indicated in the AV Club interview that his column isn't today what it was in his first year, but there's still plenty of the attitude he describes starting out with:
Forever, I'd read letters that had been written to straight advice columnists from gay people. Sometimes the advice was okay, but oftentimes it was clueless about gay issues or gay people or gay sex or gay rights. And I just thought it would be funny for once if there was an advice column written by a gay person where straight people had to get slapped around or treated with contempt.
He came across, though, with one of the wimpier comic actor personas you see in movies (I wish I could give an example of a specific actor actor) still hilarious, and capable of saying outrageous things, but not as rude about it.

I wasn't taking notes or anything, so I have to give scattered highlights. They had two interpreters for the deaf, and rather than just letting them be there, he took not of them and referred to them on occasion. Near the beginning, he asked if there were actually any deaf people in the audience, saying he often would give talks where their were interpreters no one needed, but there was someone – I think a cheer went up when they were identified. He would also occasionally notice that the sign language for something he said got louder laughs than the thing itself, so he'd repeat the phrase so we could all see the sign language again. The interpreters were pretty good sports about it – executing the gestures with a fair amount of pomp while retaining some composure. Kudos to them.

At one point near the beginning, he let out a shocked exclamation "Oh my God, there's a child in the audience! I'm so sorry. I wouldn't want my own kid hearing this." Up in the balcony, I wasn't entirely sure if the kid got taken out.

He said that love necessarily involves lying. When you meet someone for the first time, you put forward your best self so they'll fall in love with you, and then they do, and you say, "Oh no, now I have to keep up this façade." And then, if it goes really well, you live up to the lie.

He actually advocated getting rid of sex ed. classes in public schools, because public schools would never be able to do it right. Among his comments on what good sex ed would look like, he mentioned that it would teach both how to give and how to withhold consent. He also touched on the subject of campus groups designed to promote healthy sex. He said something to the effect that it would have been good if Sex Out Loud existed on campus when he was here, but such groups can over-react to anti-sex messages. They respond to "no, no, no" with "yes, yes, yes" when it should be "it depends, it depends, it depends."

He said the culture wars are fought on two levels. The high level, of things like constitutional amendments, is like World War I: trench warfare, battle lines moving a little bit at a time. The cultural level is more like Vietnam guerilla warfare, lots of little things happening all over the place online, in newspaper columns, etc. He said quite bluntly that come November, gay marriage will lose in Wisconsin, but we'll get it in America eventually, though we'll be the last country in the world to do so. He said we'll even be after Pakistan, then launched into the analogy of a woman president. We'll be so proud of ourselves when we get one, but even Pakistan's already beaten us to it. We will see both those things eventually, though, even if we're last.

He also brought up a personal anecdote to drive home the importance of marriage rights. He was traveling by plane, got sick during the SARS scare, was misdiagnosed, made even worse by the medicine, but his partner was able to make all kinds of medical decisions in a half-hour time period. No need to call his parents, which was a good thing, because his mom was living in a cabin without a phone. The thing he wondered, was, what happens next time? He's living with no guarantee that next time he's sick, or Terry is sick, the one won't be able to make decisions for the other. He also mentioned the fact that if they went to one state (Ohio? Oklahoma? I forget) their son would be considered a ward of the state. Not having the legal protections of marriage was a clear draw back.

Anyway, those were the highlights. I looked for other people who've written about this on Technorati, but I think I got the scoop. Go me.

Technorati Tags: ,


Michael Reynolds is touting a plan to give every adult 10,000 dollars a year for life. It sounds expensive, but if it were done as a replacement for current systems of transfer payments, it would cost less in the long run.

No idea if this is a good idea, but it is interesting.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

An Anti-Fundamentalist Manifesto

Recently, Christian fundamentalists have been making increasingly loud claims of persecution in America. From the "War on Christmas" to a March 2006 Vision America conference, in which Tom DeLay's indictment was said to have happened because he is "the target of all who despise the cause of Christ," they are attempting to use the language of religious pluralism to gain acceptance for their views.

The idea that Christians in America are being persecuted is absurd on its face: people identifying as Christians make up a solid majority of the American public. The claim that Christians are an embattled minority holds only when "Christian" is defined so as to include only the most conservative believers.

And when we turn to the subject of Christian fundamentalism, the problem is not that it is not tolerated, but that it is tolerated too much. We have developed an idea that all religions are good and deserving of respect, but a religion is nothing more than a type of belief system. Just as some belief systems are deplorable, such as Nazism and white supremacy, some religious systems deserve our scorn.

Among those that do we must include any system which holds that all dissenters will face eternal punishment. This must, by extension, include claims that books such as the Bible and the Qur'an are infallible. According to the Bible, "he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Similarly, the Qur'an contains frequent pronouncements that unbelievers face an "awful" and "painful doom." Whatever the value contained in these religious traditions, moderate believers must take a firm stand that religious texts should not be treated as infallible when they make such pronouncements.

Opposing such ideologies does not mean prohibiting their expression. Long ago, America's founders realized that freedom must mean freedom to express unpopular views. This is why courts have ruled that even the Ku Klux Klan must be allowed to have rallies to express its views.

Opposing such ideologies does mean responding to them as we do racism. It means expressing disapproval when such beliefs are expressed in conversation. It means standing up when they are argued in the public square. It means challenging public figures who hint at holding such beliefs to make clear where they stand.

Please take a copy of this manifesto and post it somewhere. The text is available online at:

The above will be up on my door in just a few minutes. I plan to be encouraging people to circulate it. I welcome all advice on possible revisions.

Best of Net Atheism

I've been added to the list. Click the link - boost my ranking!

Yup, Dembski repeated a lie

As I suspected, the claim that 10 percent of scientists endorse ID is complete and utter nonsense.

Happy Eorstre!

I don't think it was by design that an edition of the Carnival of the Godless would happen to fall on an Easter Sunday, but so it goes.

PZ Myers also has an Easter commentary, and Orac has taken to the opportunity to link to a commentary by DarkSyde.

On a lighter note, here's an Easter egg I got via e-mail.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Non-Christian chroniclers and Jesus

Recently, Brian Flemming posted the following argument against Jesus' historicity on his blog:
This remarkable-yet-unimportant historical Jesus apparently:

-Did not perform miracles
-Was not rumored to perform miracles
-Was not followed by large crowds of people
-Did not enter Jerusalem on a donkey (an extremely provocative action for a Jew)
-Did not declare himself the Messiah
-Did not disrupt the business of the temple
-Was not tried by the Sanhedrin on Passover Eve
-Was not tried by Pontius Pilate, who
-Did not send him to King Herod, who
-Did not send him back to Pontius Pilate, who
-Did not set free a known killer of Romans in an attempt to save Jesus, and
-Did not convict Jesus while Jerusalem was experiencing a near-riot

Any of the above would have been remarkable enough for chroniclers of the time to note.
I'm not so sure about that. There are many would-be Messiahs who we know about only through Josephus, who is often cited as the earliest non-Christian source regarding Jesus. I think JJ Lowder was generally on target in his analysis of extra-biblical sources for Jesus, and specifically on the point that that while Josephus was tampered with, his work did originally mention Jesus.

Earl Doherty, whose work Flemming has drawn on, argues that scholars are wrong to think even parts of the Josephus passage on Jesus are authentic; the whole thing paints Jesus in too positive a light. If so, do we have a good argument from silence against the existence of Jesus? I don't think so. I'm not sure we should assume Josephus was recording every last prophet of the time rather than a sampling. Also, also, given that the text was tampered with, it's possible that Josephus originally had a quite negative passage on Jesus, which was removed in its entirety and replaced with a favorable one.

Scary quotes

I mentioned this article awhile back, but scanned past some of the stuff at the end. Today, PZ Myers posted some scarier parts I had missed.

Life in Iraq

A brilliant portrait from Zeyad A, of Healing Iraq.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Random link of the day

No, I don't get it either.

Astral Projection

In the words of Michael Shermer, what a weird thing to do.

It was last fall that I first saw fliers up on Library Mall advertising classes on "astral projection." I considered going out of curiosity and forget what stopped me. Anyway, they were up again this spring, and I went.

The main guy teaching the class was maybe in his late 20s, tall and lanky, with hair going well past his shoulders. I've been letting my own hair go for some time, and briefly reminded myself to cut it if I ever started looking like this guy. His manner of speech was somewhat odd, given the subject manner. He didn't sound like a religious enthusiast or a slick used car salesman, but rather an inexperienced speaker trying to give a computer class, or perhaps like one of my less confident TAs.

The first class was basically explaining the concept of astral projection. According to the guy, there are many other planes of existence in addition to the one we are used to: the astral plane, the mental plane, and many far beyond that. The astral plane is what people visit when we dream or have near-death exeriences. The scenery of the astral plane roughly corresponds to that of the physical one, but there are different physical laws: one can walk through walls, float, and be transported instantly from one spot to another just by thinking. Often when we dream, what we see is just a projection of our own minds, but one can also use the astral plane to, say, visit the pyramids in Egypt, as well as to visit certain "spiritual temples" that exist on the astral to gain insight.

I can't be exactly sure, but as I looked around the room during the talk I got the feeling that I was the only one who had much skepticism of what was being said. "Why?" I wondered to myself. Perhaps, I thought, it is because we are used to taking things on authority. George Orwell wrote a great little essay on this subject. He demonstrates the massive amount of work it would take the average person to prove that the Earth is round, and then notes, "On most other questions I should have to fall back on the expert much earlier, and would be less able to test his pronouncements." For all my scientific education, I must take most chemistry, most biology, and all of quantum physics on authority. For some people, astral projection may seem no different.

The presenter did mention, though, that when he was first learning to astrally project, he wasn't sure if he should really believe it. In the question and answer period, I asked what convinced him. He said it was having vivid experiences of the astral plane that did it.

This is a response worth reflecting on. Some elements of the astral projection claims are what could be tested scientifically - see if people really can gain knowledge of a distant place they've never seen before, or meet on the astral to transmit information. But from what I heard in that room, it became clear that these things are not essential to the experience. One girl (grad-student age, I would guess) said that several times she had tried to send someone a message through astral projection, and it never worked, and she wanted to know why. I don't remember the answer that was given, but it became clear that such testable results were not guaranteed. No loss, though - if one can have vivid experiences of visiting "spiritual temples," you've gotten your money's worth (metaphorical money, the classes are free).

But this really drilled home something I had read in Susan Clancy's book on alien abduction. I'm not in my dorm right now, so this is a paraphrase, but she said something to the effect of "if you had vivid memories of being sucked up a straw-like tube, wouldn't you believe you were abducted by aliens"? Though most people have little trouble believing that abductees, astral projectors, etc. are deluded, the idea that an experience we've accepted as genuine for a long time could be a hallucination or false memory is totally alien to most of us. For most of us, seeing is believing.

How do you explain to someone, then, that they shouldn't believe something that they sincerely think they saw? In most cases of weird beliefs, I can think of a way I might at least try to dissuade someone of them, but this one has me stumped.


You scored as Anarchism. <'Imunimaginative's Deviantart Page'>

















What Political Party Do Your Beliefs Put You In?
created with
Hat tip to Skatje, who has also made a creative contribution to the War on Easter.

Quote of the Time Being

What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?
-George Orwell, found in the Positive Atheism quote list.

Shermer v. Dembski

This week's eSkeptic has an account of the Shermer-Dembski debate. Quite good, except at the end, where the writer reveals he doesn't know Dembski all that well: "Dembski took a cheap shot that seemed somewhat unbecoming of him." No, that's par for the course.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Head spinning

My head is currently spinning from reading this and this. Cursory examination would indicate Comedy Central would not allow South Park to make fun of Mohammed, but the SP guys somehow slipped in jabs at Comedy Central - pretty nasty ones. Bravo.

I remember being in middle school and getting all the hype that South Park was just a bunch of immature nonsense, but no, the creators have shown themselves to be real geniuses.

Skeptic's Circle 32

The 32nd Skeptic's Circle is up at Pooflinger's Annonymous. I'm particularly glad to see the entry from Bob Caroll on September 11th conspiracy theories.


I'm finding myself liking Flemming, in spite of everything. He recently posted on his forays into the world of right-wing talk, making the obvious obersvation that hosts rely heavily on their ability to cut people off. He got in some good ones, though:
FLEMMING: God doesn't exist any more than the Easter Bunny, they're both--
CARLSON: --Hold on there! That's crazy. I can disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny. You can't disprove the existence of God.

FLEMMING: You can disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny?

CARLSON: Of course.


CARLSON: The Easter Bunny is said to do certain things. We can observe that these things are not happening. Therefore the Easter Bunny does not exist.

FLEMMING: Name one thing God does that I can observe.

Pause. From there it was anger and stammering and "But God doesn't exist in this dimension, blardy blar." I managed to get in, "Thank you for admitting that God doesn't do anything." Carlson then talked over every word I spoke until he went to commercial.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Response to the War on Easter

For those who don't already know, Brian Flemming, the maker of The God Who Wasn't There, organized a campaign to plant copies of the DVD in churches around the country. I've given him a bad review, called his campaign childish, and quoted a comparison to Josh McDowell, but I can't help comming to the side of Atheist Mama after reading her report:
"If I found one of my boys picking up one of these pamphlets or movies that one of these scumbags left in the pew, they would have confirmation extremely quick of the existence of God..."
I tracked this quote to it's source and left this comment:
How would your kids get confirmation of the existence of God? Would you give them a copy of Aquinas's proofs? Does God hold you in such esteem that he'd give you a lightening bold on command to strengthen your kid's faith? What?
Here's another quote in response to this campaign:
"I hope next time you try to put one of your hate mongering propaganda DVD’s in a church you are caught by another sort of extremist who will give you a taste of your own medicine."
Again, whaa? Is this person hoping the DVD-hider will be given a Dr. Dino video?

A more encouraging tidbit

I meant to post this yesterday, but forgot:
Twice as many people now tell pollsters that tge Christian right has too much influence in Washington as tell them it has too little.
-The Economist

Nazism, fundamentalism

Today, Red State Rabble linked to a rather frightening article published back in 2004:
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the "Christian fascists."

The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.

He was not a man to use the word fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer...
What's really going to happen? I'm convinced it's all a numbers game. America has its share of insane fundamentalists and its share of decent people who will stand up to madness, the question is who gets the numbers to beat who in the polls. That's why this quote from the article is worth taking note of:
"So let's be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."
The other question, beyond the numbers game involving committed players, is appealing to what might be called moderate religious folks. I'm reminded of the story of a priest (if only I could remember his name) who lived in Germany in the 30's and voted for Hitler because, even though he found his rants a little out there, thought he had the energy the country needed to recover from the war. He ended up having to flee the country after seeing his mistake. How many people will be duped into voting for religious lunatics that they don't really want in power?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Convincing but dishonest apologetics

Yesterday, I mentioned that I could understand how someone could find Lee Strobel convincing. I found myself expanding on this point in a post over at Christian Forums, I think it's worth re-printing here:

I can see why people would find them, especially Strobel, convincing if they know jack about the relevant areas of study. Rather than laugh, Aisamov, you might want to try pointing out the blatant falsehoods in his books. For example:

"John is the only gospel about which there is some question about authorship." - wrong, have her read Raymond Brown's introduction to the NT (I recommend him because he's not a liberal by any strech of the imagination, but proves there is indeed some question regarding authorship).

"An eminent archeologist named Jerry Vardman 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, what we call 'micrographic' letters." Wrong. A charitable interpretation would be that the letters are imaginary, see here.

"Sherwin-White meticulously examined the rate at which legend accured in the ancient world... The time span necessary for significant accrual of legend concerning the events of the gospels would place us in the second century A.D.... When German theologian Julius Muller challenged anyone to find a single example of legend developing that fast anywhere in history, the response from the scholars of his day - and to the present time - was resounding silence"

All of these last three statements are wrong. When one looks at what Sherwin-White wrote, one discovers he was 1) not meticulous and 2) admitted a great deal of legendary development could happen within the lifetime of contemporaries, but argued there would still be a chance of legends being exposed as such. Muller's challenge, if it was not met previously, was met seven years before Strobel's book was published, by Robert M. Price in the journal Religious Studies. Price's response was also worked into his 1993 book Beyond Born Again.

If I had been a Christian at the time I picked up Strobel's book, I likely would have bought all these falsehoods hook, line, and sinker. At first, I didn't even know where to look exposing them.

Aisamov, I also recommend showing your girlfriend TalkOrigin's 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution and point out that it bears no resemblance to the Strobel/Wells portrait of the evidence for evolution in The Case for a Creator. That's six clear-cut falsehoods in Strobel's work, should rattle her a little.

Please tell me he's joking.

PZ Myers has the scoop that Ann Coulter is comming out with a book called "Godless: The Church of American Liberalism."

It will be worth paying close attention to the right-wing response to this book. I can feel somewhat reassured that not all conservatives like Coulter; last year a Christian university cancelled a Coulter talk because they concluded that her views are un-Christian.

Quote of the Time Being

It's the atheist's equivalent to the "golly gee whiz" apologetics of Josh McDowell on the Christian side, the sort of thing that can only be taken seriously by the ignorant and the credulous.
-Ed Brayton, on Brian Flemming.

You can read my thoughts on Flemming here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Another former preacher

John W. Loftus has linked to a website with lots of essays by a former preacher. I particularly recommend What Was I Thinking... I guess I wasn't. Particularly memorable was this part:
I guess I was thinking that they must know and I must not.
I guess I was thinking I was too young to know what they knew and would know it when I grew in the proper “grace and knowledge.”
I guess I was thinking they had done their homework so I would not have to.
I guess I was thinking that being older made you smarter than those of us who were younger...

What was I thinking? Looking back...I wasn't, I was just trusting others to do it for me. Big mistake in life. Don't you do it.
This reminds me of what Dan Barker said in his book Losing Faith:
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.)
This may be a big part of understanding Christian apologetics.

War on Easter

Childish, but funny.

Why would anybody find this convincing?

Two days ago, I posted my snappy comeback to an apologetic work given to me by some street evangelists. I said it would be a waste of my time to read in its entirety. I'll explain a little more about that now.

The title is 301 Startling Proofs & Prophecies. Each page has a giant number at the top, and many contain only a paragraph of text, leaving the rest blank. If there were 365 entries, it would make a good wall calendar.

The first 100-some pages are dedicated to promoting YEC. Then there's "The Scientific Accuracy of the Bible," "Archaeology and the Bible," and "The Historical Accuracy of the Bible." These last two contain a lot of the same material found in a Josh McDowell book, only put into the book's unique format. The last 100 pages cover Biblical prophecy.

The book could be accurately summarized as a combination of Josh McDowell and Answers in Genesis for those who find those sources a little too sophisticated.

The back cover promises to "startle and stun the scientific and Christian communities" and that "Every page in this book will amaze you!" Many pages, I admit, are amazing, but only insofar as I'm amazed anyone could think this is a good, rational defense of Christianity. Let's look at some examples: (Hmmm... what do I do, so many bad ones...)
Hey, That's Not Fair
Other ancient writings, from which we base much of our history today, have very few existing copies through which we can study their accuracy. For example, there are several manuscripts of Caesar's Gailic Wars, but only about ten of these are of any use. If historians are willing to accept the historical accuracy of this ancient writing, and others, with so few manuscripts available for verification, they should also be willing to accept the historical accuracy of the New Testament, especially when thousands of copies are available to study and do not conflict with one another.
Um... what shall I say about this? I'll leave it at "Ask in the comments if you don't see the problem."

I won't multiply examples, this isn't meant as a refutation. I write this post for the purpose of asking "Why would anyone be convinced by this stuff?" I can understand why someone with no knowledge of Biblical scholarship could be convinced by Lee Strobel. This book, though, mystifies me.

The website seems to be down right now. I may try hunting through old threads there to answer my questions; there's quite a bit of discussion that goes on there about Christian apologetics (I've already learned the most esteemed ones seem to be Bill Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Norman Geisler.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kudos to MikeGene

MikeGene, contributor to the pro-Intelligent Design blog Telic Thoughts, appologizes for running with the accusations targeted at Dr. Eric Pianka.

DaveScott, a contributor to William Dembski's blog, isn't happy about this admission.

*Sigh* Oh well, at least some ID advocates are willing to do the right thing.

My irony meter breaks

I've been visiting a Christian discussion board, and look what I found:
Currently I'm leading an apologetic class looking into Islam. One main hurdle to cross is that very concept of the Bible being flawed and the Quran being the "correction" or correct message of God.

In my research of Islam I have found that it astonishing that they hold firm to the idea that the Quran is flawless when there are blatent flaws within the pages. (On a similar note it somewhat astonishes me that Christians simply accept the same thoughts about the Bible without even looing into just a few questions for themselves.)

Getting past the mindset of something is true because that something says so is difficult. Yet, once they are willing to examine something with an open mind you should be able to make some progress.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Daily dose of depression

From Ed Brayton:
A corollary to Socrates' maxim, perhaps, is that the majority of people, regardless of whether they profess theism, atheism or something else, will live an unexamined life and there's not much anyone else can do about it. Let's face it, the majority of people in the world are too busy trying to survive to spend their time contemplating ethical dilemmas or the nature of reality. Philosophy is an artifact of relative luxury and wealth.

And even in nations like ours, where we ostensibly value education and abstract thought and have the luxury to engage in them, the majority of people exist as little more than automatons - programmed by the mass media culture, manipulated by advertising to play their appointed role as consumer (mostly consuming useless things, of course), easily led by the exploitation of their insecurity and the use of shallow catchphrases...

The average person, regardless of their church attendance or lack thereof, has no interest in discovering new ideas; they care far more about who Jessica Simpson may be screwing than about learning something they didn't know before. They're far too busy obsessing over whether they'll look good in a swim suit this summer to consider whether they have obligations to their fellow man and, if so, how to fulfill them. Such matters elude the average man today just as surely as they eluded him in times past.

10 percent?

A WorldNetDaily column, quoted by William Dembski, claims 10% of scientists are advocating for ID.

Comparisons of the DI's "dissent from Darwin" list and the "Steve list," combined with the point that Steves make up about %1 of the population, have lead to the conclusion that no more than %1 of scientists support ID. We'll see if this guy can come up with evidence to the contrary.

A terse reply

I was out with my "Smile! There is no hell" sign today. People loved it as usual, was told "God bless you" for the first time.

I also got this book called 301 Startling Proofs and Prophecies from the evangelists themselves. On getting home, this is what I sent them:
Dear evangelistic team of Madison Baptist Church,

I have taken a look at the book 301 Startling Proofs and Prophecies, and a cursory examination indicates that it would be a complete and utter waste of my time to read the entire thing. However, I am sending you a little intellectual exercise related to the last third of the book. Stretch those under-used brain cells! If you need a hint, un-tape the bottom of this letter.
I sent this along with a print out of this website. Below the fold, I had written "According the Christian apologist William Lane Craig, the Jews of Jesus' time 'had no conception of a dying, much less a rising, Messiah.' (The Son Rises p.127)"

We'll see what they do.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The philosophical presuppositions of Herodotus errancy

This post at Debunking Christianity brought to my attention a book, edited by Christian apologist Norman Geisler, called Inerrancy. I decided to get it from a library, though close inspection revealed a book far less interesting than I was expecting. Geisler had only one essay in the book, titled "The philosophical presuppositions of Biblical errancy" (pp. 305-334) where he claims that errancy is founded upon the philophies of Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, and Kierkegaard. Then he pats himself on the back for exposing these nasty presuppositions and says "The history of the philosophical influences leading to denial of the full authority of Scripture show unmistakably that essentially it is not new facts but old philosophies that are leading evangelicals astray."

For reasons suggested in my title, this essay is hopelessly, comically out of touch. I feel I should say something more about it, but the title is all I need to say to refute his position.

Iraqi agnostic dentist

From my dad (a dentist):
There is a blog by a dentist in Iraq. An agnostic dentist. ( Don't waste a lot of time reading it until you finish classes,but I think you will find it interesting. He doesn't think much of clerics. The war is going badly for him.
I'm guessing he read about the guy in the Wall Street Journal.

Persecution complex

I found a report on TruthDig saying that DeLay's supporters are claiming the attacks on him are comming because of hatred of Christians. Some browsing of Technorati brought confirmation in the form a report on a Vision America conference, which has more wonderful tidbits on the modern Christian persecution complex:
Tom Crouse, a Massachusetts pastor who has inaugurated a "Mr. Heterosexuality" contest in his town [are straight men so rare there?], spoke of his persecution by officials who billed him for the increased police presence required at his contest when "rabid homosexual activists" showed up at the event. (Crouse also characterized persecution as "a blessing and a joy," and advised the audience that, "If you are not persecuted," you have to ask yourself, "are you living a Christian life?")
I recently encountered a similar attitude in the local Campus Crusade for Christ member I talked about last Friday and Wednesday. In the e-mails he sent me, he said he used to be "the Saul of UWSP" and "persecuted Christians." Does this mean he was he was, like Saul, "entering house after house, dragging off both men and women"? Nope. "I would go to Cru on Thursdays, sit in back, and converse with people about how stupid their faith was." (I prefer the term "insane," but to each his own.)

Plenty of people have written about this to comment on its stupidity - Christianity as a whole is a majority religion and fundamentalists have a great deal of political clout. No, I write about it because I am afraid of the Orwellian turn this is taking. "Criticism is persecution" ranks right up there with "freedom is slavery." If to criticize is to persecute, we may one day see an America where politicians declare that they must outlaw non-Christian - in order to guarantee the First Amendment's promises of free exercise.

Please, someone with 20 years of age on me, please tell me that people have always been this crazy and just because a sizable fraction of the country is like this doesn't mean we're heading for a theocracy.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sam Harris on Islam

There's a new interview up at TruthDig. Sam Harris is certainly one of the most eloquent people to speak common sense in today's world. Is he right, though, to say that Islam is incompatible with democracy?

My first thought is that he is both right and wrong. No, the idea of an Islamic democracy does not make a bit of sense. The idea of a democracy where people believe disagreement leads to damnation does not make a bit of sense, but that's what the Koran teaches.

However, it's also what the Bible teaches. What freethinker, in the dark ages, could ever imagine a world where most Christians reject Thomas Aquinas' argument for killing heretics and form a society where people of all religions can practice freely? The change may have been more a result of being sick of religious wars than anything firmly rooted in doctrine, but it happened.

The same may happen in Islamic countries. Furthermore, the odds of complete and quick secularization are low. Look at Irshad Maji's book The Trouble With Islam. In spite of heaps of self-criticism, she doesn't go beyond calling for Muslims to question - not reject, merely question - the inerrancy of the Koran. And she's about as liberal as they come.

I have no deep desire to keep Islam around. The chances of eliminating it, though, are low.

Harris does make a good point, though: "The Bible is a fundamentally self-contradictory document. You can cherry-pick it in a way that you really can’t the Koran." Heh. Suddenly, I'm wondering if atheists shouldn't complain about those contradictions. But maybe he's right, liberalization would be harder. Then again, reading such material gives me some hope for someone as eloquent as Harris to lead secularization of the Arab world... if this hypothetical Arab isn't shot first.

Gospel of Judas

Andrew Sullivan mentions it today. Ya know, the who rehabilitate-Judas thing makes a lot of sense. I mean, without him, the whole save the world thing could never have happened. However, is the book of much historical value? Probably not. A close look at the gospels gives a picture of Jesus who never knew the crucifixion was comming. In Matthew, he says "when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." 'Cept Judas. D'oh!

Attack Iran?

Word is Bush is considering it. If I were president, I'd have analysts looking at the option, but with Bush at the helm, any attempt is likely to be botched.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Eyewitness on Pianka

We have an eyewitness account. I'm hoping to see more. Apparently, it's a lie that Pianka had the cameras turned off.


One commenter gave me a fair amount of criticism for a post regarding modern evangelical theology. I wrote it as a response to attempts to re-interpret the Bible to make it more pleasant, but which nontheless paint a bizzare portrait of God.

One point I should quickly conceed: talking about justified true belief was a mistake. It goes over their heads. That's why I switched to talking about my Packer-fan teacher, to give them something concreete to hold on to.

I got a recommendation to "size up your conversational partner." Good advice in theory, hard in practice. Two tract-distributors can be entirely different personalities. One guy would stare dumbstruck as I explained to him what I believed and why I don't find Josh McDowell convincing.

Another guy, who I discussed in part last weekend proved impervious to everything. After he indicated he wouldn't be convinced by evidence, he tried to argue from religious experience, an argument I shot down, and then he fell back on the standard "you are sinful" pitch. I left in the middle of it, but I had taken down his e-mail so I could get back to him on his claim about the manuscripts. I e-mailed him and got back a lot of preaching. He seemed to think that Christianity must be true because it made so much sense. I tried to explain to him that it doesn't make sense. Here's the last of several e-mails I sent:
I am going to put an end to this exchange now. If you think Anne Frank and Hitler are equal in the eyes of God, you are beyond my ability to help. I'm glad to hear you have doubts, though. Keep at them.
I think this is often the most you can do - hope they keep at their doubts. In fact, helping them along a little in their doubts is all you can ever do. Many people have testified that it took years to think themselves out of fundamentalism. The strategy should always be to get people to think.

Atheist in a Christian forum

I've begun reading the IIDB's positive atheism and secular activism forum, and today a great post appeared from a guy who went to ask hard questions in a forum sponsored by a campus Christian group.

He seems to have been pretty effective at shaking them, and deserves a congrats.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dembski makes a fool of himself again

William Dembski, big shot ID advocate, has repeated a slander claiming the ecologist Eric Pianka advocated killing off a big chunk of the earth's population by Ebola. The truth is that Pianka was was giving a warning about the risk of something that could, in his opinion, happen without any human intervention.

To my dismay, it got repeated by Andrew Sullivan.

Will Dembski admit he was wrong? One would think so, but I'm not so sure. As I noted last month, Dembski is still hanging on to thermodynamics arguments.

Likely, we'll soon see a post from him reasoning, "Pianka advocates population control, and says we're at risk of a deadly pandemic, therefore he advocates a deadly pandemic."

Hey Bill, prove me wrong.

[After posting this I e-mailed Sullivan. He pointed out that he had issued a correction. I scanned past it because it was an e-mail of the day. My bad. We'll see how quick Dembski is.]

Monday, April 03, 2006

A personal relationship with God

In high school, for awhile I dated a girl who claimed to believe the whole Bible and take it literally. However, contra John 3, she did not believe that only Christians would go to heaven, but rather that anyone who had a "personal relationship with God" would go to heaven.

In a similar line, even the most conservative Christians now have a tendency to claim that Hell is only eternal separation from God. I am not sure what basis these ideas have in the Bible, but they're worth commenting on as they form a major part of many evangelistic pitches.

I have a simple question for anyone who ascribes to this version of Christianity: if you wanted to have a personal relationship with someone, wouldn't you go up to that person and say "hi"?

Does God do this? Nope.

Okay, so the Bible has been called God's letter to mankind. I guess if you wanted to have a personal relationship with someone, you might send that person a letter.

God doesn't do this either.

I've been given Bible's by a couple different people. I've never had a Bible appear out of thin air with the words "from God" on it. Yes, when we send letters to people, we sometimes rely on others to deliver the letter. In such circumstance, though, we generally make sure the intermediary is actually going to deliver it. Some people have never been given Bibles, though.

In addition to making sure the letter gets there, if I wanted to have a personal relationship with someone, I'd try to send the letter in such a way that it would minimize the chances of someone thinking it was written as a prank by someone else. What an embarassment that would be! God, in his power, hasn't done well in that area.

I'd also think carefully about what I write. A several hundred page, rambling story with lots of irrelevant details isn't a way to kick off a relationship.

Thus, God is forced to rely on tract-writers to excerpt his letter and give people the excerpts. That's really more like it, though he should find better assistants. "What's up?" is a more suitable phrase for starting friendships than "Believe or else!"

In spite of these problems, we are told that if we do not accept God now, he will reject us for eternity. What a weirdo. I'm not sure I'd want to have a relationship with someone like that.

CotG #37

The 37th Carnival of the Godless is up at Neural Gormet

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Review: Misquoting Jesus

As promised, I've finished reading Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman; time for a review. The book is both fascinating and profoundly relevant for today's world.

What's fascinating is the history it tells. He begins with the earliest phases of the copying of the new testament, when the orthodox and heretics accused eachother of tampering with scripture, through the decision making process involved in making the first printed Bibles, up to the modern study of trying to reconstruct the original text. Two chapters deal specifically with changes made for theological and social reasons.

One chapter that deserves more detailed comment is chapter five, where he looks at three places where, in his opinion, most modern Bibles do not give the original version of the text, and this has a major effect on interpretation. This section gave me a new appreciation for the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which does a good job of putting the major variant readings in foot notes. I checked all three of Ehrman's alleged problems in both the NRSV and the New American Standard Bible, which I got when visiting a non-denominational "Bible church" for anthropology. In all three cases, the NASB ignores the problem, while the NRSV mentions it in a footnote.

Do the differences matter? I think it depends on your perspective. I remember reading the NRSV way back when, noticing the variant readings, and never thinking much of them. However, if one is in the habit of pondering the meaning of Biblical passages and the overall view of entire books, small things could matter, and Ehrman makes a persuasive case that on close examination, the three changes he discusses do matter.

What makes this book more than interesting history and something truly relevant for today's world are two things: Ehrman's personal story in the introduction, and the evangelical response to the book as a whole.

Ehrman's story, of how he was led away by Christian fundamentalism by Biblical scholarship, seems somewhat strange. The easy part for me to understand is how he was shaken by contradictions in the Bible. A turning point for him was when he wrote an essay trying to make a convoluted rationalization of an apparent discrepency between Mark and the old testament. He expected his professor to appreciate the work - the guy was a Christian, right? - but instead he got a single comment back: "Maybe Mark made a mistake." Ehrman realized he was right, and went on to realize that there are real differences between other books of the New Testament as well. There is no mystery why someone would be shaken by this; stranger are those who are not.

However, Ehrman says he was also shaken by the discrepencies between differing manuscripts of the NT. This is something that affects my view of the reliability of the Bible very little. On the one hand, it's silly to say that there's no way there could be parts of what we accept as the Bible that are later additions. We have, for example, two different endings of the gospel of Mark, neither of which is included in a couple of the earliest manuscripts and neither of which is accepted as original. This should be a warning that the might be other bits of tampering that we are not aware of. However, the threat this poses to the reliability of the NT is a hundreth of the problem caused by the fact that the gospels are probably just collections of oral traditions, not all that accurate in their autographs.

Look at it, however, from a fundamentalist point of view. If you think the original Bible was inerrant, the idea that one bit somewhere could have been a later addition becomes huge. As Ehrman explains, "If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don't have the very words of scripture?" Ehrman also notes that if God could protect the original writers from error, he could also protect the scribes from error, so why didn't he?

I think this analysis is well-confirmed by the vitriolic response to this book in some circles. Witness, for example, the reviews, one of which accuses Ehrman of never having been a Christian. Fundamentalists are terrified at the thought of a few miscopied passages.

Or, look at the blogospheric reaction. Exhibit A: a scholar accuses Ehrman of exploiting the public's gullability without any substantiation.

Exhibit B: One section is headed "Misquoting (Misrepresenting) the Numbers" says that Ehrman mentions gives a figure of 200,000 differences, and refers readers to The Case for Christ for the "completely contrary" analysis of Ehrman's mentor, Bruce Metzger. This book gaves the same figure, which is downplayed rather than challenged. Then the blogger goes after Ehrman's motivations, saying he wrote a popular book because scholars wouldn't accept his ideas and suggesting he's attempting to discredit the Bible because he doesn't like it's claims (more on this later).

Exhibit C: accuses of Ehrman of dishonesty in not saying that the goal of his work is to deconstruct orthodox Christianity. Then it has a long review of the book by another scholar. This includes the accusation that "he is encouraging the Chicken Littles in the Christian community to panic at data that they are simply not prepared to wrestle with." But what's to panic about? If you think the question of when a given sentence in an ancient book became a part of the book is of cosmic importance, your worldview is all out of whack. The review says Ehrman shouldn't have talked about the insertion of the Trinitarian formula in first John, once again going after Ehrman's motives. It doesn't occur to the reviewer that Ehrman simply thought it an interesting bit of history.

Another relevant part of this book is that Ehrman's story is the kind of thing you could point to and say, "see, some people leave Christianity for reasons other than being evil." That's what I'd like to think, anyway. After seeing personal attacks on Ehrman from people who've read the book, I wonder how many fundamentalists could be open to learning anything from Ehrman's story. Of course, admitting there are some non-evil unbelievers would come dangerously close to admitting that unbelievers don't deserve damnation, meaning John 3:18 is wrong, and the Bible is infallible. Sad to see people putting such a bizzare doctrine above human decency.