Friday, June 30, 2006

Steven Carr's resurrection debate

Incinerating Presuppositionalism has a commentary on Steven Carr's debate on the resurrection. I was going to review it awhile back, but had trouble with the download. Then I noticed the IP link was working for me. So here are some thoughts. It isn't a formal debate, which makes a blow-by-blow harder, so I'll just give general observations:

1) Carr was the only one who knew what he was talking about. Both his opponent and the callers to the show were clearly ignorant of the basics of Biblical scholarship. It a sense that was good for him, but it meant he needed to do some educating that he didn't do the best job of. His argument was that Paul's idea of resurrection was different than that of the gospels, so he needed to clearly explain the reason for giving priviledged status to Paul. He needed to say that Paul's letters were earlier, and we know that Paul really wrote certain ones of them, while the gospels are later and we aren't so sure who wrote them. He did this to an extent with some prompting, but it needed to happen at the start. On the other hand, given that it was an informal back and forth, it's not as if he could have spent the first half of a 20-minute speach explaining this point. If had, somehow, done so, that would have disabled the objections that he was being "very clever" (I could almost hear his opponent thinking "too clever") and that he was picking and choosing evidence.

2) People kept bringing up personal experience of Jesus. Carr did a good job of using this, saying that's what happened with the first disciples. However, it might have been a signal to switch to a more informal mode of debating, to shift away from rigorous historical arguments.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Vacation pics

Pictures from last week's trip to Alaska (requested by one reader via e-mail):






Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hmmm...

Now I wonder if I misread the Raving Atheist. This will be interesting.

Carnival of the liberals to be hosted here

In one week's time. (I was originally supposed to do the last edition, but that got derailed.) Guidelines here. Yes, I know, Franc, you won't be submitting.

Flag burning amendment fails.

By one vote. I've always thought it was a bad idea, but with current stirrings of theocracy, any attempt to curtail first amendment rights scares me that much more.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Another birthday

This time, the lucky blog is Pooflingers. Wish him a happy one.

Hallquist-fuzzyh, round three

The debate continues

Second rebuttal: fuzzyh

There is no doubt that our view of reliability should not be blind. We must take an accurate account of what were are looking at. The apostle Paul and his letters have been accepted as reliable by the majority of New Testament Scholarship.

Yes, what we call the Gospel of Mark is anonymous. Do you have any evidence to suppose that our record of the author is wrong? By stating that it was not named until much later, does not necessarily mean that it was given a false name. Furthermore, one might assume that they just made that name up. However, the early church fathers held those gospels in high esteeem.

The analogy of the pit to hell is a very great analogy. Yet, perhaps in a lack of understanding it offers a proof for my exact point. I have no doubt that legends can occur relatively quickly. However, a lasting legend does not occur relatively quickly. The very idea that we today do not think that a hole was dug to hell, is based on the idea we can check the sources. The Gospel of Mark was written early enough to check the sources. Mark could have written legendary materials. However, Mark was written early enough to check sources of the materials and still find a tomb that Jesus was buried in. Based upon that, this analogy does not prove what it was intended to prove and provides a greater analogy to my own view.

My reference to Mark was in 16:7, knowing fully well that 9 through the end of the chapter is probably spurious. As to the contradiction, I'm assuming that you are refering to in Mark where it says that they didn't tell anyone and in Matthew and Luke in which it does say they told others. It seems likely that the women would tell Peter as the person whom they talked to commanded them to tell Peter. The apparent silence then should be understood to be people besides Peter and the disciples. This can be drawn from the context in Mark.


Concerning Hallucinations

Ultimately, the hallucination theory fails because of the body. Even 50 days after the death of Jesus Christ, the Jews still would have known which tomb Jesus would have been buried in. Identification may have been difficult, due to decomposition, but location should have been easy. Unless you assume that he was not buried in a location that was known commonly, or that no one was willing to check the tomb to see if it was really empty, the halllucination fails. There is still a body located within the tomb. The question still remains given the set of facts of the resurrection, which model makes the most sense. A hallucination does not account for an empty tomb, unless of course Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and eaten by dogs. [I don't have the book or newspaper reference to this one.]

Instead, based upon the assumption that miracles don't happen, the conclusion is that a resurrection is impossible. Yet that presupposition is ungrounded. This means that we must used the BEST explanation possible for all the facts.

People hallucinate when they don't expect it. Is an interesting proposition. I certainly have never hallucinated, but I won't rule it out a priori. However, normal people don't hallucinate concerning touching physical things. Hallucinations don't eat fish, etc.

There has been made no effort to deal with the inconsistent fact that Luke was used to refute me, yet Luke expounds a resurrection of Jesus Christ. Either Luke was right in one verse and wrong in another. However, no criteria have been given to demonstrate why Luke was right once and wrong later. Unless of course this is entirely arbitrary. In which case, this debate comes down to arbitrary views and not about any truth.

Second rebuttal: Hallquist

In your first reply, you conceded that we should be skeptical of miracle claims. What do you understand this to mean, in practice? Might it mean not using anonymous sources whose authors aren't identified in other sources until decades after the fact? Might it mean not invoking a miracle if there's a reasonably plausible non-miraculous explanation? If not these, then what?

If you would dispute that we shouldn't postulate a miracle if there's a workable alternative, I have some more questions. If you got an e-mail telling the pit to hell story (before hearing in this thread that it was a legend), would it be reasonable to say, "It could be a legend, but that's not the BEST explanation"? Or, if you met someone who claimed to have psychic powers, and you got a demonstration, would a reasonable verdict be, "Every one of those feats could be performed by trickery, but that's not the BEST explanation"? No, and no. At the very least, we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists.

Beyond common-sense reasons for exerting the skepticism described above, there are the reasons I gave in my opening statement. The main point I see in response to it is "What if, in fact, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the only miracle?" The claim that there's a God who can work miracles, but only worked one, and did it in a time period when the miracle couldn't be well-documented—that's an inherently suspicious claim. It's much like saying, "What if Uri Geller in fact has psychic powers, and his problem with convincing others is that skeptics really do send out bad vibes that interfere with them?" In response to both "What if"s, my response is "tough."

There's a simple reason why a rotted body wouldn't have stopped the disciples from claiming Jesus was risen: seeing (or thinking you saw) is believing. Susan Clancy did an excellent job making this point when discussing why some people are sure they've been abducted by aliens: "if you had vivid memories of being sucked up into a tube of light, you'd be sure too" (1). It also would not stop converts from believing. It has been noted that on the surface, alleged abductees generally appear sincere, so when they're put on talk shows, the can seem quite convincing to those who do not understand the psychology of such delusions (2). A handful of people who sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus would be a powerful draw for converts. If you argue that a body would at least have deterred some people, fine—Christianity didn't exactly become the official religion of Jerusalem right away.

The problem with assuming that legends would be debunked is that debunkings aren't always as effective as they should be. Many examples could be given, but I'll give just one: The Amityville Horror. It was basically a novel, but it was initially promoted as a true story. A few years later the hoax was confessed under pressure. However, many people didn't get the message. When it came time for the remake of the movie version in 2005, several people involved in the movie explained their interest in the project with reference to the "fact" that the story was true (3).

Here, we need to keep in mind the different historical setting. I'm aware of the Amityville Hoax entirely thanks to two inventions: the printing press and the internet. Neither of those things existed in the first century. There was a much greater reliance on oral tradition, and what writings were produced could only be circulated by copying them by hand. Getting one's views across required considerable effort. Believers would be more willing to exert this effort than unbelievers. It shows in our sources—we have no non-Christian mention of Jesus for the first 60 years after his death, and the earliest known attempt to debunk Christianity (Celsus') is known only through a Christian refutation.

Finally, my use of Luke: as I said in my last statement, we do the best we can using imperfect sources. With such sources for Jesus as we have, there's little basis for assuming everything in them is true, but if an essentially plausible claim is attested in a couple of sources, it stands a chance of being true. For example, taking together Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, combined with such other references as Lucian's mention of the "bag of tricks" of "the notorious Apollonius," it would be reasonable to think there was such a man, and he was a magician (4). It would not be reasonable to think he had actual miraculous powers.

(1) Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. p.52
(2) Hines p.201
(3) Benjamin Radford, "The Amityville Horror."
(4) Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sidebar update, Raving Atheist

Okay, I've updated my sidebar, adding more recent posts, some old ones that should've been there all along, and making a new category for apologetics. I've also added an "apologetics and history" section, and rearranged my blog roll.

A word on the blog roll. My smaller section, which doesn't have a drop-down, represents blogs I try to read regularly. The larger pop-down section consists of 50-60 blogs that I think are decent blogs but which I don't have so much time to read. The first list changes, but once a blog is on, my tendency is to keep it at the very least on the second list.

I have, however, removed the Raving Atheist due to some recent events. I first became aware of the controversy through Daylight Atheism. First, some background.

As Daniel Morgan pointed out to me, I've come to his defense before. Also, when PZ Myers went after him for his opposition to abortion, I was silently thinking "Hey, a big tent is good," even if I thought RA's "life begins at conception" stance was irrational.

It started with Franc Tremblay posting a somewhat off e-mail from RA to the Atheist Mommy (not The Atheist Mama), but which she seemed to take in good stride, judging from the full conversation posted by RA. The weirdest part, though, was he finished his response to Tremblay by saying that, on behalf of one of his friends at a crisis pregnancy center, he would "never write another bad word about Jesus or Christianity on The Raving Atheist."

This got PZ Myers predicting a conversion to Christianity and Pandagon recommending it "so we can be rid of you." This got Daylight Atheism on the case, blasting RA for his closing statement, and Brian Flemming said:
I have no idea what's going on with RA. But it's damn interesting.

It may be some kind of a stunt, but that's okay -- I'm a sucker for stunts. As are you, if you read this blog.
Basically, I agree with Daylight. Declaring a religion to be free from criticism is stupid. It's the kind of stupidity we expect from mainstream culture, but a guy who calls himself the "Raving Atheist" and regularly bashes the God Squad (or used to) should know better.

Wait... did I say the weirdest thing was the end of his response to Tremblay? Scratch that. The weirdest thing is Sunday's post, in which he took predictions of conversion as accusations of conversion and said he would neither confirm nor deny those accusations. The only explanation is that he's either converted or is on the brink of conversion. I briefly thought he might be trying to do something clever, but no, from reading his post he clearly isn't in the right frame of mind for cleverness.

Blogosphere, meet the world's newest, nastiest Christian fundamentalist.

Oh, and a side note. In his most recent post, he said the following:
I have noticed that with few exceptions the blogs and books that pursue the themes of this one care very little to discuss the truth of the premises that drive them, or even to identity the premises themselves. Few of my critics have set forth a systematic exposition of their own atheological views. Most neither know nor care about natural or revealed theology or the difference between them. Those who rant and rage against theocracy, of the problem of religion in society, rarely address the truth of religion itself.
RA, if you have really converted to Christianity, I would like to say that I would be happy to address "the truth of religion itself" in a formal online debate with yourself. Topic: "Resolved that God does not exist."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Blog birthday

Alright, I'm back from vacation, and it just happens that my blog turns 1 years old today. I think I've come a long way since my first post, in which I wondered naively about my chances of getting an Instalanche with my first post. Speaking of links, though, suitable birthday presents would include linking to this blog merely for having turned 1 day old.

I've got a lot of work to do. I think I'll celebrate by updating my sidebar, which I haven't done in forever. I also have pictures to post, a rebutal to write for the debate I'm in, books read on vacation to review, and articles on Russell's subjectivism and norms for political figures. I think that gives me a full slate for the time being.

EDIT: Oh, and happy real birthday to Dan Barker. Just found out hist birthday was today.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

CotL #15

The 15th edition of the Carnival of the Liberals is up at Neural Gormet. I'll be hosting the next edition in two weeks time--get those submissions in!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gone vacationing

Okay, I've been on vacation as of Saturday. I'm currently in Alaska, the land where the sun never seems to set in summer. I hope to have pictures when I get back. For now, though, don't expect any more blogging until next Monday.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Satanic Sitemeter II

It's happenig again:

Christianity and disagreement

Ed Brayton comments on a Christianity Today article writing against demonization of the ACLU. Brayton's quote included this excerpt:
Yet I must confess that, although I am pleased to balance the record, defending the ACLU is not my primary purpose here. I am more concerned about a habit of mind that seems to be growing among my fellow Christians, both political liberals and conservatives. That is, we seem to mimic the secular world's conflation of disagreement with wickedness, as if not sharing my worldview places my critic outside the realm of rational discourse.
This immediately got me wondering about the author, Steven Carter: "Where do his beliefs fall on the theological spectrum?" I asked. One click on the link to the article, though, and I had seen enough. This is what I saw:








An ad for a Left Behind book.

What got me wondering in the first place is the pharse "secular world's conflation of disagreement with wickedness." This is a woefully ironic phrase, because the conflation of disagreement with wickedness was perfected by orthodox Christianity. The secular world's version is a pale shadow of the Christian one. Orthodox Christianitiy de jure may teach that people are sent to Hell for saying raca and such, but the de facto teaching is that dissent from orthodoxy is the only crime. Christians go to heaven; infidels are damned. Because mere dissent seems to many insufficient to justify this damnation, the natural impulse of fundamentalists is to begin ascribing all sorts of other crimes to those who disagree with them.

That's why I was so struck by seeing the Left Behind ad. Left Behind is demonization of enemies taken to the max. I wonder if Steven Carter would be willing to speak up against the series.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Making secular propaganda

Daylight Atheism reviews the new Da Vinci Code movie, and continues to express mixed feelings on the subject. Here's how he finishes up:
In the long run, will The Da Vinci Code be a good thing for atheism? Certainly, to the extent it fosters competing views on the origin of Christianity and weakens the influence of rigid, unbending faith on society, it will help our cause. But in the long run, it is not solving the basic problem of faith being used as a basis for decision-making, only adding another alternative to the multiplicity of faith systems already in existence. What we really need is a movie that draws on the same narrative themes to teach the virtues of skepticism and the value of decision-making based on evidence.
Honestly, do you really think a movie is going to bring intelligent thinking to the American public? Given the current available fare, one suspects that stupidity is inherent to the genre. Books work better. We should seriously consider a Gideon-esque campaign to put copies of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World in hotel rooms across the nation. I think Sagan's general promotion of reason is preferable to something out of Bertrand Russell. The great thing, though, is that it would be impossible to miss the contrast. The campaign would be subtly anti-religion while the overt message would be positive, pro-reason.

On the other hand, someone might try a movie modeled on George Orwell's 1984. 1984 is a wonderful book because it presents easy-to-hate bad guys who are defined by their opposition to reason. As I've said, we wouldn't have to look very hard to find models for the villains. Somewhere in there, we'd have to slip in this quote from Adolf Hitler: "We stand at the end of the Age of Reason. A new era of the magical explanation of the world is rising."

Where's Trofim Lysensko when you need him?

Today Pharyngula had a post that mentions "creeping Lysenskoism" in the U.S. Lysensko, for those who don't know, was a Soviet pseudoscientist who managed to cause famines by injecting Soviet agriculture with nonsense that happened to appeal to the ruling communists.

His power didn't last, though. His ideas were kicked out in the 60's, and now he's an embarrassment to Russia and reality-based biology has full sway over the country.

Think about that last part. Reality-based biology is finally in.

Maybe what the U.S. needs is our own version of Trofim Lysensko. Maybe what we need is someone who will come in, announce that selective breeding is no longer to be used in agriculture, and that now we will do agriculture by praying to Designer to make the Designs of our plants more Intelligent.

Sure lots of people would die in the resulting famines and U.S. science would be sent back by generations. Honestly, though, the way things are looking, that may be what it will take to get religiously-inspired pseudoscience out of the country.

Hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LOL

I like this proposal.

Hallquist-fuzzyh, round two

This is a continuation of this debate.

First rebuttal: fuzzyh

There is no reason to a priori exclude miracles from the basis of today. Evidences may or may not be greater today based upon miracles. What if in fact, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the only miracle? Does that mean that it did not occur? It certainly means that we should be skeptical about such occurances, but not rule it out all together. Unfortunately, we have little evidence of Alexander the Great's birth, yet we read his history in our history books. If we assume that certain things are not possible, then we have already made a false bias.

I might add, a naturalistic bias has no explaination for the beginning of the universe. There is no natural explanation to this idea. However, the Christian idea of creation ex nihilo certainly provides an explanation that is consistent with the facts. If there is one supernatural event, there are possibilities for more. Thus the resurrection could be one type of event.

As to historical reliability, Mark is assumed to be the first gospel, by the majority of scholars. Mark is attested by Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Jerome. [Guthrie, Donald New Testament Introduction 69] Concerning dating, estimates range between 50 - 80 A.D. If Mark was written before Luke and Luke was written before Acts. Then Mark was written before Acts. There is a strong case to be made based upon the abrupt ending in Acts that Acts ends around 64 A.D. This would lead one to conclude that Luke before Acts and Mark before Luke. If one does not like that conclusion, Harrison, considers Mark to be written between 65-70 A.D. [Harrison, Everett Introduction to the New Testament 186]

This leaves us with a gap 20-50 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is ample enough time to demonstrate the reliability of such a book. However, perhaps that is not enough to demonstrate that this is such a case in the resurrection.

As to bodily resurrection, the Apostle Paul is very clear in stating that his understanding was a bodily resurrection. Far from being, a hallucination. This is obviously 1 Corinthians 15. This book is considered reliable and authentic by the majority of biblical scholars, both liberal and conservative.

As to this idea that it was a hallucination. First, it may be that some people can see "phenomena" that based upon an emotional state. However, people skeptical of Jesus Christ who would have no good reason to see this hallucinations. James the Brother of Jesus had no gain in seeing Jesus post resurrection. He was not a believer in him during his ministry. It is obvious that he would be skeptical of such a claim.

Furthermore, if the resurrection was merely a hallucination. It would be easy to debunk such a claim. Peter's first sermon in Acts is in the very same place that 40 days earlier crucified Jesus. Why would people follow a fanatic lunatic that followed a man who they say died? Are all the people so unreasonable that they follow these lunatics?

It may be thought that Peter was the first to see Jesus Christ. However, Mark ends with evidence that women are truly the first to see Jesus Christ as resurrected. This would be strange to add later, because the testimony of women was considered invalid. It was so extreme that women were not even allowed to testify in court. So first the women saw something, then Peter.

Since you have used Luke 24, I will assume that you hold Luke to be reasonably reliable. Otherwise you have no evidence against what I am saying. Of course, further in the same chapter Jesus Christ asks the disciples to touch him. By verse 41 and 42 Jesus is described as eating. None of these things are typical of normal hallucinations. Hallucinations don't eat, not can you touch them.

I might add, that it was a hallucination, why did the Pharisees bring the disciples to the grave. Assuming that the disciples were not in touch with reality, why would other people follow them when direct evidence could be brought to them that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead. In fact the early church was confident enough to say that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead, that there are many things written against the gnostic versions of the stories.

Finally, the disciples never thought assumed Jesus Christ resurrection from the beginning. In every instance that Jesus Christ predicts his death, the disciples were certainly not confident in that. In one case, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying such things. The disciples actions on the evening of the cross are further evidence of a mindset. If the disciples were expecting Jesus Christ to rise from the dead, they would have not been fearfully afraid.

First rebuttal: Hallquist

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

First off, let me say that my faith in the reliability of all of our sources is somewhat limited. Even with Paul, we're left wondering: "Who are these 500 people? Where did he get his information?" So we make do with our imperfect sources, making the best guesses we can. The alternative to using imperfect sources is to throw up our hands and say, with Robert Price, "even if Jesus existed we have no way of knowing what he was like."

When you say "Mark is attested," I assume you're referring to the claim that the book was written by John Mark, companion of Peter. The sources for this claim don't come until decades after it was written. The book has no internal evidence of being written by a companion of Peter. From what I've seen, scholars generally agree it was published anonymously. As Bart Ehrman explains: "Because our surviving Greek manuscripts provide such a wide variety of (different) titles for the Gospels, textual scholars have long realized that their familiar names do not go back to a single 'original' title, but were later added by scribes" (1). This is a point even conceded by some scholars who would defend the traditionally assigned authorships of the gospels (2). I have to ask, though: isn't it an odd thing to do to get all your information from an eyewitness and not say so or even put your name on your book? If John Mark really wrote Mark, wouldn't he want everyone to know?

The claim that the gospels were written by first century Christians of no special distinction (except for literacy) and only later given prestigious names is completely plausible given what we know about the development of legends. Legends have a curious way of gaining more credible sources as they spread. An urban legend originally told about anonymous characters may later be attributed to the teller's relative (or the relatives of a dozen different tellers). To give a spectacular example, in 1990 an urban legend about scientists drilling down to Hell briefly gained prominence in some Christian media outlets. Somehow, as it got re-told it was attributed to a "respected Finnish scientific journal" (3). If such a story could be attributed to a scientific journal, collections of oral traditions about Jesus could certainly be falsely attributed to disciples and their companions.

As for what Mark says about the women, do you see evidence that they saw Jesus first in Mark 16:7, or are you referring to Mark 16:9? If the latter, realize that scholars now agree that Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition to the book. The consensus on this issue is strong enough that the NIV now marks the passage as being absent from "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses."

There is also a troublesome side-effect of losing Mark 16:9-20. It makes the gospel end with a statement that the women told no one about the discovery of the tomb, but if they didn't, how did the author of the book know about the event? The authors of both Matthew and Luke found this bit strange enough that they directly contradicted Mark on this point.

Hallucinations:

Paul's understanding of the resurrection: So what if he understood the resurrection to be a physical event? Alleged alien abductees understand their experiences to be physical events, but that doesn't mean the experiences can't have been hallucinations.

James: We really don't have a source that says James converted after Jesus' death. What we have are references to James not believing mixed with references to James believing. Even if we think it's more likely than not that he became a follower after Jesus' death, we're kidding ourselves if we think we can know anything about his mental state at the time. Furthermore, sometimes people hallucinate for reasons that have nothing to do with their conscious mental states.

"Are all the people so unreasonable?": Yes. People are often unreasonable. Plenty of people have believed popularized claims of alien abduction on precious little evidence. Whitley Strieber's book Communion, on his alleged abduction, was a best seller. Also, such instances of people soaking up popular nonsense are mild compared to the behavior of members of Heaven's Gate and the followers of Jim Jones.

The body: Jesus' body would have quickly rotted away, making it useless for debunking the resurrection claim. In The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas is forced to propose that the body would be identified by "hair, stature, and distinctive wounds" (4). Unfortunately, we have no evidence that Jesus was of wildly different height or stature than average, and only John indicates that his wounds were different than those of any other crucified criminal.

Expectation: Sometimes people hallucinate when they're not expecting it. Furthermore, the disciples were certainly in a state to be ready to seize on anything which might soften the blow of Jesus' death.

(1) Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pp. 249-250.
(2) for example, Craig Blomberg in Reasonable Faith pp. 203
(3) Rich Buhler, "Scientists Discover Hell in Siberia" Christianity Today July 16, 1990. pp.28-29.
(4) p. 70.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Off-message

A couple years ago Norman Geisler, defender of inerrancy wrote an absurdly titled book: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. One review quote on the back, though, provides a perfect example of how the truth has a way of accidentally slipping out. William Dembski is quotes as saying: "Geisler and Turek present the crucial information needed to avoid being swept away by the onslaughts of secular ideologies that cast science, philosophy, and biblical studies as enemies of the Christian faith."

Emphasis mine.

Sorry Steve

Friday, I posted that I'd try to post a review of Steven Carr's debate on the resurrection. Unfortunately, attempts to download it failed, so no review is forthcomming.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Shermer-Geivett debate

One of the first things I find out when I put my DVD in my computer is that it was not the first deabate Shermer had with Geivett (see also Shermer's second commentary). It seems both tried to benifit from past experience, but Geivett benifitted much more, avoiding previous blunders, while Shermer prepared slides to rebutt points that Geivett didn't make. Overall, Shermer's performance was highly ineffectual (partly why I don't feel like commenting on this in depth.) Geivett's performance had a certain dose of fundamentalists sleaze, an implied message "After you've heard my arguments, you'll have no excuse for not believing, and God will be justified in sending you to Hell for disagreeing with me. Shermer is being dishonest, and diserves to go to Hell." Geivett also dodged a question about the story of Joshua, one that should have destroyed his moral arguments. Dodging such questions is fairly typical of fundamentalists debaters.

That's all I really have to say about this debate. I wonder if I could find the original--see if Geivett floundered as badly as Shermer made it sound.

CotG 42

The 32nd Carnival of the Godless is up at The Atheist Mama.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dembski likes Coulter

At least enough to link to her absurd self-review.

Yup, modern fundamentalists are crazy.

Ann Coulter and other villians

From an Andrew Sullivan Reader:
Just wanted to add my little bit of insight to the Ann Coulter discussion. While interning at a cable news show a year ago, I was responsible for guest relations on a day when Ann Coulter was being interviewed in the studio. I had to meet Ann Coulter in the lobby, take her to the green room, prep her and bring her to the set. We chatted for a bit during that time, despite my intense dislike of her crude politics and television personality...

I came away from our conversation with the distinct impression that her television personality is exaggerated and largely manufactured, and that she doesn't believe many of the ludicrous things she says...

What Ann Coulter does is worse than other media personalities who actually believe the vileness that they spew, because she does it solely for the money and notoriety, despite her hypocritical claims to the mantles of Christianity and patriotism. Her actions show that she is devoted to just one thing: the church of the American dollar. To borrow a line from Jon Stewart, cheap hacks like her are hurting America.
Ya know, if I ever had to write a distopian novel, I wouldn't have to invent villians, I'd just have to plop a few thinly fictionalized versions of people like Coulter into my world.

Speaking of distopic fiction, I've never told the story of my first encounter with Ann Coulter's writings. It was on a trip to see my uncle out east. I needed something to read on the way there; I read 1984. I wasn't impressed by Orwell. His villians seemed unrealistic. I told myself "nobody is that irrational."

For somethig to read on the way back, I got Ann Coulter. After which, I told myself, "Yup, some people are that irrational."

More debates

Steven Carr asked me to post a link to his debate on the resurrection, and today I got a DVD of Michael Shermer's debate with Douglas Geivett on the existence of God. Commentaries on both to follow.

Gee, this is kinda becomming a debate review blog. Oh well, not so bad.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mailbag #1

I get to be like Austin Cline for a day:
i could be wrong but my prediction is that your nihism will intensify and if the hemorhage (sp?) goes untreated you will....
Nihlism, you mean? As in finding life meaningless? If so, I want to ask you a few questions:

How meaningful is a life where the most important thing is holding an orthodox opinion on one particular subject?

How meaningful is a life where "morality" means "doing what a certain being says," including killing children if He says so?

How meaningful is a life where you would feel worthless if scientists could explain the origin of bacterial butt-propellers?

The answer to all these questions, I think, is "not very." Yet this does not describe the viewpoint of atheists. It describes the viewpoint of Christian fundamentalists.
is it fair to say that your hard-on for theism and all the space you devote to it is a kind of negative belief in reverse?
By negative belief in reverse, do you mean positive belief? But I don't have a hard-on for theism. Christian artwork, on the other hand...

But seriously, I devote so much time to theism because the loudest theists are the dangerous ones, and need to be delt with.
i must confess that at first i thought that your site was fairly reasonable yet upon further investigation i am amazed at the straw men, particularly as regards the article, "A personal relationship with God A personal relationship with God". a cursory understanding of anthrophormism and phenomenology might go a long way toward your misapprehension. hope i do not sound mean spirited. do keep up the blogging.

jrg
Okay, so perhaps that was not the most tactful piece. The question remains: if you wanted to have a personal relationship with someone, would you leave them in any doubt as to your existence?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Craig-Ehrman update

Messages from Bart Ehrman:
I didn’t back out of doing a book with him. There never was any agreement that we would do a book together. We agreed to stage a public debate, and afterwards I thought some of his arguments were so far removed from anything rational, that I decided giving him a platform to air them was conceding way to much.



Best wishes,



-- Bart Ehrman
This was followed by a report that Ehrman was offset most by the use of probability. That was followed by this:
Thanks for your note. Yes, I did know what Craig's positions were,
quite well, before our debate. And I came away from it thinking that he
had not done a very good job in defending his views -- especially as he
was completely unable to answer the objections I had raised (he evidently
is not used to someone dealing directly with his arguments and raising
hard questions). Most people I talked with thought that I had far the
upper hand in the debate (of course, people already convinced by his views
ahead of time probably thought that he won!). But I also felt that by
publicizing the debate, it would give him the kind of credibility that he
so desparately is seeking (he claims to have written an enormous number of
books: a lot of them are simply his edited transcripts: as if that's the
same thing as writing a book!).

What I'm most surprised about is that he approached my publisher about
publishing the debate, without even once asking me if I thought it was a
good idea or desirable, or asking what I wanted -- as if his own desires
were the only thing that mattered. And now he talks about my reaction,
again without saying word one to me. Why wouldn't he speak to me if he
wanted *our* debate published? Why would he talk about me behind my back?
This doesn't seem like very Christian behavior to me.
Thanks again for your note. Best wishes.

Bart D. Ehrman
James A. Gray Professor
Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Craig responded:
My, this is really condescending. Robert Miller isn't
just Bart Ehrman's publisher! I knew Robert from
previous projects and was contacting him for advice
about the series of books in natural theology JP
Moreland and I are proposing, and HE brought up the
debate, having heard of it from, I think, Ehrman.
Since Ehrman skotched the project--which Charles
Anderton of Holy Cross broached to Ehrman and me--, I
haven't spoken about it again to Robert.

As for the objections, I'm glad the transcript is
available so that folks can form their own opinions!

Do, you have Ehrman's email? I want to write him
directly about this.

Bill
I think that problem here is that Ehrman fails to understand that Craig is well-respected in fundamentalist circles. Ehrman considerably out-performed Crossan and Ludemann, who have debated Craig previously and agreed to have the debates put into book form. Publishing this debate can only harm Craig.

The Hallquist-fuzzyh debate

I'm currently participating in a debate at Christian Forums on the resurrection. Here are the first two statements:

Opening Statement: fuzzyh

This debate is after the focal point of Christianity, that is the historicity of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Lane Craig says this about the issue, "If Jesus rose from the dead, then his claims are vindicated and our Christian hope is sure; if Jesus did not rise, our faith is futile and we fall back into despair." [Craig, William Lane Reasonable Faith, 255] Certainly, the resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. Concerning the topic the Apostle Paul wrote, "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." [1 Cor15:16-17 NASB]

There are some undisputed facts among the majority of New Testament Scholars.

  • Jesus Christ lived around the turn of the century

  • Jesus Christ was crucified by Roman soldiers

  • Jesus Christ was buried

  • The disciples saw appearances of Jesus Christ after his death and burial

  • The disciples lives changed dramatically, that they were willing to die for this cause


  • I not certain which of these my opponent will dispute, if any. However, let's look at three explanations for this set of facts.

  • Swoon theory.

  • The basics of this theory is that Jesus Christ merely fainted upon the cross. Later in the tomb, with the cold damp air around him, he recovered and managed to get out of the tomb. This theory is held by few people today. The problems in this theory are many. First, Roman soldiers obviously knew what they were doing in killing Jesus. It does not take a physician to pronounce death upon a cross. The cross killed by asphyxiation. To breath in, a man must push up upon the nail or ledge. When a man stayed in the down position for 3 minutes he was dead. Furthermore a revived Jesus Christ would not put any confidence into the disciples of Jesus Christ.

  • The hallucination theory

  • This theory says that Peter and the disciples saw appearances of Jesus Christ, but were merely hallucinations. The disciples were so distraught that they did not actually see Jesus Christ, but merely had visions of him. However, today psychologists have found no evidence that mass hallucinations can occur. When multiple people see something, even with mistaken identities, it is never a hallucination.

  • Resurrection Theory

  • Although this theory appeals to a supernatural explanation, we must consider it an alternative to the other theories. In fact, this would be the theory that Jesus Christ himself predicted to occur. This theory explains the multiple attestation of the risen Christ. It also explains Thomas being able to touch Jesus Christ after the resurrection. This also is the single greatest explanation to the confidence that the disciples had after the resurrection. The change in Peter's life would best be explained by seeing a man come back from the grave.

    I'm certain that this concisely and clearly lays out my case for the historicity of Jesus Christ.

    Opening Statement: Hallquist

    First, an observation about the nature of historical research: everything that happens today is better documented than similar events in the past. Therefore, if miracles happen today, there should be miracles far better documented than the resurrection. But if so, why don't Christian apologists use these as proof of Christianity rather than focusing on the resurrection? Gary Habermas has specifically said that if miracles do happen today, they are not as well documented as the resurrection (1), but this is the opposite of what we should expect. I take this as sufficient evidence that miracles do not happen today.

    This should cast some doubt on whether miracles happen at all. The situation is made worse by the fact that hoaxes and delusions (such as alien abduction claims) happen today, and are sometimes pitched to and believed by the general public. However, in the modern world such things are fairly easy to scrutinize and expose (2). This creates a strong suspicion that ancient miracle claims (Jewish, Christian, and pagan), which we cannot look at as closely, are of the same origin.

    On the specific case of the resurrection, I grant the facts you list, though not that all happened exactly as in the gospel narratives. The Thomas story strikes me as dubious. You haven't defended the general reliability of the stories yet, and the reasons to invent this story are obvious. When it comes to the bare facts you list, though, I think hallucinations are sufficient to explain them.

    Much data suggests that groups of people can get themselves worked up into seeing things that aren't there. Anthropologist Michael Cuneo reports that in his study of modern exorcism, he encountered cases where everyone at the exorcism would claim to see some extraordinary event such as a levitation--except Cuneo himself (3). In the early 90's there was a wave of Marian apparitions in the United States. Alongside these were reports of the sun dancing in the sky. In Georgia, a filtered telescope was set up pointed at the sun, and when people looked at it they realized that the sun was not, in fact, dancing. This would tend to suggest that the apparitions were also the result of hysteria (4). Biblical scholar Dale Allison has catalogued numerous citations of psychological data that shed light on the resurrection appearances, including "examples of collective hallucinations in which people claimed to see the same thing but, when closely interviewed, disagreed on the details, proving they were not, after all, seeing the same thing" (5). Of course, there is no record of Jesus' disciples being closely interviewed.

    Such sightings may have been touched off by sighting to a single person, perhaps Peter. Both I Cor 15 and Luke 24:34 give the impression that he was the first to see Jesus. Psychologist Terence Hines has argued that many accounts of ghosts are consistent with phenomena known as hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, hallucinations which occur in an in-between state between sleeping and waking, but which seem more realistic than dreams. Such hallucinations are far more common than is generally realized (6).

    Finally, there is nothing terribly surprising in the post-crucifixion turn-around of the disciples. That Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher is made likely both by numerous sayings in the gospels (i.e. Mark 13) and the fact that apocalypticism was rife in Israel at the time. Sociological research on apocalyptic groups has shown they have a surprising tendency to resist and even benefit from disconfirmation of their claims (7). Given this, it is only moderately remarkable that Jesus' disciples would use hallucinations as the basis for a rebound of their movement and for convincing themselves that they had not left their families and livelihoods to follow a pretender.

    (1) Case for the Resurrection of Jesus pp.144-145
    (2) For fairly comprehensive treatments, see Terence Hines, Pseudoscience and the Paranormal and Joe Nickell, Entities
    (3) American Exorcism p. 275
    (4) Nickell pp. 169-170.
    (5) Resurrecting Jesus p. 297
    (6) Hines p. 61
    (7) Leon Festinger et. al. When Prophecy Fails

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Another one

    I got another one of these. It's word-for-word identical, though, so I won't bother posting scans.

    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Craig-Ehrman debate

    UPDATED

    This is a summary and commentary on a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman on the evidence for the resurrection.

    William Lane Craig's opening statement

    Craig opened with his standard resurrection apologetic, almost exactly the same argument he used in his debates with J. D. Crossan and Gerd Ludemann: We can prove that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, that the tomb was found empty, that people experience resurrection appearances, that they believed in the resurrection in spite of having all kinds of reasons not to. After supporting each of these points, he attacked what he understood to be Ehrman's reasons for doubting that the resurrection can be established on historical grounds. This part isn't worth describing in depth, because one of the first things Ehrman said in his presentation was this argument wouldn't exactly be what Craig said he would argue.

    Bart Ehrman's opening statement

    Ehrman began by explaining that the gospels are not ideal historical sources. They were written decades after the fact by noneyewitnesses. Ehrman describes in some detail how oral traditions were circulated, emphasizing just how many hands a story might have passed through before finally getting written down. At that point, he would have basically refuted Craig if he had simply said, as Richard Carrier has done, "Would it be even remotely reasonable to believe such a thing on so feeble a proof? Well--no." Ehrman couldn't quite do this, though, because he didn't really want to argue against the resurrection so much as that it couldn't be established on historical grounds. He's consistently said that one may believe it on faith or historical grounds. Still, his presentation would have been stronger if he had found some way to hit home the reliability of the gospels. He might have said something like, "Does it make sense to take such evidence and say tell people the have to believe it as rational persons? No." Still, with his blow-by-blow account of a hypothetical chain of oral transmission, my guess is many audience members got the point.

    Then he argued that historians cannot establish miracles:
    The problem with historians is they can't repeat an experiment. Today, if we want proof for something, it's very simple to get proof for many things in the natural sciences; in the experimental sciences we have proof. If I wanted to prove to you that bars of ivory soap float, but bars of iron sink, all I need to do is get 50 tubs of lukewarm water and start chucking in the bars. The ivory soap will always float, the iron will always sink, and after a while we'll have a level of what you might call predicted probability, that if I do it again, the iron is going to sink again, and the soap is going to float again. We can repeat the experiments doing experimental science. But we can't repeat the experiments in history because once history happens, it's over.

    What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won't say they're impossible... I'm just going to say hat miracles are so highly improbable that they're the least possible occurrence in any given instance... No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let's say the chances are one in ten billion.
    Ehrman goes on to give a scenario explaining the empty tomb which he thinks not terribly probable, but more probable than a miracle. He finishes up by saying that miracles are theological questions, and trying to apply historical research to them is like trying to apply mathematics to literature.

    Craig's first rebuttal

    For his first rebuttal, Craig launched into a Power Point presentation citing a book called "Hume's Abject Failure," and which included slide titled "Ehrman's Egrigious Error" and "Bart's Blunder." His main point was that in assessing the probability of an event, one has to take into account background probability and specific evidence. This is almost completely irrelevant to Ehrman's presentation, because Ehrman argued that even explanations of the evidence that don't sound terribly plausible are more plausible than the resurrection. A large section of Craig's presentation was then wasted. He briefly made a claim that the resurrection is only improbable if the existence of God is improbable. This, though, fails address Ehrman's argument. Craig also attacked Ehrman's description of an ideal historical by saying "The only purpose it serves is a psychological purpose of setting the bar so unrealisticly high that the Gospels appear to fall short by comparison."

    When I first read this section of the debate, I was puzzled by how weak it was. I feel I could have done a better job of arguing Craig's case than Craig himself, i.e. by seriously addressing the contention that miracles are improbable. This is not the first time I've felt I could have done a better job defending Christianity than one Christian apologist, but Craig has such a reputation as a debater I wondered how he could foul up so badly. Then I realized the key was in the Power Point slides: Craig had them prepared, and didn't want to waste them. He hinted at this in the first round when he'd said he'd wait on rebutting Ehrman's argument until Ehrman had presented it. He thought he knew exactly what Ehrman would say, and when Ehrman presented some slightly different arguments, Craig failed to adapt. On the other hand, Ehrman's presentation wasn't that different from things he's said elsewhere, so perhaps Craig's problem was he took one look at Ehrman's writings and pigeon-holed him as a defender of Hume.

    At any rate, Craig fouled up on a massive scale.

    Ehrman's first rebuttal

    Ehrman began by reiterating that he respects Craig's personal beliefs about Jesus. This was just one of many examples of how he tried to be fairly polite throughout the debate, in spite of Craig giving him reason to do otherwise: the obnoxious alliterations, baseless accusations of ulterior motive, etc. After I had finished reading the debate, I was curious to get an audio to see if Ehrman showed signs of being annoyed at any point in the debate. When I raised this question on Internet Infidels, a moderator said "I've heard Ehrman on TV and other audio versions, and he comes across as relatively academic and unemotional." This has been my impression as well from seeing a video clip of him talking about the Gospel of Judas. Craig might have caused him to lose his usual composure, though.

    Immediately after saying he respects Craig's personal beliefs, he said the claim that the resurrection can be proven is dead wrong and took Craig to task on many dubious points in his argument. His first major area is Craig's repeated use of appeals to authority. He points out that New Testament scholars tend to be believers, but also that most scholars don't think that we can prove Jesus rose from the dead. He goes on to attack other dubious claims, the worst of which is probably the claim that Paul provides evidence for the empty tomb, when Paul makes no mention of the tomb. A fairly solid rebuttal, all in all.

    He reiterates points made previously, that the gospel stories were in circulation for a long time. Again, didn't quite knock it home as hard as he should have, but it was good to bring up. He also reiterates the point that historians can't make statements about God. His one mistake was failing to specifically bring up the "one in ten billion" point, and point out that, contra Craig, it would stand even if God existed.

    He wrapped up by asking Craig to address three points: does he believe the Bible is inerrant? will he address competing miracle claims? and how is it that the religion he adopted as a teenager just happens to be the one that's historically well-supported?

    Craig's second rebuttal

    Craig, I think, made a temporary recovery from the charge of appeals to authority, by saying that he wasn't just appealing to authority, he was also giving the arguments, which must be refuted. He repeated the assertion about Paul, which just isn't a defensible claim, but by responding to specific claims of Ehrman he did somewhat better than the first rebuttal. He also repeated his irrelevant point about probability calculus. How well Craig did on the question of miracles is a bit debatable here--he didn't deal with it so well, but Ehrman had failed to restate his best point in the immediately preceding segment.

    He only had enough time to address one of Ehrman's three questions, the one about other miracle workers. He argued that the evidence is late, and made some appeals to authority. With these, though, he can plausibly claim that he's not just making appeals to authority, but also giving arguments.

    Ehrman's second rebuttal

    Ehrman starts out with a defense of a neutral view of historical research as a neutral endevor, listing different groups of people that all have to be able to take part. He continues something he began at the end of his first rebuttal, using Craig's personal testimony against him. The resurrection makes sense to Craig because he's a Christian and only because he's a Christian.

    Ehrman does get one major thing wrong in this rebuttal: he says Hume said miracles can't happen and disagrees with this point. This is a common mistake, made by some of Hume's critics. Hume was arguing against the implausibility of belief in miracles. If his argument wasn't similar to Ehrman's, it was closer than Ehrman allows. Hume even said that we may believe miracles on faith, just as Ehrman does, even if Ehrman isn't being as sarcastic as Hume.

    Ehrman continued to press Craig on inerrancy. This is probably not the best press point; a better one would be Craig's declarations that evidence isn't going to change his views. Ehrman very likely hasn't seen these, though, and it was nice to see Craig pressed on one of the things that his hears generally don't see brought up.

    Ehrman finishes by asking Craig to get to his questions, and stressing that miracles are a matter of faith.

    Concluding statements

    Craig's statement was basically a summary, but at the end was further personal testimony that ended with "I believe [Christianity] can change your life in the same way it has changed mine."

    Ehrman took that testimony and called Craig what he is: "An evangelist who wants people to come to share his belief in Jesus... trying to disguise himself as a historian as a means to that end." He got in some other good points, in particular his best guess as to what really happened, but identifying Craig for what he is was the decisive move which makes it safe to say that Ehrman won.

    Question and Answer

    This section provides further confirmation that Ehrman won. The first couple questioners for him thanked him, while the ones for Craig were somewhat hostile, challenging him on Ehrman's questions and the use of probability. This surprised me at first, given that the debate was held at a religious college, though it's a Jesuit one, so we're not talking too hard-line.

    I'm not going to do this in detail since I've been writing this commentary all morning. I will say that Ehrman got in his two main points, including the argument for improbability which had been somewhat neglected. Craig got in some nonsense that Ehrman didn't answer: another appeal to authority, along with the claim that Hume required people in the tropics to reject the existence of ice. This is nonsense, Hume said it made sense to reject the first relations of ice, just as it makes sense to reject the first reports of flying snakes and giant ants that travelers used to tell when travel was slower and mass communication nonexistent. Anyway, I don't think it matters in the end. The great William Lane Craig lost.

    The above was written yesterday, and accidentally saved when I meant to post it. The below is an "update" of sorts

    I started a discussion on this over at Christian Forums. Here's the comment of one Christian poster: "Clearly Craig won the debate. Erhman was back pedaling the entire time"

    What to make of this? All I can think of is the fact that Ehrman ignored Craig's irrelevant counterpoints, which Craig wasted half of his time on. Given that Craig benefited from it in the minds of one person who read the transcript, might Craig have been spouting nonsense intentionally? I wouldn't put it beyond him. His standard strategy for debates on the existence of God is to throw out five arguments, complain if his opponents don't rebut every last one of them, and also insist that they provide arguments against the existence of God. Clearly, this is absurd: given a 70 minute debate, there would only be 7 minutes apiece per argument, and that's if the opponent failed to meet Craig's demand to provide arguments against the existence of God. He has to know that this makes serious discussion impossible. He may very well have intentionally avoided Ehrman's points and attacked straw men as a debating tactic.

    Real update:

    John W. Loftus is commenting as well:
    Comments on Craig's first rebuttal

    Saturday, June 03, 2006

    Craig-Ehrman resurrection debate

    A transcript is now available. I'll have commentary available later. For now, I will say that Ehrman outperformed Ludemann and Crossan.

    Oh, and is there any chance of an audio being made available? I'd like to hear that. In the transcript, Craig comes off as obnoxious and Ehrman seems fairly polite in response, at least at first. But I'd like to be able to hear the voices of the speakers.

    Please

    This is another post inspired by the book Why I Am a Christian, which I talked about Wednesday in Apologetic chutzpah.

    Today, the essay I'm going to be talking about is "Why I Am Not an Atheist" by J. Budziszewiski. This is an essay that actually fits the title. Habermas' essays should really be titled "Why You Should Believe the Miracles of Jesus Actually Happened" and "Why You Should Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable," likewise William Lane Craig's essay should be "Why You Should Believe God Exists." They are straight apologetics, having little to do with the actual reasons the authors believe.

    In his essay, Budziszewiski describes going from atheism to orthodox Christianity via an emotional crisis so severe that he describes it via the metaphor of suicide:
    A conventional suicide can destroy the universe only once, but for me each day was suicide. There was no need to bother with the taking of poison or the slashing of wrists, because it was all going on in my mind. In one long, interminable prolongation of nightfall, the light went out and went out and went out, all without the inconvenience of physical death
    Now Budziszewiski is convinced that all atheists are engaging in "self-deception," which is "pretending to ourselves that we don't know what we really do." He tries to establish this through arguments ("moral law requires a law-giver") so bad that I wonder how he could possibly make them if he really has a degree in philosophy. Then again, I wondered the same about Andre Kole. Budziszewiski also has a degree in government, maybe that's the only part of his studies he's taken seriously.

    I have a request for those who have undergone a religious transformation in their lives. Please do not project your personal problems onto the rest of us. Please do not assume we are all like you were before your conversion. Please do not assume that because you think you were deceiving yourself, we all are. Please do not assume that because you were a pathological liar, we all are. Please do not assume that because you were incapable of compassion, we all are.

    Please.

    Budziszewiski asks atheists not to be offended by his remarks, and insists he wouldn't have been offended by them when he was an atheist. Let me say I'm not offended. I am worried, though. I am worried because I live in a country where best-selling novelists lead believers through fantasizing about the grusome deaths of unbelievers. I am worried because I live in a country where these novels are being turned into a video game which will allow believing teenagers to role-play the killing of infidels. I am worried because I live in a country where this brand of religion has considerable influence in the goverment and wants more. I am worried because I live in a country where believers are increasingly redefining "persecution" to mean "any criticism of our beliefs."

    Sorry, Mr. J. We cannot afford to have your personal struggles projected onto the rest of us.