Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Review - Godless, by Dan Barker

Dan Barker is a well-known figure in the freethinkers community and his new book Godless provides a broad, accessible overview of his struggle out of fundamentalist dogma and into rational freethought.

Beginning with a recounting of his early life as a Christian evangelist/music minister, Barker honestly details his initial doubts about the religion he preached, finally ending with an open declaration of atheism. Next he explores the major arguments for the existence of God and the logical problems with each of them. Barker keeps the argument accessible for the average reader; those wanting a deeper exploration of the philosophical arguments can find plenty elsewhere. Next, Barker highlights his achievements and adventures as your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist, taking his message of free thought and skepticism around the world. Finally, Barker gets very personal detailing the near-death of his wife and new-born baby, and how they were able to struggle through a terrifying time without relying on a deity.

Overall, this is a well-rounded survey of a life well lived. Congratulations, Dan Barker. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate - Friel Questions

The third segment of the Friel-Barker debate "Does God exist" consisted of each participant asking the other free-form questions. Friel began by asking Barker a series of questions and accepting the answers without comment:

Friel: Do you really believe Something came from Nothing?

Barker: Yes.

Friel: Do you really believe Jesus Christ didn't exist and walk the planet?

Barker: Yes.

Friel: Do you have all knowledge?

Barker: No.

Friel: Do you care if you live or die?

Barker: Yes, most of the time I love life except when sometimes I'm so sick I think I'd rather die.

This was a puzzling exchange, and I don't understand why Friel took up precious time to ask what seemed to be basic information questions. Later in the segment his questions took on more of a "Stump the Atheist" tone, which is to be expected, but these initial questions weren't like that at all. I can only speculate, but I wonder if Friel was attempting to poison the well, to get an unsympathetic audience to hear Barker admit out loud such traditionally blasphemous statements such as that he doesn't believe in an historical Jesus.

Next, Friel launched a series of multiple questions regarding evolution, all of them following the same "Which came first" format.

Friel: Which evolved first, the digestive system, the food, the appetite, the ability to find food, digestive juices, or the body's ability to resist its own digestive juices? Which evolved first, the drive to reproduce or the ability? The male or the female? The bones, ligaments, tendons, blood supply, or the muscles to move the bones?

Barker answered all these questions adequately given our current understanding of natural selection. Essentially, Friel is arguing again for Irreducible Complexity, which I responded to earlier. No matter how Barker could have answered these questions, Friel would have declared the answer to be wrong, because his worldview demands that interworking body parts have to pop into existence fully formed by a creative designer, even though the fossil record clearly indicates that the interworking body parts co-evolved together. Friel wants us to imagine that the Theory of Evolution declares that a human head was rolling around on the ground, not able to find food very well, when suddenly it "evolved" a body which lumbered off into the distance, so let's all laugh at that comic piece of absurdity! But again, that's a caricature of natural selection that no evolutionary scientist has ever posited, so pointing and laughing at it is a waste of time. It's like thinking that the theory of gravity must be false because everyone knows that Wile E. Coyote can't hover in the air after walking off a cliff.

It's curious to me that Friel is attempting to use the concept of Irreducible Complexity to question the entire Theory of Evolution when Michael Behe, the Christian biochemist who first posited IC in his book Darwin's Black Box has said that he accepts the basic concept of Natural Selection and believes that humans descended from more primitive primates. In other words, Friel would disagree with Michael Behe while using his arguments. But that's just one of the corners into which young-earth creationists have painted themselves.

Friel continues demonstrating his lack of understanding of evolution with his next question.

Friel: Suppose we take a car factory and we remove all the kinks and bad parts out of the assembly line, how many runs would they have to run to produce an airplane? You can't turn a car into an airplane; you can't turn one thing into another.

Barker: Yes you can, through natural selection.

Barker has received a lot of criticism for his answer, both at the debate via derisive laughter from the audience, and later on the web after the debate was made public, and I agree his answer doesn't make sense at first appearance. I suppose, however, we could put this one under the category of Ask-a-silly-question-get-a-silly-answer. Friel sets up a scenario of an optimized factory and wonders if the products of the factory will change without human intervention. I missed this crucial difference the first time I listened to this debate. When Barker answered "Yes you can," I believe he was answering a different question, namely, "Can a car be changed into an airplane?" and of course the answer is yes. First, add a pair of wings, install a more powerful engine, remove unnecessary weight, etc. It may not be an ideal airplane, but it would be more like an airplane than a car.

But that wasn't what Friel was asking. He wasn't asking if one thing can be designed into another by intelligent designers. He was asking can a single organism "change" into another. He picked a spectacularly bad example to illustrate his point, because cars are not living organisms and thus cannot reproduce. But again, the theory of evolution has never claimed that a single living organism changes into another during its lifetime. Evolution only happens via reproduction, when the following generations are genetically different from their parents and from each other.  

Friel is is no position to question evolution if he hasn't taken the time to understand it. Barker correctly ended the exchange by pointing out that millions of Bible-believing Christians accept the facts of evolution despite Friel's cartoon caricatures.


Previous: Friel's Rebuttal

Next: Barker Questions

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate - Friel Rebuttal

Friel began his rebuttal by asking Barker how many fingers he was holding up. When Barker answered 'four,' Friel concluded that "the human eye seems to be working pretty well to me." This was followed by much applause from the audience.

Friel commits a logical fallacy here. In his opening remarks, he stated that the human eye was too complex to have evolved and was thus evidence of an intelligent designer. When Barker explained that the human eye was a poor example of intelligent design, Friel's one-liner rebuttal was to demonstrate that Barker's eye was good enough to see his fingers. This ignored what Barker had explained was that we also have a complex brain that has to expend resources to compensate for our blind spot. Since other species are able to have an eye without a blind spot, their brains don't have to plug it in with added resources, thus making their design more efficient.

Furthermore, Barker's eye is not able to see in the infared like the eyes of reptiles, nor does it come with a transparent eyelid for seeing clearly underwater like the eyes of beavers. Friel's logic problem is equating "good enough" with "perfect," something he would never accept in other circumstances. If Friel bought a car that belched black smoke, jarred his teeth on smooth roads, and dribbled copious amounts of oil on his driveway--but it operated just well enough to get him to work--he would never declare the engineer of his car to be a good designer, particularly since there are other automobiles on the road that appear to work much more efficiently.

Based on photographs of Dan Barker that I've seen, he doesn't appear to need vision correction. Had Friel asked me how many fingers he was holding up, I would have taken off my glasses (I'm near-sighted), squinted at him, then declared that I couldn't count them because my eyes were inexpertly designed to see at that distance, thus skewering Friel's argument.

Friel's argument stems from ignorance and incredulity. Friel is impressed with the complexity of the human eye and can't think of how natural selection could have evolved it. Since Friel can't think of it, then no one can think of it, therefore it never happened. Friel sets himself up as the Absolute Standard by which all complex ideas are to be judged. He proves this by continuing with more questioning about the eye:

"How did we know there was anything to see? Which evolved first, the eye or the brain to receive the signal? The eyelids or the cornea?" Friel lists the major parts of the eye which work in conjunction and concludes, "No way did the eye evolve by chance."

Again, no evolutionary scientist has stated that anything evolves by chance. Chance and Natural Selection are not the same thing. We know and have confirmed that mutations happen from one generation to another. Some mutations are beneficial, most are neutral or harmful. Those mutations that assist an organism to live long enough to reproduce are passed on. Friel's listing of body parts is Irreducible Complexity, the principle that any organism or body part that uses multiple parts can't have evolved. IC has yet to gain purchase in the scientific community because it is based on faulty premises. Body parts need not always be working in conjunction even if they are so now, and organisms can exist with limited or rudimentary body parts that later evolve complexity. The first true eyeball to evolve did not come with a complex retina and cornea--those evolved later because they provided comparative advantages.

Friel then announces a mock auction of his wristwatch, declaring it to be evolved. His proof? "Because nobody saw it evolve." Friel seems to be saying that because no one has sat over a cage and watched an animal sprout a new body part therefore evolution never happened. The problem is, no evolutionary scientist has ever suggested that that is how evolution occurs. Organisms don't evolve--the genes you are born with are the genes you die with. It is species that evolve, over generations. What's more, scientists have observed speciation in the lab using short-lived organisms such as bacteria, so it's incorrect to say that no one has ever observed evolution.

"Evolution is an insult to the intelligence," Friel declares, which itself is an insult to the vast majority of people--including countless Bible-believing Christians--who accept the tenets of evolution based on the preponderance of evidence.

Friel tells a long joke involving a breached calf appearing to have run into the back of the mother cow, presumably to illustrate that looking at some issue from the wrong angle can lead to wrong conclusions. He then questions the entire field of cosmology by declaring that the idea that Nothing became Something to become Everything is absurd. The problem is, he's correct, but in the wrong way. Cosmologists state that the Big Bang theory is not a creation event but rather an expansion event--the entire contents of the universe were compacted into a single point which then expanded, cooled, and condensed into the stars and galaxies we know today. As far back as we can observe, there has always been Something. What happened before the Big Bang is still being explored. Cosmologists don't know--not with certainty, for sure--but Friel doesn't know either. To say that Nothing became Something is a caricature, just like Friel caricature's of Evolution, and caricatures are all too easy to disprove.

Friel continues the caricature by observing that when we wake up from sleep our hair isn't in better condition then when we went to bed. In other words, disorder always increases. First off, it isn't correct that our hair necessarily becomes more disordered in bed. A woman could go to bed with a complicated hairstyle that defies gravity due to the use of petroleum products, but wakes up with her hair comparatively ordered, pressed flat and close to the head from the pillow.

But despite that poor example, Friel is arguing from the Second Law of Thermodynamics which of course is a incorrect application of that law. Friel knows the difference between a closed and open system--he states as much later in the debate--but he wants to ignore the difference in order to advance his argument. Closed systems, argues Friel, increase in entropy, therefore open systems (such as the universe itself) must also increase in entropy. This is, of course, incorrect, and Friel appears to know better.

Friel then agrees with Barker that Christians are failing when it comes to issues of morality and ethics (such as divorce) but the reason is simple, he asserts. "They never understood the Ten Commandments and God's Law." Here Friel commits the No True Scotsman fallacy, stating that if a Christian doesn't behave the way he thinks she should, then she wasn't a true Christian to begin with. This is, of course, absurd. Not even Moses, Jesus, and Paul could agree on the principles of marriage and divorce, so to blame Christians for not agreeing is unfair. Once again, Friel sets himself up as the Absolute Standard--he knows the right thing to do in all situations. Anyone who disagrees is either living in sin or not a true Christian.

"Hell is not a threat," Friel continues, "Hell is Reasonable Justice." Friel makes an unwarranted leap from declaring that no one wants violent criminals to walk the streets to declaring that anyone who disbelieves in God deserves to go to an everlasting torture chamber.  

"If God did not punish us he would not be loving," Friel states. "Love and justice go together." This is also incorrect. A criminal judge does not both love the accused and judge the accused's case. If a judge found himself presiding over an accused person that he loved--his own son, for example--he would rightly recuse himself. Barker and Friel get more into the morality of Hell later in the debate.

Next Friel addresses Barker's distrust of the Bible for matters of truth and morality. He stated that Barker relied on G.A. Wells for biblical scholarship.  

Barker interrupted by saying, "I don't rely on him."

"You quote him," Friel quipped back, followed by laughter and applause from the audience.

I have to ding Barker here for interrupting Friel during his rebuttal, as that shouldn't be allowed by the debate rules. However, Friel did direct his statement toward Barker as a casual question, to which it would be natural to respond. Friel did it again shortly thereafter when he said, "Correct me if I'm wrong, Dan, but if I've read right you don't believe in the existence of Jesus," which would be another natural point to allow Barker to respond when technically he wasn't supposed to. Combining these interchanges along with the applause and cheering from both sides of the audience shows that this debate quickly became informal, particularly since the moderators of the debate never stepped in to enforce any rules.

As for Friel's response, "You quote him," meaning G. H. Wells, I know from reading Barker's work that he also quotes Jesus and Adolph Hitler if he feels it will help him make his argument. Friel disparages Wells' lack of education and credentials, calling Wells' work "fringe scholarship," but Barker also referred earlier to Bart Ehrman who most certainly has the education and credentials to criticize New Testament documents.

Friel then goes on to compare historical documents. First he asks Barker if he believes that Julius Caesar existed. When Barker nods affirmative, Friel chortles wickedly, "Oh really!" He declares that "this is how we test whether or not a manuscript from antiquity is authentic." He states that there is a 1000-year span between the the accepted date of when Julius Caesar wrote The Gallic Wars and the existence of our oldest copy, and we only have 10 of those. He states that there is a 1200-year gap between when Plato wrote his tetralogies and we have only seven copies. For the New Testament, it was written between 40 AD and 100 AD, and our oldest copy is dated to 125 AD, a difference of only 25 years. Number of copies? Fifty-six hundred in the original language, nineteen thousand in other languages. "If you believe in Caesar," Friel concludes, "you can trust the Bible," again to thundering applause from the believers in the audience.

There are several problems with this entire line of argument. First, what Friel doesn't tell his audience is that we don't have the original manuscripts of the New Testament, nor the copies of the manuscripts, nor the copies of the copies of the manuscripts. The oldest copies we have are three generations removed from the originals, some of those are mere scraps containing only a couple of verses from one book. What's more, textual criticism has found that no two of those copies are identical. All of them have differences from each other, some minor, some major. Entire passages of the New Testament, from the final sixteen verses of Mark to the Gospel of John's story about the woman caught in adultery, were inserted into later copies and do not appear in the older, more reliable manuscripts.

Second of all, even though there is "only" a 25-year gap between a copy and the original (interesting how Friel only counts the lower range--it could be as high as 85 years if his figures are correct), comparing the New Testament to Julius Caesar or Plato is a false comparison. For one thing, we are not asked to worship Julius Caesar. We are not asked to stake the fate of our eternal soul on the teachings of Plato. If Caesar's The Gallic War turned out to be a complete fabrication, that wouldn't disprove that Caesar actually existed because of the other lines of evidence, such as neutral historical reporting and the writings of hostile enemies of Caesar, neither of which exist in the case of Jesus of Galilee. And even if we could conclude that Caesar never actually existed, that would be irrelevant to a twenty-first-century person.

Third, the proximity of a copy to its source has no bearing whatsoever on the accuracy of the source. An error-filled manuscript could be well-preserved and copied, and it would still be an error-filled manuscript. A large gap between a source that's been lost to us and to its nearest copy means that we can have little trust in the integrity of the copy. Even New Testament scholars have found that passages are changed as copies are passed down from one generation to another. Friel would have us believe that if there's a small gap between a missing source document and its oldest copy, then we have to trust the source as error-free. But he would never accept this claim with regards to any other religion.

Joseph Smith translated the golden plates given to him by the angel Moroni in 1823, and the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. That's a gap of only seven years. L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics in 1949 and it was published in 1950, a gap of only one year. But I don't think that Friel is going to convert to Mormonism or Scientology based on that "evidence" because he doesn't think those works are reliable, no matter how well preserved and copied they were. But he wants everyone to accept completely the Bible--including the first book of the Old Testament which has a gap of as much as three thousand years between the time of its reported events and its final form--based on the same fallacious thinking.

Finally, Friel makes an emotional appeal coupled with a threat. "Just be simple," Friel pleads. "Lose your presuppositions and if you'll read the Bible it's so obvious." He claims that if we read the Bible without skepticism we'll see it's true. Even if we don't, he warns, we'll glorify God either way, either when "the smoke of your torment rises before the Lamb for all eternity," or when we live forever with God in heaven because he has forgiven us.

In other words, Believe or Burn. Don't question if the Bible is accurate and true--just believe it and then you will see the Bible is accurate and true. And if you don't, you'll spend all eternity in a torture chamber while Jesus looks on in pleasure. How anyone could then say that this same God loves us and forgives us is beyond me. It's this same threat that has tormented people for centuries, so terrified of hell that even Bible-believing Christians agonize over the possibility that they are damned ("Not all who call me 'Lord, Lord' will see the kingdom of heaven.")

Again, Friel asks us to do what he would never do himself--a classic case of hypocrisy. Friel would never drop his presuppositions against Islam, reading the Koran like a child and just believing in its teachings, or else die with the knowledge that the smoke of his torment in the Islamic Hell will rise up and glorify Allah. Nor should he. But he wants you and me to do the same for Christianity.

Friel was asked to bring evidence that God exists. Having failed to do that, he then pleads with one hand and clenches a fist with his other and expects us to uncritically accept his assertions or else pay the everlasting price.


Prev: Barker Rebuttal

Next: Questions for Each Other: Friel

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quote for the Day

To love justice, to long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak, to forget wrongs and remember benefits -- to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful; in art, in nature, to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy, to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error, to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then to be resigned -- this is the religion of reason, the creed of science. This satisfies the brain and heart.

--Robert G. Ingersoll, The Foundations of Faith 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate Analysis - Barker Rebuttal

Barker began the rebuttal series, asking why humans should humble ourselves before God. After all, God might have something to learn from us, much as parents learn from their children. This is, in my view, an unfruitful argument, as it would be impossible for a believer in omniscience to admit that it has *anything* to learn, let alone from sinful humans.

Barker noted that Friel argued from the Bible, but Barker declared that the Bible is contradictory, filled with errors and mistakes of science, and contains bad moral advice. He illustrated the two different orders of Creation in Genesis chapters one and two.  He mentioned Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus to illuminate the poor provenance of the modern Christian Bible, highlighting the gross errors and additions made to early manuscripts.

Barker could have done more with this argument, however. He could have asked rhetorically if the Bible ceased to exist, would God then cease to exist? The Christian church survived two to three hundred years without a formal New Testament, proving that faith in God is possible without relying on the Bible as a source.

Barker admitted that we know that microphones are designed, but he correctly stated that intelligence is not the only way to design something. Furthermore, if the universe appears designed, then God's mind must also be designed. The designer needs a designer, yielding infinite regress. Naturalists, however, argue that we should stop with what we know--the universe, and not introduce more complex parts unnecessarily.

All arguments for God, Barker states, boil down to God in the Gaps. For most of human history, if we didn't know how something worked, God was responsible. Believers point to science's lack of understanding as proof that God exists, when in reality, science has learned more and more, closing more and more gaps, leaving God with less and less to do. Isaac Newton felt that the order of the solar system must have had a divine origin, whereas modern science has proved Newton wrong.  

Barker also briefly explained that Friel's illustration of the human eye was a bad example of intelligent design. The human eye has a blind spot where other organisms do not. Either God likes those other organisms--like squid and octopi--better than us, or God is a clumsy designer. The human body, asserted Barker, appears to have been put together by natural selection, one long series of "good enoughs" after another.


Prev: Dan Barker's Opening Statements

Next: Friel Rebuttal

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blog meme: My first day as an Atheist

I've been tagged by Kazim (aka Russell Glasser) of the The Atheist Experience regarding a new blogger meme regarding atheism and agnosticism.

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

Difficult question.  I don't remember the date I admitted to myself that I was an atheist.  I would say it was a gradual process, so naming the date would be as difficult as naming the day I became a mature adult.  But I do remember the day that I outed myself as an atheist, the day that I first told someone else that I no longer believed in God or could honestly call myself a Christian.   That would be December 27, 2001, and even then my confession was pseudo-anonymous.

I had been lurking on a message board peopled primarily by atheists, agnostics, and other free-thinkers with the intention of winning them to Christ.  My first post was in September 2000.  I had assumed my arguments were fresh and powerful and quickly learned they were anything but.  Over the next year of reading, thinking, talking privately to Kazim and others, and lots of desperate prayers, I finally had to admit I couldn't believe anymore.  I posted a long confession to the atheist board on 12/27/01--first to confess that I had been trying to win them to Christ, and second to confess that I was as of that day officially an atheist.

Probably a month earlier, a board member and I had been engaging in an e-mail discussion, and I was asking him a lot of yeahbut questions--"Yeah, but isn't it possible that God exists?  Yeah, but how do we face death with dignity?  Yeah but, yeah but, yeah but?"  My correspondent finally saw through my desperate pleadings and said, "You know what?  I think you're already an atheist--you just haven't admitted it yet." 

That statement hit me between the eyes like a bullet.  I raged, flailed about, got my back up in righteous anger--then felt my shoulders slump when I realized that he was probably right.  I later told him that he was right, although to my dismay I can't find that e-mail anymore.

About three months after I outed myself pseudononymously on the message board, I formally told my wife, and a week later, my two closest friends.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

That came probably two months later, when I re-read George H. Smith's Atheism: A Case Against God.  My first reading of Smith's book was instrumental to me in becoming an atheist.  My second reading completed the package by fully explaining to me the difference between agnosticism and atheism.  Like many people, I thought that agnosticism was a wishy-washy half-way point between belief and non-belief, a milquetoast refusal to commit one way or another.  Like most things about atheism, I was wrong.

I see the two as different methods of thinking.  Theism or atheism describes what you believe about God.  Agnosticism is about what you know about God.   Two completely separate realms.  I can believe in God, but not know anything about him, like the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.  Or I can claim to believe in God and that I know about his nature, like most theists do.  Or I can just say I don't know if God exists, and I don't believe that he does.  Ergo, I'm an Agnostic-Atheist.

I'm fully aware that an estimated ten percent of conversations among atheists involve ironing out the definitions of 'atheist' and 'agnostic.'  These are the meanings that work for me.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

Of course not.  I'm no more angry at God than I'm angry at Darth Vader for killing Obi-Wan Kenobi.  However, I would be angry if someone told me that Vader was completely justified in his killing and that we should look to him as an example of morality and justice.

When it comes to God, I'm angry that people brush aside his Noahic genocide, his Canaanite ethnic cleansing, his capricious wrath against mortals, his eternal punishment for disbelief as mere trifles to be swept under the rug called "Righteous Justice."  I have to remember, though, that I used to hold these very views myself, even use them against others.  I'm not proud of that, and the memory of that holds me in check from blasting out against those who would urge me to worship a deity that would damn me for not worshiping him.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

Yes, but that was merely a happy accident of my Christian upbringing.  "It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgement."  So saith Paul, so say we all.  Ghosts didn't exist--not because we don't have souls, said my Christian self, but because our souls are not allowed to loiter around on Earth causing mischief.  Today I say that ghosts don't exist because there's no evidence for the human soul, and all accounts of ghosts have natural explanations or contain logical absurdities.

Do you want to be wrong?

Sometimes.  I would love nothing more than to know that there is a God who will clean up after my mess, who will rescue me from any danger I get myself into, who will always love me even when I'm unlovable--sort of like a robotic puppy with Coast Guard training.

But most of the time, no.  I'm a grownup, and  I will not bow down to any lord or master.  When I formally declared that I was an atheist, it was as though the sun had finally emerged from behind the clouds. I felt as if heavy chains fell off my back. I was finally able to get off my knees and stand erect as a member of the human race. I became more happy than I ever was as one who believed that I was worthless and corrupt in God's sight. Instead of seeing all people as either fellow believers or hopeless sinners bound for eternal damnation, now I see all people as equal. I now take full responsibilty for all of my actions, good and bad, instead of hiding behind the idea that an innocent man took my punishment and let me off scott free. What's more, I no longer fear death, but embrace and cherish life to its fullest--all the more so because this is all I will get.

For all of that I have atheism to thank.

I'm passing this on to John Loftus of Debunking Christianity.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John Loftus' Debate Challenge

John Loftus, author of Why I became an Atheist, is a contributor the the Debunking Christianity blog, and is often challenged to debates by apologists.  He wrote a fantastic challenge to those who wish to defend God and/or Christianity here:

Would you like to defend the existence of the social Trinitarian God (versus an anti-social Trinitarian God) of the Bible (which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others) who never began to exist and will never cease to exist (even though everything we experience has a beginning and an end), who never learned any new truths, who does not think (for thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives), who is not free with respect to deciding his own nature, who revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times), who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, who commanded genocide, who allows intense suffering in this world (yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow), whose Son (the 2nd person of the trinity) became incarnate in Jesus (even though no one has ever made sense of a person who is 100% man and 100% divine) to be punished for our sins (even though there is no correlation between punishment and forgiveness) who subsequently bodily arose from the dead (even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here) and now lives embodied forever in a “spiritual” human body to return in the future, who will return to earth in the parousia (even though the NT is clear that the end of all kingdoms and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation), who sent the 3rd person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth" (yet fails in every generation to do this), who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God and what he has done (paralleling the ancient barbaric thought police), and who will reward believers by taking away their freedom and punish the dammed by letting them retain their freedom?

Interesting hypothesis, if so. This is such a large claim. The larger the claim is, the harder it is to defend it.

Spot on.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Petition for Texas Science

The Texas Freedom Network has started a petition protesting the Texas State Board of Education loading a formal curriculum review panel with supporters of Intelligent Design/Creationists.  Two of the candidates are authors of the anti-evolution book "Explore Evolution."  The panel will be reviewing textbooks to be used in Texas public schools (and elsewhere) in 2011.

More here...

Freethought Quote of the Day

"You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas and goals are in doubt."

--Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Witch-Hunting in the Western World

On Sunday, October 19, at Caltech University, Dr. John Demos will be giving a lecture titled The Enemy Within: 2000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World.

"Long before the Salem witch trials, women and men were rounded up by neighbors, accused of committing horrific crimes using supernatural powers, scrutinized by priests and juries, and promptly executed. The belief in witchcraft — and the deep fear of evil it instilled in communities — led to a cycle of accusation, anger, and purging that has occurred repeatedly in the West for centuries..."

More here...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Miracle of the Ordinary

(Comment on message board):

"God is beautiful and His creation shows it. A new born baby is truely(sic) a miracle of God."

To the parents, the intense emotions they experience at the birth of their child can understandably transform what is often a painful, bloody, and sometimes deadly process into a life-changing event. But by other measures, childbirth is a routine, almost ordinary happenstance in the grand scheme of things. After all, a baby is born every second of every day in our world.

  Much depends upon the definition of ‘miracle.’ When Jesus or other holy figures are said to have performed miracles, everyone assumes that they are doing something that is *not* ordinary. It wouldn’t be useful to say Jesus was a miracle worker if all we meant was he could digest food, or see visible light, or exhale carbon dioxide.

  Miracles are typically defined as an occurrence that transcends or violates the ordinary laws of nature. To walk around on a boat is routine; to walk on the water is a miracle.

  Given that, then how can we describe something that is routine and occurring every day all around the world as a miracle, attributed to God’s direct intervention? If sunlight shines through water vapor, the visible light is scattered into its spectrum to make a rainbow. Rainbows happen everywhere, and we can even make miniature ones with a garden hose in the backyard. So would it be useful to say that a rainbow is a miracle of God? Rainbows can be breathtaking, to be sure, but they are by no means a suspension of the laws of nature. In fact, they are a confirmation of the laws that we experience. Rainbows, the effects of gravity, the shaping of the land into mountains and seas, and yes, even the birth of a baby are all common occurrences of natural laws that need no supernatural intervention.

  To insist that ordinary events really do require God’s constant attention and micro-managing is to denigrate the fascinating workings of the laws of the universe. It also devalues the meaning of the word “miracle” into nonsense.

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate Analysis - Barker Opening Statements

Dan Barker next gave his opening statements, starting out by saying that he used to preach the same sermon that Friel just gave with all sincerity. "I changed my mind," said Barker. He briefly explained his life growing up as a Christian songwriter and soul-winner, but as an adult he began to question his beliefs, and the more he investigated, the more he realized that he couldn't believe it anymore, and thus he embraced atheism. "God does not exist."

Barker summarized a psychological principle called the Hyper-Active Agency Detector. The human mind tends to identify the unknown as an agent, a living conscious thing. He gave the example of confusing a stick in the woods for a snake. Doing so provides an evolutionary advantage. Thinking that a stick might be a snake won't harm you when you investigate further, but thinking a snake might be just a stick might get you bitten or killed. It's a defense mechanism that people have used in the past when confronted with the unknown. The source of lightning and thunder was called Zeus by ancient Greeks and Thor by Norsemen. Barker asked how many in the audience believe in Thor. When no hands were raised, he labeled the audience filled with skeptics and atheists. Barker then asked how many believed in Yahweh, and many hands were raised. "The only difference between you and me," he said, "is that I believe in one fewer gods than you do."

We are all atheists to some degree, declared Barker. However, the burden of proof is on he who makes the claim that God exists, not on he who disbelieves.

That said, Barker gave several long-held reasons to disbelieve the existence of God:
1. There is no evidence for the existence of God. Barker didn't elaborate further on this bold claim.
2. There is no coherent definition of God. Every believer has a different definition of God, which flies in the face of God's existence. The Omni-God, he said (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, Omni benevolent) is a logical contradiction and therefore can't possibly exist as is.
3. The problem of Evil argues against a loving God, although there may be a god or gods of a non-loving nature.
4. God believers disagree with each other on the moral principles of God. Whether the issue of the day is abortion, capital punishment, or even paying taxes, all sides of the issue are supported by God believers.
5. There is no need for God. Barker declared that people can live moral happy lives without God, and the very fact that debates like this one proves that the existence of God can't be as obvious as believers assert it is.

"I am justified in saying that God does not exist."

I was uncomfortable hearing Barker repeatedly state that God does not exist in that I feel the argument is too strong. It leaves Dan open to the criticism that since Dan does not have all knowledge he can't possibly state that something does not exist. This is particularly dangerous in an oral debate, since "God" and "god" sound exactly like. If a believer's god is a mountain-dwelling deity who launches lightning bolts at unworthy humans, then modern science can allow us to confidently claim that such a being definitely does not exist. However, if a believer defines his god as a vague nebulous Primary Mover located outside of space and time, then such a god is unfalsifiable and unprovable. The trick in situations like this is to nail down a precise definition of God, something that Friel seemed to spend little time doing. Friel said, "God has to have all the credit for everything," and assumed that everyone in the room knew exactly who he meant.

I would rather Barker have said, "I don't believe that God exists," or "I believe that God exists, though I can't prove it."



Previous: Todd Friel's Opening Statements

Next: Barker's Rebuttal

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate Analysis - Friel Opening Statements

Opening Arguments  

The debate took place at the University of Minnesota, hosted by the Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists. Assistant Professor Nichols moderated and began by introducing the two speakers. First, he identified Todd Friel of Way of the Master Radio, after which there was much applause and cheering from the audience. Then Professor Nichols introduced Dan Barker, co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and there was even more cheering and applause. Barker had this to say in his book, "Godless":  

Todd is a funny guy, a former stand-up comic with lots of punchy one-liners. When he was introduced, there was a huge response of cheering and applause from the audience, and I could see how happy he was to be among his friends and admirers. Then, when I was introduced, there was an even louder burst of applause and cheering, for just as long, from the atheist and agnostic students who were not about to be outdone by the believers. You should have seen the look on Todd's face when he realized, 'This is not my crowd.'  

Friel gave the first Opening Statement, and after a joke about opening the debate in prayer, he began by retelling the Biblical story of Naaman who suffered from a skin disease akin to leprosy. He traveled to Israel on rumors of a prophet called Elisha who could heal him. Elisha wouldn't see Naaman, but sent his servant to tell Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was furious and stormed away, arguing that there were cleaner rivers in his home country of Persia. Naaman's servant stopped him, arguing that doing what Elisha said couldn't hurt. Naaman relented, dipped in the Jordan River seven times, and according to the story, God healed Naaman completely. 

"That's the missing information," said Friel, "to help you decide if God exists or not." 

Friel explained that the audience would hear "two stories tonight." Calling a debate about the existence of a supernatural deity a pair of "stories" is an old tactic that's been in use for millennia. In an older, less skeptical age, audiences judged a speaker not based on his argument or evidence but on his authority and ability to tell a story. Speakers who were dynamic and forceful were more likely to be believed over those who spoke rationally and with reason. 

Dan's story, continued Friel, is Atheistic Evolution: "Nothing blew up and became Something. That's foolish."  

Right away we found out that Friel has a naive understanding of the Theory of Evolution. Evolution is at its simplest the explanation of genetic changes in living organisms over time. Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of a God or supernatural world. Calling Evolution atheistic is also puzzling given the millions of believers in God who accept the theory of Evolution. Traditionally, those who call Evolution Atheistic identify themselves as Young-Earth Creationists, the small subset of Christians who interpret the opening chapters of Genesis literally, asserting that Jehovah created the entire Universe in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago. This assertion is backed up by no scientific evidence whatsoever, and is rejected by an overwhelming percentage of scientists *and* Bible-believing Christians. To say that Evolution is "Nothing blew up and became Something," also conflates Evolution (which only concerns living organisms) with Cosmology and Stellar Evolution.  

However, Friel said that the second story also appears foolish: "Something created Something out of Nothing." Foolish, that is, said Friel, without the missing information called Naaman. Friel said that the story is an allegory for the Gospel (meaning the message of Jesus Christ). Peter at Pentecost stated that Jews crucified Jesus according to God's prearranged plan. Plan for what? For God's glory. Friel stated that God created a perfect world for two humans (Adam and Eve) knowing full well that they would use their free will to choose to disobey. God did so because he knew that he would in the future die so that "we would say what a good, kind, amazing God he is." According to Friel, both stories of how the Universe came to be until you know the missing information--namely, God has to have the credit, and if we will humble ourselves before him God will accept us since then he gets all the glory.  

By this time, Friel's allotted time for Opening Statement is more than half over, and he has yet to offer a single piece of evidence that God or any supernatural being exists. Instead, he only gives a description of God. Of course, fictional beings can be described, even in great detail. If someone said that Santa Claus was fat and jolly and would give you a lump of coal if you weren't a good boy or girl, would anyone accept that as evidence that Santa Claus exists?  

Friel admits that he skipped a lot of steps, assuming what he was there to prove. Perhaps now we'll hear some evidence that God exists?  


"Of course he does," says Friel. "Of *course* he does." He then states the Argument from Design by declaring that since the microphone he was holding had a designer then everything must have a designer, which he called "God's cosmic Duh."  

Next Friel invokes the human conscience as proof of God's existence. "If you have a brain you should say, Hey, there's a creator, I've done wrong, I better figure out what to do to be made right with him." Friel then commits the Fallacy of Arguing to Emotion, by asking if we've ever done anything wrong, then one day we will have to face God, whom he describes as a "wrath-filled God and he will have his day in court with everyone in this room." This was followed by disturbing chortles of laughter from the Christians in the room, the idea being that everyone (except them of course) will one day be really sorry they didn't believe in God.  

Friel ended his Opening Statement with what by all appearances was an emotional-filled altar call: "Combine his creation with your conscience and if you call out to him He . . . Will . . . Save you."  

Overall, Friel's Opening Statement left little hope that any evidence for the existence of God will be explored. Friel seemed to think the debate was to argue about the nature of God or what sort of attitude should people have when approaching God. Friel contradicted himself by saying that God was both loving and amazing by dying on our behalf, but also filled with wrath because we aren't perfect. Ethically this is horrific. God both is so furious with us because we aren't perfect, but also loves us so much to commit suicide on our behalf to satisfy his code of justice, but only if we all give him all the credit due to his fragile ego. Why any being who acted this way would qualify to be called God is sadly left unexplained by Friel.


Next: Dan Barker's Opening Statements

Friday, October 10, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate Analysis - Main

In March 2006 at the University of Minnesota, Todd Friel of Way of the Master Radio debated with Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation on the question, "Does God Exist?" I couldn't find an official link to the debate, hosted by the University of Minnesota's Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, only third-party reactions to the debate. If anyone can find an official link please let me know. The debate mp3s can be found at The Way of the Master website here.

My purpose is to evaluate this debate, its arguments, and the performance of both Friel and Barker.


Todd Friel's Opening Statements

Dan Barker's Opening Statements

Barker's Rebuttal

Friel's Rebuttal

Friel's Questions

Barker's Questions

Closing Arguments

Audience Q&A

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dance the World Over

I think this is a first for Astronomy Picture of the Day. Instead of jaw-droppingly beautiful images of night sky beauties or deep space wonders, today's entry is a roughly five minute video of, well, dancing.

Just dancing. People around the world, all races, all ages, all religions, all of them grinning and laughing and moving to the beat. Some are free-form, some are formal. Some are in costume, some in ordinary workaday clothes. Some in brilliant sunshine, some in enough pouring rain to make Noah nervous. What's more, all of them appear to be happy (except the stern-faced guard in demilitarized North Korea, but he's probably worried what his superior officer would think if he broke rank.) I don't know if the dancing made them happy or if their happiness made them dance, but it doesn't matter. The joy of movement and music and the spirit of "Hot Damn I'm ALIVE!" brings a smile to my face.

It's the most humanist thing I've seen in months.

So what *do* you believe in?

Often when told that a person doesn't believe in God or the supernatural, someone will ask, "So what do you believe in?"  The implication seems to be that if you don't believe in God, then you don't believe in anything, which is of course a logical fallacy.  When asked this question, my answer is thus:

I believe in my family.

I believe in my friends.

I believe in my country.

I believe in the human race.

I believe in the world I live in.

I believe in this grand and glorious cosmos.

And I believe that's enough for one man's lifetime.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Chronological Analysis of the Empty Tomb

The following is a conversation I had with a Christian on a message forum regarding differences in the four gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection:

"There seems to be one consistency, the tomb was empty."

Tombs can be empty for many reasons. If you and I were walking together in a cemetery and we came upon a hole in the ground, would the first thing you conclude is that there is a corpse walking around nearby?

"Please if you are going to paraphrase the Bible you have to give the verse. How am I to verify what you are talking about? It's better to just quote what it says then to draw your own gist and retell it, is this not the reason why the Bible is (NT) already confusing? The fact that these stories were written on different eye witness' accounts after being retold then wrote down by someone else and how much they all have in common after this shows that it is more reliable, not less."

Okay, lets take a look:

Matthew 28
1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mary watches an angel descend from heaven and roll away the stone. (Where is Jesus, by the way? Did he teleport out of the tomb beforehand?) What does John have to say?

John 20
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

So rather than Mary arriving in front of a closed tomb, surviving an earthquake, and watching an angel roll away a tomb stone, John says she showed up after all the action was over. Luke confirms this:

Luke 24
1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Mark confirms it too:

Mark 16
4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

So three writers have Mary arrive to find the tomb stone already rolled away, or one says she sees an angel come down from heaven, cause an earthquake, and roll the stone away as she's watching. Which scenario is more likely? Are the two different scenarios really that close enough to sweep under the rug of the "different narrators" explanation?

So what happens to Mary next?

Mark 16
5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Mark says a single young man tells Mary that Jesus is risen, and orders her to tell the disciples that Jesus is waiting for them in Galilee.

Matthew 28
 5The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

Matthew promotes Mark's one young man into an angel but he gives Mary the same story.

Luke 24
4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8Then they remembered his words.

Luke turns Mark's one boy and Matthew's one angel into two men in lightning-bright clothes. They tell Mary that Jesus is risen, but there's no mention of any future meeting with him in Galilee. Reading the Luke narrative alone, one would not guess that Jesus will ever appear on stage again, but that he's ascended to heaven . But what does John say?

John 20
2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

Mary, having seen only a rolled-away stone, immediately bolts off the scene to find Peter. She doesn't have a conversation with any angel, or young boy, or two shining men. She forgets about the earthquake. She just tells Peter that Jesus' body has been stolen. This is a contradiction.

Matthew 28
8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

This seems logical. Having been ordered by an angel to tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and will meet them later, Mary does exactly that. Mark, though, tells it differently:

Mark 16
8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Instead of "afraid yet filled with joy," they are just afraid, and more importantly, they don't tell anyone anything. They don't tell Peter, or any other disciples, or even the author of Mark, if his own words are to be believed. So how did this portion of Mark, the first gospel, ever get written? How does Mark know what the boy told the women if the women "said nothing to anyone"? 

Luke 24
9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others...11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

Looks like they should all be called Doubting Thomases. 

John 20
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

Most scholars identify this unnamed disciple as John, so I will too. Having heard Mary's story that Jesus' body is missing, Peter and John run for the tomb, John getting there first. 

John 20
5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Peter and John see the empty tomb for themselves, but still haven't put two and two together. They now believe Mary's report that Jesus' body is missing, but, according to verse nine, they still don't think that Jesus is resurrected. Let's go back to Matthew:

Matthew 28
8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Another contradiction. Forget the part from John about Mary telling Peter that she doesn't know where Jesus' body has been taken. And forget what Matthew's angel told them just two verses earlier, that Jesus will appear to them in Galilee sometime in the future. It turns out that Jesus was standing right behind them during the whole earthquake-and-stone-rolling incident. They clutch onto Jesus, and he updates what the angel said: NOW, go and tell the disciples, not that my body is missing, not that someone told you that I am risen and will meet you later, but that you know for yourselves that I'm risen, and will meet you later. Back to John:

John 20
10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

So Mary, despite having been told (in Matthew's account) first by an angel that Jesus is risen, and then by Jesus himself that he is risen, is somehow still distraught that Jesus' body has been taken somewhere. Now she's approached by two angels this time. Apologists are quick to assure us that John's two angels and Matthew's one angel are the same angel, that one is a 'spokesperson' for the both. But they sure don't act like the same person, and she doesn't seem to remember what the 'one' angel told her or what Jesus himself told her. Plus, unlike every other gospel account, these two angels don't tell Mary anything: nothing about Jesus' resurrection, or where they'll see him again and when. Their sole function in John is to ask why she's crying. Also, these angels hang around for Mary to go tell the disciples and come back, but when Peter and John arrive, the angels aren't there. It's only after Peter and John leave that Mary sees the angels sitting in the same tomb that Peter and John had just inspected moments before. Is there a reason that only Mary can see these angels? What's more, where did Jesus go? If he was hanging around the tomb in Matthew's account, why didn't he wait for Peter and John to show up? Maybe he did:

John 20
4At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

So Jesus was standing behind them all this time, watching Peter and John poke around the tomb. Unlike what Matthew told us, Mary doesn't know who this person is, this Jesus that she loved so much. Again, she just wants to know where Jesus' body is, because she wants to get it and bring it back to be properly buried this time. When he says her name, she suddenly recognizes him. But instead of letting her touch him like she did in Matthew, Jesus orders her to keep her hands off. He tells her to go and tell the disciples NOT that they'll ever see Jesus again, in Galilee or anywhere else, but that Jesus is going to the Father. Which she does.

So let's sum up. Scholars universally agree that Mark was written first, so let's do the same. I'm also estimating the time of events to get a sense of the chronology. These times are total speculation, and I'm willing to hear reasonable counter-arguments. I assume that the women's home and the disciples hideout are each thirty minutes walk away from the tomb, but without knowing the exact location that's of course debatable. The order of events in Mark are:

1. Three women arrive at the tomb to find the stone already rolled away (Call it 6:00 AM)
2. They enter the tomb (6:02)
3. Inside, one young boy tells them that Jesus is risen (6:03)
4. He orders them to go tell the disciples and wait for Jesus to see them in Galilee (6:05)
5. The women disobey this order and go home, telling no one anything. (Home by 6:35)

Matthew next:
1. Two women arrive to find the tomb sealed up tight. (6:00 AM)
2. An earthquake happens (6:05)
3. One angel descends, rolls away the stone, and sits on it, not inside the tomb itself. (6:10)
4. The guards (not appearing in any other account) faint dead away (6:10)
5. The angel tells them Jesus is risen, and invites them to inspect the now-opened tomb. (6:11)
6. The angel orders them to inform the disciples that Jesus will see them in Galilee (6:15)
7. The women run to tell the disciples (6:16)
8. Jesus stops them and lets them worship him (6:20)
9. Jesus orders them to tell the disciples he'll see them later in Galilee (6:25)
10. The women happily tell the disciples what they saw. They must believe them because no one checks out their story. (6:55)
11. Later that day or perhaps some other day, the disciples go to Galilee and wait for Jesus to appear.

Now Luke:
1. An unknown number of women arrive at the tomb to find the stone already rolled away (6:00 AM)
2. They enter the tomb to investigate (6:02)
3. Two men suddenly appear beside them (6:04)
4. They tell the women that Jesus is risen (6:05)
5. The women go tell the disciples what they saw (6:35)
6. The disciples don't believe them (6:40)
7. Peter goes by himself and checks out their story (7:10)
8. Peter goes back "wondering what happened" (7:45)

And finally, John:
1. Mary Magdalene alone goes to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away (6:00 AM)
2. Mary goes back to find Peter and tells him Jesus' body is missing (6:30 AM)
3. Peter, John run to see for themselves, with Mary coming along behind (6:45 --only 15 minutes travel to reflect they ran instead of walked)
4. John peers into the tomb (6:46)
5. Peter goes into the tomb itself and inspects the grave clothes (6:48)
6. John next goes in the tomb and looks for himself (6:52)
7. John also believes that Jesus' body is missing (6:53)
8. The disciples leave, but Mary stays behind to cry (6:55)
9. Mary peers into the tomb and sees two angels inside (6:56)
10. They ask her why she's crying (6:57)
11. She tells them she doesn't know where Jesus' body is. (6:58)
12. She turns around and sees "the gardener" (6:59)
13. He asks her why she's crying and who she's looking for (7:00)
14. She tells him she just wants to know where Jesus' body is so it can be buried again. (7:01)
15. He says her name, and she realizes its Jesus (7:02)
16. He tells her not to touch him, but to tell the disciples that Jesus is going to Heaven now. (7:03)
17. Mary has no problem leaving her beloved behind and goes and tells the disciples what she saw (7:35)

I'm sorry, but this really doesn't appear to be a case of different narrators telling the identical story with slight coloring and variations. These are four different stories, plain and simple, and only in Christian apologetics is it declared that when four people can't get their stories straight that somehow strengthens their case. We can quibble over my time estimates if you want--maybe they spent more time in conversation with Jesus, maybe it was only a five-minute walk to the tomb, etc. But to this skeptic, something about these narratives just doesn't add up.

After that, the person whom I was conversing replied:

"From a historical point of view, not a Christian, there only being one hour difference in all four stories is remarkable....I will not dispute your time lines, they seem okay. I am not perplexed by this. It was 2000 years ago, one hour no biggy. Quite amazing if you asked me."

This short reply suggested that the gospel accounts are not a record of a fixed historical event, but more like an expensive clock, that after 2000 years has only lost an hour.

I welcome any comments if my time estimates seem unreasonable.