Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Inerrancy

I wish I could claim credit for this. I found this at another message board, but I don't have any author details.

Gleaned via my time machine from over 2000 years in the future, the debate over scripture still rages...

Q: I'm unclear about the nature of the Trinity. Can you explain it in more detail?

A: The nature of the Trinity is a tricky subject even for scholars. Essentially, the Godhead is composed of Santa Claus, Frosty (the Son) and Rudolph (the Spirit). Though Santa Claus is the ruler of the North Pole, admittance to the Pole is only achieved through belief in Frosty. Rudolph, as the Spirit, is both a part of and apart from Santa and the Son. Additionally, Rudolph may manifest himself within others, including Frosty but not Santa Claus (whose will rules all). Frosty may manifest Himself in Rudolph, though He does not manifest in man (since He is part man and part divinity). All of the authors of Scripture were possessed of Rudolph while writing, and this is why we say that Santa manifested Himself through Rudolph to produce a completely inerrant work. Simple, isn't it?

Q: Santa is depicted as a rather portly Being, and yet He can slip down chimneys with ease. How is this logically possible?

A: Remember that we are speaking of the chimneys of antiquity and not the ones found in homes today. Archeological digs supervised by our own Ministry have unearthed chimneys as large as 15 feet square, thus fully capable of accommodating Santa's legendary girth. However, the problem is moot since Santa, being divine, could go through the key hole if he so desired.

Q: The Book of "'Twas" lists eight reindeer, and yet Rudolph makes nine. How do you explain this obvious discrepancy?

A: A careful reading of the relevant passage easily harmonizes this "discrepancy"…

…When, what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

Scripture makes specific reference to "eight TINY reindeer". Rudolph was a reindeer of average proportions. Therefore, there is no discrepancy. The sleigh was being pulled by eight "tiny" reindeer and one normal sized reindeer, namely Rudolph.

Q: How did Santa navigate in foggy weather before Rudolph? Are we to believe that there were no foggy Clausmas nights prior to His birth?

A: Yes. In fact, there were no foggy nights period before the advent of Rudolph. Scripture clearly teaches that Santa created fog to punish "all of the other reindeer" for laughing at Rudolph's radiant nose and the sin of idolatry. Since that time, however, Rudolph's glorious light has led many out of sin and into the eternal holiness of the North Pole, there to bask in the glory of the True Claus.

Q: How do we know that Frosty is the Son of Santa? He's not even mentioned in the Book of 'Twas.

A: You need to read more carefully, my friend! Frosty is clearly referred to many times…

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
Gave luster of midday to objects below…

…is a clear reference to Frosty's nature as both snow and man (that is, "breast" fed) and his ability to "shine light" upon (or illuminate) objects below. Additionally,

…his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

…is a clear reference to Frosty's coal (or "ashes and soot") eyes. Also, both Frosty and Santa smoke pipes, wear hats and are jolly. What more evidence do you need?

Q: Isn't Frosty just another "resurrection" god, much like Adonis, Jesus and Osiris? And what's so special about His resurrection anyway? Doesn't water turn into snow automatically when the temperature drops?

A: The resurrection of Frosty differs in many ways from that of others. First, Frosty did not just "turn into snow" by some capricious act of nature, but rather his resurrection was self-willed. Secondly, He Himself forecast His own resurrection - it was not forecast by local weather stations of the period, contrary to the opinions of some skeptics. And finally, He forecast His ultimate return to earth to judge the unworthy with His last remark…

…he waved goodbye, saying
"Don't you cry, I'll be back again someday!"

I'll be ready for his return. Will you, my friend?

Q: In the often quoted passage…

Here comes Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus
Who despises all things homosexual in nature and will cast their sinning asses into hell
Right down Santa Claus lane…

…the third line doesn't seem to "scan" with regards to the rest of the text. Is it possible that the text has been tampered with in some way?

A: No. It is a common ploy among those with a homosexual agenda to try to discredit Scripture by claiming that those who wrote it had some sort of bias or political agenda. Just because they don't like what Santa had to say about their lifestyle is no reason for them to try to re-write Scripture. Much the same argument has been advanced by pro-abortionists who view …

…It's a beautiful sight,

we're happy tonight,

Santa hates baby-killers,
Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland….

…as some sort "altered" text. The authors of the Scriptures were DIVINELY moved by the will of Santa through the power of Rudolph. They had no political agenda whatsoever, and in fact, we have good evidence to support the claim that most were far too uneducated to even spell the word "agenda".

Q: The verse…

…there must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found
For when they placed it on His head, He began to dance around…

…seems to strongly imply that magic was involved in Frosty's initial creation. Yet the Church forbids such practices. Explain.

A: This is purely a problem of translation, not doctrine. The word "magic" here comes to us from the root maj - ika, which means literally "divinely given holy power of the Santa". Some newer versions of Scripture have actually edited out this deceptive translation and the text now reads (as it always should have)…

…there must have been some divinely given holy power of the Santa in that old silk hat they found…

…and there was, my friend, there was.

Non-believer's Christmas Carol

I'm not a big fan of Christmas music. I can enjoy it for perhaps the week of Christmas, but when I have to endure it from the beginning of November, by the time the holiday rolls around I'm sick of it.

But I found one I like, and I could probably enjoy this one year round:


A Christmas Carol For The Rest Of Us

Thanks to Jerry Coyne for this one.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cross Partially Removed from Water Tower ??

A while ago, I highlighted the case where the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the town of Whiteville, Tennessee, requesting they remove the cross the town had erected on the top of the water tower.  The mayor, James Bellar, called it an act of terrorism.

Well, to avoid losing what could have been an expensive court case, the town has indeed removed the 'cross' . . . sort of.  They simply cut off one of the arms.

Now it's not a cross, it's some abstract symbol or something.

Mayor Bellar had this mature thing to say:

"This brings to close a sad chapter in the history of Whiteville that can best be described as terroristic, cowardly and shameful! The fear and terror caused our older people here is shameful. So shame on your client and your firm!"

Yes, what a perfectly appropriate response to someone requesting you obey the law.  Shake your finger at them and cry, "Shame, shame shame!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More Jack Chick weirdness

Jack Chick has a new tract, always a source of amusement. 

This one's called "The Awful Truth," and it by turns rehashes old Chick material and goes deep into new unfathomable territory.  This one focuses on how Satan rules the Earth and that the Catholic Church is behind every evil deed in the history of ever.

While I'm no fan of the Catholic Church myself, I'm not convinced they are behind the rise of Islam and the assassination of JFK.  But it seems strange to me that God is supposed to be all-powerful, and is the creator of a universe that's over 30 billion light-years wide, but can't prevent Satan from having free rein on Earth.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Algebra of Good Works

1. Religion + Good Works = Good Works

Solve for Religion.

From Dan Barker, as seen here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flip-flopping creationists

Donald Prothero, author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, writes in the Skepticblog
"I’ve posted frequently. . . on the religious kooks who insist that Galileo and Copernicus and all later astronomers were wrong and that the earth, not the sun, is the center of the solar system. They base this weird notion on their own version of biblical literalism, since there are many passages in the Bible (e.g., Isaiah 11: 12, 40:22, 44:24; Joshua 10:12-14) which clearly present a geocentric world viewpoint (as was widely held in almost all ancient cultures and not overturned until the 1500s)..."

He reports on a Los Angeles Times article concerning the latest version of a geocentric movement within the Catholic church. Robert Sungenis uses scripture to demonstrate that Galileo was wrong, the Catholic Church was wrong to apologize for their mistreatment of him, and that everything was better back in the 1200s when the Church ran everything. (This, of course, embarrasses the modern Catholic Church to no end.)

What tickled me about the article was that Ken Ham was quoted for his keen insight. Ham, as this board's members know, employs biblical literalism to argue that the universe was created after the Babylonians invented glue, and that a senior citizen built the world's largest boat. But how does Ken Ham feel about the Bible's stance on geocentrism?

“There’s a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated,” Ham said. “The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system.”

Which of course is not true. The Bible makes a strong case for geocentrism, much stronger than heliocentrism, and even stronger than the young earth scenario that Ham insists we must take seriously. So what's the difference between one scientifically-discredited notion and the other? What makes one fringe theory only embraced by religious whackos and the other still fighting a holding action in the halls of government and schools?

Time, apparently. Geocentrism received its first body blow 500 years ago, so that now even Ken Ham thinks it's ridiculous, whereas Creationism has been in retreat for only 150 years. Which suggests that somewhere between now and the year 2461 creationism will be finally resigned to the dustbin of absurdity.

Separation of Church and State equals Terrorism

James Bellar, mayor of Whiteville, Tenn. feels that his community is under attack by terrorists.  Is this based on any violence waged against town residents?  Any intercepted communications involving plots to construct explosive devices or stage attacks?

No, it's because he got a letter in the mail. The Freedom From Religion Foundation warned Mayor Bellar they would sue if he didn't remove a cross erected on a town water tower eight years ago.

“They are terrorists as far as I’m concerned,” said Mayor James Bellar about the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “They are alleging that some Whiteville resident feels very, very intimidated by this cross..."

“A terrorist is more than a guy that flies the planes into the building,” he said. “It’s anyone who can disrupt your way of living, destroy your lifestyle, cause you anxiety. It’s more than killing people. If they can disrupt your routine in life, that’s what they want to do. They are terrorists as far as I’m concerned.”

Yes, because expecting other people to obey the law is just like flying planes into buildings.

While the cross was paid for by private funds, that it was erected on public property is a government endorsement of religion, says Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who received notice of the cross from an anonymous Whiteville resident. Even the Jackson Sun editorial called for the town to remove the cross. "God doesn't call governments to be Christians, he calls Christians to be Christians,” the newspaper wrote.

But Mayor Bellar shows the homogenous thinking typical in fundamentalist conservatives. He doesn't believe that the complaint originated locally. “As a matter of fact, I don’t even think it’s a Whiteville resident,” he said. “We don’t have people of that belief here and if we do they’re not going to raise that kind of ruckus for the rest of the town.”

Mayor Bellar would do well to both brush up on both the law and the diversity that can be found even in conservative Tennessee.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pastor burgles parishioner for drugs

So it seems a woman noticed some of her prescription pain meds were missing.  Who do you suppose would be the culprit?

Prescription painkillers kept disappearing from her house, so a few months ago Jean Harris set up a surveillance camera outside. What she found was her minister, Pastor Rickey Alan Reed, 55, of First Free Methodist Church, trying to get inside her home.

This is the part that intriques me:

The day after she caught him on video, she said she called a church meeting and confronted Reed. He said he would get help. She said church members pressured her not to go to the police.

Police have charged Reed with aggravated burglary. Reed is free on bond, tensions are high at church, and police are investigating whether he may have broken into other homes looking for drugs. Harris, who has attended the church for 55 years, says church members have ostracized her.

I recall a song from church camp that went something like, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pastor Orders Flock to Beat Gay Couple

I've been told by Christian conservatives that their faith in Jesus makes them more loving and accepting, even of people whom they believe are engaged in sinful behavior like homosexuality.  The phrase, "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin," has been often used to summarize their position.

Too bad it didn't work in this case:

[W]ho could imagine the hate and rage that would motivate a Pastor to instruct deacons and members of his congregation, Grace Fellowship Church in Fruitland, TN. to physically attack a couple arriving in the church parking lot last Wednesday?

The fact that one of the gay men attacked happened to be the Pastor’s own son, Jerry Pittman, Jr., no doubt contributed to Pittman senior’s noxious edict. According to Pittman Jr., after hearing his Dad yell, “SICK’EM!:”

“My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smashed me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back.”

The situation was made worse when a Deputy Sheriff arrived.
Once the barrage of punches ended, the Deputy refused to let the two victims press charges.

I can't fathom how preventing someone from pressing charges after they've been assaulted would be legal. Maybe someone with a better legal understanding could enlighten me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

So wedding-day virgins deserve to die of cancer?

Pandagon reports that yes indeed there are some misconceptions about HPV out there, namely that anyone who contracts it must be a 'person of loose morals' and that by preventing one of the consequences of extra-marital sex by vaccinating against HPV, all we really accomplish is that we give permission for our tender teenage girls to grow up to be a 'person of loose morals.'

What's not said, of course, is that HPV is far more prevalent than one might expect.  It's not just prostitutes and twelve-year-old non-virgins who get it.  Practically everyone who has sex contracts it at some point, usually asymptomatic, and with no long-term consequences. You can be a wedding-day virgin marrying a man who's had consensual sex with just one other person, and whoops, you've got HPV, but you'll never know it. But to hear religious conservatives like Thomas Peters tell it, you now deserve to die of cancer because you didn't follow the rules properly.

HPV is like the common cold in terms of severity. Most people are fine, but a percentage of people get sicker and die. That's why we vaccinate against the flu, and why we should vaccinate against HPV. But that doesn't mean we need to have some society-wide panic about the flu. Just get the shot and get on with your life. Sheesh. The only reason to freak out about HPV---and about the vaccine---is that we can't handle the fact that people fuck. Even though pretty much everyone fucks. It's bizarre, it really is.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quote of the Day

"A fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of wonders. A fact will fit every other fact in the universe, and that is how you can tell whether it is or is not a fact. A lie will not fit anything except another lie."

--Robert Green Ingersoll

This quote reminds me of the people who look at a scientific discovery and get the sinking feeling that the discovery removes one more item off of God's list of accomplishments. Then they scour their scriptures to find something--anything--that might suggest that it was God pulling the strings behind the discovery all along.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Atheist myths debunked

Nice debunking article by Amanda Marcotte on ten common myths about atheists and atheism.

Debunking these myths about atheists in print can only do so much to quell believer fears about the supposed atheist menace. Even better would be for believers to find themselves an atheist, and instead of simply attacking them with these myths in an effort to frustrate them into submission, instead get to know them better. You might find they’re basically like everyone else, except more rested on Sundays and less afraid that invisible beings are judging them for masturbating.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Episode 24 - Daniel Dennett - Thank Goodness

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Daniel Dennett, philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist.  Today's excerpt comes from his essays called "Thank Goodness," which can be found in the recent publication, "Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life," published last year by Oxford University Press.

You can subscribe in iTunes or download it directly from here.
I hope you enjoy it.

Thought for the Day

This from PZ Meyer's blog Pharyngula, when he responds to a religious apologist's complaints about "New Atheists" and their lack of belief in objective morality.  I acknowledge that the handful of readers of this blog are no doubt already subscribers to Meyer's writings, but as the saying goes, this bears repeating:

Let’s assume that Stephens is right, and there actually is a god who somehow is the source of all good. One of the unfortunate qualities of this god, however, is that he’s unknowable: we have many religions on earth claiming knowledge of god’s desires and plans, but we have no way of determining which, if any of them, is right. Perhaps the congregation of some odd sect in a small town in Saskatchewan are getting clear instructions beamed right into their heads by the one true god, but we have no way of telling, and they look just as random as the Mormons or Buddhists or Jews or Muslims, who are just as adamant that they have the truth. Maybe we atheists are poor unfortunates who have our god-antennas broken off, so we don’t hear the celestial transmissions everyone else is getting.

What should we do?

I think it’s clear that one thing we broken receivers should not do is blindly accept an absolutist morality based on the authority of a religious source — that would be irresponsible, and given that there is absolutely no consensus on which one is right, and that there are so damned many of them, most likely to be wrong. We should, instead, do as we have been doing, and use reason and evidence to assess beliefs and choose to follow the ones that make objective sense and help us get the business of living done. That does kind of rule out Stephens’ penis-obsessed genocidal racist deity who believes in proxy sacrifices and magic chanting, though.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

ACLJ: Money funnel for lawyers in the guise of religious liberty

Fred Clark of Slacktivist has a new piece on the the ACLJ, the American Center for Law and Justice, or the ACLJ.  The ACLJ poses itself as an alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, except the ACLJ doesn't stand up for anyone whose religious freedoms are being curtailed in America, only those who are evangelical Christians.

Not only does the ACLJ have the freedoms of only one religious group in mind, but it also stands against the freedoms of other competing religions, such as when it joined the resistance against the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" (which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque.) 

But Clark has highlighted how perhaps the true purpose of the ACLJ is to keep its head, Jay Sekulow and his family, rolling in the dough.  Sekulow also runs charities, and according to Bob Smietana writing for The Tennessean:

Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns, known as form 990s.

One of the charities is controlled by the Sekulow family — tax documents show that all four of CASE’s board members are Sekulows and another is an officer...

Who knew that pretending persecution could pay so well?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Episode 23 - Robert Ingersoll - Freedom

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Robert G. Ingersoll, popular American political leader and orator during the nineteenth century. This excerpt comes from his essay, "Why I am an Agnostic."

You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or download it directly here.
I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

QOTD: Theistic evolution is a problem for theists

Paula Kirby writes in the "On Faith" column of the Washington Post regarding the inherent problem within theistic evolution, and it bears repeating:

While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject. Not only does evolution not need to be guided in any way, but any conscious, sentient guide would have to be a monster of the most sadistic type: for evolution is not pretty, is not gentle, is not kind, is not compassionate, is not loving. Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things - but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful. Evolution produces some wondrously beautiful results; but it happens at the cost of unimaginable suffering on the part of countless billions of individuals and, indeed, whole species, 99 percent of which have so far become extinct. It is irreconcilable with a god of love.

I fell into the Theistic Evolution camp during my transition from the Young Earth Creationism that I was indoctrinated with as a student. But to argue that God 'tinkers' with species that mostly evolve on their own so that humans will one day stride the Earth means that God takes a dim view of the suffering of creatures. Was the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago a chance happenstance that was very fortunate for our mammalian ancestors? Or was it a deliberate strike by God because he grew frustrated with a pair of T-Rexes who kept blundering past each other, unable to find each other so that they could mate and continue life's inexorable advance?

I'm not interested in the sort of Designer who has to perform assassination in order to further his goals, even if they might happen to be favorable for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Turns out gays, not boobs, cause earthquakes

Not long after a minor earthquake rattled the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, along come the predictions by religious folk that God sends natural disasters to punish people, right on schedule.  Here's Rabbi Levin letting us know that this event  was due to, not Boobquake, but homosexuals:

The money quote at the 6:00 minute mark is:

"One of the reasons that God brings earthquakes to the world is because of the transgression of homosexuality, and the Talmud states, 'You have shaken your male member in a place where it doesn't belong. I too, will shake the earth.'"

Who knew that the Talmud was loaded with innuendo?

Of course, with minimal property damage and no reported injuries from this earthquake, one wonders if perhaps God is losing his grip.  And since gay marriage is illegal in Virginia, the epicenter of the quake, but not in New York, perhaps God has gone myopic as well.  God used to be able to kill off individuals in a crowd (2 Samuel 6).  Now he misses the target by hundreds of miles?  I'm afraid we expect much more from an omnipotent deity.  God may want to consider scaling back, spend some more time with his family, and perhaps take up a hobby...preferably one that doesn't involve sharp instruments.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Episode 22 - Carl Sagan - The Dragon in My Garage

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Carl Sagan, famous author and astronomer. The passage is a popular one from his book called The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

You can subscribe within iTunes or download it directly from here

I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Atheists: No longer the least popular group

A mildly amusing survey shows that the Tea Party is less popular in America than all other groups mentioned:

In an op-ed article in the New York Times, Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and David E. Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame, say they have collected data indicating that the tea party is "less popular than much maligned groups like 'atheists' and 'Muslims.'"

To be fair, there's bound to be cross-over, as a Tea Party member could very well be an Atheist or a Muslim (although I would find it highly unlikely.) The survey also asks participants to rate religious groups, political parties, and notable individuals, so the results are bound to be weak and difficult to interpret.

But it's refreshing to see that atheists are no longer the whipping boys of American culture.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pastor Films Honey-Soaked Naked Girls in Shower

From the News of the Weird:

AUGUST 8--Using a hidden video camera, a Texas man filmed four naked, honey-drenched teenage girls while they showered at a church where he worked as a youth pastor...

The 30-year-old Fortenberry, investigators alleged, organized a “Fear Factor” game that included honey being poured over four girls he had picked to participate. After the contest, Fortenberry instructed the minors that they “could take a shower and wash the honey” off their bodies.

It was at this point that he allegedly videotaped the four teenagers with a camera he had hidden in the church bathroom.

I don't think this is what Yahweh had in mind when he promised believers a land flowing with milk and honey.

But since the statute of limitations has already expired, prosecutors today were forced to dismiss felony charges lodged against Thomas Fortenberry, who allegedly did the surreptitious filming in November 2007 at the Greater Harvest Community Church in Pasadena.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Episode 21 - Chapman Cohen - Freethought

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Chapman Cohen, an English secularist, writer, and lecturer. Today's excerpt comes from his essay called, "The Meaning and Value of Freethought."

You can subscribe within iTunes or download it directly from here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anything that’s not understood becomes evidence for conspiracy.

In this week's eSkeptic, Pat Linse explores the birther's claims that President Obama's long form birth certificate is actually a forgery.  She analyzes the claims, explains how the supposed anomalies on the certificate could have come about, and even tells how she would forge a document that would be far superior and simpler than what the birthers' think was used.

Best of all is Pat's Maxim, that succinctly describes why so many conspiracy theorists can't be persuaded:

Anything that’s not understood becomes evidence for conspiracy.
That's it in a perfect nutshell.  It describes why some guy sitting in his office thinks that photos from the Moon should look different.  It's why someone on a youtube video wonders out loud why there isn't more debris at the Pentagon attack of 9-11.  It's simply because they don't understand the information, and thus declare that someone is trying to fool everyone--but they're too smart to fall for it.

See more about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Do Well by Doing Good

Do Well By Doing Good : Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Chris Rodda, in an perhaps futile but ultimately admirable attempt to counter the lies of pseudo-historian David Barton regarding his Christian nationalism and the religious views of the American founding fathers, has decided to give away his her first of three books debunking this revisionist nonsense.

Well done, Chris, and thank you.

Edit: As correctly noted, Chris Rodda is female.  I've only read her writings, and perhaps my male chauvinism assumed that anyone with a name like Chris has to be of the male gender.  My apologies.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lee Strobel's Easter Story

Last week the Wall Street Journal published Lee Strobel's story of how he pulled himself out of atheism to become a Christian.  It's a familiar story to anyone who's read his apologetic books.  Essentially, when his wife converted to Christianity, he studied the religion in order to debunk it and wound up convinced himself.
For nearly two years, I explored the minutia of the historical data on whether Easter was myth or reality. I didn’t merely accept the New Testament at face value; I was determined only to consider facts that were well-supported historically. As my investigation unfolded, my atheism began to buckle.

I'm curious what facts he evaluated other than the New Testament.

Was Jesus really executed? In my opinion, the evidence is so strong that even atheist historian Gerd Lüdemann said his death by crucifixion was “indisputable.”

I've never heard of Lüdemann but Strobel was kind enough to link to his Wikipedia page, where we learn that Lüdemann was no mere 'atheist historian' but was in fact a German New Testament scholar. He wrote that "only about five per cent of the sayings attributed to Jesus are genuine and the historical evidence does not support the claims of traditional Christianity." For that bit of heresy he was dismissed as Chair of New Testament Studies. Wiki also cites that Lüdemann was convinced that 'his previous Christian faith, based as it was on Biblical Studies, had become impossible: 'the person of Jesus himself becomes insufficient as a foundation of faith once most of the New Testament statements about him have proved to be later interpretations by the community'.

So when exactly did Lüdemann say that the crucifixion of Jesus was 'indisputable'? Was it before, or after, he published his book on the historicity of Jesus? Is it possible that this 'atheist historian' no longer believes the crucifixion is on firm historical grounds? Sadly, Strobel doesn't say, and I'll wager that not very many of his readers are eager to find out.

Was Jesus’ tomb empty? Scholar William Lane Craig points out that its location was known to Christians and non-Christians alike. So if it hadn’t been empty, it would have been impossible for a movement founded on the resurrection to have exploded into existence in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed just a few weeks before.

This of course assumes that the only reason a tomb can ever be empty is because a dead person walked out of it. Who confirmed beforehand that a dead Jesus was actually buried there? Who can confirm that the body of Jesus wasn't stolen or deliberately moved elsewhere before the tomb was discovered to be empty? If we find an empty hole in the ground at a graveyard, our first assumption isn't 'Resurrection!'

And how would a skeptic show off a non-empty tomb? Exhume someone's private property? Parade a rotting corpse through the streets? Better hurry with that--after only a few weeks the body's decomposition would make it unrecognizable. Most of all, why would a resurrection skeptic bother? Who gets worked up over the wacky claims of cultists enough to go to the trouble of trying to debunk them? Oh sure, after decades and centuries, when Christianity became a strong political force, someone might have wished they could produce the dead body and snuff a powerful religion, but of course by then it would be too late.

But in the weeks and months after the crucifixion, when the first written account of it didn't appear for decades afterwards, what non-Christian would even bother? Strobel and Craig want us to assume that within hours of the resurrection, Christianity was gaining converts by the thousands, and that if someone had only produced the body soon enough the whole religion would have been nipped in the bud. But that's not what happened. Christianity was a tiny fringe cult in a culture littered with them, and curiously enough, the early evangelists like Paul had better success planting churches in non-Jewish regions. It seems the farther away from Jerusalem Paul went, the easier time he had convincing people of his faith. Could that be because people in Jerusalem knew something that, say, those living in Rome did not? And of course, by the third and fourth centuries, when Christianity was strong and powerful, no debunking was possible.

For a modern-day illustration, the members of the Heaven's Gate cult were led to believe that an alien spaceship was hiding in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp which was on its way to Earth. They made this claim publicly, and shortly afterward they collectively committed suicide so that their souls would be transported to the UFO and taken to points unknown. But mark my words, if in three hundred years, Heaven's Gate becomes a major world religion, its apologists will ask critics why NASA didn't launch a probe to investigate the comet. Of course the answer is simple--because NASA has better things to do than to make sure that no one anywhere makes a false claim about the universe.

Besides, even Jesus’ opponents implicitly admitted the tomb was vacant by saying that his body had been stolen. But nobody had a motive for taking the body, especially the disciples. They wouldn’t have been willing to die brutal martyrs’ deaths if they knew this was all a lie.

This is non-starter argument. Grave robbers steal bodies all the time, particularly of those who may have had mystical powers or significance. And its possible that the body wasn't stolen but merely moved. After all, according to the gospels, Josephus had to bury Jesus quickly because it was almost sundown before the Sabbath. Suppose that on Sunday morning he moved Jesus' very dead body to his final resting place before the women arrived. Wouldn't that be an explanation for an empty tomb?

And the "martyrs don't die for a lie,' argument doesn't hold water. There's little to no evidence that the disciples were martyred, and those that we do have a record of dying a violent death were not put to death for seeing a resurrected person but for other reasons, such as encouraging heresy or political meddling. Executing someone doesn't make their religious convictions suddenly become true, particularly since we have no idea what would have happened if they *had* renounced their religious convictions in order to save their own necks. Suppose Peter had said, "Okay, I admit I made some parts up." Would he have suddenly been granted a reprieve, with a firm swat on the bottom and an admonition not to go around telling stories? I hardly think so.

Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.

Again with the lack of sources. In the New Testament, there are eye-witness sightings, most of them curiously involving a case of mistaken identity. What's more, as each gospel was written, the amount and complexity of the sightings becomes greater and greater, which looks like the growing of a legend.

Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!

Collective hallucinations are not impossible, particularly in stressful situations. Here's just one recent account of 5,000 people, told that Mary would appear, who then reported they saw the sun dance in the sky. As for the reliability of 500 people seeing Jesus? Strobel quotes Paul's account in I Corinthians 15, but he wasn't one of the 500. Likely he got this suspiciously round figure from Peter. So a long line of unknown editors, copyists, and redactors have said that Paul said that Peter said that 500 people said that they all saw the exact same thing--namely a resurrected corpse standing on a hill somewhere. Except for the eyewitnesses who looked the risen Jesus in the face and doubted it was him, but neither we nor Strobel get to hear their side of the story.

In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.

If your atheism is based on faith, then you're doing it wrong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The End of the World - any year now

Here's a fun site.  Pick your favorite year--past, present, or future--and find out which folks predicted the world would end in that year.  Who knows--maybe one of these years they'll be right!

I took a close look at the year 1988.  I was attending a Christian college then, and I remember the fuss that was made over a booklet passed around by the cartload.  It was called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988, by Edgar C. Whisenant.  Fellow students of mine were getting swept up in the hysteria.  Some of them accelerated their religious evangelizing, since the end was nigh.  Others expressed fear that they were going to get raptured before they could get married and have babies!  I looked at the book myself and didn't follow the logic, but the anticipation was infectious.  My friend was disgusted by the whole thing, and declared that if Jesus happened to be kicking off the Rapture in that year, he would now have to switch the date simply because the thing wouldn't have the same effect if everyone was anticipating it.  In other words, Jesus can't be outsmarted by some guy with a Bible and a Gregorian calendar.

At any rate, the fateful weekend passed, no heavenly trumpet sounded, and our lives continued unabated.  Whisenant responded to the press that the reason he was wrong about the Rapture year was because he had made a miscalculation somewhere--something to do with some ancient culture's calendar not having a year zero or somesuch--and that the Rapture really would happen, only the same time the following year, and this time was for certain!  But I don't recall anyone taking it seriously.

But that hasn't stopped others from making predictions of their own, as this site clearly demonstrates.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Objective Morality must mean we always agree about everything, right?

The Digital Cuttlefish has a brilliant short verse regarding the 20/20 hindsight of morality:

When we ask the loaded questions, “What is moral? What is good?”
“Are there independent standards, what we shan’t and what we should?”
As the most successful culture, it should fill us with delight—
We will always look behind us, saying what we did was right

There's more at the link.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ray Comfort, Science, and Murder Mysteries

The Atheist Experience TV show, a public access show based in Austin, TX, featured an hour-long phone discussion with professional apologist Ray Comfort recently.  The show hosts, Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser, invited Mr. Comfort to call in where the three discussed atheism and the belief in God. 

One particular item that Mr. Comfort touched on stood out to me as evidence of sloppy thinking.  The show hosts mentioned that Comfort dismisses the findings of science, and the hosts speculated that it was because the science disagrees with the conclusions that Comfort has already learned from the Bible.  I was expecting Comfort to make some well-worn argument about the lack of certainty of science or that some other scientists disagree with the general consensus.  Instead, he made a different argument which I thought was interesting.  Comfort said that he doesn't pay attention to what science concludes about, say, the age of the universe or the process of evolution because "science is always changing."  With specific regard to the age of the Earth, he went on, a hundred years ago the answer was a billion years different than it is today, and he even got Dillahunty and Glasser to agree that a hundred years from now the consensus view of the age of the Earth could be a billion years larger or smaller.

Dillahunty responded that it was very unlikely that science was going to swing back to the answer that the Earth is 6,000 years old as is the common age accepted among Young-Earth Creationists, but I think that was the wrong line to take.  Comfort shrugged his shoulders and said that he didn't know how old the Earth was, but that science doesn't either, so why bother?  Rather than get focused on what the age of the Earth is, as Dillahunty did, I would have hammered Comfort on why he holds a double standard about the method of science, not the results.  And the double standard can be clearly seen when thinking of murder mysteries.

I'm sure Comfort has watched a murder mystery on television or read one in a book, and even if he hasn't the basic formula mirrors that of real murder investigations.  A detective is assigned to solve a murder.  Based on his preliminary investigations, he may suspect, say, the butler.  After further gathering evidence, he learns that the butler has an airtight alibi, so he continues to hunt for evidence.  Then he may suspect the murderer was the victim's neighbor.  After more evidence is gathered, the detective may finally be convinced that the suspect was a jealous lover.  When he's gathered enough evidence, arrests are made, a trial is set, and the suspect is tried before a jury.  It's the same formula, played out countless times, in fiction and in real life, and it works.

I wonder if Comfort, watching an episode of a murder mystery show at home, turns off the television midway through the episode.  I wonder, if having watched the detective announce, "Well the murderer couldn't have been this person because he was out of town on the day of the murder, so I'll continue to search for more evidence," if Comfort would throw his hands up in disgust and say to himself, "Why bother paying attention to what the detective is doing--his answer keeps changing!"

I'll bet cash money that Comfort doesn't feel that way.  I'll bet that Comfort understands all too well that in a criminal investigation, the conclusion may change based upon the new evidence uncovered.  So why does he not understand that the same principle is at work during a scientific investigation?  The process is identical--something happened in the past, be it a murder or the formation of a planet.  The investigator, either a detective or a scientist, searches for clues and evidence to how the event came about.  Initial suspicions may have to be thrown out or modified as more evidence is uncovered.  Finally the investigator announces, to a district attorney or to the scientific community, what he believes to be the final solution to the mystery, and he presents his evidence, and even then the answer may change if new evidence is brought to light.

I'll also wager that Comfort understands all this.  He doesn't dismiss the initial findings of criminal investigations because he understands perfectly that additional evidence can change the conclusion.  But he does dismiss the findings of scientific investigations--not because the answer may change as new evidence is uncovered--but because the findings contradict what he has decided the answers should be.  He has decided ahead of time that he wants the formation of the universe, our planet, and life to mirror what the Book of Genesis laid out long ago.  If science agrees with Genesis, then he's fine with that.  If not, then he waves his hand and declares the scientific method as invalid.  This double-standard held by Comfort is either blatantly dishonest or an example of self-delusion.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Episode 19 - Bart Ehrman - God's Problem

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Bart Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Northern Carolina, Chapel Hill. Today's excerpt comes from his book called God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer.

You can subscribe within iTunes or download it directly from here.

I hope you enjoy it. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

One of the most fascinating features of early Christianity is that so many different Christian groups were saying so many contrary things. It is not just that they said different things. They often said just the opposite things. There is only one God. No, there are many gods. The material world is the good creation of a good God. No, it comes from a cosmic disaster in the divine realm. Jesus came in the flesh. No, he was totally removed from the flesh. Eternal life comes through the redemption of the flesh. No it comes through escaping the flesh. Paul taught these things. No, Paul taught those other things. Paul was a true apostle. No, Paul misunderstood the message of Jesus. Peter and Paul agreed on every theological point. No, they were completely at odds with one another. Peter taught that Christians were not to follow the Jewish law. No, he taught that the Jewish law continued to be in force. And on and on and on, world without end.

Not only did those on every side in all of these debates think that they were right and that their opponents were wrong; they also maintained in all sincerity and honesty that their views were the ones taught by Jesus and his apostles. What is more, they all, apparently produced books to prove it, books that claimed to be written by apostles and supported their own points of view. What is perhaps more interesting of all, the vast majority of these apostolic books were in fact forged. Christians intent on establishing what was right to believe did so by telling lies, in an attempt to deceive their readers into agreeing that they were the ones who spoke the truth.

This from Bart Ehrman's newest book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Episode 18 - Richard Dawkins - The Greatest Show on Earth

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, an outspoken advocate for evolution and atheism, and a popular author and speaker.  Today's excerpt comes from his recent book called, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution."

You can subscribe within iTunes or download it directly from here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Earthquakes and the Quacks that predict them's newsletter eSkeptic features an article called "Quacks and Quakes" by Donald Prothero re: the fools that get airtime due to their faulty predictions of earthquakes:
Among those that got their 15 minutes of fame during the post-quake media blitz was a well-known crank, Jim Berkland, who got a full interview promoting his ideas on Fox News on March 17 (but on no other network). First, the reporter put up a map of the “Ring of Fire” of volcanoes and earthquakes around the Pacific Rim, pointed at Chile, then New Zealand, then Japan, and implied that this circle of quakes might end in California. Apparently, he never consulted a geologist, who would have pointed out that each of those regions is an entirely different type of plate boundary and they have no tectonic plates in common. Then Fox gave Berkland a full five minutes to spout his ideas, with the same credulous reporter tossing him softball questions, and no rebuttal from any other geologist or seismologist.

Yes, that's some sloppy reporting right there. Berkland makes a vague prediction based on complicated, sciencey-sounding terminology; a few months later there's an earthquake somewhere, and a local reporter hails him as a prescient genius. When his next predictions fail to pan out, the media doesn't seem to notice or care. The technical term for that is 'counting the hits and ignoring the misses,' and its brought Berkland some undue attention.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christianity - An Irreverent History

Tim DeLaney writes a humorous monologue for the Secular Web Kiosk:
There is an omnipotent, omniscient God who has always existed. How do I know this, you ask? Well, I just do. Your mommy and daddy probably told you this; who are you to doubt them? Of course, the notion of omnipotence is a bit strange. Where did we get the idea of a God with infinite power? Why not just a God with great power, or one with quite a bit more power than we can imagine? I get the impression that theologians aren't very smart when it comes to infinity. It's probably better if you don't think too hard about it.

One day, presumably after having existed for the eternal past, He decides to create the universe. Why did He wait so long? For a negative eternity, He just sat there; we can only guess what He was thinking. Maybe He was counting down the integers, starting with the largest, and when He got down to zero, He did the creation thing. This seems as good a theory as any. Actually, the stock answer is that God is not subject to time. Well, maybe, maybe not. But it seems like a suspiciously convenient answer that was just made up because of the awkward question. Like the omnipotence thing, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason to suppose God exists beyond time.

The rest is worth a look. Who made all this stuff up, anyway?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Episode 17 - Brian Greene - The Elegant Universe

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Brian Greene, a professor at Columbia University, a theoretical physicist and string theorist. He's written several books on String Theory, the structure of the universe, and cosmology. Greene is most well-known for his PBS television special called The Elegant Universe, based on his popular science book of the same name, from which today's excerpt can be found.

You can subscribe in iTunes or directly download it here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pascal: God's bookie

Just be sure you bet on the right horse.

(Link to webcomic Calamaties of Nature.)

Episode 16 - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Holy Wars

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Neil DeGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author, and science popularizer.

This excerpt comes from an essay of his called, "Holy Wars," which can be found in his book, "Death By Black Hole."

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly from here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Billy Graham: Atheists argue because they are unsure of their unbelief

In the Kansas City Star, a reader asks Billy Graham a question about an atheist friend:
DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: My friend claims to be an atheist, and I don’t know what to say to him. I am a Christian, but he bombards me with questions I can’t answer and I feel stupid. He really needs Jesus because his life is kind of messed up, but I’m afraid I’m not a good witness. What can I do? — P.G.
I'm not sure how "messed up" is being used here--is the atheist messed up due to personal or financial difficulties, or because he isn't a Christian? At any rate, Billy Graham's answer is enlightening:
DEAR P.G.: The most important thing you can do is to pray for your friend. You can’t change his heart and mind; even if you answered every argument he threw at you, he’d probably still keep clinging to his unbelief.
I'm also not sure how someone clings to an unbelief any more than someone stubbornly refuses to collect stamps. But when Christians hold true to their faith, come what may, that's supposed to be virtuous.

The Holy Spirit is far greater than we are, and he is able to break through even the hardest heart. The Bible says that “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
In this case, 'sin' is probably, 'not believing in the existence of the Holy Spirit.' So we find ourselves in the situation where the Holy Spirit will some day induce guilt in atheists for not believing in the Holy Spirit's ability to induce guilt in atheists due to a lack of evidence of the Holy Spirit inducing guilt in atheists.

The other thing you can do, however, is to be an example to your friend of Christ’s love and transforming power, both by your words and your life. Even the strongest argument can’t stand up to the reality of a changed life. The Bible says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).
Now that's good advice, and a decent scripture verse as well. Be wise to outsiders and live a good life.

I suspect that down inside your friend is unsure of his convictions; otherwise why would he feel compelled to argue so much?
Says the preacher who argued for his faith before millions.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up on him. Some of God’s greatest servants over the centuries were once atheists.
And many notable atheists were raised Christian, but perhaps they fall under the category of 'messed up.'

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jason Rosenhouse reviews Giberson and Collins' 'The Language of Science and Faith'

I  have nothing to add, except I enjoyed Jason Rosenhouse's review of Francis Collins' and Karl Giberson's new book called  The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, published by InterVarsity Press.  Collins and Giberson attempt to make science and particularly evolution more palatable for those who live by faith, and as Rosenhouse explains very well, their attempt fails:

There is plenty more that is wrong with this book, but I think you get the idea. In the end there is not a single thought or example here that is original, and Collins and Giberson repeatedly fail to grapple with the real concerns people have about evolution. All is standard boilerplate, about how to read the Bible, or resolve the problem of evil, or preserve notions of human specialness, or to protect any meaningful role for religion in modern life. They will need to do better if they really want to persuade sincere Christians that their worries about evolution are unfounded.

Episode 15 - Michael Shermer - Why Darwin Matters

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Michael Shermer, American author, founder of the Skeptic Society, and Editor in Chief of Skeptic's Magazine. This excerpt comes from his book called, "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design."

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly from here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind - Episode 14 - Greg Epstein - Good Without God

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features Greg Epstein, a published author and advocate of Secular Humanism. He currently serves as the secular humanist chaplain at Harvard University. This excerpt comes from his book called "Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe," published by Harper Collins in 2010.

You can get the podcast from iTunes or directly download it from here.
I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Freedom is Wonderful, but Only for Me

Fred Clark of Slacktivist responds to the Southern Baptist hierarch spokesman Richard Land's complaints that certain judges or administration officials may make rulings that are "against the will of the people."  Clark writes:
Implicit in this is a notion of democracy that we've encountered again and again among American evangelical Christians attempting to engage in politics. It is the idea that democracy means everything is subject to the will of the majority -- including the rights of minorities, which therefore aren't rights at all, merely privileges permitted or withheld by the sentiment of the majority. It is, bluntly, the idea that democracy is just a fancy word for mob rule.

We see this in things like the absurd annual ritual of the so-called "war on Christmas" and in a thousand similar obsessive resentments of imagined offenses. We see it in the ugliness of the anti-mosque movement. We see this in the fear that equality under the law for GLBT people will somehow constitute an infringement of the religious liberty of those who regard homosexuality as a sin (this despite the hard-to-miss fact that Fred Phelps remains free to say whatever vile things he wishes, whenever and wherever he wishes). We see it in the aggressive sectarian impulse to piss on trees and mark territory by erecting officially sanctioned sectarian holiday displays or Ten Commandments plaques or official prayers and other ostentations of sectarian allegiance.

Would that every Christian believer understand the difference between the rule of law, and the rule of the mob.