30 January 2012

Apologetics 101

The First Cause Argument:
  • Everything has to come from something
  • The universe is a thing
  • Ergo, the universe had to come from something. Like God.
  • p.s. - God doesn't have to come from anything
The Design Argument:
  • The universe was designed to support life
  • How do we know? Because we're alive!
  • Ergo, God designed the universe
The Morality Argument
  • I think some things are just wrong, regardless of what anyone else thinks
  • That proves there is a transcendent source of moral values
  • Ergo, God gave us morals
The Ontological Argument
  • God, by definition, has to exist
  • Ergo, God exists
The Argument from Reason
  • If God didn't exist, there wouldn't be any reason for me to believe I am reasoning about this
  • I'm reasoning about this
  • Ergo, God exists
The Teleological Argument
  • Things that exist now are more complex than things that used to exist
  • This proves that the universe was designed to eventually produce these things
  • Ergo, God exists

That should get you started. If any of these don't make sense, pray about it until they do. 

29 January 2012

Adam and Eve, and the bullshit train

I meant to comment on this the other week, but I've been busy. Over at Huffington Post, Biblical scholar and evangelical Christian Pete Enns has an op ed about the non-existence of Adam and Eve, and why this should not be a problem for Christians. First, I do have to give him credit for at least acknowledging the fact that Adam and Eve did not exist, which is more than can be said for the majority of Protestant pastors:
Evolution is a threat, and many evangelicals are fighting to keep Adam in the family photo album. But in their rush to save Christianity, some evangelicals have been guilty of all sorts of strained, idiosyncratic or obscurantist tactics: massaging or distorting the data, manipulating the legal system, scaring their constituencies and strong-arming those of their own camp who raise questions.
Right, so the non-existence of Adam and Eve poses some serious problems for Christians, and they haven't handled it very gracefully. So, what's the solution? Re-interpret the Bible!
Since the 19th century, through scads of archaeological discoveries from the ancient world of the Bible, biblical scholars have gotten a pretty good handle on what ancient creation stories were designed to do.
Ancient peoples assumed that somewhere in the distant past, near the beginning of time, the gods made the first humans from scratch -- an understandable conclusion to draw. They wrote stories about "the beginning," however, not to lecture their people on the abstract question "Where do humans come from?" They were storytellers, drawing on cultural traditions, writing about the religious -- and often political -- beliefs of the people of their own time.
Their creation stories were more like a warm-up to get to the main event: them. Their stories were all about who they were, where they came from, what their gods thought of them and, therefore, what made them better than other peoples.
Likewise, Israel's story was written to say something about their place in the world and the God they worshiped. To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive, quasi-scientific, account of human origins is an absurd logic. And to read the story of Adam and Eve as if it were set up to so such a thing is simply wrongheaded.
See what he's saying? He's saying, Well of course Adam and Eve didn't really exist! That story was obviously never meant to have been taken literally

Here's the problem though. You know who did think that Adam and Eve were real people? The apostle Paul. Pastor Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God, illuminates the issue:
[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work “covenantally"—falls apart. You can’t say that Paul was a "man of his time" but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.
Not really real
Enns' article is a prime example of the kind of backwards-rationalization – draw the conclusion first, then interpret the evidence to fit it – that drove me from Christianity. For thousands of years, people have assumed that Adam and Eve were real people. Contra Enns, primitive people most certainly were interested in giving a quasi-scientific account of their origins. How do we know? Because it was science that showed Adam and Eve to be made-up. Where were the Christians prior to Darwin, prior to our modern understanding of genetics, telling their fellow believers not to take Adam and Eve's existence factually? Why isn't that mentioned, I dunno, in the Bible?

It's obvious to anyone with an iota of reason what is really going on here: science is exposing the foundation of Christianity as false. We already know that most of the stories in the Old Testament are fiction. But it's been scientists, not theologians, leading the charge; Christians are the ones scrambling, in the aftermath, to re-engineer their theology so their beliefs can co-exist with the facts.

h/t Jerry Coyne


Heard on Facebook

"I believe in morality, which is doing what is right regardless of what I am told... not in religion, which is doing what I'm told regardless of what is right."

26 January 2012

Paula Deen has diabetes

Huffpo has a link on Facebook showing Paula Deen stuffing her face with a cheeseburger. This probably wouldn't be a big deal, save for the fact she was recently diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes. She complained about the lack of support, but swiftly secured an endorsement for Viktoza (a diabetes drug).

Type-2 diabetes is not cancer. Or, more aptly, it's not Type-1 diabetes. Type-1 is childhood-onset, and it's genetic. There's nothing you can do about it. Type-2, on the other hand, is a preventable disease brought on by lifestyle choices. Paula Deen cooks crap, eats crap, and she's fat. Here's a radical idea: eat healthy food and exercise regularly, and you won't be fat and you won't get Type-2 diabetes.

So pardon me if I don't roll out the sympathy parade for some who lives an unhealthy lifestyle and promotes unhealthy eating – even to kids. You reap what you sow. 

A little stick of Type-2 diabetes

25 January 2012

My religious philosophy in a nutshell

Report: The vast majority of Protestant pastors are creationists

(via Crocoduck.com)

Nothing like starting a day with a facepalm: A survey of 1000 Protestant pastors conducted by Lifeway Christian Resources found that an overwhelming majority of them are evolution-denying creationists and believe that Adam and Eve were real people. Writing for Crocoduck, Josh Engen echos my thoughts to a tee:
I think most of us can agree that LifeWay’s survey is painting a pretty terrifying picture here. In most of the world, pastors have a far more influential voice than scientists, teachers or politicians, and we’ve been stuck with a group of leaders who insist on speaking authoritatively about a subject that they know nothing about.
Precisely. I've talked a bit about the problems that Adam & Eve's non-existence poses for Christian theology [more], and as I've said, Christians take one of two ways out of it: they either choose to reject science, or they make shit up to plug the gaping holes in their theology. It appears that while the well-educated Biologos types are happy to use the more creative approach, most Protestant pastors are taking the more willfully-ignorant approach and preaching it to their congregants. Depressing.

Read the full article here.

23 January 2012

Steve Novella takes on Chinese medicine

I'm a big fan of Steve Novella, and his recent blog ripping apart the stupidity of Chinese medicine is a prime example. It's a must-read.

This isn't a small deal. Being a personal trainer, I hear a lot about various aches and pains and the lengths people will go to fix them. Every time a client says, "I have an appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow!" I have to bite my tongue. Being in a professional environment I have to voice my opinions judiciously, and I generally don't tell people what I really think about chiropractic (like, it's a fucking pseudoscience and a total rip-off) unless my opinion is solicited directly. It's not just chiropractic, of course; I hear a lot about "detox" diets, acupuncture, Mona Vie, miracle foods and all other manner of pseudoscience and outright bullshit.

People are gullible, and it's easy for those well-versed in the language of woo to sound credible through the use of sophisticated-sounding language. Hell, just the word "subluxation", the basis of all chiropractic "medicine", is technical-sounding, but, in the words of Wikipedia,
In 2009, four scholarly chiropractors concluded that epidemiologic evidence does not support chiropractic's most fundamental theory. Since its inception, the vast majority of chiropractors have postulated that "subluxations" (misalignments) are the cause or underlying cause of ill health and can be corrected with spinal "adjustments." After searching the scientific literature, the chiropractic authors concluded:
"No supportive evidence is found for the chiropractic subluxation being associated with any disease process or of creating suboptimal health conditions requiring intervention. Regardless of popular appeal, this leaves the subluxation construct in the realm of unsupported speculation. This lack of supportive evidence suggests the subluxation construct has no valid clinical applicability."[33]
Buyer beware. And, read Steve Novella's blog.

22 January 2012

Movies that I'm supposed to hate, but don't

I saw Underworld: Awakening this weekend with a few friends. We all liked it. One of my friends is the same one with whom I saw the first movie in 2003, and we both liked that. Critics, on the other hand, have always dismissed them. My dad saw Red Tails, which is getting mostly negative reviews, probably because people love to hate George Lucas. But my dad apparently enjoyed it quite a bit.

I also really liked The Immortals a few months ago, which has gotten ho-hum reviews. It was directed by Tarsem Singh, the same guy who directed The Cell. The Cell also got ho-hum reviews, and I freaking love that movie.

Anyway, I was reading the box office report and audiences apparently really like the new Underworld movie based on CinemaScore, which I had never heard of. According to Wikipedia, it's a research firm that has audiences score movies on an A-F scale, and it's exceedingly rare for a film to get an F. One of the few to be totally hated by audiences? The Box, starring Cameron Diaz. Maybe it was my low expectations, but I couldn't figure out why it was so loathed. It was a spooky sci-fi throwback to old Rod Sterling style horror and, being a fan of that genre-style stuff, I thought it was great.

I think the moral is, fuck what other people think. Now, a low aggregate might affect how much I want to see a movie I'm on the fence about, but if I want to see a movie, dammit, I'll form my own opinion. Besides, critics and audiences alike often change their tune. John Carpenter's The Thing was panned by critics and flopped at the box office. Carpenter himself is quoted on Wikipedia as saying,
"I take every failure hard. The one I took the hardest was The Thing. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit...The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane. Even the original movie’s director, Christian Nyby, was dissing me."

Carpenter had the last laugh, because it's now revered as a modern classic by critics and horror fans alike. And, predictably, the new one – which I enjoyed – was totally panned. Well, fuck you. I love the widely panned espionage/romance flick The Saint with Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. True Grit, which critics said I was supposed to like, was so dull and predictable it practically put me to sleep. I suppose most of the time my tastes are in line with the aggregates. I liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I thought the new Conan was painfully average. Every so often though....

The 10 Commandments: the basis of our laws and morals

NonStampCollector does it again:

It's really tempting...

Spied on Facebook...

You have no idea how tempted I am to reply to stuff like this. Just smart ass crap like, "Or, do other stuff." Then I tell myself to pick my battles.

I'm also amused by the dichotomy of a praise-the-lord post being immediately preceded by a post by a flagrantly blasphemous metal band.

20 January 2012

A new kind of Euthyphro

Does God have reasons that rationally justify his moral commands, or are they arbitrary and simply to be obeyed?

This is why I think this is worth thinking about: I've heard a lot of theologians say that we are to obey God's commands – that the mandate for obedience intrinsically follows. Why? What's in it for us? God says, love thy neighbor. Did God just pull that out of his holy rear? Or are there good, logical reasons why I ought to love my neighbor?

Here's the trick: if there are rational reasons why I should be kind to others instead of cruel, then I don't need to resort to obedience as a reason to do them, and God is irrelevant. But if commands are simply to be obeyed, then we've rendered rationality irrelevant.


17 January 2012

Obama on secularism

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page, and I think it's a great quote. But in my view, it doesn't only apply to the legal side of things. Any discussion of morality must ultimately be explained in humanistic terms. The de facto theistic retort, which boils down to, "it's wrong because my interpretation of my holy book says it is," doesn't get us very far.

15 January 2012

The (bogus) historicity of the Old Testament

[Note: This is sort of a preview of the work-in-progress that is my book (with edits to make it more blog-friendly), taken from the second chapter: "Why I Am Not a Christian"]

The Old Testament is full of some extremely barbaric stuff – ritual human sacrifices, slavery, rape, genocide, stonings – and most of it is commanded by the Hebrew god. But if there's a saving grace to the stomach-churning cruelty, it's that it probably never happened. The Old Testament is almost entirely fictional. But shouldn't this be problematic? Isn't the Bible supposed to be the Word of God? How do Christians (and Jews, for that matter) reconcile this? How do they amend their theology to account for the fact that this is all just made up? Let's look at some of the more significant historical claims in the Old Testament, and how we know they are false:

14 January 2012

Happy birthday, Ken Pulliam

Today would have been Ken Pulliam's 52nd birthday. I didn't know him personally (though I certainly wish I could have picked his brain over a glass of Scotch), but I read his blog regularly, and respected him greatly. I took it as a tremendous compliment that he followed this blog, and his picture in my "followers" list acts as a reminder of a great mind lost far too soon. I wish his family well on what's surely a rough day for them, and I strongly encourage my readers to check out his outstanding blog:

Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity

12 January 2012

A really simple way to unhinge God from morality

Yeah, you know that old canard: without God in the picture, there's no reason to consider anything right or wrong, to treat anyone kindly instead of cruelly.

So, try this. Think of someone you love. Your wife, husband, gf/bf, best friend, mother or father, black cat, etc. Imagine there were no rules. No commandments or laws. What's stopping you from gutting that person and bathing in their entrails? Remember, it's not illegal and there's no commandment not to do it. So why not go for a nice warm intestine bath? Next time someone shows you their brand new baby, why not just take the baby and toss it in the street? And don't let your friend's dog drool all over you – just stab it a few dozen times! Can you think of one single reason, just one, why you might not think it's a good idea to do any of these things?

I'd wage that any reasonable person can think of several. First of all, we have an innate sense of empathy toward others most of the time that acts as a sort of bulwark against violence. We recognize that they feel pain just like we do. So at a biological level, most of us don't want to do violent things for no reason.

Then there's the fact that we realize there are consequences, regardless of any laws. If we could all just indiscriminately kill each other, we could never trust each other. If we couldn't do that, then we could never cooperate. That means no division of labor, no sharing of resources, no sacrifices for one another. We're all left to survive completely on our own – against nature, disease, starvation, predators, and ninjas.

We can probably even think of some good reasons to be truly altruistic. Maybe we help others in need because we recognize that it could just as easily be us in need and we'd like to live in a world where we or our loved ones are taken care of when they can't take care of themselves, instead of a world where everyone who's powerless to stop their own suffering is simply left to the wolves.

Really, it's an easy argument for the non-believer to win. We don't have to prove that objective morality doesn't exist or that God doesn't exist. All we have to do is show the believer that they can probably think of at least one pragmatic reason why they shouldn't treat others cruelly. That's enough to prove that moral behavior is not dependent on any God or any commandment, but on our shared humanity.

11 January 2012

Hitler blaming

Larry Moran over at Sandwalk has a post up where he's talking about Christians' attempts to link Hitler with Darwinism and atheism. It's a pretty desperate ploy for anyone who knows anything about history.

I'm pretty sure Hitler didn't invent the idea of being a would-be world-conquering tyrant. Let's not forget all the Christian imperialists who conquered the land most of us are now sitting on, slaughtering and enslaving much of the native population. The Spanish Christians even implemented Encomienda, which was the systematic regulation of Native American labor through slavery, brutality, and forced conversion. Or shall we go back to the Saxon wars, where the pagans of Northern Europe were conquered and forced by the sword to convert to Christianity? Ever wonder why Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are on dates that originally coincided with pagan holidays? Some might argue, per our war in Iraq, that Christian imperialism is alive and kicking – I believe it was Ann Coulter who said we should "bomb them and convert them to Christianity".

The persecution of the Jews? Does anyone really think Hitler invented that? Martin Luther, the German (fancy that) theologian who was the godfather of the Protestant Reformation, was a raving antisemite who late in life wrote a book called On Jews and Their Lies in which he extolled the persecution, isolation, imprisonment and execution of Jews. And who was behind the Inquisition, which was the systematic torture and execution of Jews lasting several centuries? A bunch of atheists? No, try again... it was the Christian church.

Obviously Hitler wasn't doing anything new. The Christian persecution of Jews has a long and nasty history, with accusations of blood libel and host desecration being recorded well into the 20th century. But more than that, Hitler frequently spoke of his Catholic faith in writings and speeches. Was he just a paper Christian? Maybe, maybe not. But it's not like Christians hadn't been doing for hundreds of years the same kind of Jew-hating things and world-conquering things that Hitler was doing.

So, that brings us to Darwinism. Presumably this is relevant because of eugenics, which was advocated by some high-ranking Nazis as a justification for some of Hitler's more macabre practices. But there's a massive hole in that argument, which is that even to the extent that eugenics was considered by scientists (before scientists ditched it because it's a pseudoscience), no reputable scientist ever advocated anything remotely like what Hitler was doing. There's certainly no Darwinian basis for the notion that German people were part of some superior "race".

To me, these kinds of ploys tend to vastly oversimplify the reasons why tyrants like Hitler come to power and do the things they do. There are all kinds of cultural, economic and political factors that must reach a sort of "perfect storm". I don't know any atheists who've said that Hitler did what he did because he was Catholic, although obviously his beliefs about Jews are intertwined with Christian beliefs and practices. What's more, even if Hitler were an atheist, I don't see what that would prove. Atheism is not an ideology. It means you're not a theist. I'm an atheist, sure, but I'm also a secular humanist – which advocates for positive values rooted in our innate human solidarity.

Stalin was (presumably) an atheist, but he was also a power-driven megalomaniac who sought absolute control over his people. I have to scoff when I hear Christians call Stalin's Russia an "atheist society". Coercing people into abandoning their religion under the threat of military force is not an atheistic society.  For that, we can look to the modern cultures in Northern Europe, where citizens have voluntarily left the church in droves. And although I'm a little skeptical of the true number of "atheists" in those countries, as "unaffiliated" is often conflated with atheism, it's clear that people in developed secular nations – the United States being an outlier – are making less and less room for religion in their lives. And, it just so happens, these are some of the most peaceful, prosperous nations on Earth. Is that because they're non-religious? No, but if rejecting religion were the perilous endeavor some Christians make it out to be, those societies ought to be in complete disrepair.

So, this post ended up being much longer than intended. I even added a picture. And just for fun, I'll add another that has nothing to do with anything. Knibb High football rules!

09 January 2012

Steve Novella on the supernatural

This talk is branded as a talk about consciousness, and it is that to an extent – he talks a bit about dualism and the implications of neurology. But it's really just a good general talk about what constitutes good science and why appeals to supernatural explanations are simply worthless.

I especially like the line at the end, in reference to the Discovery Institute's claim that science should change to accommodate supernatural hypotheses; Novella points out that we don't dismiss supernatural hypotheses because we have some bias against them, but because they are untestable and unfalsifiable: "They want to change the rules because under the rules that work, they lose."

06 January 2012

Where did the good blogs go?

I have a pretty decent list of blogs bookmarked. I don't read them every day (most of them aren't updated every day anyway), but I at least visit them every few days or so and check on the content. It's a mix of skeptic blogs, atheist blogs, science blogs, and yes... a few Jesus blogs.

But I don't really read any of the blogs that got me into the atheist blogosphere. I don't even remember the last time I visited Pharyngula. PZ's thickheadedness in the "define atheist" and elevatorgate incidents really turned me off from the guy. Jen over at Blag Hag is starting to sound no different than the blame-the-patriarchy feminists she used to incisively critique. Luke at Common Sense Atheism doesn't even really blog anymore, and the stuff he does now for Less Wrong is so bloated and needlessly esoteric that it's hardly worth the trouble. John Loftus seems more interested in self-promotion than in dialogue over at Debunking Christianity. And Unreasonable Faith is little more than a bunch of reposts from Christian Nightmares. Friendly Atheist is still good, though it's really more about news and events surrounding the atheist community than it is about theology, philosophy, skepticism, or what have you (which is totally fine).

Fortunately though, there are still plenty of good atheist blogs out there, where the authors have interesting things to say. Like these:

Advocatus Atheist
Dead Logic
For the Sake of Science
Fallen From Grace
One Minion's Opinion
Respectful Atheist
A Tippling Philosopher
The Atheist, Polyamorous Skeptic

Go forth and, uh... well you know.

05 January 2012

A defense of evidentialism

The YouTube user "Evid3nc3", who's done a thoroughly outstanding series of videos on his deconversion from Christianity to atheism, has a new video up today in which he defends his epistemological stance of evidentialism against common misconceptions. Being that I'm an evidentialist as well, I can only say... I concur.

04 January 2012

Seriously this time

I'm working on a book. Yeah, I hear you saying, like we haven't heard that before. Everyone knows that when you say you're "working on a book" you're actually spending all your free time playing Skyrim.

That's partially true. Okay, maybe even mostly true. But here's the thing about me and books: I'm not deluded enough to think that a whole lot of people are going to care about what I have to say on things like morality, cosmology, evolution, or theology. I work as a personal trainer for a living, and spend most of my spare time failing at shred guitar. I'm not some Harvard or Oxford academic, and while that doesn't sound like the most exciting line of work, it usually is enough to convince people that the book you're writing might be worth a gander.

So instead of focusing on a single subject as I've been inclined to do in the past, I'm going to basically tell my story. I'll be starting by detailing my life as a Christian, and my deconversion. I'll then explain why I deconverted from Christianity, why many years later I rejected theism entirely, my thoughts on epistemology and secular humanism, and lastly what life is like as an atheist – including my thoughts on why I think it's important to speak out about religion.

The best part is that I've already written most of the book. It's right here, in this blog. I'm writing some new material and revising old stuff to fit the continuity of the book (I've got a few chapters drafted), but much of it will be a sort of "best of" of this blog. One thing I hate about blogging is that every so often I do something I'm really proud of, and a week later it's buried in the archives and hardly anyone ever reads it. This way I can put my best work in one place.

Also, it's going to be dirt cheap, if I charge for it at all. I'm mainly interested in getting it out there and, with any luck, becoming a more recognizable name.

Blogging might be a tad slower than usual, at least in terms of really involved stuff. I'm still working through Pinker's book and I'll post any interesting thoughts on it as I go, but it's a slow read since I'm not one to sit around reading for hours on end. I sit around doing legato exercises on my guitar for hours on end. And playing Skyrim.

01 January 2012

Stephen Pinker on "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

I'll continue to blog my thoughts on this new book. In the meantime, here's a great interview that gives a good overview of the synopsis and answers some common questions.

h/t: Harry

Update: Another.