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Showing posts from January, 2010

I wrote another letter to William Lane Craig

After my last post, I bopped over to Craig's website Reasonablefaith.org, and used his Q&A box to send him a question challenging his views on objective morality. If I get a response, I'll publish it on this blog, though I doubt I will. Here's the text of the letter:


Dr. Craig,

My question concerns your argument for objective morality. Your argument is as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective morality does not exist
2. Objective morality exists
3. Therefor, God exists.

If we assume that morality is "objective", why must its objectivity be necessarily derived from "God"? Why couldn't morality be intrinsically objective, or, if it need derive its objectivity from some extrinsic source, can its objectivity not be derived from a natural cause, or from one of any infinite number of arbitrary supernatural causes?

Secondly, your assumption that morality is "objective" seems rooted in the idea that we have shared intuitions about what i…

Do atheists think believers are less intelligent?

Let me set the record straight: William Lane Craig annoys the crap out of me. He's loud, pompous, hubristic, and his philosophical arguments are so riddled with baseless assumptions, blind assertions and non sequiturs that I'm aghast that anyone actually takes him seriously.

But a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook today, and as I often do when I watch "Dr" Craig's videos, the lunacy is so abundant that I feel compelled to respond.



First, a few things to note. On the Youtube page where this video is found, from the user "drcraigvideos", comments and ratings are disabled. As usual, with Christians. Secondly, the video is edited such that the atheist's response is not shown, and in the video, the host, to my eyes, is clearly playing favorites with Craig.

But on to the meat of the issue. Craig, as usual, commits a litany of fallacies in a remarkably short period of time.

It's worth asking what, exactly, Craig is trying to prove here. H…

Let us pray

Last September at my brother's wedding in Los Angeles, which was an especially religious ceremony, many prayers were said thanking God for bringing my brother and his wife together, for bringing all the families together in "fellowship", etc. etc. I have many religious friends on Facebook, and I've noticed that whenever someone is sick, injured or dying, the immediate reaction is, "I'll be praying for you." Ultra-conservative republicans have been holding "prayercasts" in the hopes that God will strike down health care reform, and there are numerous Facebook groups with names like "Pray for Haiti", many with tens of thousands of members.

What strikes me as odd about this sort of behavior is the implicit assumption that God is in control of all things, and that he may choose to help someone if it is in accordance with his will. Since no one knows what God's will is, people pray. But if God is just going to do what he wills anyway,…

The morality of the Bible: God commands his people to execute rape victims

There are countless verses in the Bible that any sensible modern person would absolutely detest: genocide, child murder, slavery, and the most vile misogyny imaginable. It's often entertaining to watch Christians squirm away as they try to find plausible rationalizations for some of these scriptures since they fly in the face of our modern sense of moral solidarity.

It's tough to pick a winner for most vile Bible verse, since there are oh so many from which to choose, but pretty much all of Deuteronomy 22 is a front runner. In the Bible, women are not equals of men. They are property. A marriage in ye olden tymes was not a commitment between two free and equal partners, but a gift from one man to another – one man gave the property "daughter" to become the other man's property "wife". Women's absolute subjugation in those times is evident throughout Deuteronomy 22. In verses 20 and 21, God says that if you can't find "proof" of a woman…

Sex, religion, and waiting for marriage

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My brother, three years my senior, got married last September. I'm sort of the black sheep of the family; my parents and my brother are all quite religious. It was, in fact, my brother who drew me into the vile claws of evangelical Christianity as a teenager. He's thankfully not a demon-exorcising, gibberish-speaking, faith-healing nut like we were once upon a time (at least as far as I know), but he's still pretty devout, and he met his wife when they were part of the music worship team at their church. Their wedding absolutely oozed religion from every pore – breaks for prayer, breaks for corny contemporary worship songs, and vows overflowing with references to the mystical, Jesus-centric nature of their marital bond.

So it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that, as I had suspected and my brother confirmed to me shortly before the wedding, they had indeed saved themselves for marriage. Well, at least with each other. They're both in their 30s, so I don't …

Bringing a cultural atheist into the flock is hard

I have a handful of friends and acquaintances from Europe – specifically, parts of Europe that are far more secular than the United States, and countries in which it is just as normal to be an atheist as it is to be a Christian here in the States. I remember a conversation I had with a fellow atheist friend of mine from Serbia. When she moved to the U.S., a friend of hers took her to church and tried to convert her. Suffice to say that she was unpersuaded, and remains an atheist today. And recently, a client of mine was telling me about her husband, from Denmark, who was similarly unimpressed by attempts to bring him into the flock.

As I pondered this, I started to think that there is a good reason for the stubbornness of these people. It's certainly not because they are simply incredulous; in every story told to me, these people practically pleaded for some kind of evidence to substantiate the claims being made. Then I thought back to my favorite apologist punching bag, William L…

Why I don't take the Bible seriously

It seems like whenever non-believers debate Christians about the historicity of the Bible, they point out the obvious things that even Christians should know (not that they do). Like the fact that the gospels were written decades after these events purportedly happened, the fact that they all have internal contradictions, or the fact that the gospels make historical claims unsupported by any contemporaneous evidence – like Herod commanding the mass murder of children. But, theists have concocted plenty of canned responses to all these. I've never seen any responses that I find remotely persuasive, but that's not important. None of those arguments really have anything to do with why I don't buy what's in the Bible.

It's debatable whether the gospels are actually eye-witness accounts. But let's assume for the sake of argument that they are. Well, if you've paid any attention to the courts over the last few decades with the advent of DNA evidence and new rese…

It's always easier to lie to yourself with your fingers in your ears

A Christian friend of mine of Facebook linked to a number of articles from a website called The American Vision, which is a remarkably facepalm-inducing collection of credulity and ignorance. The articles my friend posted were about evolution, filled with the same old fallacies and creationist stupidity that has been slapped down over and over again by people who know better.

One of the articles, typically, conflated cosmology with evolution. There was a dissenting comment, with a response by an administrator saying the post violated "rule 1-1", and the dissenter had been banned. So, I looked up "rule 1-1". Brace yourself:

1-1 First and foremost, there will be no debating over the existence of God. The operating presupposition in these forums is and always will be "In the beginning God." Jesus is God and Son of God and Holy Spirit and the three are one and the same. There will be no debating over anything related to this. God is the only God and Christiani…

How to spot intellectual bullshit

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As a fitting addendum to my previous blog, I thought I'd mention that I'm a big fan of Eddie Current. If you're not familiar with him, he does some very funny, incisive religious satire videos on Youtube. I also follow his blog on MySpace, and he made this fantastic chart on which I think many "alternative medicines" would fit very nicely. You have to read the whole blog to get the context for the rogue physicist, but it's still great stuff.


How to spot a pseudoscience

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We're living in a time when, despite the rapid advancement of science over the last century, pseudoscience is as rampant as it's ever been. You'd think we'd be past the point of using words like "tonic" and "elixir", but all you have to do is pop open the Sunday paper to find plenty of ads for health tonics, anti-aging creams, and all kinds of other nonsense – not to mention the rapid rise of pseudoscientific practices like acupuncture, massage "therapy", homeopathy, quantum healing, or the granddaddy of them all, chiropractic, pseudoscience is as popular as ever.


Bogus products


It helps, when spotting a pseudoscience, to differentiate between products and treatments. Pseudoscientific products simply make bogus claims. For example, there is absolutely no law whatsoever preventing me from dropping a few random herbs in a pill and calling it a "fat burner". As I mentioned in my recent post about the supplement industry, supplement ma…

Honest questions for my believer friends

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Asked in a non-judgmental spirit of friendly inquiry:

1. Do you believe God is omniscient (all-knowing)? Do you believe we have free will? If yes to both... how do you reconcile this paradox? That is, if God knows what decisions we will make, how can we be said to have free will at all?

1b. As a corollary, for those of you who believe there are consequences for rejecting God, why would God create anyone whom he knew would ultimately reject him?

2. Do you believe that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and all-loving? If so, why is there suffering? And I don't mean suffering caused by other people. I mean suffering inflicted by nature itself – cancer, birth defects, famine, drought, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. etc.

3. Do you view your faith as an explanatory device for any natural phenomenon, such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or the complexity of life? If so, how do you feel about science that encroaches on these beliefs, such as evolution, abiogenesis, or cosmo…

It's the end of the world! Be sure to stock up on supplies!

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My ex-girlfriend's mom was what you might call a total religious nutcase. In addition to a remarkably large and scary library that looked like a miniaturized version of the book section of Mardel, she had an attic full of supplies for the end times – which, according to many of the books she owned, is coming very soon. Notably, she had a large collection of "tribulation food" – dried food stored in big buckets that were supposed to help her ride out the end times while the world burned down around her.

Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere, you've probably heard the terrible news: the world is going to end in 2012. Depending on which loony website you visit, you'll hear everything from a rogue planet knocking the Earth out of orbit to massive solar flares destroying the planet to... well, to whatever else might make for a really stupid Roland Emmerich disaster movie. Of course, most of us aren't quitting our day jobs, and aren't particularly w…

The pseudoscience of positive thinking

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I was perusing PZ Meyers' blog (as I often do), and I was particularly struck by an article he linked to about a woman named Barbara Ehrenreich who survived breast cancer discussing her experience with the pseudoscience and cultural phenomenon of overcoming disease through "positive thinking". It's an incredibly eye-opening, insightful article that wonderfully illustrates the delusional cultural obsession with denial (link). Now, I don't advocate wallowing in cynical self-loathing, but is thinking positively all the time really a good thing?

The "power of positive thinking" phenomenon really hit its stride during the economic boom of the 90s with self-help gurus like Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Robert Kiyosaki, and innumerable others who cashed in on the craze by promising you improved relationships, better health and even financial security with a little can-do attitude. It was during the 90s that depression really became viewed as a bona fide clinic…

On "transitional forms"

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The strongest evidence these day that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is an inescapable reality comes from molecular biology and genetics, not paleontology. However, creationists are fond of criticizing evolution for lacking what they call "transitional forms". I say it's what "they" call it, because "transitional form" isn't a term you will hear evolutionary biologists using, unless perhaps they are responding to creationists and trying to help them understand by using the same language.

If we want to trace a species' evolutionary lineage, there are many intermediate species. For example, if we want to trace the evolution of the modern whale from its land-dwelling relative Pakicetus which lived 50 million years ago, there are many, many species filling the gap between modern whales and Pakicetids – creatures that we can see gradually developing features (or losing them) to adapt to aquatic life.

But in my conversations w…

"The Age of Empathy" – Frans De Waal

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I've started reading Frans De Waal's newest book, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. If you're not familiar with Frans De Waal, he's a primatologist possibly most famous for his book Our Inner Ape, which I also received as a gift over the holidays this year. My introduction to De Waal was in one of my favorite books, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. He's featured in the NOVA special "The Last Great Ape", which I highly recommend.

De Waal's books have a consistent theme:  That the common perception is that human morality is a triumph over our animal nature; that morality comes from somewhere else – from the church, from the law, from God – and that we need this external source of morality to conquer our competitive, selfish nature. De Waal turns this view on its head, arguing that not only is our sense of morality deeply embedded in our genes, but it is a product of our evolutionary heritage. He argues further…