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Showing posts from December, 2011

Christianity in a nutshell

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Oldie but goodie

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Total war

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I first heard the term "total war" many years ago in reference to a series of real-time strategy video games, like Rome: Total War. In fact, if you do a Google search for the term, the first links are game-related.

But in reading Stephen Pinker's new book, I've learned there's a much nastier connotation to the term: genocide. Total war means not just killing your enemies, but their families too. You burn their villages and utterly wipe them. And while the relatively famous Biblical accounts of divinely-commanded genocide in the Old Testament are almost certainly fiction, total war wasn't that unusual in tribal warfare.

It's interesting to consider why. How could anyone, even tribal humans, do such horrible things? I've talked before about the hard-wiring of our empathetic circuitry – why wouldn't that be sufficient to stop people from killing babies? Pinker recounts events, detailed through historical writings and archeological findings, of truly …

Why I'm not a Christian (in a nutshell)

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Given that it's that festive time of year centered on a certain mythical deity, I've decided to offer up, as concisely as I can, the two major reasons why I deconverted from Christianity.


1. The events depicted in the Bible are either impossible or almost certainly fiction

The story of Creation is a myth bearing no resemblance to reality – light is created before the sun, the Earth before the stars. Many Christians, realizing this, simply say it's metaphorical. Not literal. But the reality is that until scientists came along and proved it couldn't have happened that way, there was no reason not to take it literally.

Adam and Eve couldn't have existed. Evidence from molecular biology shows that humans descended from a population of no fewer than 10,000 of our evolutionary ancestors. It's simply impossible for it to have been one man and one woman. But if there's no Adam and Eve, how did "sin" enter the picture?

Noah's Ark is also impossible. I …

Reading material

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I haven't been blogging a ton lately, and this post is just to tell you that it'll probably continue to be sparse. That's because I've got 700 or so pages to absorb:



















I read the first 16 pages or so last night. If you're unfamiliar with the book, Steven Pinker (a cognitive psychologist at Harvard, well-known in the secular community) argues, using mountains of research, that – contrary to the popular assumption – our world today is the most peaceful one in human history. Per capita violence, in virtually every area, is the lowest it's ever been. He then uses modern research in psychology, sociology and economics to explain why this is so.

He begins the book by talking about the violent Bronze Age societies, and after an unsettling tour through the appalling violence of the ancient Greeks, the Old Testament (much of it sanction and/or commanded by God), the crucifixions and bloody games of Rome, the use of torture to force confessions from Jews in the Inquisition…

Yule be sorry if you don't convert to Christianity

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The most awesome thing ever

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A few days ago I caught the trailer for The Hobbit, directed (of course) by Peter Jackson. Just when I thought 2012 couldn't get any more awesomerer...er, the new trailer for Prometheus has hit.

Why, you ask, is that a big deal? Because it's Ridley Scott's return to science fiction, a genre he practically defined for modern film making with Alien and Blade Runner. It's been speculated that this is a prequel to Alien, and while that much isn't certain, what iscertain is that the movie takes place in the Alien universe – fans will recognize the ship and the massive cockpit where the original crew of the Nostromo found the corpse of the "space jockey".

It's a spooky and intriguing teaser, and with the caliber of talent involved I have high hopes for this one. Oh, and the special effects are jaw-dropping. This trailer must be watched in full HD.

Words of wisdom

I remember a line from the movie Grumpy Old Men: "The only things you regret in life are the risks you didn't take".

I have to admit, that's been a hard lesson to absorb. But in retrospect, I realize that I've let certain opportunities slip away because I took the easy road. As long as something you want stays in your head, there's no possibility of failure. You don't have to face the ramifications: being hurt, disappointed, embarrassed, rejected, or whatever other undesirable outcomes may be possible. It's much easier to let it brew in your head as a comfortable fantasy. The truth can be hard to accept: nothing ventured, nothing gained. But as I grow older, a life of quiet discontent seems much less appealing than a life of spectacular failures and great passions. 

So, I don't care what anyone says. I'm going to clown college!

Okay not really.

Actions and words

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I've had an interesting conversation/debate with my brother, a Christian, on Facebook today. I posted the following picture, which mocks "Tebowing", named so because Tim Tebow genuflects every time he scores a touchdown:


The point here is obvious: that it's absurd to believe that God helps you win football games while millions die of famine.

My brother responded by noting that Tim Tebow isn't just some paper Christian – he gave his entire signing bonus to charity, and is turning a luxury condo into a soup kitchen for the homeless. My brother then suggested that we non-believers have no business mocking or criticizing his beliefs because chances are we are not doing anywhere what he is to help the needy. So while we may find his underlying motives objectionable, we should still agree that they produce a "net positive" for humanity and avoid criticizing them:
I'm not talking about non-believers generally. I'm talking about you and everyone who fe…

Thoughts on Social Contract Theory (part 2)

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In part 1, I gave the general outline of Social Contract Theory. It's essentially the idea that we are a bonded, interdependent species, and that in order to survive and thrive we must live in cooperative social hierarchies. This necessitates the advent of certain rules, whether explicitly stated or not – that we must respect the needs and interests of others if we wish others to respect our own needs and interests. It could be said that the 'Golden Rule' is the unstated heart of all SCT.

Conventional SCT has been what Frans De Waal describes as a 'Veneer Theory' – i.e., we are in our most basic form cruel, selfish and tyrannical. It is only through our capacity for reason, whether it is as Thomas Hobbes suggests the ability to recognize our responsibilities toward others or, as John Locke suggests, our ability to recognize some transcendent moral authority to which we are ultimately subject. Either way, our nature is perceived as the disease, our capacity for rea…

Hitchens on why Christianity cannot be believed

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Thoughts on Social Contract Theory (part 1)

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Note: I'm going to be splitting this post up into two parts, for brevity's sake.



Yesterday I was watching old videos on Youtube of Christopher Hitchens. In particular, I watched his second debate with Frank Turek, on the question "Which better explains reality – theism or atheism?" I don't know much about Frank Turek, but, while maintaining a half-yell for virtually the entire debate, he recited all the typical arguments – the cosmological, the teleological, the moral (Hitchens rightly pounced by pointing out that these are, at best, deistic arguments). Turek's challenge to Hitch on the moral front was especially facepalm-worthy; he did exactly what virtually all theists do: he falsely equated atheism with moral nihilism. The old, "Without God, everything is permissible" canard. (I've addressed one glaring failure of this argument here.)

Considering how a lot of these Christian apologist types like to posture themselves as learned in topics like…

In memoriam: Christopher Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens has lost his battle with cancer, at age 62. Far too young for such a brilliant mind. Hitch, you were an inspiration. I didn't always agree with you, but you were always provocative, always lucid, always eloquent. You cut to the heart of matters, had the courage to expose evil behind sacred cows, and faced death with dignity and courage. You will be missed.

"I suppose one reason that I've always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate that the universe is designed with you in mind. Or even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me." - Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

On "Tebowing"

After reading this facepalmer from Fox News (shocking) that accused people mocking Tim Tebow's overt displays of piety of being "anti-Christian bigots", I thought it was about time to chime in. I'm not claiming to speak for anyone else here, but there are a few things to say about "Tebowing".

First, it's hypocritical. Jesus was flatly against these kinds of charades:
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." [Matthew 6:1]"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men." [Matthew 6:5] Secondly, it's silly. Why would anyone really, honestly think that God gives two shits about who wins a football game? I dare say that if God is indeed helping Tebow throw a ball around, he's got his priorities back-asswards. How about, I dun…

On the existence of the supernatural

Things that are invisible and otherwise empirically undetectable look a lot like things that don't exist.

The language of dolphins

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Here's a fascinating one:
Researchers in the United States and Great Britain have made a significant breakthrough in deciphering dolphin language in which a series of eight objects have been sonically identified by dolphins. Team leader, Jack Kassewitz of SpeakDolphin.com, ‘spoke’ to dolphins with the dolphin’s own sound picture words. Dolphins in two separate research centers understood the words, presenting convincing evidence that dolphins employ a universal “sono-pictorial” language of communication.
I've read several books by the primatologist Frans De Waal, and the central theme of much of his writing is that humans are not as different from animals as we would care to admit; or rather, animals are much more like us than we would care to admit. It's perhaps comforting to reassure ourselves that we, with our superior intellects, are entitled to complete dominion over the Earth and all the instinct-driven beasts within it.
Then God said, "Let us make human b…

Thought of the day

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Isaiah 45:7 says,
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things  In Matthew 6:13, Jesus instructs his followers to pray,
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
So, the Judeo-Christian god creates evil, and then wants you to ask him to be delivered from it. Makes perfect sense.




















h/t: Michael Hawkins

Strong or weak atheism?

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Most atheists, it seems will tell you that they are "weak atheists"; that is, the extent of their atheism is a "lack of belief in gods". This is just another way of saying, "Gods may or may not exist, but their existence hasn't been sufficiently established by falsifiable evidence, so I do not believe in them." This is often thought of as a sort of "agnostic atheism", and it's pretty consistent with where most non-believers fall. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins rates belief on a seven-point scale:
Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."Com…

Stephen Law tackles Plantinga

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Tristan authored a rebuttal of Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism over at Advocatus Atheist not too long ago, and now Stephen Law, who actually does this stuff professionally, has a paper up in the Oxford Journals called Naturalism, Evolution and True Belief that takes Plantinga on in even more detail. It's a beefy read, and personally I always find the heavy use of acronyms a bit confusing, but it's a good read if you're in to that sort of heavy philosophy.

Is Stephan Law's rebuttal successful? That's for you to decide.

The Perr-o-dies (see what I did there?) come rolling in

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Well, Rick Perry's made an ass of himself. I know, I'm shocked as well. And now, the parodies of his gay-bashing, falsehood-touting commercial have begun popping up. Some are clever, some are a little too try-hard, but it's encouraging that the reaction to Perry's bigotry and ignorance has been swift and merciless.


Shocking news: Biblical scholars are mostly Christians

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In his debate with Bart Ehrman, William Lane Craig – as he usually does – stated that there are four "facts" about the Resurrection:
Jesus' burialthe discovery of his empty tombhis post-mortem appearancesthe origin of the disciples' belief in his resurrection Ehrman, however, didn't take the bait; instead he challenged Craig on whether those "four facts" have been sufficiently established as facts. After taking a pounding in that debate, Craig has devised an ingenious dodge to circumvent similar arguments in the future: he simply states that most Biblical scholars agree on these historical facts. Well, of course they do: they are almost all Christians! In other news, the vast majority of Muslim scholars affirm the historicity of the Koran.

There are a handful of non-Christian Biblical scholars, but as you might imagine, work can be slim pickings for these folks. Most Biblical scholarship is done at theological seminaries, and what seminary wants to hire …

Evolution News says abiogenesis is in trouble

Over at the always unintentionally hilarious Evolution News blog (which, contrary to its name, is a site for Intelligent Design creationism) there's an article about some new research which has supposedly undermined naturalistic explanations for the origin of life – aka abiogenesis.

Oh, but don't get too excited – the IDer's still haven't done any original research. They're reporting on a study published in the journal Nature which suggests that as soon as 500 million years after its formation, Earth's atmosphere may have had abundant oxygen. Here's where the conundrum supposedly arises: scientists (real ones, not IDers) have long though that an anaerobic environment – that is, a low-oxygen or "reduced" atmosphere – would be best for the formation of the amino acids that would eventually form RNA. This new research, according to IDers anyway, suggests that the time was far too short for RNA to have formed by "chance".

Well, not according…

Best of 2011

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The year's not quite over yet, but there's nothing really notable on the horizon for the last few weeks of 2011. So I'm going to go ahead and dish out my picks for the things that I liked most this year.

Best book: The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen

Yes, he's related to Sacha Baron-Cohen (they're cousins). But this book isn't satirical; it's an exceptionally well-researched exposition on human empathy that moves important questions about morality (how can people be cruel?) away from religion and into the empirical sciences. This is one of those books I consider essential reading for non-believers; it's by no means a polemic, and he even states late in the book that he does not have a "Dawkinsian anti-religious agenda", but it's the kind of book – like A Brief History of Time, Primates and Philosophers or Religion Explained – that takes a Big Question traditionally monopolized by religion and demonstrates not only that the religious exp…

A believer's big fat fallacies

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See if you can spot the fallacy in statements like these:
The fact that the universe contains order and complexity shows that it operates according to finely-tuned lawsThe observation that humans have an intuitive sense of right and wrong is consistent with the Christian belief that God has created us to adhere to a higher Moral LawThe reliability of our cognitive faculties is consistent with the belief that God designed us to be rational beings With all these types of statements, while they may cause a skeptic's bullshit detector to start buzzing, it can be a bit difficult to identify exactly where the fallacy lies.  They're used often in the rhetoric of theologians as a means of giving faith-based ideas the illusion that they are grounded in reason, but their usage reveals a poor understanding of how rational inquiry actually works.

Technically, the fallacy at work here is assuming the consequent, where necessary and sufficient conditions are confused. For example, an intuit…

Rick Perry, in his own words

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I think all Obama needs to do to win the next election is just play the campaign ads from conservatives verbatim.


William Lane Craig says atheists are angry, whiny, and unsophisticated

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For guy who positions himself as someone who engages with and responds to the arguments and concerns of atheists, Craig does a consistently fine job of not having the first damn clue what the arguments and concerns of atheists actually are.

Serious treatment of the last post

The pic in my previous post, to me, seems like the kind of thing you'd see on Christian Nightmares. It's just amusing all by itself... at least, to non-believers. To us, the absurdity of it is readily apparent. But obviously to that believer, and many like her, it's not absurd at all – in fact, it's a completely normal part of their lives.

Basically, this friend of mine goes to the doctor worried she might have kidney stones. It turns out to be a few cysts, one of which ruptured. She immediately praises the Lord. I'm going to be charitable here and assume she's praising God not for giving her a ruptured cyst, but for preventing her from having more serious (or at least more painful) health complications.

So here's the problem: where, exactly does God play his role? Why not prevent her from having any health complications in the first place? Since when is a ruptured cyst something to be enthused about? No matter how serious the problem, though, the believer …

Because God micromanages illness

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Spied on my Facebook feed just now:

Depleted uranium (and skeptical thinking)

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I always try to emphasize that my non-belief is not a doctrine (how can it be?), but the outcome of a rational epistemology. Good critical thinking skills, of course, should not apply exclusively to the supernatural. That's why a lot of non-believers are also skeptics about alternative medicine, psychics, the Illuminati, and whatnot. But if there's one truth about critical thinking, it's that it can easily be compartmentalized.

There are some exceptionally smart people who go to great lengths to rationalize absurd beliefs, who fail to apply critical thinking skills to one area or another when, on the whole, they are generally rational individuals. That's why I often like to point out, when I'm accused of painting theists as stupid because I think they adhere to an irrational belief, that Isaac Newton – one of the most brilliant minds that ever lived – spent much of his life as an alchemist. You can be very smart, in general, and very wrong about specific things.

S…

Sophisticated theology (or, something that annoyed me yesterday)

Yesterday I popped over to Debunking Christianity, where John had a post up talking about some the paradoxes of the omni-qualities of God (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.). It's a great post. But, like clockwork, some Sophisticated Theologian™ calling himself Dr. G√ľnter Bechly chimed in to remind us all what intellectual cretins we all are:
"I am a scientist and not a Christian, but such arguments by new atheists are rather embarassing than convincing, because they show a fundamental ignorance or lack of knowledge about sophisticated theology. .... No professional philosopher could yet demonstrate that the concept of classical theism is logically incoherent. I know, you're probably peeling your palm off your face. But wait, there's more! When asked by others to expound on Monolism, part of this Sophisticated Theology™ of which we're apparently totally ignorant, our umlauted teacher replied,
"I am not prepared to explain Molinism here (get a book, read som…