Showing posts from May, 2012

The Gospel Challenge

All the recent hullabaloo over the historical Jesus (or Jesus McGee, as I like to call him) got me thinking about some of my past arguments regarding the historical reliability of the Bible. Oddly enough, the Bible's historicity or lack thereof wasn't really a factor in my deconversion 13 years ago; it was more spurred by what I perceived as the inanity of the theology (I've often said that reading the book of Hebrews did more to deconvert me than anything else). But the generally lousy reliability of the Bible as a collection of historical documents has certainly bolstered my confidence in my deconversion over the years. I'm talking specifically about the New Testament (and more specifically, the gospels), although the OT is cannon fodder as well. What's interesting, though, is that Christians actually tend to agree on a lot of the basic facts. We generally agree that: The gospels were written, at the earliest, several decades after Jesus purportedly lived, in

7 Myths About New Atheists: Myth #3 – Atheists judge all believers by the worst of them

I recently watched the discussion/debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tim Rutton , and if there was anything that Hutton kept hammering on it's that he agreed with a lot of what Hitchens said about the perversity of many religious practitioners. But the point he hammered back with is that the extremists, the fundamentalists, the evolution deniers, the war mongers, the gay and women haters, the privilege seekers, etc, are not representative of all believers. I've mentioned my brother before, and it's appropriate here to mention him again. He's a devout evangelical Christian, and a blue-blooded liberal. I won't try to guess his stance on various political issues, but he certainly sees himself as pro-science. He's a big fan of guys like Francis Collins and Ken Miller, devout Christians who also happen to be prominent biologists who speak out against the folly of creationism. It was Miller, after all, who helped expose Intelligent Design for the pseudoscience

7 Myths About New Atheists: Myth #2 – atheists think believers are stupid

I think this stemmed partly from the deliberately provocative title of the hugely popular polemic The God Delusion . Perhaps it's research that correlates liberalism and non-belief with IQ . But whatever the root of it, believers seem to think atheists view them as unsophisticated, unintelligent, and uneducated. Really, I don't get this one. Surely we don't think the problem with the eminent biologist Francis Collins, who helped found the human genome project, is that he's just not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Surely we don't think that devout Christian Kenneth Miller, the evolutionary biologist at Brown who publicly humiliated advocates of Intelligent Design in the infamous Dover trial , that he just needs to go back to college. These guys are obviously highly intelligent, and they're Christians. But here's the rub: just because someone is intelligent doesn't make them immune from adhering to irrational, even delusional beliefs. intelligent pe

New atheists and 'unsophisticated' philosophy

One of the criticisms that the William Lane Craigs, Alister McGraths and Alvin Plantingas have of some of the new atheist tomes, like The God Delusion is that they are very 'unsophisticated' in their treatment of philosophy . Presumably, someone with a doctorate in philosophy (like Craig) ought to be better than, say, a neuroscientist or a biologist at identifying a logically fallacious argument. But here's the catch. There's a difference between a valid argument and sound argument . This is a valid argument: If penguins capable of flying exist, then it is likely that some penguins have flown Penguins capable of flying exist Therefor it is likely that some penguins have flown This is a valid argument because if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows (for the nitpicky nerds, we can ignore the inductive vs. deductive forms for now). But you might say, Hey! Wait a second! There's no evidence that flying penguins exist! And you'd be right. Th

Real life: why 'pro-life' policies are bullshit

There's a trend among some arch conservatives to advocate the total outlaw abortion in all cases, and that sort of nutbaggery is fringe and shocking enough for its sheer audacious stupidity that it usually makes headlines. But a far more common idea among the pro-life movement is that abortion should be outlawed except in cases of rape, incest, or (the big one) a threat to the health of the mother or a child with a terminal birth defect. Now, being pro-choice doesn't mean being pro-abortion. In principle, I don't want abortion done casually either. It's a serious decision to made between a woman and her doctor. But I heard a story today that really hits home as to why even the idea that abortion should only be permissible in certain circumstances cannot possibly work as a policy. Anencephaly  is a birth defect in which the fetus' skull and major portions of its brain do not develop. The brain either doesn't form, or is totally unprotected. Upon birth (assumi

7 Myths About New Atheists: Myth #1 – Atheists Are Angry

During my hiatus I watched plenty of old and new debates and discussions between atheists and believers. Time and time again, I see the same misguided platitudes repeated by the critics of the so-called "new atheism", and they only serve to stymie the discussion. I suppose I could be pigeonholed as part of this new atheist movement, so I've compiled a list of 7 myths that believers (and occasionally, fellow atheists) have about what Jerry Coyne refers to as "gnu atheism". Myth #1: Atheists are angry  Atheists are not, in general, angry people. Hemant Mehta's blog is called The Friendly Atheist for a reason: he's trying to show people that you can hold an unpopular view or critique ideas that are often shielded from skeptical inquiry, and that doesn't make you an asshole . I'm not saying there aren't some really angry atheists out there, who are just angry all the time at everyone who isn't like them – but they're not representat

Christopher Hitchens with Tim Rutten

 Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends...

Daniel Dennett on what should replace religion


I'm taking time off

I'm going to take an indefinite hiatus from The A-Unicornist . I need the break. I have a lot of things I want to do, day to day. At the top of my list of things to cut way back on is what I fondly call "dicking around on the internet". I have a lengthy list of bookmarked blogs, and writing can be a fairly time-consuming endeavor – especially factoring in the time I spend commenting on other blogs. Truth be told I'm just a little sick of it all. Arguing with theists is usually a waste of time – people need an inquisitive mindset, not a defensive one, before changing their mind becomes a possibility. And yet, despite knowing this, I sometimes just can't help myself when I see something that in my estimation is an affront to reason. But that's something I need to let go. I'm just a little sick of religion being on my brain. I'm an atheist, after all. I just want to go about my life and do my own thing. It's time I spend more of my energy on my

Christianity isn't an oppressed minority

"Christianity isn't an oppressed minority; Christianity is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that this nation has ever experienced. Christianity doesn't need to be pandered to, it needs to be challenged, questioned, stood up to, and even mocked at times. Christians who don't get that are still part of the problem because they still think that their religion merits special deference and privileges." – Austin Cline at Related: Christian privilege

Yes, Richard Carrier exists

The extant Richard Carrier Master sophist Glenn Peoples has a post up over at his blog that attempts to cleverly mock Richard Carrier's skepticism about a historical Jesus by asking, Does Richard Carrier Exist? Now, Glenn didn't actually write this (someone named Tim McGrew did), but he thinks it's clever. It's posted under "humor", but the message is a serious one: that it's silly of Carrier to question Jesus' existence, and that supposedly similar logic can be used to question Carrier's own existence (in this case, oft-abused Bayesian probability). I've detailed the reasons why the New Testament is not historically reliable in previous posts, like this one , so I'm not going to rehash all that here. Suffice to say that there is absolutely no reason at all to believe that Jesus, as he is described in the Bible, is anything but a myth. Might the myth have been based on a real person? Plausibly, but it's conjectural and irrelevan

The Heartland Institute uses the Unabomber to assail global warming

I hadn't heard of the Heartland Institute before today. It's an anti-science conservative libertarian think tank specializing in, among other dubious things, climate change denial. It's bad enough that they tout the widely discredited non-scandal " Climategate " as evidence of global warming being a fraud, but most befitting of their ideology is the logic behind this billboard (I swear I am not making this up): Then, after 24 hours, they pulled it and apologized... but not before declaring it a success and bashing scientists. If you think this is dumb, you're right. Let's see what happens when we apply similar logic to some other famous people:

Faith and doubt

A telling commonality between myself and other apostates I've encountered over the years is just how much we wrestled with doubt when we were believers. Even more revealing, though, is finding through many conversations with believers, sermons from my old pastors, and confidential letters sent to me from old church friends, that doubt is not just the gateway drug for apostasy but a salient obstacle for believers which must constantly be warded off. Sometimes, doubt is assuaged simply with the assumption that someone else probably has it figured out – the person next to you in the pew, the pastor, the deacons... someone can make sense of this stuff... right? Many times, it's safety in numbers or appeals to authority – surely all these people couldn't be wrong, could they? And so-and-so is a highly educated scientist, and he still believes! Other times, it assuaged through convoluted rationalizations bordering on self-deception – from esoteric apologetics to the colloqui