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Showing posts from August, 2012

An atheist reads "True Reason": Chapter 4 (part 1)

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If there's any measure of success, influence, and cultural importance of Richard Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion, it probably lies in the huge wave of backlash it has provoked from believers. Personally, A Brief History of Time did far more to persuade me to reject theism than any polemic, but Dawkins' book (which I read when I was already an atheist) has certainly cut deep into the religious community.

That's evidenced in True Reason, where now two of the four chapters I've read are postured as responses to TGD. Previously, I read William Lane Craig's response and found it to be a quote-mining, dishonest smear. At this point, I'm quite frustrated with the book. I'll say it every time: I don't expect to be re-converted to Christianity, but I at least want to hear some ideas I had not considered – perhaps something that provokes me to critically re-examine some of my key beliefs. Instead, I've found that this book, like most apologist works …

An atheist reads "True Reason": Chapter 3

Tonight I read the third chapter of True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism. William Lane Craig, my favorite apologist punching bag, wrote chapter 3 of this book. Craig fancies himself a sophisticated philosopher and, when he's not proclaiming himself the winner of his own debates, loves to let everyone know how unimpressed he is with atheists' arguments.

The previous chapter of this book was an unmitigated disaster. Can a learned philosopher and theologian like Craig provide some much-needed leverage to this so far unimpressive book?

No.

Again, I must stress here that I am not expecting this book to convert me. But I am hoping it can at least present some arguments that raise points I have not yet considered. So far, though, the arguments of the book seem to count on its readers not actually reading the source material (see the previous entry for lots of examples). Craig's chapter is a criticism of Richard Dawkins' polemic The God Delusion. But Cr…

Atheism+ just digs its hole deeper

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I revisited the original post Richard Carrier wrote about "Atheism+". The comments from Carrier were not encouraging. Like this pearl of wisdom:
"Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are)."  Here's what Carrier doesn't get: it's possible to support equality for women, to be a good critical thinker, to support equal rights for homosexual and transgendered individuals, etc. etc., and still disagree with Richard Carrier or Jen McCreight's opinions on various topics related to those issues.

I thought Jen was as wrong as wrong can get about the whole Elevatorgate crap. I thought Thunderf00t  was right on many points and that his ban from FTB simply betrayed the emerging groupthink that I (and many others) figured was inevitable when FTB formed, which "atheism plus" has just put a…

An atheist reads "True Reason": Chapter 2

The introductory chapter didn't instill me with much confidence that this book will be remotely persuasive to anyone who isn't already a Christian. But there are sixteen chapters here, so there's plenty of time for the good stuff to hit. And to emphasize: it's not realistic, just as Richard Dawkins didn't expect to deconvert any die-hard believers with The God Delusion, that I'm going to summarily renounce atheism and go back to being a Christian immediately after reading this book. I'm hoping just to hear some arguments that cause me to rethink some of my key positions, and consider some different points of view.

But if the second chapter, written by Carson Weitnauer (who runs the site reasonsforgod.org) is any indication, that probably won't happen. This chapter is beyond bad. It's truly awful. It's full of so much misinformation, straw men and disjointed arguments that it was truly exasperating and, frankly, disappointing, to read. If they…

An atheist reads "True Reason": Chapter 1

True Reason is a collection of Christian apologetics, from a variety of Christian theologians (the only one with whom I am familiar is William Lane Craig, who contributed a critique of The God Delusion for chapter 2), that is postured as a response to the upsurge in atheism in the last five or six years. Y'know... people like me.

I've read several apologetics books since my deconversion – Tim Keller's The Reason for God, Francis Collins' The Language of God, and the aptly named The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias. And yet, I'm still an atheist! I haven't found any of the arguments persuasive yet. Maybe I just haven't heard the right one yet. Maybe I'm in denial. Maybe I'm just a fool. But I'm going to give it shot and read some more Christian apologetics and see if, at the very least, their critiques of atheism represent the arguments fairly and counter them effectively. Even if the book doesn't immediately re-convert me, it will have done i…

I'm gonna read a book on apologetics

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Because it's only $3, I'm going to read a book called True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism. Here's the description via Amazon:

While New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others proclaim loudly their rationality, clear thinking, and incontrovertible scientific arguments, others are beginning to wonder how genuinely rational they are. Have they proved anything? Have they argued convincingly? Have they pinpointed any real challenges to the credibility of Christian faith?

"True Reason," edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, brings together a compendium of writers--philosophers, apologists, ethicists, theologians, historians--who look carefully at the best arguments atheism has and evaluate their validity, logic, assumptions, and naturalist conclusions.

Authors include noted philosopher William Lane Craig and popular apologist Sean McDowell, along with Gilson, Weitnauer, John DePoe, Chuck Edwards, Matthew Flannag…

The Kalam Gravitational Argument

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1. Everything that exists must obey the law of gravity
2. The universe exists
3. Therefor, the universe must obey the law of gravity


A hat tip and, if you're in Tulsa, a beer, to anyone who can explain why this is an unsound argument. If you understand that, you can understand why the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God is unsound.

Hint: ontological categories


They took God out of the schools!

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I spied this video on Friendly Atheist today. I remember watching this as a teen... funny thing is, even then, as a devout Christian, I still knew it was bullshit. The opener talks about God being removed from schools. But I carried two Bibles to school, held Bible studies/prayer groups during lunch break and after school, and wore Christian t-shirts. Not only did no one ever complain, it was 100% legal. The only thing that got removed in the 1960s is teachers on the public payroll coercing children into prayer. The evangelical Christians are just pissed that they can't indoctrinate other people's kids. I don't want teachers handing out copies of The God Delusion any more than I want them leading my (future) kids in prayer. Why is it so difficult for some people to just live and let live?

I should also point out that since we took God out of the schools, we've seen a revolution in women's rights, equal rights for minorities, and (believe it or not) a decli…

I'm not always on board with those billboards

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For the most part, I like American Atheists' billboards. The ones that say, "You know it's a myth – this season, celebrate reason" are great because they're targeting closet non-believers. For the most part I enjoy the almost panicked reaction from Christians who are so accustomed to their beliefs being unchallenged that any public display of dissent or criticism is viewed as hostile and, if you watch Fox News, anti-American.

But this one in particular, which just got taken down after various threats were made, rubs me the wrong way:

Lots of this is true. The Biblical god is a sadist. There are well over 30,000 denominations of Christianity, at least according to the almighty Wikipedia. But I suppose it's the last one that kind of rubs me the wrong way. It's cryptic. It doesn't jive with the recorded words of Jesus which, fictional though they may be, didn't promote "hate". And if it's the actual Christians it's talking about, we…

The clumsy path to human evolution

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I wanted to write about this some time ago when it hit the newswire, but it slipped my mind until now. Recently, paleoanthropologists have unearthed a skull that reveals an unexpected find -- a third species of humans that co-existed with homo erectus and homo habilis that has been coined homo floresiensis. Now, researchers are trying to understand to what extent these species interacted and interbred. The discovery isn't without controversy; some scientists are still debating whether this is indeed a new species, though the consensus seems to be that it is. It's also possible that yet a fourth species was present at the time.

This is a important and fascinating discovery because it helps dispense with the popular myth that the evolutionary path to modern humans was a smooth, linear process as it is sometimes visualized in the famous "ape to man" pictures:



But this is not how it happened. Evolution was a messy mishmash of species that led to us in fits and starts. On…

Thought of the day

I visited Uncommon Descent to get the link for my previous post, and I couldn't help but notice the peculiar fact that they have lots and lots of posts attacking atheists and atheism. Why is that peculiar? Because 'Intelligent Design' advocates, or 'IDiots' as the biologist Larry Moran likes to refer to them, will go to great lengths to assure ID skeptics that their intelligent designer isn't necessarily a god at all, much less the Judeo-Christian god that the overwhelming majority of them believe in. Curious, then, that a blog supposedly devoted to "serving the intelligent design community" spends so much time talking about people who don't believe in gods.

Actually, it's probably not that curious.

Does Richard Dawkins support infanticide?

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I was doing some research for a forthcoming post, and I stumbled across the blog Wintery Knight. If you're wondering what it's like, it's basically like Wide As the Waters with a few extra megatons of science-denying, conservative-idolizing, atheist-bashing inanity. Hard to fathom, but read it at your own risk.

The anonymous author of this blog frequently references the creationist blog Uncommon Descent, which is one of the blogs of the ID-touting comedy troupe The Discovery Institute. And he pulled a doozy of a Youtube clip from there in which it appears that Richard Dawkins is rather unequivocally endorsing infanticide. Here's the clip, as posted on the site:



How horrible! Surely this is proof that atheism leads to a complete abandonment of the sanctity of human life -- not at all like the god of the Bible, who only slaughtered children and/or ordered his minions to do so when it was, like, culturally appropriate at the time.

This isn't just a lesson in face-pal…

Link of the day: Richard Dawkins interviewed by Playboy

What's better than an interview with Richard Dawkins? An interview with Richard Dawkins plus hot chicks, of course. Warning: some modest 'adult' images in the link, which may not be work or home safe if you're surrounded by people who think the scantily clad female body is gross, evil, and sinful.

http://www.playboy.com/playground/view/playboy-interview-richard-dawkins

It's a very good interview. I particularly like this line, because I'm a big fan of pointing out the sheer absurdity of Christian theology:
It’s a truly disgusting idea that the creator of the universe—capable of inventing the laws of physics and designing the evolutionary process—that this protégé of supernatural intellect couldn’t think of a better way to forgive our sins than to have himself tortured to death. And what a terrible lesson to say we’re born in sin because of the original sin of Adam, a man even the Catholic Church now says never existed.

Shermer, Carrol, and Falzon chat atheism on "The Point"

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Good stuff...


"Atheism Plus"?

Freethought Blogs (sigh) is afire with several of its more prominent writers (Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Richard Carrier) rambling on about some new 'movement' they want to start to distinguish the good atheists from the bad ones. Greta Christina starts it out in flawlessly hyperbolic form:
If you’ve been getting worn down and discouraged by the seemingly-endless barrage of misogyny and trolling and hateful stupid in atheism and skepticism lately… read this. The problem is that what constitutes 'hateful' or 'stupid' or 'misogyny' has been the subject of quite a bit of discussion and debate, and the Thunderf00t debacle showed that if you're not willing to uncritically wave the flag of the loudest bloggers over on FTB, it's time to take a hike. But anyway, Richard Carrier jumped on board and expounds:
I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.
Its basic values (and …

Quote of the day

"It’s simplistic to argue that belief in God alone makes people evil — obviously it’s more than that and we all know people who will say they’re better human beings because of their faith — but it’s willfully ignorant to avoid any discussion of how religion might contribute to violence." – Hemant Mehta

David Silverman vs. Fox News on the 9/11 Cross

Right in line with his stellar talk at FreeOK in July, David Silverman goes on Fox 'News' to defend the lawsuit that's trying to get the 9/11 cross removed from the Ground Zero Museum:

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

Couple o' things. First, I can't help but laugh at the us-vs-them way that Fox is framing the discussion. Their second guest is introduced with a picture of a loved one lost in the tragedy, as though no atheists, Muslims, or people of any other faiths lost loved ones. Kelly coddles him and mocks atheists as he laments that atheists are "trying to destroy America".

Meanwhile, Kelly is predictably condescending and dismissive toward Silverman, basking in her Christian Privilege™. She completely dodges the actual issue at hand, which is that this isn't some 'symbol' found in the wreckage – it's a cross that was taken out, reshaped, blessed by a priest, and inscribed. There's nothing miraculous about finding a gna…

Dawkins on debates

This seems pertinent in light of my previous post...
If your case depends on pulpit-style oratory, manipulating the emotions of your audience and playing with words, debates will probably work for you very well. They do not, however, work well for explaining science. Debates play to the emotions, to soundbites, to oratorical flourishes and, all too often, to sheer volume. They may make for good drama, but they do not make for good understanding. Fine if your goal is to grandstand; no good at all if it is to educate. - Richard Dawkins

Nobody cares about William Lane Craig

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Today over on Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta has a post talking about why atheists pay attention to creationists like Ken Ham. He says,
We go after Ham because, whether it’s right to take the Bible literally or not, more than 100,000,000 Americans already buy into that lie and he’s one of the ringleaders. It’s the same reason atheists love to quote horrible Bible verses. It’s not because we think people should take random lines (in and out of context) from the Bible at face value; it’s because so many people already do. But it's his next paragraph that hits home for me:
This is also why I don’t find it useful to pay attention to what “sophisticated theologians” have to say. Most Christians aren’t paying attention to them, either, so why bother debating a version of Christianity so few people even know about? Isn't that the truth? How many Christians have the slightest idea who Alvin Plantinga is? Alister McGrath? Even Francis Collins is probably way more famous for being the &#…

Richard Carrier: Are Christians Delusional?

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Short answer: duh.



This is a great talk that lightheartedly but poignantly mocks the sheer absurdity of the Christian religion -- particularly the fact that its beliefs are every bit as bizarre as any other cult or religion you can think of, which is obvious to most people who've studied comparative religion.

I particularly like the line about the Christian idea that "God needs blood to fix the universe, but only his own blood has enough magical power to do it, so he gave himself a body and killed it." I've asked countless Christians how it is that God can sacrifice himself to himself to pay the price he determined was necessary to free us from a curse he put on us (which is a pretty damn fair assessment of Christian doctrine), but I've yet to get a straight answer and I doubt I ever will.


Gallup: Atheism is on the rise in the US

Hide your kids! Hide your wife! Yet another poll shows what we all already know: the industrialized world is becoming less and less religious. But the latest Gallup poll shows not only a whopping 13% decline in those who say they are 'religious', but a 4% increase in those who identify as 'atheist':

The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent. What interesting is that this has all happened in the last seven years – the time frame of the 'new atheist' movement.
The seven years between the polls is notable because 2005 saw the publication of “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, the first in a wave of best-selling books on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and othe…

David Barton finally eats some crow

I blogged about David Barton a long time ago. He's a guy who founded a group called Wall Builders, which claims that most of what you think you know about American history is a bunch of liberal nonsense. America is really all about Jesus, and the Founding Fathers were all ministers who basically wanted a Christian theocracy.

The snowball started rolling when NPR did a piece that exposed the outright garbage that Barton has been peddling as history. Conservative scholars who had yet to drink the Barton kool-aid were curious about this, so they looked into it. And, turns out, Barton – shockingly – is a liar. The result? His publisher, a conservative Christian organization, pulled his book:
Casey Francis Harrell, director of corporate communications for Thomas Nelson, tells the newspaper that it had gotten several complaints about the book and found enough errors to cancel it, halt new shipments and recall unsold copies. So, a small victory for truth and justice. But there was o…

Misquoting Einstein

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Religious people, for whatever reason, like to quote Einstein. I suppose they imagine that some of his comments that seem pro-faith give a boost to religion by having a super smart guy in its corner. I'm talking about stuff like this:

Let's ignore the fact that, like lots of quotes attributed to Einstein, Einstein never actually said this. Ever. At all. Turns out that a quick Google search reveals Albert Einstein to be a veritable treasure trove of bogus quotes. That's the problem with the internet: people just share stuff without sourcing it.

First of all, it doesn't matter what Einstein thought about religion. He was a brilliant physicist and undeniably a smart fellow, but that doesn't preclude him from being wrong from time to time. Let's not forget that after Isaac Newton discovered the laws of motion, the laws of optics, universal gravitation and differential calculus, he spent the rest of his life dedicated to the pseudoscience of alchemy. When you resort…

The problem of suffering... redux

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Long ago – actually, back when this blog was still called The Apostasy – I did a post called The Problem of Suffering. To this day I'm very proud of it; while I might add to or revise many of my older posts if I were to write them now simply because of all I've learned, that particular post is one that I think still holds up as well as the day I wrote it.

At the top of the site page, there's a tab for something called The Gospel Challenge. It was a post that I wrote that I felt concisely summarized my objections to the claim that the gospels are divinely inspired, and I felt it worthy of sticking up as a fixture to the site (since the overwhelming majority of my theist visitors have been Christians). I'm going to do the same with the content that follows here.

I've been thinking about the problem of suffering again, prompted by William Lane Craig's recent lecture on the topic here in Tulsa, along with a recent article penned by Oxford theologian Alister McGrath

AC Grayling confirmed for American Atheists' national convention in 2013!

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Religion isn't faring well in the marketplace of ideas

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Here's some food for thought:

What do you call someone who mocks something the church considers sacred? You guessed it – a blasphemer.

What do you call someone who questions or openly criticizes church doctrine? You guessed it – a heretic.

What about someone who abandons the church for either another church or no church at all? You guessed it – an apostate.

Now, think about someone who openly questions, criticizes or mocks a political ideology. What's the name for that? Can you think of one? What about someone who changes political parties? Or maybe you can think of a name for someone who changes their mind about a philosophical issue, or a scientific one. I sure can't, though.

Religion has such a rich history of suppressing critical inquiry that it actually has names that marginalize people with dissenting views. These aren't innocuous labels, either; for most of religion's history, being labeled a heretic, apostate or blasphemer was sure grounds for imprisonment,…

Photographs from the Mars Curiosity rover!

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We've landed on Mars, and holy shit! There are aliens everywhere!



Okay, those are from Prometheus... which I just found out today has been officially given the green light for a sequel. Great news for guys like me and Roger Ebert who think it's awesome. Maybe not such a big deal for people who think it was total shit though.

Anyway, we landed on Mars! Well, not us, but a robot! Again!

Don't get me wrong, it's cool and all, but when are we gonna get the terraforming? The chicks with three boobs? Kuato? "Quaaaaaaiddd... start... the re-ac-torrrrr...."

No, in case you forgot already, this is what the action-packed surface of Mars looks like:


I guess it's kind of a fixer-upper.

Inquisitive minds, guarded minds

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I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but I've changed my mind on a lot of things. I deconverted from Christianity after a lengthy study of theology and comparative religion that included several extended dialogues with clergy. Nearly a decade later, I deconverted from an agnostic theist to a full-on atheist. More recently, I've refined my views on topics ranging from free will to the value of philosophers to the ethics of industrial farming and animal testing.

That's happened because no matter what I think, I seek out contrary views. I treat my own ideas with skepticism. It's important to understand that no idea is sacred; nothing should be above skeptical scrutiny, criticism, or even mockery.

In the last week, I've had a couple of visitors to my blog who clearly have a different sort of mindset – a guarded one. It's not the first time this has happened, but it pops up occasionally. Someone finds me through some search engine or RSS, finds me talking …

The "Awful Atheists" article

Hemant Mehta brought to my attention an article from Alternet (which I tend to avoid) in which some guy named Ian Murphy, whom I suppose fancies himself a fantastic atheist, labels five fairly prominent non-believers as "awful atheists". He begins,
Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff—likely owing their prominence to these same benighted beliefs, lending an air of scientific credibility to the myths corporate media seeks to highlight, and thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists in the long-term. In other words: The crap always rises to the top. It's true that being an atheist, just like being very intelligent in general, is not a buttress against believing in some stupid and/or simply erroneous things. But what makes this article worthy of an old-fashioned facepalm is the haste and hubris with which Murphy dismisses and ridicules their views. I'll reprint Hemant's summary, because I think it's pretty fair and accurate:
Sam …

An omnivore's dilemma

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Tonight I re-watch the documentary Food, Inc. It advocates a reduction in factory farming of all types, especially animal farming, and an increase in organic farming in lieu of commercial fertilizers.

But here's a question that pops up in my mind....

How do you increase organic farming, which requires manure, while decreasing animal farming – which is what produces manure?

An 'omnivore's dilemma' indeed.