Monday, August 31, 2009

Atheist Reading List

Atheism and Naturalism (which I'm currently revising) is a book I highly recommend to other atheists because I wrote it to be the best book on Atheism that there could be, and because I've got nothing but good reviews (just click the link to see for yourself: four good reviews, zero negative). But for those who don't think its appropriate for me to honk my own horn, I've put together a list of good books that I think all atheists should read:

1. Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy (Ideas Explained)

This is a book which is highly readable, covers nearly every argument for the existence of god, and in general is full of good skeptical thinking. More advanced readers in philosophy should try J.L. Mackie's book The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God which is a bit more rigorous but ultimately achieves the same purpose.


2. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism

This is Richard Carrier's magnum opus on metaphysical naturalism (the view that nature is all there is, which entails atheism). This book is fascinating, thorough, and includes many facts and arguments which you will seldom see anywhere else. In short, you will learn a lot from reading this book. I don't buy all of Carrier's philosophy, still, he is right much more often than not. This is the best book on Naturalism you can buy. Everything from Ethics to Epistemology to Politics is covered.

3. The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins' book on Atheism and belief. Although Dawkins is a mediocre philosopher and most certainly does not address all of the arguments for God's existence, his centerpiece argument, the Ultimate 747, is valid and is a very good demonstration that god probably does not exist.

4. God: The Failed Hypothesis

This is a book that, more than any other, led me into atheism. It does a remarkable job of debunking the "fine tuning" arguments for god's existence, shows how the universe might have come from nothing, and really prepares you to think critically and scientifically about god's existence.

5. Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God

This is a case for theism. But, it is a much, much better defense of theism than I have read or heard anywhere else. It was written by professional philosopher, but he has broken down his arguments so that anyone can understand them. Although I have some misgivings about it, I still think it is a good experience to read such an intelligent defense of theism.

Extra Credit: Books on specific topics related to theism and atheism that I recommend.

Freedom Evolves

Dan Dennett's book on free will and determinism.

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man

A book by Robert M. Price concerning the historical reliability of the gospels. Presents some very intriguing theories and argues for agnosticism reguarding the historical Jesus because all of the evidence can be plausibly explained from a mythicist standpoint. This is not like any book you've ever read on Jesus!

Why Evolution Is True

An excellent, excellent book on the massive evidence for evolution explained in an easily readable manner.

An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy)

This is a great introduction to epistemology (philosophy of knowledge).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Books That I Want

Just randomly felt like writing about the books I'm looking forward to reading. I'll have to wait until I finish school and get a decent job before I can buy them (I'm unemployed and in college right now) but if anyone wants to send me one as a gift, you can do so by going to my Amazon WishList. Let it be known that I have no problem with used books!

1. Hume's Problem: Induction and the Justification of Belief

This book is about philosopher David Hume's infamous problem of induction. Induction is a form of reasoning in which we generalize from a limited number of things that all things of that category are the same. For example, the sun has risen every day of my life, so I reason that it will tomorrow morning. The problem of induction is that this form of reasoning is a nonsequitur: There is no logical argument that the sun must rise tomorrow or even that it probably will rise tomorrow. What I've observed in the past really doesn't seem to have any bearing on what will happen in the future.

2. UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus

This book debunks the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. The author compares the growth rate of myths and legends today to the possible growth rate of the legends in the NT from the original events.

3. Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins

This book is supposed to be a thorough report on the current state of origin-of-life studies, and current theories.

4. Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism

This is a philosophical book defending a theory of knowledge called Strong (or Classical) Foundationalism. Since I believe that Foundationalism is the most promising theory of knowledge mankind has devised, I'm eager to read this defense of it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Faith Debate Pt. 6

Justin Martyr posted a new response to me over on his blog. He basically thinks that his personal experience of God is the same as his personal experience that he ate an egg sandwich.

I disagree. First of all, if we wanted we could take a poll and establish about how many people eat egg sandwiches for breakfast. Let's say that it is .1%. So the initial probability is about .1%. But how often do people hallucinate eating some breakfast? I would suppose that it would be much less than .1%. How many people are mistaken about what they ate for breakfast? I would suppose very few, especially if they were given time to recall, and if they vividly recalled their breakfast this morning. Therefore, you could conlude that they had an egg sandwich, because it is the most probable explanation for the data.

Now, why is this different from subjective assertions? For the reason that I outlined in my last post:

Seeing a tree is not quite the same as feeling the 'inner witness' of the Holy Spirit. For one thing, we can all see the tree. Even if someone was raised in a place where there were no trees, you could still show them a tree (though they would not know what to call it). Furthermore, dowsers, psychics, and alternative medicine gurus often truly believe that they have powers, but we obviously know that they are wrong, so subjective beliefs about objective reality are simply irrelevant and not valid guides to it. I suppose you could say that the psychics, alternative medicine gurus, and dowsers are lying for money, but I don't think that's true. Have a look at "The Enemies of Reason" with Richard Dawkins and see for yourself whether these people are worrying about financial gain (or are insincere). Better yet, take a look at all the studies on placebos that have been done.

The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not quite like seeing a tree because most people who were not raised Christian do not have it. The cultural context in which someone grows up and lives in almost always predicts what their inner feelings about religion are. And of course most culturally specific beliefs (meaning not held by most human beings the world over, but only in certain cultural contexts), at least the ones concerning religion, are false. The fact is that if you had been raised in India, Saudi Arabia, or Europe (before the 4th Century) you would very probably not have any inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Maybe an inner witness of Allah, or Krishna, or Hercules, or Aesclepius, but almost certainly not the Holy Spirit. Since we can see that subjective feelings about God are strongly correlated with culture, and most cultures have to be wrong, then this type of feeling is not a valid type of evidence for God because it is usually wrong.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Favorite False Bible Prophecies

A couple weeks ago my local nontheist group, Montgomery Freethought, held a meeting in which author Bob Collins came and spoke on his "favorite false bible prophecies". One of them was Matt. 19:27-28:

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Bob, this prophecy is false because at least one of the disciples wouldn't get to fulfill this role: Judas. So this led me to a couple of questions: Why is it that Judas could not have sat on a throne to judge the twelve tribes? He was a traitor, I know, but how could that stop him from sitting on a throne in heaven? Also, what about Matthias, Judas' replacement?

Bob Responded as follows and gave me permission to post this on my blog. His words will be in italics and my response will be in bold:

Judas could not have sat on a throne at the Judgement Day because Christian theology holds that Judas burns forever in Hell because he betrayed Jesus. The usual verse cited for this is Matthew 26:24, "The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born".

I agree. Saying that it would have been better for a traitor of Jesus not to have been born very, very clearly implies hell.


Matthias is never mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus very specifically named the Twelve Apostles, which did not include Matthias (Luke 6:13-16). Although the book of Acts says that Matthias was chosen by lot (Acts 1:23-26), he is only mentioned in that one passage. Matthias is mentioned nowhere else in the whole Bible.

Although Matthias might have been present (Acts 1:21) when Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 19:28, his complete absence from any mention in any of the Gospels, and his complete absence from any other book in the Bible, except for a brief mention in Acts, would indicate that his position in the early church was not significant, and that his "apostleship" was not recognized.

Christian theology teaches that God chose the twelfth Apostle - Paul, who is believed to have written many of the letters in the New Testament. He specifically says that God chose him as an apostle in Galatians 1:1. He calls himself an Apostle in many places - Romans 1:1, Romans 11:13, 1 Corinthians 1:1, and many others.

Having been present at Matthew 19:28 would have been an extremely powerful argument in favor of Paul's Apostleship, since Jesus' own words would have placed him on one of only twelve thrones on Judgement Day. But there is no evidence that Paul ever made this claim, in spite of the fact that his Apostleship was not widely recognized at first (Acts 9:26).

Even late in his ministry, some questioned Paul's apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11-12). Paul had to very strongly argue for his apostleship. Paul having been present at Matthew 19:28 would have greatly strengthened this argument, but it is not mentioned.

Since Paul did not convert until a long while after Jesus' death, and his letters never once mention him meeting Jesus before he died even when there would have been extremely good reasons for him to do so, we can be sure that the Bible makes no claim that Paul was present when Matthew 19:28 occurred and in fact strongly supports the contention that Paul was not there.

Thanks again,
Bob Collins

Sounds like an airtight case for a contradiction, Bob. Thanks! By the way, those who want to order Bob's book should check out his website: http://www.freethinkersbooks.com/

As of this writing, his website is under construction, but I'm sure you can contact him here:

robertcollins1776 AT gmail DOT com

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Faith Debate Pt. 5

Justin has posted a new response to me on his blog and this is my response to him (as always, his words are in italics):

[S]ubjective experience is a type of evidence, in which case I'm defending the position that the posterior probability that God exists given a religious experience is high. Afterwords, that degree of belief becomes the new prior. Either way the question is the same: is personal subjective experience a rational basis for a belief?

This would lead me back to my original statement: Your reasoning is that if the Christian God exists, then we are warranted in trusting our inner experience of God and of believing that muslims and atheist's inner experience are due to their hardness of heart, demons, or something else. But this reasoning begs the issue at hand: What we want to know is whether or not Christianity is true, not conditional statements about it possibly being true. We cannot begin by assuming that Christianity is or is not true. We have to begin with a more agnostic stance, because that is really where we are. We don't know if the Christian God exists, but subjective experience of him is not good evidence because people's emotional, subjective experiences are usually wrong, as is evidence by the followers of Ras Tafari, the born materialists (if you're a theist), the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.

Justin responds to this as follows:

Christians do not begin by assuming that Christianity is true. Rather, they begin by assuming that their personal experiences are generally true. That forms the basis for believe as explained at the start of this post. The burden of proof falls on atheists to provide evidence that religious experiences are a delusion. Simply applying the principles of indifference does not work. When I see a tree I should not have to be indifferent between 'there is a tree' and 'my senses are deluded and there is no tree.' If on the other hand, a skeptic can show that the tree is just a giant cardboard cutout then I will reject the evidence of my senses. But even so, the burden of proof falls on atheists, not Christians. Faith is rational without evidence.

Seeing a tree is not quite the same as feeling the 'inner witness' of the Holy Spirit. For one thing, we can all see the tree. Even if someone was raised in a place where there were no trees, you could still show them a tree (though they would not know what to call it). Furthermore, dowsers, psychics, and alternative medicine gurus often truly believe that they have powers, but we obviously know that they are wrong, so subjective beliefs about objective reality are simply irrelevant and not valid guides to it. I suppose you could say that the psychics, alternative medicine gurus, and dowsers are lying for money, but I don't think that's true. Have a look at "The Enemies of Reason" with Richard Dawkins and see for yourself whether these people are worrying about financial gain (or are insincere). Better yet, take a look at all the studies on placebos that have been done.

The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not quite like seeing a tree because most people who were not raised Christian do not have it. The cultural context in which someone grows up and lives in almost always predicts what their inner feelings about religion are. And of course most culturally specific beliefs (meaning not held by most human beings the world over, but only in certain cultural contexts), at least the ones concerning religion, are false. The fact is that if you had been raised in India, Saudi Arabia, or Europe (before the 4th Century) you would very probably not have any inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Maybe an inner witness of Allah, or Krishna, or Hercules, or Aesclepius, but almost certainly not the Holy Spirit. Since we can see that subjective feelings about God are strongly correlated with culture, and most cultures have to be wrong, then this type of feeling is not a valid type of evidence for God because it is usually wrong.

Justin has an amazon list in which he wrote the following:

The obvious challenge is that you would then be free to declare anything a properly basic belief. Alvin Plantinga calls this the "Great Pumpkin Objection" in honor of Linus from the cartoon strip. But there is some fine print attached to properly basic beliefs. (1) They must have a truthful origin. Linus does not have a properly basic belief because it is based on his parent's lie. If Christianity really ripped off the ancient mystery religions then it wouldn't be a properly basic belief either. The second criteria is that they cannot contradict other beliefs (properly basic or otherwise). For example, if there is no solution for the problem of evil then Christians would be forced to reject faith in God. In that case the existence of evil contradicts the existence of a loving God.

But Linus does not know that what his parents said was a lie, and since Linus strongly feels that there is a Great Pumpkin, how would he not be justified in believing it by your epistemology?

Miscellaneous Points

AIG Busted makes a new argument against the demon. It essentially mirrors the Dawkins/Dennett position against the existence of God – the Demon is too complex to be probable. In the words of Dennett, the Demon is a skyhook, not a crane. I could make a rebuttal and point to the irreducible complexity inherent in both theories of the multiverse. In other words, atheism needs cranes [I think Justin here means 'skyhooks'] too. I see no reason to favor the multiverse over the evil demon on that ground. But I don’t want to get dragged into an evidential debate.

I wouldn't say that the multiverse is a skyhook. Most multiverse theories involve lots of empty space (which in physics, is not quite 'nothing' but is still as simple a something as you can get) or one original universe which makes a few black holes that evolve into other universes. I would consider that incredibly simple.

My subjective personal experience is a perfectly legitimate basis for that belief. We have tons of these beliefs: how much weight I lifted at the gym, whether or not I killed that annoying guy PwnzJ00 in Quake, and whether or not that person in the old beat-up pickup truck let us change lanes.

Again, sense experience is not quite the same as emotional feeling.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

I'm writing this post as a response to an article on Internet Infidels that addressed philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (Which Plantinga explains here).

Since survival and reproduction depend on our interaction with matter and energy that exists beyond our neurology, it is safe to conclude that our neurology has evolved in such a way that it provides an accurate representation of this exterior reality.

No, its safe to conclude that our neurology has evolved in such a way as to cause beliefs in response to environmental stimuli that prolong survival. It says nothing about whether those caused beliefs mirror the stimuli that caused them.

[W]hat other process of development would produce a more reliable method of picturing true reality than an evolutionary process that directly interacts with this external reality (think photons on retinal G-protein coupled receptors, or olfactory sensory neurons)?

Good question. And I would have to say that the best, perhaps only, belief system that could evolve would a true (or mostly true) one. Still, that doesn't preclude the possibility that some elaborate false belief system evolved which causes survival-promoting behavior but does not correspond with objective reality.

Therefore, even if belief propositions had an a priori truth probability of 1:1, empirical evidence could still allow us to rationally hold belief sets by refining a posteriori truth probabilities.

That presupposes that our observations correspond with reality.

And by the way, Stephen Law wrote a pretty convincing paper on the EEAN which can be accessed here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New articles

I've mentioned this once before, but I'll go ahead and repost it: I have a new article up on DB Skeptic that responds to Gary Habermas' case for Jesus' resurrection.

Also, there's a new article on Internet Infidels (not authored by me) about Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Misconceptions about the Human Appendix

Some new research suggests that the human appendix evolved twice. Here's what sciencedaily reported about it:

"Maybe it's time to correct the textbooks," says William Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor of surgical sciences at Duke and the senior author of the study. "Many biology texts today still refer to the appendix as a 'vestigial organ.'"

This is downright ignorant. An organ does not have to be totally useless to be vestigial. From the 29 Evidences for MacroEvolution:

A vestige is defined, independently of evolutionary theory, as a reduced and rudimentary structure compared to the same complex structure in other organisms. Vestigial characters, if functional, perform relatively simple, minor, or inessential functions using structures that were clearly designed for other complex purposes. Though many vestigial organs have no function, complete non-functionality is not a requirement for vestigiality.

For example, wings are very complex anatomical structures specifically adapted for powered flight, yet ostriches have flightless wings. The vestigial wings of ostriches may be used for relatively simple functions, such as balance during running and courtship displays—a situation akin to hammering tacks with a computer keyboard. The specific complexity of the ostrich wing indicates a function which it does not perform, and it performs functions incommensurate with its complexity. Ostrich wings are not vestigial because they are useless structures per se, nor are they vestigial simply because they have different functions compared to wings in other birds. Rather, what defines ostrich wings as vestigial is that they are rudimentary wings which are useless as wings.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Faith Debate, Pt.4

Justin and I have decided to extend our debate by another 1-2 posts each. Here is the roster of posts:


1. Justin's opening statement. A defense of properly basic beliefs.
2. AIG Busted's opening statement. Based on Bayesian decision theory.
3. AIG Busted's rebuttal to Justin's opening.
4. Justin's rebuttal to AIG Busted's opening.
5. Justin's new post on "3 Broad Themes in the Debate".

Here is my latest response to him:

First, Justin seems to think that subjective religious experiences raise the prior probability that God exists. I simply don't understand how this follows, and it would seem to me that subjective experience would be a kind of evidence that falls under posterior probability.

Another point is that I anticipated AIG Busted’s argument from Ockham’s razor in my opening post. A world with just you and the evil demon is simpler than the gigantic universe we think we inhabit. In this case both atheists and Christians hold a belief that is counter to Ockham’s razor. This is a case where the strength of a subjective prior is strong enough that the posterior belief is still strong even after being weakened by a contrary line of evidence.

I would say that the evil demon is initially improbable, and here's why: The demon is a highly intelligent, conscious agent. The demon may or may not be a material entity, but let's suppose he's not. In that case, we have a being who is conscious and creative, two processes which require many, many steps within the mind of the one who possesses them. If any of those steps are missing or out of place, the demon ceases to have consciousness. By pure luck, what are the odds that a spiritual being like the evil demon would exist? One with the evil desires he has, out of all possible natures. One with a conscious mind coherent enough and intelligent enough to decieve (again consciousness and design are two very complicated processes, each with many steps that have to be there and have to be in the right order. What are the odds that a spiritual being would have all of those correctly ordered steps? Very low, since there are many more arrangements of these steps which would not lead to consciousness).

Justin sidesteps the question of what should constitute a properly basic belief and how we justify that standard. He refers us to the work of Alvin Plantinga, which I suppose we all should have read some of by now. I haven't read much of Plantinga's work as of yet, but I believe that in the future I will. Anyway, for now I'm going to stick with the Strong Foundationalism I talked about in previous posts, since it makes the most sense to me.

The second line of argument argues that if God really did exist then He would do more to ensure that “born materialists” – people who have never had anything remotely like a religious experience – would feel the work of God in their hearts. But I can think of lots of reasons why an atheist would not have religious experience. The first is that he has, but has hardened his heart against them subconsciously. The second is that God has a plan for him later in his life. I too was a “born materialist” until the day I had a religious experience (I concluded it was a flashback at the time, even though I was never much more than a dabbler in drugs). Now I think I know why I didn’t experience God until I was older. He wanted me to be an atheist with an atheist’s worldview (I grew up reading Gould and Dawkins) so that I could communicate the rationality of faith. You never know, AIG Busted, maybe you will have a religious experience some day and become a Christian! I've been focusing on the "born materialist" but similar arguments apply to other faiths.

Your argument struck me as a little funny when you first presented it, but I decided not to comment on it in my last post: Your reasoning is that if the Christian God exists, then we are warranted in trusting our inner experience of God and of believing that muslims and atheist's inner experience are due to their hardness of heart, demons, or something else. But this reasoning begs the issue at hand: What we want to know is whether or not Christianity is true, not conditional statements about it possibly being true. We cannot begin by assuming that Christianity is or is not true. We have to begin with a more agnostic stance, because that is really where we are. We don't know if the Christian God exists, but subjective experience of him is not good evidence because people's emotional, subjective experiences are usually wrong, as is evidence by the followers of Ras Tafari, the born materialists (if you're a theist), the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.

The Faith Debate, Pt. 3

Justin's just posted his second response. Here is a recap of the debate:

1. Justin's opening statement. A defense of properly basic beliefs.
2. AIG Busted's opening statement. Based on Bayesian decision theory.
3. AIG Busted's rebuttal to Justin's opening.
4. Justin's rebuttal to AIG Busted's opening.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Faith Debate, Pt. 2

Justin Martyr, of The Faith Heuristic, has just posted his first statement in our debate on Faith. This is my response to him (Quotes from him will be in italics):

I am defending the point that faith in God is rational without evidence other than one’s own personal religious experiences.

I'm glad that he has clarified his position. I would say that personal experience should be considered as raw data, and that whether they qualify as evidence of God is the real point of debate.

Even atheists hold beliefs without evidence. Do you remember the movie The Matrix? In it a computer hacker finds out that his whole life was a lie. It was really a virtual reality illusion created by artificially intelligent machines who had conquered humanity.

I think that depends upon whether you believe you are living in a physical universe or not. I think Occam's razor (The simplest explanation is probably correct) allows us to establish that since it is more likely that we live in reality, and not for example, in a computer simulation within reality. Nevertheless, I think whether we inhabit an imaginary world created by a demon or not is of little consequence, since we would learn about our world in the same way. Justin even seems to agree with me on this point:

No matter how you slice it, the belief that the world is an illusion is observationally identical to the belief that the world is real.

Therefore, it is of no consequence to us.

Justin brings up some very interesting examples of what he claims are beliefs without evidence (or logical justification). One of them is this: How do we know that people see colors the same way we do? For example, what looks like red to me might look like blue to you. We all tend to assume that people see things the way that we do, but what evidence is there for this, really?

First of all, I think Justin should check out Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. Dennett discusses this at length, although I think his case is a bit too complex for me to present here. Secondly, I don't see why it is important for someone to believe that others experience colors the way they do. It is of no consequence to real life (Unless someone is color blind and behaves as though red and green are the same color). As long as we all have this convention wherein we can identify specific color experiences with labels (Red, Blue, etc.) that most everyone agrees has the same label, it is of no consequence to real life whether others have the same color experience we do.

Justin also brings up our belief that the past occurred (as opposed to the proposition that we were created five minutes ago). For this I would simply say that the hypothesis that the past actually occurred is the best explanation for the data. Every waking moment we are watching the present become the past. The simplest explanation for our memories (or anything else, for that matter) is that they were created the same way we constantly observe memories to be created.

So I suppose that concludes my discussion on the theory of knowledge (epistemology). Justin has pointed to some beliefs which seem to have no evidential basis in hopes of encouraging us to move to a more moderate theory of knowledge than my strong foundationalism (wherein everything we know is based upon evidential support or logical necessity, or a combination of both). I reject those attempts.

[P]eople have a lot of beliefs without evidence and these beliefs are all rational. Alvin Plantinga calls them properly basic beliefs. They are like the foundation of a house. Other beliefs can rest on properly basic beliefs but they themselves do not rest on anything. Belief in God is also a properly basic belief. Now, the fact that these beliefs are properly basic and do not require evidence does not mean that they are immune from rational challenge. Critics can provide defeaters. The argument from ockham's razor is a defeater against the belief that the world is the illusion of an evil demon. Atheists can also provide defeaters against belief in God. An atheist may make the case that a loving God would not allow evil.

One thing that frustrated me about Justin's article is that he does not lay out any criteria for how we can tell what constitutes a properly basic belief and what does not. From the philosophy I have read, some philosophers would say that a criteria for properly basic beliefs is whether the vast majority of people hold them. Belief in God, or at least the supernatural, probably fall under that category, but Christianity certainly doesn't.

My own thinking has led me to believe that the only properly basic beliefs are those of logical necessity (which is the really just the framework in which rational thought and discussions of truth and falsehood take place) and our own experience (we cannot doubt that we are experiencing something right now, and have memories, etc. We can doubt that memories are accurate, but not that we have them. We can doubt experience as hallucination, but not that we are having an experience). Everything I know flows from logic, sense-experience, or a combination.

I suppose Justin could argue that his personal experience of God, what William Lane Craig calls "The Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit" is a kind of sense-experience (I would presume that it is some type of overpowering emotion, though I don't know because I've never experienced it). Justin would be right to demand that I explain it and account for it with a better hypothesis than his hypothesis that God is causing him to feel his presence.

First, I'd like to inquire about this experience of God's presence: Is it a feeling of peace or joy? Is it a feeling of gratitude for something fortunate that happened in your life? If so then I think you're simply interpreting ordinary experiences in light of your religious backround.

But suppose you're not: Suppose you actually feel that some being is watching over you, just as you feel that while debating me your are having a conversation with another conscious being. This still seems to me like a kind of intuitive feeling, and I think it might justify belief if you know that your intuition is right more often than not. But we have to remember that intuition is still very often wrong. This should make you fairly open to the possibility that there is a neurological basis for your belief.

I don't want to commit the genetic fallacy here: I'm not saying that because a belief has a neurological basis it is false. I'm just trying to provide an alternate explanation: Your belief has to do with your neurology, and what forms that belief is either present in most human beings because it evolved (See Dennett's Breaking the Spell or Dawkins' The God Delusion for accounts of how religion may have evolved) or because, for whatever reason, some people have this tendency to believe just as some people are color blind (Meaning that the belief was not selected for, but is a byproduct of other neurological processes or ended up in the human population by genetic drift). Of course I'm also assuming that the mind is dependent upon the brain, a belief that you may not share but which I find quite convincing (I've written about it in my book, Atheism and Naturalism).

So I think I've provided an account of your belief in God which is at least as good as the account that God caused it. We have yet to see who's hypothesis is truly better.

Justin mentions the fact that many other religions exist, and the believers of these religions do seem to have the same type of inner experience that their religion is true as Christians do. His mention of this reminded me of John Allen Paulos, the author of Irreligion, who describes himself as a "born materialist" who intuitively felt, from the time he was young, that spirits and ghosts and gods did not exist. How does Justin account for this? He says that Christianity entails that there might be demons who are decieving the believers of these other religions, and so this does not serve as a defeater for his belief.

I don't buy into this excuse for two reasons:

1) It is inconsistent to suggest that there is a God who wants our belief (as the Christian God does) but who deliberately allows people to be decieved into thinking some other God(s) exists. If God wants our belief, then he should do everything he could to make sure that people are highly inclined to believe in him. He couldn't impose belief on them so that they had no choice, but he could see to it that the Mormons did not really have a strong intuition that their religion is true or that no one was a naturally "born materialist". A better account of the facts is that whoever or whatever (if anything) created our universe is indifferent to human beliefs about the supernatural, and that is why human beings have a vast array of different intuitions about what is true and what is false when it comes to worldview issues. And the hypothesis of indifference entails that if there is a God he is not the Christian God (since the Christian God cares about what we believe), or even a God who cares very much about us (Since he cares little about what we believe).

2) The fact that the inner experience of God(s) leads human beings to wildly different conclusions suggests that we need a higher standard of evidence, since anyone of us might be being fooled by a demon that the real God (Be he Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, etc.) allowed to decieve us.


I think that wraps things up for my rebuttal, I'll be sure to link to Justin's rebuttal when he writes it. Peace!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Faith Debate

I've challenged the Faith Heuristic to a debate on whether faith is rational without evidence. This will be a four post debate, with me making the opening post.

Let's talk about beliefs. What is a belief? I define it as a statement that some person(s) rely upon to be true when deciding what action(s) to perform.

Now, let's think about trying to decide what to believe: We want our beliefs to be true, so that when we decide to perform some action to gain something we want the attempt will be successful.

If some proposition is not logically necessary, then that means that there are at least two propositions which might be the case. Since there are at least two propositions that might be true, then that means that neither (or none) of them has more than a 50% initial probability of being true (The initial probability means the probability of something being true before considering any of the specific observational evidence for that proposition). Suppose I that I just flipped a coin. The initial probability that the coin would land on heads is fifty percent, since we know from past experience that coins land on heads about 50% of the time and because if we assign both outcomes (heads and tails) equal probabilities, the odds of heads coming up will be 50%. The posterior probability that the coin landed on heads will be determined by my observation of how the coin flip turned out. If I observe it to be heads, then that raises the probability that the coin really did flip to heads to almost 100% (maybe not quite 100%, since there's a very small chance I could be hallucinating or something).

What I've just taught you is the basics of Bayes' Theorem. With Bayes' theorem, you figure out the initial probability of some hypothesis, and then you look at the specific observations which might help to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis, and from that you can determine whether the hypothesis is probably correct or not. And by the way, in case you're wondering, Bayes' Theorem follows from simple logical principles, which I believe are laid out in the article I linked. Logical principles (Such as the Law of Identity: Things are what they are and are not what they are not) are necessary; They cannot be false and there are no other alternatives. So we need no evidence for them: We already know that they are 100% true.

Now let's look at faith without rational justification. Plenty of Christians have faith that their particular religion is true. But there are hundreds of religions, and billions more possible religions that no one has even thought of yet. As long as religion does not assert contradictory propositions (or can be modified so that it is logically consistent) then it is possible. There are billions of logically possible religions, and so the odds that a particular one of them is true is one out of many billions (I'll just say ten billion, for convenience). So the a priori probability that Christianity is true is one in ten billion. Now, the final probability could be raised or lowered if we only looked at some evidence. If there were many facts about the world which were much more likely on the assumption that Christianity is true than on the assumption that Christianity was false, then we could use Bayes' Theorem and these factors would make Christianity a great deal more probable. They might even show that Christianity is over 99% likely to be true.

But since Justin Martyr (The Faith Heuristic) is defending the idea that it is rational to have faith even without any evidence, then that means we don't have to bother with the posterior probability (i.e. "the evidence") that Christianity is true. We only have to see if it is rational to believe Christianity in light of the initial probability. And we've already seen that the initial probability for Christianity is very, very low. If you had a car that only started ten percent of the time, you would not think it reliable. What if you believed a religion that had even less of a chance of being true?

Christianity is therefore not a reliable belief because it is (initially, at least) probably false. Since our beliefs are the propositions we rely upon to be true, someone who believes Christianity without evidence is relying upon the unreliable. If this is not irrational, I do not know what is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Liberal Christianity is Bankrupt

One of the reasons I've been turned off by extremely liberal Christians is the fact that they water-down Christian beliefs and turn them into flowery metaphors to the point that their form Christianity is an amorphous, unfalsifiable, and meaningless.

Dr. James McGrath, a fundamentalist-turned-liberal, is a perfect example:

John Loftus praises my doctoral supervisor James Dunn for honestly admitting that Jesus was wrong about the imminent end of the world. Loftus then adds

What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians). I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have.

The answer is that we've come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? We've thus found ourselves challenged to let go of yet another fundamentalist assumption we once shared, namely that being a Christian is about Jesus having been right all the time, and following him in the hope that we can be (or at least believe ourselves to be) right all the time. In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty.

Common sense would seem to dictate that if God became incarnate, he would not be wrong about when the world would end. Or at least, even if God did not become incarnate, one would think that if Christianity were true then God would not allow the central star of the show, Christ, to be wrong about something like this. Moreover, if Jesus was wrong about this then there is very little, in my view, that separates him from Michael Travesser, the wannabe messiah nut who predicted the end of the world on October 31, 2007.

What Liberals like McGrath have done is to strip Christianity of any meaningful empirical or philosophical implications it may have, and turn it into mere artwork, a lump of clay that may be shaped into anything the believer wants it to be.

PZ Myers - Counting Coup

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Debunking Jesus' Resurrection

It's my new article on DB Skeptic:
http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/08/16/jesus-resurrection-and-mass-hallucinations/

Description: This article is a rebuttal to Gary Habermas, who defends the Jesus’ resurrection appearances against the hypothesis that these appearances were simply hallucinations. A plausible natural explanation of the facts concerning the origin of Christianity is presented and compared to the traditional Christian explanation (that Jesus was raised from the dead). It is shown that the acceptance of the empty tomb, appearances of Jesus to his followers, conversion of the Jesus’ skeptical brother James, and the conversion of Paul as fact does not warrant the conclusion that the resurrection occurred.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chris Hallquist and Lee Strobel

The other day I emailed Chris Hallquist, author of UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God, the following question:

Today I got to thinking: Why is it that people like Lee Strobel are so eager to believe Christianity?

After all, from reading his books I’ve come to conclude that he must be somewhat dishonest with himself: He’s jumped to a conclusion, presumably because he wants to believe very badly.
Why do you think he finds Christianity so attractive?


In a nutshell, Chris' answer was that Lee converted because his wife did (you can read his answer in full over at his blog).

I don't doubt that Lee's initial motivation to join was to please his wife. But that doesn't really explain why he went on to author several books on Christian apologetics. I mean, if he had become a Christian only because of his wife, why not just be a 'middle of the road' regular church goer? Why go to the trouble of writing his books?

Chris writes that after Lee converted, he probably sought out apologetic material to rationalize his conclusion. I can understand that. Perhaps Lee's apologetic career is the result of

1. Wanting an easy way to make a living.

2. Later discovering a true emotional attachment to Christianity.

Just a thought.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Blog Update

Hey everyone,

I know it's been a while since I've updated this blog, but don't worry: I have a new article on Jesus' Resurrection which should be posted on DB Skeptic this Sunday, another article for DB Skeptic that should be published two weeks after that, and I just submitted a new article to Internet Infidels, which may or may not be posted in a few weeks (they have to accept it first, and then they'll choose when to publish it).

For all those who absolutely must read something, check out Richard Carrier's blog. He's been posting some really great stuff there lately.

Also, I'm going back to school next week, so for the next few months my blog may be a little slower than normal.

Anyway, if you want to send some financial aid, the paypal donate button is in the corner.

Or, if your broke like me, try signing up for Inbox Dollars. You get paid to read emails, do surveys, try free trials of Blockbuster and Gamefly. It's a reputable company, I am an active member and can vouch that it is legit (I got a check for forty dollars the other day from them).

You could also sign up under me for SwagBucks. You get "swag bucks" whenever you use their search engine or have others sign up. When you get enough swagbucks, you can exchange them for various prizes, such as gift certificates, paypal money, and more.

Anyway, that's all for now.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Darwin to Hitler? No.

Here's what Richard Hoppe said about a recent book review analyzing the connection between Darwin and Hitler:

"[W]hat reached Germany was not the English version of Origin of Species, it was a translation by German paleontologist Heinrich Georg Bronn that was a main source of German notions of Darwinian evolution, and those notions were a distortion of Darwin’s views. Bronn had a substantially different conception of evolution than Darwin, and Bronn’s translation apparently incorporated a good bit of his own conception rather than being a straight translation of Darwin. Bronn even added an extra chapter to OoS incorporate his own ideas."

One More Reason I Am Not A Christian

Here is a question posed to a Christian over at IsGodImaginary.com :

"Please clarify: Do you support the death penalty for practicing homosexuals? Being as clear as possible here: If your local Congressman drafted a bill that said all practicing homosexuals should be hunted down and put to death, would you support the bill? Were this outrageous bill put into practice and this nation-wide genocide actually conducted, would you support it?"

The Christian's response:

"It wouldn't fit the American form of government at all. We wrote our constitution to say that our rights come from God, but not to say that we are responsible to be pleasing to God. I would not support death penalty legislation in any country that claims to be religiously/spiritually neutral. I would however severely limit the exposure of people to homosexuality, especially children. (I would support legislation that suppressed the homosexual movement for marriage rights as criminally obscene). Yes, I used that strong language for a reason. Yes, I meant it. But you are absolutely right that adultery also deserves death, and we ought to have mercy. But lawlessness and mercy are different."


This is another good reason we need to drive a proverbial stake into the heart of Christianity. Christianity is an intolerant religion which justifies homophobia and leads people to believe that homosexuality is "criminally obscene" and that the only reason we don't shouldn't put gays to death is because it "wouldn't fit the American government". Any ideology which does that is fundamentally wicked and has no place in modern society.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Friendly Atheist Gives Dating Advice

I thought these videos were superfunny and very informative, whether one is single or not. Check 'em out:




Sunday, August 9, 2009

Prosecution of George Bush for Murder

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

I've been reading this book over the past couple of days. Vince Bugliosi, the lawyer responsible for putting Charles Manson behind bars, argues that George Bush 1) Lied to the nation about the state of Iraq's threat in order to gain support for the war. 2) Bush, of course, knew that many young soldiers would die if they went into Iraq. 3) This constitutes murder.

The case he presents is very compelling, and I must say, if he has been honest in reporting the facts surrounding this case, then I can't help but believe that Bush is guilty of murder could (and should) be prosecuted for it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Aquatic Ape Theory

Here is a very intriguing talk about the aqautic ape theory. To get a balanced view of the AAT, check out this blog post and this website. Other than that, enjoy:



Friday, August 7, 2009

Barack Obama: The Antichrist?

Many of you may have seen this rather stupid and paranoid video claiming that Barack Obama is the antichrist. Well, now a Hebrew scholar, Dr. Hector Avalos, has debunked this myth for us:

The narrator has the WRONG Hebrew root for the name Barack if we accept President Obama's explanation for his name. President Obama’s explanation of his name may be found in, among other places, the 2004 National Democratic Convention speech: “They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.” SeeObama’s explanation What Obama meant by “African” is simply an African language version of a well-known Semitic root (BRK) for “blessed” that can be found in Arabic and Hebrew. Since his name means “blessed,” then this name is related to the Hebrew word BARAK, spelled with Hebrew Kaph, not a Qoph. These are two entirely different consonants and phonemes in Hebrew. The Hebrew BARAK and BARAQ are from two entirely different roots, with ONLY the latter meaning “lightning.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Investigating Atheism

It's a new site I discovered recently:

http://investigatingatheism.info/

I liked it, it has lots of informative discussions about the history of atheism. Definitely check it out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Amelia Earhart: What really happened to her?

Most of you have probably heard of Amelia Earhart, the female pilot who went missing mysteriously over 70 years ago.

Some researchers now believe they've found her remains, and they are seeking to demonstrate it with DNA evidence.

I think this is interesting. Stay tuned for the final word on the matter.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Stupidest Thing

I've just got done reading a chapter of the Christian Apologist JP Holding's "Trusting the New Testament".

He argues that Jesus didn't leave behind any of his own writing because paper was too expensive. Sounds plausible, until you remember that Holding believes Jesus was the FUCKING SON OF GOD!!!

Damn, the guy can come back from the dead but he can't create a scroll from thin air along with a quill that writes what you dictate like they have on Harry Potter?

Holding's argument only works if you're convinced that Jesus was an ordinary person with no magic powers and no claim to divinity whatsoever. And if you take away that, Holding wouldn't even be writing his book. He is just dumber than a sack of hammers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Napoleon Bonaparte was a Myth

I just got through reading a pretty funny (and pretty old) article claiming that Napoleon Bonaparte was a myth. It was a satire written in the 1800's in order to rebut the claim that Jesus (and other ancient gods) were just old solar myths. You can read it for free here.

I think this is something everyone interested in early Christianity should read, as it ought to keep you from making fallacies like the ones seen in this video: