Thursday, January 28, 2010

Goosebumps Are Proof of Evolution

Chicago Biologist Jerry Coyne wrote a really cool (and really short, for all you with ADHD, like me) post about how goosebumps are evidence of evolution:

In other news, LiveScience had a really cool article about the four winged dinosaur:

And PloS Biology published a really cool article that I will be blogging on shortly about evolutionary robotics:

The Panda's Thumb blog linked to that article through a post titled "It is still a robot" (lol).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Modern Day Miracles?

That's the title of my new article on DB Skeptic. Here's an excerpt:

Can miracles occur today?

Let’s look at the evidence by examining three kinds of miracles: One type is “Marian apparitions”. Another is the spontaneous remission of cancer, in which malignant tumors reduce or disappear, and can’t be attributed to any standard medical treatment. The final type is what I call “mundane miracles”, seemingly inexplicable and fortunate events which people attribute to the supernatural.

Monday, January 25, 2010

ICR's Bogus Science

I emailed the man who had done the research that ICR distorted. Here is my email to him:

Hi Dr. Brennecka,

Are you aware that some young earth creationists from the Institute for Creation Research are citing your latest work? You can view what they've written about it here:

Also, there was a youtube user who made a video about the incident and cited the ICR article as distorted:

My question is: How do you feel about the article and the video? Which, if either, is accurate?


He responded to me:


The YouTube video pretty well sums it up. The ICR article is a horrible twisting of our study and if I thought they would listen to reason and logic (which creationist are by definition not going to do) I would send them a note to try to straighten them out. That ICR author is paid to twist real science so it fits an agenda. That is all. Websites and articles like his are really frustrating because it takes so much time (years and years of research) to do things right and think them through, but any moron can put up a website with whatever lies he or she wants.

Thanks for your email, and hope that helps.


(He also gave me permission to post his email.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Greatest Antiapologists

I want to make a list. Two lists, actually.

I want to make a list of the men and women who have written books, essays, websites, and blogs that give religious apologetics a lot to worry about. I want to make one list a list of men from 40+ years ago who wrote against religion: people like Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and Percy Shelley along with links to their finest works.

The second list would consist of people from within the last forty years along with links to their work, and would include people like John L. Mackie, Richard Carrier, and Daniel Dennett.

So please comment with the names of your candidates and (optionally) links or mentions of their finest works.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Charles Darwin the Skeptic

My admiration for the man only grows with time. Here's an excerpt from a post on LiveScience:

Darwin's correspondence to friends, family, and colleagues reveals he held very skeptical views about psychics, the paranormal, and alternative medicine. For example, in a Sept. 4, 1850, letter to his second cousin Rev. William Darwin Fox, Darwin was scathingly dismissive of psychic powers (clairvoyance) and homeopathy:

"You speak about Homeopathy; which is a subject which makes me more wrath, even than does Clairvoyance: clairvoyance so transcends belief, that one’s ordinary faculties are put out of question, but in Homeopathy common sense & common observation come into play, and both these must go to the Dogs, if the infinetesimal doses have any effect whatever." (Here Darwin is referring to the illogical homeopathic premise that tiny amounts of a drug are more effective than larger doses.)

Darwin then notes that in order for homeopathy to be scientifically tested, it would need to be studied against a control group: "How true is a remark I saw the other respect to evidence of curative processes, viz that no one knows in disease what is the simple result of nothing being done, as a standard with which to compare Homeopathy & all other such things. It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think in my beloved Dr. Gully, that he believes in everything..."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Arif Ahmed

I had never heard of Arif Ahmed until a few days ago, but after listening to his debates with William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, I am convinced that he is someone I definitely want representing atheism. He did a great job pointing out the fallacies in Dr. Craig's arguments and a super job at arguing against the resurrection with Dr. Habermas. Both of these debates must be listened to by believers and nonbelievers alike.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I won that debate that I had recently. Huza!!!

Robert M. Price has written an excellent article on Christianity, creationism and evolution in The Humanist. Check it out.

The Debunking Creationism blog, which was once somewhat dead, is now back up and in service.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Christians, Jews, and Muslims: watch this video and tell me if you don't get the distinct feeling that God does not exist. No doubt you'll try and argue that God exists, but can you deny having strong and troublesome doubts while watching this? Please comment and tell me.

Hat tip to Luke from CommonSenseAtheism.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dreaming with Dr. King

Do you ever know someone who makes you proud for your state, or proud for your worldview? Amanda Gulledge makes me proud to be an Alabamian and proud to be an Atheist. She wrote a fantastic essay and poem about Dr. Martin Luther King and equality. Read it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On Missing the Point

Luke over at Common Sense Atheism wrote another post ('On Changing the Subject') about our ongoing debate over Richard Dawkins' Ultimate 747 argument. So here's my response to him. Before you read this, it will be important for you to have already read the following posts (as well as The God Delusion):

Me Dawkins 747: A Response to Luke

Luke Rescuing Dawkins' Main Argument Index

Me Luke Misses the Mark Again

Luke Who Designed the Designer?

Me Re: Who Designed the Designer?

OK, so Luke begins by quoting philosopher Richard Chappell:

"Non-philosophers] seem incapable of focusing on a particular argument. They don’t realize that the only way to make progress is one step at a time. They tend to want to tackle everything about an issue all at once. So half-way through an argument, they will suddenly demand that you address some completely different point.

"…They constantly fail to understand how a point (e.g. an analogy or thought experiment) fits in to a particular argument, and instead insist on applying it more broadly – and then objecting when this irrelevant application fails!"

And Luke comments: "I feel Chappell’s pain. Which is not to say I haven’t inflicted it on others at times. But allow me my rant." Indeed, I think now is just such a time when Luke is inflicting said pain on us, as we shall see.

Luke states: "Some readers (like Ryan at AIG Busted, whom I read and respect) said my response to Dawkins was 'inadequate' because it didn’t fully engage his larger argument from complexity. But of course! In that first post I only intended to show that one of Dawkins’ assertions was false."

I responded that way because it appeared to me that Luke thought his first objection to Dawkins' argument was fatal to it. I must have misunderstood him.

Luke Again: "Later, I wrote that even when Dawkins’ argument is reformulated to be logically valid, it still misses the mark because it aims to disprove a contingent God, not a necessary one, but of course theists believe in a necessary God. So Dawkins’ argument, if successful, would disprove a God that nobody believes in. Whoopty-do.

"Ryan responded that I was 'just as wrong as he was before.' Why? Because theists aren’t allowed to just suppose that God is a necessary being. Apparently, Ryan thinks that the arguments in favor of God being a necessary being fail.

"That’s a fine critique to make, but it’s changing the subject. The point is that Dawkins attacks a God that nobody believes in. Whether or not theists have good reasons for believing in a necessary God is another subject."

I'm not sure if everyone believes in a necessary God, and this is a point I'll return to later on. For now: What I was trying to point out is that one of the response to Dawkins (God is not improbable because he is necessary) is a failure. How is it that addressing a response to Dawkins' argument is 'changing the subject'? It isn't. I interpret Dawkins' argument as showing that God has an extraordinarily low initial probability. I admit that it is possible that some being who possesses the characteristics of ominpotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence (and all the other traditional attributes of God) may also possess the characteristic of necessary existence even though we don't see how that could be. But that point doesn't help the theist out much because the mere possibility is definitely not a probability. In fact, it is a huge improbability, as I tried to show in my post here.

Luke again: "Then, even though I had explicitly defined the scope of the 'Who designed the designer?' objection I was refuting, Ryan took a different interpretation of the 'Who designed the designer?' response and then showed how my rebuttal doesn’t apply to that interpretation. Well, duh! I was refuting something else!"

Luke was addressing an interpretation of the "Who designed the designer?" question which no one holds to. When someone asks "Who designed-?" they aren't really saying that every explanation must be explained. What they are saying is that, when a theist tries to explain the human eye with God because the eye looks designed, he isn't offering a compelling argument because if all 'specified complexity' has to have an explanation then that would include God, and if some 'specified complexity' does not need an explanation then the eye might be one of those things, hence the argument isn't compelling. Asking "Who designed the designer?" is a good way to get theists to recognize that even they don't think every complex thing was designed, and hence they have no authority to tell atheists that their worldview is empty if it leaves complex things unexplained, hence the argument from design holds no weight in the atheism/theism debate.

As I said, Luke was arguing against a position that no one really holds. Is it irrelevant for me to point that out? If so, then Luke's comments about Richard Dawkins attacking a definition of God that no one believes in is just as irrelevant.

Does anyone believe in a contingent (non-necessary) God?

I think they do. Richard Swinburne is one prominent example. Besides him, I think most believers (who are not philosophers or theologians) have not explicity decided whether they believe God is necessary. The necessity of God is not (to my knowledge) found anywhere in the Old or New Testaments. In fact, "I am that I am" seems, if anything, to imply that God is a brute fact.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who Designed the Designer?

Luke (over at Common Sense Atheism) after writing a couple of posts attempting to refute Richard Dawkins (which I responded to here and here) has now written a post trying to refute a very similar rhetorical atheistic question. When a theist tries to argue for God he will often point to things (like the human eye or bacterial flagellum) which appear to be designed. Atheists often reply to ths in the following way: "Yeah, it could be designed, but then who designed the designer? Was God designed by a SuperGod™? Was SuperGod™ designed by an UltraGod™?" Here are some of Luke's thoughts on that reply:

“God did it” is generally a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “explanation” for complexity or, well, pretty much anything. “God did it” does generally fail as an explanation.
But it does not fail merely because the theist has no explanation for his explanation (God)...

Let us ask ourselves what would happen if we required that a successful explanation must itself be explained.
This would lead immediately to an infinite regress of explanations. We would need to have an explanation of the explanation, and an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation… on into infinity. And thus, we would never be able to explain anything.
Moreover, this is not how science works. Examples from physics are the most obvious. In order to explain certain quantum phenomena, scientists have posited the existence of dozens of invisible particles with very particular properties that yield predictable results. These have been some of the most successful explanations in all of scientific history, yielding the most accurate experimental results we have ever achieved. And yet we have no explanations whatsoever for the particles that we have offered as explanations for the quantum phenomena.

I'm basically in agreement with Luke: I do not believe that people have to explain explanations. However, I think that some atheists, when they ask the question "Who designed the designer?" have something a bit different in mind that Luke isn't understanding. When someone asks "Who designed the designer?" what they have in mind is that the theist is getting to postulate a highly specific and complex entity with no justification whatsoever. The argument from design itself seeks to take some highly specific and complex entity (the eye, the flagellum, etc.) and explain it with God. But if the theist is allowed to postulate a highly specific and complex entity with no justification, then why can't the atheist simply postulate an eye or a wing without any justification or explanation?

Here's a good analogy to illuminate this further: Suppose that I win the lottery. Luke hears about this, and decides that he will explain my winning not as the result of chance, but as a result of conspiracy. He comes up with a theory about how I could have cheated and rigged the lottery in my favor. His theory explains nothing more than the theory that I won the lottery by chance. Furthermore, the initial probability or a priori probability that his theory is correct can be calculated, and the odds of it happening are one in a billion. The theory that I won the lottery by chance, however, has an a priori probability of one in a million. Now the question is: which theory should we prefer? Obviously, the chance hypothesis, because it is more probable. But let me ask this question: what if the conspiracy hypothesis and the chance hypothesis had the same a priori probability of being true (one in a million)? And what if Luke started a new blog, Common Sense Lottery Conspiracy, in which he tried to convince people of his conspiracy theory on the grounds that it was too improbable that I had won by chance?

Now suppose PZ Myers reads Luke's blog and comments: "Hey, if you get to postulate a highly improbable theory to account for Ryan's winnings, then why not just propose that he won by chance? Your argument gets us nowhere because the argument from improbability does not reveal to us why one theory should be preferred over another."

This analogy, I think, mirrors the situation with the design argument. Let me tell you what I mean: Most of us are familiar with the fine-tuning argument, that is, the argument that life cannot exist in the universe unless the physical constants have very specific values (out of all possible values, the majority of which will not support life) which are very improbable, and God explains that improbability: God intelligently designed the universe so it would allow life to exist.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend like it is has been conclusively proven that are form of life is the only kind that can exist, that our universe is the only one that exists, that only one extremely specific and improbable set of physical constants allows life even though many sets are possible (as far as we know). Let's suppose that the probability of a fine tuned universe occuring by chance comes out to 1 in 10^100. Now, would it be OK to infer God as the explanation of this phenomenon?

No. The chance explanation of the fine-tuning has an initial probability of 1 in 10^100, as we've said. But what is the initial probability of the existence of God? I'm inclined to think that it is very, very, very low. And if I am right then the fine-tuning argument for God cannot work because we cannot know whether or not the a priori probability of God is better than the a priori probability of a fine tuned universe coming about by chance, and so the argument from design cannot work. Here's an excerpt from an unpublished essay I've written which explains this:

"Consider the number of possible minds. Although I do not know the total number of possible minds, I think we can safely say that it is incredible high, based on the billions of unique human and animal minds that have existed and the possible minds of gods, spirits, and fictional characters that man has conceived of.

"Now, if we are considering positing a single spiritual mind as an inexplicable brute fact, what are the odds that this mind would be anything like the mind of God? I suggest that we apply the principle of indifference and assign each possible mind the same likelihood of existing uncaused. When we do this, it seems that the probability of God’s existence would be much less than one in ten billion (after all, there are six billion unique human minds in existence today, plus the minds of chimpanzees, gorillas, other intelligent animals, and fictional characters and invented gods that occupy the space of possible minds).

"There is another, more important worry: would this random, uncaused mind even be coherent and intelligent? I am very skeptical of the notion that it would be. I do not believe that coherency and/or intelligence is a feature of most possible minds. After all, the minds we observe around us are a very small subset of the total number of possible minds. Human and animal minds arise from brains that are non-randomly constructed from genetic material which has been fashioned by natural selection, which has surely tended to eliminate lack of intelligence and lack of coherency: the mentally disabled have a very low chance of passing on their genes. If you can imagine a mind that would result from a randomly constructed brain, you can understand my doubts about whether this mind would be coherent and intelligent. Of course, that is not an exact analogy, for a spiritual mind does not arise from a physical brain by definition. However, if you can imagine the mind that would result from a randomly constructed brain, if the mind in question was generated by a material medium like the brain, then my thought experiment should illustrate the same point.This leads us directly to the conclusion that the existence of God is a priori very improbable if it is admitted that God is a contingent and highly complex being."

Now, one could try to get rid of the improbability of God by defining him as necessary (I've talked a bit about that here). But then if you can simply assert that God is necessary or define him as necessary then why couldn't someone say the same thing about a life friendly universe?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Creationists Just Can't Catch a Break

First, Mike Dunford blogged on How We Know That Most Species Are Extinct and Why the Fossil Record is so Incomplete.

Then Ed Brayton caught William Dembski denying being a creationist and later admitting that he was a creationist.

And Jeffrey Shallit smashed Stephen C. Meyer on his latest book.

It hasn't been a good week for creationists.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Human Evolution and Common Disorders

From Sciencedaily:

"The subtle but ongoing pressures of human evolution could explain the seeming rise of disorders such as autism, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive cancers, researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Certain adaptations that once benefited humans may now be helping such ailments persist in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- advancements in modern culture and medicine...

"Autism and schizophrenia may be associated with the over-expression of paternally or maternally derived genes and influences, a hypothesis advanced by Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University.

"Maternal and paternal genes engage in a subtle tug-of-war well into childhood with consequences for childhood development, as posited by David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.

"Humans may be susceptible to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases because of increased hygiene, according to Kathleen Barnes of Johns Hopkins University. Without being exposed to intestinal worms and parasites, as our ancestors were, our immune systems are hypersensitive.

"Natural selection still influences our biology, despite advances in modern culture and medicine. Stearns found that natural selection favors heavier women and reduces the age at which a woman has her first child."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sixteen Sexiest Female Atheists

Luke over at Common Sense Atheism has made a post featuring sixteen luscious pictures of the sixteen sexiest female atheists. These pictures are not work-safe or school-safe. They're not pornographic, but they're damn close (ie Jennifer Love Hewitt naked but covering up with a bed sheet). After looking at those pics I'm not an atheist anymore... I believe in the existence of sixteen gorgeous sex goddesses.

A History of Venomfangx

I couldn't resist posting this series of vids. This is an excellent, brutally honest history of venomfangx:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On VenomFangX

Most of you who don't live in a cave are on youtube and know who Venomfangx is. Venomfangx (hereafter VFX or Shawn) is that very weird, brainwashed kid who makes videos about young earth creationism, thinks that the earth is (literally) the center of the solar system, falsely reports other people's videos to youtube, and so on. Well, it turns out that Shawn's nonChristian and level headed father has been keeping an eye on him, through reports from certain atheists on youtube. And one of them has made a video about this issue. From what I can tell it sounds like Shawn is not just weird and delusional, but actually mentally ill.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Please Vote

If you recall I had a debate recently on
Please go and vote for whomever you think had the most persuasive arguments:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Luke Misses the Mark Again

Isn't it weird that the title of this post uses the names of two gospel writers? ; )

Anyway, if you can recall my post from Wednesday you should remember that Luke from common sense atheism criticized Richard Dawkins' ultimate 747 argument and I responded to it.

Anyway, Luke has made a follow-up post, and he is just as wrong as he was before. No offense Luke, I love your blog, but on this point I think you stand in need of correction.

Let's get down to it. Erik Wielenburg stated Dawkins' argument like so:

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)

Luke criticizes the argument:

"[P]erhaps Dawkins has in mind the definition of complexity he arrived at after an extended discussion in The Blind Watchmaker:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

"But this gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired 'some quality… by random chance alone.' Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being."

How do theists know that a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being is necessary? Well, they just do. Seriously, theists have tried to argue that a personal being with said attributes is necessary, but those arguments are all deeply flawed and I doubt Luke would disagree.

Still, couldn't theists dissolve Dawkins' argument by simply defining God as necessary without argument? No. They may not arbitrarily suppose that there is one and only one being who possesses the characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, etc. and also possesses the characteristic of necessary existence. What if no possible being possesses the characteristics of omnipotence & etc. and the characteristic of necessary existence? Then we're left with atheism. What if ten beings possess the characteristics of omnipotence & etc. and the characteristic of necessary existence? Then we're left with polytheism. A mere assertion that there is one and only one being with omnipotence & etc. who exists necessarily is worthless because there is an infinite number of other possibilities with exactly the same justification.

I'd like to return to Dawkins' definition of complexity and Luke's comment on it:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

"[T]his gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired 'some quality… by random chance alone.' Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by change from previous being."

Dawkins isn't supposing that God evolved from a previous being. If it is true that we cannot prove God is necessary or simply assume God is necessary (as I've previously argued) then it follows that, if there is a God, he is a contingent, "brute" fact. There is no real reason that God exists rather than some other spiritual being(s). It follows that God's existence is or was highly improbable, since the brute existence of any other spiritual being(s) or a state of no spiritual beings at all was just as likely to be the case as God's existence. The odds of God's existence would be one out of infinity. That doesn't mean we could never conclude that God exists, it just means that we need some damn good evidence before we do, since 1 out of infinity is the smallest possible probability.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dawkins' 747: A Response to Luke

Luke over at 'Common Sense Atheism' has written a post about 'naive reasons for being an atheist':

I think there is a great deal of naive atheism that is worth debunking. We can begin, for example, with Dawkins’ central argument against theism, found in chapter four of The God Delusion.

Dawkins says:
To explain [something] by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.

Luke seems to think that William Lane Craig's reply to this point was adequate:

Dawkins says that you cannot infer a Designer of the universe [from] the complexity of the universe because this raises a further question: namely, “Who designed the Designer?” [But] this argument is quite inept, because philosophers of science recognize that in order to recognize an explanation as the best explanation, you don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation…

Let me give you an example. Suppose archaeologists digging in the earth were to come across artifacts looking like arrowheads and pottery shards… it would obviously be justifiable to infer that these artifacts were the products of some lost tribe of people, even if the archaeologists had no idea whatsoever who these people were or how they came to be there.
Similarly, if astronauts were to discover a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that these were the products of intelligent design, even if they had no idea whatsoever where this machinery came from or who put it there…

Craig's response is inadequate. I don't think Dawkins did the best job articulating what he was trying to say, but I think his objection to God as a designer is that, if we are trying to find an ultimate explanation for the existence of complexity, then the exlplanation cannot itself be complex or it does not (by definition) truly explain complexity. If we are allowed to posit complex things as unexplainable brute facts then why not posit the universe as a brute fact rather than God as a brute fact? And if we aren't allowed to posit complex things as brute facts, then that completely does away with positing God (who, by definition, cannot have an explanation besides metaphysical necessity).

I've actually read a lot of criticisms of Dawkins' work and I do not believe any of Dawkins' critics have made an adequate response to him. 'God is simple' is false (as I tried to show in my recent debate), and simply asserting that God is necessary, without argument, overlooks the fact that atheists could simply assert that the universe is necessary, or that some nontheistic entity brought the universe into existence (Stephen Hawking's 'Wave-Function'?) and was/is necessary.

However, Dawkins' argument, as he formulated it, is flawed. I believe that Dawkins was wrong in asserting that a designer must be 'at least as complex' as whatever he designs. I'm going to quote from an unpublished essay I wrote on the subject:

"Given an infinite amount of time (or at least several billion years), a human being would be capable of tinkering with every possible arrangement of matter, and therefore it might create something more complex than itself (if such things are possible). Of course this is not how theists typically think of God creating, but nevertheless it is a conceptual possibility which defeats Dawkins’ sweeping assertion.

"There is another way that a creative being could bring about a creation more complex and more improbable than its creator. Suppose that we accept Dawkins’ assertion that a being must be at least as complex (and therefore, as improbable) as whatever it seeks to explain. At the risk of sounding anthropocentric, let us also suppose that human beings are the most complicated animals in the universe. If a being was complex enough to create a human being, could it not create all of the less-complex animals, plants, and bacteria? It would seem so. This is relevant for the following reason: If we did not have any explanation for the origin of the complexity of life other than sheer chance, it could still very well be the case that an intelligent designer might act in reducing the improbability we faced, therefore acting as a good explanation. By Dawkins’ own criteria the designer only needs to be as complex as the most complex things that he designs. Therefore he is no more improbable than the most improbable thing he designs. It follows from that that in the example above the designer would only have to be as improbable as human beings originating by sheer chance. This would be more probable than all plants, animals, and bacteria originating independently by sheer chance."

Even though one of Dawkins' assertions (a designer must be at least as complicated as his designs) is false, my own meditations on the subject have led me to believe that Dawkins has stumbled on a sound proof that the existence of God is incredibly, devastatingly improbable a priori. I've tried to formulate this argument as best I could in my recent debate, although I feel it is quite difficult to articulate and very easy to misunderstand.

Anyway, those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Final Response to Bobby Turk... I mean JP Holding.

In some cases I'm going to simply list Holding's responses, as they speak for themselves and do not warrant rebuttal.

Here's what I wrote in my last response to Holding:

Holding also said that he "never said" that the majority of Biblical scholars were out to discredit the Bible. Well, he damn well should've said it. If it is true that

1) Bias is solely (or at least primarily) driving the late-date thesis.

2) The late-date thesis is accepted by most scholars (Which is true, see here).

Then it follows that most scholars are accepting the late-date thesis because of bias.

He responded:

Nick, how hard do you work to become this much of a dumbass? Is Daniel the whole Bible? Maybe in your version. But anyway, go look up “non sequitur”. “Bias” isn’t always conscious. In fact I’d guess it usually isn’t. That’s why I never connect the dots, boy, and why you shouldn’t either, not even with those crayons of yours.

I also wrote:
But why the hell would most Biblical Scholars be interested in debunking the Bible? Doesn't make sense.

And Holding responded:

Of course it does. They can still have jobs. What’s wrong? Can’t get out of that Burger King mentality?

Holding originally wrote that Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker relied primarily on a circular argument to support evolution (obviously it happened, because we are here). I responded that this was a load of horse shit and that Dawkins provides plenty of evidence for evolution and even argues that evolution is the only known (ultimate) explanation for complexity. Holding is now trying to backpedal. He's implicitly admitting that Dawkins does argue for evolution but "does a poor job in the process". Well, that is nothing but a bitch move to get around the fact that you, Mr. Holding, were wrong as could be about Dawkins' book. It doesn't matter if you don't like how Dawkins argued for evolution, what matters is that his writings do NOT rely on blatant circular reasoning. Anyone who doubts this ought to just pick up a copy of The Blind Watchmaker. Now, if you read it carefully you ought to see how Holding fucked up its message big time. And the fact that Holding isn't able to comprehend such an easy read ought to stop you from trusting him as a self-proclaimed "professional researcher" and moreover it ought to stop every one of his fans from thinking that he has the expertise to sift through complex and scholarly writings on the Bible and on Ancient History. He's no more trustworthy on these topics than is "Dr." Kent Hovind is about Biology.

If you'll recall from my first post on Holding, I wrote the following:

In the congo some of the locals have reported an animal, Mokele-mbembe, which is described as looking like an apatosaurus. Apparently a researcher traveled to the congo and asked a local villager:

'There's something I'd really like to know. Have you seen Mokele-mbembe?' 'What a stupid question,' said Doubla [the villager], looking genuinely surprised, stopping with the water-bottle halfway to his lips. 'Mokele-mbembe is not an animal like a gorilla or a python. . . . It doesn't appear to people. It is an animal of mystery. It exists because we imagine it. But to see it--never. You don't see it.' SOURCE

It seems to me like this is a good illustration of how consensus reality can differ from culture to culture: Apparently in this culture, imaginings and daydreams are considered valid ways to learn about reality just as much as more "scientific" types of observation are considered to be valid ways of learning about reality are considered to be in the West.

Holding tried to say that this wasn't at all analgous to the risen Jesus because no one said Jesus was invisible. But Holding, in his stupidity, missed the entire point that was laid out right there in front of him: that different cultures have different ideas about what constitutes reality. Holding responded:

That’s nice. It’s still totally inapplicable to anything I have written. Pilch is still only talking about the core apostolic group, not conversions by Roman Joe in Corinth, same as I am.

Whoosh! The point went right over Holding's head. You see, Holding somehow thinks that prospective converts to early Christianity would have somehow switched to an enlightenment view of the world when it came to Christianity and demanded hardcore scientific evidence for Jesus' resurrection. He has no proof that they would have done this, and so it is completely reasonable for me to assume that the prospective converts would have accepted the other types of "evidence" for xtianity, which we already know that they accepted: visions, dreams, sincere testimony from others who had visions or dreams of Jesus, finding alleged prophecies of Jesus in Jewish scripture, and so on. And as a matter of fact, I'm dead certain that whatever it was that caused the Corinthians to convert, it wasn't any empirical evidence of the miraculous:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

Right there is the implicit denial of Christianity having any powerful evidence of the miraculous on its side.

In my last response to Holding I wrote:

Now, I understand that you argue that things like the empty tomb would be checked. If Jesus' rotten body was still in the tomb (or if there were people who actually knew the full details of the events surrounding Jesus' death), and it was actually somehow available for viewing (or the witnesses were available for questioning), then it still might not have made a difference to ALL prospective converts. Christians would have dismissed this: 'Oh yes, that's a trick of Satan' or 'That isn't really Jesus, just someone who looks like him that the Romans placed there in the tomb to trick you'.

He responded:

Are you a former fundy or something? That “Satan did it” gig is a modern shebang. And the “oh its someone else” gig would have been reflected in the historical record as an argument in need of refuting, like the stolen body bit in Matthew and later church writers. Didn’t your mommy ever tell you that you can just pull speculations out of your bum and expect anything but ridicule and laughter?

Irrelevant. One need not buy the idea that the Christians said 'Satan did it' in order to understand that they would have vehemently denied whatever disconfirming evidence came their way. It's called Cognitive Dissonance. Here's just one example of the phenomenon: The cults of John Frum are composed of South Pacific villagers whose ancestors (somehow) got the idea that an American soldier John Frum would one day return from America and bring all the great riches to their people that the Americans enjoyed. Decades after the cult began, John Frum still has not returned to the natives with any cargo, but his followers are not deterred, because nothing could deter them. In 1943 Maj. Samuel Patten set out to convince the islanders that the American forces had absolutely nothing to do with John Frum; that the American forces were never intending to bring the natives endless supplies of cargo as Frum had allegedly promised. The natives, shockingly enough (from a rational perspective), did not believe the Major, and have continued their religion to this day. (Source).

Now, would some account of their denial be preserved? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know, did the John Frum cults ever keep a record of Major Patten and how they responded to him?

Anyway, I think it's about time to end the conversation with Holding. He was exposed for the shitty quack researcher he is. On to bigger and better things.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Oh Dear

JP Holding replied to my last post on him, and I thought it might be worth clearing up a few of his misconceptions. First of all, since Holding assures me that he has shaved his "douchebag goatee" I'll have to retract that statement. If you happen to read my blog on him again, just mentally replace "douchebag goatee" with something like "butt-ugly douchebag face" or whatever suits your fancy. ; )

Anyway, I’m going to address Holding in order of the issues that I think are most important.

In regards to the late date of Daniel, Holding said:

[I]t remains true that it is bias, not evidence, that drives a late date thesis.

Holding also said that he "never said" that the majority of Biblical scholars were out to discredit the Bible. Well, he damn well should've said it. If it is true that
1) Bias is solely (or at least primarily) driving the late-date thesis.
2) The late-date thesis is accepted by most scholars (Which is true, see here).
Then it follows that most scholars are accepting the late-date thesis because of bias. But why the hell would most Biblical Scholars be interested in debunking the Bible? Doesn't make sense. It reminds me of how you see Jesus mythicists: As seeing conspiracy and bias behind every scholar.

Here's what Holding said in attempt to defend himself from his false accusation that Richard Dawkins employed circular reasoning to support evolution:

No, Nick. It's still all a begged question, and Dawkins interprets evidence so that materialistic evolution comes out of the other end.

Horse shit. Dawkins argues at length in The Blind Watchmaker that only evolution predicts the evidence we have (see chapter 10). Furthermore, he says this in chapter 11:

My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.

If you eliminate all the alternatives to evolution (such as creationism, which Dawkins does if you read further into the chapter) then evolution can be inferred as the best explanation. Of course, it is possible that Dawkins' attempt to discredit creationism was wrong, but even if his refutation of creationism is wrong it doesn't mean he was begging the question. By the by, I disagree with some of what Dawkins wrote on discrediting creationism, however, I do think he has shown that creationism is a priori highly improbable while evolution is not, and therefore even if the evidence (the a posteriori) wasn't clearly in favor of either, evolution would still be probable. I could go on about this, but I'm really going off on a tangent. I'd be happy to discuss it elsewhere.

Something else Holding said:

And as for Dawkins being so bad at elementary logic, allow me to quote Michael Ruse, an atheist, concerning Dawkins' attempts at logic and philosophy:"The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."

Thanks for giving me a good example of a bad argument from authority. The quote you give makes no argument show Dawkins is wrong, and so merely quoting Ruse's opinion is pretty meaningless. Furthermore, Ruse's opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of the majority of philosophers, or atheists, or atheistic philosophers, and so it can't constitute a legitimate argument from authority as I’ll discuss later on. Finally, from what I understand Dawkins and Ruse have been really just been feuding over whether religion and science can co-exist. Are they separate spheres of human inquiry that never support nor contradict one another? Ruse might say yes, but his opinion doesn't really represent a consensus, so again, he can't be used to form an argument from authority. On the other hand, philospher Greg Dawes, physicist Victor Stenger, philosopher Bradley Monton, among others, emphatically do not believe this to be the case. I agree with them, and again, if you'd like to bring this up at a later point I can fully explain how science and religion are not in principle incapable of supporting/contradicting one another, given my definition of science. But I won't go there right now because that's kind of going off on a tangent. But I will discuss it if you disagree.
In regards to the work of John J. Pilch, Holding said:

Uh yeah, so what, Nick? This has no application whatsoever to anything related to Christianity. No one ever said of the resurrected Jesus that you never see him, and doesn't appear to people, and there were aspects of evidence involved too: empty tomb, nature miracles, etc.. Is this how stupid you are? Do you think that if you just throw some other story about delusions into the air, this proves that Jesus was a delusion too? Good night, what level retardation do you have anyway?

Apparently a level of retardation not quite as severe as yours, dumbfuck. I didn't say that people claimed to have never seen the risen Jesus, I simply used the Congo creature as an example of how beliefs about reality (and how we can learn about reality) differ radically from culture to culture. And if you had actually bothered to read the chapter I linked to before running off at the mouth, you'd know that. What Pilch's article shows is that people often have experiences in altered states of consciousness in which they, in some sense, 'experience' the presence of holy man. If you actually read Pilch's work, he shows how it is completely plausible that the altered states of consciousness experiences he describes are actually what inspired Christians to say that Jesus was raised. In modern day society such altered states of consciousness aren't usually regarded as being indicators of truth (we are a good bit more empirically minded than cultures past) but in other cultures they ARE. So the types of evidence that it would take to convince me that Abe Lincoln rose from the dead today is quite different from types of evidence it would have taken to convince certain first century palestinians that Jesus was raised. Probably the same types of evidence ancient people accepted as proof of other claims would have been accepted as proof of Christianity. If you think otherwise, you have the burden of proof, not me.
As for the empty tomb and the ‘nature miracles’: We do not have sufficient evidence to believe them, and we do not have any evidence that anyone in the first century came to believe Christianity on the basis of carefully investigating the empirical evidence for such things. The earliest Christians may have simply converted because they felt Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament, or because of visions, or experiences had in altered states of consciousness, as John Pilch argued. Now, I understand that you argue that things like the empty tomb would be checked. If Jesus' rotten body was still in the tomb (or if there were people who actually knew the full details of the events surrounding Jesus' death), and it was actually somehow available for viewing (or the witnesses were available for questioning), then it still might not have made a difference to ALL prospective converts. Christians would have dismissed this: 'Oh yes, that's a trick of Satan' or 'That isn't really Jesus, just someone who looks like him that the Romans placed there in the tomb to trick you'. Would most people have bought this? No. But they didn't have to. Only a very small percentage of the population had to buy it, and they might have bought it because of the sincerity they saw in the other Christians, because they felt like they had access to a loving community in the church, because they thought the Old Testament prophesied about Jesus, etc. There could have been, and probably were, people who were more willing to believe the early Christians than the Romans and the Jewish sanhedrin. And that need not be more than a small fraction of one percent of the population.

Finally, there's not really any way we could put odds on the success of Christianity. How would we know that its probability of success was 1 in 1,000,000 rather than 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 1,000? Why would such odds compel us to turn to a miracle explanation rather than a chance explanation?

BTW, even the individuals with direct knowledge of what the evidence was surrounding Jesus' death would have only lived in a pretty tiny area. Christianity could have been pretty free to grow without worry of the facts being checked on outside that little district.

Some Minor Points I wanted to make:

What Holding said about my quotations of him acting like a jackass:

Don't like shocking images, Nick? Your poor virgin ears too sensitive? Please. You've been edited for profanity here at TWeb, and you're one of those jackasses who would whine about similar language in the Bible, particularly Ezekiel's implication that Israel was guilty of a sort of bestiality, metaphorically, when they went after pagan gods. So please -- spare us your self-righteous Victorian pretend-moralism.

Actually, the main reason I put those quotes up was to let folks know that I wasn't calling some quiet, sweet little Lamb of Christ a dumbass or a dumbfuck. I was attacking someone who's pretty comfortable insulting and talking down to others. Got it?

In my post on Holding, I wrote,

"Although Holding has only a degree in library science, he feels very confident writing (EXTENSIVELY) about historical, biblical, philosophical and theological issues while constantly making arguments from authority and questioning the expertise of real scholars who happen to hold views that he doesn't agree with (see here)."

He responded:

"Argument from authority" here of course means serious scholars who know their business; as usual, these guys have no idea what "argument bu authority" actually is, as though it were meant to prevent a twit like Nicky Poo from quoting Stephen Jay Gould on some point of paleontology. This is Nicky-speak for "Waaah, I'm in over my head when you use people who know what they're talking about, waaaah." And of course, Nicky thinks it is OK for him to quote what he calls "real scholars" anyway. Can we say, "projection"?

I don't have a problem with outsiders like you (and me, for that matter) relying on the majority opinion of scholars. In fact, it is quite reasonable, and appeal to the consensus of scholars is in fact a reasonable form of the argument from authority. To be crystal clear: I've got no problem with you doing this. However, you're guilty of overt special pleading if you won't rely on the majority opinion of scholars for issues such as the age of the earth, whether or not Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, when the book of Daniel was written, etc.

Holding said something else that is relevant to this in his post:

I have also said that the one who disagrees with consensus needs good arguments for doing so.

I suppose I don't disagree with that. However, I think that anytime an amateur decides to disagree with the consensus, they had better interact with the scholarly community (which means publishing in peer-reviewed journals or at least having lengthy correspondances with numerous experts who hold the view that you don't agree with). The reason I say that is because there are often very good, valid reasons that the majority of scholars hold the opinion they do, and so doing some correspondance with those who hold the majority view gives them a chance to show you why they believe what they believe. And, in my experience, it usually turns out that scholars have excellent reasons for believing what they do. Amateurs like us often don't understand which questions we should be asking, and we're often not aware of details that completely change the way we once viewed something. Do you actually bother to write or email the folks who say that the book of Daniel was written in the second century and ask them your questions? If not, why not? If you have, then great. But don't act like others are forced to agree with you. It's completely reasonable for those who have not checked this stuff out (in the way I described) to simply accept the consensus position.