Thursday, July 21, 2011

New PC

Okay, so I finally bought my own home PC (before I had been using ones at the library or at a friend's). So I'll be writing a lot more from now on! Also, my PC came with Plants Vs. Zombies. It is the most fun, addicting game ever!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Kalam Argument is a Deepity

I'm sure most of you have seen or heard William Lane Craig's presentation of his Kalam cosmological argument. I think the argument is misleading to most people, as this argument is not one but two.

The first version is the one that Craig presents to lay audiences. It is highly misleading. Craig wants you to think that science has proven that at one time nothing existed, and that at a later point something existed, and this could only be explained by God. But that isn't true: there is no science at all that supports the idea that there was a time when NOTHING existed. In fact, even under the standard model of the Big Bang something has existed for every single moment of time (even though time itself doesn't stretch back for infinity).

The second version is the academic version. More or less, Craig argues that the first moment of time (and everything in it) must have some sort of reason for its existence (or cause) and of course by definition any cause for this first moment of time must be outside of time. And here's where we've opened up a huge can of metaphysical worms.

It's not obvious to me, or even to most people (I think?) that the first moment of time just had to have some type of nontemporal cause. So how can Craig argue that it does? To justify the notion that time's first moment had an atemporal cause, Craig appeals to intuition (which is surely no guide to matters so far removed from our experience, which is where we get our intuition) and to everyday experience (our experience of events always having a cause).

But our everyday experience is irrelevant to this issue, so say I. First, our everyday experience is that every event we know of was caused by another temporal event. Taken at face value this means an infinite regress, unless there is one or more special exceptions to this law of cause-and-effect. Suppose there is a special exception, some type of occurence that could happen without a previous temporal cause. Could this special exception also be without any cause whatsoever (even a timeless one)? If we're going to break one inductive rule (that every temporal event is caused by a previous temporal event) then why not break an artificial rule that doesn't really have any support? The artificial rule I speak of is the unstated premise that every event has a temporal or atemporal cause, which I find insupportable: we have no examples of atemporal causation. Using our everyday experience (and nothing more) would seem to make an uncaused event just as unique and just as seemingly unlikely as an event caused by a timeless thing.

And this is only the beginning of the problems with the Kalam. The Kalam assumes that an infinite past is impossible, but Craig's arguments for that are unconvincing, and, in any case, are refuted by his own philosophy of time:

Moreover, there's even a paper published by Quentin Smith called "Time Began with a Timeless Point" which argues for a nontheistic cause of the universe that is outside of time.

The Kalam, I would suggest, is dead.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Carrier-Holding Debate

You can watch the debate between Christian apologist J.P. Holding and Atheist Richard Carrier here:

Holding is the author of The Impossible Faith and Carrier is the author of Not the Impossible Faith

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Name That Bible Passage

I recall reading a story (I'm fairly certain from the Old Testament) which I have not been able to locate. If you can find any biblical passage which bears a vague resemblance to the following description, I'd be very grateful. Just leave a comment in the comment section. Here's the description:

God keeps a distance between himself and his people because God thought that if he dwelt among the people he might lose control of himself and lash out and kill them.

If you can name this passage, I'll owe you one. If you want me to post a link to your blog, I'd be happy to do it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Status of God in Light of Evolution

I would go even further than that: I'd say evolution provides strong evidence that no god worth having exists. I would define a god worth having as being at least an approximation of the traditional view of god: all-powerful, all-knowing, supremely benevolent. Now, if this god does not exist, what is the probability that complex and morally valuable agents like us (and some animals) came about through evolution? Well, if god doesn't exist, then the probability is basically 100 percent. On the other hand, if there is a god, he could create life all at once or allow it to develop through evolution. Which means that theism doesn't predict the evidence of evolution as well as atheism. And if you know something about Bayes' Theorem,* you'll know that this means that evolution counts as good evidence that there is no god.

Now, before I leave you with that let me return to a point I just made: that if god existed he could have created everything at once or allowed it to evolve. That sounds like a 50/50 split. But if you think about it, the probability that God would create through evolution has to be a lot less likely than 50 percent. There are many reasons that a God would prefer direct creation: it would provide more evidence of his existence so that people could know the truth (which a good God would surely want), it would avoid the millions of years of animal death and suffering that evolution entails, and it would also make more sense for a rational agent with all-power to go the most direct route to his goals. When we put it in that perspective, evolution is a devastating piece of evidence against god.

* Which is covered to some degree in Richard Carrier's chapters in The End of Christianity

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review of "The End of Christianity"

I've written a review of The End of Christianity on amazon, which I am reposting here:

Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have managed to produce yet another excellent and invaluable addition to the debate over the truth of Christianity.

In the introduction John reviews his "outsider test for faith" and considers some objections. Nothing new here. People are still trying to avoid testing their worldview without there biases towards that worldview, and John rightly shows that this is nothing more than special pleading.

In chapter 1, "Christianity Evolving", Dr. David Eller treats us to a fascinating anthropological look at how Christianity, like a species that evolves and adapts to its in enviroment, has managed to blossom into a large family of peculiar sects.

In chapter 2, "Christianity's Success was not Incredible", Dr. Richard Carrier gives a capsule summary of his book Not the Impossible Faith and then discusses some reasons that the facts about the origin of Christianity demonstrate that Christianity is not true. That may sound like "the genetic fallacy" but it isn't: he's saying that the claims Christianity makes about the nature of the universe (that there is an all powerful God who sent his son to die and that everyone must believe this in order to recieve eternal life, and that God wants all men to be saved) entails with some probability that God would make that message known to everyone all over the world, and thus Native Americans and the Chinese and everyone else ought to have been visited by God and told the truth. In past debates Carrier has had, Christians have responded that we don't know that God would actually do something like this, and maybe there are good reasons he wouldn't. But in this new chapter, Carrier sets up his argument in such a way that this objection is irrelevant. It involves Bayes' Theorem, and while I can't explain that here (Carrier himself explains it in a later chapter) more or less Bayes' theorem entails that when theory A predicts a piece of evidence with greater probability than theory B, that piece of evidence increases the probability of theory A. So, theory A (that Christianity is false) predicts with basically 100 percent certainty that Jesus would NOT have travelled all over the world after his death and explained the gospel to the Native Americans, chinese, and so forth. Theory B (Christianity is true) does not predict this information with 100 percent (or nearly 100 percent) certainty because if Christianity is true then there is a valid and non-neglible chance that God something like that would happen. Since the falsity of Christianity better predicts that piece of evidence than the truth of Christianity, then this raises the overall probability that Christianity is false to some degree.

In chapter 3, "Christianity is Wildly Improbable" John Loftus reviews a laundry list of weird and unlikely (and perhaps impossible) beliefs that Christians must defend, and concludes that the combination of all this things together results in Christianity having a negligible chance of being true.

Chapter 4, "Why Biblical Studies Must End" presents a capsule summary of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies which shows how the bible is irrelevant to modern life and is not really special in anyway except as a testament to what some people thought and believed in the ancient past.

In chapter 5, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" Dr. Jaco Gericke takes a bottom-up approach to disproving the existence of God. I call it "bottom-up" because I would describe the arguments of most other atheists as being "top-down": that is, they argue that the God of the bible can't exist because the God of the philosophers does not. Gericke, on the other hand, argues that the concept of God that Christian philosophers hold to cannot exist because not only are these two not the same thing, but more importantly because the biblical God is an absurdity. The Old Testament God is just an ancient Hebrew Superman. While any of the passages that indicate this (that God was thought of as having a body, for example) might be disputed or interpreted differently, the cumulative case brought forth by so many passages argues that the god being described by the Old Testament very probably was an ancient Hebrew superman. In chapter 6 Valerie Tarico adds further weight to this case by arguing that an all-powerful and immaterial being like God would not, and could not, have emotions like anger, which the Biblical God is said to have had. This is because emotions serve a function that is only necessary in limited creatures like humans. For example, anger is there to allow you to prepare for situations of conflict, because in a situation of conflict you need to be more aggressive and alert, lest you lose the fight. All of that is obviously advantageous in evolutionary terms. But a God wouldn't really need any emotions. After all, how could an all-powerful being need to become more alert or more aggressive to ensure that it didn't "lose the fight" against some other entity? Though many might describe those passages on God's anger as metaphorical, that is not the most obvious or plain meaning of the text. I recall reading a story in the OT (Exodus 33:3) in which God had to keep a distance between himself and his people because God thought that if he dwelt among the people he might lose control of himself and lash out and kill them. This offers dramatic support to the views of Tarico and Gericke and shows that the biblical God is an absurdity.

In chapter 7, "The Absurdity of the atonement" Dr. Ken Pulliam fully demonstrates that the evangelical theory of Jesus' death (that Jesus' death occurred as a substitute for our suffering for our sins) is indefensible. The knockout comes on page 185: "If man knows right from wrong as a a result of being made in the image of God, and if one of the things man knows from his being so created is that it is wrong to punish the innocent, then how can the central doctrine of Evangelical Christianity, namely penal substitution, be maintained?"

Matt McCormick argues in chapter 8 that there is more and better quality evidence for witchcraft going on in 18th century Salem, Massachusetts than there is for the resurrection of Jesus. This means that accepting Christianity means accepting that witchcraft also occurred in Salem. But adopting that position is obviously absurd and problematic. One point that I wish Matt had brought out is that if one adopted an epistemic standard that was so low that it allowed the acceptance of the Salem witchcraft, as well as the many millions of other miracle claims, then such a position would mean that the resurrection offered only negligible support for Christianity. Think about it: if you are a Christian who accepts the claims of witchcraft and the miracle claims of other religions, you would have to adopt the position that some of these miracles were worked by demons or were worked by your God and the people witnessing the miracle did not realize. But then who's to say the miracle of the resurrection wasn't performed by a demon or by someone else's God?

In chapter 9 Bob Price offers a list of natural explanations for the gospel material on the resurrection, assuming that the gospel accounts themselves are basically correct, and he defends these as plausible. I agree, but incidentally I don't think anyone needs to concede that the material in the is that reliable.

Chapter 10 is a discussion of how the doctrine of Hell is a damnable and indefensible doctrine. Excellent material, and good food for thought: how can anyone be a Christian (or at least, an evangelical Christian) if it means defending a demonstrably immoral doctrine?

The remaining chapters I have no comment on, except for Richard Carrier's two excellent chapters. One is on whether the universe is intelligently-designed, and while I'm in agreement that it isn't, I am not completely sure if his refutations of the fine-tuning argument are totally sound (I will likely blog on this at a later time).

Overall, this is an excellent book, and every open minded Christian ought to have a copy on their bookshelf right next to The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. I doubt that any rational person could remain a Christian after being informed of the arguments in these two books. At least, I can't imagine and have never seen a reasonable response to the points in these books. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Blog Added and More

Just added a blog to my blog list that I've known about for a very long time: Debunking William Lane Craig.

It's official: Bart Ehrman's upcoming book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical, Non-Religious Argument for Jesus of Nazareth can be pre-ordered as a kindle ebook. But it won't be out until November. So in the meantime you better download Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith and The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (I will be reviewing the latter very soon).