Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Universe From Nothing?

Lawrence Krauss' new book hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago: A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

Although I'm totally sure, I think I read something in the preview which indicates that he is not simply arguing that the universe emerged from empty space (which is a common philosophical mistake made by scientists; they say "nothing" when they mean "empty space" even though empty space is certainly something!). Rather, he's going to argue that the universe came from literally and absolutely nothing.

Incidentally, a couple of years ago I emailed him about getting a universe from nothing. I said that quantum fluctuations that create energy and particles occur in empty space, and hence are not out of nothing. He responded that empty space itself can come about through a quantum fluctuation. So this should be an important and interesting read on the issue. Here are some other titles I'm looking forward to:

Free Will by Sam Harris

Did Jesus Exist? by Bart Ehrman

Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Richard Carrier

The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul Robert M. Price

I've also got a few books that are old titles but that I'm interested to read and will hopefully get to in the next few months:

Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science

Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles

A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy)

So that's it. Hopefully my next book will be killer because of all the stuff I've read!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Test Tube Yeast Evolve Multicellularity

Read about at Scientific American. After multicellularity evolved, it says that: "The researchers also found evidence of rudimentary division of labor, which is an essential characteristic for more complex multicellular life forms. In a human, for example, some cells may differentiate into blood cells, others may differentiate into immune cells, but only select egg or sperm cells help form the next generation."


Friday, January 27, 2012

God Claims: An Index

So, I'm currently working on a book called An Index to Theistic Claims which will be kind of like An Index to Creationist Claims except focusing only on god belief. I've already written about 70 pages of the book itself, here is my table of contents. Have I missed any arguments or claims made by theists? Leave a comment if I have.

A. Purely Logical and Miscellaneous Arguments for God’s Existence

1. The Classic Ontological Argument
2. The Modal Ontological Argument
3. Descartes’ Conceptual Argument
4. The Argument from Numbers
5. The Moral Argument
6. The Argument from Consciousness
7. The Argument from Personal Experience
8. The Argument from Common Consent
9. Pascal’s Wager
10. If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything

B. Presuppositionalist Arguments

1. The Transcendental Argument
2. Inductive Reasoning Presumes the Existence of God
3. Without God, You Cannot Trust Your Own Thoughts.
4. Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.
5. We Need an Unprovable Axiom; Christianity May Be It.
6. Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology

C. First-Cause/Cosmological Arguments.

1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
2. Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument
3. The Argument from Contingency

D. Design Arguments

1. Paley’s Watchmaker Argument
2. The Evolution/Creation Dichotomy
3. Dembski’s Explanatory Filter
4. Irreducible Complexity
5. Information Requires a Creator
6. Only God Could Have Created Life
7. The Argument from Lawfulness
8. The Fine-Tuning Argument
9. The Argument from Beauty in Physical Laws
10. The Argument from an Intelligible Universe

E. Arguments from Holy Scripture

1. Arguments from Biblical Prophecy:
1.1 World Events Predicted
1.2 Claims of Advanced Scientific Knowledge in the Bible
1.3 Old Testament Prophecies of Jesus

2. C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?
3. Q&A on the Arguments for the Resurrection of Jesus

4. Arguments from Qu’ranic Prophecy:
4.1 World Events Predicted
4.2 Claims of Advanced Scientific Knowledge in Qu’ran

F. Q&A on The Problem of Evil

G. Common Anti-Atheist Claims and Rhetoric

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paganism and Early Christianity

John Loftus recently posted about an article in the Journal for Biblical Literature that discusses the parallels between Greco-Roman gods and Jesus. Loftus posted a handy table from that article that shows the parallels and the ancient sources that those parallels come from. The article that this comes from is called "Mark's Empty Tomb and Other Translation fables in Antiquity" By Richard C. Miller. You can read the article yourself, as the entire issue of that journal is online here. I was happy to see that Miller wrote about many parallels that I discussed in a 2009 article I wrote called "The Forgotten Sons of God." As a side note: Plutarch wrote Numa Pompilius around 110 AD, not in 75 AD as it says in the article. I've also blogged a bit further about a parallel between a certain gospel/Buddhist story here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

*IMPORTANT* Contact Local Representatives Immediately!

Here is a letter I sent to my local representative:

I understand that a new bill is being proposed nicknamed PIPA. I understand that this bill will "put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines." (You can find the same statement on wikipedia.org, along with some handy info about how to contact your local representatives and tell them to vote NO!)

This has tremendous power for abuse. As a user of youtube.com, I can attest that I have seen numerous individuals have their accounts disabled because someone told Youtube administrators that copyright infringement occured when in fact it had not. If companies and/or individuals had the power to easily "blackball" someone like this on every website like they can on youtube, then this of course means that people will (at least in some cases) abuse the privilege. Bottom line: we must find a better way to stop copyright infringement than trampling on free speech. The ends don't justify the means. Vote no on PIPA.

Here's a petition you can sign. Sign it, then tell your local reps to vote NO. Here's a handy vid that explains it:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Gospels Tell You... So What?

Some Christian bloggers got together and published a free ebook called Is Christianity True? This is my smackdown of one chapter in that book: "The Gospels Tell Me So" by Vocab Malone and Paul Adams. (See pages 109 to 114 in the book to see the chapter I'm responding to).

In a nutshell, the authors argue that since the gospels say that certain miracles happened, we ought to believe them because we usually believe what ancient authors wrote (if they intended to record history). Now let me be very clear: I agree that in general we ought to believe ancient historians. But what about in the specific case of miracles? In the present day, we've investigated lots of miracle reports and found them to be mistakes, frauds, or not credible in some way. See the work of James Randi or Joe Nickell if you don't believe me. That tells us that most of the time, perhaps all of the time, when someone reports a miracle it did not happen. Therefore, when it comes to miracle reports in the gospels, they ought to be considered false until rigorously proven otherwise. This standard is no different from the standard we apply to other ancient authors. After all, most of us wouldn't believe tales of witchcraft occuring in Salem, Massachusetts or ghost stories from the ancient world.

I have some doubts about whether the gospel writers even intended to record history. Though some of what is in the gospels may reflect actual events, large portions of it that at a glance look like historical reporting turn out on closer examination to be symbolic stories. For example, the temple curtain is reported to be torn at Jesus death. The temple curtain was what separated man from God, as the sanctuary was the dwelling place of God himself. Jesus figured in Christian theology as a mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). So the tearing of the curtain is a removal of the separation between God and man, which occurs when the one who mediates between God and man dies. Anthony Harvey's Companion to the New Testament (Published by Cambridge University Press) page 99 documents this (I've also found a handy webpage with plenty of scripture references that show this). Jennifer Maclean published an article in Harvard Theological Review which argues that the Barabbas narrative in the gospels is symbolism based on the Levitical scapegoat ceremony. In a nutshell, the scapegoat ritual in Leviticus 16:6-10 prescribes that (a) We take two goats (b) release one (c) sacrafice the other for remission of sin. Now look at Mark's Barabbas narrative. Little known fact, Barabbas means "son of the father" and Jesus, of course, is a "Son of the Father." The plot of the story is that (a) We have two sons of the father (b) One is realeased (Barabbas) (c) The other (Jesus) is sacraficed for remission of sin. Spooky, isn't it? The cursing of the fig tree is yet another instance of symbolism. So much symbolism in the gospels introduces a decent chance that any other story there is mere symbolism, too, even if we aren't able to see it (after all, these are cult documents from 2,000 years ago; we may not know what they had in mind when they were writing simply because our knowledge of the time and the authors is limited).

Malone and Adams tell us "Luke’s prologue is clear that he interviewed eyewitnesses before assembling an accurate account of Jesus’s life."

No, it's not clear. Read Luke 1:1-4: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled [The NIV says that this can also be translated as "have been surely believed] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." In other words, Luke said this information was "handed down" to him. By whom? Most scholars believe that there was an oral tradition about Jesus and his life that was passed down over the generations, and so this is possibly what Luke means, that is, if he is not referring to his source documents, Mark and Q. In any case, Luke is so vague on this point that it cannot be asserted that he went around interviewing eyewitnesses. At best, he got it from people who got it from eyewitnesses. Otherwise, why would he have copied Mark so much? It gets worse, because for all we know, Luke got it from someone who heard from their neighbor who went to church with someone who was the nephew of the supposed eyewitnesses.

Malone and Adams trot out a few tired old examples of gospel reliability based on archaeological evidence, but archaeological evidence doesn't prove a miracle occurred and the level of confidence we can place in a historian based on the fact that archaeology corroborates his writings is weak. As I've written before:

"Herodotus, who was an educated, careful, and generally reliable historian, reports all kinds of fantastic tales, such as a fortress that magically defended itself with armaments. But no one would believe any of Herodotus' wild tales... Herodotus has recieved some fantastic corroboration, and even some corroboration for issues about which some historians thought he was full of it. His fantastic tale of giant ants, for example, probably refers to something real (!), he correctly identified the first pharaoh and the builders of the pyramids, he correctly reported that Medes was overthrown by Cyrus, and he's been vindicated by various topological and archaeological surveys, as has been reported in the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writings."

In short, Malone and Adams have made an argument which is not only logically unsound, at odds with the facts, but also terribly unconvincing. However, I would like to thank them for the opportunity they gave me to write something fun and interesting for other people. You should too.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Buy My Books, Cheap!

Through January 20th you will be able to save 20% when you purchase my books:

Atheism and Naturalism
Paperback / Ebook

Selected Essays

Paperback / Ebook

Be sure to use the code PRICETHAW at checkout.

A book is just what you need in the cold month of January, and you won't be able to get them this cheap ever again! Pick one up today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems

The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems is probably the most credible and complete defense of the thesis that Jesus never existed to be written this century. The author, Robert M. Price, is an accredited scholar and fellow of the Jesus Seminar, and is widely read and advanced in the debate over Jesus' historicity. Here are my thoughts on his book.

First, it might be more accurate to call the book "The Christ Myth Theories and Their Problems." I know, it's not quite as catchy of a title, but I make this comment only to bring it to light that there are many theories that entail that Jesus never existed (as Price discusses within the book) and that each come with their own set of problems. For example, Price discusses an older theory that Jesus was a sort of development on a hypothetical Joshua cult from within Judaism, noting that the primary problem with this theory is that there is no evidence at all that there ever was a Joshua cult.

The book is primarily devoted to showing that almost all of the material in the gospels has deep parallels with Old Testament scripture, which is significant because, in Price's view, the early Christians were "'discovering' for the first time what Jesus the Son of God had done and said 'according to the scriptures' by decoding the ancient texts [Old Testament]." In other words, the entire life of Jesus portrayed in the gospels is no historical memory or oral tradition but only the results of unusual Old Testament interpretation. Price's analysis is exhaustive and far more extensive than I have seen in any other book on the Christ Myth theory (something that is lacking greatly in books like Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle).

Price shows remarkable fair-mindedness in assessing the evidence for Jesus' existence, as he dedicates an entire chapter to discussing Paul's reference to James as "the brother of the Lord" going so far as to call it "The most powerful argument against the Christ-Myth theory." He surmises 3 different theories to account for James so-called kinship with Jesus that would not entail a physical relationship with Jesus, which are the following:

"First is the possibility that James was understood, like Thomas, to be the earthly, physical counterpart to a heavenly Jesus. Second is that James was prominent among the missionaries known as 'brothers of the Lord.' Third is that his fraternal connection is fictive and presupposes the historicization of a heavenly Jesus and seeks retrospectively to co-opt the James sect by subordinating its figurehead to Jesus as his brother."

These are not ad-hoc hypotheses, as Price adduces some circumstantial evidence for each of them.

Overall, The Christ Myth Theory is a good read and a must have for anyone interested in the idea that Jesus never existed. You can purchase it on Price's homepage.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


As most of you probably know, I'm currently working on a book called An Index to Theistic Claims which will be kind of like An Index to Creationist Claims except focusing only on god belief.

So, leave a comment on this post telling me whether you want the book to be available as a Kindle ebook. Would you only purchase the book if it was made available to Kindle?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Bible Geek on Paul

I sent a letter I sent to Robert M. Price aka The Bible Geek. Dr. Price reads and answers the question on the episode of The Bible Geek that aired January 2, 2012 (He reads it towards the end of the episode, over 45 minutes in, I believe). Here's the letter:

Dear Mr. Geek,

As I understand it, the seven "authentic" Pauline letters are thought to be authentic because the style and language of these seven contains deep similarities. The letters that are considered forged are considered that way because, among other things, the style of writing is very different. Are there any other reasons to consider those seven (Galatians, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, etc.) to be authentic other than their shared style of writing? As best I can see, a deep similarity in style at best points to a common author of the seven letters. How do we know that the common author was Paul? I suppose one might argue that these letters are to be considered Pauline because the letters say that they were. In ordinary situations, I think that would be reason enough for accepting the claimed authorship. After all, if a piece of writing says that it was written by Robert M. Price, I would assume that it was indeed written by Robert M. Price unless I was given a reason to believe otherwise. However, I don't think that this simple reasoning may be used in the case of the Pauline letters. As far as I know no one is going around forging books in the name of Robert Price. But when we deal with Biblical writings, we find that forgery is the rule, not the exception. In fact, by the reckoning of most scholars, nearly half of the letters in the New Testament that claim Pauline authorship are certainly or quite possibly forged (and I believe the reasons that they cite for this conclusion are valid). By this logic, claimed Pauline authorship is not to be as readily accepted as Robert Pricean authorship, and so some reason for belief in Pauline authorship must be presented besides "It says right here that Paul wrote this." So, here are my questions to you: Do scholars have such reasons? Does the reasoning that I have presented here partially or completely undergird your own skepticism about the authenticity of the Pauline letters?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy 2012 to everyone out there, especially my readers! I hope you have a prosperous and safe 2012.

This January, as boredom sets in and it remains chilly outside, grab a cup of warm cocoa or coffee and curl up with a copy of my book Selected Essays, now available as a paperback book! (Ebook can be purchased here).

In other news, Richard Carrier recently made an excellent blog post about why eating meat isn't wrong ("Meat Not Bad"). Robert M. Price has released a book called The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems (You can find it for sale on his homepage). I'm reading it right now and should review it within the next several weeks. These two authors also happen to have authored my two most anticipated books of 2012:

The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul

Proving History: Baye's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus