Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 1 Is Faith Irrational?

So last week I saw a post on apologetics 315 that they are doing a series on the book Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. I thought it sounded like fun and I was going to read along with them. Well, as I was reading it today (actually yesterday, it took me longer than I thought to put this together) I realized I have a whole lot to say. I am not really sure what proper blog etiquette is, but leaving incredibly long posts in their comments is probably not super cool. So I figured I would do a series of posts of my own along side theirs and just pick a few short things to talk about in the comments over there.

Intro Section

New Atheists believe the religion is blind, irrational and stupid. The take home message from "The God Delusion is clear "those who believe in God are fools who have been hoodwinked into believing something absurd. Dawkins thinks religious people are deluded." (emphasis mine)

I don't think this is a fair summary of Dawkins' message. Yes, he does think the believer has been hoodwinked, yes he thinks they believe something absurd, yes he thinks they are deluded, but he does not think they are fools. Many people in the atheism movement used to be believers, does that mean they used to be fools and now they are not? No. They just used to believe something silly which they do not believe anymore. There is a difference between calling an idea stupid and calling the person who believes that idea stupid. 

Why are the new atheists so staunchly opposed to religion? "Why resort to attacking those whose lives are enriched by belief in God?"

This is the same problem, there is a difference between attacking the people and attacking their beliefs. Furthermore, my understanding of Dawkins is that he thinks the average believer is incorrect that their life is truly enriched by belief in God, that is his motivation. Not to attack them, but to help.

The New atheists are clearly not a fan of faith, several examples are given of new atheists saying things to this effect including a long quote by Sam Harris. The section is ended with the following "The New Atheists regularly proclaim the irrationality of religious faith, and yet they offer no evidence to back it up."

This statement seems totally bizarre to me, I feel like the majority of what the new atheists talk about is such evidence. Every time they talk about contradictions in the bible, counter-apologetics, or ridiculous things that come out of the church they are providing such evidence. You might disagree with the evidence, you might think none of it is valid, but to say they don't provide any evidence at all seems to be to be simply dishonest. I would also like to point out that immediately following that statement is an attempted debunking of such evidence, proving my point.

What About Doubting Thomas?

Dawkins claims Thomas is evidence that christianity is about blind faith. He refused to believe Jesus was risen from the dead until he had evidence while the others believed on faith and they were held up as worthy of imitation. However, in the context of this story it isn't just blind faith. Jesus predicted on multiple occasions that he would come back from the dead so Thomas should have been expecting it. Second, Thomas heard eyewitness testimony and still refused to believe, almost all science is based on eyewitness testimony. Third, Jesus did miracles proving who he is which Thomas witnessed.

Interesting argument, it is important to put things in context and I am glad we are doing that here. I don't completely agree with the analysis in the book however, let's take them point by point. 
1. The fact that Jesus predicted he would come back from the dead. If a good friend of mine says he will come back from the dead, and after he dies another friend says he did when I wasn't around, I am no more inclined to believe it than if I was never told in the first place.
2. In a sense, science is based on trusting experts, but that is a bit of an oversimplification. Given any experiment, you can always doubt it and try to replicate it yourself. You are supposed to question it. To say he heard eyewitness testimony and then citing it is like science as a reason he shouldn't have questioned doesn't seem right to me.
3. This last one is a little more interesting and the only one that holds any weight at all for me. The fact that Jesus performed miracles in front of Thomas does show that he has some amazing powers and it did give him reason to believe. However, apparently Thomas thought that healing people and feeding 5000 people was much different from coming back from the dead. He wasn't ready to believe that one necessarily proved the other. I still think Dawkins' interpretation of this is valid.

Biblical Faith

Some Christians have blind faith, but that does not necessarily mean that Christianity values blind faith. Faith in supposed to be belief in light on the evidence, not in spite of it. Several examples are given from the bible where evidence is given that would be a reason to believe, such as miracles by Jesus. And several examples are given of Christian thinkers through the years who say things to the effect of "we shouldn't have blind faith"

I really like the message in this section. I like the idea that Christians don't have blind faith but something more like 'faith with reason'. My experience growing up around Christians is that people do simply have blind faith, but I have learned over the years that I can't necessarily extrapolate that to all Christians. I was disappointed however that all examples given for reasons to believe were from the Bible. What would the author say to someone like myself who does not believe in the bible a priori.

Everyone Has Faith

It is not just religious people who have faith, everyone has faith in things. You have faith that the pilot in your plane is properly trained and won't crash the plane, you have faith that other drivers won't swerve into your lane, etc.

This is true, but it is really a different use of the word faith. I have faith that the pilot is trained and will do a good job flying my plane, but I also know there is a chance we could crash. Based on previous data the chance is low but I'm not sure. I have faith that someone won't swerve into my lane because it generally works that way, but there are accidents all the time so I know I might be wrong. This is fundamentally different from when people say "I KNOW there is a God".

The new atheists have faith, some say more faith than christians. Here are a few examples

I really have to take the author to task here, a few of these statements are complete misrepresentations of the new atheists positions. Let me focus on 2 of them

The have faith that the universe came into existence from nothing

Given the evidence, we know what the universe was like an extremely small amount of time after the big bang. We do not know what it was like before that and I have never seen a new atheist say they do. As far as I know none of them are astrophysicists and I always see them defer to the scientists. Nobody says they know it came from nothing, they say they don't know (or maybe we don't know if the sentence even makes sense because of the way space and time are connected).

They have faith that multiple universes exist

This is a cool idea that people like to throw around as a possibility. I don't think anyone would claim they think it is true with any kind of certainty.

The Evidence for God

The following arguments are given: The cosmological argument, design from physics, design from DNA, the moral argument.

All of these have been addressed by atheists countless times. I've even done one version of the cosmological argument.

Imparting ourselves

Whether you are Christian or Atheist, have you ever gotten to know a thinking person from the other side and learned how and why they think what they do?

I have, and I hope to have more discussions like that with Christians in the future. I think it is interesting to see why people think what they do. It is one of the reasons I started this blog.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Luke 16

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

Jesus tells the story of a guy who has a manager of his possessions who is doing a terrible job. He tells the guy he will be fired soon, so the manager stole from him on his last day of work by getting in good with his boss' debtors in exchange for favors later. Then Jesus says you can't worship money and God so you should worship God.

I would think the message here is not to give your accountant access to your books after he has been fired. I know I've taken a few liberties with the details of the story, but if I understood it correctly it is a fair summary of the content. Also, I'm not exactly sure what "worshiping money" means, but it is a bit of a leap to go from finding money important to stealing.

The Law and the Kingdom of God

The Pharisees love money so they ridiculed Jesus for saying these things. Also Jesus says 'it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.'

I assume this is the law of God, so this seems to say everything in the old testament is still valid. Anyone who tries to blow off some insane old testament law is going against this verse.

Divorce and Remarriage

If you get divorced and then remarry you are committing adultery.

I'm not a big fan of divorce, but sometimes it is the best for the situation. 

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Lazarus was a poor man covered with sores who tried to beg for scraps of food from a very rich man. The rich man apparently refused to help and Lazarus died. He was taken by an angel up to Abraham in heaven. the rich man also died and went to hell, he asked if Lazarus could come help him as he was in agony. Abraham refuses so he begs that he at least go back to tell his family so they won't share this hell with him. Abraham says they have Moses and the prophets, if they don't listen to them they won't listen to someone risen from the dead.

This story is all kinds of wrong. So there is a rich guy who doesn't help a poor guy when he has the means. Not the best guy in the world but he deserves eternal torture? Ok fine, let's move past it, he winds up in hell and asks for help, when help is refused he accepts his fate but asks for his family to be helped so they don't wind up in his same position. (doesn't this show he is a decent guy?) This is refused for an insanely stupid reason. Ancient stories of prophets are NOT the same as the dead coming back to life to warn you.

I'd also like to point out verse 25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." It sounds like he was just lucky in life and now the tables are turned. It never says he is in hell for not sharing his wealth (is sort of implies it but never drives the point home). He doesn't seem like that bad of a guy but he was lucky in life so he is being punished in death.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Luke 15

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

The scribes and Pharisees complain that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. Jesus says if you have 100 sheep and one is lost don't you leave the 99 in open country and go after the 1. In the same way heaven rejoices when 1 sinner repents more than when 99 righteous need no repentance.

Makes sense, maybe the lesson is to use your resources where they are most needed. Although I imagine most use it as an order to proselytize.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

If you have 10 coins and lose one you won't you diligently look for it until you find it? When you find it you will rejoice, this is like heaven when a sinner comes back.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

A guy has 2 sons, one asks for his share of his fathers property so he gets it. He then leaves town and squanders all of his money. There is a famine and he has a hard life for a while. He then decides he should return to his father as a servant. When he gets there his father treats him well. He throws a big party. The other brother is upset because he has always been with his father and hasn't gotten this treatment, the dad says it is a day to rejoice because his brother is effectively back from the dead.

Same point as above it seems

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 2-Divine Omnipotence

As I stated last week, I will be mimicking my format for my bible posts. I will put section heading in bold (which I have to make up) then I will give a summary in standard text and then I will respond in italics.

Definitions are important

Let's begin with the problem of pain in it's simplest form "If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both." The difficulty here is what exactly we mean by "good", "happy", and "almighty". They have multiple potential meanings and if we think about them in their popular usage the question is unanswerable.

I agree that making definitions clear is important. Also, words can have very fluid definitions and it is important to be clear about what you are talking about. I'm not sure what he means when he says if we use the common usage of the words the question becomes answerable, but it seems to me that the way people understand these things is using the common usage. I'm interested to see how he tweaks the meanings here, depending on how far he tries to push the definitions it could either make for very interesting reading or it could just be silly. We will see.

What Does Omnipotence Mean?

Omnipotence means the power to do anything. There are times when an unbeliever might argue that if God were omnipotent then he would be able to do this or that, and when you reply that it is impossible they say "But I thought that God was supposed to do anything"

An interesting point. It depends on what the atheist is asking that God should be able to do. If you are talking about some silly little logical trap such as "can god create a boulder so big he can't lift it?" where he either can't create such a boulder, or if he can then he can't lift it. He can't win either way. Or if you are asking him to create something that is logically inconsistent like say a circle with a corner, he can't because it makes no sense, circles do not have corners, if you create something with a corner it is not a circle.

This leads us to ask what impossible really means. When we say things are impossible, we typically have an implied 'unless' on the statement. For example, I might say it is impossible for me to see the street, when I might mean to add 'unless I go up to the roof'. If I have a broken leg and there is no elevator I might say it is impossible for me to get to the roof, but there is an implied 'unless someone helps me up the stairs'. It is a different kind of impossible if I say 'it is impossible to see the street if I stay in this spot'. We need to differentiate between these 2 different kinds of impossible, things that are impossible unless, and things that are intrinsically impossible. Things that are intrinsically impossible would be impossible for any being in any possible universe.

I'm not a big fan of his examples, but he does make an interesting point. When we say impossible in normal situations there are 2 ways we can talk about it, things that are impossible in a given situation for a given being, and things that are intrinsically impossible for every possible being in every possible universe.

So we return to the question of what is omnipotence. God is omnipotent means he can do anything that is intrinsically possible. The fact that God cannot create a being which has free will and also does not have free will is not a limit to his power, because what is being asked of him is nonsense.

I'm on board.

How do we Know What is Intrinsically Impossible?

It is difficult to know whether something is intrinsically impossible or not. Human reasoning can make mistakes in such matters. We should be careful at being sure what is possible or not in an intrinsic sense.

I'm not quite sure where he is going with this, but I thought we were talking about logical impossibilities. 

There are times when things go bad according to the laws of nature and prayer doesn't seem to help, this would seem to furnish a strong argument against God. However, not even omnipotence can create a society of free souls without an independent nature.

He goes into this idea more in depth a little later, but for now I will just point out that God doesn't seem to mind messing with free will.

Awareness of Self

To be self aware of your consciousness, there must be something other than you. For if you are everything there is no contrast between you and other things. Ideally this would be a social environment, you versus others like you. This would be a problem for other theists, but christians have the trinity so it is ok.

I'm guessing he is building to something, this seemed to come out of nowhere to me.

Freedom implies there are things to choose between, so there must be an environment with choices for freedom to even make sense. The minimum condition then for self awareness is apprehension of God and distinctness from God. Then they could choose whether they love themselves or God better.

It seems to me the minimum condition based on his previous ideas is for there to be the self and anything else. To say it has to be God is completely out of nowhere.


Now if we add other beings into the mix, instead of just one being along with God, we need a way for them to interact, for 2 minds cannot simply become aware of each other and communicate, there must be a medium for them to do this. There must be some place that they co-exist in.

Is this really true, or does it just seem reasonable because we live such an existence? We can imagine telepathy, which is 2 minds interacting directly, and so why not have those 2 minds exist in a vacuum? I'm just point out that he is making a bunch of assertions and not giving evidence for any of it. We are supposed to be talking about what is logically possible here right?

If we could have our consciousnesses communicate directly it would be difficult to tell the difference between myself and others as it all happens internally and there is nothing to compare it to. What we need is exactly what we have, a neutral external world that we can all manipulate and use to communicate. Society is this common world where we meet and exchange ideas.

The idea that if we could communicate directly and had no external world then we would have trouble telling ourselves apart from our neighbors is interesting. I think it is a possibility, but I think it is also possible that I could tell the difference between my own thoughts and "invading" thoughts. It is just a crazy hypothetical anyway, but it doesn't suit us to just claim that in a world so different from our own then it must be a certain way without any evidence or argument.

Matter must have a fixed nature, for if I was in nature and all matter bent to my will, and then you were introduced, you would not have free will anymore as your matter would also bend to my will. Further, you could not send me a message for if you tried, all of the matter you are trying to manipulate would also bend to my will.

I don't know what he is getting at here, again, it seems to just be a bunch of non sequiturs to me. I am hoping this will all come together at some point. It seems like the being who can manipulate things at his will here is supposed to be God. Just because God can manipulate anything he wants, does it automatically mean he has to be at all times? Maybe he can let someone else manipulate generally and then will things to be different as he wishes. Again, this is a hypothetical and he is just claiming that there are things that must be without proper explanation. I think he just has a bunch of hidden assumptions that he is not stating.

What is Evil?

Not all states of matter are equally agreeable for a single being, for example, is a fire good or bad? If you are at a reasonable distance it provides warmth but if you are too close it will burn and cause pain. Is the fire evil? If we can't get things to be perfect for a single person, how could it possibly be for multiples? If one person is going downhill someone going the opposite way must be going uphill. There will be situations where things must go against one person for them to go for someone else. Competition is inevitable. Because of the permanent nature of the world around us, "when human being fight the winner will usually go to those will superior weapons, skills and numbers, even if their cause is unjust."

We can imagine a world where God does not allow these injustices to happen, where every time a man tried to strike another man with a board it became soft. We could even take this to the extreme where evil thoughts are impossible as God would intervene with his brain and wouldn't let it think evil thoughts. This would be a world without choice as the "wrong" choice would be taken away. So where do you draw the line? Think of a game of chess, you can give the occasional help to your opponent by letting them take back a move or remove one of your pieces to help them, but these concessions must be rare or you don't really have a game. Similarly, God can't be constantly stop us from committing evil acts or life loses meaning.

Now this is actually a really interesting idea. Take things to the extreme and have God interfere with any minor evil act, even evil thoughts. In this extreme we have lost our autonomy and the world that God has set up seems to have lost some of its meaning. What does good really even mean if evil is not a possibility? Let's think about the other extreme, God does absolutely nothing and evil is allowed to run rampant when it spins out of control. This seems like a bad place to be as well, it would be nice to have a God making sure things don't get too out of hand. I would argue that this is the world we live in, but I can't prove it, how could you ever prove such a thing? I would argue that things like the holocaust and natural disasters that kill millions of innocent people are evidence that this loving God does not exist, but I can't prove it. I can never know if there are other worse things that were prevented. So where are we on this scale? Are we all the way to one side where there is no intervention, or are we somewhere in the middle where the truly horrible things are stopped and we just never know about it?

Next week(4/4): Chapter 3 Divine Goodness

Luke 14

Healing of a Man on the Sabbath

Jesus healed a man on the sabbath and the Pharisees and lawyers were upset about it. Jesus asked if they had a son or an ox fall into a well on the sabbath wouldn't they get it out immediately. They had no answer.

Good story, but it just happened last chapter.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

When you go to a wedding feast, don't immediately sit in the most prominent seat, because if there is someone more distinguished than you who shows up later, you will get sent to the lowest place to sit. But if you start by sitting at the lowest place, when the host comes to see everyone he will send you to the highest place.

This is good, basically be humble and people will notice. Don't talk about how awesome you are and always jump to the best spot. It is better to let people see your qualities and point them out, and if you are good other people will see and put you in your rightful distinguished place. I generally agree with this sentiment although something about it bothers me just a touch. To say to be humble is a good thing, and if you are not constantly singing your own praises your friends and honest coworkers will (this has been my experience anyway). This verse seems to be advocating being humble as a strategy to actually get to the place of prominence, which bothers me a touch. If you are going to take the lowest place with the intention of getting put into the highest place, will you be upset if that doesn't happen? If that is the case this seems bad. On the other hand, if you are going to put yourself there knowing you will probably stay there, and then you might be surprised on occasion when others are like "what are you doing there, come to this better spot" and be happy with the rare accolade, that seems like the right way to do it. It is a parable and I know these subtleties are hard to put in them, it is possible that this was the point all along, but the way it is written I think it can be easily interpreted as the first way I said.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

Jesus says when you have a dinner or banquet don't invite friends and family, because they will return the favor. Instead invite poor people who cannot pay you back. If you do this you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

I get the point he is putting out, but why explicitly say to not invite friends and family. How about don't only invite friends and family or something. The reason I throw a party is to be with my friends and family. I do like this idea of caring about poor people down on their luck, but the way this is put is strange to me.

Then Jesus tells the story of a guy who threw a great banquet and invited many. Then a bunch of people backed out of coming to his party, his servants said there was still room or more so he told them to go get anyone off the streets to join. There was still room so he sent his servants out to the road to get more people "for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet"

Again, this just seems to be stated in a confusing way to me. He is forbidding the people who already bailed on him from coming to his banquet? I think the point here is to share with anyone when you have the means, which I think is a good thing. The way it is put is so strange though.

The Cost of Discipleship

To be a disciple of Jesus you must hate your family and yourself.


Salt Without Taste Is Worthless

If salt loses its taste you should throw it away

What does that mean?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Luke 13

Repent or Perish

Jesus asks if the Galileans were worse sinners because of the way they suffered. He says no, but you will suffer and perish like they did unless you repent.

I'm not sure who Jesus is talking about, I also don't understand why someone who suffers would be a worse sinner, I guess maybe because God is punishing them for sins? I dunno, at any rate, he says repent or you will have a similar fate.

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Jesus told the parable of a guy who had a fig tree which had been planted on his land and for 3 years had not born fruit. He said to his servant to cut it down, why waste the land if it is not producing. The servant said to give it one more year, he would spread manure around and it would bear fruit next year.

This story is hilarious given the interaction Jesus had with the fig tree in Matthew

A Woman with a Disabling Spirit

Jesus heals a woman, the ruler of the synagogue says Jesus should not have done that because it is the sabbath. Jesus says they are hypocrites because they do things like feed their livestock on the sabbath. Why can't a woman be loosed from the bonds of satan on the sabbath? His adversaries were put to shame.

I love this story. I hate following tradition just for the sake of tradition. Traditions are fun and they have a lot of great things about them, but when they don't serve a purpose or get in the way we should get rid of them (or maybe just loosen the rules up a bit when appropriate)

The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which grew to become a tree which the birds made their nest in. It is like leaven that a woman hid in 3 measures of flour until it was all leavened.

uhh, the kingdom of God grows I guess?

The Narrow Door

Someone asks Jesus if everyone trying to get into the kingdom of God get in. Jesus says it is a narrow door, many will try to get in and won't make it. Outside will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Not sure if I am missing something here but it basically sounds like Jesus is saying many will try to get in and fail. I don't like it.

Lament over Jerusalem

Someone tells Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him. Jesus says he was going to heal people for the next 3 days but now he has to leave because he should not perish away from Jerusalem.

I think that is what this section said, it's fairly confusing. This whole chapter has been confusing, maybe it's just my brain this morning.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Luke 12

Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees

Don't be a hypocrite. Things you try to hide will be revealed at some point. Don't be secretive, your whispers will be shouted from the rooftops.

Good advice. I like it.

Have No Fear

Don't be afraid of someone who can simply destroy the body, be afraid of he who can cast you into hell afterwards.

Good advice I suppose if you believe in the afterlife.

Acknowledge Christ Before Men

Acknowledge christ before men and you will be acknowledged before angels. Deny Christ and you will be denied by angels. Everyone who speaks against Jesus will be forgiven but he who blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven.

Now that is interesting, I have heard that blasphemy against the holy spirit is unforgivable, but didn't know that everyone who speaks against Jesus will be forgiven.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone from the crowd asked Jesus to get his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus said it was not his problem. Then Jesus told a parable about a rich guy whose land was very plentiful. He didn't have enough space to store it all, so he tore down his barns and built bigger ones. Once this was done he relaxed, ate, drank and was merry. But he is a fool, he hasn't prepared his soul for the afterlife since he spent his time on worldly things.

It seems to me like 2 separate things, the guy is rich and also he is lazy and not cultivating his soul. I can imagine a rich guy also preparing for the afterlife (whatever that means) and I can imagine a poor person being lazy and not doing those things.

Do Not Be Anxious

In several different ways, it basically says to not prepare for tomorrow, but to instead spend all of your time focusing on God and everything will be provided for you. It also says to give all of your possessions away to the poor.

God either exists or he does not. If he does not exist this is clearly horrible advice. Give away all of your stuff, then if hard times hit and people cannot share enough with you, you might starve. This might be a bit hard to imagine living in such a rich country, but my understanding is people die of starvation in poor countries all the time.

What if God is real? This is saying that you should give all of your stuff away to the poor and God will provide for you. How can you tell if this is really true? I suppose if you got manna from heaven as food that would do it, but let's suppose that doesn't happen (since poor people don't appear to get manna to eat). If a religious poor person goes without eating but stays alive you can say that he has enough, he just doesn't have a surplus and that is ok. What if he dies? I imagine you can either say he is in heaven now, or that he was following the wrong religion, or he didn't have enough faith. I find passages like this dangerous because if you buy into it there is no way for it to go wrong, it is not falsifiable.

You Must Be Ready

You should be like a servant who is ready for his master to come home from a wedding feast. Basically it is saying you should be ready for the Jesus to come at an hour you do not expect, it will not be at a time when people are expecting it.

Basically anyone preaching end times prophecies are in contradiction to this story

Not Peace, but Division

Jesus came to cast fire on the earth and found it already kindled. He has not come to give peace but division. He will set family against each other.

So much for bringer of peace, here he explicitly says he is not peaceful.

Interpreting the Time

Jesus points out that people can look in the sky and predict the weather in the near future. Then he says they are hypocrites because they cannot "interpret the present time".

I'm assuming he is talking about end times coming up. I'm not sure Jesus knows what hypocrite means.

Settle with Your Accuser

Try to settle things up before you go to court.

Now this is good advice. If you can manage to be reasonable and settle things up before you go to court it is better for everyone.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Things Atheists Say: Christians Don't Really Believe Deep Down

I've heard this sentiment quite a number of times over the years (and several times in the past week). Sometimes it is the claim that Christians don't really believe they are going to heaven, sometimes it is that they don't believe in the afterlife at all, and sometimes it is that they don't believe in anything about God they claim to. Sure, they have convinced themselves at some surface level, they believe it enough to put on a good show, but deep down, they really know there is no God, no heaven, nothing supernatural going on. These kind of statements have always bothered me.

The arguments usually examine the way the religious handle certain situations and point out that if they "really believe" they would act differently. Often it is when discussing death. They will claim Christians should not fear death, because it just means they are going to heaven. They should not be sad when their friends and family die, because they should know they are now in heaven and much better off. The argument goes that since Christians are typically very sad in such situations, they must not really believe that their friends are going to heaven. Since they are afraid of death they must not really believe in heaven (or at least that they are going there). I hate it whenever I hear this kind of argumentation.

Life is complicated, human nature is complicated, and emotions are complicated. It is possible to be simultaneously looking forward to something new while clinging to something old. Anyone who has ever gotten a better job or has moved to a new exciting place knows this. The unknown is big and scary, even exciting unknowns. You are comfortable where you are, your friends are there, who knows what it will be like when you get there? You are optimistic but still part of you doesn't want to go. If your friend is moving to a new job you are happy for them but still sad they are leaving. Why would heaven be any different? Granted, moving across the country to a new job is much different than going to a perfect existence in heaven, but I imagine the emotions could be analogous. If your best friend is going to heaven, you can be happy for them but also sad that you will never see them again. To jump to the conclusion that they are sad because they don't believe in heaven is asinine to me.

But that is just one possible explanation why the behavior of the Christian in this discussion is understandable, I am sure there are others. What really bothers me about seeing this argument from atheists is they are projecting their worldview onto others. They look at the way others act and project their worldview onto them to explain the action. They fail to really try to understand how that action could be explained with an alternate world view. It doesn't make sense to them that you could believe in heaven and be scared of death so they proclaim that the person doesn't believe in heaven.

This is the same thing that Christians do to atheists when they insist that we are simply rebelling against God. "Why do you hate God?" or "Why are you angry at God?" These are questions I have heard from Christians and they bother me as well. They believe in God and can't understand that I don't believe in God so they assume that I do. This is just Atheists doing the same thing in the opposite direction. I don't like it either way, we should try to understand each other rather than put words in each other's mouths.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

False Dichotomy

Today I want to talk about a logical fallacy called false dichotomy or false dilemma, I will be drawing a bit from Wikipedia and iron chariots.  I have been thinking about doing blog posts for various logical fallacies for a while, and this particular one came up a number of times this week when I was reading the problem of pain.

Before we talk about what a false dichotomy is, let me simply state what a dichotomy is. In the context that is relevant to us, a dichotomy is a situation where there are exactly 2 possibilities where there is no overlap. There are 2 conditions, say A and B, such that you have to have either A or B and you can't have both. An example of a dichotomy is my lights are either on or off, those are all of the possibilities, the light is either on or off and it can't be both on and off at the same time.
An example of something that is not a dichotomy is my glass of water is either full or empty, it does satisfy that you can't have both at the same time (clearly a glass of water can't be both full and empty at the same time) but full and empty aren't the only possibilities, it is possible for a glass to be neither full nor empty, there are other possibilities such as half full. A true dichotomy of the glass would have to be something like empty or non-empty instead of empty and full.

So now that we know what a dichotomy is, let's talk about false dichotomy, this is when it is claimed that there are only 2 possibilities that cover everything when in actuality there are alternatives. As far as I have seen, the common use of this is someone will claim that there are only possibilities A and B when there is really another possibility C. The person arguing will then show (or claim) that A is impossible and conclude that B must be true, but they never addressed the alternative C. That is really all there is to it, let's look at some examples.

We already have one example with the glass. Suppose I were to claim that the glass has to be either empty or full, if you believed me that those are the only 2 possibilities and I could show that there is some water in the glass you would have to conclude that the glass was full, which is absurd. Similarly, if I could show you that the glass was not completely full (if I could stick my finger into the top of the glass without getting water on it for example) then the glass must be empty, equally absurd. This example is obviously ridiculous, but the point is if you start with a flawed assumption you can use it to prove absurdities.

Back to the problem of pain, near the end of the first chapter Lewis says the following "Either [Jesus] was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was; and is; precisely what He said." Both of lewis' possibilities have Jesus being truthful, it's just that in one he is correct and in the other he is wrong. What if he is lying or being deceptive? That is certainly a possibility.

Shortly thereafter Lewis says the following (he referring to a typical person) "He can refuse to identify the Numinous with the righteous, and remain a barbarian, worshiping sexuality, or the dead, or the life-force, or the future." Do I really need to explain why this is crap? He is saying you need to 'identify the numinous with the righteous' which basically means you need to think God is good. If you don't think God is good you absolutely must be a barbarian or worship sexuality, the dead, the life-force, or the future. There are plenty of people in the world who don't worship anything and they are not barbarians.

One more, he says the following in the same paragraph as the above "He can close his spiritual eyes against the Numinous, if he is prepared to part company...with the richness and depth of uninhibited experience." Here he is saying if you believe in the numinous (spirits and such) then you can have deep uninhibited experiences, if you don't believe in the numinous, then you cannot. I honestly don't see what one thing has to do with the other. If anything I might argue that religion makes you more inhibited, that certainly seems to be the picture Lewis is portraying when he says these people worship sex.

I hope my examples from the problem of pain demonstrate how the fallacy works. I wanted to add one more thing, a warning sign that this technique is being employed is that since the alternative is false, my way must be true. If it seems that someone is arguing against an opponent instead of arguing for their own point, it is quite likely they are using this fallacy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Luke 11

The Lord's Prayer

One of the disciples asks Jesus to teach him to pray as John the Baptist did. He gives him a prayer to say which basically says "honor God, ask for daily bread, forgive sins, help us to forgive those indebted to us, lead us not into temptation"

Seems like good advice. It's funny reading this translation, I had memorized this as a kid and it is strange for it to not match quite right. Although seeing the translation forces me to think about the words rather than mindlessly repeat them.

Who has a friend who if you asked him for bread in the middle of the night to entertain a guest he will turn you away. If you are persistent he will help you. Ask and you shall receive.

It seems like he is saying bother people until they give you what you want so you will go away. Is this really the intended message? That's all I see here. I guess the character in the story is doing it for a good reason (to entertain a guest) but he is also bothering a friend when he is trying to sleep.

What father would give a snake to his son when he asks for a fish, or a scorpion when he asked for an egg. If the evil can give good gifts to children then God must give even better gifts.

I guess here he is saying that even bad people can give good gifts, so logically God who is a really good guy must give amazing gifts. Guess I can't really argue with that.

Jesus and Beelzebul

Jesus is accused of casting out demons with the power of Beelzebul. He gives a few different answers. He says that he can't be using Satan's power because a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.

This leaves out the possibility that Satan is pretending to cast out the demons to gain favor. A truly evil God would pretend to be good to get people's favor first, then when he is trusted he could do whatever he wants.

Jesus asks if he casts out demons with Beelzebul then by whom do their sons do the same thing.

I'm assuming he is talking about his disciples? At any rate, the question is irrelevant. He is saying that either they both use the power of God or they both use the power of Beelzebul, he is wanting them to not accept that their children can be evil and force them to believe he is also not evil. I'm sure they don't want to believe their children can do such a thing, but this is hardly an argument.

Then Jesus says "Whoever is not with me is against me"

This matches what was said in matthew, but clashes with what was said in mark.

Return of an Unclean Spirit

When an unclean spirit leaves a person it roams for a while then decides to return to where it started. When it finds the "house swept and put in order" it brings seven other spirits to dwell there and the final state of the person is worse than the first.

One way to look at this is you have to be on guard for "your demons" to return. I imagine anyone who has ever kicked a habit knows it is very easy to slip back into it. I'm not sure if this is the kind of demons Jesus is talking about though, but it kinda makes sense.

True Blessedness

A woman in a crowd shouted out "blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!". Jesus replied "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

I really don't understand this exchange. The exclamation points and the "rather" indicate this was an argument or a confrontation. Why would Jesus say no to what she said? It seems like he is being petty. Please someone tell me what this is really about, what am I supposed to get out of this verse? I'm assuming I am just interpreting it wrong.

The Sign of Jonah

Jesus says that this generation is evil. They wait for a sign but none will come except the sign of Jonah.

There are clearly some references here that I don't understand. *shrug*

The Light in You

When you light a lamp you don't put it in a cellar or under a basket. Put it on a stand. In the same way your eye is the lamp of your body, if it is good the body is full of light, if it is bad then darkness.

I'm not sure I understand the analogy, be careful what you see?

Woes to the Pharisees and Lawyers

Jesus sits down to eat with a Pharisee and doesn't wash up first. The Pharisee points this out and Jesus says they wash the outside but their inside is filthy.

I see that he is making a point here, but you need to wash up before you eat.

He says a bunch of mean things to both the lawyers and the Pharisees. He doesn't like that they get good seats in the synagogues and marketplaces. He doesn't like that the lawyers load burdens on the poor.

That last one is a valid criticism.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Luke 10

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two

Jesus sends out his guys two by two into the places he is going to go soon. He tells them to carry nothing with them (no money, knapsack, sandals) and to greet no one on the road. Do not go house to house. Enter a house and say 'peace be to this house" and if they are peaceful people they will accept the peace and you can hang out there for a while and eat and drink. When a town accepts you eat and drink and heal the sick. When you go into a town and they do not receive you go into the streets and say 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' He then says it will be more bearable for Sodom on that day than for that town.

He sends his guys out with no supplies, tells them to go into a house in a town and if they are not received there they are to curse the entire town. What if the house they go into are just nervous people, or poor people who can't afford to feed extra people who randomly show up.

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

A few cities are called out who rejected Jesus' guys.

The Return of the Seventy-Two

They return saying how awesome it is that they can cast out demons in the name of Jesus. He replies that it is great, but they should focus on the fact that their names are written in heaven instead of that they can cast out demons.

I suppose that is good, don't get excited about the power you hold over others, instead get excited about the good coming to you. Or put another way, don't focus on bad things for others, focus on good things for yourself.

Jesus Rejoices in the Father's Will

Jesus thanks God for hiding things from the wise and understanding and revealing them to little children.

Why would God want to hide the truth from anyone?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

A lawyer asks Jesus what he needs to do to get into heaven. Jesus asks him what the law is and the guy replies "love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus says to do that and he'd be fine. He asked Jesus who counts as his neighbor. Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. A guy got beat up on the side of the road and left for dead. A priest and a Levite passed by without helping but a Samaritan passed by and helped the guy out and even paid for his stay at an inn while he recovered. Be like the Samaritan.

So Jesus says to help everyone. I'm assuming the point of it being a Samaritan is they wouldn't normally help the guy on the road due to his race or something. The story doesn't actually say what race the guy is between Jerusalem and Jericho was, but I'm guessing we can assume based on the path or something.

Martha and Mary

Jesus went into the house of Martha and Mary. Mary sat at the lords feet while Martha did all the serving. Martha asked Jesus if he cares that Mary was not helping with the serving and asked him to have her help out. Jesus said Mary has "chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her"

Am I reading this right? Mary stopped doing her work to listen to Jesus resulting in Martha having twice as much work, and Jesus thinks this is a good thing. He likes the fact that Mary is listening and doesn't care that it means Martha has more work. If he had said both should stop working and listen that might be something, but I don't like this at all. Such a lack of respect. Am I reading this wrong?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 1-Introductory

As I mentioned last week, I am adding a weekly segment to my blog which is a book club for the CS. Lewis book "The Problem of Pain". My plan is to mimic the format of my bible posts which have a section heading in bold, a summary of what is said in normal text, and my response in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings so I guess I will make them up.

Why CS Lewis Used to be an Atheist

There are three reasons given that CS Lewis used to be an atheist.
1. The universe is mostly empty and devoid of life. Even if every planet was filled with life the emptiness is far greater. In reality, it seems that life is much more rare than that, which makes the point that much stronger
2. The life we know exists lives largely in pain. Man has reason which provides the possibility for more pain than ever before in the form of psychological manipulation and torture.
3. Everything eventually dies on an individual level and on a societal level. Even if our current society survives as long as possible and spreads out into the stars, at some point the universe will reach heat death and civilization will come to and end. Ultimately it will be all for nothing.
CS Lewis then concluded that  the universe was either not created by a spirit at all, was created by an evil spirit, or was created by an indifferent spirit. But it was certainly not created by a good spirit.

When I posted that I was going to do this book club on reddit, someone said that he wasn't interested because the book starts with a straw man of what an atheist is. I think I have to disagree, I think there are many reasons for being an atheist, and not every person comes from the same perspective. Is it possible that Lewis is setting up a straw man? Sure. But I prefer to assume he is being truthful and these really were his reasons.

Now, let's look closer at his reasons. I don't find his first reason compelling at all. I don't see why the universe must have life in every square inch for it to be made by God. What if our planet was the only one with life? Does that mean there is no God? Not really, maybe he wanted to give us a beautiful sky and he is so powerful making all of that stuff wasn't a big deal.

His second reason is fairly compelling to me. It is difficult to square the pain and suffering so many people go through with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God. My understand is that is the purpose of this cool.

His third reason I also don't find persuasive. But I understand why some people would. People want to live forever, and if you have been told your whole life you will get to, it might seem like a hard thing to face that you won't and that everything will eventually go away. I don't see a problem with life itself being transitory. Things don't have to stay around forever to be significant.

Men Couldn't Have Invented This God

The arguments raised above are very strong, yet the strength of those arguments actually works against the atheist. For if things are so bad, how could men have ever attributed the universe to a wise and good creator?

This argument is completely asinine and I am not even sure where to start. Pain exists and is very common, but there is also a great deal of joy and love and other good things that people can focus on instead. Furthermore, people who are in a great deal of pain will naturally reach out for an explanation and it could be consoling to think that there is a benevolent person who is in charge of things instead of thinking it is random and for nothing.

The Origin of Religion

In all developed religion we find three strands and in Christianity we find one more.

Very well, I'm interested in what these strands are, I guess each should get its own section

The Numinous

If you were told there was a dangerous animal in the next room you would feel fear. If you were told there was a ghost or a spirit and believed it you would feel a different kind of fear of  the uncanny. A bit more of a disturbance than a fear, or perhaps awe. The object evoking these feeling is the numinous.

I'm not really sure I understand, but lets just go with it. The numinous is ghosts or spirits or the incorporeal or something like that.

There is a difficulty in that we use the same words to talk about things of different type. Do we really mean the same thing when we say we are afraid of the ghost and afraid of the tiger? Perhaps ancient people did, but now they take on a different quality.

This is a very good point. There are a lot of times that we conflate different ideas by using the same words.

There are many examples of this numinous awe in history and today, it does not seem to go away with knowledge or with civilization. Due to the nature of the numinous, there could be no description of the physical world that could include the numinous, therefore, there are only 2 views that we could hold about the awe we experience toward the numinous
1. It is a mere twist of the mind serving no biological function yet showing no tendency to go away.
2. It is the direct experience of the supernatural which actually exists.

I will offer a third possibility, it serves a biological function, but we don't know what that function is. I even have a potential function, there are times when fear is a good thing for us, fear of the unknown for example. If fear keeps you from exploring a potentially dangerous place it has survival value, if a side effect is that you mistakenly believe a place is haunted and it keeps you from real danger there is value there. Sure, there could be side effects such as being afraid when you shouldn't be, but it is possible the benefits outweigh the detriments and the behavior survives.


Morality can be expressed with the words ought or ought not. Ought is different from want and other similar emotions. You can not resolve morality into something else without presupposing it. For example, if you killed your parents and felt guilty that means you think you ought not have done it. The moralities accepted by different people differ, but not really by all that much. The thing in religion that is constant is that morality is at once approved and disobeyed.

I'm not sure if I am completely understanding what he is saying here, but he basically is describing morality, seems fine to me. If I have missed some of the point please enlighten me.

Morality and the Numinous are Related

We have these two separate things with very different character, the numinous and morality. Both are very different things. Religion says that morality comes from a numinous god. This is not what anyone really wants as we would like to understand morality better and having it come from a numinous being makes it mysterious, so this cannot simply be wish fulfillment. Lewis again offers two possibilities here, madness or revelation.

I guess I pretty much agree here, there is no reason our morality needs to come from a transcendent being that I can see. Further, his 2 possibilities seem reasonable to me, but I don't see why there can't be more. An obvious one I can think of is control. What better way to control people than to tell them a god wants them to do something rather than telling them it is the law.


The final strand which is unique to Christianity is a man saying he is "one with" the numinous being who is the author of morality. He is either a raving lunatic or he is exactly what he claims he is. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must accept the second and believe every last bit of it.

So again, we are looking at a false dichotomy. Maybe he wasn't a raving lunatic but he was simply a manipulative liar. Maybe he was a really good guy but the stories about him are exaggerated. Maybe his life was a complete fabrication. My point is, Lewis is stating these two things as the only 2 possibilities when there are other obvious options.

Also, I want to point out that he is mistaken about this being unique to Christianity, my understanding is that there are other religious figures that share aspects of Jesus. A quick google search led me to this site. I just glanced at it, so I don't know how good of a resource it is but it seems alright to me. Maybe one of my readers can provide a better one in the comments.

Why Christianity is Necessary

You cannot simply ask whether the universe is the work of a wise and good creator or by chance or malevolence as that omits from the start all of the important things about Christianity and where it comes from. Christianity is not something which we have to have facts of the world fit into, but rather it is the thing that we have to fit into any worldview.

I don't understand what he is trying to say here, I tried to express what I think he is saying, but it just sounds like he is doing what he is accusing his debate opponents of doing, he is starting by assuming what he wants to prove. If I am misunderstanding his words please let me know.

Christianity creates rather than solves the problem of pain, because without a benevolent God in control of things we don't have to explain all of the terrible things in the world.

Agreed, that is the point of the argument isn't it? To say there is so much pain that shouldn't exist with your God. So it is intended to be used as evidence toward saying your God doesn't exist. Obviously an Atheist sees no contradiction with the problem of pain. Also I'd like to say that other religions have the same problem.

At every stage of religious development you can rebel, but there are consequences. You can close your eyes to the numinous if you are willing to cut ties to half of the poets and prophets and with the richness and depth of uninhibited experience. You can regard the moral law as an illusion and cut yourself off from the common ground of humanity. You can refuse to identify the numinous with the righteous and worship sexuality or the dead or the life-force or the future.

What the hell is he talking about here? This is just a pile of false dichotomies and ridiculousness. 


All right, well that's all for the first chapter, if you disagree (or agree) with anything I have said please say so in the comments. Next wednesday (3/28) I will do the second chapter Divine Omnipotence.

Luke 9

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

Jesus gave his guys power to heal and he sent them out to spread the word of God. He said to help anyone who accepts it and move on when people don't.

Herod Is Perplexed by Jesus

Herod was hearing reports that John was raised from the dead, that Elijah had appeared, and that one of the prophets of old has risen. He didn't know what to make of it.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Jesus goes to a desolate place and a bunch of people followed him. There wasn't enough food for everyone and they only had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Jesus said a blessing and broke the bread and passed it around. There was plenty for everyone and afterward there was a bunch left over.

I have heard the interpretation of this story that many of the people had food on them secretly and Jesus basically motivated the people to share when they wouldn't have otherwise. Seems to square with the story the way it is written here.

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

Jesus asks who the crowds think he is, some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, Peter says he is the Christ.

Jesus Foretells His Death

Jesus says he will be rejected and killed and raised from the dead after 3 days.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus

Jesus says if you are truly with me take up a cross and join me. He says if you lose your life for Jesus you will gain in the afterlife.

I think that is what he says anyway, it's fairly cryptic.

The Transfiguration

Jesus went up a mountain along with Peter John and James. Jesus' face was altered and his clothing became dazzling white. He was talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter said they could set up some tents for Moses and Elijah but they departed quickly. Then a cloud came down and a voice boomed from the cloud saying Jesus is his son and to listen to him. Oh yeah, and in the middle of the story it mentions that the three disciples with Jesus were asleep, and they were groggy as this was happening, and it seems to have happened quickly.

I typically try to just let the miracle stuff go, but here it explicitly says the witnesses to this event were just waking up and groggy. It seems so much more likely to me that this was a dream.

Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

There was a young boy who the disciples were unable to heal so the father asked Jesus to do it, he did.

Jesus Again Foretells His Death

Jesus told his disciples that he would be delivered into the hands of men. They did not understand because they didn't want to hear it. They were afraid to ask him further about the matter.

Who Is the Greatest?

The disciples argued which of them is the best and Jesus said the least if the one who is great.

Translation: the disciples were jockeying for position and Jesus told them to shut up. (agree?)

Anyone Not Against Us Is For Us

Someone not affiliated with Jesus was casting out demons in his name. Jesus said to let the guy be as he is not against us.

A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus

His disciples went ahead of him to make preparations for Jesus at a Samaritan village. The villagers did not want to take Jesus in. The disciples then asked Jesus if they should have fire come from the heaven to destroy the village and Jesus said no.

The disciples are not nice people.

The Cost of Following Jesus

People who want to follow Jesus first wanted to bury their father or say goodbye to their family. Jesus said no.

I don't really understand the point of this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Luke 8

Women Accompanying Jesus

In addition to the men following Jesus around, there are a few women.

I guess at the time the fact that women were following him around is significant?

The Parable of the Sower

There was a guy sowing seeds, some seeds fell on the path and got trampled and eaten by birds. Some fell on rocks and grew but then withered because it didn't have moisture. Some fell among thorns and got choked out. Some fell into soil and grew a hundredfold.

The Purpose of the Parables

The disciples ask Jesus what the parables mean. He tells them they have been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but others are given parables so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand'. Jesus then explains that the seeds are the words of God and where they land demonstrates how well you absorbed it. On the path means the devil took the words from your heart, on the rocks means you took the word and felt joy until you had some hardship, thorns means you kept to your sinful ways, and good soil means you took the word in properly.

I mentioned this when it came up before, but I actually find this passage to be pretty terrible. Jesus says here that he intentionally made his teachings harder to understand for the masses than he made it for his inner circle. This makes no sense if you are trying to save everyone from hell. 

A Lamp Under a Jar

Nobody lights a lamp and then hides it, but instead they put it on a stand so everyone can see the light. Nothing is hidden, all secrets will be revealed at some point. Take care how you hear, those with a lot get more, those with nothing get stuff taken away.

I actually don't understand this very well at all. It sounds like it is saying don't have secrets because it will be revealed anyway, I'm not sure how much I agree with that. I don't know what "take care how you hear" means, and I don't know how the bit about the rich get richer and poor get poorer fits in either.

Jesus' Mother and Brothers

Jesus' family wants to see him and he turns them away because they don't believe his preaching.

don't like this. This kind of thinking leads people to disown their gay children. This kind of thinking is why my family doesn't know I'm an atheist.

Jesus Calms a Storm

Jesus and his disciples are taking a boat ride and while Jesus is sleeping a great storm came. They were afraid and woke Jesus, he calmed down the wind and told them they had no faith.

What exactly is the message here? Don't be afraid of obvious dangers?

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

They came across a guy who was possessed by a bunch of demons. Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs which killed themselves. Then the townsfolk were afraid and told Jesus to leave. The guy who had been freed of the demons asked if he could come with Jesus and he was told no and to go home.

I didn't notice this last time, but I went back to look and it was there that the guy asked to come with Jesus and was denied. Seems strange that the guy was not allowed to come along. Maybe it is like project mayhem, you can only join after you stick it out with no encouragement and staying when told to leave.

Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus's Daughter

Jesus was in a big crowd where a lot of people were pushing in on him. A woman who was sick and the doctors could not help touched his garments and were immediately healed. He felt power leave him and asked who did it, she apologized and he said it was ok, her faith made her well. Then a girl died and Jesus said if the father just had faith he should go and see that she is just sleeping, and she was.

Same old thing, faith healing. Also, if you have gone to a bunch of doctors who can't help you, you will naturally reach out to anyone offering a cure. The fact that you have faith in that situation doesn't seem very remarkable to me, it is the same reason people today get taken in by so many varieties of charlatan.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Luke 7

Jesus Heals a Centurion's Servant

A centurion had a sick servant. He asked Jesus to heal him. He didn't talk to Jesus directly, but used intermediaries to not bother Jesus too much. Jesus said he had great faith and the servant was healed.

There was a lot of detail here about the centurion sending people to talk to Jesus, and then sending another group of servants to talk to Jesus when he was on his way. I think I missed the point of all of that, I feel like I am missing something because there were a lot of details that seemed unimportant to me. My best guess is  that it is showing the Centurion to be a big shot and he is still asking Jesus for help.  I'm curious if anyone has any other insight here.

Jesus Raises a Widow's Son

Jesus and he followers went to the town of Nain and saw a widow mourning the loss of her only son. The son's body was being carried out. Jesus had compassion for the woman and brought the son back to life. "Fear seized them all, and they glorified God". Word of what Jesus did spread to the surrounding country.

Here's another place where people see what Jesus did and they respond with fear. Initially it seems odd to me that people would be afraid. According to the passage Jesus is just being a good guy helping out a widow. Why be afraid of some benevolent guy. On the other hand, if I saw someone bring a dead person back to life I would probably be afraid too (well I would be skeptical about what was going on, but if I really believed it I can imagine being afraid). No matter how nice and friendly the person seemed, I could imagine being afraid of such power.

It seems strange to me to be afraid of someone and to glorify them at the same time, but I guess it does make sense. Don't really think I am making a point here, I just think it is interesting.

Messengers from John the Baptist

Disciples of John told him about the things Jesus was doing, so he sent some guys to talk to Jesus. While they were with Jesus, he did a bunch of healing and such and told them to report back to John. They asked if he is the one to come or if they should look for another and he answered in an evasive manner. John's guys leave Jesus and go back to John to report.

After they left Jesus addresses the crowd and preaches. He says that among "those born of women" no one is greater than John, but in the kingdom of God the least will be better than John. The people listening liked the message if they were baptized by John and they don't like it if they were not.

I don't understand why Jesus was evasive when asked if he is the "the one to come". He basically said "look at what I can do". But in the "abomination of desolation" sections, Jesus basically says that many people can perform the same miracles as he can. Isn't the point of that whole thing that you can't simply look at the miracles and conclude that the guy is the real deal? So why does he offer that same thing up here as evidence? I'm not sure I completely understand the abomination of desolation passages that well, so I might just be missing something, but it seems to be a discrepancy to me.

A Sinful Woman Forgiven

Jesus is invited to eat at the house of a Pharisee. A woman who was a sinner learned Jesus was there and went to him with some oil and started anointing his feet. She cried on his feet and wiped it away with her hair. Simon says if Jesus knew the woman's sins he wouldn't let her touch him. Jesus says to imagine there is a guy who owes you 500 denari and another who owes you 50. If you forgive both debts the one with the larger will love you more. In the same way, he says she has great sins but also great faith and forgives the sins. Everyone is amazed that he is saying he forgives sins.

It is kind of an interesting thing here, what is a sin and what does it mean to forgive it? A sin is supposed to be an offense to God right? What does it mean that a sin has been forgiven? God is no longer offended? How does your sins being forgiven affect your life?

For example, if I stole money from you I would have offended God and taken wealth from you. If God then forgives my sins that has no bearing on you unless I also give the money back. Does it matter if my sins are forgiven? (I'm afraid this is going to read like I am just being a dick but I am trying to ask an honest question, I'm just having trouble phrasing it well. I wish it was easier to convey tone through text)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What would it take to convince you God exists?

I saw this question posed recently on a Christian blog and I have been thinking about it for a little while and figured I would make a post of my own. In the post on the other blog there was a quote from Dawkins and another one from Sam Harris (I believe) each to the effect of "No evidence could convince me that a God exists". I have been trying to decide what I think about this and I have actually gone back and forth a little bit, at any rate it seems like an interesting discussion topic and I figured I'd make my own post about it. (For anyone wondering, I was going to post in the comments of the blog in question but it devolved into name calling pretty quickly and I didn't feel like jumping in to it)

My first reaction to reading this was to wonder whether the quotes were taken out of context. It seems strange to me that Dawkins or Harris would say something so definitive. I think such a thing is incredibly unlikely, I would be very shocked to find out one of them decided they believe in God, but even still it seems odd that they would make such a strong statement. I thought that perhaps they were speaking colloquially or something. I tried to honestly answer the question of what evidence I would accept as the proof of God's existence for a while and the more I thought about it, the more I think these were probably fair quotes of theirs.

Let me explain with an example. Suppose I was an amputee and Jesus showed up to my apartment one day and regrew my arm. That would be awesome! I would be extremely grateful to him. After having this experience, what can I conclude? This guy that claims to be Jesus is incredibly powerful. He either has magic or technology that is beyond my understanding. Does it mean that the guy in front of me is God? Does it mean that he has the power to do anything I can imagine? Does it mean that this being created the universe? Does it mean that when I die I will either go to eternal bliss in heaven or eternal torture in hell? I don't see how I could answer yes to any of these questions. All I can say for sure in this situation is this guy who claims to be Jesus is extremely powerful and beyond my understanding. Maybe Christianity is true and Jesus stopped by to help me out, it is certainly a possibility here. Maybe there are aliens who know how to regrow human limbs that are disguised as my conception of Jesus. How can I be sure? How can you ever make the jump from any particular evidence to all the wonder that is God? My guess is that this kind of thing is what Dawkins and Harris were getting at.

So to return to the original question, what would it take to convince me that God exists? I don't know, nothing I can imagine would do the job, but if God really does exist, he is all knowing, so he should know what it would take, and he is all powerful, so he should be able to do it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


What is hell? I guess it depends on who you ask. If you go by what is in the bible, and restrict to Matthew and Mark and the beginning of Luke (because that is as far as we have gotten here) it is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was also some talk about burning. I have heard some people claim that hell is simply separation from God. This sounds much better, and if that is what you believe I suppose that is not so terrible, but it's not what I want to talk about here today. I want to talk about the hell that is taught in the church I grew up in and from what I can tell, the hell that is taught in most churches.

Hell is the place bad people go when they die. There is a lake of fire, you will forever feel the pain of your flesh burning off. Never getting any relief. You get whipped and raped by demons. Any horrible experience you can imagine will happen to you, endlessly. It will never stop and there is nothing you can do. You will never get used to the pain, it will be agony. Forever. There was always a nice mix of the specific and the vague as I have tried to replicate here. A few very specific very horrible sounding things, but also a good dose of "and anything else you can think of".

Children are taught this. I learned it at such a young age that I don't even remember when I first heard about it. Hell was always there. I am an Atheist now, so I currently believe that the reason Hell is taught to keep people in line. You want to leave our religion, guess you will be tortured for eternity. It is very scary, it kept me from leaving for a long time, and I have heard many stories of people who have left their religion and don't believe anymore, but still have a fear of hell because it was drilled into them at such a young age. I find this completely disgusting.

But lets move past that. Just like anyone else, I could be wrong. Hell could be real and Christianity could be correct about it. I would still argue that the whole heaven and hell system is terrible for the simple reason that the world is not black and white. We live in shades of grey. Simply splitting people up into good and bad, people who get eternal bliss or eternal torture, doesn't make sense. Let's think about this with an analogy, suppose that there were only 2 possible prison sentences that we could give out for any possible crime, life in prison or plain freedom. Now think about all of the crimes that we currently have to deal with and the various prison sentences that we currently give out. For each of those, you have to decide if the person gets life in prison or nothing. How do you split it up? Suppose you decide that anyone who gets 20 years or more is in prison for life? Well then what about 15? 18? 19? Somewhere there will be an awkward split where there are 2 similar crimes and one gets life in prison and the other gets nothing. This would be a terrible way to run things and I assume pretty much everyone would agree with this. But if you then up the ante and make it torture for eternity instead of life in prison and eternal bliss instead of simply freedom you have the heaven and hell system. How do people say this is the system of a just God?

Now, let's think about the way Christians say it is determined whether a person goes to heaven or hell. There is exactly one requirement, you have to accept Jesus. Nothing else matters. I remember hearing this as a child and it made sense to me, I suppose everything does when you have heard it for your entire life. But looking back on it, it seems bizarre. A mass murderer who believes in Jesus gets into heaven. A person who never does anything bad to anyone and helps people whenever he can, but doesn't believe in Jesus burns for eternity. How is this justice?

I've had this argument fairly recently with a few people and the answer I got is that we all deserve to go to hell. We are all sinners and deserve damnation, but Jesus takes pity on us and lets us into heaven, all he wants is for us to accept him into our hearts, what a bargain! I'm honestly not really sure how to answer this. I find it profoundly sad, I think people are generally good. Sure some people are murderers, some people do really bad things, and should be punished for it, but generally people are good. It is sad that a belief system that so many people believe tells people that everyone around them, including themselves, are evil people. They are so bad they deserve to be tortured forever. It is a really fucked up mindset to be in. But even given their assumption that people are all evil, why is believing in Jesus the one thing that gets you into heaven? Why is that justice? It does not make sense to me. Also, think about how this sounds to a child. You are telling them "you are bad, you deserve torture forever".

Friday, March 16, 2012

Luke 6

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus and his disciples were picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. The Pharisees cried foul, and Jesus said David went into the house of God and ate when he was hungry on the Sabbath. He basically said they are doing the same here.

I actually like this. I've never been a fan of enforcing rules that don't make sense or sticking to traditions just for the sake of tradition. 

A Man with a Withered Hand

On another Sabbath day, Jesus went to a synagogue and there was a man with a withered hand was there. the scribes and Pharisees were there watching to see if he would heal the guy and break Sabbath. Jesus knew their thoughts and asked them if it was bad to do good or harm, save or destroy life. He then healed the guy. The Pharisees were angry.

Same thing here, it's funny to me that they are trying to trick Jesus into healing a guy on the Sabbath and break the rules. Jesus basically says that he is doing a good thing and to leave him be, good stuff.

The Twelve Apostles

Jesus went to a mountain to pray for a while, then he came back and talked to his disciples. He picked 12 of them who were his apostles.

I was wondering a while ago if disciples and apostles meant the same thing. Apparently the apostles are a more inner circle type group or something. There were apparently 12 apostles, I wonder how many disciples there were.

Jesus Ministers to a Great Multitude

Jesus came to a level place so he could speak to a great crowd. Many people came to him to be healed and to listen.

Looks like we are at the sermon on the mount again.

The Beatitudes

Jesus gives blessing to the crowd, basically saying their fortunes will turn around. Poor will be rich in the kingdom of God, hungry shall be satisfied, those who weep shall laugh. If you are hated and reviled leap for joy, your reward will be in heaven.

I don't like this last bit, it could lead to a persecution complex.

Jesus Pronounces Woes

He then turn it around and gives woes to people who are in a good situation

Seems strange not to be happy you are full instead of being woeful that later on you will be hungry again

Love Your Enemies

love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, if they strike you on the cheek offer the other. If they take your cloak give them your tunic as well. If someone takes your stuff let them keep it.

This all makes sense to a point. I love the whole non-violence thing. But if someone steals from you give them more? Perhaps in some situations this makes sense, but it seems like a terrible general rule. You can't even protect yourself from a thief, you have to give him your stuff.

If you love those who love you what benefit do you get? You should love those who hate you. What benefit is it to lend to those who will pay it back, lend to people and expect nothing in return.

Seems like a strange way to make this point. I think what he is trying to say is if you love people without expectation anything you get back will be good. If you expect a certain amount back, or if you have conditions or ridiculous expectations you could be disappointed. This seems like a good thing to put out there. But to ask what benefit is it to love those who love you, how strange. 

Judging Others

Don't judge others or you will also be judged. Don't be a hypocrite.

I like this one.

A Tree and Its Fruit

Good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad. Look for good people and bad people by their actions.

I don't like this because it paints a black and white picture. People are not simply good or bad, people are complicated

Build Your House on the Rock

You should listen to me and follow my advice this is like building a house on a rock. Don't listen to me and doesn't act on it is like the man building his house on sand

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Luke 5

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

Jesus was near a lake and had a bunch of people gathering around him. He saw a fishing boat at the shore and hopped in. He asked Simon, the owner of the boat, to take the boat a little away from the shore and he addressed the crowd from there. When he was done speaking, he told Simon to drop his fishing nets into the water, he said they had been trying to catch fish all night and didn't catch anything. Jesus said to do it anyway, so he did and they caught a large number of fish. When he saw the huge haul he fell to his knees saying he was not worthy of Jesus as he is a sinner. He then told the guys they would soon be fishers of men. They left all of their fishing stuff and followed Jesus.

They caught a bunch of fish and then just left it at the shore? Seems like they should have either thrown it all back, or given it to the people in the crowd.

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

Jesus heals a guy who has leprosy. He then told the guy to tell no one what happened and to show the priest and make an offering. Reports of what was done spread and great crowds gathered to hear Jesus and be healed.

I don't understand. Jesus told the guy not to tell anyone, but then immediately told him to show the priest. You can't do both things.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

Jesus was teaching and surrounded by a lot of people. Some men decided to bring a paralyzed guy to see Jesus but they couldn't get to him. So they went to the roof, took off a few tiles and lowered the guy down there. Jesus forgave his sins. The Pharisees watching said it was blasphemy but the guy then got up and walked.

This is the same complaint I've had a few times, but I guess I'll just say it again. I really don't like that he message is that his sins are forgiven now he can walk. It is saying that he is paralyzed because of his sins. It implies that if anything bad happens to us it is because of sins we have committed, when the cold hard truth is that sometimes bad stuff just happens. Some times bad things happen to you that are out of your control and some people take the message that they must have done something bad to make the bad thing happen to them. "What did I do to deserve this?" Sometimes the answer is "nothing, you were just unlucky"

Jesus Calls Levi

Jesus and disciples were hanging out with a tax collector and the Pharisees asked why they hang out with sinners. Jesus says that healthy people don't need doctors.

Seems like a good point, don't just preach to the choir, but go to others and help them.

A Question About Fasting

The Pharisees ask Jesus why his guys don't fast while John and his disciples do. Jesus says they can fast later after he is gone. He then makes a few analogies saying he is new and the old ways are outdated (I guess)

Sounds like Jesus is just rebelling here. I don't want to fast, I am above it. Which honestly suits me just fine, I don't like following rules for the sake of following rules, and I generally don't care about traditions. But this seems to go against other things Jesus said, didn't he say it was important to follow ALL of the old laws? Here is the specific verse I'm thinking of. Is it possible that fasting isn't exactly a law but just a custom or some kind of loophole like that?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Club: The Problem of Pain

I am going to try a new thing on the blog, I am going to do a book club style thing for the C.S Lewis book "The Problem of Pain". It was suggested by a reader in a comment thread a while back that I read this book and it looks interesting to me. I am going to start with a modest schedule and simply read 1 chapter a week. If this seems too slow I might increase it but I'd rather start a bit slow and speed up than start too ambitiously and have trouble keeping up.

Next week (on the 21st) I will do a post on the introductory chapter. At first glance I thought I might want to skip the "intro" but scanning through it, there seems to be some pretty meaty things to dig into there.

I hope some of you reading will find this interesting and read along with me.

Luke 4

The Temptation of Jesus

Jesus walked around for 40 days where he ate nothing, the devil tempted him and told him he should turn stone into bread so he has something to eat. Jesus replies "Man shall not live by bread alone"

What does this mean? You shall not live by bread alone...ok, but you do need some food right? Looked back at Matthew's version of this story, apparently you are supposed to live off of the words of God. 

Satan says he will give Jesus authority over all of the kingdoms of earth if he just worships Satan. Jesus says you should only worship God.

Jesus knows he is talking to Satan right? Why is this even a temptation? 

Satan asks Jesus to jump off the top of the temple and have the angels save him. He says he shouldn't test God.

Again, why exactly is this a temptation?

Jesus Begins His Ministry

With the power of the spirit (I'm assuming this is the Holy Spirit) Jesus returned to Galilee and started teaching in the synagogues.

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth and went to the synagogue where he stood up and read. He read some scroll and everyone was happy about what he said and that he spoke well. They asked if he was Joseph's son and asked him if he could do the same thing here as he did in Capernaum. He said that no prophet is ever accepted in his hometown and he told a story about Elijah. They were filled with wrath and drove him to the edge of town where they were going to throw him off of a cliff, but he got away.

What am I missing here? Why did they want to kill him?

Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Demon

There was a guy possessed by a demon in Capernaum who started yelling at Jesus. He said "be silent and come out of him!" and the guy was suddenly fine, the demon had not harmed him. People were amazed and spread the word.

Are there clean demons?

Jesus Heals Many

He healed Simon's mother in law and then everyone around who was sick came to Jesus and he healed them as well. Many demons came out of people and they said he was the son of god.

Jesus Preaches in Synagogues

Jesus tried to leave but the people didn't want him to. He said he has to spread the good news to the kingdom
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